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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Letter #12: Bob Brown's Great Coat

Nancy Mayer responded in Janeites to my earlier post about Letter #12 in a way that follows the pattern of so many of our amicable, but very strong, disagreements about the meaning of JA's writings:

[Nancy] "If Jane wasn't half-way teasing her sister than she was behaving like a spoiled brat. Not the outrage at the shabby treatment given a baby sister but a bit of the spoiled brat at not being the only one favored with a letter. It was Cassandra's duty and pleasure to write and congratulate James and Mary on the birth of the child and the survival of the wife. What is Jane all upset about? Did she really expect Cassandra to congratulate her on the birth of a niece? Cassandra servilely writes a note!!! Servilely! Even today it is good manners and a loving kindness to congratulate new parents. Hallmark and American greeting cards have dozens of cards on the subject. "

It seems you and I have diametrically opposed perceptions of the moral significance of what happened that week at Steventon, Deane, and Godmersham----what a big surprise, Nancy! ;)

"I do agree that Jane looked forward to her sister's letters as a break in her routine. I do think that she, with her intelligence , must at times have been bored nearly to tears. She is a people watcher. She might have snide remarks about many of their guests but she loves to have them come so that she can discuss them with Cassandra."

And I see a world of deep feelings that you minimize to the point of triviality. Again, we are so different in our perceptions.

"Feminine outrage against women marrying and having children? Might as well have rage against the sun coming up. Most women entered into marriage willingly. Even those who like Charlotte Lucas who like the house and garden better than the husband, willingly chose to marry. They all knew about little graves in the cemetery. All over the world today, even in places where maternal mortality is high, women want to get married and have children. According to the statistics today, women want children even without being married ."

Please don't run for president of NOW is my career advice to you. Have I not repeatedly emphasized that the outrage I keep referring to is against _serial_ pregnancy, especially in an era, like JA's, of rampant death in childbirth. As far as I can see, JA had nothing at all against the bearing of children per se, under moderate and reasonable circumstances that were not horrific for the mother. And the relevance of this attitude could not be greater for the _billion_ or more women living in the world _today_ who must face something comparable to what JA's "sisters" faced 200 years ago in England.

And by the way, you remind me, I also meant to point to the very last line of the letter, when JA, after venting her (justified) spleen, adds, "Ask little Edward whether Bob Brown wears a great coat this cold weather." I derive from this first, that JA does genuinely feel affection for little nephew Edward, age 5, which again illustrates that JA's persistent rage against serial childbirth was _not_ a reflection of JA's indifference to, or dislike of, children. Quite the contrary, JA consistently showed affection and interest toward her many nieces and nephews, and this farewell comment is a perfect example that the little boy remained in Aunt Jane's heart even from a distance. The irony that JA would have realized all too well, however, was that this sweet boy of 5 would one day grow up, don the mandatory "Blue Beard", and begin the onerous task--but somebody had to do it, for God and country!---of slowly destroying the lives of his two wives, siring a horrific total of SIXTEEN children on them between the ages of 32 and 65. In other words, his father's son to a te--or should I better say, to a K? (as in JA's famous line about brother Edward after he adopted the surname "Knight"--"I must learn to make a better K")

But I also find that sentence interesting in a very different way--it sounds to me like there was no real "Bob Brown" being referred to, despite the tin-ear-for-a-joke of Le Faye in actually listing him in the Index and also referring to him in the Bio Index as "possibly a manservant at Godmersham"! This is a made up (alliterative) name, like Sophia Sentiment and Luke Lickspittle, JA's covert contributions to The Loiterer, and this question must be a Regency Era variant on "why did the chicken cross the road?" joke, suitable for a 5 year old sense of humor! Anyone have a guess as to the punch line of why Bob Brown wears a great coat this cold weather?

"If Jane Austen was outraged about an impecunious English girl being cast aside for an Irish heiress she must have been imbibing her mother's laudanum. There was no feminist issue about that. It was something that happened every day in every country. It happens today. "

That women in JA's day felt enormous pressure, due to the deck being stacked against them in every way, to marry for money instead of for love was as disgusting then as it is still is today when, at least in developed countries, that pressure is much less severe than it was 2 centuries ago-but still exists for all too many women. My point of view, of course, which is hardly original to myself.

Cheers, ARNIE

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