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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Jane Austen, Mark Twain and Vladimir Nabokov ...and RL Stevenson!

My earlier post about Austen, Nabokov and Twain....

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/12/jane-austen-mark-twain-and-vladimir.html

...was picked up by an alert member of the Nabokov listserv and I have received a couple of very interesting responses, including the following, from Stan Kelly-Bootle, to which I responded as follows:

"Arnie Perlstein’s interesting comments reveal some of the paradoxes inherent in language, and especially those that bedevil our honest assessment of particular quotations from Nabokov’s diverse writings."

Stan, thank you very much for _your_ interesting reply to my comments. ;)


"Arnie seems to be aware of the inherent, inescapable ambiguity of all natural language. IF we feel that Nabokov is teasing and burlesquing (irony, humour, sarcasm, hyperbole, ...) we naturally praise the very lack of precision expressed so precisely. VN’s real ‘thoughts’ (we are pre-convinced that he’s no misogynist foe of Jane) are beautifully conveyed by statements to the contrary. In humourless Boolean terms, expressing P as NOT-P is the epitome of NON-precision!"

I concur.

"However, since we are equally convinced of VN’s dislike of Freud, Lenin. Stalin (more ...), we interpret his denigrations as precisely worded and Irony-Free."

The key point that you have not mentioned is that I am not relying solely on what Nabokov said about Jane Austen in isolation, but on the Mark Twain/Pride and Prejudice "Chinese Box" subtext beneath those remarks. I would not have claimed Nabokov was being ironic if not for that subtext, it is what "seals the deal".

And I have one additional "Chinese Box" to add to Nabokov's very elaborate joke--Note that Nabokov, in replying to Edmund Wilson, says that instead of Jane Austen, he will read Robert Louis Stevenson instead. While it might have been possible that Nabokov mentioned Stevenson of all writers because he was a fan of Stevenson's writing, what shows that this is part of the same elaborate joke is that Stevenson wrote the following in a short piece entitled "A Gossip on a Novel of Dumas":

"Elizabeth Bennet has but to speak, and I am at her knees. Ah! these are the creators of desirable women. "

So are we to believe that it is _also_ a coincidence that the writer whom Nabokov names as an alternative study subject just happens to be a writer who, like Twain, has made a forceful statement in print about Pride and Prejudice, and that it is Lizzy Bennet who is specifically mentioned, being the speaker of the lines in Pride and Prejudice which spawned (I claim) Twain's _and_ Nabokov's comments about Pride and Prejudice?

The odds of such a 5-part coincidence are microscopically, vanishingly small!

So, again, this is not just about a few lines that Nabokov wrote which might or might not be ironic--it's about a series of nested Chinese Boxes of the literary mind of Nabokov, exactly what one would expect from the author of an elaborate literary game like _Pale Fire_!

Cheers, ARNIE

Child mortality in the 17th Century & Northanger Abbey

Earlier today, Ellen Moody posted some very astute comments about discussion in a book by Antonia Fraser about 17th century women having babies who died. This, to my ears, was very much in synch with what I have been saying for some time about Northanger Abbey:

"I'm aware that (as today) it was made socially unacceptable to voice strongly that as a woman, you didn't want any children; paradoxically all the more so because the mortality rate was so high."

That is exactly what I was talking about in Portland at the AGM-- Northanger Abbey is about Jane Austen's outrage at the way women are treated like breeding farm animals--forced by every social power-wielder (church, state, culture, law) to just breed and breed and breed and breed until they died, were debilitated, or were just overwhelmed by a flood of children to care for. And add to that the horrible additional torment that a very high % of your babies would die. No wonder Jane Austen felt a Christian responsibility to speak out on behalf of her dead, overwhelmed, and/or grieving "sisters"!


"It's hard to catch the repressers in the act as this sort of thing is not written down; one really finds it in the apologetic semi-laments of women then pregnant supposedly writing to the coming new-born child on the supposition the writer is going to die. Occasionally in their reverse defensiveness you'll hear the accents of someone who "scolded" (a la Cassandra say in that first letter) the woman for her presumption, fear: often religion was thrown out them to shut them up."

Exactly so! And Jane Austen knew she'd never get Northanger Abbey published if she were explicit in her outrage. So it's all covert, but fully accessible when you "get" what she driving at.

"On the positive side they were told they were worthless until they had children (ha) and that how respected and useful they would be to the husband and family when they did produce a live child (especially a son)."

And see how Jane Austen turned that misogynist drivel on its head--her novels were her children, and she very well knew her own great worth!

"So it makes sense to me that part of the "evidence" we've had over the years that adults, especially parents did not invest emotionally in their children might just come from silences imposed by others. I had not thought of that."

Good for you that you see it now, Ellen, and speak out about it so fluently.

"It would be done in line with the kinds of stances above, reinforced by the usual (to me illegitimate and oppressive norm) that one must be "tough" in public, not show emotion and so on. (This is much used nowadays in hospitals to help rob patients of their autonomy -- this is seen in the powerful movie, Wit, which I again showed to my students this term)."

Exactly so, once again, well stated.

"Thank you for the insight via Fraser. She can err badly at times -- meaning some of her portraits are not convincing, but she does see through the cant of others in history."

And so did Jane Austen, long before it was safe for women to say such things!

Cheers.
Arnie

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Two off-the-beaten-track gems of feminist interpretation of Jane Austen

As I wind down my ambitious goal---which I first conceived almost six years ago to the day---of reading just about everything scholarly ever written about Jane Austen that in any way, shape or form might bear on her feminist shadow stories--which means, a hell of a lot of books, articles, webpages, emails--I am talking thousands---there is, in addition of course to the steady stream of current writing about Jane Austen, still a trickle of scholarly wisdom from the past which I from time to time continue to come across, every time I think of a new word or phrase to search.

Even now, after all my obsessive searching and researching, this still occurs because there is no such thing as a definitive bibliographic database of listings of same, despite the attempts of some to compile them--nothing close, in fact. There are many many many articles and books, mostly but not all written before the era of the Internet, which are off the official grid, and which are therefore very difficult to find. Whereas certain sources tend to be read and cited a great deal, others are off the beaten track and therefore don't get read or cited.

That all was prelude to telling you briefly about two wonderful relatively obscure scholarly writings which I have read during the past few days, which provide rich validation to my sense of Jane Austen's mysteries, even though both of them purport to interpret only the overt stories of the novels, not the shadow stories.

The first is Mary Evans's 1987 book Jane Austen and the State , and the following is a brief sampler of quotations from her book which could not be more congruent with my own sense of Jane Austen's goals as a feminist author and societal critic:

From the Introduction: "This is not to suggest that Jane Austen belongs in any sense to a tradition of the ‘Left’...but it does mean that the values she endorses are incompatible with the practices and policies of contemporary Toryism, particularly because of her concern for the protection of women and children, and for the articulation of their rights and views...Unlike some Victorian novelists, Jane Austen does not argue that women are helpless victims; on the contrary, she maintains that they are active makers of their fate. But what she does show is the vulnerability of women in the economic marketplace, a vulnerability that leads to the paradox of both their inadequate protection (in the sense of real provision for their needs and those of their children) and their excessive restriction (in terms of their inferior civil liberties and assumptions about female dependence)."

And this from P. 2 of Chapter 1: "Thus the central thesis of this essay is that JA offers her readers a radical morality, and that far from endorsing the given, and emergent, values of late 18th century capitalism, she was in many ways deeply critical of them. The taken for granted association of Austen with conservatism—a position echoed even by those critics who have located Austen in a social context—misinterprets….her attempt to elucidate a morality that is independent of the material values of the capitalist marketplace, and the claims that she articulates for the equality of men and women and the right of women to moral independence and autonomy. …Austen represents not a conservative but a liberal tradition: a tradition opposed to the equation of moral worth with wealth, and to the extension of patriarchal authority...."


The other gem I uncovered is the 1999 book Smile of discontent: humor, gender, and nineteenth-century British fiction by Eileen Gillooly

Specifically, the first half of Chapter 3 (entitled "Humor as Maternal Aggression") is a masterful close reading of the manner in which Mary Crawford and Fanny Price are presented in MP, which is extremely congruent with my postings in September 2010 in this blog about the cat and mouse game between the brashly complex character of Mary Crawford and the shyly complex character of Fanny Price. Here is a brief sampling to illustrate:

"In charging Mary with both sexual and gender misconduct (her laughter, to his mind, is not simply femininely indecorous under the circumstances but lewd), Edmund unwittingly associates her with the adulterous Maria. Unlike Maria, however, who is castigated for her crime, Mary finds sanctuary from censure in her doubleness. Not only is she 'double' to Fanny (her function as counterheroine, narratologically speaking, precludes her moral condemnation), but because her doubly indecent laughter (sexually suggestive and of female origin) proceeds from her (always doubly determined) humor, it evades fixed meaning, and, in so doing, she escapes punishment."

"The humor that Mary and the narrator share is as alike in rhetoric as in perspective. Both reply upon wordplay, italics (or emphasis in Mary's case), litotes, and periphrasis to give their humor form, and both fix upon targets that are consistently, if not exclusively, 'feminist': Sir Thomas's oppressively paternalistic treatment of Fanny and his daughters, the debasing practices of the marriage market, or the gender bias of the dominant attitude toward adultery, for example. On the issue of sexual inequality in the punishment of adultery, indeed, not only is the narrator at her most explicitly (proto)feminist, but her moral judgment is notably closer to Mary's than at any other time..."


You will have to read these books yourself to do them justice, and I do heartily recommend them to you.

Cheers, ARNIE

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Jane Austen, Mark Twain and Vladimir Nabokov

In another online venue, someone quoted Nabokov writing to his friend Edmund Wilson,

"I dislike Jane, and am prejudiced, in fact, against all women writers. They are in another class. Could never see anything in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE,"

and then advising his students to

"form a habit of searching with unflinching patience for the right word, the only right word which will convey with the utmost precision the exact shade and intensity of thought. In such matters, there are worse teachers than Jane Austen."

