(& scroll all the way down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

P.S. re Taking Orders--Oh, Chute!

Six weeks ago, I posted a couple of times about the punning use of the phrase "taking orders" in JA's novels, particularly MP. I have just briefly revisited that subject, with the benefit of six weeks perspective, and have the following points to add, which I believe greatly strengthen my earlier claims that JA was very actively engaged, on multiple levels, with the many meanings of the word "orders".

POINT ONE: First, I now see a very interesting comparison between

(i) young men (including, notably, half of the men who end up marrying the novel's heroine) who end up "taking orders" in the sense of going into the clergy (Henry Tilney, Mr. Collins, Edward, and Edmund) , or NOT going into the clergy (Mr. Wickham conspicuously alone in this category of men who consider entering the clergy, but do not--am I forgetting anybody else?).

AND, on the other side of the gender divide,

(ii) young women who REFUSE to "take orders" in regard to a man's proposal ---think of Lizzy refusing Mr. Collins's proposal, Lizzy refusing Darcy's first proposal, Lizzy refusing Lady Catherine's demand that Lizzy REFUSE Darcy's second (as yet hypothetical) proposal, and finally also Fanny refusing Henry Crawford's sorta proposal (does he actually propose? I am too lazy to check)..

It's interesting to think about the parallels and contrasts between these seemingly unrelated life situations, besides the punning connection via the phrase "taking orders", and my sense is that JA subtly gave considerable attention to this comparison.

By the way, does anyone know the origin of the expression "taking orders" in relation to entering the clergy? I'd be very surprised if its origin was a military metaphor, i.e., becoming a clergyman was equivalent to enlisting to take orders in the battle to win souls. If it had to do with enter a given religious "order", the verb "taking" would not seem a good fit, so much as "entering".

POINT TWO: Second, it occurred to me for the first time to check JA's letters to see whether she ever made reference to "taking orders", and what I found was only one, but WHAT a very interesting one it is!:

In Letter 44 dated 4/21-23/05, the final surviving letter written by JA while living in Bath, JA writes the following to CEA:

"You told me some time ago that Tom Chute had had a fall from his horse, but I am waiting to know how it happened before I begin pitying him, as I cannot help suspecting it was in consequence of his taking orders; very likely as he was going to do Duty or returning from it."

Here's what I found out about Tom Chute-he was an old Steventon friend, who is mentioned in passing in several of JA's letters written when she was in her twenties, but then disappearing. He was three years older than JA, he never married (after living to 53, so that is a noteworthy fact), he served in the Cavalry in his late twenties and was ordained at age 32 and held a couple of local livings till his death...three years before which, at age 50, upon the death of his elder brother William-John, he inherited The Vyne--so I strongly suspect he was an avid hunter and an intimate of James Austen all their mutual lives.

Now, when we factor in all that data (provided by Le Faye, by the way), there is something very very playful about what JA wrote, it's yet another one of her abrupt and brief epistolary veerings away from gossip to a bit of absurdist fantasy, before returning to quotidian gossip once more. Why in the world would JA bring up CEA's having told JA "some time ago" about Tom having fallen from his horse? Tom is not otherwise mentioned in this long letter. And why would his taking orders have anything to do with his falling from a horse? When I read the words "I cannot help suspecting...", I am immediately reminded of Mary Crawford mentioning that she does NOT want to be suspected of a pun, precisely so that everyone listening will be on high alert for the pun she just made!

And note that JA in that same sentence also refers to Tom Chute doing Duty, which, as I checked, seems to refer, as you might expect, to performing military service, which, as we know from the above facts, he did do.

So, what does JA mean by all this? The tone is clearly that of mockery and put-on, as otherwise it would suggest that JA was indulging in some rather mean spirited Schadenfreude--why dredge up the memory of an old accident, just to mock it by giving to the accident victim only conditional sympathy? It would be an especially crazy thing for JA to write if she really meant what she was writing, because only 5 months earlier, a fatal fall from a horse left JA without her dearest female mentor, Madam Lefroy. So, to me, this is black humor, making a joke out of pain, something I believe JA did, a lot.

Otherwise, and relevant to the subject of this entire message, I believe it is safe to assert that JA was also playing with the pun of "taking orders", as relating both to the clerical AND the military realms which the young man Tom Chute straddled. And perhaps the punch line is that it is a hint that Tom was not wishing to "take orders" in the commonplace sense of obeying someone else's commands.

Is it possible, e.g., that JA is hinting that Tom's personal situation involves BOTH of the scenarios I addressed above, ie., while Tom seemed most willing to "take orders" as a clergyman and as a cavalryman, he was NOT amenable to "taking orders" from his parents or much older brother, who were financially substantial folk, to take a more illustrious career path, or to find a wealthy wife---orders which he decided NOT to take?

And just as I wrote those last words, I had a wild thought--did I detect the ghostly presence of the real life Tom Chute in the character of Edward Ferrars, a young man who takes clerical orders despite being pressed by his mother to take a high profile career and a wealthy wife, and who refers to Willoughby as a hunter. And, most relevant of all to the above, the passages late in S&S in which Colonel Brandon gives Elinor the dubious "commission" to tell Edward about Brandon's gift to him of the Delaford living has a distinctly military flavor, exactly analogous in blurring the line between military and domestic realms, to that which I described in my previous message regarding Mr. Elton's "commission" from Emma to get Harriet's portrait framed.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. Le Faye has this to say about Tom Chute in a very recent Persuasions article: "...the Reverend Tom Chute might well have been a suitable match for Jane. However, she seems not to have liked the Chute family very much; and in any case Tom later left The Vyne and spent much of his life at another of the Chute estates, in Norfolk, remaining unmarried to his dying day."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Mr. Floor and the General's Private

I just noticed a moment ago another one of JA's clever wordplays, in the text of Emma:

"Captain Weston was a general favourite..."

I had never thought about that otherwise unremarkable sentence as having a pun buried in it, but then I did, and tentatively identified it as being in the same silly but delightful genre as JA's letter witticism:

"Mr. Floor is low in our estimation."

Before leaving it at just that, however, I did a quick search to see if JA had planted any OTHER military puns in her novels, and what they might signify, and that led me to another one in Emma, which characterizes a moment in the scene in Ch. 9 where Emma and Harriet consider which worthy man to "draft" (that was what a "requisition" was in JA's day) to provide them with some fresh charades. But of course Emma has only one man in mind, Mr. Elton, whom she has drafted for highly "selective service" to serve in an "army of one" for the mission of capturing Harriet's heart:

"It was by no means [Mr. Woodhouse's] daughter's wish that the intellects of Highbury in GENERAL should be put UNDER REQUISITION."

At first, you might think I am stretching things to claim a military connotation in that sentence. But when you begin to think about it, a faux-military aura is very much a subliminal, but integral, part of the ironic absurdity of the chapters involving Emma, Harriet, and Mr. Elton in their little comedy of romantic errors. Here we have Mr. Elton, the effete, pompous, grandiose country vicar--not exactly Captain Wentworth material---a man whom Harriet wickedly remembers later for his very short pencil stub, before she tosses it into the fire---but who in Chapter 9 is still busy puffing himself up like the soldier-braggart Parolles in All's Well That Ends Well.

And isn't it also interesting that Elton brings Emma and Harriet a charade which conjures up the military might of the British Navy--talk about grandiose! And then Elton bravely volunteers for the dangerous and important mission of getting Emma's sketch of Harriet framed in London, as if he were being parachuted behind enemy lines in the dead of night to win a war!

So, I think it is clear, upon close reading, that the punning juxtaposition of "general" and "put under requisition" is very much intentional in that context, and therefore complements and supports the intentional attribution of that earlier pun with Mr. Weston.

And, last but not least, it also suggests to me that the several clanging verbal juxtapositions in the following narration in Northanger Abbey is ALSO intentional, as we hear about Catherine's tour of Northanger Abbey:

" finding herself successively in a billiard–room, and in THE GENERAL'S PRIVATE aPARTment, without comprehending their connection, or being able to turn aright when she left them; and lastly, by passing through a dark little room, owning Henry’s authority, and strewed with his litter of books, GUNS, and GREATCOATS."

I particularly like that added wink, "without comprehending their connection", because it suggests to me that behind a superficially silly, trivial military pun, there is more than a whiff of innuendo, as if the reader is being challenged to "comprehend" a joking "connection" between a billiard room (where the principal activity of course consists of the shooting of balls into holes called pockets) and a general's private parts AND Henry's "dark little room" which actually is redolent
with the heady macho aroma of "guns and greatcoats"! And, for good measure, yet ANOTHER clanging pun "turn aRIGHT when she LEFT them" seems to me to be there to suggest soldiers marching and turning, as the sergeant shouts out the count: "right, left, right, left...."

What I find remarkable about JA is not that she includes passages with a cluster of subliminal images that pertain to a given domain, such as the military in this instance. Any writer can do such a thing. The trick, which she pulls off hundreds of times in all her novels, is that she manages to hide them all in plain sight, so that the reader is seduced into passing them by as if they weren't there, until one day, perhaps, a reader notices one of the puns, and stops, and thinks about what it
might mean, and then, a whole tiny universe opens up for the duration of a paragraph, and then vanishes without a trace.

And, by the way, I just checked, and can confirm that

(i) Google Books shows me that "private parts" was a very commonly used term in JA's day, in both medical and more general usage, to mention the unmentionables; and

(ii) JA was very much aware of the context of the usage of particular words from novel to novel, and as Exhibit A, I can tell you that she must have used the word "general" about 100 times in Emma, and still pretty frequently in all the other novels except NA, and every single one of them in the non-military "generic" sense. And yet, in all of NA, which is about half the length of Emma, there cannot be more than a half dozen usages of that word "general" in that "generic" sense, rather than
the many references to GENERAL Tilney. Now, why would that be? I would suggest that this is because JA was very very sensitive to variance in the environment for word usage from novel to novel. And so, since it was only in NA that there was literally a "general" among her main characters, who would be mentioned ofte, she knew how slovenly and confusing it would be to present a novel to her readers where they
constantly had to be asking which sense of "general" were they supposed to be reading in each instance. So she essentially cut the "generic" usage of the word "general" out of the novel.

