ABOVE: The 1813 Cruikshank caricature of The Prince of Whales: The Fisherman at Anchor.................. Read Colleen Sheehan's articles (including the footnotes) for the amazing Jane Austen connection:
http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol27no1/sheehan.htm


FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER: @JaneAustenCode

MY MOST RECENT PRESENTATIONS WERE...

...Halloween, 2010, when I addressed the JASNA AGM in Portland re: "Remember the country and age in which we live": The Covert Death-in-childbirth Anti-parody in Northanger Abbey"

http://www.jasna.org/agms/portland/breakout.html

AND MY OTHER RECENT PRESENTATIONS HAVE BEEN:

...to various JASNA chapters re: “The Shadow Story of Emma: Jane Austen, the Secret Feminist”:

In NYC....

http://www.jasnany.org/pdf/may1.pdf

...and also in Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Gainesville, Atlanta, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.

WANT ME TO GIVE A PRESENTATION TO YOUR JASNA REGIONAL GROUP, TOO?

I want to present to other JASNA chapters. Email arnieperlstein@myacc.net if you're interested!


Monday, January 31, 2011

Secrets of Chapter 9 of Emma

Victoria Lansburgh wrote the following in Janeites in response to claims by me regarding sexual innuendoes in Emma:

[Victoria] "I'm going to repeat part of a post of mine from awhile back, in which I set out some of Emma's statements to Harriet about Mr. Elton's charade: "And now for the cream"….; "….there is so pointed…a meaning in this compliment…"; "I do not consider its length as particularly in its favour"; "[this couplet is] for private enjoyment";…"the longer it lasts [Harriet's enjoyment], the better I shall be pleased." If you're looking for references to the male sexual organ and the acts of sexual intercourse and ejaculation, it's all there. But I don't believe that Austen, even if she made the occasional sexual reference, would have been so heavy-handed as to load every sentence she could with sexual double entendre. That would not be subtle. That would make her Michael Scott."

Victoria,

Had you been there to hear me speak to the Chawton House Conference in July 2009 and to the JASNA NYC chapter in May 2010, you would have heard me both times quoting from those very same passages in Chapter 9 of Emma---that you yourself, curiously, independently zeroed in on-- among others, as evidence for the presence of sexual innuendoes in the novel. I further argued that this was part of an extended veiled allusion in _Emma_ to Cleland's _Fanny Hill_ (an allusion which I recently extended to include the teenaged London experiences of Philadelphia Austen, via the character name "Mrs. Cole", which appears in all _three_ of these settings).

Apropos that Fanny Hill allusion, anyone who wishes can follow the following link to my blog and find a series of posts I wrote on this subject only 6 weeks ago:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/12/mrs-cole-direct-connection-between.html

But back to Ch. 9 of Emma. The way you quoted has eviscerated the text, making it sound fragmented, like it could be a random coincidence. But here is one of the densely sexual passages you quoted from, but this time verbatim from Ch. 9 of Emma, with _no_ editing:

"It is _as long again_ as almost _all we have had before_."

"I do not consider its length as particularly in its favour. _Such things in general cannot be too short_."

Harriet was too intent on the lines to hear. _The most satisfactory comparisons were rising in her mind_."

This is sophisticated sexual wit at its best. There is, to me, nothing crude or vulgar about it--it is elegant, droll, and clever. But in my opinion, the chances of that sexually loaded passage happening spontaneously, or even by some sort of unconscious Freudian frenzy, is nil--and if the latter, that high level of unconscious "leakage" would indicate that Jane Austen was a sexually repressed and deprived monster, which I for one don't believe she was! It's a much simpler explanation to say that this is not a coincidence or unconscious, but that she was like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Fielding, and many other great writers who enjoyed sexual innuendo, and used it for serious thematic purposes, as well as for the very human (and to my mind, estimable, as long as it's very clever and also not done to death) joy of laughing at a clever dirty joke.

If you think that the Michael Scotts of the world (of whom I am not) can find that sort of dense sexual innuendo in _any_ contemporary literature from Jane Austen's time, I claim you are wrong. Can you bring such passages forward from, say, Hannah More's Coelebs, or from the writings of dozens of other writers from JA's era who did _not_ engage in this sort of wordplay? If you do, then we can set those passages you find side by side with these from Austen's novels, and we'll see who is more convincing in this debate between us.

My explanation is that when you have certain gifted writers like Shakespeare or Cleland or Fielding or Austen, who deploy sexual innuendoes for complicated purposes, you can indeed find dense sexual innuendo all over the place---because that is what _they_ did, intentionally!

I have recently spent an enjoyable foray among the Nabokovians, and nobody blinks an eye at modern writers like him who _deliberately_ write this way, with very clever sexual puns all over the place.

But with JA, there is the widespread belief (which to me is a myth) that she was too proper to write such things, and we have no explicit extratextual statements confirming that she did--or did not--do this. And so I claim that you beg the fundamental , decisive question when you don't carry your burden of demonstrating your claim that anyone can find this anywhere. The devil is in the details of the relevant texts.

And a writer who creates characters like Mary Crawford with her sexual punning, and who writes, at the tender age of 17, a sharade about King James I treading on the "whole" of his homosexual pet, Carr, is someone who is identifying herself as someone to hold under suspicion of doing the same thing herself.

And finally, note the context of the _last_ part of the extended sexual riff in Ch. 9 of Emma:

[Harriet] "I shall never let that book go out _of my own hands_," said she.

"Very well," replied Emma, "_a most natural feeling_; and _the longer it lasts, the better I shall be pleased_. But here is _my father coming_: you will not object to my reading the charade to him. _It will be giving him so much pleasure_! He loves any thing of the sort, and especially any thing that pays woman a compliment. He has the tenderest spirit of gallantry towards us all! You must let me read it to him."

Harriet looked grave."


And then the _next_ thing we hear is Mr. Woodhouse hazily remembering a stanza from Garrick's Riddle---which just happens to be one of the epicenters of sexual innuendo in Jane Austen's writing, as Jill Heydt Stevenson so brilliantly elucidated in 1999 (actually picking up on earlier scholarship, by the way--but, still, she deserves all the credit for making it famous)--with its subtext about men with syphilis having sex with virgins to cure them.

_No wonder_ "Harriet looked grave" at the prospect of Emma's "father coming"!

Cheers, ARNIE


P.S.: One more secret to reveal--check out the following excerpt from a recent Persuasions Online (Vol. 28, 2007) article by a completely mainstream Janeite academic scholar, Susan Allan Ford--she is the editor of the journal!---who wrote as follows in "Reading Elegant Extracts in Emma: Very Entertaining!". After, curiously, making reference to Mr. Elton's _first_ charade (the one to which the unspoken answer is "woe-man = woman", and where I claimed, in the following recent blog post, that there was a secret sexual solution)....

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/01/getting-to-bottom-of-jane-austens-black.html

...as having been in a riddle book (one that my research confirms JA actually read), Ford then goes on:


"...[Riddle books like] Ralph Wewitzer’s /The School for Wits, or the Cream of the Jests/ (1814), emphasize their innocent, educative purpose, as does the latter on its title page: “A Jest-book should be such as may be admitted into every boarding-school, as an instructive recreation; and which parents may place in the hands of their sons and daughters, without danger of corrupting their morals, or contaminating the purity of their tender minds.” This emphasis on the dangers of corruption or contamination suggests that these books quite frequently contained riddles and jests that Mrs. Norris might describe as “‘a little too warm’” (/MP/ 141). /The British Jester/ (1800) proclaims in its Advertisement that “[e]very care has been taken to exclude any thing bordering on indelicacy, so that it may claim a preference to most collections of the kind to the countenance of the Fair Sex.” Its frontispiece depicts a family scene: a child teasing a cat before a garden bench, upon which are seated a woman and a man who reclines with a book in one hand and her breast in the other. /The Trial of Wit/ (1782) contains the kind of riddle that concerned parents might have been thinking of:

Pleasantly growing in a bed, Of complexion white and red, The fairest lady in the land, Desires to have me in her hand, And put me in her hole before, And wish she had two handfuls more.

Such riddles “seduce” the wit into enjoying the indelicate answer before providing the innocent solution—in this case, “A Strawberry”" END OF FORD QUOTE

I don't think the significance of the above for the reading of sexual innuendoes in _Emma_ requires any "lines under the words"!

Pen(cil)s and Penetration

The following is my response to the following comments by Nancy Mayer in Janeites where she was reacting to the claim by I forget who that the word "penetration" had a sexual connotation in a sentence in _Emma_:

[Nancy] “Okay, I admit to being slow on the uptake. What is so startling about Emma thinking that the knightly brothers had penetration-- the ability to see through murk to basic truths and issues?”

Nancy, I would not say slow on the uptake, only that you have (in your words) a very “chaste mind”. But I do claim that JA did not have a chaste mind at all, and what’s more that she was not an unconscious sexual punster, she was very conscious in hershaping of her sexual innuendoes. And I also claim that while I am certain she enjoyed artfully constructed and presented ribald humor, such as in Shakespeare (which, from my point of view, is a very good thing), I also believe that it is not in her novels for salacious purposes, but, exactly as with Shakespeare, in presenting a full picture of the human comedy.

[Nancy] “Penetration as a sexual term does not occur readily to the mind of one who is not obsessed with sex and probably wouldn't occur to the mind of one who had never been penetrated at all. I think we are reading something into the word that Austen never dreamed of. In the sexual sense, all the males have penetration.”

And I respectfully disagree, I would say that the word “penetration” raised a sexual connotation in JA’s day, just as much as it does now, for many readers, like myself, who are not, as you say, obsessed, with finding sexual puns. In my opinion, you have the chicken and the egg in the wrong order. It is because these sexual puns are everywhere in JA’s writing, that I (and many other readers of JA’s novels) focus on them.

So, turning to specifics, before I even get to her usage of the word “penetration” (which is among the quotations I deploy in my standard presentation about Jane Fairfax as the shadow heroine of _Emma_), I will point out that JA famously deployed the very Freudian objects, the very closely related (by sound) words “pen” and the “pencil” in this fashion:

In Pride and Prejudice, we have perhaps the best known of JA’s sexual puns on the word “pen”:

["I am afraid you do not like your pen.”….”I mend pens remarkably well."]

These above two comments of course take place during thesexually charged repartee between the jealous Caroline Bingley and the unflappable (so to speak) Mr. Darcy.

[“…Kitty and me were to spend the day there, and Mrs Forster promised to have a little dance in the evening (by the bye, Mrs Forster and me are _such_ friends!); and so she asked the two Harringtons to come, but Harriet was ill, and so Pen was forced to come by herself; and then, what do you think we did?...”

