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

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"..we must be in a good situation: none of your Queen-squares for us!"

I just noticed something curious in Chapter 6 of Persuasion that relates to our ongoing group read of JA's letters:

"Anne had not wanted this visit to Uppercross, to learn that a removal from one set of people to another, though at a distance of only three miles, will often include a total change of conversation, opinion, and idea. She had never been staying there before, without being struck by it, or without wishing that other Elliots could have her advantage in seeing how unknown, or unconsidered there, were the affairs which at Kellynch Hall were treated as of such general publicity and pervading interest; yet, with all this experience, she believed she must now submit to feel that another lesson, in the art of knowing our own nothingness beyond our own circle, was become necessary for her; for certainly, coming as she did, with a heart full of the subject which had been completely occupying both houses in Kellynch for many weeks, she had expected rather more curiosity and sympathy than she found in the separate, but very similar remark of Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove: "So, Miss Anne, Sir Walter and your sister are gone; and what part of Bath do you think they will settle in?" and this, without much waiting for an answer; or in the young ladies' addition of, "I hope _we_ shall be in Bath in the winter; but remember, papa, if we do go, we must be in a good situation: none of your Queen-squares for us!" or in the anxious supplement from Mary, of "Upon my word, I shall be pretty well off, when you are all gone away to be happy at Bath!"

This paragraph is wonderfully ironic in at least two ways.

First, Anne revels in being at Uppercross, where the glare from Sir Walter and Elizabeth, the twin "suns" of Kellynch, which has oppressed her for years, is only the dim flicker of a distant star, not even perceptible. However, the irony kicks in when Anne, being herself an Elliot in spite of herself, cannot help but feel injured at the _completeness_ of the oblivion that Kellynch occupies in the Uppercross cosmos, as the Musgroves demonstrate a disconcerting utter lack of empathy for the dislocation engendered in Anne's heart at being uprooted from Kellynch to Bath. It's a little _too_ unconsidered for Anne's _own_ Elliot-esque desire for attention!

And Anne's feeling injured seems to me to have a direct biographical relevance to our discussions during our group read of JA's letters of the seismic shift wrought by the move of the Austens to Bath in 1801. Just as we have read JA's sarcastic accounts of the carving up of her Steventon life and selling it for pennies on a dollar to human vultures, and the ladies of the neighbourhood insensitively flitting over for a festive day at the Steventon "flea market", I hear a distinct echo of those sentiments in the above passage in Persuasion, written 15 years later--JA, like an elephant, apparently never forgot how that felt!

And I also see a _ second_ and closely related biographical irony in the above passage in Persuasion, as follows:

Letters 19-22 were written by JA to CEA while staying at No. 13 _Queen Square_ in Bath with Edward, her mother and other family members. In Letter 19, she speaks in satirical, but, on balance, generally positive terms about their lodgings there.

Letters 35-39, which we will be discussing during the next month, were written by JA to CEA while staying in the Paragon in Bath with her mother and father. In the interim between these two short series of letters written from Bath, we had the seismic shift, because Bath became not a vacation destination, as it was in 1799, but, as for Anne Elliot, a kind of Georgian "Siberia" JA was forced to move to against her own desire.

So why would JA put the words "remember, papa, if we do go, we must be in a good situation: none of your _Queen-squares_ for us!" into the mouths of the Musgrove girls? Louisa and Henrietta apparently believe that Queen-square is a bad situation in Bath. Is JA broadly hinting that brother Edward ought to have chosen a better place for the Austens to stay in 1799? Or is this evidence that Louisa and Henrietta are foolish country snobs, who don't really have any accurate sense as to the best situations in Bath?

The only scholarly discussion I have found online on this topic is in _Jane Austen: A Companion_, where Josephine Ross writes, at P. 162 about JA's enjoyment of her lodgings at No. 13 Queen Square, and then attempts to explain the above, by arguing that NA reflects Bath in the 1790's when JA happily and willingly visited as a tourist, but that Persuasion reflects the Bath of the early 1800's when JA was stuck there as a resident. As I have written above, that is in accord with my own sense of JA's altered feelings about Bath in general, but it begs the question of the _specific_ dig directed at Queen Square. I.e., if you were going to stay in Bath, was Queen Square in particular, as opposed to other places to stay in Bath, a "good situation" or not?

The Musgrove girls are not complaining about going to Bath, quite the contrary, it's a vacation for them, and so of course they are very excited about it! They just want to stay in a really nice place when they are there!

So..unless someone brings forward evidence that Queen Square went from being a great place to stay in 1799 to being a crumby place to stay in 1816, which I would find very surprising, this suggests to me that JA was taking a gratuitous potshot, seventeen years later, at Edward Austen's choice of lodgings in 1799.

Seems to me that JA held grudges a _long_ time--in my opinion, justifiably so, as I am sure she never received anything resembling an acknowledgment of the injuries done to her as a powerless single female in the Austen family--and she made damned sure to get them all into the mix in her novels, regardless of the passage of time.

Cheers, ARNIE

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