Which, again, is why I believe that there are very very few accidents or errors of word usage in JA's novels.

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Death in Childbirth in JA's Time

[This is a response by me to a comment in Janeites about negative modern attitudes toward women who choose to have many children]

I've often been accused of being anachronistic, i.e., that I try to graft a 21st century perspective on JA's 19th century world. Well, as I will show below, the question of serial pregnancy is a perfect example of the reverse, i.e., where my discoveries are very helpful in bringing the 21st century reader BACK TO the 19th century, so as to better understand JA's writing.

JA wrote during a time when serial pregnancy was (and had been for a very long time previously) a game of Russian roulette for married women--and the longer each wife was forced to run that "gauntlet", the greater the risk of death in childbirth.

It's hardly surprising, therefore, that JA---who lived in her world and NOT our modern Western world where pregnancy and childbirth are infinitely safer propositions--maintained such a fiercely and often sarcastically negative attitude toward serial pregnancy throughout her ENTIRE adult life. The evidence for this is overt in her letters, and---as I will demonstrate conclusively at the JASNA AGM in a few months, and at much greater length in my book---COVERT in her novels.
This is one particularly good example of how my discoveries can greatly inform one's reading of JA's novels, and knowledge of her life.

This issue of death in childbirth was clearly at the top of JA's agenda for things in her world that she hated. Because some commentators have not realized this, some have speculated that she hated children, or that she thought women should not have large numbers of children per se. My research has shown me that this is NOT the case at all. I believe she loved children--all the evidence in her letters entirely coincides with the report of her in this regard--but she was against serial pregnancy because she perceived that in most cases, the wives had no choice whatsoever, and many wives were serially pregnant not because (as is the case with yourself) they wanted to be, but because they were forced to be. In many cases, it either killed these wives, and in many more, it just plain wore them out physically.

The paradigmatic example, which tells it all in a sentence, is the family anecdote (I believe it was in Fanny Austen Knight's childhood diary) that when Edward Austen Knight came home from a trip, he kicked Fanny out of her mother's bed, so he could sleep with his wife, Elizabeth Bridges Austen Knight---who only a few years after that died at age 35 after having given birth to ELEVEN children who survived (and probably a few miscarriages and stillborn births, in addition) in 17 years.

What is most remarkable about that story is how UNREMARKABLE it was at the time, it was a story being played out all across England, repeatedly.

So, it follows that the feminist issues of Regency Era England were profoundly different from those of modern Western society, but...the feminist issues in many non-Western countries TODAY seem, to me, to be uncannily similar to those of JA's England. I recently read an article about a conference where Melinda Gates and many others spoke out strongly about death in childbirth in many Third World countries. So JA's message, as my discoveries bring it to full light, may be 2 centuries late for our world, but it could not be more timely for THEIRS!


Lord Brabourne's Poor Emma

In the aftermath of the modern rise of feminism, there have been a fair number of scholars who have been less than enthusiastic about Emma winding up with Mr. Knightley. You may recall the article by Wendy Moffat I mentioned three months ago as a particularly cogent and compelling example of that line of criticism.

But some Janeites have replied that we impose our modern feminist sensibilities on JA's texts at our extreme peril, because things were very different two centuries ago, and we should not assume that JA would have disapproved of the patriarchal social structure of her world.

Which is why I was, frankly (ha ha), quite astonished to read today, for the first time, the following comments, written 125 years ago by the person I would have LEAST expected to THINK, let alone write, them--Lord Brabourne!!!---the first editor of JA's letters, her brother Edward's grandson, a man who did not hesitate to bowdlerize what his mother surely considered some of the worst vulgarisms in JA's letters. Had I been shown this passage without being told who wrote it, or when, I'd have guessed the author to be a 21st century English feminist who happened to enjoy writing in an anachronistic Victorian style!:

“I frankly confess that I never could endure Mr. Knightley. He interfered too much, he judged other people rather too quickly and too harshly, he was too old for Emma, and being the elder brother of her elder sister’s husband, there was something incongruous in the match which I could never bring myself to approve. To tell the truth, I always wanted Emma to marry Frank Churchill, and so did Mr. and Mrs. Weston. Mr. Knightley, however, is an eminently respectable hero too respectable, in fact, to be a hero at all; he does not seem to rise above the standard of respectability into that of heroism; and I should have disputed his claim to the position had he not satisfactorily established it beyond all possible doubt by marrying the heroine. But I have never felt satisfied with the marriage, and feel very sure that Emma was not nearly so happy as she pretended. I am certain that he frequently lectured her, was jealous of every agreeable man that ventured to say a civil word to her, and evinced his intellectual superiority by such a plethora of eminently sensible conversations, as either speedily hurried her to an untimely grave, or induced her to run away with somebody possessed of an inferior intellect, but more endearing qualities.”

This is the Knightley whom Reginald Hill so brilliantly parodied in "Poor Emma!" ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A strange business this in America....can you imagine?

"It is quite settled. I am to leave Mansfield Park, and go to the WHITE HOUSE, I suppose, as soon as she is removed there....The EAST ROOM, as it had been called ever since Maria Bertram was sixteen, was now considered Fanny’s, almost as decidedly as the white attic...three transparencies, made in a rage for transparencies, for the three lower panes of one window, where Tintern Abbey held its station between a cave in Italy and a moonlight lake in Cumberland, A COLLECTION OF FAMILY PROFILES, thought unworthy of being anywhere else, OVER THE MANTLEPIECE…”

I could not help but think of our favorite authoress (who, even from beyond the grave, has been the subject of a not insignificant British Invasion of the early 21st Century) as I happily watched and listened as Sir Paul McCartney (sitting next to the American president & First Lady, surrounded by an intimate band of true friends, in the East Room of the White House) was first serenaded with his own songs by a succession of talented performers, before he himself took the stage for a spirited set of his most beloved hits, and was awarded the Gershwin Medal for contributions to American culture.

It wasn't just that the concert took place in the "East Room" of the "White House" (was there an East Room in the White House which the British burned only a few months after the publication of Mansfield Park?), with Stuart's George Washington presiding over the festivities frozen in the perpetual bow of a most elegant Master of Ceremonies.

What reminded me, strikingly, of Jane Austen, were the LYRICS of two of Sir Paul's greatest songs. It made me realize that, in a strange but powerful way, Sir Paul and our own JA are alike in having written so many words which have touched the hearts and souls of millions.

And so here, to honor Sir Paul and Lady Jane (well, she was a lady, right?), are the lyrics I heard sung tonight which suggested to me that in his youth Sir Paul very likely was a closet Janeite as a youth.

First, when Elvis Costello sang the following words written by Paul McCartney….

In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs of every head he's had the pleasure to know, and all the people that come and go stop to say hello. On the corner is a banker with a motor car, the little children laugh at him behind his back, and the banker never wears a "mac" in the pouring rain---very strange

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes Wet beneath the blue suburban skies I sit and meanwhile back in Penny Lane there is a fireman with an hourglass And in his pocket is a portrait of the Queen. He likes to keep his fire engine clean, It's a clean machine

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my ears Full of fish and finger pies in summer meanwhile back behind the shelter in the middle of the roundabout, a pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray And though she feels as if she's in a play She is anyway. In Penny Lane, the barber shaves another customer We see the banker sitting waiting for a trim And then the fireman rushes in from the pouring rain--very strange

….I could not help but think of the following atmospheric portrait of another lane, which perhaps inspired it:

Emma went to the door for amusement. Much could not be hoped from the traffic of even the busiest part of Highbury; -- Mr. Perry walking hastily by, Mr. William Cox letting himself in at the office door, Mr. Cole's carriage horses returning from exercise, or a stray letter-boy on an obstinate mule, were the liveliest objects she could presume to expect; and when her eyes fell only on the butcher with his tray, a tidy old woman travelling homewards from shop with her full basket, two curs quarrelling over a dirty bone, and a string of dawdling children round the baker's little bow-window eyeing the gingerbread, she knew she had no reason to complain, and was amused enough; quite enough still to stand at the door. A mind lively and at ease, can do with seeing nothing, and can see nothing that does not answer.

And then, when I heard Sir Paul himself perform, with great poignancy and power, the following song, which, along with Yesterday, was perhaps the first rock music to dare to aspire to be treated as art…

Ah, look at all the lonely people Ah, look at all the lonely people
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door Who is it for?
All the lonely people Where do they all come from? All the lonely people Where do they all belong?
Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear No one comes near.
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there What does he care?
Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name Nobody came.
Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave No one was saved.

….I could not help but think of what Emma, ingenious imaginist as she was, could not image to herself, when she looked at Miss Bates and saw only a silly middle aged woman:

“Mrs. Bates, the widow of a former vicar of Highbury, was a very old lady, almost past every thing but tea and quadrille. She lived with her single daughter in a very small way, and was considered with all the regard and respect which a harmless old lady, under such untoward circumstances, can excite. Her daughter enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, handsome, rich, nor married. Miss Bates stood in the very worst predicament in the world for having much of the public favour; and she had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to herself, or frighten those who might hate her, into outward respect. She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without good-will. It was her own universal good-will and contented temper which worked such wonders. She loved every body, was interested in every body's happiness, quick-sighted to every body's merits…”

Cheers, Arnie

P.S. Just imagine--if Mrs. Norris had been asked to provide a curtain for this gala amateur theatrical, it would certainly have been a curtain "over which she [would have] "PRESIDED" with such talent and such success, that the Obamas would surely have parted with it to her to take back to her cottage, where she might even now still be particularly in want of green baize.

P.P.S: You want to talk about a romantic moment, imagine what it was like to be Michelle Obama having Paul McCartney singing "Michelle" especially for her!

