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

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"a mere joke among ourselves" James Edward Austen-Leigh

I am glad to find a zone of synchronicity and amicability in responding to what Anielka Briggs wrote this morning:

[Anielka] "Christy raises an interesting question: did JEAL undestand JA's double entendres or not?....The question is, does he pick up the balls and run? (Plural joke there.... I think JEAL knew part of the joke. "

I agree, Anielka, last year, I came to exactly the same conclusion about JEAL--and I know that you and I each did this completely independently.

_JEAL himself_, on the other hand, seems to have thought that he was in on the whole joke (every pun intended). A few years back, I even found some sexual punning in _his_ own writing, which is mainly what tells me he enjoyed the part of JA's punning that he saw. But I think that large parts of what JA was up to did ultimately elude him, he did not have a big enough imagination to grasp the enormity and the audacity of JA's, nor did his intellectual pedantry arm him to recognize the incredible depth and breadth of her allusive substructure.

As I posted a few years back when we read the Memoir in Janeites, JEAL was clearly most concerned with sanitizing JA's veiled swipes at his own benefactress, Mrs. Leigh-Perrot. That's where his worst Bowdlerizing was centered, doing his bit to sustain the Big Lie that JA did not write about real people.

[Anielka] "This is the edge of the sword by which we can divide JA's critics from that day to this. All the coded references are there and read double. A good coded subtext will read double so well that both interpretations are valid and run alongside one another in parallel. ....As with all good sexual double entendres, the defence of the author's innocence lies in the plausibility of both readings. The defence of all sexually based double-entendres then, is that it is the "dirty-mind" of the reader that has interpreted it thus."

That is exactly what I have been saying about JA's sexual puns for about 6 years--again, arrived at independently by each of us---but that is a point which at least some sharp elves other than you and me have been making for a very long time, in regard to sexual punning by many authors, most notably Shakespeare. That is why repeating the "non-sexual cover story" does not refute the existence of the double entendre. If anything, the more convincing the non-sexual meaning, the _better_ the double entendre, because it makes it much easier to glide by without noticing the sexual pun, even for those who suspect double entendres at every turn of the road, like you and me. Just as with the best crossword puzzles, the most style points should be given to the deceptions which hidden in the _plainest_ sight.

[Anielka] "I've published a sexual interpretation for Mrs. Goddard's school several times in the past (see below). "

I do not doubt you on that, and I myself was aware of that interpretation since 2006, and I also was aware that Soofi found it independently, and I know that when you and I were in communication in October, 2007, neither of us needed _any_ consciousness raising on the basic validity of such sexual innuendo interpretations of JA's writing, we were both already there. The only disputes between us were, and I suspect, still are, as to the extent and specific meanings we each attribute to them, but that is not a bad thing, once the basic phenomenon is recognized, to have various intelligently argued positions out there for people to choose among, and/or to be inspired to come up with new ones.

I have had since 2006 a particularly nice wrinkle on the Mrs. Goddard's school-as-brothel interpretation, which I will be including in my book, which really does add strongly to the claim that this is entirely intentional on JA's part--because the wrinkle I found makes it so much less likely that this was an accidental or unconscious combination of words.

[Anielka] "Professor Frodsham also contributed the insight that "seminary" was a homophonic joke on semen"

That is a very nice touch indeed, which I had not seen before!

[Anielka] "I'm not so sure some of the later family biographers, especially the female members of the family, understood the joke. The best joke of all is on us. For at least a hundred years JA must have been laughing from the other side of the grave as serious scholars seriously discussed the serious meanings of some of the best Austen sexual double-entendres. This is a classic case of the dirty mind of the author getting the last laugh when scholarly men earnestly refer to JA's homosexual jokes such as " to bend a slave" and apply this homosexual position to themselves or serious feminist intellectuals discuss plain, motherly Mrs. Goddard's liminal existence in Highbury when in fact the author allows us to read her as a successful ex-prostitute acting as the Madam of a brothel."

No question, I completely agree, and not only that, JA must have been laughing till she cried already while she was still alive, at half the opinions she collected about MP and Emma, in terms of family and friends who did not have the foggiest idea of how funny and ironic their answers were, in light of the shadows of those novels which they had inadvertently taken in exactly the _wrong_ way.

Cheers, ARNIE

Saturday, May 28, 2011

P.S. re Dirty Jokes....and (Uncle Toby's) Dirty Annuity!

Nancy Mayer responded to my earlier post about Uncle Toby's "dirty annuity", and I responded as follows:

[Nancy] "I think psychiatrists have a name for people who see salacious meanings everywhere. What I am having trouble grasping is Jane Austen as that sort of person. Also, I am having trouble with the masculine sort of puns and details. Many don't hit me as something most women would use. Also, where is Jane supposed to have learned the vocabulary? I doubt her father included pornography in his library and even the books that explained Shakespeare left them out for family consumption. I do not see her brothers doing show and tell with their anatomy while they explain and describe functions and slang words."

And so, to cut to the chase, Nancy, let me understand you correctly. You seem to be saying that because you have trouble conceiving of JA as a person who sees salacious meanings (of a masculine hue) everywhere, and/or as a woman who would even have a salacious-word vocabulary, _and_ because you also see her as only having had access to literature via her father or her brothers, therefore (taking a breath)..... you are therefore of the opinion that JA put "Uncle Toby's annuity" and "all the cardinal virtues" in the _same_ paragraph of Letter 39 dated September 14, 1804, thereby echoing, beyond (I claim) _any_ reasonable doubt, the passage in _Tristram Shandy_ (which, by the way, is one of JA's important sources for sexual innuendo) in which Uncle Toby himself refers to both a "dirty annuity, the bargain of [conscience's] lust" _and_ "seven cardinal virtues", for _what_ reason exactly _if not_ the explanation I gave in my post? I.e., do you have some non-salacious interpretation of a "dirty annuity, the bargain of [conscience's] lust" which is as likely and as persuasive?