I take up my pen again to do what I have just told you I would not, but circumstances are such, that I cannot help earnestly begging you all to come here as soon as possible.]

And, I claim, it is not a coincidence that the verb “to come” is in such close proximity—in the same sentence--with the word or name “pen”.

And not only in P&P, but also in _Emma_, we see two such deployments:

[She must allow him to be still frequently coming to look; any thing less would certainly have been too little in a lover; and he was ready at the smallest intermission of the pencil, to jump up and see the progress, and be charmed. –‘

And there once again, the word “pencil” in the same sentence with a form of the verb “to come”. But the clearest example in _Emma is the following:

[It was the end of an old pencil, -- the part without any lead……Mr Knightley had been telling him something about brewing spruce-beer, and he wanted to put it down; but when he took out his pencil, there was so little lead that he soon cut it all away, and it would not do, so you lent him another, and this was left upon the table as good for nothing….."But, Harriet, is it necessary to burn the court-plaister? -- I have not a word to say for the bit of old pencil, but the court-plaister might be useful."]

Above we have the infamous pun in _Emma_ on the theme, repeated three times, of Mr. Elton’s sadly deficient “pencil”—the lack of “lead” is emphasized by repetition, as is its old age, which is, I claim, reinforced by Mr. Elton’s confession at the Crown Inn, only _one_ chapter earlier, of being “an old married man” past his “dancing days”. This is further evidence that, as with all her thematic wordplay, JA spread it subliminally across her novels.

And it is in the overall context of the above dramatic usages of sexual puns on the words “pen” and “pencil”, it also permits, I suggest, reasonable speculation as to the following less dramatic examples:

In Lady Susan: [“I am so much agitated by Delight that I can scarcely hold a pen…”…]

In Emma, as our clueless heroine speaks to Harriet about Robert Martin’s letter:

[“…No doubt he is a sensible man, and I suppose may have a natural talent for -- thinks strongly and clearly -- and when he takes a pen in hand, his thoughts naturally find proper words…”]

As befits Emma’s na├»ve as yet unconscious sexuality, here it pops up beyond her conscious control!

The usages of the word “pen” in MP are a mixed bag:

["Fanny," said he directly, leaving his seat and his pen, and meeting her with something in his hand, "I beg your pardon for being here.]

The above statement by Edmund to Fanny, standing alone, would likely be innocent, but the following narration about Fanny’s unconscious sexual attraction to Edmund reverses my position on that point:

[Two lines more prized had never fallen from the pen of the most distinguished author -- never more completely blessed the researches of the fondest biographer.]

This narration comes right after Fanny has been surprised to find Edmund at the writing table in her inner sanctum (her “heart” if you will), leaving her a note. Could this be more Freudian, and more intentional?

[Miss Crawford's style of writing, lively and affectionate, was itself an evil, independent of what she was thus forced into reading from the brother's pen, for Edmund would never rest till she had read the chief of the letter to him; and then she had to listen to his admiration of her language, and the warmth of her attachments.]

Conversely and perversely, the pun on “pen” deployed in the above passage suggests something very unsavory in terms of the relationship between Mary and Henry, in terms of Mary being “forced into reading from the brother’s pen” and her having to hear him speak about “the warmth of her attachments”.Shades of the Admiral, and of Henry’s perverse desire to make a hole in Fanny’s chaste heart.

It could not be more clear that this is not salacious, this is actually a stone-cold accusation, a pointing to perverse male abuse of power over women, and insistence that women enjoy it.

And I have not even connected the dots to the matrix of puns on the name “Fanny” in the novel, especially as we seem to be hearing about “My dear Fanny” every time a pen is mentioned.

And, in light of that, I leave it to other pens to opine as to the significance of the above claims for interpretation of the following very famous line:

“Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.”

And finally, in Persuasion, we have another cluster of sexually charged plays on the word “pen” this time in relation to Anne’s reactions to Edmund (which in many ways sound like Fanny Price’s to Edmund). And of course these occur in the sexually superheated atmosphere of the climactic scene at the White Hart:

[She felt its application to herself, felt it in a nervous thrill all over her; and at the same moment that her eyes instinctively glanced towards the distant table, Captain Wentworth's pen ceased to move, his head was raised, pausing, listening, and he turned round the next instant to give a look, one quick, conscious look at her…..It was nothing more than that his pen had fallen down; but Anne was startled at finding him nearer than she had supposed, and half inclined to suspect that the pen had only fallen because he had been occupied by them, striving to catch sounds, which yet she did not think he could have caught…..Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands…..On the contrary, when he saw more of Captain Wentworth, saw him repeatedly by daylight, and eyed him well, he was very much struck by his personal claims, and felt that his superiority of appearance might be not unfairly balanced against her superiority of rank; and all this, assisted by his well-sounding name, enabled Sir Walter at last to prepare his pen, with a very good grace, for the insertion of the marriage in the volume of honour.]

These passages also could not be more Freudian—“felt a nervous thrill all over her…[his] pen ceased to move….his pen had fallen down…startled at finding him nearer than she had supposed…half inclined….the pen had only fallen because…the pen has been in their hands… prepare his pen…for the insertion…”

In the context of _all_ of the above, I now conclude with a parade of the usages of “penetration” in JA’s novels, without any further commentary on my part, as I believe these examples speak for themselves, in terms of what each example suggests about the characters who are described in them:

EMMA:

[“Harriet had no penetration. …There was no denying that those brothers had penetration….

She may not have surmised the whole, but her quickness must have penetrated a part….Her own father's perfect exemption from any thought of the kind, the entire deficiency in him of all such sort of penetration or suspicion, was a most comfortable circumstance….It was hardly right; but it had been so strong an idea, that it would escape her, and his submission to all that she told, was a compliment to her penetration, which made it difficult for her to be quite certain that she ought to have held her tongue.”]

Actually, I must stop there, to admire the audacity of juxtaposing “her penetration” with “she ought to have held her tongue”! Now I will continue the examples:

[“He looked with smiling penetration; and, on receiving no answer, added, "She ought not to be angry with you, I suspect, whatever he may be. –

MP:

[Sir Thomas _disturbingly_ speaking to Fanny: “Why do not I see my little Fanny?" -- and on perceiving her, came forward with a kindness which astonished and penetrated her, calling her his dear Fanny, kissing her affectionately, and observing with decided pleasure how much she was grown!]

NA:

[“It could be nothing but the violence of the wind penetrating through the divisions of the shutters; and she stepped boldly forward, carelessly humming a tune, to assure herself of its being so, peeped courageously behind each curtain, saw nothing on either low window seat to scare her, and on placing a hand against the shutter, felt the strongest conviction of the wind's force.]

Cheers, ARNIE

Jane Austen's Letter #9: A Famous Room of One's Own in The Northanger Letter in the Longbourn library

And here is my own take on Letter #9, written over six months after Letter #8 (one of a handful of long gaps in surviving letters in the Austen epistolary canon), from Jane to sister Cassandra, in which I see numerous additional echoes of two of Jane's novels known to have first seen the light in 1798, i.e., Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice:

I had absolutely no idea when I turned to Letter #9 a half hour ago, that I would find what I did, hiding in plain sight in a half dozen places in this perhaps most covertly literary of all of JA's surviving letters:


"It wanted five minutes of twelve when we left Sittingbourne, from whence we had a famous pair of horses, which took us to Rochester in an hour and a quarter; the postboy seemed determined to show my mother that Kentish drivers were not always tedious, and really drove as fast as Cax..."

This is strikingly reminiscent of John Thorpe and his dangerously fast driving in NA--even down to the reference to "a famous pair of horses"--"famous" being one of Thorpe's several irritating favorite college slang expressions--Thorpe is actually one of only three Austen characters to use the word "famous" (a slangy alternative to the more sedate "extraordinary", "remarkable", or to the semi-slangy "capital"). The other two "offenders" are the blustering Charles MusgrOve in Persuasion and the unctuous Tom MusgrAve in The Watsons--not really a very savory bunch! Which means that JA's usage of the word "famous" in this sentence is _satirical_--she is for an instant stepping into the mind of the macho postboy, and speaking _his_ coarse, boasting language! It shows how profoundly literary these letters already are, her fictional stories were never out of her mind, it seems to me, and kept popping up in everything she wrote in her letters, and, I would guess, also in what she spoke. And it shows also that if one listens for these other "voices" in these letters, a world of secret meaning emerges!

Of course it is well documented that JA wrote the first version of Northanger Abbey in 1798!

"We have got apartments up two pair of stairs, as we could not be otherwise accommodated with a sitting-room and bed-chambers on the same floor, which we wished to be. We have one double-bedded and one single-bedded room; in the former my mother and I are to sleep. I shall leave you to guess who is to occupy the other."

We learn later in the letter that it is Revd. Austen who does not have to share a room--and I connect JA's suggestive tone in the above comment to the following passage a few paragraphs later:

"My father is now reading the "Midnight Bell," which he has got from the library, and mother sitting by the fire..."

When I connect (i) Revd. Austen preferring that his daughter share a bedroom with his wife, rather than share it with his wife himself, to (ii) his reading a novel instead of chatting with his wife, and then I think about (iii) Mrs. Austen's famous long-standing hypochondria, I suddenly see before my eyes a more muted real-life version of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, who, it seems clear to me, are a caricature of JA's parents!


But now I got a chill as I took that train of thought a little further--if Mrs. Austen did, like her fictional doppelganger, worry about having no home when her husband died, she would have been extremely prescient, because that is precisely what happened to the Austen women when Revd. Austen died in 1805--and that was only Stage Two of their dispossession--Stage One occurred in 1801, when James and Mary Austen essentially stole all the Austen family possessions for the monetary equivalent of a song.

So I now see JA, in writing not only Chapter 2 of S&S, with Fanny Dashwood grabbing every spoon out of the hands of her step mother in law's hands, but also the Collins-Longbourn entail, as a documentation of what actually happened in her family.

And...note also that "Midnight Bell" is one of the so-called "Northanger Novels", the six "horrid" novels mentioned by Isabella Thorpe in NA--so I get the sense of Revd. Austen, the reader, approving of his writing daughter's literary efforts, in a way echoing Mr. Bennet doting on Elizabeth---and JA tipping her hat to her father's perhaps guilty pleasure in reading Gothic novels--and I wonder if Mr. Bennet did not enjoy a horrid novel or two in the privacy of _his_ library!


"My day's journey has been pleasanter in every respect than I expected. I have been very little crowded and by no means unhappy. Your watchfulness with regard to the weather on our accounts was very kind and very effectual. We had one heavy shower on leaving Sittingbourne, but afterwards the clouds cleared away, and we had a very bright /chrystal /afternoon."