Monday, July 26, 2010

P.S. re de Genlis & de Jane "detected in the design"


I am pretty sure you will enjoy this followup by me to our discussion of de Genlis and Austen. After I sent my last message, I got the idea to check to see if JA’s “tagging”, in Emma, of de Genlis’s “more perfect” might be an indication that JA had perceived an allusion by de Genlis to an earlier work of fiction which de Genlis intended to allude to. More than half the time, my hunches come up empty, but that was certainly NOT the case this time—read on!

What I found that grabbed me with both hands was the following passage from Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison, from a letter written by Sir Charles Grandison to his sister Charlotte, a passage in which Sir Charles is quoting what he says, himself, to Captain Anderson, the man who wishes to pressure Charlotte into marrying him based on an ill-advised, impetuous promise she made to the Captain some time previously, which, upon cooler reflection, she deeply regretted:

“Charlotte Grandison is a woman of fine sense. She has great qualities. She has insuperable objections to the captain, which are founded on A MORE PERFECT KNOWLEDGE OF the man, and of her own heart, than she could have at first.”

It turns out that the situation in Grandison that is being described by Sir Charles is uncannily parallel to that of the Duchess in the inset tale in Adelaide and Theodore—in BOTH, we have a sheltered young woman of high birth who naively oversteps decorum by entering into a covert (but not even close to sexual) relationship and correspondence with a very attractive young stranger, and then finds herself with a big problem because of it.

And based on this, it is obvious to me that (i) de Genlis, for some reason, was covertly alluding to Richardson, and (ii) JA was aware of de Genlis’s allusion to Richardson, and covertly demonstrated her awareness by alluding to BOTH Richardson AND de Genlis in her own novels, especially NA and Emma!

And I cannot overemphasize—the only reason I discovered this rich vein of layered allusions is because I followed the “bread crumb” left by JA in the words “more perfect” back to its two sources!

And if your ears have been burning from all this, Ellen, there is a reason. When I then searched my own files to see what I had previously taken note of in respect to Charlotte Grandison, sure enough, there YOU were, back in 1998, barking up yet another tree in “the forest” we both enjoy roaming in so much:

“But whether Austen thought Grandison ludicrous and, like Mrs Morland, read it endlessly because it was all she had, or admired it tremendously, she did know it. I have found a couple of small sections which are closely analogous to stories in Austen's books (the story of Mrs Oldham is repeated in the story of Mrs Clay). Tomalin finds a close analogy between Charlotte Grandison and Elizabeth Bennet. I don't see it. Charlotte Grandison's vivacity is cruel; she is hard, often snobbish (she despises Mrs Oldham and openly cuts her), narrow, manipulative and cold (sexually as well as emotionally in some ways). She is also easily deluded by an officer early in the book whom she almost runs away with. Yet she is loyal to her family, especially to her sister, intelligent, perceptive, humane, and she writhes against the demand she marry. In short, Austen's Emma is a type of Charlotte Grandison and vice versa. Knightley himself is a brilliant, tactful and intelligent recreation of Sir Charles (there are many people who have noted this before)”

So you see, there you are, talking about Emma AND Knightley, and closing the loop of allusion.

I have recounted my steps in coming to this discovery because I wanted to illustrate for you that the door to JA’s second stories has always been right in front of you, Ellen. From all your vast readings of just about everything written in the 18^th and early 19^th centuries that JA would have read herself, you have, in your head, all the knowledge you need—you just need to turn the knob, and open the door—it’s not locked!



de Genlis and de Jane both "detected in the design"

The following is my response to some interesting comments by Ellen Moody (which I show in quotes) in Austen L and Janeites:

"At the same time I don't discount sources. It's plain to me that Genlis's Adele et Theodore is a central influential source/paradigm in _Emma_, though when I come to try to work out what Austen's stance was towards this work, how Emma is a surrogate say for Madame D'Ostalis and Mrs WestON for Baroness d'Almane, I'm all at sea. One of the particular attributes of those allusions and references we find in Austen when they are explicit is how unexplained they often remain, suggestive that's all."

Ellen, you've gotten to the heart of the difference in our approach. Those explicit allusions do not remain merely unexplained and suggestive for me, my approach has empowered me to make informed speculations and interpretations of why they are there, which, in aggregate, I claim to be compelling. My book is filled with such examples. And yes, as I posted earlier today, the allusion to Adele and Theodore is there in Emma for profoundly important reasons, and I believe I know what they are.

"If you patiently read the reviews of Jocelyn Harris's latest book, you will find for all the praise for her readings of the novels, except when the reviewer is an acolyte, the last paragraphs express scepticism that the particular source she has used is a source."'

One person's uncritical acolyte is another person's perceptive listener. Just as one person's skeptic is another person's blind man. Again, you go to the heart of things, because Jocelyn Harris is far and away the most perceptive reader of JA's allusions through the years, who was only held back from seeing what I have seen in her novels by her not realizing that there WERE shadow stories which would make many of Harris's discoveries take on startling new meaning!

"I may have found one such source: in NA Catherine imagines that General Tilney actaully faked Mrs Tilney's death before secreting her away in a dungeon. He just didn't shove her there. Now in the famous Duchess de C************ in Adele et Theodore there's a strikingly long and memorable scene of the Duke faking his wife's death -- how he lures her into the room, makes her take a drug, brings people in to say goodbye, and then when she awakens, secrets her away .. &c&c. I can't find any such scene of faking someone's death in this way in _The Monk_ and now must look at Radcliffe's Sicilian Romance and also Smith's Montalbert, all novels with the motif of the wife shoved in the dungeon or secreted away, brought food too for years etc. If this particular scene doesn't exist elsewhere, well,maybe I've found the source for this specific idea of Catherine's."

Ellen, that is exactly what I have been referring to, above, I was reading that very scene on the treadmill yesterday--the allusion is so obvious a Janeite would have to be asleep not to see it!

The inset story about the Duchess (which by the way is not that long at all, it is barely TWO PERCENT of the totality of Adelaide and Theodore) is the mother lode, in terms of the allusions that JA makes to de Genlis, in both Emma AND in Northanger Abbey. And it's not just the faked death, there are a half dozen OTHER subliminal parallels, beginning with the one you mentioned yesterday, the obvious allusion to the description of the young Duchess to the first line of Emma itself.

But note also, when the Baroness writes in her journal: "We shall stay till we have been able to obtain a MORE PERFECT*/ /*knowledge of the history of the most interesting person I ever saw..." and JA very slyly alludes to this turn of phrase by writing "we shall now see her own little Adelaide educated on a MORE PERFECT plan."

Alone that would seem to be nothing more than a completely random coincidence. But in the context of the other allusions, it is another brick in a large wall.

Which is why I have been telling you repeatedly---JA "tagged" her allusions with particular keywords, so that the sensitive reader (like yourself) familiar with both works would "hear" the allusion, and then, hopefully, stop and ask, WHY do I hear an echo of that other novel? That is the beginning of the process, not the end!

"But then how are we to take it? how far is this parodic? how far are we to sympathize with Catherine's taking gothics seriously, for Mrs Tilney had a bad time with her husband. And it's not the only detail in Catherine's nightmare. Another appears to come from Sophia Lee's Recess; though it is one found elsewhere, the names are striking, and another clearly from Radcliffe's Romance of the Forest."

You're barking up ALL the right trees, Ellen, but you don't understand the geography of the "grove", so you feel lost. But asking the right questions is nonetheless the only way to eventually find the right answers. And to find one's way out of "the forest", one needs to follow the "bread crumbs"!

Remember what I told you in my previous message--for JA, literature was a layer cake of allusions, and that these motifs appear in these various works is not a coincidence, these are ALL allusions---and JA was intimately acquainted with de Genlis, Radcliffe AND Lee! JA understood that the female Gothic was a sophisticated artform, with a special language meant to preserve forbidden meaning.

Come hear me speak in Portland about the Gothic ANTI-parody related to Mrs. Tilney's illness, and you will hear much more about this very subject. ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

Saturday, July 24, 2010

P.S. re "detected in the design"

Kristin Whitman responded to my previous post in Austen-L, and I have responded to her response (broken up in quotes) below:

"Very interesting point about the double meaning/wordplay in that NA passage. I was curious so I did a few searches in the Jane Austen Search Engine looking for other instances of "design" in the text of her novels. I thought perhaps the word would pop up in the scene where Emma paints Harriet's portrait, as Emma is not detected in the *design* of trying to bring Harriet and Mr. Elton together even while she attempts, poorly, to capture Harriet with the "design" of her watercolor (unfortunately, the wordplay doesn't really work as well here, I guess you don't "design" a watercolor the same way you sketch a design of your work). "

Kristin, first, thanks for such a detailed and nuanced response to my post! You should come out of lurkdom much more often! ;)

Second, your instincts were spot-on in looking at Emma in particular for echoes of the NA passage I analyzed. Great minds think alike, because I too did word searches on "design" to see how else JA used the word "design" and its variants in her novels, and it turns out that the only two novels which use "design" with that double meaning of "scheming or intention" and "portrayal", either visually or otherwise, are NA and Emma! (Which, by the way fits with OTHER evidence I have found which suggests to me that JA did indeed substantially amend NA in very specific ways around the time she was completing Emma and before she began work on Persuasion.)

Here is the first double usage in Emma, when Emma has just met Harriet, and has already started scheming about her, as well as forming a distorted overly "kind" portrait of Harriet in her own mind:

Chapter 4: "But in every respect, as she saw more of her, she approved her, and was confirmed IN ALL HER KIND DESIGNS.

That distorted portraiture will of course be picked up on a few chapter later when Emma actually does sketch Harriet's portrait. And look how Emma uses that same double meaning again right in talking to Harriet about Harriet's portrait, which Elton has volunteered to get framed in London:

Chapter 7: It OPENS HIS DESIGNS TO HIS FAMILY, it introduces you among them, it diffuses through the party those pleasantest feelings of our nature, eager curiosity and warm prepossession.