...as evidence that Nabokov was not a Janeite and was not extending high praise to Jane Austen's writing.

To which I replied as follows:

I take Nabokov's comment to Wilson about Austen as a very sophisticated joke, meaning precisely the opposite of what you claim, and here is why.

First, listen for the irony in "I dislike Jane, and am prejudiced [ha, ha!], in fact against all women writers. They are in another class." Do you imagine that Nabokov was actually prejudiced against all women writers, and would, if so, acknowledge such an absurd opinion to his friend, whom he knew to be a great admirer of Jane Austen? It is highly unlikely! Which alerts us to dig a little deeper, and to investigate whether this is a put-on.

And it happens that such an investigation by a knowledgeable Janeite shows that Nabokov was not (to paraphrase John McEnroe) serious! This was an inside joke by a sophisticated literary scholar, as Nabokov was, I claim, echoing Mark Twain's very famous very negative comment about (not coincidentally) Pride and Prejudice:

"Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone"

Of course Twain's ironic twist was that you don't reread a novel you don't like often enough to refer to "every time" you read it! And there are other examples of Twain's faux hostility toward Austen's writing as well, which I am convinced that Nabokov, the careful scholar and himself master of the literary put-on, also recognized.

And, by the way, Twain was not just making a joke in isolation, he himself was simultaneously implicitly revealing his own Austenian erudition in his little joke. How? As a reader well versed in Pride and Prejudice would recognize, Twain was actually paying an additional sly homage to the following very famous line in Pride and Prejudice itself, when Elizabeth Bennet betrays her own attraction to Darcy during her rejection of his first marriage proposal:

"From the very beginning, from the first moment I may almost say, of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that ground-work of disapprobation, on which succeeding events have built so immoveable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the
last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry."

The "tell" is that within a month after meeting Darcy, and long before he proposed to her, Elizabeth was actually weighing the pros and cons of marrying him! (and isn't that just plain spectacular dialog-writing anyway?)

So we have Nabokov creating a very elegant little Chinese Box of nested veiled allusions, all based on the theme of overtly stated dislike betrayed by unconscious revelation of unconscious attraction.

But as far as I can tell, Wilson did not get the joke. Nabokov was playfully responding to Wilson's earnest exhortation to Nabokov: "Jane Austen is worth reading all through--even her fragments are remarkable". And here is Wilson's reply to Nabokov's (mock) dissing of Jane Austen and all female writers: "You are mistaken about Jane Austen. I think you ought to read Mansfield Park..." That's when Nabokov _pretended_ to capitulate and read Mansfield Park, when I would bet the house that he
had read all of Austen long before.

And anyway, that latter quote you found, which I was not previously aware of--for which I thank you---about finding the right word--is totally in synch with the argument I just made. Coming from a pedantically precise writer like Nabokov, the "only" right word, the "utmost" precision, the "exact" shade, these are genuine accolades.

This is not damning with faint praise, this is high praise burlesquing as faint praise by the ironic reference to there being "worse teachers than Jane Austen". Nabokov was clearly a writer who, even in his nonfiction, was very concerned with achieving subtle ironic effects--and that is most of all why I believed he was a passionate Janeite, because I believe his deep study of Austen's writing only enhanced that quality in his own, and Austen was indeed a _great_ teacher for him....

Cheers, ARNIE

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

More of my thoughts about Jane Austen vis a vis Hannah More

The following are two posts I made this morning in Janeites and Austen-L regarding Jane Austen vis a vis Hannah More.


First, I thank Christy [Somer] for her extracts from Coelebs, which prompted me to take a close look at Hannah More's actual writing for the first time, as opposed to reading _about_ More, which is what I had previously done.

So, in addition to reading here and there in the essay on Religion which both Edmund Bertram and Mary Crawford covertly alluded to, I also read the Preface and first ten chapters of Coeleb, enough to get a good flavor of More's mature writing style and a sense of her stance on matters of religion and psychology.

My sense is that JA had a very mixed ambivalent attitude toward More. On the one hand, More's high intellect, great erudition, independence of thought, classically elegant writing style, and passionate engagement with the interface of religion and psychology, would all have been apparent to JA, and would have met with JA's strong approval. On the other hand, however, I think JA parted ways very decisively with More on questions of how a strong, intelligent woman should act in the world.

Here are two passages from early in Coelebs which to me provide good examples for illustrating the sharp parting of paths between JA and More:

"This error, I conceive, arises from religion being too much considered as a mere institution of decorum, of convention, of society; and not as an institution founded on the condition of human nature, a covenant of mercy for repairing the evils which sin has produced. It springs from the want of a conviction that Christianity is an individual as well as general concern; that religion is a personal thing, previous to its being a matter of example; that a man is not infallibly saved or lost as a portion of any family, or any church, or any community; but that, as he is individually responsible, he must be individually brought to a deep and humbling sense of his own personal wants, without taking any
refuge in the piety he may see around him, of which he will have no benefit, if he be no partaker."

While superficially, it might seem that JA would agree with what More advocates in the above passage which could be said to describe what someone who wishes to be a force for good in the word, i.e., a human "angel", I think that there was a radical difference between JA and More in terms of both (i) the degree to which a true Christian ought to acquiesce in societally-sanctioned injustice, and (ii) what actually constitutes "injustice" in various social contexts. I.e., the _angel_ is
in the details, and I believe JA and More differed strikingly in the details. What should the good Christian do in order to "repair the evils which sin has produced"? And, behind that question, what is "sin", and what are those "evils"? These latter two questions must not be begged, they are crucial. I think that there was only partial overlap between JA and More in answering both of those questions.

The way they each approached the writing of fiction was also very different. As More candidly acknowledges in her Preface, she really was not a novelist by either temperament or learning. Those first 10 chapters of Coelebs were nonfiction treatises in very thin disguise, there was not even the beginning of what fiction really is, which is showing and not telling. There is nothing but telling in Coelebs, and what a contrast that is to JA's novels, where there is nothing but
showing, and on the rare occasions where there is telling, it is, in my opinion, ironic, and masking a deeper showing. Which is one of the many reasons why the world reads JA's novels, and does not read Coelebs. In this regard, it's also very revealing that More famously had serious reservations about the morality of the theater, which of course and not coincidentally is a theme at the center of Mansfield Park. What the text of Coelebs reveals is that More had absolutely no gift for dramatization, which, as JA well understood, was at the heart of the craft of the great novelist, a craft in which JA had few peers and no superior.

So it does not surprise me at all that JA read Coelebs very carefully, as well as, I am sure, a great deal of More's nonfiction writing as well. She read it, learned what she could from it, she gave it all a lot of thought, and then, in my opinion, went her own very different authorial way.


Then I responded to the response I received from Nancy Mayer as follows:

[Nancy] "However, More's first popularity, her first money earned, and her first
acquaintances in literary circles were all in the theatre. More wrote plays which were produced by Garrick. It was generally understood at the time that she could have made her living and her name as a dramatist. It was after she had been feted for her success in the theatre that she was influenced by Wilberforce as to religion and gave it all up. She returned home and never again attended the theatre. At least one of her plays was produced after she turned evangelical.
She had sold the copyright so had no control of the product. NO producer will willingly and deliberately put on a play he knows will fail, so we must assume that Miss More's play had some dramatic qualities. "

I was judging based on what I read in Coelebs, and it was clear_ there_ that, whether as an intentional renunciation of dramatic writing in favor of an extremely intellectualized didactic style, or some mysterious loss of ability from when she did write plays, More was writing in a style which was the furthest thing from writing for the stage.

[Nancy] "Also, the rules of fiction were different at that time. There was no rule to show not tell. IN fact some good books have a great deal of telling in them. "

Sure, there are novels with a great deal of telling which have value in other ways, but the "rules of fiction" as you put it have existed as long as there has been fiction, regardless of whether early writers of fiction abided by them or not. It is an aesthetic principle which grows organically out of the nature of fiction writing itself, it is not a fashion or a trend that changes with the times. As I understand the essence of that principle, it has to do with creating or simulating a real-life experience for the reader, or "mimesis"--a skilled writer of fiction who shows rather than tells gives the reader a sense of being there as the action occurs, and, as in real life, being forced to make judgments of what is happening on his or her own. I.e., showing generates an active reader, telling generates a passive reader.

It took a long time for fiction to mature as an art form to the point where this principle is now more or less universally recognized---I know I am not alone in thinking that _Tom Jones_ would have been a much greater masterpiece if Fielding has cut out about 150 pages of self indulgent meta-commentary. It is a rule which can be broken successfully on rare occasions by writers of genius who strive to create a completely different aesthetic experience for the reader. Writer who, like Picasso
in visual art, deliberately break the rules to achieve a breakthrough to a new aesthetic goal. Just as Rembrandt was an epitome of representational art, but then we have Picasso breaking the rules of representation, the way that postmodern writers break those rules in a fictional context.

More's didactic telling is definitely _not_ in that postmodern category. And to her credit, More more or less acknowledges this shortcoming in her Preface--she as much as admits she is writing a simply dramatized moral treatise--like a much longer version of those Cheap Repository Tracts you mentioned--and she does a good job on those limited terms. But as novel writing, even though her mode of expression is uniformly intelligent and well written, in the end of the day, it's not good fiction-writing. There is no "mimesis" of real life.

[Nancy] "There are many things it is easier to tell about than to show. There are also actions I wish more authors would tell and not show."

Yes, but in my opinion, fiction which makes the reader work to discern meaning, and which plays with ambiguity because life itself is so often ambiguous, is great fiction. That is JA's greatest mastery, in my opinion, that even on repeated rereadings, JA continually challenges her readers to struggle to interpret ambiguity. And, ironically, that is why I consider JA's didacticism to be directed toward an entirely different audience than More's. More was writing for readers who were very happy to passively accept her telling them what was moral and what was not. JA was writing for an entirely different kind of reader, one who really wished to learn for him or herself how to make moral judgments. JA was, in a way, Socratic, her writing is, in a way, one question after another.

