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Monday, December 19, 2011

Jane Austen's Letter 57 and the Big Bad Wolf

I mentioned a long while back that the Big Bad Wolf would be mentioned in my book about Jane Austen, and now is the moment to give a more precise preview:

The passage in Letter 57 that I had in mind at that time was the following:

"The masons are now repairing the chimney, which they found in such a state as to make it wonderful that it should have stood so long, and next to impossible that another violent wind should not blow it down. We may, therefore, thank /you/ perhaps for saving us from being thumped with old bricks."

And here's a funny thing about the above passage. When you Google search the following group of words (as I did in late October 2007)......

chimney bricks "blow it down" house

...the first five hits in Google Web pertain in some way or another to the tale of the Three Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, and the sixth hit is for..... Jane Austen's Letter 57!

Is this just a bizarre coincidence?

I claim not, especially because, among other things, _both_ Charles _and_ Frank Austen were Free_masons_, and also because the lethal fantasy that JA conjures up about being thumped with old bricks fits so uncannily with the action of that famous dark children's story.

And here's the best part of it all----before the Wolf dies after going down the chimney of the _brick_ house that the pigs build as their final defensive strategy, the preceding house that the pigs built was made of _twigs_. And what would be another way of describing a house of twigs?

Wouldn't we call it a "wood house"? As in Emma _Wood_ _house_?

So what does it all mean? My speculations in that regard are too complicated to lay out in a blog post, because it touches on several far flung aspects of Jane Austen's biography and fiction---but suffice to say for now that I think that this is a coded metaphor for events that took place at some point in the Austen family itself, and part of the clue to the meaning of this tale-within-a-letter (analogous to the charades embedded in Ch. 9 of Emma, and Lovers Vows embedded in a half dozen chapters of Mansfield Park) comes in another strange anomaly in Letter 57, which is contained in the following passage:

"I wish my Brother joy of completing his 30th year..."

What's so strange about that? Here's what Le Faye writes about this passage: "Jane Austen must have been joking--Edward Austen Knight was in fact 40, and his birthday [on October 7, 1808] made him 41"

I would suggest that while JA on the surface pretended to be joking, her making a mistake of exactly one decade in her elder brother's age was actually a clue to the meaning of the The Big Bad Wolf inset tale set forth above.

All of which takes JA's fantasy to a never never land far far removed from mere home-y details about an actual chimney and an actual windstorm in Southampton, England in October, 1808.

And a Happy Chanukah to all, and to all a good night!

Cheers, ARNIE

1 comment:

Arnie Perlstein said...

I am now waiting to receive a copy of a text in English containing what I understand is a close variant of the story of the three pigs and the big bad wolf, that dates to 1813, which gets us tantalizingly close to Letter 57 & October 1808--more when I have more to report!