I.e., Elton can both tell his family about his INTENTION to marry Harriet, PLUS he can OPEN TO them (and if he has carried the portrait in a protective package of some kind, he will literally OPEN that package to show it to his family!) Emma's DESIGNS, i.e., portrait, of Harriet

In NA, there are no other double meaning usages of "design", but....JA nonetheless uses the word "design" in the sense of "scheming" to compelling thematic purpose nonetheless.

Think about that sentence in Chapter 1 of NA, about Catherine being "detected in the design" of a furtive action (taking a secret portrait) by "her lover", and then think about why the General throws her out of Northanger Abbey twenty chapters later?

Isn't it a wonderful irony that of course, it's because HE (who, as I claimed yesterday, considers himself, in the shadow story of the novel, to be a lover of Catherine) believes, albeit totally mistakenly, that he has detected CATHERINE in the "design" or fraud or false pretense of appearing to bring a large dowry! And we also all know that this is a case of pure projection on the General’s part, because we know very well that HE is the schemer who has been trying to snare what he thinks is a rich heiress! So how equally wonderful that JA slyly tells us not once but TWICE about HIS secret “designs” with respect to Catherine:

After an evening, the little variety and seeming length of which made her peculiarly sensible of Henry's importance among them, she was heartily glad to be dismissed; though it was a look from the general NOT DESIGNED FOR HER OBSERVATION which sent his daughter to the bell.

Under a mistaken persuasion of her possessions and claims, he had courted her acquaintance in Bath, solicited her company at Northanger, and DESIGNED HER FOR HIS DAUGHTER IN LAW.

And....JA milks that word "design" for all it's worth, because we find exactly the same Freudian projection being done by Isabella Thorpe, who first hints that Catherine has been being deceitful, and later Catherine comes to see that it was Isabella who designed in every way.

"Oh! As to that," answered Isabella laughingly, "I do not pretend to determine what YOUR THOUGHTS AND DESIGNS IN TIMES PAST may have been.

I see that SHE [Isabella] HAS DESIGNS on Captain Tilney, which have not succeeded; but I do not understand what Captain Tilney has been about all this time.

"I'm sure this is Emma 101 and not a new idea, but I've been amused by the realization on my part that Emma can't quite "design" Harriet correctly on the page just as she can't accurately sketch characters of her friends and associates in real life."

How can that be Emma 101, when it goes to the heart of the novel??!! It may not be a new idea, but it becomes a BETTER idea when it sits in the additional context I've presented, and you've elaborated! ;)

"The JASE doesn't seem to be searching the text of the novels as well as I would like it to. I couldn't actually find any evidence that it was searching the text of Emma, even though I added many versions of the e-text to the list of sites indexed by the engine. I hope I can tinker with it soon to try to bring the texts up more frequently in the search results."

I like having your search engine, when I want to get a quick read on the significance of a given word or cluster of words in JA's writings, but if I know I am only looking in the novels, I always go to the Republic of Pemberley search engine which searches all the novels at once, without any "hits", obviously, from Austen related sources besides the novel texts themselves.

"Anyhoo, interesting post!"

And anyhoo, interesting reply!!

Cheers, ARNIE

Friday, July 23, 2010

"detected in the design": JA's subtle and poetic little gem of a joke

"[Catherine's] greatest deficiency was in the pencil — she had no notion of drawing — not enough even to attempt a sketch of her lover’s profile, that she might be detected in the design."

I just noticed the above sentence in Chapter 1 of NA, and that archaic-sounding phrase "detected in the design". After a few minutes, I tentatively decided that this was more or less equivalent to the phrase "caught in the act" as we use it today. But I was not satisfied with that interpretation, because to be caught in the act is to be caught ACTUALLY doing something; whereas to be detected in the design is to be caught THINKING ABOUT doing something. The latter does of course happen in the real world, too, i..e., you can catch a person thinking about doing something, if they give you nonverbal cues that they are about to do it.

All the same, I felt that it would be uncharacteristically slovenly of JA to refer to a design to act when she meant to refer to an action itself, and that is why I reread and reread again that sentence, until the light bulb went off in my head and I "got" JA's subtle little gem of a joke.

Here it is---JA's narrator is saying, in her sly way, that Catherine's proficiency at drawing was so low that if anyone had peeped over her shoulder to sneak a look at what she was drawing, they would not have thought, "That's not a good profile of so-and-so"--they would not even have realized she was attempting to draw someone's profile at all! I.e., she would not have been detected in the design, or intent, to do so!

But that's only stage one of unpacking this joke. Even better, the word "design" is a pun in this particular instance, because it can also refer to the profile itself, so that, in effect, she would not have been detected to be designing (intending) to design (draw) her lover!
What JA has done in this sentence is what great poets do, i.e., not just punning, but compression of meaning. One sentence means two things. But there is even more meaning compressed in that one short sentence than I have delineated so far. Consider now the words "her lover" in that sentence, which seems like a throwaway on first glance, it may as well refer to anybody.

Perhaps we ARE meant to believe that Catherine had already, prior to leaving for Bath, begun to be wooed while still at her parents' home, to the extent that she might have actually attempted to draw a profile of one of her prospective local boyfriends? But whether that is the case or not, certainly that sentence takes on much greater significance when we reread the novel, in light of what we come to learn about Catherine during the course of the entire novel.

When we do, we can reflect on how she deals with the man whom everyone would consider "her lover" in the novel, i.e., Henry Tilney, and we may well ask---has Catherine, by the end of the novel, achieved ANY proficiency at all in "drawing" his "profile", in the sense of the "outline" of his CHARACTER, and not merely of his visage?

My answer would be, not really. Yes, she seems to have won his heart, but could we say that by the end of the novel, she has the slightest clue as to how he has been relentlessly engaged in a completely one-sided game of put-ons, ranging from affectionate to mocking and even chastising? I would say, not at all. What we may only hope is that he has grown tired of mocking her in this passive-aggressive way, and that love will curtail his sense of humor at her expense.

We've seen this double meaning of "drawing" as referring to both sketching portraits and also to understanding character elsewhere in JA's novels, such as these barbs exchanged between Darcy and Lizzy:

"This is no very striking resemblance of your own character, I am sure," said he......."Merely to the illustration of _your_ character," said she, endeavouring to shake off her gravity.

And JA does not forget, as she writes the remainder of NA, to give us subtle little echoes of this first usage of "drawing":

"They [Henry and Eleanor] were viewing the country with the eyes of persons accustomed to drawing, and decided on its capability of being formed into pictures, with all the eagerness of real taste....She knew nothing of drawing -- nothing of taste: and she listened to them with an attention which brought her little profit, for they talked in phrases which conveyed scarcely any idea to her."

Indeed, Henry delights in talking in phrases which convey scarcely any idea to Catherine!

And, by the way, there is ANOTHER man whom most Janeites would NOT consider to have been "her lover" in the novel, but who IS "drawn" as such, subtly, in the first Eighties BBC NA adaptation--and in my considered opinion, 100% correctly--GENERAL Tilney! And certainly, as to him, we may safely say that Catherine NEVER has any conscious awareness as to the General's persistent wooing of Catherine FOR HIMSELF!

But I have begun to digress, and will stop that now, and return to the above sentence, for a final salute. How many readers of NA have ever noticed this joke before, let alone unpacked these layers of meaning? My suspicion is, precious few--I just did my usual cook's tour of online Austen sites, and I cannot detect any other scholar having ever "detected" JA herself "in the design"! [and wouldn''t this use of language be equally at home in a DETECTIVE novel?]

I am convinced that I only noticed this joke myself because I have adopted the universal habit of questioning EVERY unusual turn of phrase I read in one of her novels, letters or poems. It is only because I obsessed over this sentence for 20 minutes, whereas previously I had allotted it scarcely 10 seconds of half-attention, if at all, racing forward to get to the "action" of the story, that I was able to suss it out in full (or at least, I think in full, perhaps there's more in it remaining to be discovered?)

And so, to those who say to me, how is it possible that for 200 years nobody saw the kinds of things I see in JA's novels, if what I am claiming is valid, my answer is, half-joking----perhaps because nobody before ever spent 20 minutes obsessing over that sentence!


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Long Enough Addendum About “Long Enough”

[For those of you who enjoy reading my shorter messages, but not my longer ones, if you were planning on passing this one by because it’s too long, be sure at least to read the last 2 paragraphs about Miss Bates, and her covert role in the Case of the Long Pianoforte, which I guarantee you will enjoy, and which perhaps will induce you to reconsider and read the whole message after all!] ;)

“Off the top of my head, I'd say it was adverbial phrase, because it describes the verb "possess". How long did she possess the instrument-? Long enough or not long enough.”

Yes, Linda, “long enough” modified the verb “possessed”, hence it is an adverbial phrase when read that way, and that is what yields the normative reading of that sentence.

"Long can be an adjective, as in "long time, no see" when it modifies a noun. If we're talking about a long instrument or hinting at it, I'd say we're looking at sexual puns--which is what I think Arnie was hoping we'd see. “

Nicely done, Linda, that is indeed precisely what I was hoping you’d see! And it is as Diana then so pithily and bluntly put it later last night as well, and also as Elissa just weighed in, in a similar vein, as I was composing this message—and yes, Elissa, that nuance about the length of the piano itself is perfect for my interpretation of that phrase as being “adjectival”, without knowing the details of piano construction, that is what I, and, much more important, Jane Austen, was thinking!

“But why hint at this punning through Emma's eyes. It sounds as if Emma is the lover, noting her partner's emotional state preparatory to making love.”

Excellent question, for which I think I have a very good answer, which is that Emma CONSCIOUSLY sees things in accordance with the normative interpretation of that sentence, as being about Jane playing music, but UNconsciously sees things in accordance with the second interpretation, as being about Jane’s sexual experience at that very instant.