[Nancy] "More certainly made much more money from her writing than Jane Austen ever did."

All of which only proves that More was extremely intelligent, knew exactly what she was doing, and was successful at it--but that does not make her a fiction writer worth reading today, for any reason other than, ironically, that JA alluded to More in JA's novels, which _are_ worth reading today!

[Nancy] "Also, isn't there some danger that 21st century non Christian definitions of sin and redemption are being introduced here? Jane Austen was not a product of the 20th century. Also, in the vocabulary of the time in religious discourse, sin and evil had different definitions than present day secular critics might give them."

I think JA's novels and letters are the primary evidence which demonstrate that JA had a very sophisticated sense of morality and spirituality, where she went far beyond straightforward, conventional formulations of same by the likes of Hannah More. As I opined in a recent post, the question of the nuances of JA's sense of morality and spirituality is one that should not be begged, by assuming she would
have held to conventional ideas of her time. My sense of JA is that she was way ahead of her time in many ways, and this was one of them. Like More, she took morality and spirituality very seriously, but in my opinion, her morality was very different from More's, as I will elaborate in another post I will send within the next hour, revealing some "more" of JA's veiled reactions to More's writings!

Cheers, ARNIE

Hannah More and Jane Austen: Mary Crawford and Jane Fairfax

Here are two examples of where I see Jane Austen as subtly demonstrating herself to sharply diverge from Hannah More on some important matters of morality and religion.

VEILED ALLUSION TO HANNAH MORE IN MANSFIELD PARK:

First, as I posted the other day, Alistair Duckworth directed me to a complex allusion in Mansfield Park to Hannah More's lengthy 1791 tract "An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World":

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/12/suspiciously-learned-mary-crawford\
.html


Subsequently I delved more deeply into JA's literary reactions to that tract, and focused in particular on the following passage where Hannah More trained her sights squarely on "the fashionable world" and its role as a moral corrupter:

"...prudent skepticism has wisely studied the temper of the times, and skilfully felt the pulse of this relaxed, and _indolent, and selfish_ age. It prudently accommodated itself to the reigning character, when it adopted sarcasm instead of reasoning, and preferred a sneer to an argument. It discreetly judged, that, if it would now gain proselytes, it must show itself under the _bewitching_ form of a profane _bon-mot_; must be interwoven in the texture of some amusing history, written with the _levity_ of a romance, and the point and glitter of an epigram; it
must embellish the ample margin with some _offensive_ anecdote or _impure allusion_, and decorate _impiety_ with every loose and meretricious ornament which a _corrupt_ imagination can invent. It must break up the old, flimsy system into little _mischievous_ aphorisms, ready for practical purposes; it must divide the rope of sand into little portable parcels, which the _shallowest wit_ can comprehend, and
_the shortest memory_ carry away."

All of the underscored words resonate in some significant way to the Crawfords in Mansfield Park, in particular to Mary.

But what is most interesting is how JA seems to go along with that thinking in terms of how Edmund and Mary parse moral situations, and yet at times JA seems to put the shoe on the _other_ foot. How? Look at the word "indolent" or "indolence", which is used far more in MP than in any other Austen novel--many of the usages describe Lady Bertram, who seems to be the quintessence of indolence. And look at the word "selfish", which is used in MP several times to describe Henry Crawford, and also,
with such cruel and absurd unjustness, by Sir Thomas to refer to Fanny.

But there are other usages of those terms which come out of the mouth of Mary Crawford, and they pertain to her brother in law, the clergyman Dr. Grant, about whom I wrote a series of posts during September 2010, including the following one:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/09/ps-re-mary-crawfords-sisterly.html

First here are Mary's two comments about Dr. Grant which sound to me like veiled allusions to More's 1791 tract:

"...And though Dr Grant is most kind and obliging to me, and though he is really a gentleman, and, I dare say, a good scholar and clever, and often preaches good sermons, and is very respectable, _I_ see him to be an _indolent, selfish_ _bon vivant_, who must have his _palate_ consulted in everything; who will not stir a finger for the convenience of any one; and who, _more_over, if the cook makes a blunder, is out of humour with his excellent wife. ......It is _indolence_, Mr Bertram, indeed. _Indolence_ and love of ease; a want of all laudable ambition,
of taste for good company, or of inclination to take the trouble of being agreeable, which make men clergymen. "

And for good measure, even before Mary utters these judgments on her brother in law, we have the acid-tongued narrator pointing the way:

"It delighted Mrs Grant to keep them both [i.e., Mary and Henry} with her, and Dr Grant was exceedingly well contented to have it so: a talking pretty young woman like Miss Crawford is always pleasant society to an _indolent_, stay-at-home man; and Mr Crawford's being his guest was an excuse for drinking claret every day. "

And, apropos Mary Crawford's reference to Dr. Grant's "palate", it turns out that in Coelebs, we even have the morally scrupulous protagonist himself opining about this very subject of palate consultation in a similar way:

'Surely,' said I, ' (L'Almanac des Gourmands at that instant darting across my mind,) 'it is as honourable for a gentleman to excel in critical as in culinary skill. It is as noble to cultivate the intellectual taste, as that of _the palate_. It is at least as creditable to discuss the comparative merits of Sophocles and
Shakespeare, as the rival ingredients of a soup or a sauce."

What I hear in all of the above is JA's hoisting Hannah More on her own rhetorical petard---if if it fair game for More to take a critical close look at the behavior of the fashionable world epitomized by Henry and Mary Crawford, it should also be fair game for a canny observer from the fashionable world, like Mary Crawford, to take an equally critical close look at the behavior of the clergy, who are in More's way of seeing things supposed to be the moral shepherds for the rest of us, and to
point out that it's no so simple as More presents, in her claiming that the fashionable world is the biggest culprit.

Or, to indulge myself for a moment in some wordplay, what's good for the goose (whether green or not) is also good for the gander!

VEILED ALLUSION TO HANNAH MORE IN _EMMA_

A second veiled allusion to Hannah More which I find in Austen's novels is in _Emma_, and is in the famous retort by Jane Fairfax to Mrs. Elton about governessing being akin to slavery.

It turns out, perhaps to the surprise of some, that Hannah More wrote a short and very odd satirical essay sometime during the 1790's entitled "The White Slave Trade", subtitled "Hints toward framing a Bill for the Abolition of the White Female Slave Trade, in the Cities of London and Westminster"

The piece is a little too long to reproduce here, but the gist of it is that it takes the real-life noble movement (of which More was herself a strong supporter) to abolish the enslavement of Africans on English colonial plantations, and issuing a mock-exhortation to extend that same thinking in order to liberate women from the exigencies of "Fashion", which is the "arbitrary, universal tyrant" she blames for the "slavery" that white Englishwomen endure during courtship and marriage. She takes
the metaphor very far, referring to chains, enforced exile from one's home, crowded courtship meat market milieus like Catherine Morland experiences in the Pump Room in Bath as being akin to slave trade ships crammed with slaves and slave auction markets, etc etc. She takes particular notice of "coming out", which of course is what Tom Bertram and Mary C discuss in MP. It's clear to me that JA has read this essay, and is playing with it in the scene when Jane Fairfax makes her famous
comment, and Mrs. Elton calls herself a "friend of the abolition".

Here is the climax of More's piece, as to which I will give my brief remaining comments at the end of this post:

From all the above causes it is evident, that the white slave trade has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.

Till, therefore, there be some hope that a complete abolition may be effected, the following regulations are humbly proposed: —

Regulation

I. That no slave be allowed to spend more than three hours a day in preparing her chains, beads, feathers, and other implements for the nightly labour.

II. That no slave be allowed to paint her person of more than two colours for any market whatever.

III. That each slave be allowed at least sufficient covering for the purposes of delicacy, if not for those of health and comfort.

IV. That no /little /slave be compelled to destroy her shape, and ruin her health, by being fastened to different instruments of torture, for the sake of extracting sweet sounds, till some time after she can walk alone; and that in her subsequent progress she be not obliged to sit or stand at it more than half her waking hours.

V. That no slave be put under more than four posture masters, in order to teach her such attitudes and exercises as shall enable her to fetch more money in the markets.

VI. That no slave be carried to more than three markets on the same night.

VII. That no trader be allowed to press more slaves into one /hold /than three times as many as it will contain.

VIII. That the same regard to comfort which has led the black factor to allow the African slaves a ton to a man be extended to the white slaves, who shall not be allowed less than one chair to five slaves.

IX. That no white slave /driver, /or horses, be allowed to stand in the street more than five hours in a dry night, or four in a rainy one.

X. That every elderly female slave, as soon as her youngest grandchild is fairly disposed of, be permitted to retire from her more public labours without any fine or loss of character, or any other punishment from the despot.

To conclude: — the Black Slave Trade has been taken up by its opposers, not only on the ground of inhumanity and impolicy, but on that of Religion also. On the two first points alone have we ventured to examine the question of the White Slave Trade. It would be a folly to enquire into it on this last principle; it /can /admit of no such discussion, as in this view it could not stand its ground for a single moment; for if that principle were allowed to operate, mitigations nearly approaching
to abolition must inevitably and immediately take place.

END OF QUOTE FROM MORE' S PIECE


There are two levels where I see JA as critiquing More. First, I think Mrs. Elton is a veiled representation of Hannah More, to illustrate the hypocrisy of a woman who would not realize that it was grossly insensitive to think that this satire was appropriate on any level; and also because of missing the point entirely, which is that there were plenty of injustices wreaked on Englishwomen in that era which were
real, substantial and awful. So More in her essay has somehow managed to be offensive both to brave abolitionists like Clarkson and Sharpe, and also to women like Jane Austen who saw the true source of oppression of Englishwomen as being the patriarchal male-dominated power structure.