It seems to me that you would need to specifically and persuasively respond to these points I've just raised, in order to rebut my claims.

And by the way, of course, I do not share _any_ of your basic assumptions.

First, I have no trouble at all grasping JA as the sort of person who did exactly what I see she did as a writer in terms of her pervasive deployment of sexual innuendo for a variety of purposes, the most important of which were _not_ salacious at all, but very worthy. As Auden famously opined, "Next to Austen, Joyce was innocent as grass." And Joyce was no innocent.

Second, I have no strong opinion about how widespread was the familiarity (with sexual innuendo) of intelligent, well-read women of JA's day, but that is, to me, irrelevant, because, regardless of whether it was common or rare, I am 100% certain that JA herself was such a woman. She was exceptional in so many ways, why do you assume she must have been ordinary in this particular way?

And third, I don't think her brothers and her father exerted any control over what she read, and that, from a very young age, she was clearly extremely adept at gaining access to all the literature she was interested in. Example #1, she obviously knew Tristram Shandy really well, to make an erudite and subtle allusion to a passage buried deep in the novel. And there are many who would say that Tristram Shandy is extremely bawdy, but in a very clever way, including, e.g., using asterisks at key moments to avoid writing very dirty words, but leaving those words extremely obvious to any reader over the age of 10.

And Tristram Shandy is the least of it. As I demonstrate during my Jane Fairfax talks to JASNA regional groups, and have posted about in the past year in these groups and in my blog, my research establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that she was also very familiar with _Fanny Hill_, which is the "poster child" of exactly the sort of "pornographic" writing you think JA never read.

But note that, as I point out frequently, there is not a single four letter word in all of Fanny Hill--it is a virtuosic paean to sexual euphemism--which is exactly the technique that JA used in her novels, but, she being a far superior writer to Cleland, she found a way to hide her sexual euphemisms in plain sight behind a thin palimpsest of non-sexual meanings.

Cheers, ARNIE

11-year olds and alternative ejaculations in Tristram Shandy and Jane Austen's Writings

This is the first of two more posts I wrote in the usual groups today following up on the fertile topic of Jane Austen's complex allusions to Sterne's _Tristram Shandy_ in both Northanger Abbey and in JA's Letters 26&39.

[Letter 26] "-With such a provision on my part, if you will do your's by repeating the French Grammar, & Mrs. Stent will now & then ejaculate some wonder about the Cocks & Hens, what can we want?-"

[Nancy] "...not everyone sees dirty jokes in such combinations of words.
reminds me of a class of 11 year old boys."

Speaking for all the 11 year old boys of the world (which must mean that
Chaucer, Shakespeare, Sterne, JA, and many other of the greatest authors were _all_ 11 years old when they wrote the sexual puns and other wordplay that saturates their _greatest_ literary works).... remind me to followup to what I wrote earlier with a couple of tidbits that occurred to me after my last post about the above quoted passage in Letter 26:

First, JA was well aware that the beginning of _Tristram Shandy_ is (as Ellen explained in her earlier post) a veiled description of the sex act which brings Tristram into existence, and she also understood that in the reference therein of the need to wind Tristram's father's _clock_, Sterne meant for the reader to remove one letter from "clock" in order to give that expression a more graphic significance in regard to that act.

Plus, the passage from the _end_ of Tristram which refers to a "cock and bull" story is, when more closely examined, one in which women are referred to as if they were breeding female farm hens, for example.

And _that_ is why JA chose to combine the words quoted above in regard to poor Mrs. Stent the way JA did. I guess JA was channeling her inner 11-year old boy that day.

Cheers, ARNIE

Henry's History of England: Real Solemn (and Boring) History

I just stumbled across something in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature [in 18 Volumes (1907–21). Volume X. The Age of Johnson. XII. Historians. § 8. Robert Henry’s History of England] which bears on the theme of history in JA's Northanger Abbey:

"The works of Hume and Robertson seem to have excited other Scotsmen to write history. “I believe,” Hume wrote in 1770, “this is the true historical age and this the historical nation: I know no less than eight Histories on the stocks in this country.” The letter which begins with these words refers especially to a History of England by Robert Henry, an Edinburgh minister, in 6 volumes, of which the first appeared in 1771, and which ends with the death of Henry VIII. It is arranged under various headings, as political and military affairs, religion, commerce, and so forth; and its interest lies in the assertion, already, though not so strongly, made in Hume’s History, that history is concerned with all sides of social life in the past.....

....It is mainly written from second-hand authorities and is inordinately

The above description, from a century ago, of Henry's History of England, evidences yet _another_ veiled allusion in Letter 26, in the same paragraph which alludes to _Tristram Shandy_. Perhaps JA, while writing Letter 26, was flush with excitement and a sense of achievement from having just written the following memorable dialog for Catherine Morland in NA?:

"...I can read poetry and plays, and things of that sort, and do not dislike travels. But _history, real solemn history_, I cannot be interested in. Can you?" "Yes, I am fond of history."

"I wish I were too. I read it a little as a duty; but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all, it is very tiresome; and _yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention._ The speeches that are put into the heroes' mouths, their thoughts and designs: the chief of all this must be invention, and invention is what delights me in other books."

"Historians, you think," said Miss Tilney, "are not happy in their flights of fancy. _They display imagination without raising interest._ I am fond of history, and am very well contented to take the false with the true. In the principal facts they have sources of intelligence in former histories and records, which may be as much depended on I conclude as any thing that does not actually pass under one's own observation..." END OF EXCERPT

And so on for another few paragraphs. So this interpretation validates interpreting JA's suggested discussion agenda, i.e., one of Henry's chapters per day, as a total joke, when actually the last thing JA and Martha would want to do is to read that long, boring, uninventive, worthless History of England.