I think this is as beautiful and virtuosic example as I can think of from all of JA’s novels of how JA manages to fully express the meaning of both the overt story and the shadow story in the same sentence, and I speculate that she took extra pains to make sure she sculpted a particularly elegant sentence to accomplish it—everything hinges on using the word “long” precisely because it is used in ordinary language as both an adjective and as an adverb.
As for the sexual meaning of that sentence, I am NOT going to spell out, in this message, the exact details of how the sexual content is expressed, as, first of all, I believe it can be readily discerned by anyone who cares to see it, in its full glory, and second, I don’t want to be overly graphic and offend anybody reading along here who wants to keep things PG-13.

But I will say that the veiled sexual content, when properly understood, is very graphic--NOT in a leering or vulgar way-quite the contrary, it functions as an authentic expression, filtered through Emma’s mind, of what Jane, as a sexual being, might be feeling at that very moment, after she and Frank are interrupted by the return of Emma, Miss Bates and Harriet.

I am claiming that this is an example of great literature written with a female focus, taking into account, in a way that had rarely, if ever, been attempted in a novel, the WHOLE woman-and isn’t that the very complaint that Charlotte Bronte famously wrote about, vis a vis JA’s novels? Well, it turns out not be true of JA at all, and I’ve known that for a long while—but this sentence is particularly probative evidence of JA’s profound engagement with the whole female psyche, mind and body.

Actually, the sexual subtext of that sentence does not necessarily need to be seen as shadow story material, i.e., it can be seen as being harmonious with the normative reading of Emma that Jane and Frank were at the very least stealing a furtive embrace or three during the time everyone else has been at Ford’s. After all, this may have been their first time alone in Highbury after how long? (with Mrs. Bates neither seeing nor hearing anything, and being asleep to boot, they may as well have been alone). I seriously doubt that many Janeites would be uncomfortable with the notion that they were getting starting to get physically intimate-the only debatable question would be, how intimate they had gotten before they were interrupted.

In that vein, Emma, who is, as we all know, preternaturally sensitive to social cues, and is, most would also agree, a sexually unsophisticated and repressed, yet physically healthy, young woman with a normal libido, could very well experience a small freak-out upon walking in on Jane and Frank. The veiled sexual content of that sentence fits very nicely as a snapshot depiction of Emma’s enfevered imagination at that instant, confronted with the immediate aftermath of what might seem to have been a very graphic sexual encounter, an insight instantaneously imagined, and then repressed, in Emma’s head.

I became curious today to see if I really was the first person to suggest (as I did in 2005) that Jane and Frank actually might have been halfway through a truly sexual encounter when they were interrupted, and I did some checking, and saw that no scholar had said it before me.

However, as I checked back in my files, I did see a very interesting 2003 article I had found over a year ago, in the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, Vol. 84, ppg. 969-984 entitled “Creativity and oedipal fantasy in Austen’s Emma: ‘An ingenious and animating suspicion’ “ by Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick Hanly, a psychoanalyst living in Toronto, Canada.

I normally find psychoanalytic criticism of literature unreadable, because it almost always seems that the psychoanalytic criticism rapidly becomes completely detached from the text being analyzed, which is almost never referred to again in any detail after the introduction. However, Hanly’s article is quite the opposite of that--she frequently quotes from the text of Emma throughout the article, and she demonstrates a very very strong interest in the characters of the novel. Plus, she writes in as jargon-free a fashion as I have ever seen in a psychoanalytical article. I recommend it highly in its own right.

Anyway, I mentioned it now mainly because, even though Hanly never gets within a 100 miles of suggesting any shadow story in the novel, she does in a very interesting way unpack various psychoanalytic insights about Emma, which run in parallel with, but vastly expand, my own very brief “take” on Emma’s unconscious.
I finish by pointing out that my description of the second, sexualized meaning of that sentence of narration is not something that sits in isolation, it is not a bolt from the blue. If you look at the text of the scenes and events preceding and following that scene, I think it is clear, certainly on second reading of the novel, that the concealed sexual attraction between Jane and Frank is the primary focus, as Emma, like a demented Columbo, desperately attempts to figure out what the hell is going on with Jane, as her jealous unconscious simply does not allow her to let in what is happening right under her nose.

The sexual punning, playing on the motif of music as sex, simply does not stop for several chapters, beginning with the scene when the gift of the piano is first discussed by Mrs. Cole et al, and continuing far beyond the spectacles rivet scene. That is part of what I spoke about at Oxford in July 2007, and it is what I alluded to in my message yesterday. But not till yesterday did I understand how the phrase “long enough” galvanized that interpretation, and took it to another level of beauty.

I want to add one wonderful touch which I only realized today as I was looking more deeply at this question. I have been of the opinion since 2005 that Miss Bates is well aware of what is going on upstairs while everyone is at Ford’s. I have been of the opinion since 2007 that Miss Bates actively promotes Jane and Frank being alone, by quietly managing the movements of the various parties, so as to separate Jane and Frank from Emma, Mrs. Weston and Miss Bates herself.

And here is, finally, the promised finale re Miss Bates, secret agent :

It was only an hour ago that I realized the jewel in the crown of this particular sleight of hand of Miss Bates, and her creator and alter ego, Jane Austen. To wit---I realized that, just as Emma deliberately breaks the lace of her half-boot while strolling on Vicarage Lane, so as to (try to) leave Harriet and Mr. Elton alone, so too does Miss Bates quietly UNSCREW the rivet out of her mother’s spectacles while her mother is sleeping, so as to achieve not one, but TWO spectacular purposes:

It is the excuse for Frank staying with Jane while Miss Bates and Mrs. Weston troop over to Ford’s to get Emma and Harriet; AND,

Given that Mrs. Bates ALREADY was almost entirely deaf, is it just a coincidence that the unriveting of her spectacles means she will also be, until that rivet is screwed back in, almost entirely BLIND! Which means that her being in the room with Jane and Frank will be AS IF she was not there at all!


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Long enough

A good friend and brilliant Janeite wrote the following the other day in an online discussion in the Janeites group:

“I suppose I'm only trying to say that, when trying to decipher some of her more cryptic and hard to deconstruct sentences (which tend to be formal and involved
compared to modern usage, so as to be difficult for new readers to read at all, and even difficult for old hands to decipher), it helps to remember that every word
of hers has deliberate, literal, exact meaning, that she of all writers does not throw words around "slovenly" (to use her own word). That's why I always examine
the text which seems to require a jeweler's lapidary. I leave the subtexts to the imaginists, because I only believe in what is there: and there is plenty "there" in
Jane Austen. Clearly it is a temperamental preference!"

I replied today as follows:

Apropos our recent discussion, in which you made the above statement regarding the subtleties of JA’s syntactical constructions, I’ve got something for you that I hope will knock your socks off, so to speak. ;)

About an hour ago, while looking at something else (as usual), I reread, for the first time in a while, an elaborate sentence from Emma which I first studied in detail three years ago at the time I gave my first public talk, in Oxford, about Emma’s charades and puzzles.

As I reread the sentence, my eyes, newly attuned to syntactical nuance as a result of our exchange earlier about that tricky paragraph in S&S, saw something truly remarkable, which made the hinting textual clue I had first detected over three years ago much more meaningful than I had realized before.

Here is that elaborate sentence from Chapter 26 of Emma:

“That [Jane] was not immediately ready, Emma did suspect to arise from the state of her nerves; she had not yet possessed the instrument long enough to touch it without emotion; she must reason herself into the power of performance; and Emma could not but pity such feelings, whatever their origin, and could not but resolve never to expose them to her neighbour again.”

I suggest to you that this entire sentence (so elaborate that it has not one, not two, but three semicolons!) was deliberately (in both senses of that word) crafted by JA so as to be readable with TWO entirely different, but entirely grammatical, meanings!

And the most exquisite part of JA’s diabolically clever double sentence structure is that the fulcrum for shifting between the two different meanings is the nondescript phrase “long enough”. Depending on which word that phrase modifies, you have two completely different meanings of that sentence, all the way through all the semicolons.

I would think that anyone of a grammatically inclined bent should be able to discern both candidates for the modified word within no more than a few minutes.

These are two equally grammatical options, and actually I was not consciously searching for that second option at all when I reread that sentence, it just “popped out” at me, like one of those figure/ground images, where a duck suddenly turns into a rabbit because of something that shifts in your own head---and, after a moment’s confusion, the whole thing fell into place, I understood the alternative grammatical universe of that sentence completely.

Just as the “courtship” charade, which JA (also deliberately, in both senses) crafted so as to be solvable with (more than) two entirely different meanings. Just as I claim all of JA’s novels have been (deliberately) crafted so as to embody two parallel fictional universes.

As you so correctly claimed, she did not throw words around “slovenly”, and you can bet that this sentence’s doubleness is no more the result of carelessness or unconsciousness, than the multiple meanings of Mr. Elton’s charade. Both meanings are “there’ in the text, even though only one of them is readily apparent or “overt”.

You wrote about the imaginist as being separate from the close reader. I would suggest to you that it’s only when the imaginist and the close reader become one that everything is illuminated. ;)

Let me know what you think!



Monday, July 19, 2010

The Rain of Jane falls mainly on (a neighboring) Plain

After writing my previous message about JA’s last poem, the words “Oh Venta depraved” stuck in my mind, and I felt oddly compelled to revisit the entire poem, forgetting for the moment that it was JA who wrote it, and just trying to get a better sense of the metaphors deployed in the poem.

Those words stuck in my mind, I think, because “Depraved” is a pretty strong word for horse racing. And somehow my Jane Austen was not someone who would use such a strong word to describe low level vices like horse racing and the garish display of wealth and finery. She would, like Lizzy Bennet, laugh at such silliness, and skewer it satirically—no question!—but she would save her serious condemnations for serious crimes.

Then I thought about the upping of the ante of the hyperbolic rhetoric with “By vice you’re enslaved, You have sinned and must suffer”—this is nothing other than the meat and potatoes of an over the top fire-breathing sermon--- again, not the way I see my Jane Austen.