And, if I am reading this passage correctly, we hear some more of JA's subtly absurdist wit--she is having a laugh ascribing, to CEA's worried following of the weather affecting her parents's and sister's travels, the "effect" of ending a rainstorm and affording the travelers beautiful and safe traveling weather! And isn't that exactly in the same vein as the absurd conversation about the rain between Catherine and Mrs. Allen, at the beginning of Chapter 11, which i reproduce in toto, because it is the perfect capper of this short Letter #9, which might better be henceforth referred to as "the Northanger Letter"!

Cheers, ARNIE
sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com

CHAPTER ELEVEN, NORTHANGER ABBEY:

The morrow brought a very sober–looking morning, the sun making only a few efforts to appear, and Catherine augured from it everything most favourable to her wishes. A bright morning so early in the year, she allowed, would generally turn to rain, but a cloudy one foretold improvement as the day advanced. She applied to Mr. Allen for confirmation of her hopes, but Mr. Allen, not having his own skies and barometer about him, declined giving any absolute promise of sunshine. She applied to Mrs. Allen, and Mrs. Allen’s opinion was more positive. “She had no doubt in the world of its being a very fine day, if the clouds would only go off, and the sun keep out.”

At about eleven o’clock, however, a few specks of small rain upon the windows caught Catherine’s watchful eye, and “Oh! dear, I do believe it will be wet,” broke from her in a most desponding tone.

“I thought how it would be,” said Mrs. Allen.

“No walk for me today,” sighed Catherine; “but perhaps it may come to nothing, or it may hold up before twelve.”

“Perhaps it may, but then, my dear, it will be so dirty.”

“Oh! That will not signify; I never mind dirt.”

“No,” replied her friend very placidly, “I know you never mind dirt.”

After a short pause, “It comes on faster and faster!” said Catherine, as she stood watching at a window.

“So it does indeed. If it keeps raining, the streets will be very wet.”

“There are four umbrellas up already. How I hate the sight of an umbrella!”

“They are disagreeable things to carry. I would much rather take a chair at any time.”

“It was such a nice–looking morning! I felt so convinced it would be dry!”

“Anybody would have thought so indeed. There will be very few people in the pump–room, if it rains all the morning. I hope Mr. Allen will put on his greatcoat when he goes, but I dare say he will not, for he had rather do anything in the world than walk out in a greatcoat; I wonder he should dislike it, it must be so comfortable.”

The rain continued — fast, though not heavy. Catherine went every five minutes to the clock, threatening on each return that, if it still kept on raining another five minutes, she would give up the matter as hopeless. The clock struck twelve, and it still rained. “You will not be able to go, my dear.”

“I do not quite despair yet. I shall not give it up till a quarter after twelve. This is just the time of day for it to clear up, and I do think it looks a little lighter. There, it is twenty minutes after twelve, and now I shall give it up entirely. Oh! That we had such weather here as they had at Udolpho, or at least in Tuscany and the south of France! — the night that poor St. Aubin died! — such beautiful weather!”

At half past twelve, when Catherine’s anxious attention to the weather was over and she could no longer claim any merit from its amendment, the sky began voluntarily to clear. A gleam of sunshine took her quite by surprise; she looked round; the clouds were parting, and she instantly returned to the window to watch over and encourage the happy appearance. Ten minutes more made it certain that a bright afternoon would succeed, and justified the opinion of Mrs. Allen, who had “always thought it would clear up.” But whether Catherine might still expect her friends, whether there had not been too much rain for Miss Tilney to venture, must yet be a question.

Jane Austen's Letter #8: The Mansfield Park Double Connection

In Janeites and Austen L, we began the 8th week of what will probably be more than a two year group read of Jane Austen's letters, and this week there were two letters in the hopper, Letters 8 and 9 (which can be read online, by the way, at a number of websites, for those of you unfamiliar with them).

Letter #8 is a condolence letter dated Sunday April 8, 1798 (I don't know if it was Easter Sunday or not) to cousin Philadelphia ("Phylly") Walter, upon the death of JA's uncle in Kent.

Nancy Mayer got the ball rolling with an interesting question....

[Nancy] "Actually I am wrong about one point. Cassandra and Jane were separated for part of this time because she says so in the beginning of the letter: As Cassandra is at present from home..." I wonder if it was the oldest daughter's duty to write such letters. Why wouldn't her father write his own letter of condolence?"

Fantastic question, Nancy!

At first, it does sound like Revd Austen has not written his own letter, but then, perhaps the words "our sincere Condolance" might refer only to Cassandra and Jane, the only Austen children still living at home in April, 1798? Perhaps Revd. Austen or Mrs. Austen wrote a separate letter of "condolance" to the widow Mrs. Walter? Or is it possible that Revd. Austen (whether or not accompanied by Mrs. Austen) actually traveled to attend the funeral, or at least to pay respects afterwards? How far exactly was Steventon from Sevenoaks?

The Deceased, William-Hampson Walter, of course was Revd Austen's half brother, ten years older than Revd. Austen and born from the same mother. What was the relationship between Revd. Austen and his much older half-brother?

The Family Record says the following of "George Austen's relations of the half-blood--the Walters. With his mother's son by her first husband, William Hampson Walter, he remained on intimate terms. A good many letters are extant which passed between the Austens and the Walters during the early married life of the former, the last of them containing the news of the birth of Jane. Besides this, William Walter's daughter, 'Phila,' was a constant correspondent of George Austen's niece Eliza."

I at first wondered whether there might have been some strain in the relationship between Wiiliam Hampson, on the one hand, and his younger half siblings, on the other, because of the especially hard times that befell those younger half siblings when their mother died, leaving them orphans when George was 6 and Phila was 7, whereas William Hampson was already 17. E.g., could William Hampson, who married in 1745 and proceeded to sire many children, have done more to help his half-siblings, especially Phila? Who knows. But I can see no evidence of an estrangement during their adult lives.

My main interest in Philadelphia Walter is all the "smoke" that suggests that she is one of the real life models for Fanny Price, with the young Eliza Hancock playing the role of Mary Crawford. This has been written about in several of the Austen bios and novel analyses, in regard to the Steventon theatricals and Eliza flirting with James and Henry, while the teenaged JA and CEA watched. And I also was already aware that Eliza and Phylly Walter exchanged many letters which can be seen in the Austen Papers and also in Le Faye's bio of Eliza, which are very reminiscent of the relationship between Mary C. and Fanny P. in MP--with Eliza's spirited wit and flirtatiousness in counterpoint to Phylly's shy caution. It very much sounds like Fanny and Mary!

But...I did not know till this morning that there was a _second_ real life family depicted in MP, and not just any family, but a family as closely connected by blood to the Steventon Austens as the MP Bertrams were to the Portsmouth Prices!

I found it very interesting just now learning from Ruth Perry, in her chapter "JA and British Imperialism" in _Monstrous dreams of reason: body, self, and other in the Enlightenment_ (2002), edited by Laura Jean Rosenthal and Mita Choudhury, at P 236, that "...[JA's] father's older half brother, William-Hampson Walter, had two sons (William and George) who settled in the West Indies. A letter from Jane's mother...to her niece Philadelphia Walter at Christmastime 1786, wishing she were with them and describing the happy family circle at Steventon, declared 'You might as well be in Jamaica keeping your Brother's House, for anything that we see of you or are like to see."

Perry perhaps did not peruse Le Faye's Biographical Index, so as to realize that George Walter had already died in his twenties in 1779, and William was about to die in his thirties in 1787, i.e., soon after Mrs. Austen's letter--it sounds like the West Indies was a place where young English men went to die of infectious diseases! And perhaps we have a conscious allusion to this in the near-death of Tom Bertram, and the worries of Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram about Sir Thomas's safe return from Antigua.

And it makes Phila Walter as Fanny Price even more interesting, when we consider this strong West Indian connection, and also Mrs. Austen's joking suggestion that the unmarried 27 year old Phila might have been playing the same sort of role in her soon-to-die brother's home in Jamaica as both the young Fanny Price and the mature Mrs. Norris played at Mansfield Park.

And there is an even more dramatic MP connection, when we read in Tucker's _A Goodly Heritage:a history of Jane Austen's family_ at P. 43:

"...when [Phiadelphia Hancock] was staying with her half brother, William Hampson Walter, in Kent, her visit was considerably enlivened when one of his young sons became so infatuated with the already flirtatious Betsy that, as the latter recalled, 'he made verses on me in which he compared me to Venus & I know not what other Divinity, & played off fireworks in the cellar in honour of my charms." [Austen Papers, 101]

So that suggests Phila Hancock as Mrs. Grant, and Betsy Hancock as Mary Crawford, William Hampson as Sir Thomas, and the Walter sons as Tom and Edmund.

And...what is not commonly known to Janeites is that Phylly Walter did not die a spinster, but actually married in 1811 at the age of 50--of course a whole lot sooner than Fanny ties the knot with Edmund. I cannot find out if Phylly married a clergyman--and (as JA did not live to find out) Phylly died (of course childless) at age 73 in 1834. It is a pity that JA did not obtain her cousin's opinion of MP--and of course it was too late to obtain Eliza's, who died while JA was writing MP.

So the plot, as they say, has considerably thickened!

Cheers, ARNIE

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sadism and Maria Bertram...and also Lydia Bennet

And here is third of my posts, in two parts, first responding to Diane Reynolds, then to Ellen Moody, both about Maria Bertram:

[Diane] "A thread of male sadism runs towards Maria: I am puzzling over the way various men in the novel seem to want to punish her. Henry wants to discipline her, both by loving her and leaving her, and then by throwing in her face his marriage to Fanny. He wants to knock her down a few pegs. Sir Thomas never explicitly punishes her until the end, but she perceives him as a great restraint on her activities--and in the end he exiles her. Interestingly, Fanny's father, Maria's uncle (and uncles don't fare well in this novel) wants to whip Maria with a rope, I believe, for running off with Henry, in one of the more chilling little interludes it the book. So we find a sadistic edge in how men regard her, probably because she is the woman who takes risks, who goes out of bounds. But, of course, as with Lydia, JA also condemns her. Now, getting back to Sir Thomas--does Fanny's father mirror him in some ways?"


Diane, This is excellent stuff, most of all your intuition that this is a penumbra of male anger toward females who seek to assert themselves.

And how characteristic of JA to have her "starlings"--Maria and Mary-- be flawed and un-heroine-like! JA denies the careful, discerning reader any easy answers--I claim she wanted us to move past the superficial, easy answer that Maria is just selfish and out of control, and wants us to be forced to be ambivalent.

Again, very nicely done, you found the "key" to open a great "gate" here!

P.S. My first association upon reading your Subject Line was to the title o the film "Sex and Lucia".

