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

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mrs. Weston's Pregnancy PART ONE

This is the first of a series of posts that were sent in the Janeites group the last few days, in which I took a different approach than normal. Instead of defending my claims about Austen's shadow stories, I turned the tables for a change, and played the skeptic with their claims about Mrs. Weston's pregnancy in Emma. My point, as you will see, was to illustrate that the reader is at certain key points in each of Austen's novels driven toward the shadow story by the fishiness of some aspects of the revealed or overt story.

So this thread began when I raised serious questions about the suspiciousness of the textual clues in Emma about Mrs. Weston's alleged pregnancy. Kathy Elder, who has repeatedly dismissed my shadow story claims as (in her words) "fanfic speculations", responded as I quote below, and then I decided to respond, as you will read below:

[Kathy] " Emma, Mrs Weston's pregnancy is NOT sprung on the reader when the baby is born. It is alluded to in Chapter 38 (second week in May) and mentioned specifically in Chapter 42 (June). The birth of Anna Weston occurs in Chapter 53 (late July)."

From Chapter 38 (Miss Bates at the Crown Ball): "So afraid you might have a headach! seeing you pass by so often, and knowing how much trouble you must have."
From Chapter 42: "the situation of Mrs. Weston, whose happiness it was to be hoped might eventually be as much increased by the arrival of a child, as that of all her neighbours was by the approach of it "
From Chapter 53: "Mrs. Weston's friends were all made happy by her safety ... "
So, we read a strong allusion to the pregnancy, an actual mention of the pregnancy, and finally an actual mention of the baby -" [END OF KATHY'S QUOTE]


I have a few questions for you, if you'd be willing to answer them.

If Mrs. Weston really was pregnant, obviously that would mean Mrs. Weston herself has known for sure about being pregnant since the end of the first volume of the novel at the latest, and probably sooner. How then do you explain why she never mentioned it to Emma until Chapter 42, when Emma was not only one of her neighbours, but was in fact her closest female friend in Highbury, almost a sister? Or is it possible that Emma knew about her friend's pregnancy and yet it was not a topic for conversation between them at any time prior to Chapter 42? Or is it
possible that it _was_ a topic of conversation for several months before Chapter 42, but the narrator did not consider this important enough to mention, even in passing?

When do you imagine that Mr. Weston learned of it? If Mrs. Weston did keep it secret from everybody else except him till the seventh month, do you think it possible that he--remember, this is Mr. Weston we're talking about---kept this a secret for the first 7 months of his wife's pregnancy? Or do you think she concealed from her own husband until the seventh month?

When do you imagine that Knightley knew? He makes it his business to know everything that happens in Highbury, he is a close friend of Mrs. Weston (evidenced by their Ch. 5 tete a tete) yet we never hear about him knowing about it.

Do you think her pregnancy was common knowledge in Highbury prior to Chapter 42? If so, why didn't anybody who knew tell Emma?

When Mr. Elton asks Mrs. Weston to dance at the Crown ball in Chapter 38 in the following passage, does _he_ know she's 6 months pregnant? If he does know, isn't that more than a little vicious of him to ask him to dance? And if he doesn't know, then I would think that it is _not_ common knowledge that she is six months pregnant.

"....Mr. Elton was so near, that she heard every syllable of a dialogue which just then took place between him and Mrs. Weston; and she perceived that his wife, who was standing immediately above her, was not only listening also, but even encouraging him by significant glances.
The kind-hearted, gentle Mrs. Weston had left her seat to join him and say, "Do not you dance, Mr. Elton?" to which his prompt reply was, "Most readily, Mrs. Weston, if you will dance with me." "Me! oh! no -- I would get you a better partner than myself. I am no dancer."

Why does the passage you quote from Ch. 42 makes it sound like Mrs. Weston announcing her pregnancy to everybody does not raise any surprise in anyone? I would think that Emma would have asked her dear friend why she kept it a secret for over three months after Mrs. Weston herself knew. And Emma spends so many days together with Mrs. Weston, even during the warming months--how could she not see her friend's pregnancy under such conditions? Or again, does the narrator choose to ignore such conversations?

And finally, we know from famous real life news from only a couple of years ago that when Sarah Palin's pregnancy was revealed in the seventh month, people in close proximity to her were shocked, and she was hardly living in a cave. Wouldn't the same reaction occur in Highbury?

On the other hand, if Mrs. Weston (for some reason _not_ revealed to us by the narrator) decided to conceal her pregnancy till the seventh month, doesn't that mean that it was possible in 1814 Highbury to conceal a pregnancy until that late stage, and therefore those who might suggest that _Jane_ could not have concealed a pregnancy so long are wrong?

Thanks for any answers you choose to give.
Cheers, ARNIE



Anonymous said...

Arnie -- the correct quote would be "fan-fic style speculation." :-)

I'm not at all certain that I like being named and/or quoted in your blog -- but I suppose the Janeites list is considered public enough that lifting quotes is allowed?

[The poster will show as Anonymous because I don't have a Google Account.]

Arnie Perlstein said...


Thank you for that crucial correction! ;)

But to address your content--my belief is that Janeites, with 900+ members, and with years of porous boundaries between it and Austen L, which itself has hundreds of members who are not members of Janeites and which is itself a completely public Google-able website, is a public space, especially within the world of Janeite Austen.

Many people, not just myself, have quoted or paraphrased material from Janeites in other online venues--Ellen does it constantly, and has done so for many years. that i know you have a question about this, I guess you and I will not converse in Janeites in the future, because I like to take my own conversations to my blog to revisit them, react to them, etc, afterwards.

And that won't be a loss for you, as what i say, is, as you say, often "fan-fic style speculation".