That’s when I stopped, and thought, not “fire-breathing” but “fire and brimstone” is the proper cliché for such a sermon—and of course, whence does that cliché derive? From the Biblical story of Abraham and Lot, fleeing from Sodom and Gomorrah!

And what were S&G known for? Well, “dissolute measures” is actually a mild description of the way Lot’s neighbors persist in wanting to get better acquainted with Lot’s house guests.

And where were S&G? Of course, from Abraham and Lot’s perspective (not to forget the over-curious wife of Lot!), after they hightail it out of town, on “a neighboring Plain”—Bingo!

So, we are talking the ultimate fire and brimstone story, satirically transformed through the dying brain of JA into pure gold of the darkest variety! And that means, of course, that the “rain” which St. Swithin threatens Winchester with is not the wet kind that just ruins hats and stoles, it’s the kind that makes global warming seem like an Ice Age, the kind that tends to rather permanently destroy all that it falls on. It’s a really big “Finis”!

And so, if St. Swithin is in any sense a stand-in for JA herself, I’d say that Nokes’s choice of the word “malediction” is actually rather tame—this is a full blown Biblical cataclysm that JA is calling down on those who would seek to mess with her “children”, i.e. her novels—and one that has no expiration date, because she is, as she points out rather melodramatically, “immortal” and “it shall NEVER be dry”!

Cheers, Arnie

"When once we are buried you think we are gone, But behold me immortal!"

Apropos the anniversary of JA's death and the poem she wrote just before she died, I wrote the following response in another online venue a year ago (less 2 days), in response to a comment by a friend and worthy Janeite, which praised JA's last poem as light cheerful verse stoically composed in the face of impending death:


"I got back Sunday evening from my trip to England, which included my participation in the Chawton Conference on 'New Directions in Austen Studies'---perhaps not surprisingly given that the conference was held not far from Winchester during July, one of the presentations was by Janet Todd and Linda Bree, in which they gave an interpretation of Austen's Winchester Races poem which was not far distant from [the post seeing JA's last poem as light, cheerful verse].

I am afraid I must disagree with [my friend's] interpretation, I think it is quite the opposite of a light cheerful verse. I think that JA (who, as Isobel Grundy pointed out at the conference, was buried in the Cathedral just like St. Swithin, and his anger at being buried there was THE whole point of the legend!) was doing what she had been doing her entire writing career, i.e., saying a cheerful thing superficially, but an angry thing beneath the surface. I see her as cursing her brothers's plans to turn a profit on her writing before she was cold in the ground, burying her in the Cathedral against her wishes, but also warning them that even though she was physically dead, her words, including specifically the words in her writing which revealed that all was far from sweetness and light in the Austen family, were immortal, and would one day bring to light the truth." END OF MY 07/21/09 RESPONSE

I was reminded of my above post by reading Ellen's recent post about JA's last poem, and also by reading Catherine's comment in Facebook suggesting that JA chose the wondrously beautiful Winchester Cathedral as her final resting place. I realized that I have some more to add today.

First, the prompt for Isobel Grundy to make her startling linkage of JA and St. Swithin, as both being interred in the Cathedral, was my comment during the Q&A after the Todd/Bree presentation, in which I claimed that JA was foreseeing that certain members of her family would exploit her writings for profit after her death.

Second, I feel that even more strongly today than a year ago, after all the additional research I have done in the interim. (During my research, by the way, I did learn a few months ago that the late, great David Nokes had beaten me to the punch a decade ago in arguing, in his JA bio, that the last poem was a curse--he called it a 'malediction'--by JA on the Austen family)

What's most startling about Isobel's insight is that it was not made 190 years earlier. Because, when you think about it for a moment, it is hiding in plain sight. St. Swithin is not just a saint associated with Winchester in a general way, JA's poem very specifically tells the tale of the angry saint's curse arising because he did not want to be buried in the grand Cathedral--and he is buried literally within steps of JA, who died within a week after the poem was written! This echo cannot possibly be a coincidence, and it cannot possibly be trivial!

So, why then is it that her last poem has been written about by over a dozens Austen scholars, and nobody other than Nokes ever took note of what I just wrote, above, and took a cold, hard look at that last poem as having strong autobiographical significance, in a negative sense?

Startling, but not at all surprising. Nokes took a devastating hit from Deirdre Le Faye when he wrote his bio, containing that, and many other forthright, courageous informed opinions and speculations about the darkness in JA's life.

Consider first that brother James just happened to decide to ALSO write a poem about "Venta" immediately after JA's death, in which there is neither hide nor hair of any angry saints! Instead James paints a portrait of JA as all sweetness and light. But he is not content to merely ignore St. Swithin, James takes great pains to specifically mention that "many a Statesman great & wise beneath thy hallowed pavement lies" and "the vaulted grave where sleep the learned & the Brave." and "High on the Screen on either hand Old Saxon Monarchs Coffins stand. Below beneath his sable Stone Lies the Conquerors haughty Son; Immured within the Chapels wall Sleep Mitred Priest and Cardinal. And honoured Wickham lies reclined In Gothic tracery enshrined."

Seems like he deliberately throws in the entire ancestral kitchen sink, so to speak, but somehow, the one guy whom his sister mentions, the one most famously associated with Winchester and the Cathedral, fails to make the cut.

Is all of this just a coincidence? I don't think so! An attempted whitewash? You betcha! This is part and parcel with Henry's Biographical Notice, and JEAL's Memoir, with their related drumbeat--JA never wrote about REAL people, JA was sweetness and light, JA never held a grudge, etc etc etc.

James's poem was, I argue, itself only one of the very first of countless actions taken by JA's family in the two centuries since her death, continuing to this very day, to negate as many of her "unseemly" written judgments as they could.

But fortunately (from my point of view, at least), they did not really understand "the Jane Austen Code", because, to actually Bowdlerize JA completely and destroy all traces of her resentments would have required that they burn ALL of her letters and also ALL of her fiction, because those judgments and resentments are all there in pretty much everything she wrote, under the light, bright and sparkling surface!

And now it makes so much more sense that JA herself took pains to not make her shadow stories too obvious, especially to the male members of her family. She knew there was a very real risk that NA and Persuasion might never be published, that ALL (and not merely many) of her letters might have been consigned to the flames, that her silent scream about the injustices of her world might be forever silenced.

It is in THAT context that I read "When once we are buried you think we are gone, But behold me immortal!" in JA's poem, and I cheer, because what I hear is that, even with her last bit of strength, JA's spirit stands shoulder to shoulder with St. Swithin, but this time as Nemesis speaking for the women of her age. Like the Saint, she truly is INDOMITABLE--and yet, even to her dying breath, she always recalled the Steventon theatricals of her tween years and was to the end a woman who could, wondrously, keep a (BIG) secret!

In closing, even though I entirely agree with Catherine about the stunning beauty of Winchester Cathedral, I want to add one additional wrinkle to the reasons why I don't believe JA was the one who chose it as her final resting place! I don't think she approved of the choice, not only because of JA aligning herself with the angry modest St. Swithin, but because even a superficial reading of her letters reveals that she NEVER had much say as to where she lived, or even where and when she could travel during her lifetime! So I believe she fully appreciated the very dark irony, as she lay dying in a tiny room in the shadow of the great Cathedral, that even the final "chapter" of her life was being written by others, i.e., it turned out that she had no choice as to where her body would spend the rest of eternity, either.

But, to the last, she was damned (so to speak) if she was not going to find a way to register her complaint in such a way as would OVERWRITE the cover story manufactured by her family, but in such a clever way that it would not wind up in the fireplace. ;)

And it worked! Nearly two centuries later (and now I have just gotten shivers thinking that in seven years, less 2 days, it will be the bicentenary of JA's death), we Janeites all do, every day, BEHOLD, on the printed page or the computer monitor, and celebrate, JA (the St. Swithin of literature) immortal, including (if I am successful in my writing about her) the part of her work which has NOT been previously beheld!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. (added 11/15/11) Read the following link, including the P.S. in it:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Writeup of my May 1, 2010 presentation to JASNA NYC

I am very pleased to report that the latest issue of JASNA-NYC's newsletter has now been published online at the above link, and it contains, if you scroll down to Page 4, a very fair, intelligent, and witty review of my talk by JASNA-NYC member, Leslie Arthur. For anyone who is unable to open the link to the newsletter (which of course contains a lot of other news besides that review, and which also has two great photos on P. 4 by Erika Arlanzon Hernandez---one of me and two laughing audience members which I previously posted at my blog, and another that gives only a hint of the sumptuous spread of food that followed my talk--Mr. Woodhouse would NOT have approved!), here is the full unexpurgated text of the review:

"In Arnie Perlstein’s reading of Austen, Freud’s admonition that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” does not signify. We were treated to the possibility that
Jane Fairfax became pregnant by a “mystery man” in Weymouth -- the cause of her illness throughout the overt story. According to Perlstein our attention is diverted from this possibility because we are held captive in Emma’s clueless head. Jane’s diet (including Donwell apples) heralds a season of blooming open windows and references to architecture have sexual overtones: the arrival of the pianoforte is an unexpected gift that can mean whatever you like it to mean. Even the maid Patty’s concern about chimney sweeps takes us on a wild ride of speculation.

There is a cat in every woodpile and a meaning in every action. A sneeze can signify the unwanted epidemic of childbearing. We were invited to speculate that Mr. John Knightly’s impregnating his wife was his desire to kill her (although if it is he who has impregnated Jane, it is for another reason altogether). In the world of subtext, Jane Austen is a feminist, an early champion of a woman’s autonomy, and the shadow story is the evidence. In Perlstein’s view Austen would not have, and could not have, written what she wanted to write, given the time and the society in which she lived. She had to hide her story in plain sight, fulfilling her feminist duty.

