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

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Catherine Morland's Name is in Mr. Elton's more ways than one

Yesterday, I responded to Anielka's question as to the anagram contained in Catherine Morland's name, and my answer was that it is in Mr. Elton's charade.

Then I added the additional twist that Catherine Morland's name is in Mr. Elton's charade in two completely different, and yet wonderfully complementary, ways.

No one has guessed what I meant by this, so I will explain myself now.

I gave the hint that one of those two answers could be found without reading anything other than my message. Here's how that could be.

My message contained the name "Catherine Morland's", two words which together contain a total of seventeen letters.

It turns out that the phrase "in Mr. Elton's charade" also contains a total of seventeen letters, and what is remarkable, I claim, is that these just happen to be exactly the same seventeen letters!

I.e., CATHERINEMORLAND and INMRELTONSCHARADE both contain exactly the same letters.

That is, then, the _first_ of the two ways in which (the 17 letters in) "Catherine Morland's" are (the same seventeen letters) "in Mr. Elton's charade"!

Coincidence? Absent any other evidence supporting the claim that this was an intentional action on Jane Austen's part, other than both versions pertain to novels written by Jane Austen, it could very well be a coincidence. Seventeen letters are a lot of letters, and these seventeen letters are among the most commonly used letters in English, and therefore can often be turned into all sorts of different combinations, especially if we allow combinations consisting of more than two words or names. I am perfectly aware of that.

But...there is, I would suggest, other evidence .....once you go with the flow, and entertain the possibility that it might be intentional, and then examine Mr. Elton's charade alongside the character of Catherine Morland, a couple of other parallels do pop up, to wit:

First, As I wrote last year (also, by the way, in response to Anielka), the structure of Mr. Elton's charade is parallel to that of a dance from the Regency Era called the "quadrille":

In short, as I explain at length in that prior blog post, Mr. Elton's charade can be seen as a kind of quadrille in words rather than a quadrille in steps.

But how does this relate to Catherine Morland? Well, doesn't the idea of a dance ring a strong bell to Catherine Morland? How about this, when Henry Tilney explains how dancing is like marriage:

"I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not chuse to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours’”

Henry's “‘definition of matrimony and dancing’” provides “that in both, it is an engagement between man and woman, formed for the advantage of each; and that when once entered into, they belong exclusively to each other till the moment of its dissolution; that it is their duty, each to endeavour to give the other no cause for wishing that he or she had bestowed themselves elsewhere, and their best interest to keep their own imaginations from wandering towards the perfections of their neighbours, or fancying that they should have been better off with any one else.”

And Mr. Elton's charade also draws an implicit parallel between dance and marriage, because the answer Emma gives for the charade (with, as I claimed, above, the structure of a quadrille) is "courtship" and the story line of Emma (and indeed of all of JA's novels) is that of a courtship dance, in which there is considerable confusion as to who is whose partner, etc. And Henry's passive aggressive manner of setting the entire tone of their conversation, mocking Catherine frequently, has the feel of a man "leading" the woman in a _verbal_ dance as well!

But there's more still...

I claim one other, less vivid, and yet more significant, parallel between the character of Catherine Morland and Mr. Elton's second charade. The message of the second charade is that courtship involves a reversal of gender power roles, because he male in the charade is the one who starts out as the monarch and lord (and the second, secret answer to the charade is indeed the "Prince of Whales"), but ends as a "slave", bending to the power of "woman, lovely woman".

And my interpretation of Northanger Abbey is that while the surface parody of the Gothic seems to be about the comeuppance delivered by Henry to Catherine , to curb her overactive imagination, the covert anti-parody, which I described in my talk in Portland last November, is that it is Catherine's imagination which actually saves the day, and which takes Henry down a peg off his egotistical pedestal, and reforms him to a man who is worthy of Catherine's superior intuitive moral vision.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: Tim Luscombe's 2005 stage adaptation of Northanger Abbey includes the following lines during a scene at the pump room:

Isabella: Where's John gone?
Catherine: To speak to a friend.
Isabella: But the music's started.
James (as he enters): Come, Miss Thorpe. We must join the set.
Isabella: I'm not asking Catherine, I'm asking you!
Isabella: My dear Morland, you are sly! Nothing will induce me to join the set before my dear Catherine can join it too. I assure you; on that matter I am resolute.
Catherine: I'm very grateful to you, dear friend!
James: Isabella, come now, this is the QUADRILLE, and I especially wanted to dance it with you.
Isabella: I told you, I would not stand up without your dear sister for all the world; for if I did, we should certainly be separated the whole evening.

While i doubt that Tim Luscombe was aware of the hidden anagram in Catherine Morland's name, I still think he would be pleased to read my argument!

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