Rather, the actual topic will be JA's "history of England", aka Northanger Abbey, which _will_ tell the true story of the lives of English _women_!

Cheers, ARNIE

Dirty Jokes....and (Uncle Toby's) Dirty Annuity!

[JA, Letter 26] "-With such a provision on my part, if you will do your's by repeating the French Grammar,& Mrs. Stent will now& then ejaculate some wonder about the Cocks& Hens, what can we want?-"

[Nancy] "...not everyone sees dirty jokes in such combinations of words. reminds me of a class of 11 year old boys."

Nancy, you wrote the above comment in response to my postings in which I pointed to striking but covert allusions by JA in Letter 26 to salacious punning in Sterne's _Tristram Shandy_ [hereafter abbreviated as "TS"]. I have subsequently been revisiting the topic of JA's complex allusivity toward Sterne's radically experimental metafictional novel, and as a result, today I will share my latest thoughts on the explicit allusion to TS in JA's 9/14/04 letter to Cassandra, which I mentioned only in passing yesterday, an allusion which has been noted by numerous Austen scholars, and which bears on the question of what is real and what is imagined, in terms of JA's salacious puns:

"James is the delight of our lives, he is quite _an uncle Toby's annuity_ to us. My mother's shoes were never so well blacked before, & our plate never looked so clean. He waits extremely well, is attentive, handy, quick and quiet, & in short has a great many more than all the cardinal virtues (for the cardinal virtues in themselves have been so long possessed that they are no longer worth having) & amongst the rest, that of wishing to go to Bath, as I understand from Jenny. He has the laudable thirst I fancy for travelling, which in poor James Selby [character in "Sir Charles Grandison"] was so much reprobated, & part of his disappointment in not going with his master, arose from his wish of seeing London."

Uncle Toby is one of the main characters of TS, and while most of those Austen biographers who've noted it, have, with typical passivity, made no attempt to explain its significance, Valerie Grosvenor Myer at least gave it a shot several years back, pointing to a passage in Book 2, Chapter 5 of TS....

"...he rung his bell for his man Trim; --....I must here inform you, that this servant of my uncle Toby's, who went by the name of Trim, had been a Corporal in my uncle's own company,--his real name was James Butler--but having got the nick-name of Trim in the regiment, my uncle Toby, unless he happened to be very angry with him, would never call him by any other name. The poor fellow had been disabled for the service...and as the fellow was well beloved in the regiment, and a handy fellow in the bargain, my uncle Toby took him for a servant, and of excellent use was he, attending my uncle Toby in the camp and in his quarters as valet, groom, barber, cook, sempster, and nurse; and indeed, from first to last, waited upon him and served him with great fidelity and affection. My uncle Toby loved the man in return, and what attached him more to him still, was the similitude of their knowledge..."

....and then Myer posited that JA used the term "annuity", to draw an analogy to the multi-talented fictional James Butler aka Trim, who did the work of 6 servants, at the cost of Uncle Toby's entire L120 annuity. The reference to that 120 pound annual payment occurred later in Book 2, at Chapter 42:

"Zooks! said my father, did not my uncle leave you a hundred and twenty pounds a year?—What could I have done without it? replied my uncle Toby..."

However, I claim that Myer has only captured only the surface meaning of that allusion by JA, and here's why I say that.

The actual word "annuity" is only used _once_ in all of TS, and it is in the following passage in Book 1, Chapter 42 of TS, which has _never_, as far as I can detect after diligent search, ever been cited by any Austen scholar, to explain JA's allusion to an "Uncle Toby's annuity". In this passage in TS, Uncle Toby and his brother (and Tristram's father) are discussing a line from Hebrews 13:18 which bears on the topic of _conscience_---more specifically they are engaged in a saucy debate about whether the absence of guilty feelings constitutes reliable evidence that a person actually has nothing to feel guilty about:

'A man shall be vicious and utterly debauched in his principles;—exceptionable in his conduct to the world; shall live shameless, in the open commission of a sin which no reason or pretence can justify,—a sin by which, contrary to all the workings of humanity, he shall ruin for ever the deluded partner of his guilt;—rob her of her best dowry; and not only cover her own head with dishonour;—but involve a whole virtuous family in shame and sorrow for her sake. Surely, you will think conscience must lead such a man a troublesome life; he can have no rest night and day from its reproaches.

'Alas! Conscience had something else to do all this time, than break in upon him; as Elijah reproached the god Baal,—this domestic god was either talking, or pursuing, or was in a journey, or peradventure he slept and could not be awoke.

'Perhaps He was gone out in company with Honour to fight a duel: to pay off some debt at play;—_or dirty annuity, the bargain of his lust_; Perhaps Conscience all this time was engaged at home, talking aloud against petty larceny, and executing vengeance upon some such puny crimes as his fortune and rank of life secured him against all temptation of committing; so that he lives as merrily;'—(If he was of our church, tho', quoth Dr. Slop, he could not)—'sleeps as soundly in his bed;—and at last meets death unconcernedly;—perhaps much more so, than a much better man.'