Then I connected the dots between Diane's post about Maria Bertram and the following one about Mr. Bennet's anger toward HIS transgressive daughter, Lydia:

[Ellen Moody] "I do recall there's a word in_P&P_ which suggests Mr Bennet is deeply angry at Lydia and would have let her know it had he caught up with her in London."

Several months ago, while intensively analyzing the treatment of the subordinate female characters in P&P, I, too, noticed, and was surprised by, that very same passage, Ellen, and also another one, where Mr. Bennet's anger at Lydia is strongly, almost disquietingly, emphasized--this is blunted in all the film adaptations, of course, because, I suspect, it might jar the audience too far toward darknesss, as if Mr. Bennet on a couple of occasions took off the witty ironical mask and revealed real harsh anger beneath.

But, to analogize to TS Eliot's famous complaint about Hamlet (which Eliot later, _unfamously,_ withdrew, by the way), Mr. Bennet's anger at Lydia as reported in the text of the novel seems _too_ strong for the circumstances, because it is so extremely _atypical_ for him--he who makes a joke minimizing every evil, no matter how significant, suddenly sounds for those few sentences to be a differrent man, whose anger is not ironized at all.

Serious as Lydia's transgression obviously is, I sense something more there, it's as if Mr. Bennet feels _betrayed_ by Lydia, which would seem to make no sense, because nothing in the novel I can think of would suggest that Mr. Bennet ever expected Lydia to be thinking about the welfare of her family. Here is what the text of the novel reveals to us about Mr. Bennet's thoughts about Lydia going to Brighton:

Ch. 39: "She had not been many hours at home before she found that the Brighton scheme, of which Lydia had given them a hint at the inn, was under frequent discussion between her parents. Elizabeth saw directly that her father had not the smallest intention of yielding; but his answers were at the same time so vague and equivocal, that her mother, though often disheartened, had never yet despaired of succeeding at last."

Ch. 41: "If one could but go to Brighton!" observed Mrs. Bennet. [Lydia] "Oh, yes! -- if one could but go to Brighton! but papa is so disagreeable."

"If you were aware," said Elizabeth, "of the very great disadvantage to us all which must arise from the public notice of Lydia's unguarded and imprudent manner -- nay, which has already arisen from it, I am sure you would judge differently in the affair."

"Already arisen?" repeated Mr. Bennet. "What, has she frightened away some of your lovers? Poor little Lizzy! But do not be cast down. Such squeamish youths as cannot bear to be connected with a little absurdity are not worth a regret. Come, let me see the list of the pitiful fellows who have been kept aloof by Lydia's folly."........... Mr. Bennet saw that her whole heart was in the subject, and affectionately taking her hand, said in reply -- "Do not make yourself uneasy, my love. Wherever you and Jane are known you must be respected and valued; and you will not appear to less advantage for having a couple of -- or I may say, three very silly sisters. We shall have no peace at Longbourn if Lydia does not go to Brighton. Let her go, then. Colonel Forster is a sensible man, and will keep her out of any real mischief; and she is luckily too poor to be an object of prey to anybody. At Brighton she will be of less importance even as a common flirt than she has been here. The officers will find women better worth their notice. Let us hope, therefore, that her being there may teach her her own insignificance. At any rate, she cannot grow many degrees worse, without authorizing us to lock her up for the rest of her life."

With this answer Elizabeth was forced to be content.....



Sure, it could be very plausibly argued that Mr. Bennet's uncharacteristically strong anger at Lydia is a displacement of anger at _himself_....but, on a purely subjective level, to me it almost feels like Mr. Bennet at first feels abandoned by Lydia! And that would fit with the final sentence of his ironical little speech in Chapter 41, this strange little fantasy of locking Lydia up for the rest of her life!

And that is the segue to Maria Bertram, the starling who cannot get out of the cage that she feels Sir Thomas keeps her in, such that, the sails of his ship to Antigua have barely disappeared over the horizon before Maria starts angling for a husband to free her from _her_ cage. There are numerous and surely not accidental parallels between Maria and Lydia.

[Ellen] "But Diane, read the narrator too. As narrator, Austen treats Maria with venom. The paragraph describing Maria's motives for marrying is as nasty as any paragraph in S&S about Mrs Ferrars."

Let's look at how Maria is judged in the final chapter of MP (I've edited down the text to focus exclusively on her), I intersperse my comments in brackets:

"The high spirit and strong passions of Mrs. Rushworth, especially, were made known to [Sir T] only in their sad result. She was not to be prevailed on to leave Mr. Crawford. She hoped to marry him, and they continued together till she was obliged to be convinced that such hope was vain, and till the disappointment and wretchedness arising from the conviction rendered her temper so bad, and her feelings for him so like hatred, as to make them for a while each other’s punishment, and then induce a voluntary separation.

She had lived with him to be reproached as the ruin of all his happiness in Fanny, and carried away no better consolation in leaving him than that she _had_ divided them. What can exceed the misery of such a mind in such a situation?

[So far, I don't hear venom toward Maria so far...]

She had despised [Mr. Rushworth], and loved another...the disappointments of selfish passion can excite little pity....a deeper punishment the deeper guilt of his wife.....she must withdraw with infinitely stronger feelings to a retirement and reproach which could allow no second spring of hope or character.

[...but that _is_ harsh, consigning her to a permanent hopeless misery]

....Sir Thomas very solemnly assured [Mrs. Norris] that, had there been no young woman in question, had there been no young person of either sex belonging to him, to be endangered by the society or hurt by the character of Mrs. Rushworth, he would never have offered so great an insult to the neighbourhood as to expect it to notice her. As a daughter, he hoped a penitent one, she should be protected by him, and secured in every comfort, and supported by every encouragement to do right, which their relative situations admitted; but farther than _that_ he could not go. Maria had destroyed her own character, and he would not, by a vain attempt to restore what never could be restored, by affording his sanction to vice, or in seeking to lessen its disgrace, be anywise accessory to introducing such misery in another man’s family as he had known himself.

[That section is entirely how Sir Thomas, not the narrator, judges Maria]

It ended in Mrs. Norris’s resolving to quit Mansfield and devote herself to her unfortunate Maria, and in an establishment being formed for them in another country, remote and private, where, shut up together with little society, on one side no affection, on the other no judgment, it may be reasonably supposed that their tempers became their mutual punishment.

[And I never noticed before the narratorial hedge "It may reasonably be supposed"! In a way, if Maria's paramount goal all along was to get away from her father, as I believe it was, then in a strange way, this outcome is a success for her. We are not in Maria's head, so we don't know what was the effect on her personality of the entire nightmare of her marriage to Rushworth and her affair with Henry--I think it is possible that she learned from it, and that at least some of her former arrogant selfishness might have been burned away by the fire of such a dreadful experience]

...Maria’s guilt had induced Julia’s folly.

[And yes, there is a judgment by the narrator on Maria, but it is not venomous]


"...[Henry] saw Mrs. Rushworth, was received by her with a coldness which ought to have been repulsive, and have established apparent indifference between them for ever; but he was mortified, he could not bear to be thrown off by the woman whose smiles had been so wholly at his command: he must exert himself to subdue so proud a display of resentment; it was anger on Fanny’s account; he must get the better of
it, and make Mrs. Rushworth Maria Bertram again in her treatment of himself.

In this spirit he began the attack, and by animated perseverance had soon re–established the sort of familiar intercourse, of gallantry, of flirtation, which bounded his views; but in triumphing over the discretion which, though beginning in anger, might have saved them both, he had put himself in the power of feelings on her side more strong than he had supposed. She loved him; there was no withdrawing attentions avowedly dear to her. He was entangled by his own vanity, with as little
excuse of love as possible, and without the smallest inconstancy of mind towards her cousin. To keep Fanny and the Bertrams from a knowledge of what was passing became his first object. Secrecy could not have been more desirable for Mrs. Rushworth’s credit than he felt it for his own.
When he returned from Richmond, he would have been glad to see Mrs. Rushworth no more. All that followed was the result of her imprudence; and he went off with her at last, because he could not help it....

[And no venomousness there either]


Ellen, where else do you see the narrator being venomous toward Maria?

Cheers, ARNIE

A Nest of My Own, A Room of One's Own

After my previous response to Diana Birchall and Elen Moody about pregnancies in Austen's novels, I never expected that it would lead to a dramatic new insight. But
it turned out that this thread was a model of the serendipity of online conversations like this, where posts by different people can sometimes function as "dominoes" which fall, almost effortlessly, one tipping the next one over, reaching an unexpected ending which I hope you will find as wonderful as I do. The title of this post is a clue to where the final domino fell.


[Diana] "...I agree that Austen doesn't do trickery just for the sake of fooling people, or that making puzzles is her objective. But she slants things, plants false impressions, withholds narrative, in order to make us think what she wants us to think, to create the ultimate impression she wants us to go away thinking about. This is not unfair or lying. It is artfulness. As an artist she has an impressive bag of tricks and skills, shades and subtle suggestions, to lead us winding through her tale."

Yes, Diana, once more, bravo! Your excellent summation is another, concise way of saying what I said verbosely late last night--it is artfulness for a worthy, didactic purpose. This, to me, is the highest form of morality--it's easy to be moral by rigidly holding to rule such as telling truth, but it's much harder when you venture into the grey area, and search for the exceptions to the rule, for the situations where rigidity would lose the quality of mercy--that is why there were always courts of equity alongside the courts of law, where hardships caused by the law could be mitigated by consideration of mitigating circumstances. I am convinced that JA sought to teach her readers to develop the judgment and also the attentiveness to seemingly trivial details which are not trivial, which are necessary in order to only bend the rules when it is truly an appropriate action to do so. And I see her novels as the most perfect embodiment of that higher morality. I see her seeing the novel as a modern vehicle for accomplishing the sort of teaching that Jesus (and Buddha, and other spiritual wisdom models from around the world) accomplished by aphorism, parable, and the like.


Anyway, I am eager to move on to the next thing you wrote, which is what led to the serendipity of insight I started by mentioning.


[Diana] "People always talk about her little bit of ivory, but I remember another part of that sentence. Where she says to her nephew that she can't be suspected of stealing "two strong twigs and a half toward a nest of my own," she is truly describing the building-up process with which she writes. Many twigs, some of them bent, to create a whole transcendant work."

And the serendipity arises because, in answering Ellen in my immediately preceding post a few moments ago, I quoted Todd writing about Woolf's attitude toward JA--and as a result of that, as I was quickly reviewing an old Word file I had compiled about Woolf's take on Austen, I read the following quote by Woolf describing JA's writing:

"Humbly and gaily she collected _the twigs and straws of which the nest was to be made, and placed them neatly together_" [!!!!]

