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

Monday, August 22, 2011

Letter 39: The Seeds of _Emma_

In response to the following post by me the other day...

...Diane Reynolds wrote: "Good catch on the parallels between let 39 and "no ice" and Mrs. Elton in Emma!"

Thank you, Diane, that was a particularly exciting catch, like bringing in an especially large fish (not that I have ever caught an actual fish in my entire life!) ;)

And your comment got me thinking again about how remarkable it is that Letter 39 was written nearly a decade before JA (according to CEA) began writing _Emma_, and yet here is an unmistakable allusion in _Emma_ to this seemingly trivial, playful passage in Letter 39.

I have always had the sense that JA had been working on _Emma_ for _much_ longer than one year--and sure enough, in certain letters like Letter 39 (and also Letter 23, written even earlier, in October 1800), we find little eruptions of names and phrases which are unmistakably echoed so much later in _Emma_. And, as we have been going along, I have pointed out a large number of passages in the first thirty nine letters which are similarly echoed in P&P, NA, and/or S&S--this echoing cannot be coincidental, or unconscious, in my opinion. It reflects, I believe, that JA used CEA's retained cc of these letters as "longterm storage" of ideas, turns of phrase, clever conceits, situations, etc. What a wonderfully clever way of hiding material in plain sight, so that even if some "voluntary spy" were to sneak in and peruse these letters, they would never find any explicit footprints from the novels, and yet, to JA (and perhaps also to CEA) these would be readily discernible, and therefore recallable, mnemonics.

"Imbedding a reference to Tristram Shandy's Uncle Toby's annuity--which is how she refers to James, the servant who delights her and about whom she happily exaggerates--communicates all the warmth of the gentle and charming Uncle Toby, hasus thinking of his loyal servant Trim, and adds to the tone of light-hearted joyfulness."

If you read my blog entries from 3 months ago that I linked to in the P.S. to my post about Letter 39, you will see that beneath the surface light-heartedness, there is serious and disturbing subtext in that allusion.

Which again makes me wonder if CEA was privy to the full intended meaning of all of JA's veiled allusions in these letters? Maybe she was, maybe she wasn't, but _something_ induced CEA to preserve Letter 39, from among what I would imagine were a pretty large number of letters written by JA during the "lost years" in Bath and other places, and perhaps these allusions in some way dictated the preservation of Letter 39?

Cheers, ARNIE

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