Cheers, ARNIE

Letter #2: Unpleasant matters falling out re Eliza Fowle and Tom Lefroy

In response to my previous post about Eliza Fowle's "illness" being a veiled reference by Jane Austen in her surviving Letters #1 & 2. Ellen Moody had several comments, to which I reply as follows:

[Ellen] "I read Arnie's suppositions on Eliza's miscarriage but see there is no evidence for a pregnancy in 1796. I don't "betcha" the woman had miscarriages in those years. We don't know. I agree the husband seems to be regularly inflicting her this way but it's a leap to say there were miscarriages in between with no evidence. Other letters from this era (including Austen's) are not shy to cite miscarriages."

Ellen, I am not persuaded by _your_ arguments. From my research I have found that there is a small army of references (over the entire range of JA's letters) to pregnancy and its various outcomes and effects, with a whole spectrum of ways of presenting them, ranging from the purely factual to the wildly fanciful. In that context, this one is mainstream, and shares characteristics with several of the others. So I consider my speculation an informed and strong one.

The sequence of my discovery is revealing. First, I responded to the cues in that sentence at the very end of Letter #1, standing alone. Then, I was pleasantly surprised to see them validated by an elaboration of the same theme in the very _beginning_ of Letter #2. Almost like the famous anadiplosis with "She could not forgive her" between chapters in _Emma_. Which fits with my sense that JA, in an important way, saw her letters to CEA as successive chapters in a never ending collaborative "novel" telling the story of JA's and CEA's shared journey in life.
Alas, that story was _not_ never ending, it _did_ end tragically, far too soon, in 1817--like the fragment of _Sanditon_, something recognizable as remarkable even as a fragment, but which is almost unbearably poignant, because we know that the full story would have been another immortal masterpiece.

In short, I see the very thrifty Jane Austen taking advantage of letters she was writing for mundane purposes of reporting real life events, and turning those letters into a particularly wonderful form of performance art, transforming real life into art in the moment, improvisationally. With each passing year, my appreciation for her letters has grown and grown, as I see more and more of these layers.


"If she did have a miscarriage it's another leap to say that this particular day in this year was a miscarriage day. I see the reference to "unpleasantness" (as I said) as separate from Eliza's illness. The latter comes in what would be another paragraph were Austen making separate paragraphs."

Speaking of leaps, I just saw _The Black Swan_ and recommend it highly as an extraordinary meditation on, among other things, art and creativity, which can appear very dangerous and threatening to some. But what would ballet be without leaps? I feel the same way about literary criticism, the whole point in describing works of imagination (and, as I said, above, I consider even JA's letters as composed works of imagination as much as fact) is in imaginatively making leaps based on reasonably firm foundations.

As for the separated paragraphs you mention, what I have found is almost as common in JA's letters as abrupt changes of topics, is how often JA subtly and covertly alludes _back_ to the topic just (apparently) abruptly abandoned. She does it all the time, in fact, now that I think about it, she does it all the time in her novels too. She only appears to be randomly flitting from topic to topic like a manic bumblebee, but actually some of these "flits", as in ballet, are choreographed. It is a way of writing that at times verges on poetry, of which we of course all know she, like her creatures Marianne Dashwood and Anne Elliot, was a very sophisticated reader, and of which I also claim she was also a vastly underestimated writer. Great poetry reaches for the unspoken connection between seemingly unrelated ideas via imagery.

And this "unpleasantness" image is a perfect example of that, as Christy, it seems to me, noticed, when she wrote, "And as these "matters" of poor Mrs. Fowle were being empathized with, and supported by team Austen and Lloyd, perhaps Jane Austen was sensing her Tom Lefroy 'matter' as also moving in the direction of...'falling out unpleasantly'."

Indeed there are parallels between the Lefroy "matters" and the miscarriage "matters", courtship and pregnancy both being intimate matters between male and female with uncertain outcomes. And I claim that JA was well aware of those parallels, and she has deliberately highlighted them by this poetic syntactical ambiguity.

[Ellen] "Also for the first time I've begun to think perhaps the Lefroy affair
is reflected in _P&P_.....Let's remember while she writes these two letters she is writing the first version of First Impressions."

As I mentioned last week, Linda Walker's article makes a "persuasive" case for _Persuasion_ as alluding to Tom Lefroy, and I have found repeatedly that when JA alludes to an actual or fictional source in one novel, she is likely to have done so in one or more of her _other_ novels as well. I have long believed, as have several other critics over the years, that Tom Lefroy is prominent in the shadows of P&P as well.

I claim that a key connection between P&P and the Lefroy Affair is _Tom Jones_. The repeated allusions to _Tom Jones_ in JA's first two letters are explicit, whereas the extended allusion to _Tom Jones_ in P&P is covert, but pervasive, most of all in the oscillating portraits of Darcy and Wickham. In the first half of P&P, Wickham appear to be Tom, Darcy appears to be Blifil. In the second half of the novel, that portraiture "flips" 180 degrees in Lizzy's mind, and she then sees Darcy as a good
guy like Tom, and Wickham as bad news like Blifil.

This might well be a clue to how JA felt about Tom Lefroy over the period of time from 1796-1798 and beyond. If JA has cast Tom Lefroy as Tom Jones (which would also give surprising additional meaning to JA's teasing, absurdist comments about Tom Fowle's taste in names in "christening" his vessel with the name Tom in some way---there can be no doubt that JA of all people was aware of the coincidence of names among Tom Fowle, his vessel, Tom Lefroy and Tom Jones), then it's interesting
in that regard to think about Wickham's abruptly tacking away from Lizzy and nearly getting engaged to the heiress Miss King as being a representation of how JA felt when Tom Lefroy seemed to abruptly get engaged to his Irish heiress, whom he did of course marry.

But it's also interesting in that regard to think about Darcy's initial uptight, unwilling attraction to Lizzy, which sounds a lot like Tom Lefroy to me, who, it is clear from the historical record, was on a relentlessly ambitious career track to the top of his profession, and who, throughout his adult life, professed a quite severe, authoritarian sort of religious fanaticism that, in my opinion, would have been anathema to Jane Austen. But at 21, perhaps he might have seemed to JA
as having potential.

So we might see Darcy's transformation in P&P as a wish fulfilment, a sweet dream that never happened in JA's real life.

When _Becoming Jane_ came out as a movie a few years back, perhaps the most egregious and ridiculous departure from the probable, among many, was the idea that it was Tom Lefroy who turned Jane Austen on to _Tom Jones_ and not, as I believe to be the case, the reverse. JA, at age 20, had already demonstrated in her wild and wacky Juvenilia--of which the modern absurdist playwright Joe Orton was a big fan--that she was already well versed in the cutting edge of literature past and current.

And the first two letters show that, as JA and CEA must _both_ have been well versed in _Tom Jones_, in order for JA to allude to it so playfully in regard to the color of Tom's coat.

So I see JA's references to _Tom Jones_ in these letters as reflections of the irrepressible JA, like Lizzy Bennet, playfully teasing the uptight Tom Lefroy, trying to thaw him out of his stiff demeanor, and laugh a little. Even in the first half of the novel, Darcy, for all his snobbish hauteur, demonstrates a quick wit and very droll sense of humor--he responds really well to Lizzy's teasing, giving as good as he gets. That would suggest that Tom Lefroy also had a sense of humor, and
that was what prompted JA to see him as a development project worth pursuing.

All of which also tells you that Henry Austen was not being very honest when he made such a big deal in his Biographical Notice about JA really not liking Fielding at all. Yeah, right! The late convert to sanctimonious religiosity did protest too much....to be believable!

Cheers, ARNIE

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Eliza Fowle's miscarriage in Jane Austen's first two letters: "Matters have fallen out so unpleasantly"

Last Friday, in regard to Jane Austen's Letter #1, written to her sister Cassandra shortly after Jane turned 20, a letter which is very famous for its description of Jane's flirtations with Tom Lefroy (Letter #1 is readable at the following link).....

http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/brablet1.html#letter1

....I posted in Austen L and Janeites about another little-noticed passage in that same letter.....

"I condole with Miss M. on her losses and with Eliza on her gains, and am ever yours..."

The above sentence has nothing to do with Tom Lefroy, but it is, I would argue, of even greater importance in terms of understanding Jane Austen's novels, than the Tom Lefroy stuff.

Here is what I surmised about the meaning of Eliza Fowle's "gains":

Le Faye tells us that "Eliza" is Elizabeth Fowle, wife of Revd. Fulwar Craven Fowle, elder brother of Tom Fowle. It takes one minute to look at Le Faye's Bio Index and to also realize that of equal importance was that Eliza was the middle of the three Lloyd sisters, of whom Mary of course married James Austen, and Martha was Jane's closest friend. So both Jane and Cassandra each had two very close connections to this woman over a lifetime. And looking at the description of Eliza's life in the Bio Index also gives us a big hint as to what "her gains" refers to---I believe Eliza had become pregnant again--I write "again" because she was in 1796 twenty eight years old and had already borne children in 1791, 1792, 1793, and 1794 (baby born and died). That is every year for four straight years.

Le Faye's listings show the next children born to Eliza in 1798 and 1799, resuming the annual drumbeat, but I betcha that the 3-year "gap" in between serial pregnancies was itself filled by one, maybe even two, miscarriages. Somehow I doubt that the good Revd Fowle took a 3-year vacation from his Biblical "duty" to multiply as rapidly as humanly possible....I think Jane, at 20, already had a decided bent toward venting a considerable amount of anger, sarcasm and spleen when the topic of pregnancy and childbirth was extant, and it continued till the day she died."

Then, a short while ago today, I revisited this same question, because, as soon as I started reading in Letter #2, written 4-5 days after Letter #1, I was very pleased and surprised to see what I consider to be dramatic additional supporting evidence for my surmise about Eliza Lloyd Fowle having had a miscarriage, evidence which I had not previously noticed but which leapt out at me now because of what I noticed on Friday in Letter #1:

"I have just received yours and Mary's letter, and I thank you both, though _their contents_ might have been more agreeable. I do not at all expect to see you on Tuesday, since matters have fallen out so unpleasantly; and if you are not able to return till after that day, it will hardly be possible for us to send for you before Saturday, though for my own part I care so little about the ball that it would be no sacrifice to me to give it up for the sake of seeing you two days earlier. We are extremely sorry for poor Eliza's illness. I trust, however, that she has continued to recover since you wrote, and that you will none of you be the worse for your attendance on her."