And of course Woolf _also_ , as the title of her most famous literary critical essay, _"A Room of One's Own"_.

So, it seems to me, Diana, that your instinct for the meaningful has shown me the way to connect all the dots here--in my opinion, Woolf _must_, in writing those two phrases, have had in mind the passage you referred to in JA's letter to JEAL:

"...two strong twigs and a half toward a nest of my own would have been something...."

And that is part of Woolf's problem---as with her impatience with JA for (apparently) suggesting darkness that JA then does not (seem to) follow through on, she fails to realize what I have claimed before, i.e., that JA is being _completely disingenuous_ in these self deprecating words to JEAL, very much like the disingenuousness of JA's other famous self deprecations in her letters to James Stanier Clarke, another clueless narcissistic wannabe author with exaggerated literary pretensions. In my opinion, JA knows very well that she has squeezed the whole human world into that little nest, but she is content (harking back to our parallel summations about JA's artfulness) to allow JEAL, and Clarke, and Woolf, to make their own false assumptions that her writing had such wide scope.


The allusion by Woolf to Austen seemed so obvious to me, that I thought, i can't be the first person to notice it. I was curious to know whether anyone else had previously written about this veiled allusion by Woolf to Austen, so I Googled, and, serendipitously, I found the following:

http://www.pegasus-press.net/online_journal/PO_June2008.htm

In one part of the above-linked essay byDr. Sreemati Mukherjee, Reader, Dept. of English,Basanti Devi College, which I strongly recommend in toto, she (?) first writes:

"In 18th c. England the rise of the middle-class and the circulating libraries gave birth to the professional woman writer, who wrote for money and entertained her audience with tales of heroism, horror and fantasy. As the novel was still new there were no generic prescriptions to be followed. While the novel was considered as trash by the great writers of the time, who were significantly male, the women kept catering to an increasing women-readership of the genre. It was within this social arrangement that Jane Austen wrote her novels. She wrote about a world she knew, about people she recognised and never trespassed into the unknown. It was not a lack of imagination that
prevented her from moving into a gothic clime or even creating an ‘Angria” or a “Gondal” for herself, but as her advice to her niece Anna Austen Lefroy reveals, a fidelity to reality and an innate meticulousness prevented her from stepping out of the known. In her letter she writes: "… Let the Portmans (characters in Anna's novel) go to Ireland ; but as you know nothing of the manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representations. Stick to Bath and the Foresters. There you will be quite at home.." (August 10, 1814). In yet another letter she boasts to Cassandra about her housekeeping and says “an artist cannot do anything slovenly”
(November 17, 1798). It is from such scattered references that we understand Austen's consciousness of her art. In the letter to her nephew James Edward Austen, she compares her art against the ‘manly style' of the former. With characteristic humour she writes: …Two chapters and a half to be missing is monstrous! It is well that I have not been at Steventon lately, and therefore cannot be suspected of purloining them: two strong twigs and a half towards _a nest of my own_ would have been something. I do not think however, that any theft of that sort would be really very useful to me. What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited sketches, full of variety and glow? How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?" (Dec. 16, 1816) It is necessary to note her choice of words here
- from a more homely description of _“two strong twigs and a half” for her ‘nest'_ she moves on to an elaborate conceit of painting. The desire to be specific is clear. After a preliminary use of a diffused term “bit” – it is “two inches wide” in size and the medium is “ivory” and she works upon it with a “fine brush” – again suggesting the utmost care and precision that her craft employs...."


So Mukherjee is writing about Woolf's reactions to Austen, and quotes "a nest of my own". And then, only a half dozen paragraphs later, without any apparent awareness of a connection to "a nest of my own" , she then writes the following in which she refers to "A Room of One's Own":


"Woolf goes on to say that _it is not enough to have a room of one's own._ The woman writer must jump over the second impediment and overlook the question “what men will say of a woman who speaks the truth about her passions”. For to consider such a question would surely “rouse her from her artist's state of unconsciousness”. Woolf stresses on the need to express the experience and fantasies of a woman sincerely and truthfully. In/A Room of One's Own,/ Woolf compares the flawed women's novels to “pock-marked apples in an orchard”. “It was the flaw in the centre that had rotted them. She had altered her values in deference to the opinion of others” (p.71). Woolf credits Jane Austen and Emily Bronte for being able “to hold fast to thething as they saw it without shrinking”. Earlier in the same chapter Woolf places Austen alongside Shaskespeare for “writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching”. Yet a little before, in the same paragraph, Woolf opines that “to Jane Austen there was something discreditable in writing/Pride and Prejudice/”, hence she hid it from visitors (p.65). In these obviously contradictory observations I note the limitations or confusions of Woolf's own ideas about the artistic process. For a writer who sees the necessity of having “a room of one's own” and economic independence to write, Woolf fails to see in Austen's jealous protection of her work the artist's careful nurturing of the work of art. It is unlikely that Jane Austen who never resorted to pseudonyms and who so openly supported the novel, as an art form, would have considered the art of writing as discreditable. Is it not possible that she might have taken the precaution to prevent any unwanted question or suggestion, well meaning or otherwise, from her visitor(s) which politeness would not have allowed her to avoid? With her family she was certain of no such unwanted attention and felt comfortable writing amidst the din of the living room. I am tempted to observe further that when Woolf wrote the word ‘discreditable' she was being guided by ‘the angel'. "


So, first, what a wonderful "Trojan Horse Moment" for Mukherjee, to place these two phrases, one by Austen, the other by Woolf, in such close proximity, without apparent awareness that Woolf's title is a subtle veiled _allusion_ to Austen's phrase! And second, as I just read Woolf writing about "pock-marked apples in an orchard", it was equally obvious to me that Woolf, probably intentionally, was making a similarly subtle veiled allusion to both the discussion about the insipid apricots at the Mansfield Park parsonage, _and also_ to the entire Sotherton scene so saturated with Edenic allusion to the tree of knowledge, etc.!


It feels to me like we, today, are walking in the footsteps of Austen and Woolf, in a garden of delightful knowledge!

Cheers, ARNIE

Plenty of pregnancies

The recent threads in Janeites and Austen L about Mrs. Weston's apparent pregnancy in Emma, and Maria Bertram's alleged (by myself and Diane Reynolds) pregnancy in Mansfield Park, sparked a wonderful further discussion among various participants. This post is my response to some very interesting comments by Ellen Moody and Diane Birchall:

[Ellen]: < To me though we can also ask, why did Austen not make Maria pregnant at the end of the book. She didn't. Why did she write the fiction suggestively but go no further. One pragmatic author-centered answer from the letters we have is Austen was not keen on pregnancy and knew it was no picnic, endangered the woman's life and limited her opportunities for enjoyment for herself ever after. She herself never married and clearly didn't envy pregnant women."

[Diana] But Ellen, that doesn't hold water. If she wasn't keen on pregnancy and knew it was no picnic, etc., then why did she make Eliza, the transgressor of Sense and Sensibility, pregnant, and spare Maria? We know Jane Austen never married and didn't envy pregnant women; but she certainly makes plenty of her characters pregnant! (Or rather, her male characters do.) Some are happily pregnant, some not so: but my point is that it happens just as is natural in the individual situations, and for the different characters (which is Austen's art). They are not
cookie-cutter depictions of morality or personal fears.....Where are this repressed point of view and limitations of her texts? She writes about sex and its consequences in what she herself called "a form of words perfectly intelligible."

A perfect answer, Diana! And, from my point of view, the perfect setting of the table for my argument that she not only depicted in an overt way the wide range of pregnancies you allude to (and let's not also forget Mrs. Wallis in Persuasion), but she also _covertly_ depicted an even wider range of them--and much more centrally to the central story lines of the novels.

I was also reminded by your comments, ladies, of the perceptions of a more famous lady who famously analyzed Austen's writings, as reported by Janet Todd:

"For Virginia Woolf, Austen's art is one of enclosure. It is a domestic garden beside the lighthouse of her own art."

And I claim that the resonance of that comment to my, Diane, and Diane's recent comments about a rather "undomesticated" "Garden" is not coincidental--it appears to me that Woolf, like Ellen, asks an excellent question--why did Jane Austen write suggestively but go no further--and I claim JA did indeed go _much_ further!

And finally I see the multiple meanings of the word "enclosure" as also being fortuitous (and apparently unintentional) on Todd's part, because of the rich vein of modern commentary that shows how JA wove the metaphor of the enclosure movement into her novels, as a metaphor for the _trapping_ of women inside patriarchal "cages".

Cheers, ARNIE

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mrs. Weston's Pregnancy PART FOUR

Apparently my previous two posts struck a couple of sensitive nerves, because first Kathy, responded thusly, once more completely ducking my challenges to the plausibility of Mr. Knightley's and Emma's debriefing of Mr. Elton's asking Mrs. Weston to dance at the Crown Inn ball:

[Kathy Elder] "I am not being discreet, nor am I avoiding giving full answer. My only answer
is that I don't believe that your questions can be answered nor are they pertinent to my study of this particular novel. I see no reason to manufacture answers out of thin air merely because you choose to direct questions toward me.

For me, the question of when Mrs Weston told people she was pregnant is no more important nor any more answerable than the questions of how old Emma was, exactly, when her mother died, or whether Miss Taylor was Isabella's first governess, or to what kindness of Mr Woodhouse Mrs Goddard formerly owed so much, etc. These are questions that I occasionally find interesting, and I enjoy speculating about them (though I know they cannot be answered with any certainty and neither are they relevant to my reading of the novel as written).

Your questions re Mrs Weston's pregnancy also cannot be answered with any certainty. In addition, I find them uninteresting (as well as irrelevant to my understanding of the novel), and I have no desire to speculate on this matter. I know that you enjoy such fan-fic style speculation, however, and I would never suggest that you should not do so to your heart's content -- but I shan't participate.

Thanks, and now I have done."

A modern day politician could learn much from Kathy's "protesting too much" about how unimportant these interpretive questions I raised supposedly are, but I leave to you all to decide if they really are unimportant.


And then, it seems my post about the epistemological aspects of this thread struck a raw nerve in Christy Somer, who responded with a very elevated tone:


[Christy Somer] "And, is the totality of these yoga-inspired imaginings suppose to intimate:

First, that we are all unwise if we do not consider Jane Austen, as being this radically feminist epistemologist?

Second, that we are all unwise if we do not consider that she may very well have treated her novels as some kind of new bible or manifesto on the nature of knowledge, the manner in which it was acquired, and how one might come to know and be sure of what one knew?

Thirdly, that we are all unwise if we do not consider that this omnipresence within her writings might possibly be on the level of a guru, zen monk, or a Kant, Locke, Smith, Hume, etc.?

