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

Thursday, August 4, 2011

An Easy Step to Silence: My Answers

I will now give summary answers to the questions I posed yesterday, leaving a more detailed analysis and interpretation for a later date.

“What _two_ famous works of English literature, separated by about a century (I will call them Work #2 and Work #3), _both_ contain a female character who is connected to all three of the following textual elements: Highbury; Richmond (where she is undone); and also the quotation
“When lovely woman stoops to folly”?”

My Answers:

Work #2 is Jane Austen’s _Emma_.

Work #3 is TS Eliot’s “The Waste Land”.

“Hint: the female character is named in Work #2, but is not named in Work #3. “

My Answers:

The female character in _Emma_ is Mrs. Churchill, who is constantly writing to Frank Churchill when he is Highbury demanding that he return to her, who goes to Richmond for medical care and then suddenly dies there (i.e., she is “undone” there), and as to whose death Jane Austen’s explicitly quotes
from Goldsmith’s poem.

The female character in “The Waste Land” is the unnamed typist who appears in the section of “The Waste Land” entitled “The Fire Sermon”, and here are the exact quotations from that section of Eliot’s poem:

“When lovely woman stoops to folly” at line 253

“Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew undid me.” at lines 293-4

It was the latter line that first caught my attention yesterday, because of the obvious connections of “Highbury” and “Richmond” to _Emma_. However, it was line 253 that made me realize that Mrs. Chuchill was being subliminally suggested by all three references.

“Second Hint: you will probably need to use Google to ascertain the identity of the later work, unless you have a very good memory for cryptic poetry.”

If you Google “Highbury” “Richmond” “when lovely woman stoops to folly” together, most of the hits are for “The Waste Land”, one is for _Emma_, and that’s all you get. From another angle: I suspect that if you took a poll of Eliot scholars, they’d all guess “The Waste Land”, and if you took a poll of Austen scholars, they’d all guess _Emma_. Apparently, I am the first person to think of both.

“Third hint: There is a _third_ famous work of literature (Work #1), written about ¾ of a century prior to Work #2, which is explicitly alluded to in Work #2 (and also in another work by the author of Work #2), and which is also covertly alluded to in both the title and the literary style of Work #3. “

My answer:

Work #1 is Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Two lines from Gray’s Elegy are quoted in _Emma_, and the same two lines are quoted in _Northanger Abbey_:

'Full many a flower is born to blush

And WASTE its fragrance on the desert air.

Actually, JA leaves out the word “Full” in her NA quotation, and she changes Gray’s “sweetness” to “fragrance”, but I think those are beside the point. What I find most notable vis a vis TS Eliot’s poem is that JA’s quotations both include the word “waste”, and I claim that this was noted by TS Eliot,
and is alluded to in the title “The Waste Land”.

And, more important than that, it turns out that it is well known among Eliot scholars (from Eliot’s private writings) that Gray’s Elegy was a text that particularly interested Eliot as he was working on “The Waste Land”, and further, according to the Eliot scholar Patrick Deane ,
there are sixty three lines of quatrains in “The Fire Sermon” which are actually covertly modeled on, and are highly reminiscent of, Gray’s Elegy, in both style and content.

So this is yet another striking parallelism between _Emma_ (and NA) on the one hand, and the Fire Sermon portion of “The Waste Land”, that they both veiledly point to Gray’s Elegy.

I claim that this was how Eliot, in a riddling way, was giving conclusive evidence to a reader who might have noticed the parallelism of the above-listed three elements (Highbury, Richmond, and the Goldsmith quote) in _Emma_ and “The Waste Land”, but was not sure if it was all just a very freakish coincidence.

I.e., I am suggesting that Eliot was making clear his intention to allude to both Gray’s Elegy and _Emma_, by flagging the explicit allusion in _Emma_ (and in NA) to Gray’s Elegy. That is the final “wink” that tells you it’s real and not Memorex.

“Last hint: the title of this message points, indirectly, to all three of these Works: #1, 2 _and_ 3!”

My answer:

“An easy step to silence” is the end of the following paragraph in _Northanger Abbey_:

"In the present instance, she confessed and lamented her want of knowledge, declared that she would give anything in the world to be able to draw; and a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed, in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in everything admired by him,
and her attention was so earnest that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste. He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances — side–screens and perspectives — lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff,
she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape. Delighted with her progress, and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline, and by an easy transition from a piece of rocky fragment and the withered oak which he had
placed near its summit, to oaks in general, to forests, the enclosure of them, WASTE LANDS, crown lands and government, he shortly found himself arrived at politics; and from politics, it was an easy step to silence.”

I claim that Eliot also alluded to the above passage in NA in two ways—first, his poem’s title is almost identical to the phrase “waste lands”, and second because this passage is the most vivid passage in all of JA’s fiction, in terms of pointing toward the importance of perspective in how one understands art—
which is exactly the sort of intellectual/aesthetic game that both Austen and Eliot played, in concealing layers of meaning beneath the surface, concealed meanings which are discernible only when the reader shifts his or her assumptions. The “silence” to which it was an easy step in both, was the author’s refusal
to make his or her meaning explicit, and putting a burden on the reader to puzzle out meanings.

As tangential evidence to the above, please also note that Eliot’s private writing show that he was very familiar with Austen’s fiction, particularly _Emma_, and also that his friend, Ezra Pound, who played a major role in the editing down of “The Waste Land” from Eliot’s original, much longer version,
was also a major fan of _Jane Austen_ . In that regard, it is very sad that Pound, in later years, infamously besmirched his own name by his virulent anti Semitic and other fascist/Naziphilic public pronouncements and writings.

So it would make perfect sense that the team of Eliot and Pound would submerge an allusion to Jane Austen’s writings in “The Waste Land”.

Having laid out the above evidence for the existence of an intentional, complex allusion by Eliot to Austen’s fiction, particularly _Emma_, and especially Mrs.Churchill, the important question to answer then becomes, “What was Eliot trying to say, obliquely, about Mrs. Churchill in particular, and JA in general?”

I am working on a full answer to that difficult question, but for starters, it is noteworthy that Eliot seems to focus on Mrs. Churchill’s _death_, and also places his veiled allusions to her in close proximity, in The Fire Sermon section of his poem, to an apparent instance of coerced , emotionally dissociated sex.
That is disturbing. Plus, it also seems to suggest that Mrs. Churchill was _born_ in Highbury (which would mean that both Mr. Weston and she came from Highbury and both of them married the Churchill siblings), and it also seems to reiterate what we already know, which is that Richmond “undid” Mrs. Churchill,
i.e., she died there. Is the verb “undid”, which suggests an active agency, a suggestion that her death was _not_ naturally caused, which would correspond to Leland Monk’s 1990 article suggesting that Frank murdered her?

And if those were the kinds of things Eliot was pointing to in Austen, that would fit very well with his tagging the above quoted passage in NA about perspective, and would indicate that Eliot had some awareness of that portion of what I call the shadow story of _Emma_

And there, I think, is precisely the right moment for me to stop.

Cheers, ARNIE

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