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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More about Philadelphia Austen, Fanny Hill and Jane Fairfax

This is a continuation of my ongoing discussion with Christy Somer in Austen-L:

"....and here is where we radically disagree Arnie."

Yes, I never meant to suggest that we were in agreement in all important ways, quite the contrary, it is fascinating to me that we can so profoundly agree about many important aspects of Jane Austen's writing, and yet also disagree so profoundly about may others.

"So with all due respect to the freedom of ideas..and all that...."

Well, you say that, but the rest of your comments...........

"Isn't it enough to allow, with some reasonable consideration, the possibility of Eliza de Feuillide actually being Warren Hasting's biological daughter?"

I think it's more than possible, I think it's probable. What I believe is certain is that JA herself must have been well aware of the rumor, regardless of whether it was actually true or not, and so if JA addressed it in her novels, obliquely, as I claim she did, I believe that JA herself believed the rumor to be true, because I don't believe JA would memorialize a rumor like that, if she thought it was false.

"Imho, to also introduce and attach a theory around Eliza's mother, Phila, Rev. George Austen's sister and Jane Austen's aunt, being a prostitute before she sailed to India is offensive, unacceptable, and most likely, unpublishable."

That does not sound like you are looking for the truth, so much as you are looking for some alternative to the truth which is inoffensive and acceptable to mainstream beliefs about Jane Austen and her family. I am looking for the truth, without regard to whose sensibilities it may or may not offend. I do not seek to offend, or not to offend, I seek the truth, as best I can determine it.

And if it turns out to be so that the truth about a woman who died 200 years ago cannot even be published because of such considerations, as you suggest, then that is a very very sad state of affairs, and that is certainly not what I call intellectual freedom, quite the opposite actually.

Do you think JA was a fan of censorship? Not my JA, just the opposite, she hated being stifled, especially by those who were not treating her well.

And for the record, and this is very important, here is what I wrote about the possibility that Aunt Phila Austen Hancock might have been a prostitute when she was a teenager and that JA might have memorialized that story:

"And....ten times more important--no, ten _thousand_times more important---I believe that Jane Austen took her aunt's plight _deeply_to heart--because surely if Phila Austen is represented by Jane Fairfax, as I believe she is, then Jane Austen was not alluding to Fanny Hill in a salacious or vulgar way, but because she (and by the way, so was Cleland, as many critics have also pointed out previously) was appalled at how women in her world were treated-- the words they heard put them on a pedestal, but when it came down to brass tacks, they were, metaphorically, treated as if they were whores, to be bought and sold, and the "Price" for their "Fanny" was too dear."

Jesus himself was very clear about casting the first stone at women who have sinned, and so that is why I am certain that JA, who without question followed the precepts of the Jesus who showed such compassion for the fallen, and also warned the hypocrites not to cast stones.

And I believe that JA truly understood, and empathized, that her aunt, a young teenaged orphan without prospects or money, realistically may have had no option other than starvation as an alternative to prostitution, if that is what she wound up doing for a while, until she could get out of such a situation, and find a decent man to marry her and give her a modicum of financial security. It was a cruel cold world her aunt was born into, and I think JA felt great compassion for her aunt, and wanted to preserve her aunt's story.

JA paid her aunt the greatest compliment of all, because I also believe that Jane Fairfax is a representation of Jane Austen herself. So allowing her aunt to inhabit that same fictional character would have been a very positive and loving act on JA's part.

I certainly do not judge a young woman making such choices in such a world, and I know JA did not judge them either.

So what exactly is offensive about telling this story?

It seems that when we agree, we agree profoundly, and when we disagree, we disagree profoundly as well. But I am glad we can continue to disagree civilly.

It all is very fascinating...

Cheers, ARNIE

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