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

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Effusions of Fancy by a Very Young Lady Consisting of Tales in a Style Entirely New

From Peter Sabor's Introduction in his recent Edition of Jane Austen's Juvenilia:

"In his editions of Volume the First and Volume the Third, Chapman['s]... minimalist prefaces reveal his disdain for [JA's] earliest writings. Echoing his precursors, the Austen-Leighs, Chapman claims, in his edition of Volume the First, that 'it will always be disputed whether such _effusions_ as these ought to be published; and it may be that we have enough already of Jane Austen's early scraps.' The word "effusions', tellingly, is the patronizing term used by Austen's father in his inscription in 'Volume the Third'...George Austen employed it in the eighteenth century sense of 'outpourings', and Austen herself seems to have found the term apt, alluding to it in her famous passage on novel-writing in Northanger Abbey: 'Let us leave it to the Reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy'...For Chapman, however, the term held the modern sense of 'effusiveness'; he thus turns a compliment by Austen's father into a patronizing jibe."

It is remarkable to me how Sabor, whom I know from other stuff he has written to be a very sharp literary Austenian critic, can so badly misread this situation, as I will now explain.

Here is Revd. Austen's inscription in Volume the Third:

"Effusions of FancyBy a very Young LadyConsisting of TalesIn a Style entirely new"

So, it is clear from the exact quotation of "effusions of fancy" that JA, in that passage in NA defending the female novel, is thinking of her own father's minimizing words, which obviously stung JA when she was 16, and still stung her 25 years later when she made her final changes to NA in 1816. And it's not just "effusions of fancy"---the narrator of NA also describes Isabella's capsule judgments on a variety of subjects as being "entirely new" to Catherine--but no one, I think would suggest that JA intends us to think positively about what Isabella says. Rather, this is JA's droll way of showing how generous Catherine is---she is far too polite, even in her thoughts, to characterize Isabella's b.s. as such, so she euphemizes it into "entirely new". And in this way JA shows that this is the sense in which JA has taken her father's reference to her Juvenilia--he really thinks they are wild, demented ravings, but he says this in a very veiled polite way: he calls it "a Style entirely new".

I claim that JA felt her father's words as "abuse", not in our modern sense, but in the Regency Era sense of "speaking very negatively". Sabor is engaged in a futile attempt at arbitrarily prejudiced parsing--he wishes to nail Chapman (and rightly so) for his dismissiveness as to JA's Juvenilia, but to let Revd. Austen off the hook for saying _exactly_ the same thing Chapman did, but in a more clever way!

It just won't fly, and I am reminded of Jane Bennet's comparably futile and rose-colored attempt to rationalize things so as to make both Wickham and Darcy blameless. The reality is that JA was pissed off that her father treated Volume the Third (which includes incredible writing like The History of England and Catharine, and the Bower) with such benign contempt. She had worked very very hard on Volume the Third, and was clearly very very proud of her achievement (and rightly so), and she wanted her father's approval--and instead she got damned with VERY faint praise.

Now.. in his defense, perhaps he had been more than a little chagrined---like Sir Thomas finding Lover's Vows being performed in his own room---when he read Catharine, and the Bower, and recognized his own sister Philadelphia in it, with little attempt by JA to conceal the allusion to his sister's real life hardships, being shipped off to India to marry a much older man, etc etc.

So perhaps his inscription was born of his anger, since he did not have any plausible excuse for simply tossing JA's manuscript in the fire. So he did what he could---he and his precocious teenaged daughter, the 'sharp poker', played their little game of Cat and Mouse, neither one ready to openly speak their anger.

And so JA had to wait till Revd. Austen was dead before being able to finally vent her spleen about this in print, in NA, and surely that was part of her motivation for trying to reclaim the manuscript from Crosby.

Cheers, ARNIE

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