All I can say to all of this is......"what a fearsome thing to behold!" and to ascribe to this Hampshire authoress....."


To which I now respond as follows:

Christy, I won't repeat what I wrote in my previous message, which I _carefully_ limited so as only to make the claim that Jane Austen was challenging her readers's assumptions about what her novels mean, on all levels of understanding. I invite anyone who wishes to read what I actually wrote, and then to compare it to your characterizations of it, and decide whether you have been fair and accurate.

I was careful _not_ to include in my message anything that would favor my own personal view of Jane Austen as the author of radical feminist shadow stories, in fact I made the explicit point that the questioning of assumptions applies just as much to readings like mine as it does to readings like yours, and, indeed, to _all_ readings of her fiction.

So it is very interesting that _you_ are the one, not I, to raise all those other points, in response to my carefully limited message.

I will also point out that my claim that Jane Austen was extremely interested in epistemology is one that finds _wide_ support among a large number of Janeites, both academics and amateurs like myself, and, similarly, my claim that Jane Austen was a feminist also finds _wide_ support among a similar base of Janeites. Surely you do not wish to censor discussion of such topics, pro and con, in these groups.

As for shadow stories-----in my recent conversation with Kathy and others about Mrs. Weston's pregnancy--which I intend to continue exactly as long as she and anyone else in the group wishes to pursue it, no more and no less---I was equally careful _not_ to push my interpretation of the shadow story of _Emma_ into it, but instead I engaged in good faith with Kathy about _her_ interpretation of what I call the _revealed_ story of the novel, in regard to Mrs. Weston's pregnancy. I analyzed her interpretation, and I responded to what I claim are flaws and weaknesses in her argument, on _her_ terms, _not_ on shadow story terms. And, as can be noted in my message, I also did this in a polite, careful and good natured way. And I expressed appreciation for the civil responses I have received even from those who radically disagree with me.

And finally I will also point out that I was not the one to raise the question of Maria Bertram's alleged pregnancy, it was Diane. When others joined in, I did too. I only ask for the right to participate in the same conversations others do, and when I wish to express something about the shadow stories in my blog, I will continue my practice of merely posting a link to my blog in Janeites, as I have done on a number of occasions in the past few months, and I will make a case by case decision in that regard re Austen L as to whether to post shadow story material there, or by link to my blog.

And that, i believe, is a very careful, polite, and fair response to your post.

And....that is also the end of this four-part thread, unless the subject comes up again.

I am very grateful to Kathy in particular for prompting me to delve more deeply into the fishiness of Mr. Knightley's and Emma's debriefing of the Crown Inn fracas with Mr. Elton, Harriet and Mrs. Weston. It is only by this sort of extremely close reading, first raising the question of what Knightley and Emma knew about Mrs. Weston's pregnancy, and then testing same against their actual verbal behavior, to see if it matches.

It was extremely edifying to turn to tables on those who claim my interpretations are implausible and manufactured out of my own fevered imagination, and to expose their inadequate and superficial analysis.

Cheers, ARNIE

Mrs. Weston's Pregnancy PART THREE

I next posted an important tangent to the discussion of Mrs. Weston's pregnancy:

It occurred to me as I was doing yoga this morning (which often leads me into altered perspectives on things I'm thinking about) and today it caused me to step back a pace mentally, and to connect the dots between two recent, seemingly unconnected threads:

the first is the one about Kant started by Mark, which prompted me to postulate that JA would have been very interested in Kant because he was a leading European voice on the subject of epistemology, i.e., how we know what we know, and because she was so interested in that very same subject, and constructed all her novels as illustrations of the pitfalls human beings fall into in trying to figure out what is real and what has been generated out of their own imagination; and

the second is the current one about the significance of the clues that I allege are present in Emma regarding Mrs. Weston's pregnancy.

And the paramount question I wish to point out now, which is one logical level higher, is that the strong disagreement between me, Diane, Elissa and some others, on the one hand, and Kathy, Christy, Nancy and others, on the other, about whether the kinds of claims I make about JA's novels are valid or not, is a disagreement that JA _wanted_ to generate! Taking that further, I'd claim that she wanted her _individual_ readers to struggle with making this sort of epistemological judgment, to wonder (like Knightley, famously, while observing Frank and Jane, and like Emma and Catherine and Lizzy, while observing everyone around _them_) what is
really going on, and to cultivate her readers's willingness to question their own assumptions about what they (think they) have seen.

So, I think JA's paramount goal was not to force readers to see shadow stories, or to force readers _not_ to see shadow stories, but to prompt readers to ask this sort of question, regardless of the answer they come up with!

I claim that when she famously wrote about not writing for dull elves, she meant that she was not writing for passive readers, she was writing for readers who were willing to challenge their own assumptions, to go back into the text and try to find answers. She is challenging the likes of myself to prove there are shadow stories, and she is challenging the likes of Kathy to prove that there are not. She is most concerned with this process of deciding, i.e., of judgment--she wanted her readers to refine their readerly judgments in this way.

That was JA's primary didactic motivation, I assert, the common thread that runs through all her writing. That's the reason why she gives her most popular hero, Darcy, the honor of asserting the following in expanding Caroline Bingley's limited definition of an accomplished woman:

"All this she must possess," added Darcy, "and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading."

It is by reading epistemologically sophisticated fictions like her own that an intelligent active reader can best develop his or her powers of judgment and discrimination.

So, regardless of where someone comes out on the questions of whether Mrs. Weston was really pregnant, and whether Jane Fairfax was pregnant, I claim that the paramount question JA was implicitly posing to her readers was, "How do we most effectively go about answering to these
questions?"

These epistemological questions are, I claim, unwise to beg. [END OF MY POST IN JANEITES]


And that is what led to the final phase of this discussion, which will appear in PART FOUR!

Cheers, ARNIE

Mrs. Weston's Pregnancy PART TWO

This post follows the one I just posted entitled (shockingly) PART ONE! ;)


Kathy Elder responded to my questions as follows:

"There is no timeline for Mrs Weston's pregnancy in the novel, as you well know. I would say that the reason there is no timeline is partly because Mrs Weston is not the heroine & her baby is not very relevant to the plot. I cannot answer your questions about when Mr Weston and Mr Knightley and Emma, et. al., actually learned of the pregnancy -- I will only say that Mrs Weston would have given the news to people when she saw fit to do so. And I do not believe that Mrs Weston concealed her pregnancy until the 7th month, so I have no answer to your final question."

To which I responded as follows.

Thank you for your answers, Kathy.

You sound like the narrator of _Emma_ and I suspect that is not an accidental resemblance, some might even imagine that you have discreetly avoided giving full answers to those followup questions. ;)

Just as you have done in the past when posing skeptical questions to me about my claims, I will pursue mine a bit further with you.

Even though you seem to wish to leave indeterminate the stage of her pregnancy at which Mrs. Weston told other people about her pregnancy, my point is that there are only two possible answers--either Mrs. Weston _did_ reveal her pregnancy to others before Ch. 42, or she did
_not_--and each of those two possibilities carries its own very different consequences for our understanding of the characters and of the action of the novel.

If Mrs. Weston did _not_ reveal the pregnancy at all till it eventually became known to all after Ch. 42, that raises serious questions about how it was possible for her to conceal it even into the seventh month, and even from Emma who was in so frequent and intimate contact with her. It also raises the question of how Mr. Weston could keep such a secret. These are all serious objections, in my opinion. And if someone concludes that it could have been concealed (as, actually I do think was the case), that means exactly the same was true as to any other pregnancy, including the one I claim for Jane Fairfax.

But you do seem to be implying that Mrs. Weston _did_ reveal the pregnancy prior to Chapter 42 to at least some people. If she did do that, then it seems likely that soon thereafter everybody would have known about it.

And that would include Emma. That continues to raise the question of why JA would so obliquely address the pregnancy of a major character, and I do not find satisfactory the response that this was tangential to the story. Mrs. Weston's pregnancy, if known to Emma, would have been of
_enormous_ interest to Emma, our focal character, whose mind we inhabit during practically the entire novel. I find it very implausible, given all we know about Emma (the character), that she would have no thoughts, and say no words to others, on this very interesting subject about Mrs. Weston's very interesting condition. You say it's not important to the story, but I say that Emma is the focal consciousness, and Mrs. Weston's pregnancy would have been a subject of consuming interest to Emma if she knew. I find it much more plausible that Emma simply has no idea until late in the pregnancy.

The most dramatic example of the inconsistency of such a non-addressing of Mrs. Weston's pregnancy occurs in that scene at the Crown Inn ball in Ch. 38. If everybody knew by the time of the Crown ball, then it really does mean first that Mr. Elton is a much darker character than most Janeites think--it would not just be "littleness" if he asked Mrs. Weston to dance, it would be unbelievably horrible of him--either he is actually willing to risk the pregnancy of a 37 year old woman who is 6 months pregnant, or he knows she will refuse before he asks, and he is just enjoying a very nasty put-on at Mrs. Weston's expense.

Either way, we know that Emma and Knightley watched this scene unfold, and yet it never enters Emma's or Knightley's mind to say something right then and there, or afterwards, during their debriefing of that scene. How is it possible that neither of them mentions this very very
salient point, much more significant than Harriet's wounded feelings at being left a wallflower during a dance? Here, read it all, and please tell me if it is plausible that either Emma or Knightley knows Mrs. Weston is 7 months pregnant!

Emma had no opportunity of speaking to Mr. Knightley till after supper; but, when they were all in the ball-room again, her eyes invited him irresistibly to come to her and be thanked. He was warm in his reprobation of Mr. Elton's conduct; it had been unpardonable rudeness;
and Mrs. Elton's looks also received the due share of censure.

"They aimed at wounding more than Harriet," said he. "Emma, why is it that they are your enemies?"

He looked with smiling penetration; and, on receiving no answer, added, "_She_ ought not to be angry with you, I suspect, whatever he may be. To that surmise, you say nothing, of course; but confess, Emma, that you did want him to marry Harriet."

"I did," replied Emma, "and they cannot forgive me."

He shook his head; but there was a smile of indulgence with it, and he only said,

"I shall not scold you. I leave you to your own reflections."

"Can you trust me with such flatterers? Does my vain spirit ever tell me I am wrong?"

"Not your vain spirit, but your serious spirit. If one leads you wrong, I am sure the other tells you of it."

"I do own myself to have been completely mistaken in Mr. Elton. There is a littleness about him which you discovered, and which I did not: and I was fully convinced of his being in love with Harriet. It was through a series of strange blunders!"

"And, in return for your acknowledging so much, I will do you the justice to say, that you would have chosen for him better than he has chosen for himself. Harriet Smith has some first-rate qualities, which Mrs. Elton is totally without. An unpretending, single-minded, artless girl -- infinitely to be preferred by any man of sense and taste to such a woman as Mrs. Elton. I found Harriet more conversable than I expected."


