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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Jane Austen's mysterious adverttisement for Northanger Abbey

In Austen L and Janeites, Anielka Briggs wrote: "I'm reading the writings as we read the letters and have become entranced by Northanger Abbey and what we know of it as it is supposed to be Austen's earliest work. "

I have been entranced with Northanger Abbey (NA) to an alarming degree for about 2 years now, ever since I realized that Mrs. Tilney's mysterious fatal fever is childbed fever in the shadow story of the novel. And so I took the opportunity to respond to Anielka's comments thusly:

Anielka, "supposed to be" are the operative words. Actually none of the published novels is really an early work, because I believe she extensively rewrote not only S&S and P&P after the age of 35, but also NA. My research has taught me that they are all mature works, all reflecting fully finished and coherent shadow stories, all deploying all the same techniques of hiding in plain sight.

Anielka again: "It was originally called "Susan". Loads of changes must have been made! Going through every age and crossing out "Susan" and replacing it with 'Catherine' for a start! And then there' the fact that the mangled quote was taken from Egerton Brydges work of 1807. "

A great deal has been written on the subject of the speculated changes JA made over the years, but my book will give what I claim will be the most complete and compelling explanation. Knowing the shadow story is the key to understanding the changes she would gave made, particularly in regard to the characters of General and Mrs. Tilney.

Anielka again: "What on earth is the purpose of that advertisement? An advertisement that mentions an advertisement for a book that was never published? Not much of an advertisement. And why would I as a reader need to know that certain opinions had changed in thirteen years?"

I believe that once she had achieved her latest success with Emma, she did hope to live to see NA published as well. My guess is that Murray for whatever (bad) reason had turned NA down, to her surprise, and that was why she wrote what she did to Fanny in 1816. But I don't think she ever gave up hope, because she knew NA was equal to the 4 other already published masterpieces.

My best guess is that she realized that the feminism was too close to the surface in NA, and so she realized she might have to wait a long time till the intellectual climate in England might shift and be receptive to that feminism. She must have loved the feminism of NA so much, it was so personal a statement of her core values as a feminist, that she could not even consider rewriting it-- the surgery would have killed the "patient"!

After her death, Henry solved that marketing problem in his usual manipulative, amoral way by writing that absurd Biographical Notice, creating the myth of dear, sweet, unthreatening, little Aunt Jane, something JA obviously refused to do.--but she was now "mouldering" in the grave, and could not stop Henry from doing that.

And I guess we should be grateful, because god forbid NA and Persuasion might somehow have not gotten published and somehow might have gotten lost.

Anielka one last time: " Why change the name?"

You who are so aware of her allusive ways should know that answer already. Because her character names were always significant, usually in multiple ways, and she had since 1809 learned some history which made the heroine's new name much more interesting on multiple levels.

In my address to the JASNA AGM last November, I explained the significance of the surname Morland for the death in childbirth shadow story theme in NA--it is spectacular in its hiding in plain sight aspects, even for JA.

Cheers,
Arnie

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