(All this is impossible with us, quoth Dr. Slop, turning to my father,—the case could not happen in our church.—It happens in ours, however, replied my father, but too often.—I own, quoth Dr. Slop, (struck a little with my father's frank acknowledgment)—that a man in the Romish church may live as badly;—but then he cannot easily die so.—'Tis little matter, replied my father, with an air of indifference,—how a rascal dies.—I mean, answered Dr. Slop, he would be denied the benefits of the last sacraments.—Pray how many have you in all, said my uncle Toby,—for I always forget?—Seven, answered Dr. Slop.—Humph!—said my uncle Toby; tho' not accented as a note of acquiescence,—but as an interjection of that particular species of surprize, when a man in looking into a drawer, finds more of a thing than he expected.—Humph! replied my uncle Toby. Dr. Slop, who had an ear, understood my uncle Toby as well as if he had wrote a whole volume against the seven sacraments.—Humph! replied Dr. Slop, (stating my uncle Toby's argument over again to him)—Why, Sir, are there not seven cardinal virtues?—Seven mortal sins?—Seven golden candlesticks?—Seven heavens?—'Tis more than I know, replied my uncle Toby.—Are there not seven wonders of the world?—Seven days of the creation?—Seven planets?—Seven plagues?—That there are, quoth my father with a most affected gravity. But prithee, continued he, go on with the rest of thy characters, Trim.)..." END OF EXCERPT FROM TS

So we have the quick-witted Uncle Toby taking his brother's conceit of describing conscience as a _sleeping_ god, and extending the anthropomorphization of conscience to a person distracted by having to fight a duel, or distracted by having to pay a debt or pay a "dirty annuity, the bargain of his lust". I.e., that last bit is a salacious suggestion by Uncle Toby that conscience is a man who has conceived a child out of wedlock and then has to pay a "dirty annuity" to the mother for that love child's support!

And that's where the Subject Line of this post kicks in, as I claim that it is _this_ passage in TS to which JA is covertly alluding. evaluating my above argument, perhaps Nancy speaks for many Janeites in claiming that there is no reason for me to assume that JA ever noticed that one reference to a "dirty annuity", and that Myer was right, there was an innocent, plausible explanation for JA's explicit allusion to TS, and there Arnie goes again, seeing dirty jokes where none was intended by JA.

Well....before you conclude that this bawdy allusion really is a product of my own dirty mind, take a closer look at the above quoted excerpt from JA's 1804 letter, and then compare it closely to the above quoted excerpt from Book 1, Chapter 42 of TS. Notice any other parallels besides Uncle Toby and the word "annuity"???

If you've followed my suggestion, the answer to my question is obvious on the face of both passages---in JA's letter, she goes on to write " short [James] has a great many more than all the _cardinal virtues_ (for the _cardinal virtues_ in themselves have been so long possessed that they are no longer worth having)..." and in TS, we read "Why, Sir, are there not seven _cardinal virtues_?"

Bingo! Can it be a coincidence that there is an explicit reference to the "cardinal virtues" in _both_ JA's letter and in Sterne's novel, in the very passages which also refer explicitly to an "annuity"? Of course not!

And so, if this is not just my dirty mind, but is an intentional but totally covert allusion by JA, that raises the next logical question, which is: _why_ would JA, in making reference to James the Austen family servant in Bath, go to this elaborate trouble to create, in her sister's mind, a this thinly veiled linkage to the fictional Uncle Toby's explicit image of dormant conscience as a man paying child support for an illegitimate child? And, that in turn raises a further question, in light of my earlier posts showing that JA has alluded to TS in her novels, which is, might this epistolary allusion in some manner be a hint at something in JA's novels as well?

Food for thought!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: I keep forgetting to also mention that JA's reference to "the French Grammar" in Letter 26 is, I believe, a playful oblique reference to "the French tongue", and I don't think I need to spell that salacious allusion out further for anyone.....

Friday, May 27, 2011

P.S. re Letter 26: Jane Austen's Cock & Bull Story--one of the best of its kind--about Tristram Shandy...and May-Poles!

It only occurred to me _after_ sending my above captioned post to check to see if there was any wordplay in Northanger Abbey on the name "Sterne", something I strongly suspected based on my increasing conviction of the importance of _Tristram Shandy_ as an inspiration and touchstone for Northanger Abbey. While I did not find any such wordplay, I was hardly disappointed, because what I found instead was a reminder, which I had forgotten, that there is actually an _explicit_ allusion to Sterne in one of NA's numerous narrative interjections:

"And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens—there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them."

Perhaps at first glance that does not seem very interesting--after all, the narrator mentions "a chapter from Sterne" in the context of criticizing the practice of those literary vultures who make their living by collecting and publishing bits and pieces of the writings of actual creative authors, while attempting to give due value and credit to "the labour of the novelist".

But that line takes on a whole different hue and significance when you read my previous post, and think about the passage I quoted earlier today from JA's Letter 26, including, specifically this part: "...I am reading Henry’s History of England..."

Is it just a coincidence that in Letter 26, JA mentions a History of England in a passage which is saturated in Sternean Shandyisms, and then in NA (which, I repeat again and again, JA was actively engaged in rewriting while writing Letter 26) JA writes a passage which refers to both "the History of England" _and_ "a chapter from Sterne"?

That was a rhetorical question, because I am certain that in some way this was part of the veiled message to Martha that Sterne would be high on the agenda when she came to visit. I actually believe that the odds of such parallelism occurring by chance must be smaller than what was left hanging with poor Tristram after his unfortunate early encounter with a sash-window, as described in the following passage:

"One would imagine from this--(though for my own part I somewhat question it)--that my father, before that time, had actually wrote that remarkable chapter in the Tristra-pardia, which to me is the most original and entertaining in the whole book,--and that is the chapter upon sash-windows, with a _bitter philippic_ at the end of it, upon the forgetfulness of chambermaids. First, had the matter been taken into consideration before the event happened, my father certainly would have nailed up the sash-window for good an' all;"

Bitter philippic? Another unusual phrase, where have Janeites heard it before? How about Chapter 34 of S&S, in the following passage:

Before her removing from Norland, Elinor had painted a very pretty pair of screens for her sister-in-law, which being now just mounted and brought home, ornamented her present drawing room....The Colonel, though disclaiming all pretensions to connoisseurship, warmly admired the screens, as he would have done any thing painted by Miss Dashwood; and on the curiosity of the others being of course excited, they were handed round for general inspection. Mrs. Ferrars, not aware of their being Elinor's work, particularly requested to look at them; and after they had received gratifying testimony of Lady Middletons's approbation, Fanny presented them to her mother, considerately informing her, at the same time, that they were done by Miss Dashwood.