And now go to PART THREE of this series for the exciting third installment of this riveting Internet fracas!

Cheers, ARNIE

Mrs. Weston's Pregnancy PART ONE

This is the first of a series of posts that were sent in the Janeites group the last few days, in which I took a different approach than normal. Instead of defending my claims about Austen's shadow stories, I turned the tables for a change, and played the skeptic with their claims about Mrs. Weston's pregnancy in Emma. My point, as you will see, was to illustrate that the reader is at certain key points in each of Austen's novels driven toward the shadow story by the fishiness of some aspects of the revealed or overt story.

So this thread began when I raised serious questions about the suspiciousness of the textual clues in Emma about Mrs. Weston's alleged pregnancy. Kathy Elder, who has repeatedly dismissed my shadow story claims as (in her words) "fanfic speculations", responded as I quote below, and then I decided to respond, as you will read below:

[Kathy] "...in Emma, Mrs Weston's pregnancy is NOT sprung on the reader when the baby is born. It is alluded to in Chapter 38 (second week in May) and mentioned specifically in Chapter 42 (June). The birth of Anna Weston occurs in Chapter 53 (late July)."

From Chapter 38 (Miss Bates at the Crown Ball): "So afraid you might have a headach! seeing you pass by so often, and knowing how much trouble you must have."
From Chapter 42: "the situation of Mrs. Weston, whose happiness it was to be hoped might eventually be as much increased by the arrival of a child, as that of all her neighbours was by the approach of it "
From Chapter 53: "Mrs. Weston's friends were all made happy by her safety ... "
So, we read a strong allusion to the pregnancy, an actual mention of the pregnancy, and finally an actual mention of the baby -" [END OF KATHY'S QUOTE]

Kathy,

I have a few questions for you, if you'd be willing to answer them.

If Mrs. Weston really was pregnant, obviously that would mean Mrs. Weston herself has known for sure about being pregnant since the end of the first volume of the novel at the latest, and probably sooner. How then do you explain why she never mentioned it to Emma until Chapter 42, when Emma was not only one of her neighbours, but was in fact her closest female friend in Highbury, almost a sister? Or is it possible that Emma knew about her friend's pregnancy and yet it was not a topic for conversation between them at any time prior to Chapter 42? Or is it
possible that it _was_ a topic of conversation for several months before Chapter 42, but the narrator did not consider this important enough to mention, even in passing?

When do you imagine that Mr. Weston learned of it? If Mrs. Weston did keep it secret from everybody else except him till the seventh month, do you think it possible that he--remember, this is Mr. Weston we're talking about---kept this a secret for the first 7 months of his wife's pregnancy? Or do you think she concealed from her own husband until the seventh month?

When do you imagine that Knightley knew? He makes it his business to know everything that happens in Highbury, he is a close friend of Mrs. Weston (evidenced by their Ch. 5 tete a tete) yet we never hear about him knowing about it.

Do you think her pregnancy was common knowledge in Highbury prior to Chapter 42? If so, why didn't anybody who knew tell Emma?

When Mr. Elton asks Mrs. Weston to dance at the Crown ball in Chapter 38 in the following passage, does _he_ know she's 6 months pregnant? If he does know, isn't that more than a little vicious of him to ask him to dance? And if he doesn't know, then I would think that it is _not_ common knowledge that she is six months pregnant.

"....Mr. Elton was so near, that she heard every syllable of a dialogue which just then took place between him and Mrs. Weston; and she perceived that his wife, who was standing immediately above her, was not only listening also, but even encouraging him by significant glances.
The kind-hearted, gentle Mrs. Weston had left her seat to join him and say, "Do not you dance, Mr. Elton?" to which his prompt reply was, "Most readily, Mrs. Weston, if you will dance with me." "Me! oh! no -- I would get you a better partner than myself. I am no dancer."

Why does the passage you quote from Ch. 42 makes it sound like Mrs. Weston announcing her pregnancy to everybody does not raise any surprise in anyone? I would think that Emma would have asked her dear friend why she kept it a secret for over three months after Mrs. Weston herself knew. And Emma spends so many days together with Mrs. Weston, even during the warming months--how could she not see her friend's pregnancy under such conditions? Or again, does the narrator choose to ignore such conversations?

And finally, we know from famous real life news from only a couple of years ago that when Sarah Palin's pregnancy was revealed in the seventh month, people in close proximity to her were shocked, and she was hardly living in a cave. Wouldn't the same reaction occur in Highbury?

On the other hand, if Mrs. Weston (for some reason _not_ revealed to us by the narrator) decided to conceal her pregnancy till the seventh month, doesn't that mean that it was possible in 1814 Highbury to conceal a pregnancy until that late stage, and therefore those who might suggest that _Jane_ could not have concealed a pregnancy so long are wrong?

Thanks for any answers you choose to give.
Cheers, ARNIE


NOW GO TO THE NEXT BLOG ENTRY TO SEE PART TWO OF THIS DISCUSSION!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tete a tetes between policy makers early in Austen novels re relocation of the heroine

I can't believe that I only just a moment ago realized a salient, indeed crucial, parallel between Chapter 2 of S&S, when we listen to Fanny pretend to be generous to the Dashwood women, including the principal heroine, Elinor, in inducing the morally stunted, greedy John Dashwood to be cruel to them vis a vis a relocation from a long standing home, and....

...Chapter 1 of MP, when we listen to Mrs. Norris pretend to be generous to Mrs. Price and Fanny in inducing the morally stunted, greedy Sir Thomas to take Fanny from Portsmouth, but on "hard terms", so to speak.

The unreflective answer would be that JA was just doing exposition, and was not worried about repeating her technique for same from novel to novel. However, my answer is that the close _thematic_ parallelism across her novels, in so many ways is far beyond coincidence, and is not just because JA was a hack who repeated herself mindlessly. This is, in my very considered opinion, thematically significant.

And, upon further examination, there is some parallelism with the above two early passages with Chapter 5 of Emma, where Mr. Knightley and Mrs. Weston discuss Emma's future, in that the future of the heroine is discussed. But, you might object, where is the parallelism vis a vis relocation of the heroine? Well....that is precisely where I was leading.

Here is the beginning of the report of that conversation:

"I do not know what your opinion may be, Mrs. Weston," said Mr. Knightley, "of this great intimacy between Emma and Harriet Smith, but I think it a bad thing."

"A bad thing! Do you really think it a bad thing? why so?"

"I think they will neither of them do the other any good."


As soon as I looked at that passage again, I realized that there is _nothing_ there to indicate that this was the beginning of the conversation between Mrs. Weston and Mr. Knightley. It is therefore perfectly plausible to infer that this _may_ be another one of those moments in _Emma_ fitting the following famous narration in the novel:

"Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken..."

More specifically, I wonder if, earlier in the conversation (because in Shakespeare's plays, too, there are a number of scenes where the audience is not present at the beginning of a tete a tete, but instead is brought in to do its eavesdropping a few minutes _after_ the conversation has begun), there has been _another_ topic of conversation between Knightley and Mrs. Weston?

And what might that topic be? Is there a heroine handy to be relocated, whom they might have been discussing? If we look at the implicit calendar for the novel, based in part on what we learn in the second volume of the novel, we realize that this tete a tete is taking place shortly after Jane and Frank have had their time together in Weymouth. And also not long after Knightley's return from London, which is not only where John and Isabella live, but also Jane, with the Campbells. Hmm.....

In the talk I have given several times in England in the US, I start with the claim that Jane Fairfax is the shadow heroine of the novel. Is it possible that the relocation of Jane Fairfax to Highbury might have been the _first_ discussion item on the agenda of Knightley's and Mrs. Weston's tete a tete?

And finally, I asked myself, is there any _other_ passage in JA's novels where other characters have a comparable private discussion about plans for action that will result in the relocation of the heroine?

Of course, yes, there is one more--in Chapter 2 of Persuasion, Mr. Shepherd and Lady Russell begin to work on Sir Walter about retrenchment, apparently with no one else present, but then in Chapter 3, the conversation continues between Mr. Shepherd and Sir Walter, but this time with Anne present, and the result is....Anne's departure from Kellynch!

In fact, the only Austen novel _without_ such a tete a tete is Northanger Abbey--and I for one wish I had been a fly on the wall to hear the actual words spoken when Mr. and/or Mrs. Allen put heads together with Mr. and/or Mrs. Morland, and decided that Catherine would go to Bath with the Allens!

I need to go out now, and so will have to wait till a little later to check to see if any other commentator has previously connected the above dots, a string of "pearls" (forgive me for the eponymous pun) in a necklace composed of all the novels.

Cheers, ARNIE
sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com

From Prada to Nada

Apropos the recently begun group reading of S&S, I was fortunate to hear about, and then attend, with some of my new Janeite friends whom I met via my Austen event on Sunday, an advance screening in Miami of the new Austen spinoff chickflick, From Prada to Nada.

I went with low expectations, and was pleasantly surprised. On its own unpretentious terms, it was a sweet, fast-paced, and at times touching modern version of S&S, which did not even pretend to be a veiled commentary on Austen's novel--it would best be described as "inspired by" S&S, given that pretty much all of the major characters, and the course of their relationships, are significantly different--mostly in the direction of simplification of JA's wonderful complexities--from that of S&S, even as it is immediately obvious who the characters represent from S&S--the only one I had an Alzheimer's Moment about was the Brandon character, whom I did not at first recognize, until one of my companions enlightened me--It was indeed a Doh! moment!

My two younger female Janeite friends were pretty much of the same opinions I stated above, although one of them was harder on the film that we other two.

Anyway, I recommend it, the mostly Latino audience loved the film, much laughter and emotional responsiveness, and that made the film more fun too--just as, 30 years ago, it greatly enhanced my appreciation of Richard Pryor's Live on the Sunset Strip that my first wife and I saw it in an almost entirely African American audience--it was impossible not to also roar with laughter, the theater was practically shaking! This was a milder version of that same contact high, and so, if you're going to see it, I urge you to see the film in a theater in the Hispanic part of town where you live, if possible.

I will be curious to hear the reactions of other Janeites when it is released in wide distribution--I think it's going to do really well.

I was also fortunate that the promoter of the advance screening allowed me a minute to address the theater audience before the show began, to tell them about the new Janeite community in Dade and Broward, and I gave away about 60 of my postcards to prospective members. Most of the audience had no idea that Jane Austen was in the background of this film, and the film itself makes no overt reference at all, although there are a few near quotations from the novel.

I suspect the film will be marketed differently to the wider Anglo audience, it would be foolish for them not to take advantage of Austenmania, after all!