In characteristically coded Austenian fashion, I claim that Jane was elliptically referring to Eliza Fowle having suffered a miscarriage, while being attended by both Cassandra (who would have been her future sister in law, had Tom Fowle returned from the West Indies) and Mary Lloyd (her actual sister). I further surmise that Cassandra and Mary Lloyd were already both there at Kintbury for an extended visit precisely because Eliza was in an advanced state of pregnancy, and probably seeming in precarious health as a result of same, as well as, surely, being overwhelmed with being very pregnant while trying to take care of four children ages 2 through 5.

There is something extremely edgy, almost shocking despite its euphemism, about Jane referring to "matters" which have "fallen out" so "unpleasantly", to refer to a miscarriage. I think this reflects JA's anger over poor Eliza Fowle having to endure a potentially fatal miscarriage in order to keep fulfilling her wifely duty to her husband. Eliza was 28 in 1796, and Le Faye's Bio Index tells us that she was to bear 2 more children within 3 years of Letter #2, and then another two children later on, before her child bearing career ended at age 39 in 1807. Fortunately for Eliza, she managed to live till 1839.

Then, an hour ago, I posted the following after Nancy Mayer raised a clarification:

[Nancy] "Others may define the word differently, but generally a miscarriage takes place before a woman is heavily pregnant. Once she is heavily pregnant and loses the baby it is premature delivery."

Nancy, thanks for clarifying the proper terminology, but my point is unchanged---regardless of the stage of the pregnancy Eliza Fowle was in when she lost her baby, I still claim this was JA speaking in her characteristically elliptical way, but with particular edginess, about a charged subject having to do with a woman suffering because of "the way things were" between male and female.

And Eliza Fowle's illness was very personal for JA and CEA, as Eliza was clearly a close friend of _both_ of them, as well as being a sister to Martha and Mary Lloyd. I checked Le Faye's Index, and there are numerous references to Eliza in JA's letters stretching over seventeen years, all of them affectionate and interested in Eliza's life and news. And as we will see as we proceed a bit further through JA's letters, I claim that the 1798 letters referring to Eliza's "illness" are _also_ about her childbirth--in that instance, to a baby who survived.

That choice of words strongly supports my claim that JA viewed serial pregnancy as an "illness" which the majority of married Englishwomen "caught" the minute they got married, and which was (like Mrs. Tilney's fever) "constitutional", i.e., chronic, because serial pregnancy was deemed, by the powers that be, to be part of the legal, moral, and religious duty of an Englishwoman. Or, to paraphrase Henry Crawford, serial pregnancy was part of an English_woman's_ constitution.

Which is precisely why I believe JA never married---she much preferred serial Shakespeare to serial pregnancy!

Cheers, Arnie

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Suspiciously Learned Mary Crawford

By chance today, I stumbled upon something very interesting and unexpected in regard to Mary Crawford's "Rears and Vices" pun, in the writings, of all places, of Hannah More!

In a 2004 book chapter by the conservative Austen scholar Alistair Duckworth, entitled "Manners in JA's Novels", Duckworth very astutely describes a covert allusion by Jane Austen to a lengthy (74 ppg) 1791 screed by Hannah More entitled "An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World".

JA very cleverly demonstrates that Edmund has read this polemic by Hannah More very carefully, as Edmund covertly alludes to it not once but twice.

The first allusion is one that Duckworth detects, when Edmund retorts to Mary's suggestion in Chapter 7 that he give up the clergy for the law:

“Go into the law! With as much ease as I was told to go into this wilderness.”

“Now you are going to say something about law being the worst wilderness of the two, but I forestall you; remember, I have forestalled you.”

“You need not hurry when the object is only to prevent my saying a bon mot, for there is not the least wit in my nature. I am a very matter–of–fact, plain–spoken being, and may blunder on the borders of a repartee for half an hour together without striking it out.” END OF QUOTE FROM MP CHAPTER

As Duckworth points out, this is Edmund tagging the following comment by More:

"prudent skepticism has wisely studied the temper of the times, and skilfully felt
the pulse of this relaxed, and indolent, and selfish age. It prudently accommodated itself to the reigning character, when it adopted sarcasm instead of reasoning, and preferred a sneer to an argument. It discreetly judged, that, if it would now gain proselytes, it must show itself under the bewitching form of a profane bon-mot; must be interwoven in the texture of some amusing history, written with the levity of a romance, and the point and glitter of an epigram; it must embellish the ample margin
with some offensive anecdote or impure allusion, and decorate impiety with every loose and meretricious ornament which a corrupt imagination can invent. It must break up the old, flimsy system into little mischievous aphorisms, ready for practical purposes; it must divide the rope of sand into little portable parcels, which the shallowest wit can comprehend, and the shortest memory carry away." END OF QUOTE FROM MORE

Could it be more obvious that this is an intentional allusion on JA's part? It is as if the character of Mary Crawford has been crafted to fit More's description down to every detail.

Edmund's second allusion to More's polemic against what she sees as atheistic amorality is one that Duckworth misses, because it is hiding so plainly in sight, in the title of More's piece which I cited above. Edmund may as well be More herself as he says:

"I have no jealousy of any individual. It is the influence of _the fashionable world_ altogether that I am jealous of. It is the habits of wealth that I fear."

That is More's argument to a tee, wherein she sees the gravest danger of the lifestyle of the fashionable world not being an intellectual adherence to a scholarly sort of atheistic nonbelief, so much as a pragmatic, unreflective moral downfall, in which one bad behavior leads to another, in an endless slide down a slippery moral slope toward dissipation and vice.

Edmund to the end sees Mary as a reed in the wind, and not as a dogmatic skeptic about religion, conventional morality, in particular in regard to female sexuality.

However, that is precisely where i part ways with both More and Duckworth, and where I believe JA does as well, to wit: even though Mary often presents herself as if she is spontaneously spouting all sorts of irreverent aphorisms in an unreflective way, I believe JA gives us a great deal of subtle evidence supporting the notion that Mary is actually quite well-read on the topic of morality, and indeed has read More's screed herself! So that Mary at times seems to actually be consciously playing the role of the dissolute high society city jade, as a cover for some very pointed and accurate criticism of male privilege, such as, e.g., her uncle the admiral and his circle of powerful male cads (or more modernly colloquially, jerks).

And this is not, you will recall, Mary's only literary allusion. Recall that she points to the Doge of Venice, and to Browne's imitations of famous writers (and Browne by, I suggest, no coincidence, was implicitly alluded to by More in that very same 1791 polemic)--Mary is actually widely read in the free thinkers of the 18th century, and displays it subtly.

Cheers,
Arnie

Saturday, December 18, 2010

American Gothic: Edgar Allan Poe in the Shadows of Northanger Abbey

And here is the last of my comments today about the articles in the new Persuasions Online. I heartily recommend the article by Elsie Holzwarth (who also happens to be my friend):

http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol31no1/holzwarth.html

Elsie rivals Monsieur Dupin himself in her ingenious and bravura sleuthing and brainwork speculating about the possibility of Edgar Allan Poe having read, and been inspired by, _Northanger Abbey_ in writing his Auguste Dupin stories which many literary critics credit as giving birth to the detective story genre. She also sniffs out possible intriguing personal connections between the families of JA and Poe.

Elsie has really made me wonder whether Poe read NA, but what I already was sure about is that Poe _did_ read one of the principal, but covert, literary sources for Northanger Abbey, as I explained in my Portland talk---_Hamlet_! As I briefly discussed in my blog last month....

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/11/henry-tilney-as-henry-v-and-as-hamlet.html

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/11/henry-tilney-as-henry-v-and-hamlet.html

In my opinion, Hamlet is the common source for both Poe and Austen, and is also the modern fountainhead for the detective story.

And behind Hamlet is Sophocles's Oedipus Rex.

Cheers,
Arnie

More about that pesky footnote in Northanger Abbey

The following excerpt is from Susan Allen Ford's article in the new Persuasions Online, in which she discusses the footnote in Northanger Abbey to Johnson's Rambler issue #97, which footnote I claimed was inserted _after_ Jane Austen's death:

http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol31no1/ford.html

"Austen’s undermining of Richardson’s orthodoxies is evident even in her sportive narrative introduction of the essay. “Whether she thought of him so much, while she drank her warm wine and water, and prepared herself for bed, as to dream of him when there, cannot be ascertained; but I hope it was not more than in a slight slumber, or a morning doze at most” (22).
The physicality of this speculative train of thought is startling. Warm wine and water and preparations for bed set up the more problematic issue of her likelihood to “dream of him when there.” And then the narrator disclaims authority, or at least certainty. Did Catherine dream of him when in bed? It “cannot be ascertained.” But the possibility is quickly, comically, followed by a voice conscious of Richardson’s reproofs: “I hope it was no more than in a slight slumber, or a morning doze at most”. The tentative verb, from this previously self-assured narrator, and the return to her heroine’s sleeping body—the physical detail here conscientiously lightened—undercut her allegiance to the authority she’s about to cite. Following these playfully ironic speculations, the chapter ends on a practical note. After paraphrasing Richardson’s rule, the narrator shifts attention from the possibly dreaming and strongly inclining Catherine to “[h]ow proper Mr. Tilney might be as a dreamer or a lover”—and then summarily disposes of the question. Two facts, however, have been established by Mr. Allen: Henry Tilney is “a clergyman, and of a very respectable family in Gloucestershire” (22). We can feel authorized to think—or dream—of Mr. Tilney as we choose."


