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

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"....they are very far from being what I know English gentlemen often are….."

Christy Somer wrote in Janeites: "There is a recollection from a Mrs. Ann Barrett (who lived at Alton during 1813-1816) this is what she records about JA's thoughts on two of her heroes:

"...To the question `which of your characters do you like best?' she once answered, "Edmund Bertram and Mr. Knightley; but they are very far from being what I know English gentlemen often are….."

I replied as follows:

That quotation comes from the same portion of JEAL's Memoir in which he also wrote the following whopper:

"Her own relations never recognised any individual in her characters..."

Which, in my opinion, is the most extreme example of protesting too much (and too falsely) in the history of biographies.


But putting that aside, I am willing to assume for argument's sake that _ JEAL has accurately quoted Mrs. Barrett _and_ that Mrs. Barrett has accurately quoted JA, but let's take a closer look at the above quotation as to the characters whom JA liked best:


"Edmund Bertram and Mr. Knightley; but they are very far from being what I know English gentlemen often are….."

That sentence can plausibly be construed in two completely _opposite_ ways, i.e., as their being very far _above_ the typical English gentleman, or very far _below_ the typical English gentleman. And the word "but" is part of that ambiguity---it could mean "I like them _but_ men of that high quality are rare", or it could mean "I like them _but_ they are not really the best of gentlemen."

And Kishor Kale, if he is out there reading along at this moment, would chime in that the above sentence is in exactly the same ambiguous vein as the following sentences he discussed in his excellent paper about ambiguous sentences in P&P:

Mrs. Bennet: "My dear Mr. Bennet, you must not expect such girls to have the sense of their father and mother" (29).

Mr. Collins: "She is the sort of woman whom one cannot regard with too much deference" (157).

Wickham: "Exceedingly well. I should have considered [making sermons] part of my duty, and the exertion would soon have been nothing "(328).

Mr Bennet: "If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to any one less worthy" (377).

Perhaps JA was treating Mrs. Barrett the same way she treated James Stanier Clarke, turning her into an unwitting conveyor of a veiled negative judgment on two of her literary creations.

Cheers, ARNIE
sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com

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