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

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mrs. Weston's Pregnancy PART THREE

I next posted an important tangent to the discussion of Mrs. Weston's pregnancy:

It occurred to me as I was doing yoga this morning (which often leads me into altered perspectives on things I'm thinking about) and today it caused me to step back a pace mentally, and to connect the dots between two recent, seemingly unconnected threads:

the first is the one about Kant started by Mark, which prompted me to postulate that JA would have been very interested in Kant because he was a leading European voice on the subject of epistemology, i.e., how we know what we know, and because she was so interested in that very same subject, and constructed all her novels as illustrations of the pitfalls human beings fall into in trying to figure out what is real and what has been generated out of their own imagination; and

the second is the current one about the significance of the clues that I allege are present in Emma regarding Mrs. Weston's pregnancy.

And the paramount question I wish to point out now, which is one logical level higher, is that the strong disagreement between me, Diane, Elissa and some others, on the one hand, and Kathy, Christy, Nancy and others, on the other, about whether the kinds of claims I make about JA's novels are valid or not, is a disagreement that JA _wanted_ to generate! Taking that further, I'd claim that she wanted her _individual_ readers to struggle with making this sort of epistemological judgment, to wonder (like Knightley, famously, while observing Frank and Jane, and like Emma and Catherine and Lizzy, while observing everyone around _them_) what is
really going on, and to cultivate her readers's willingness to question their own assumptions about what they (think they) have seen.

So, I think JA's paramount goal was not to force readers to see shadow stories, or to force readers _not_ to see shadow stories, but to prompt readers to ask this sort of question, regardless of the answer they come up with!

I claim that when she famously wrote about not writing for dull elves, she meant that she was not writing for passive readers, she was writing for readers who were willing to challenge their own assumptions, to go back into the text and try to find answers. She is challenging the likes of myself to prove there are shadow stories, and she is challenging the likes of Kathy to prove that there are not. She is most concerned with this process of deciding, i.e., of judgment--she wanted her readers to refine their readerly judgments in this way.

That was JA's primary didactic motivation, I assert, the common thread that runs through all her writing. That's the reason why she gives her most popular hero, Darcy, the honor of asserting the following in expanding Caroline Bingley's limited definition of an accomplished woman:

"All this she must possess," added Darcy, "and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading."

It is by reading epistemologically sophisticated fictions like her own that an intelligent active reader can best develop his or her powers of judgment and discrimination.

So, regardless of where someone comes out on the questions of whether Mrs. Weston was really pregnant, and whether Jane Fairfax was pregnant, I claim that the paramount question JA was implicitly posing to her readers was, "How do we most effectively go about answering to these
questions?"

These epistemological questions are, I claim, unwise to beg. [END OF MY POST IN JANEITES]


And that is what led to the final phase of this discussion, which will appear in PART FOUR!

Cheers, ARNIE

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