"Hum"—said Mrs. Ferrars—"very pretty,"—and without regarding them at all, returned them to her daughter.

Perhaps Fanny thought for a moment that her mother had been quite rude enough,—for, colouring a little, she immediately said,"They are very pretty, ma'am—an't they?" But then again, the dread of having been too civil, too encouraging herself, probably came over her, for she presently added, "Do you not think they are something in Miss Morton's style of painting, Ma'am?—She DOES paint most delightfully!—How beautifully her last landscape is done!"

"Beautifully indeed! But SHE does every thing well."

Marianne could not bear this.—She was already greatly displeased with Mrs. Ferrars; and such ill-timed praise of another, at Elinor's expense, though she had not any notion of what was principally meant by it, provoked her immediately to say with warmth, "This is admiration of a very particular kind!—what is Miss Morton to us?—who knows, or who cares, for her?—it is Elinor of whom WE think and speak."

And so saying, she took the screens out of her sister-in-law's hands, to admire them herself as they ought to be admired.

Mrs. Ferrars looked exceedingly angry, and drawing herself up more stiffly than ever, pronounced in retort this bitter philippic, "Miss Morton is Lord Morton's daughter."

Fanny looked very angry too, and her husband was all in a fright at his sister's audacity. Elinor was much more hurt by Marianne's warmth than she had been by what produced it; but Colonel Brandon's eyes, as they were fixed on Marianne, declared that he noticed only what was amiable in it, the affectionate heart which could not bear to see a sister slighted in the smallest point. END OF EXCERPT

I had previously thought that JA got that phrase from the Loiterer, but now I see that lurking in the shadows behind the Loiterer was the clever mind of Laurence Sterne. This passage from S&S can be seen as a veiled discussion of derivative, unoriginal art, the kind that Marianne decries, being a passionate advocate for her own sister's highly original art---and that is precisely the meaning of the above quoted passage from NA praising the labour of the original novelist!

Cheers, ARNIE

SIr Walter, Sir Walter, Sir Walter!

Apropos my post yesterday about Jane Austen's "noble" neighbor, Lord Portsmouth....

....Derrick Leigh posted this morning the following description of Lord Portsmouth:

"On the question of unsoundness of mind, there was a very wide variation of opinion in the expert witnesses who had known Lord Portsmouth over many years. He could read and write and do arithmetic, but was universally described as being "of weak mind". He was not allowed money or to make managerial decisions about servants by his first wife. This marriage was arranged in 1979 after the death of his father, but while his mother was still alive. Some doctors took the view that his condition of limited intellect had existed since birth. Others proposed a differential diagnosis after the death of his first wife. Clearly his first marriage provided a great deal of social support, to the extent that he could attend everyday social functions, where most people would only notice some degree of eccentricity. In the normal course of events, his childless marriage would result eventually in the peerage passing to his brother's children. His tragedy was that when his wife died, and recognising the importance of the right marriage to his own wellbeing, he went to the person he ought to have been able to trust, his own solicitor, and was very cruelly betrayed."

To which my reply was, simply:

Sir Walter, Sir Walter, Sir Walter!

As I have been maintaining since 2006, I am certain that the character of Sir Walter Elliot is based in no small part upon the real life Lord Portsmouth.

Cheers, ARNIE

Letter 26: Jane Austen's Cock & Bull Story--one of the best of its kind--about Tristram Shandy...and May-Poles!

From the moment I first read the following passage in Letter 26 written to Martha Lloyd, I was certain that there was something else going on, some previously unperceived subtext, which was the key to understanding what JA really meant by the following digression:

"You distress me cruelly by your request about books; I cannot think of any to bring with me, nor have I any idea of our wanting them. I come to you to be talked to, not to read or hear reading. I can do that at home; and indeed I am now laying in a stock of intelligence to pour out on you as my share of conversation. I am reading Henry’s History of England, which I will repeat to you in any manner you may prefer, either in a loose, desultory, unconnected strain, or dividing my recital as the historian divides it himself, into seven parts, The Civil and Military: Religion: Constitution: Learning and Learned Men: Arts and Sciences: Commerce Coins and Shipping: and Manners; so that for every evening of the week there will be a different subject; the Friday’s lot – Commerce, Coin and Shipping – you will find the least entertaining; but the next evening’s portion will make amends. "

However, it was only today, purely by serendipity, as I was reading along in part of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy for another purpose entirely, that I stumbled upon the key, in the following polemic uttered by the pontificating Dr. Slop:

"Thus—thus, my fellow-labourers and associates in this great harvest of our learning, now ripening before our eyes; thus it is, by slow steps of casual increase, that our knowledge physical, metaphysical, physiological, polemical, nautical, mathematical, aenigmatical, technical, biographical, romantical, chemical, and obstetrical, with fifty other branches of it, (most of 'em ending as these do, in ical) have for these two last centuries and more, gradually been creeping upwards towards that Akme of their perfections, from which, if we may form a conjecture from the advances of these last seven years, we cannot possibly be far off. When that happens, it is to be hoped, it will put an end to all kind of writings whatsoever;—the want of all kind of writing will put an end to all kind of reading;—and that in time, As war begets poverty; poverty peace,—must, in course, put an end to all kind of knowledge,—and then—we shall have all to begin over again; or, in other words, be exactly where we started."

So it turns out that the famous explicit reference to "Uncle Toby's annuity" in Letter 39, written nearly 4 years after Letter 26, is _not_ JA's first epistolary reference to Sterne's novel.