Ford was unaware of the Eve of St. Agnes allusion underlying the passage in NA which she quoted, which I explained in the following post at my blog, and then elaborated on in the three posts succeeding it:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/11/answers-to-my-little-quiz-about.html


Cheers, ARNIE

The Cause of Jane Austen's Death

In the new edition of Persuasions Online, I strongly recommend the article
by my good friend, Linda Robinson Walker, entitled "Jane Austen’s Death:
The Long Reach of Typhus?":

http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol31no1/walker.html

You will recall that I recommended Linda's article about Tom Lefroy and
Jane Austen last week, and this article speculating in a very informed and
insightful way about the cause of Jane's death is a worthy successor to
LInda's two prior Persuasions Online articles.

Cheers, Arnie

Friday, December 17, 2010

Jane Austen's rearward look at James I and Fanny Hill

The question was raised in Janeites as to what exactly was the 17 year old Jane Austen's intention when she included the following passage in her satirical History of England about James I the first Stuart king of England:

His Majesty was of that amiable disposition which inclines to Freindship, and in such points was possessed of a keener penetration in discovering Merit than many other people. I once heard an excellent Sharade on a Carpet, of which the subject I am now on reminds me, and as I think it may afford my Readers some amusement to FIND IT OUT, I shall here take the liberty of presenting it to them.

SHARADE

My first is what my second was to King James the 1st, and you tread on my whole.

The principal favourites of his Majesty were Car, who was afterwards created Earl of Somerset and whose name perhaps may have some share in the above mentioned Sharade, and George Villiers afterwards Duke of Buckingham...."

Nancy Mayer opined as shown below in quotes, and I responded as indicated:

"People talked about the King's favorites or a king's favorites all the time without meaning any more than that."

Yes, that is certainly true, but what is also well-established historical fact (I have researched this history) is that there was widespread gossip and speculation, both during the reign of James I and also during the nearly 2 centuries following same, about James having been gay, and having had numerous gay lovers, including specifically those "favourites" named by JA.

So if Jane did _not_ know about that history, it either meant she was psychic to include such a "Sharade", or else it was a rather large coincidence.

I think she was a very great genius, but even I don't think she was psychic, nor do I believe in such highly improbable coincidences. I prefer what I believe to be the most plausible and probable explanation, which is that JA meant the "sharade" to refer to the King's gay relationships.

"The worst sorts of descriptions were reserved for homosexual acts-- the nicest term was unnatural act. It was illegal and considered something vile."

Yes, that is certainly true as well, but in my opinion, all that shows is that there have always been many powerful people who held such an attitude toward homosexuality. My idea of Jane Austen is that she was not one of them, and that she did not approve of intolerance masquerading as theology, and so she made the decision, as the courageous satirist that she was, to lampoon that bigotry in this way.

As a teenager writing for a private family audience, she was pretty straightforward. In MP, writing as a mature adult woman for the world, she made it more ambiguous.

And as I pointed out last week in my blog, there is a military/sexual pun on the word "rear" in the famous scene involving gay sexual relations in _Fanny Hill_, which is, in my opinion, strongly resonant with Mary Crawford's naval/sexual pun on the word "rear". Again, putting aside ESP and coincidence, the most probable explanation, in my opinion, is that this was intentional on JA's part.

And when you align what JA wrote in 1793 with what she wrote in 1814, it strongly suggests to me that this was an issue which concerned her during her entire adult life.

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Which is the man? Which is the heroine? Which is the allusion?

The P.S. of my immediately preceding message promised that I would bring forward another "candidate" for the allusive source to which Jane Austen alluded in her coded message to her brother James in Letter 146 to his son James Edward (JEAL). Here it is now:

Act IV, Scene I, Which is the man? a comedy by Hannah Cowley (1785)

[In this scene in an Apartment at Lady Bell's, Mr Beauchamp waits an hour in order to tell Lady Bell something important]


Beauchamp: What a misfortune to a lover! I know one to whom your Ladyship appears the disdainful Daphne.— How happy, could he behold in your eye the encouragement of Atalanta's!

Lady Bell: (aside) Mercy ! for so bashful a man that's pretty plain.

Beauchamp: This is probably the last visit I can make you before I leave England. Will your Ladyship permit me, before I leave it, to acquaint you that there is a man, whose happiness depends on your favour? (agitated)

Lady Bell: (aside) So, now he's going to be perplexing again! (looking on her fan) a man whose happiness depends on me, Mr. Beauchamp!

Beauchamp. Yes, Madam!—and—and—(aside) I cannot go on. Why did I accept a commission in which success would destroy me?

Lady Bell. (aside) How evidently this is the first time he ever made love!
--—The man seems to have chosen a very diffident advocate in you, Sir.

Beauchamp: 'Tis more than diffidence, Madam, my talk is painful.

Lady Bell: (aside) Ay, I thought so!
You have taken a brief in a cause you don't like; I could plead it better myself!

Beauchamp: I feel the reproach.

Lady Bell: 'Tis difficult for you, perhaps, to speak in the third person?- Try it in the first. Suppose now, ha! ha! only suppose, I say, for the jest's sake, that you yourself have a passion for me, and then try—how you can plead it.

Beauch: (kneeling) Thus—thus would I plead it, and swear, that thou art dear to my heart as fame, and honour!—To look at thee is rapture; to love thee, though without hope,—felicity!

Lady Bell: (aside) Oh, I thought I should bring him to the point at last!

Beauchamp: (rising, aside) To what dishonesty have I been betray'd!—Thus, Madam, speaks my friend, through my lips; 'tis thus he pleads his passion.

Lady Bell: (aside) Provoking!
—What friend is this. Sir, who is weak enough to use the language of another to explain his heart?

Beauchamp: Lord Sparkle.

Lady Bell: Lord Sparkle! Was it for him you knelt? (he bows to her)— Then, Sir, I must inform you, that the liberty you have taken-
(aside) Heavens, how do I betray myself!
—Tell me, Sir, on.your honour, do you wish to succeed in pleading the passion of Lord Sparkle?

Beauchamp: {hesitating) My obligations to his Lordship—our relationship—the confidence he has reposed in me—

Lady Bell: Stop, Sir! I too will repose confidence in you, and confess that there is a man whom I sometimes suspect not to be indifferent to me;—but 'tis not Lord Sparkle! Tell him so;—and tell him that—that—_tell him what you will._

Beauch. (aside) Heavens, what does she mean! What language is this her eye speaks?

Lady Bell. Do you visit me this evening? Here will be many of my friends, and you shall then see me in the presence of the man my heart prefers.

(Beauchamp bows, and goes to the door; then returns, advances towards Lady Bell, makes an effort to speak; finds it impossible, then bows, and exit.)


So, what could it mean for Jane Austen to allude to this scene in sending a coded message to her brother James? Had James acted as a surrogate for a shy friend from Steventon or thereabouts who was interested in Jane Austen?

But perhaps some of you will now object, and say that while it was likely that both Jane Austen and James Austen knew Richardson's _Clarissa_ well, would they also have known a scene from a play written by the less famous Hannah Cowley?

To which objection my reply is simply to point you to the following passage from Jane Austen's Juvenilia epistolary mini-novel, _The Three Sisters_, written by JA within a few years after Cowley's play was published (in multiple editions). In this scene, sister Georgiana writes to her friend Miss XXX the gory details of how the Mr. Collins-like Mr Watts makes his pitch for Mary Stanhope's hand, and how Mary responds--look for the bold faced passage which specifically refers to Cowley's play:

"Fine weather, Ladies." Then turning to Mary, "Well, Miss Stanhope, I hope you have at last settled the Matter in your own mind; and will be so good as to let me know whether you will condescend to marry me or not."

"I think, Sir (said Mary) You might have asked in a genteeler way than that. I do not know whether I shall have you if you behave so odd."

"Mary!" (said my Mother). "Well, Mama, if he will be so cross..."

"Hush, hush, Mary, you shall not be rude to Mr. Watts."

"Pray Madam, do not lay any restraint on Miss Stanhope by obliging her to be civil. If she does not choose to accept my hand, I can offer it else where, for as I am by no means guided by a particular preference to you above your Sisters, it is equally the same to me which I marry of the three." Was there ever such a Wretch! Sophy reddened with anger and I felt so spiteful!

"Well then (said Mary in a peevish Accent) I will have you if I must."

"I should have thought, Miss Stanhope, that when such Settlements are offered as I have offered to you, there can be no great violence done to the inclinations in accepting of them." Mary mumbled out something, which I who sat close to her could just distinguish to be "What's the use of a great Jointure, if Men live forever?" And then audibly "Remember the pin-money; two hundred a year."

"A hundred and seventy-five, Madam."

"Two hundred indeed, Sir" said my Mother.

"And Remember, I am to have a new Carriage hung as high as the Duttons', and blue spotted with silver; and I shall expect a new saddle horse, a suit of fine lace, and an infinite number of the most valuable Jewels. Diamonds such as never were seen, [2] and Pearls, Rubies, Emeralds, and Beads out of number. You must set up your Phaeton, which must be cream-coloured with a wreath of silver flowers round it; You must buy 4 of the finest Bays in the Kingdom and you must drive me in it every day. This is not all; You must entirely new furnish your House after my Taste, You must hire two more Footmen to attend me, two Women to wait on me, must always let me do just as I please and make a very good husband."

Here she stopped, I beleive rather out of breath.

"This is all very reasonable, Mr. Watts, for my Daughter to expect."

"And it is very reasonable, Mrs. Stanhope, that your daughter should be disappointed." He was going on, but Mary interrupted him: "You must build me an elegant Greenhouse and stock it with plants. You must let me spend every Winter in Bath, every Spring in Town, Every Summer in taking some Tour, and every Autumn at a Watering Place, and if we are at home the rest of the year (Sophy and I laughed) You must do nothing but give Balls and Masquerades. You must build a room on purpose and a Theatre to act Plays in. The first Play we have shall be Which is the Man, and I will do Lady Bell Bloomer."

"And pray, Miss Stanhope (said Mr. Watts), What am I to expect from you in return for all this."

"Expect? Why, you may expect to have me pleased."

"It would be odd if I did not. Your expectations, Madam, are too high for me, and I must apply to Miss Sophy, who perhaps may not have raised her's so much."