And finally, the coolest irony is that the young woman from the promotions company who was so nice to me was named Cassandra--and she has absolutely no idea what the significance of her name was in relation to this film with two sisters who share heartbreak and happiness! ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Blog Statistics can be very interesting

One of the cool things about a blog like this is that you can see some statistics about the readership--the geographical distribution, some of the URL links that led to my blog, and also some of the search terms that led some folks to the blog.

I just had to laugh when I read the 6 latest search terms, which I repeat, below, verbatim:


miami herald feature on arnold perlstein jane austen

"jane austen" death cause

arnold perlstein fraud in florida

jane austen pregnancy

jane austen sarcasm irony metaphors northanger abbey

shadow puns


I am reasonably certain that the third search term was NOT motivated by an interest in characters like Henry Crawford! It should be no surprise to anyone who follows this blog that some Janeites are not extremely overjoyed at things going well for me in my community organizing and my book project.

To which I say something along the lines of "Let them enjoy a self-oriented sexual experience if they can't take a joke!" or words to that effect!


Cheers, ARNIE

A Novelist's Progress

When Ellen Moody, Elissa Schiff, Diane Reynolds, and I ALL agree on something, we may be encountering another one of those formidable alliances which Diana Birchall playfully alluded to last week--and it is for sure that E, E, D & I all agree that there is nothing frivolous or light-heartedly funny about the way Jane Austen is talking in Letter #7.

Elissa: "I think this letter [#7] is - unlike the others - very revelatory. It certainly does give us the frustration - almost panic - of a woman trapped, with no place to actually *be.* Without personal funds or "friends" to provide for her, JA is essentially in a state of potential freefall. In her fiction, she may well have a kindly and reasonable Mr. Knightley come to the rescue of a vulnerable woman such as Miss Bates, but in the real world - her own life - Jane Austen herself must have felt the terror of this potential freefall very much indeed. I am loathe to bring up the naughty novel of Fanny Hill, but Austen herself in this very letter refers to a parallel situation of being approached by a female procurer if she is abandoned by family and left penniless away from home. Why should she even think of such a possibility? Whether justified or not, there is real fear being expressed here. And it is a great wonder that this letter, with its allusion to "the fat woman with small beer" escaped Cassandra's great purge."

Bravo as to all of the above, Elissa, exactly what I was thinking in every way.


"I don't see it, Arnie. I think that the young woman who sat down to write Lady Susan was writing in the same spirit as "My Elizabeth was so light, bright, and sparkling, I think I will try a perfectly opposite character now - one with no sparkle, but sterling worth." I think JA had read Les Liaisons Dangereuses and heard Eliza de Feuillide's rattle, and had a number of other (unknown by us) assorted exposures to the worldly world."

WIth all due respect, Diana--and you are due a considerable amount!---I continue to totally disagree with the notion that JA wrote Lady Susan around this time as a kind of exercise of her literary muscles, a detached fascination with dark characters--quite the contrary--for me, the black clouds of Lady Susan hover just over the horizon of this letter, casting shadows in every direction. People who joke a lot about dark things, like beheadings, and falling under the influence of madams, and women lain in at 47, and wives scared to death by seeing their husbands, and the like, are not expressing happy emotions--just look at Mary Crawford--she is exhibiting the classic symptoms of a victim of abuse-a rat-a-tat of suggestive, dark innuendoes. I believe Mary Crawford is as much Jane Austen as she is Eliza de Feuillide (and perhaps also Phila Hancock).

And I believe that if she could have, Lady Susan--that female rake!---would have set her daughter loose in London precisely so that her daughter would "progress" as depicted by Hogarth--just for her own brand of twisted fun!


"for if the Pearsons were not at home, I should inevitably fall a Sacrifice to the arts of some fat Woman who would make me drunk with Small Beer.-"

A number of commentators--strange bedfellows beginning with Le Faye and Tucker in 1995, and also Susannah Fullerton in 2003, have opined that the above is an unmistakable allusion to Scene 1 of Hogarth's 6-scene print series "A Harlot's Progress", an image of which can be found here:

http://www.ackland.org/art/exhibitions/reasonfantasy/harlot1.htm

Here is Fullerton's take on the sort of scene JA painted in her letter, vis a vis Bath:

"Bath was almost as licentious. There, Walcot Street, Avon Street and the Holloway district were notorious for prostitution. Many young girls came from the country to Bath, in search of excitement and employment. Once they discovered that jobs were not always so easy to come by, they were easy prey to the ‘fat women’ who ran brothels. Only those resident in the city for five years were eligible for Poor Law relief from the parish, and so these girls were forced into prostitution to survive. They plied their trade in the places of public amusement – the theatre, outside the Assembly Rooms, and in the vicinity of local inns. Once a customer had been found, he could be taken to any number of local houses where, for the cost of about one shilling, he could buy her services."

Fortunately, JA avoided "coming on the town" (as, I speculate, her aunt was _not_ successful in avoiding as a vulnerable girl) and instead channeled all her feminist outrage into her writing, making sure that she told the story of, and defended, these trapped young women and girls, covertly, in her novels.

Cheers, ARNIE

The Sapient Fruit Mary Crawford offers to Fanny.....about the Man of the Field and his brother

Two questions occurred to me late yesterday as I watched tennis on TV, perhaps triggered by my skimming of the last few days of messages in the group about morality in MP, and also from my own thoughts and research:

First...there is wide consensus among many Janeites that one of the most thrilling scenes in all of Austen's novels is in Chapter 32 when Fanny refuses to bow to Sir Thomas' pressure to marry Henry Crawford. My first question is hypothetical--if Henry did _not_ have a sister, and he alone had come to the Parsonage, and Fanny had not had the relationship she had with Mary, would Fanny have found the wherewithal--the spine, if you will--to refuse Sir Thomas?

I believe Fanny would _not_ have, and that without the frequent example of Mary's subversive assertiveness over a period of time, Fanny would have allowed herself to be browbeaten by Sir Thomas into accepting Henry. I claim that Mary taught Fanny the one thing Edmund never taught her--to stand up for herself!

But there is a second question lurking behind the first one--apropos Fanny's feelings...and that second question is--if Henry did not have a sister, etc etc., would Fanny have been aware enough of her love for Edmund to cling to be inspired by it to refuse Sir Thomas?

And, similarly, I believe that Fanny would not been so certain of her feelings for Edmund if she had not had them persistently poked and irritated by Mary's slithering seductively and gracefully around Edmund.

So I claim that Fanny's refusal of Henry Crawford is based on _both_ of these knowings....

My thinking along these lines quickly brought to mind the extensive and complex allusion to Genesis Chapters 2&3 (the Garden of Eden & its aftermath) and Milton's Paradise Lost that JA spread all across Mansfield Park, and I thought in particular of Mary as the serpent who induces Fanny (Eve) to take a bite of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. In this instance, the "fruit" offered by Mary to Fanny has two separate "halves"--one is that Fanny has the human being's inalienable right to decide whom he or she loves, and the other is that Fanny actually loves Edmund.

So in sum, it is my opinion that Fanny _was_ "taught" by Mary to realize that she loved Edmund, and also that she had the right to wait for him, forever if she so chose. And I also believe that JA _did_ intend to raise these two connected questions I've asked, and to drive the reader back into the text of the novel for answers.

Following that line of thought further, I also noticed for the first time the marvelously subtle pun behind the following casually caustic comment by Dr. Grant, which embodies all of the above in a highly pregnant symbol:

"...It is an _insipid_ fruit at the best; but a good apricot is eatable, which none from my garden are."

As far as I can discern from online etymological dictionaries, the words "insipid" and "sapient" _both_ come from the Latin word for "taste", and in that sense are antonyms--an insipid person is, roughly, the opposite of a sapient person. Of course, as Dr. Grant uses the word, he means to refer to taste itself, and not to knowledge, but I am strongly of the opinion that JA very carefully chose that adjective for the one practicing clergyman in the novel to use in delivering this inadvertent one-line theological "sermon" about "fruit" from the "garden"!

And finally, isn't Cain (like Esau later in Genesis) a "man of the field"? I suggest that Henry Crawford _is_ that "man of the field", i.e., a hunter who comes to "Man's field", seeking his prey! In that regard, consider the following excerpts from MP:

Ch. 24: "Henry Crawford had quite made up his mind by the next morning to give another fortnight to Mansfield, and having sent for his _hunters_..."

Ch. 25: "They had been _hunting_ together, and were in the midst of a good run, and at some distance from Mansfield, when his horse being found to have flung a shoe, Henry Crawford had been obliged to give up, and make the best of his way back. “I told you I lost my way after passing that old farmhouse with the yew–trees, because I can never bear to ask; but I have not told you that, with my usual luck—for I never do wrong without gaining by it—I found myself in due time in the very place which I had a curiosity to see. I was suddenly, upon turning the corner of _a steepish downy field_, in the midst of a retired little village between gently rising hills; a small stream before me to be forded, a church standing on a sort of knoll to my right— which church was strikingly large and handsome for the place, and not a gentleman or half a gentleman’s house to be seen excepting one—to be presumed the Parsonage— within a stone’s throw of the said knoll and church. I found myself, in short, in Thornton Lacey.”

The Freudian symbolism of Thornton Lacey, where Henry plans to make Fanny his blushing bride, is, to me, quite apparent.

Ch. 34: "Here Fanny, who could not but listen, involuntarily shook her head, and Crawford was instantly by her side again, entreating to know her meaning; and as Edmund perceived, by his drawing in a chair, and sitting down close by her, that it was to be a very thorough attack, that looks and undertones were to be well tried, he sank as quietly as possible into a corner, turned his back, and took up a newspaper, very sincerely wishing that dear little Fanny might be persuaded into explaining away that shake of the head to the satisfaction of her ardent lover; and as earnestly trying to bury every sound of the business from himself in murmurs of his own, over the various advertisements of “A most desirable Estate in South Wales”; “To Parents and Guardians”; and a “Capital season’d Hunter.” Fanny, meanwhile, vexed with herself for not having been as motionless as she was speechless, and grieved to the heart to see Edmund’s arrangements, was trying by everything in the power of her modest, gentle nature, to repulse Mr. Crawford, and avoid both his looks and inquiries; and he, unrepulsable, was persisting in both."

And there we see Edmund, who of course, is Abel, as he characteristically stands passively by, allowing, even encouraging his "brother" free rein to hunt.

But luckily for Edmund, he is a child of good fortune, and he turns out to be more Adam than Abel, as he does not die in a duel with Henry, but instead finds happiness (however insipid it might turn out to be) in the garden with his little Eve, after the serpents have been banished therefrom to crawl about elsewhere.


Cheers, ARNIE