As I interpret this veiled allusion, I believe that JA, in code, is telling her close friend Martha that JA is actually delighted that Martha has requested JA to bring books along! I.e., this is another one of JA's many verbal burlesques, with her mock "distress" being code for its diametric opposite, i.e., JA's great pleasure. Which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense. After all, we know that Martha has not long before been JA's best audience from Letter 19's similar burlesque ("I would not let Martha read "First Impressions" again upon any account, and am very glad that I did not leave it in your power. She is very cunning, but I saw through her design; she means to publish it from memory, and one more perusal must enable her to do it."); and it seems clear to me that both of these highly intelligent and witty women--both the genius writer and the acutely perceptive reader-- have sorely missed sharing their passion for literature, and are eagerly looking forward to spending extended time together to talk about books, books, books--especially the books that JA herself has been writing so diligently (as evidenced by the endless stream of echoes of NA and P&P which I have documented during our group reading of JA's 1798-1800 letters) since their last visit together. JA and Martha are actually bursting with anticipation of JA reading her latest writing to Martha, because even though JA can indeed "do that at home", she cannot do it with as sharp and discerning an audience as Martha. Gales of laughter will ring out, but Martha will also give JA honest feedback and constructive criticism, that JA sorely misses.

In short, Martha must have been a major Muse to Jane.

And I perceive that It is no accident that JA chooses Sterne's _Tristram Shandy_ as her "code book", because that novel was already very famous as the most experimental, cutting edge novel previously written in English (in turn drawing _its_ primary inspiration from the mother of experimental novels, Cervantes's _Don Quixote_). In NA, Catherine and Isabella share a passion for horrid novels, but, as much as I do believe JA enjoyed and admired Radcliffe, I see that JA and Martha shared a deeper love is for Sterne's ground-breaking novel, with its apparently "loose, desultory, unconnected strain" masking the profoundest metafiction. And the reason I stumbled upon this allusion in the first place is that I was delving for the first time into the ways that JA emulated and extended Sterne's metafictional achievements in Northanger Abbey!

Anyway, there is a bit more to unpack today. JA, knowing she has a very sophisticated reader in Martha, cannot resist extending her veiled allusion to Sterne's masterpiece in a final, ribald direction:

"With such a provision on my part, if you will do yours by repeating the French Grammar, and Mrs Stent will now and then _ejaculate_ some wonder about the _cocks_ and hens, what can we want?"

A few years ago, when I first read that line, it was obvious to me that this was a Mary Crawford-esque salacious pun that JA would never, never, never have included in a letter to Cassandra. But now, having realized the above, it also dawned on me that this was a veiled allusion to _Tristram Shandy_, the novel which is in many ways one long virtuosic salacious pun! And it did not take me long to find the specific source JA was pointing to so slyly.

First, here is what we read near the end of Sterne's novel, that points to one of those salacious words:

"I dare say, quoth my mother—But stop, dear Sir—for what my mother dared to say upon the occasion—and what my father did say upon it—with her replies and his rejoinders, shall be read, perused, paraphrased, commented, and descanted upon—or to say it all in a word, shall be thumb'd over by Posterity in a chapter apart—I say, by Posterity—and care not, if I repeat the word again—for what has this book done more than the Legation of Moses, or the Tale of a Tub, that it may not swim down the gutter of Time along with them?

I will not argue the matter: Time wastes too fast: every letter I trace tells me with what rapidity Life follows my pen: the days and hours of it, more precious, my dear Jenny! than the rubies about thy neck, are flying over our heads like light clouds of a windy day, never to return more—every thing presses on—whilst thou art twisting that lock,—see! it grows grey; and every time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu, and every absence which follows it, are preludes to that eternal separation which we are shortly to make.—

—Heaven have mercy upon us both!

Now, for the world thinks of that _ejaculation_--I would not give a groat."

And as for "the French grammar", there must be about 35 references to the French in Tristram Shandy, and two very interesting references to grammar:

But that's not the last of it. JA has made certain that Martha will get the literary in-joke, because the capper is that JA's comment _also_ points to the following line--which just happens to be the _last_ line--in _Tristram Shandy_, and one that has passed into the wider English parlance as a classic idiom:

"L..d! said my mother, what is all this story about?—A _Cock_ and a Bull, said Yorick—And one of the best of its kind, I ever heard."

Indeed, JA's epistolary joke in Letter 26 might just be "the best of its kind" in all of JA's letters!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: Apropos Diane's observations regarding the "May-pole" that JA described as "broke in two", and the two Elms which were "blown down", at the end of Letter 25---written by JA to CEA only three _days_ prior to JA's writing Letter 26 to Martha---is it only a coincidence that _Tristram Shandy_ includes the following passage?:

"When we arrived at the chaise-vamper's house, both the house and the shop were shut up; it was the eighth of September, the nativity of the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of God—

—Tantarra-ra-tan-tivi—the whole world was gone out a May-poling—frisking here—capering there—no body cared a button for me or my remarks; so I sat me down upon a bench by the door, philosophating upon my condition: by a better fate than usually attends me, I had not waited half an hour, when the mistress came in to take the papilliotes from off her hair, before she went to the May-poles—

The _French_ women, by the bye, love May-poles, a la folie—that is, as much as their matins—give 'em but a May-pole, whether in May, June, July or September—they never count the times—down it goes—'tis meat, drink, washing, and lodging to 'em—and had we but the policy, an' please your worships (as wood is a little scarce in France), to send them but plenty of May-poles—"

Down it goes, French women who love May-poles, wood scarce in France--hmmm....