"You are mistaken, Sir, in supposing so, (said Sophy) for tho' they may not be exactly in the same Line, yet my expectations are to the full as high as my Sister's; for I expect my Husband to be good-tempered and Chearful; to consult my Happiness in all his Actions, and to love me with Constancy and Sincerity."

Mr. Watts stared. "These are very odd Ideas, truly, young Lady. You had better discard them before you marry, or you will be obliged to do it afterwards."

My Mother, in the meantime, was lecturing Mary, who was sensible that she had gone too far, and when Mr. Watts was just turning towards me in order, I beleive, to address me, she spoke to him in a voice half humble, half sulky.

"You are mistaken, Mr. Watts, if you think I was in earnest when I said I expected so much. However I must have a new Chaise."

"Yes, Sir, you must allow that Mary has a right to expect that."

"Mrs. Stanhope, I mean and have always meant to have a new one on my Marriage. But it shall be the colour of my present one."

"I think, Mr. Watts, you should pay my Girl the compliment of consulting her Taste on such Matters."

Mr. Watts would not agree to this, and for some time insisted upon its being a Chocolate colour, while Mary was as eager for having it blue with silver Spots. At length, however, Sophy proposed that to please Mr. W. it should be a dark brown, and to please Mary it should be hung rather high and have a silver Border. This was at length agreed to, tho' reluctantly on both sides, as each had intended to carry their point entire. We then proceeded to other Matters, and it was settled that they should be married as soon as the Writings could be completed. Mary was very eager for a Special Licence and Mr. Watts talked of Banns. A common Licence was at last agreed on. Mary is to have all the Family Jewels, which are very inconsiderable, I beleive, and Mr. W. promised to buy her a Saddle horse; but in return, she is not to expect to go to Town or any other public place for these three Years. She is to have neither Greenhouse, Theatre, or Phaeton; to be contented with one Maid without an additional Footman. It engrossed the whole Evening to settle these affairs; Mr. W. supped with us and did not go till twelve. As soon as he was gone, Mary exclaimed "Thank Heaven! he's off at last; how I do hate him!" It was in vain that Mama represented to her the impropriety she was guilty of, in disliking him who was to be her Husband, for she persisted in declaring her aversion to him and hoping she might never see him again. What a Wedding will this be! END OF EXCERPT FROM GEORGIANA'S LETTER


So, which was JA's allusion, to Richardson or to Cowley? I say, to both! And I also say, that there is also a connection to the novel that James's daughter Anna was writing in 1814 under her aunt's loving wing---the title of which was "Which is the heroine?" And we may also wish to note that "Beauchamp", in addition to being the name of the shy suitor in Cowley's comedy, is also an important name in Anna Austen's published story Mary Hamilton.

Wheels within wheels.

Cheers, ARNIE

The Importance of Being Discreet about Cucumbers and Settlements

After writing my birthday tribute to Jane Austen earlier today, I remembered to follow up and figure out why JA wrote the following passage in Letter 146 to her nephew JEAL as she did, with part of it in quotes:

“Tell your Father [i.e., James Austen], with Aunt Cass's Love & mine, that the Pickled Cucumbers are extremely good, & tell him also--'tell him what you will”--No, don't tell him what you will.....”

Given the literary wordplay that the Austens all engaged in, it sounded like a coded message, one that brother James would recognize instantly, even though his less literate and much younger messenger, JEAL, probably would not be able to decipher on his own.

And sure enough, Google quickly led me to the passage which JA had surely alluded to, in a letter written by Lovelace to his friend Belford at the critical moment in Samuel Richardson's _Clarissa_, when Clarissa is insisting that Lovelace tell Uncle Harlowe the truth about her still not being Lovelace's wife, even if it blows all his carefully made plans sky high, and also results, ultimately, in Clarissa's own death:

"I was going on; when, interrupting me, You see, Mr Lovelace, said [Clarissa], how you have embarrassed yourself by your obliquities! You see that you have not been able to return a direct answer to a plain and honest question, though upon it depends all the happiness on the prospect of which you congratulate me!

You know, my best love, what my prudent, and, I will say, my kind motives were for giving out that we were married. You see that I have taken no advantage of it, and that no inconvenience has followed it. You see that your uncle wants only to be assured from ourselves that it is so---

Not another word on this subject, Mr Lovelace. I will not only risk, but I will forfeit, the reconciliation so near my heart, rather than I will go on to countenance a story so untrue.

My dearest soul! would you have me appear—

I would have you appear, sir, as you are. I am resolved that I will appear to my uncle's friend, and to my uncle, as I am.

For one week, my dearest life ! Cannot you for one week—only till the settlements--

Not for one hour, with my own consent.— You don't know, sir, how much I have been afflicted that I have appeared to the people below what I am not. But my uncle, sir, shall never have it to upbraid me, nor will I to upbraid myself, that I have wilfully passed upon him in false lights.

What, my dear, would you have me to say to the captain to-morrow morning? I have given him room to think---

Then put him right, Mr Lovelace. Tell the truth. Tell him what you please of the favour of your relations to me—_tell him what you will_ about the settlements; and if, when drawn, you will submit them to his perusal and approbation, it will shew him _how much you are in earnest._

[etc etc]

What additional private meaning this allusion may have been intended to signify to James Austen is not clear, but I speculate that it might be a veiled allusion to the "settlements" of Uncle Leigh Perrot's estate on James's side of the family. Perhaps Jane is telling James that she, like Clarissa, demands honesty, instead of casuistry, regarding that unjust disposition of assets, but also would rather die than beg for financial help to the Austen women?

In any event, besides that, I also wonder whether Oscar Wilde, who was himself a literary scholar as well as a writer of fiction, read Letter 146, recognized the veiled allusion to _Clarissa_, and also the sexual innuendo in that "pickled cucumber" wisecrack, and then paid a great homage to Jane Austen's wit with the title of his most famous play, and also with those cucumber sandwiches which are a wicked leitmotif in the play. Wilde, like Austen, knew the importance of being discreet about cucumbers and legal settlements.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: There is one other allusion in "tell him what you will"--stand by for my next blog post on that very topic:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/12/which-is-man-which-is-heroine-which-is.html

Notice of our Jane Austen event on January 23

http://nova.campusguides.com/content.php?pid=170246&sid=1433873

The above is the link to a beautiful, vivid notice put out by the Alvin Sherman Library at Nova Southeastern University, advertising our Jane Austen event to take place on Sunday January 23, 2011, as well as a couple of teen-oriented Austen events earlier in that same week.

We're distributing 2,000 postcards with that same notice of our event all around South Florida, and this event will hopefully be the "magnet" to pull all the Janeite "needles" out of our sprawling suburban metropolis.

Please help me spread the word!

Cheers, ARNIE

Jane Austen's Last Birthday

This is my birthday tribute to Jane Austen.

On Monday, December 16, 1816, Jane Austen sat down (or, possibly, given the recurrent illness which plagued her subsequent to the publication of Emma in early 1816, reclined) and wrote the only one of her surviving letters which was written (at least in part) on her actual birthday. It is Letter 146 in Le Faye's edition, and it is written to her nephew, James Edward Austen (whom I will refer to as JEAL to avoid confusion with Jane's brother Edward) .

Jane was 41 that day--exactly the same age, curiously, that her brother Edward achieved on October 7, 1808, when Jane wrote Letter 57 to Cassandra, and (for various reasons I will explain in my book having to do with her complex relationship with Edward) jokingly referred to his having completed his thirtieth year, when he had actually completed his _fortieth_. But there are no jokes in Letter 146 about her own completion of four decades on earth; in fact there is no reference to her birthday _at all_, which itself is quite curious.

Some might suggest this was yet another example of Jane's modesty, self-deprecation, and dislike of the limelight, alongside the string of examples so often produced to support that claim. However, all of them are, in my opinion, written with strong irony, and are intended to mean--to those attuned to Jane's irony---precisely the opposite. Letter 146 itself contains a particularly famous one of those examples, when Jane first jokes with JEAL about 2 ½ chapters from a novel he was writing having gone mysteriously missing—Jane mockingly claims her own innocence of the theft—and then writes these now-famous words:

“I do not think however that any theft of that sort would be really very useful to me. What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited Sketches, fill of Variety & Glow? How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour?”

It is mind-boggling to me that this epigram has been quoted hundreds of times in books and articles as evidence of the modesty of Jane Austen's literary scope and aspirations. Hats off to the relative handful of scholars who have recognized the enormous irony that completely undercuts the apparent meaning. In reality, and as Jane herself knew better than anyone in the world, her novels have enormous scope and aspirations--- in their shadow stories, they depict the entirety of her world---national and world affairs and literature, both contemporary and historical, are painted in a thousand ways on those two inches of ivory, by Jane's patient Brush. And Jane could not resist the pun of “much labour”, to recall her strong sense of her novels as her own children, born, indeed, “after much labour”!

Did JEAL himself have any clue that he was the target of a major put-on by his hoax-loving aunt? I doubt it. He was an 18-year old young buck flush with his own grandiose schemes to achieve literary glory. He had not only his aunt, published author by then of four novels, to emulate, but also his father, who co-wrote the Loiterer literary magazine when_he_ was that age, and who wrote poetry all his life, and his Uncle Henry the sermon writer (and I cannot help thinking of Henry Crawford and his thoughts about sermon writing as I read Jane's praise of Henry's sermons in Letter 146), and also JEAL's elder half-sister, Anna, who, he surely was also aware, had been working on a novel of her own--which is so famously memorialized in several of the surviving letters from her aunt Jane--two and a half years earlier. Over a half century later, when JEAL wrote his Memoir of his by then famous aunt, he certainly showed no awareness of more than a fraction of the scope of his aunt's writing.

There is another unstated subtext to Letter 146, one which JEAL might have been aware of. His acronym is JEAL because he was christened James Edward Austen, but was, two decades after his celebrated aunt's death, to add the hyphenated name “Leigh” to his surname when he hit the inheritance jackpot as an adult and inherited Rosings from Aunt Leigh Perrot.