At the conclusion of his presentation Mr. Perlstein invited the attendees to read his book when it comes out and reserve judgment for the totality of his argument. There were decidedly conflicting reactions to his precepts, but it was generally agreed that it was great fun to look at Emma in a new way. We adjourned to a delightful tea, where we continued the conversation initiated by this lively talk." END OF REVIEW

As I said, I think it's a lovely review, and I am very appreciative to Leslie Arthur and EVERYONE else at JASNA-NYC for rolling out a red carpet for me in every respect---this review is the icing on the cake (sorry, again, Mr. Woodhouse).

Purely for accuracy, and not to quibble in the slightest, the only parts of my talk that Leslie Arthur did not get 100% accurate (which was really excellent work on her part, considering I was moving quickly from point to point in my argument the entire time I was speaking, and I covered a lot of material in 70 minutes of speaking) were the following two small, but significant, points regarding the shadow story (and NOT the overt story) of Emma:

1. I believe John Knightley and Jane Fairfax have their impregnating tryst in London, not Weymouth, BEFORE Jane goes to Weymouth to find an unwitting SINGLE "father" for her newly conceived illegitimate child.

2. I was deadly serious in suggesting that the marriage of John and Isabella Knightley is a very unhappy one, but I was HALF-joking when I suggested that John's solution to being trapped in a loveless marriage was to get Isabella SERIALLY pregnant in a game of marital Russian Roulette in which he was the gun and she was...well, you get the picture. As anyone who has read all of JA's surviving letters and was paying attention would realize, getting a wife pregnant for a decade straight was not a practice JA approved of, to put it mildly, partly because it wore the wife out, and partly because it carried a much greater risk of mortality for the wife than a one-shot (so to speak) and entirely UNINTENDED impregnation of a mistress. And by the way, this and much more will be the topic of my upcoming presentation at the JASNA AGM to be held in Portland, Oregon about 100 days from now, about Mrs. Tilney's mysterious fatal fever.

I am eager to give this same presentation to several OTHER JASNA Regional Groups during the next twelve months. For those of you who are members of JASNA, if you would like me to give this talk to your regional group, please email me at and we can discuss how we might try to arrange this.

I am afraid I have no helpful advice at all for those of you who are JASNA members who DON'T want me to address your regional group. ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. re the 2010 JASNA AGM in Portland: As of July 17, there are 479 attendees signed up for the AGM, so there is still room for another 121-171 more, so sign up now if you haven't already!.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

On the DELIBERATE use of puns

I have just spent a while sussing out how, in a most interesting way, recent threads on the use of puns and Mr. Woodhouse as fool or savant, seemingly unrelated, have converged most pleasingly on the word “deliberately”, as used by Mr. Woodhouse in his statement to Emma about Mrs. Elton:

"Well, my dear," he deliberately began, "considering we never saw her before, she seems a very pretty sort of young lady; and I dare say she was very much pleased with you.

I ended my last message claiming that Mr. Woodhouse in this statement plays the fool very deliberately, and it was at that moment that I myself “got” JA’s pun on the word “deliberately”. How wonderful to think that this single word conveys two utterly different messages about the way Mr. Woodhouse operates in the world—he is extremely deliberate, i.e., slow and painstaking, and he is also (I claim) extremely deliberate, i.e., he pretends to be an absurd fool, and exactly like Shakespeare’s fools, his “foolish” statements can be read as wise comments on what he sees around him.

As is my custom when I “get” another one of JA’s puns, I did a global search in the novels on the word “deliberately” and its variants, and found several interesting usages which shed further light on this point.

First, although it should go without saying, we know for certain that JA was well aware of the meaning of “deliberately” as “intentional”. I found two unambiguous instances of same:

In Chapter 46 of P&P:

“For such an attachment as this, she might have sufficient charms; and though she did not suppose Lydia to be DELIBERATELY engaging in an elopement, without the intention of marriage, she had no difficulty in believing that neither her virtue nor her understanding would preserve her from falling an easy prey.”

There was nothing slow or painstaking about Lydia’s elopement with Wickham!

And in Lady Susan:

“I do not suppose that you would DELIBERATELY form an absolute engagement of that nature without acquainting your Mother and myself, “

I note in passing Lady Susan’s malicious insinuation that her prim and proper daughter, Frederica, might elope the way Lydia Bennet does.

But I also found several interesting usages of “deliberately” which do seem to me to point toward a thematically meaningful pun:

First in Emma, in Chapter 25, we have, curiously, another usage which involves Mr. Woodhouse:

“But the idea of any thing to be done in a _moment_, was increasing, not lessening Mr. Woodhouse's agitation. Mr Weston must be quiet, and every thing DELIBERATELY arranged.”

Mr. Woodhouse has been bemoaning the invitation of Emma to their evening party, and that leads him to remind Mr. Weston of his grievous error in marrying poor Miss Taylor. Mr. Weston, impulsivity personified (and I will, in passing, add him to the trinity of faux fools I mentioned before), attempts to appease Mr. Woodhouse, and that’s when we read the above, which represents the female solution to this difficulty---everything must be deliberately arranged, i.e., both slowly AND also with calculated, intentional planning—both meanings of “deliberately” fit perfectly here.

Second, there is a subtle example in Chapter 43 of Mansfield Park, as Fanny reads Mary Crawford’s letter:

“This was a letter to be run through eagerly, to be read DELIBERATELY, to supply matter for much reflection, and to leave everything in greater suspense than ever.”

The pun applies here, because it is a letter to be read slowly and carefully, but also to be read, i.e., interpreted, as containing multiple intentional innuendoes and hints of all sorts of intrigue. Mary Crawford is, after all, the one who requested not to be suspected of a pun, immediately after throwing out out into the universe one of our most infamous literary puns!

Third, in Ch. 14 of P&P, we have Mr. Collins (another fool who perhaps is not so entirely foolish), deciding on a book in the Longbourn library suitable to be read from by him to the Bennet multitude:

“Other books were produced, and after some DELIBERATION he chose Fordyce's _Sermons_.”

Here we actually have a triple pun, where the surface meaning is that of “internal thought-processing”, but it also comfortably can be read with the secondary meaning of “slowly”, i.e., we can see Collins melodramatically taking a long time to make this “weighty” decision, and the tertiary meaning also, to my eyes, also works, if we allow for the possibility that Collins actually has a brain in his head, and he might just have chosen Fordyce’s Sermons as revenge on the Bennet girls for making fun of him, which he only pretends not to notice. Food for thought….

Fourth, in Ch. 49, we have a particularly nice example, when Lizzy and Jane race to find their father so that they can hear the news in their uncle’s letter from London:

“Upon this information, they instantly passed through the hall once more, and ran across the lawn after their father, who was DELIBERATELY pursuing*/ /*his way towards a small wood on one side of the paddock.”

Yes, we have the surface meaning that Mr. Bennet was walking very slowly and resolutely, like Sisyphus, away from his father so he can process Uncle Gardiner’s bombshell in private for a while. But I also see a sly Mr. Bennet who, as we all know, LOVES to play mind games with his family, by withholding news he knows they desperately want to hear. And so, I claim, Mr. Bennet once more plays that game, and deliberately takes himself off, knowing that eventually Lizzy and Jane will hear of the letter delivery (Hill is also VERY familiar with Mr. Bennet’s tiresome game-playing), and be forced to run to find him. Not very nice, but then, sometimes Mr. Bennet IS NOT very nice!

Fifth, and perhaps my personal favorite, is an example where there actually is no pun on “deliberate” as “intentional”, but where I was led to notice the paragraph in which it appears in S&S, which I had never noticed before, but which may be the most dramatic wink by JA about the cluelessness of her heroines:

During a conversation with Edward about the true nature of Marianne’s character, and whether Marianne really is serious or merry, Elinor pops out the following non sequitur whopper:

"I have frequently detected myself in such kind of mistakes," said Elinor, "in a total misapprehension of character in some point or other: fancying people so much more gay or grave, or ingenious or stupid than they really are, and I can hardly tell why, or in what the deception originated. Sometimes one is guided by what they say of themselves, and very frequently by what other people say of them, without giving one’s self time to DELIBERATE and judge."

Is there any better description of what I have just been describing, as to characters who appear to be one way, but actually can be read as precisely the opposite?

I finish on a humorous note by noting that a few days ago, Christy helpfully provided us with the key element of a pun—“A pun must be DELIBERATE.”

And I would add, it’s an even better pun if that pun is ON the word “deliberate”! ;)

Cheers, Arnie

Chain Chain Chain Chain of Fools

The following is my response to comments by my friends Diana and Diane in Janeites and Austen L:

Me: "But why exactly would his and Emma never having seen Mrs. Elton before have made it less likely (or MORE likely, for that matter) that Mrs. Elton would turn out, upon first viewing, to be a "very pretty sort of young lady"

Diana: “Because it's a JOKE, Arnie. Mr. Woodhouse isn't joking of course, but Jane Austen is showing his silly thinking, which is even sillier because he takes his time with it, is so "deliberate." He always thinks things over for a long time, and *still* comes out with absurdities that are tied in with his fear of life. Naturally, never having seen a young lady before has nothing whatsoever to do with how she turns out to look; except, of course, for the fact that Mr. Woodhouse does not like things or people he has not known for a long time, and he has a positive horror of anything new. Mrs. Elton is new - so he's surprised that she could seem pretty. Simple explanation, no need to bark up so many trees!"

Me: It is indeed a joke, Diana, but I suggest to you that it's a double joke, and the second joke is there to be enjoyed by those who don't agree that it's as simple as you claim it to be. I would go so far as to say that this was one of the most enjoyable (and fruitful) trees I've barked up in recent weeks! Or, put another way, ruff, ruff! ;)

And it’s a tree I stumbled upon by my usual serendipity born of obsession. I found Mr. Woodhouse’s little bon mot because it was (fittingly) used (although slightly misquoted) as one of the epigraphs for a wonderful article from almost thirty years ago which I believe was the FIRST scholarly argument claiming that JA was a philosopher in muddy petticoats, i.e., that all of JA’s novels reflect JA’s obsessive interest in epistemology, i.e., how we know what we know, the subjectivity of human cognition and perception.