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lord Portsmouth & Lord Byron: One wedding, no funeral....but a necrophiliac annulment

Ellen Moody commented on the reference to Lord Portsmouth in Jane Austen's Letter 26, which prompted replies from Derrick Leigh, Nancy Mayer and then myself, my comments having to do with my interpretation of the shadow story of Persuasion:

[Ellen]: "Hurstbourne is the home of the Earls of Portsmouth -- so Austen is still thinking about Lord Portsmouth ball from the last letter. LeFaye's reference to her pages in Family Record is again an instance of tautology; we are given no explanation of her assertion Portsmouth was insane; nothing about why or what was the cause"

[Derrick]: " Is it Austen's or LeFaye's assertion that Portsmouth was insane? He clearly was, and was even listed on the 1851 census as "Earl and lunatic". Here's a blog about him entitled The Strange Case of the Vampyre Lord of Hurstbourne Priors, with details of his erratic behaviour. It notes that he was educated by George Austen, and gives an interesting example of downward social mobility. Born in 1767, he inherited the title on the death of his father in 1797. "

Ellen, did you not know about Lord Portsmouth's horrific saga?

About 6 years ago, Nancy posted, in Janeites, more or less that same brief outline of the story of Lord Portsmouth recounted in the blog entry Derrick linked to, above, and just resummarized by Nancy again today.

It was early 2005, just at the beginning of my own research, and I had been unaware of that bizarre real life story, and my immediate first reaction upon reading it was:

"That's Sir Walter, Mr. Shepherd and Mrs. Clay, all over again!!"

I was so immediately convinced of this, in part because I had already _previously_ concluded, based _solely_ on reading between the lines of the ironic narration at the beginning of Persuasion itself, that Mr. Shepherd's name is _not_ an accident! I realized right away that his name was a huge clue that tells us that he heavyhandedly attempts not only to "shepherd" his "sheep" Sir Walter into the arms of Mrs. Clay, but _also_ successfully maneuvers Sir Walter out of Kellynch Hall. Why? So as to separate Sir Walter from Anne's protective influence, and to give Mrs. Clay a clear, unimpeded "shot" at Sir Walter! Of course, Shepherd ultimately fails, because Anne and the Musgroves wind up back with Sir Walter in Bath just in the nick of time, and Mrs. Clay finds her path to him blocked, so she settles for Cousin Elliot.

In 2005, I also researched the details of the sad tale of Lord Portsmouth--including, as Nancy just noted, JA's taking note (in a letter) of the marriage of the Lord to his solicitor's daughter after the Lord's wife died, leaving him vulnerable to such predation.

I remain convinced that this is a key real-life allusive source for that pivotal "romantic" triangle in Persuasion, which JA intentionally drew upon.

I knew from my own online research that Hanson's daughter's trail eventually led to Canada, but it seems like the blogger Derrick has linked to has found the final chapter in this real life Mrs. Clay's grotesque life story, by finding some previously undiscovered letters. Very interesting!

That was the end of my first response, which I quickly added to as follows:

The following is from a post I made in Janeites in 2005 or 2006:

I found this brief excerpt from Lord Byron's letter:

"March 7 [1814]: “ ….Rose at seven--ready by half-past eight--went to Mr. Hanson's, Bloomsbury Square--went to church with his eldest daughter, Mary Anne (a good girl), and gave her away to the Earl of Portsmouth. Saw her fairly a countess--congratulated the family and groom (bride)--drank a bumper of wine (wholesome sherris) to their felicity, and all that--and came home. Asked to stay to dinner, but could not."

Prior to the death of Mrs. Lloyd in 1805, she and her daughters (including Martha Lloyd, of course JA's very close friend) lived at Ibnthorp, just down the road from Lord Portsmouth's estate. It seems likely that the many friends Martha must have left behind in Ibnthorp after she left would have been well aware of the goings on at Hurstbourne Park after the first wife of Lord Portsmouth died in 1813, and would have kept Martha (and therefore JA) in the loop (see #4, below). We know from JA's letters and novels just what an efficient gossip network existed in these small communities. Perhaps those were the very sort of letters that Cassandra later destroyed because of what she might have perceived as their scandalous content.

Here are two more excerpts from Byron's letters from March 7 and 10, 1814, respectively, in which he writes further about the marriage of Lord Portsmouth and Mary Anne Hanson.....:

"March 7: “…Queer ceremony that same of marriage--saw many abroad, Greek and Catholic--one, at home, many years ago. There be some strange phrases in the prologue (the exhortation), which made me turn away, not to laugh in the face of the surpliceman. Made one blunder, when I joined the hands of the happy ' rammed their left hands, by mistake, into one another. Corrected it, bustled back to the altar-rail, and said 'Amen.' Portsmouth responded as if he had got the whole by heart; and, if any thing, was rather before the priest."

March 10, Thor's Day: “ …Received many, and the kindest, thanks from Lady Portsmouth, pere and mere, for my match-making. I don't regret it, as she looks the countess well, and is a very good girl. It is odd how well she carries her new honours. She looks a different woman, and high-bred, too. I had no idea that I could make so good a peeress."

So it sounds as though Byron, Emma-like, took credit for bringing this unfortunately marriage into being. What I hear in his tone is his ego, which has been subtly manipulated by his lawyer Hanson and Hanson's wife, so that this goal which they so clearly desired for their daughter was accomplished, devilishly, by appealing to Byron's sense of himself as a sort of Henry Higgins. The weak minded Lord Portsmouth might in some way have been mesmerized by Byron's by then considerable star power, and the exertion of undue influence by the degenerate Hanson (which we can fairly infer, given first that apples usually don't fall far from the tree, but more importantly because we know that the Hansons parents, in 1823, when all the facts of their daughter's grotesque and perverse abuse of Lord Portsmouth was revealed, nonetheless contested the case) was simply too much for him to resist. He must have been easier than Robert Ferrars or Sir Walter to bowl over.

