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

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Mysterious Miss (Pamela) Andrews in Northanger Abbey

In one of my recent posts about the allusion in Persuasion to the Joseph of Genesis...

...I quoted the following passage from Henry Austen’s 1818 Biographical Notice...

"...She did not rank any work of Fielding quite so high [as Richardson's Grandison]. Without the slightest affectation she recoiled from every thing gross. Neither nature, wit, nor humour, could make her amends for so very low a scale of morals."

...and I then gave a whirlwind tour of a number of interrelated Fielding allusions in Persuasion, NA, and JA’s letters, which collectively belied Henry Austen’s claim that JA “recoiled” from Fielding.

However, I now see Henry Austen’s deception in the above passage in _stereo_, as I note the function of the Biographical Notice---as introduction to the 1818 posthumous _dual_ publication of Northanger Abbey together with Persuasion! I believe Henry Austen’s goal was to influence the initial reading of those novels, and to steer the reader away from disturbing rumors they might have heard about JA’s literary models. So Henry not only asserted the (false) claim that JA “recoiled” from Fielding, but also the equally false (as I will show, below) assertion that JA ranked Richardson (in particular Sir Charles Grandison) _high_, without alloy of satire or subversion. Henry’s Jane Austen would therefore have been the prim, proper, dutifully submissive Aunt Jane who became the face the world saw for nearly 200 years.

The portal for me into JA’s subversive satire of Richardson’s novels in NA was the following passage in Chapter 6 of NA, in which Isabella Thorpe, briefly, tells Catherine _all_ about her “particular friend”, “Miss Andrews”:

[Is.] "Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them. I wish you knew Miss Andrews, you would be delighted with her. She is netting herself the sweetest cloak you can conceive. I think her as beautiful as an angel, and I am so vexed with the men for not admiring her! I scold them all amazingly about it."
[Cath.] "Scold them! Do you scold them for not admiring her?"
[Is.] "Yes, that I do. There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature. My attachments are always excessively strong. I told Captain Hunt at one of our assemblies this winter that if he was to tease me all night, I would not dance with him, unless he would allow Miss Andrews to be as beautiful as an angel. The men think us incapable of real friendship, you know, and I am determined to show them the difference. Now, if I were to hear anybody speak slightingly of you, I should fire up in a moment: but that is not at all likely, for you are just the kind of girl to be a great favourite with the men."
"Oh, dear!" cried Catherine, colouring. "How can you say so?"
"I know you very well; you have so much animation, which is exactly what Miss Andrews wants, for I must confess there is something amazingly insipid about her. Oh! I must tell you, that just after we parted yesterday, I saw a young man looking at you so earnestly—I am sure he is in love with you." Catherine coloured, and disclaimed again. Isabella laughed. "It is very true, upon my honour, but I see how it is; you are indifferent to everybody's admiration, except that of one gentleman, who shall be nameless. Nay, I cannot blame you"—speaking more seriously—"your feelings are easily understood. Where the heart is really attached, I know very well how little one can be pleased with the attention of anybody else. Everything is so insipid, so uninteresting, that does not relate to the beloved object! I can perfectly comprehend your feelings."
"But you should not persuade me that I think so very much about Mr. Tilney, for perhaps I may never see him again."
"Not see him again! My dearest creature, do not talk of it. I am sure you would be miserable if you thought so!"
"No, indeed, I should not. I do not pretend to say that I was not very much pleased with him; but while I have Udolpho to read, I feel as if nobody could make me miserable. Oh! The dreadful black veil! My dear Isabella, I am sure there must be Laurentina's skeleton behind it."
"It is so odd to me, that you should never have read Udolpho before; but I suppose Mrs. Morland objects to novels."
"No, she does not. She very often reads Sir Charles Grandison herself; but new books do not fall in our way."
"Sir Charles Grandison! That is an amazing horrid book, is it not? I remember Miss Andrews could not get through the first volume.”
"It is not like Udolpho at all; but yet I think it is very entertaining."
"Do you indeed! You surprise me; I thought it had been unreadable…. “ END QUOTE

I was led to this passage by searching for the name “Andrews” in JA’s novels, in followup to my recent postings about the Biblical Joseph represented both in Fielding’s _Tom_ _Jones_, and also in JA’s novels and letters. I took note of the obvious and long-recognized allusion in the scene in _Joseph_ _Andrews_, with Lady Booby’s coming on to Fielding’s na├»ve hero, as a direct echo of Potiphar’s wife coming on to the Biblical Joseph for whom he was so clearly named.

All of which raised the question in my mind---did JA’s interest in the Biblical Joseph ever lead her to _Joseph_ _Andrews_? As I read this passage (which is the only place in NA where we hear a good deal about Miss Andrews), I noted with interest the explicit multi-part reference to Richardson’s _Sir Charles Grandison_. And of course _Joseph_ _Andrews_ was one of Fielding’s _two_ subversive sequels to Richardson’s _Pamela_! And of course Pamela’s last name is _also_ Andrews, as Fielding’s Joseph is supposed to be her brother--and she is actually referred to several times in Richardson’s novel as “Miss Andrews”!

So, it was already clear to me that JA’s choice of that surname for Isabella’s particular friend was no coincidence. And then I learned, from my usual scrupulous scholarly searching, that the honor of priority of identification of Isabella Thorpe’s “Miss Andrews” as a representation of Richardson’s _Pamela_ Andrews belongs to Prof. Carole Gerster, in her chapter “Rereading Northanger Abbey” in Lambdin’s Companion to Jane Austen studies (2000).

The huge bonus from reading Gerster’s chapter was that it is, in my opinion, one of the very best analyses of the feminist parodic aspects of NA that have ever been written—and I have read them all. I urge you all to read it, it begins on P. 115 here:

What I have to add to the mix is my usual sort of textual wordplay sleuthing, which in a half dozen ways, corroborates and deepens Gerster’s insight. Here are my three favorite elements in JA’s allusion to Richardson in the above passage:

ONE: Pamela, very similar to Isabella’s Miss Andrews, is specifically referred to several times as a “sweet creature”, and as an “angel”, and Miss Andrews netting herself a cloak is a very sly reference to Pamela being accused by Miss Davers of engaging in a cunning _cloak_ of deception!

TWO: Isabella’s Miss Andrews, like Clementina in Sir Charles Grandison, is called “as beautiful as an angel”.

THREE: It is in this very short passage that we learn that Mrs. Morland rereads Sir Charles Grandison, but Miss Andrews finds SCG unreadable. What witty irony of JA, to have a representation of a character from one Richardson novel find another Richardson novel unreadable!

Gerster does a fantastic job of demonstrating, via analysis of a half dozen significant themes in NA, that JA is parodying and satirizing Richardson every step of the way, and my above textual evidence is the icing on that particular cake.
And you can be certain that Henry Austen was aware of at least some of the above, and _that_ is why he protested so much to the contrary in his Bio Notice. It worked for nearly 200 years, but the time is now ending for his deception’s demise, so very long overdue.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. It’s also no accident that Mrs. Elton repeatedly calls Jane Fairfax a “sweet creature” –Augusta and Isabella would have been _such_ good friends if they had ever crossed paths!

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