So I claim that ONE valid response to Mr. Woodhouse’s absurdities is to treat him as a metaphorical gymnast of a very quirky kind, a cockeyed genius poet, if you will. There’s a reason why Joe Orton, the great dark absurdist English playwright of the Sixties, loved JA.

Actually, Emma is (at least) a TRIPLE joke, because barking up the same sort of trees in the past has led me to understand that Miss Bates, Harriet Smith, and Mr. Woodhouse are a TRIO of "fools" (and there are more in the novel as well, and they're all entwined with each other in the claustrophobic little world of Highbury, so perhaps it's a "CHAIN of fools") who are all, when viewed through special spectacles, much wiser and wittier in the ways of the world than Emma. Emma is, in that sense, theater of the absurd a century before it was officially invented!

As to these fools, their substance appears to be one way in the bright light Emma shines on them, but they look very different in the shadows Emma never learns to see into. It's all a matter of point of view.

Diane’s sharp intuition led her, as it led me last year, to take special note of the mock epic quality of “He had caught both substance and shadow”, and indeed, as Elissa pointed out, the ghost of Shakespeare is lurking beneath the floorboards. Shakespeare plays with the juxtaposition of substance and shadow a dozen times in his plays and sonnets, but the one I think JA had most saliently in mind as she wrote the above words was the following very famous speech from Act 2, Scene 2, of Richard II, spoken by Bushy:

“Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows, Which shows like grief itself, but is not so; For sorrow's eye, glazed with blinding tears, Divides one thing entire to many objects; Like perspectives, which rightly gazed upon Show nothing but confusion, eyed awry Distinguish form: so your sweet majesty, Looking awry upon your lord's departure, Find shapes of grief, more than himself, to wail; Which, look'd on as it is, is nought but shadows Of what it is not. Then, thrice-gracious queen, More than your lord's departure weep not: more's not seen; Or if it be, 'tis with false sorrow's eye, Which for things true weeps things imaginary.”

As has often been pointed out in the realm of Shakespearean criticism, most elaborately by Gilman in 1978, Bushy is referring to the “curious perspective” of paintings like the very famous one by Holbein, i.e., to anamorphic art, where the viewer sees a different image when he shifts his point of view, and Bushy is saying, basically, that how we see the events of our own lives depends on our own point of view, and what appears to be tragedy from one angle may not be tragic at all, from another perspective. The centerpiece of my approach to JA's fiction is that all of it is amamorphic, i.e., two parallel fictional universes in each novel.

And I would go so far as to argue that Emma (the novel) is, for all of the above reasons, and many more, arguably the most spectacular joke in the history of Western literature.

And so I take the perspective that JA took special pleasure, when Emma was a done deal, finished and published, in writing her April Fool's letter to James Stanier Clarke filled with modest self-deprecations which were precisely the opposite of her true opinion as to the magnum opus she knew she had achieved in Emma.

Diane: “I am working on a paper on this (at this point for my own amusement) and this village choir is everywhere--and it radically undermines the reliability of the novels. People have written before about this sliding narration in JA but I haven't found anyone who takes it out to the limit of how very, very unreliable it really is, because you have to come from the POV of a JA who is playing with her audience with a deep, deep sense of amusement.”

It was by taking JA’s narration out to the limits of unreliability that I first discovered fragments of the shadow stories of JA’s novels 8 years ago in Willoughby and Lucy, and it is evident from all your postings, Diane, that you also have a profound understanding of that same core principle, and you also crystallize your thoughts about this subject with particular elegance and clarity.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

P.S. re a very pretty sort of young lady

When I returned to the text of Emma after a break, it was easy enough to find the passages in chapters prior to the Hartfield conversation about Mrs. Elton in Chapter 32, which pertained to the principal question I raised as to Mr. Woodhouse's strange utterance about Mrs. Elton.

As you will note from the quoted passages, below (and perhaps a number of you already knew it from memory), Emma indeed was thinking very negative thoughts about Mrs. Elton's looks (and her other assets as well) very soon after she heard about the sudden engagement. And so now I do believe that Mr. Woodhouse did mean what he said, and that he was, in a very very very oblique way, challenging Emma's negative judgments on Mrs. Elton.

There is method in Mr. Woodhouse's madness in this passage--in saying to Emma, "considering we never saw her before, she seems a very pretty sort of young lady....", there is a subtle but distinct irony--what he's doing is REMINDING Emma that SHE had never seen Mrs. Elton before! But, just as Miss Bates codes her messages into a rapid-fire word salad, Mr. Woodhouse accomplishes exactly the same purpose with the opposite technique--hence that wonderful adverb "deliberately" to describe his talking! He is the verbal tortoise to Miss Bates's verbal hare---and isn't it interesting that Mrs. Elton later refers to "The Hare and his Many Friends"!?

And this also sheds much more significant light on Mr. Woodhouse's mantra and hobby horse, i.e., the horrors of marriage. Perhaps Mr. Woodhouse is not merely thinking of himself when he decries marriage as the worst fate known to humankind---in that same backhanded way, perhaps he is warning Emma not to get married, for HER sake! And therefore what appears to be monstrous narcissism is actually astonishing altruism. Topsy-turvy.

Anyway, here are those earlier passages, for your easy reference:

Ch. 21: "Oh! my dear sir, how are you this morning? My dear Miss Woodhouse -- I come quite overpowered. Such a beautiful hind-quarter of pork! You are too bountiful! Have you heard the news? Mr. Elton is going to be married."

Emma had not had time even to think of Mr. Elton, and she was so completely surprized that she could not avoid a little start, and a little blush, at the sound.

"There is my news: -- I thought it would interest you," said Mr. Knightley, with a smile which implied a conviction of some part of what had passed between them.

"As to who, or what Miss Hawkins is, or how long he has been acquainted with her," said Emma, "nothing I suppose can be known. One feels that it cannot be a very long acquaintance. He has been gone only four weeks."


Mr. Elton's rights, however, gradually revived. Though she did not feel the first intelligence as she might have done the day before, or an hour before, its interest soon increased; and before their first conversation was over, she had talked herself into all the sensations of curiosity, wonder and regret, pain and pleasure, as to this fortunate Miss Hawkins, which could conduce to place the Martins under proper subordination in her fancy.

22: Human nature is so well disposed towards those who are in interesting situations, that a young person, who either marries or dies, is sure of being kindly spoken of.

A week had not passed since Miss Hawkins's name was first mentioned in Highbury, before she was, by some means or other, discovered to have every recommendation of person and mind*/; /*to be handsome, elegant, highly accomplished, and perfectly amiable: and when Mr. Elton himself arrived to triumph in his happy prospects, and circulate the fame of her merits, there was very little more for him to do, than to tell her Christian name, and say whose music she principally played.

Mr. Elton returned, a very happy man. He had gone away rejected and mortified -- disappointed in a very sanguine hope, after a series of what had appeared to him strong encouragement; and not only losing the right lady, but finding himself debased to the level of a very wrong one. He had gone away deeply offended -- he came back engaged to another -- and to another as superior, of course, to the first, as under such circumstances what is gained always is to what is lost. He came back gay and self-satisfied, eager and busy, caring nothing for Miss Woodhouse, and defying Miss Smith.

The charming Augusta Hawkins, in addition to all the usual advantages of perfect beauty and merit, was in possession of an independent fortune, of so many thousands as would always be called ten; a point of some dignity, as well as some convenience: the story told well; he had not thrown himself away -- he had gained a woman of ten thousand pounds, or thereabouts; and he had gained her with such delightful rapidity -- the first hour of introduction had been so very soon followed by distinguishing notice; the history which he had to give Mrs. Cole of the rise and progress of the affair was so glorious -- the steps so quick, from the accidental rencontre, to the dinner at Mr. Green's, and the party at Mrs. Brown's -- smiles and blushes rising in importance -- with consciousness and agitation richly scattered -- the lady had been so easily impressed -- so sweetly disposed -- had in short, to use a most intelligible phrase, been so very ready to have him, that vanity and prudence were equally contented.

He had caught both substance and shadow -- both fortune and affection, and was just the happy man he ought to be; talking only of himself and his own concerns -- expecting to be congratulated -- ready to be laughed at -- and, with cordial, fearless smiles, now addressing all the young ladies of the place, to whom, a few weeks ago, he would have been more cautiously gallant.


The pain of his continued residence in Highbury, however, must certainly be lessened by his marriage. Many vain solicitudes would be prevented -- many awkwardnesses smoothed by it. A _Mrs. Elton_ would be an excuse for any change of intercourse; former intimacy might sink without remark. It would be almost beginning their life of civility again.

Of/ /the lady, individually, Emma thought very little. She was good enough for Mr. Elton, no doubt; accomplished enough for Highbury -- handsome enough -- to look plain, probably, by Harriet's side. As to connection, there Emma was perfectly easy; persuaded, that after all his own vaunted claims and disdain of Harriet, he had done nothing. On that article, truth seemed attainable. _What_ she was, must be uncertain; but _who_ she was, might be found out; and setting aside the £10,000 it did not appear that she was at all Harriet's superior. She brought no name, no blood, no alliance. Miss Hawkins was the youngest of the two daughters of a Bristol -- merchant, of course, he must be called; but, as the whole of the profits of his mercantile life appeared so very moderate, it was not unfair to guess the dignity of his line of trade had been very moderate also. Part of every winter she had been used to spend in Bath; but Bristol was her home, the very heart of Bristol; for though the father and mother had died some years ago, an uncle remained -- in the law line -- nothing more distinctly honourable was hazarded of him, than that he was in the law line; and with him the daughter had lived. Emma guessed him to be the drudge of some attorney, and too stupid to rise. And all the grandeur of the connection seemed dependent on the elder sister, who was _very well_ _married_, to a gentleman in a _great way_, near Bristol, who kept two carriages! That was the wind-up of the history; that was the glory of Miss Hawkins.