The following is a link to the first of five posts I wrote nearly a year ago in this blog, on the subject of the disinheritance of the Austen women upon the death of Uncle Leigh Perrot in early 1816, less than a year before Jane Austen wrote Letter 146 to JEAL:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/01/news-that-really-made-jane-austen.html

Jane writes Letter 146 as if none of that heartbreak and emotional trauma described in that series of blog posts had ever occurred, but you can be sure that it was vividly present in Jane's mind as she wrote to JEAL. This was true Christian charity on her part.

The subtly poignant highlight of this letter, for me, is the other literary subtext which never gets noticed , when Jane writes “You will hear from Uncle Henry how well Anna is. She seems perfectly recovered.”

As I noted, above, Anna Austen Lefroy, JEAL's elder half sister (and Jane's psychological daughter), had been working on a novel, under Aunt Jane's loving tutelage, when she got married in 1814. The unspoken subtext of Jane reporting on Anna's health is that it was no joking matter to either Anna or her aunt that Anna had been forced to suspend work on her novel after marrying and then bearing two children in rapid succession. She had borne her second daughter nearly three months earlier, and that was the “recovery” alluded to by Jane. Did Jane foresee that Anna would never finish that novel, and would, one sad evening years later, burn the manuscript? I believe Jane harbored great hopes for Anna as a writer, and would have greatly saddened to hear that, but also proud to know that Anna would eventually become a published author more or less at the same age as Jane was when writing Letter 146.

And what an ironic shadow that subtext casts on JEAL's “manly sketches”, which, if we may judge from the Memoir, would have been just the sort of narcissistic pompous tripe that Jane satirized in her Plan for a Novel, and also in her famous covertly mocking letters to James Stanier Clarke.

I finish this post with a quotation from Letter 146 which alarmingly reminds me of the suspiciously phallic cucumber sandwiches of The Importance of Being Earnest: “Tell your Father, with Aunt Cass's Love & mine, that the Pickled Cucumbers are extremely good, & tell him also--'tell him what you will”--No, don't tell him what you will.....”

Was Jane ever “earnest” in the sense of literally meaning what she wrote? I think not!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: Jane wrote Letter 146 from Chawton Cottage, her home with her mother, her sister and her dear friend Martha Lloyd, for eight productive years, but it is not our only window into how the mature Jane Austen thought and felt on her birthday. The one other writing we have which we know to have been written on or about her birthday was the eulogistic poem she composed exactly seven years before Letter 146, and less than a year after settling at Chawton Cottage, in honor of the death of Madam Lefroy, which I wrote about a few weeks ago in Part III of the following blog post:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/11/jane-austens-great-chasms-and-dirty.html

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Answer to my Best Quiz Ever

The answer to the quiz question is Hancock, which is the connection among the following three seemingly completely unrelated bits of Austeniana, as explained below:

#1: my recent string of posts about my speculation, based on the intersection of textual evidence from _Emma_ and _MP_, on the one hand, and from historical data, on the other, that the young Phila Austen may have been a prostitute in London from age 15 to 20, before she was transported by ship--whether voluntarily or not--to India.

Connection: Of course, Hancock was the married name of Phila Austen.


#2: The following charade attributed to Henry Austen:

“I with a Housemaid once was curst,
Whose name when shortened makes my first;
She an ill natured Jade was reckoned,
And in the house oft raised my second,
My whole stands high in lists of fame,
Exalting e’en great Chatham’s name.”

The official answer given by David Selwyn for this charade is "pat" + "riot" = "patriot". However, as with the charades in _Emma_, there is a second, secret answer to this charade as well, which is why I believe the actual author of the above charade was not Henry Austen, but his precocious young teenaged sister Jane!

I hinted to think about the names of the housemaids in _Emma_. Miss Bates's housemaid is Patti, or Pat for short. The Randalls housemaid, daughter of James at Hartfield, is Hannah, or Han for short. If you give the matter some thought, you will be able to figure out how I derived the second syllable of the secret answer.

And what is even cooler is that the two answers, "Hancock" and "patriot" are themselves connected in an additional way, i.e., while Mr. Pitt, the Earl of Chatham was considered a great English patriot, we here in the States are all well aware that one of our great American patriots was John Hancock!

......yes, I do believe that JA had a very wickedly irreverent sense of humor, and also a spectacular level of ingenuity!

#3: The following two passages in _Emma_ which pertain to the family of the lawyer of Highbury, specifically refer to "Anne Cox". That sounds very much like "Hancocks", and the reference to the Coles in the same sentence is an unmistakable tag pointing to #1, above, because of the real life close connection between Mrs. Cole and Phila Austen:

Ch. 26: "The party was rather large, as it included one other family, a proper unobjectionable country family, whom the Coles had the advantage of naming among their acquaintance, and the male part of Mr Cox's family, the lawyer of Highbury."

Ch. 27: [Harriet]: “...The Coxes were wondering last night whether [Jane] would get into any great family. How did you think the Coxes looked?......They talked a great deal about [Robt. Martin], especially Anne Cox... Miss Nash thinks either of the Coxes would be very glad to marry him."

...[Emma] "She meant to be impertinently curious, just as such an Anne Cox should be."


So I do claim that JA meant to be impertinently mysterious, but playing it fair, not so mysterious as to be completely inscrutable!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: At my JASNA-NYC presentation, one young gentleman in the audience was able to guess the answer "Hancock" to that charade.

The North Banger Sisters

A group read of Jane Austen's letters has begun in Austen L and Janeites, and here is my response to some interesting comments there by Diana Birchall about Letter #1, dated Jan 9-10, 1796, when Jane has recently turned 20.


[Diana] "How young she sounds in this first one. Laughing and mocking, very interested in young men, and sounding quite carefree, full of gayety"

Diana, JA's voice in this letter is, to me, uncannily similar to the voice of Elizabeth Bennet, but more so--it is like Lizzy after a couple of disinhibiting glasses of wine, and a couple of provoking Darcy sneers. ;)

"This tone, I recall, soon is somewhat reined in, but it's endearing to see it here."

What do you mean, Diana? Reined in by whom? The tone of this letter does not strike me as reined in at all--and may I immediately add--I love that it is not reined in, it suggests to me that JA was often "wired", particularly after a stimulating social event, such as the ball which is the subject matter of much of this letter. It means she was most fully alive after being in a crowd, enjoying the human comedy.

"Still, she is not quite like other girls - how many would write, "I am sorry for the Beaches' loss of their little girl, especially as it is the one so much like me."

That is putting it mildly. That is so "beyond everything" (to use the phrase JA used jokingly in later letters to CEA). It is consistent, right from this first surviving letter, with JA already feeling a lot of negative emotion, even aggression, associated with pregnancy and childbirth, especially death (of both mothers and infants) in childbirth. Here's the evidence.

First, Le Faye tells us that Henrietta-Maria Hicks-Beach, who was 36 when this letter was written, lost four of her nine children born live in infancy. I don't think JA was a cruel insensitive person who would mock such a sad history of personal loss of the poor mother--rather I hear JA's anger at that woman being subjected to such a life experience during what should have been the prime of life. This is gallows humor.

And the proof is in the very next sentence, which also is the last sentence of the letter, and therefore is also the end of JA's short literary "performance", and therefore has an extra oomph and wit befitting that placement:

"I condole with Miss M. on her losses and with Eliza on her gains, and am ever yours..."

Le Faye tells us that "Miss M." is Tom Fowle's maiden aunt Jane, who died in 1807--we can only speculate as to what "losses" JA is (I think ironically) referring to. See further below for my speculation.

Le Faye also claims that "Eliza" is Elizabeth Fowle, wife of Revd. Fulwar Craven Fowle, elder brother of Tom Fowle. It takes one minute to look at Le Faye's Bio Index and to also realize that of equal importance was that Eliza was the middle of the three Lloyd sisters, of whom Mary of course married James Austen, and Martha was JA's closest friend. So both JA and CEA each had two very close connections to this woman over a lifetime.

And looking at the description of Eliza's life in the Bio Index also gives us a big hint as to what "her gains" refers to---I believe Eliza had become pregnant _again_--I write "again" because she was in 1796 in her early thirties and had already borne children in 1791, 1792, 1793, and 1794 (baby born and died). That is _every_ year for four straight years.

Le Faye's listings show the next children born to Eliza in 1798 and 1799, resuming the annual drumbeat, but I betcha that the 3-year "gap" in between serial pregnancies was itself filled by one, maybe even two, miscarriages. Somehow I doubt that the good Revd Fowle took a 3-year vacation from his Biblical "duty" to multiply as rapidly as humanly possible.

And that also suggests to me that JA was joking with a dark edginess about Miss Murden's "losses", as it sounds a lot to me like JA's infamous bit of acid wit about Edward Austen Knight's 47-year old widowed "adoptive" mother in Letter 32:

"I am happy to hear of Mrs. Knight's amendment, whatever might be her complaint. [Words omitted in Brabourne edition: "I cannot think so ill of her however, in spite of your insinuations, as to suspect her of having lain-in -- I do not think she would be betrayed beyond an accident at the utmost."]

I think JA has, to add force to her comments about Eliza Fowle, conjured up a mini-tale of the pregnant maiden aunt having a miscarriage ("losses"). I think JA, at 20, already had a decided bent toward venting a considerable amount of anger, sarcasm and spleen when the topic of pregnancy and childbirth was extant, and it continued till the day she died.


"[Cassandra] must have shared in all the jokes.

Diana, I think that JA was the ticcingly inveterate punster, and that CEA was her "straight man"--and I think CEA did understand a good deal of JA's humor, but that does not mean that she was always happy with what came out of JA's mouth or quill pen. There are many close relationships like that, where opposite temperaments complement each other, and I speak from personal experience. I think JA spent her life trying to make CEA smile more....and also to get her overly compliant and submissive older sister to return to the days of The History of England, and get angry more.

I.e., I see a bit of the Banger Sisters in this passage.

Cheers,
Arnie