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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tittuppy Catherine Morland

Christy Somer wrote the following earlier today in Janeites and Austen L, in response to my having previously quoted a speech by John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey in which he calls James Morland's gig "tittuppy":

"And the earliest ‘tittup’ reference is to David Garrick’s Miss Tittup in “Bon Ton, or High Life Above Stairs” -1781. It does seem to be the first noted online, at least. And yes, I also remember this being one of the early plays at Steventon. A play in which Eliza may have actually played the character of ‘Miss Tittup’. "

To which I replied thusly:

Bravo, Christy on some first rate sleuthing! You opened the door wide to a significant allusion in JA's writing, and your only error was in not stepping through the door you had just opened yourself! ;)

To be more specific, as soon as I read what you wrote, quoted above, I had a very strong hunch that the usage of "tittuppy" in Northanger Abbey had to be connected to Garrick's play, just based on the word alone, but the Austen theatricals connection made that hunch a virtual certainty in my mind.

And sure enough, I had a chance to read through all of Garrick's play today, and there are _numerous_ significant parallels, both thematically and also via wordplay, between it and Northanger Abbey, which verified to my full satisfaction that this allusion was entirely conscious, informed, and intentional on JA's part.

To very briefly outline the most important of those parallels:

1. Miss Tittup is a young single woman who is being courted by a fortune hunter, Colonel Tivy, who believes that Miss Tittup is going to inherit a large estate from her uncle, Sir John Trotley, but at the end of the play, Sir John announces to the assembled group that she is not assured of inheriting anything from him, at which point Tivy loses all interest in Miss Tittup. There we have, to a tee, John Thorpe and Mr. Allen vis a vis Catherine!

2. Miss Tittup is in London under the protection of her cousins, Lady Minikin, and her husband, Lord Minikin. However, Miss Tittup is having a secret romance with Lord Minikin, even though the Lord tells Miss Tittup's uncle that Lord Minikin has set Miss Tittup up with Tivy. This fits like a glove with General Tilney courting Catherine for himself, while appearing to be courting on his son Henry's behalf!

3. The words "stairs" appears in one variant or another 24 times in the very short NA, as opposed to only 10 times in S&S and 17 times in Emma, both of them twice as long as NA, and also only 11 times in Persuasion. So the word "stairs" is used so much in NA in part because the subtitle of Garrick's play is "High Life Above Stairs". Not only that, there are several moments in Garrick's play where someone is coming up or going down stairs as part of an intrigue, just as Henry Tilney starts grilling Catherine about why she is so surprised that he takes his usual staircase to go to his room at the Abbey.

4. Sir John Trotley obsessively reads pamphlets and laments the radical changes occurring in English society, reminding us of General Tilney (whose name sounds a lot like Trotley), with his jingoistic searching for spies. Plus, the word "trot" or its variant appears only twice in the entire six novels of JA, and both are in the same chapter of NA, spoken by John Thorpe (who of course is the Colonel Tivy representation).

5. In the end, Miss Tittup is taken back to the country away from big city corruption.

6. At the beginning of the play, Lady Minikin refers to "Love and Friendship" in a cynical way, reminding us of JA's juvenilia of that title.

7. At the end of the play, Lady Minikin refers to being restored to her "natural English constitution", which is echoed by NA's reference to Mrs. Morland's good constitution (which keeps her alive through 10 pregnancies), and Mrs. Tilney's bilious fever, which is called "constitutional".

8. "tittupy" actually was a word in use in England by around 1753 or so, and it is still in the dictionary today, meaning "To move in a lively, capering manner; prance. n. A lively, capering manner of moving or walking..." And that reminds us of Catherine Morland basking in the glow of General Tilney's admiring gaze at the "elasticity" of her walk:

"The general attended her himself to the street-door, saying everything gallant as they went downSTAIRS, admiring the elasticity of her walk, which corresponded exactly with the spirit of her dancing, and making her one of the most graceful bows she had ever beheld, when they parted. Catherine, delighted by all that had passed, proceeded gaily to Pulteney Street, walking, as she concluded, with great elasticity, though she had never thought of it before. She reached home without seeing anything more of the offended party; and now that she had been triumphant throughout, had carried her point, and was secure of her walk, she began (as the flutter of her spirits subsided) to doubt whether she had been perfectly right.”

Catherine therefore is "Tittuppy" in both her walk, and also in many aspects of her situation in the big city which resemble those of the feisty Miss Tittup!

So, for these and other reasons, I assert that JA chose to allude in this veiled way to David Garrick's play!

Cheers, ARNIE

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