A bit of additional background to the Portsmouth lunacy case from that book Madness at Home from which I quoted earlier: "In 1815-16, eight years before the Portsmouth case, an event took place that was to become a landmark in the history of psychiatric provision for the insane in England. It was the disclosure, by a House of Commons Select Committee, of abuse in asylums. The horrendous findings of the committee, the jolt they gave to the nation, and the subsequent battle over the issues of who should be responsible for taking care of mad people--all have been told many times and are aptly analyzed by Andrew Scull. Unlike its predecessor in 1807, the Select Committee of 1815-16 had enormous ammunition to support its call for reform in lunacy."

More from Madness At Home about the Portsmouth 1823 case: "One Richard Jones, a gardener to Lord Portsmouth, testified as follows: 'I [Jones] heard that he was knocked down, and I ran out; his Lordship had just got up; Mr. Alder was standing by him; his Lordship ran behind me for protection; he was crying very much; he showed me his hand and desired to wipe it; it was filled with gravel.....his Lordship then went and sat under a tree in front of the house; he cried very much. Lady Portsmouth nor Miss Laura (Hanson), nor Mr. Alder came to sit by him; but Mr. Alder came to him, and shaking his fist in Lord Portsmouth's face, said, 'You must prepare to fight a duel with me tomorrow morning.' Mr. Alder then walked up the steps, and went arm in arm with Lady Portsmouth into the hall; his Lordship remained under the tree for 2 hours."

And then, after posting the above, I responded to a reaction from Nancy as follows:

[Nancy wrote] "Some people have blamed Byron for this. I don't see why they think he should have been any more able to see into the future than any one else. "

As I indicated in my post, I think Hanson was a puppeteer, he played to Byron's Emma-like vanity in order to induce him to play _his_ role as "Yenta the Matchmaker" in the little drama that Hanson "staged".

[Nancy] "Lord Portsmouth didn't exhibit gross signs of lunacy. The clergyman didn't notice anything odd about his behaviour or his responses. It didn't appear that the earl had to be prompted or to be forced to answer."

Everyone in the neighborhood knew about Lord Portsmouth. I wonder if Hanson did not grease the palm of the clergyman to subdue any qualms that divine might otherwise be feeling.

As a small tangent, I am also reminded of the hilarious service conducted by "Bean" (i.e., Rowan Atkinson) when he botches every name and word possible....

[Nancy] " Yes, like Emma, he did take credit for the match in a way. Not that he arranged it, but when he joined their hands. He knew the Hansons and ahd met the daughters before. He hadn't seen her viciousness-- and it is possible that came about more from the encouragement of the lover than from natural tendency. I also doubt she knew exactly what she was getting into. She could easily ahve married the man in goiod faith and then turned to a lover when she discovered the reality of her situation."

I don't think so, I think she had her eyes on the prize, and they really thought that once she was married to him, she could act with impunity. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, as they say. I bet Hanson was not happy when his daughter ran amok as she did, though. That was surely _not_ part of the Master Plan, and it wound up blowing up in the faces of the Hanson family in the end of the day.

[Nancy] "I think the only schemer here was Hanson."

As I wrote above, I think Hanson was the master planner, so we actually agree on something! Now, if I can only get you to believe that JA alluded to all of this in Persuasion! ;)

By the way, I just recalled that i did post something else on this subject of Hanson/Lord Portsmouth back in January, 2011, and here is the link for it:

Cheers, ARNIE

Jane Austen, Sholom Aleichem….and Leo Tolstoy!

Elissa Schiff responded playfully to a recent post by me in Janeites in which I referred to Sholom Aleichem as a closet Janeite:

[Elissa] "Now Arnie, I have promised my husband that I would not respond to any more of these controversial statements just wildly flung out by you into the blogosphere with rapid-fire exuberance, but your blanket statement that "Sholom Aleichem was a secret Janeite" (and yes, this is not the first time you have written this) is so whimsically absurd and has sent me into such paroxysms of laughter that I've spilled a large mug of coffee all over myself and ruined my outfit. Thus, I am annoyed enough to enter the fray:"

Just so you know, whenever you respond like that, Elissa, I take your reaction as a validation of my ideas....but I am happy to have enjoy some good natured mutual mockery with you in any event....and my wife really doesn't mind either. ;)

Sometimes it is just a case of the Emperor's New Clothes. You can go on as long as you like as to how it is impossible that S.A. could know characters and plot elements from JA's novels, yada yada yada, but I've already made my case earlier about what I believe is the obvious and elaborate correspondence between the Tevya stories and (at least) two of Jane Austen's novels, P&P and Emma:

(read the whole post)

(scroll down to one paragraph re JA making a joke in a letter about a confusion between a woman and a farm animal)

I cannot conceive that all of this happened by coincidence, that seems wildly improbable to me under all the circumstances.

"You may wish to follow up with someone who might actually be able to give you information first-hand as to whether Sholom Aleichem was familiar with JA's work. His grandaughter, Belle Kaufman...."

Actually, Elissa, I _did_ contact Bel Kaufman, way back in 2005, when these connections first occurred to me, and her answer was that S.A. did not speak much English. So that ruled out his having read JA on his own. remained, and remains, obvious to me that, by some means or another, S.A. learnt enough about the characters and plot line in P&P in particular, and in Emma secondarily, in order to affect the structure of the Tevye stories he wrote over a period of years. My guess would be that it probably arose by the serendipitous expedient of a friend or admirer who _was_ fluent in English telling S.A. about the great English author who _also_ specialized in writing with irony and compassion about a few families in a country village. And then--perhaps over several glasses of vodka---I can readily imagine him/her sharing laughter and insight with S.A.--and even perhaps spontaneously translating some of P&P and Emma for S.A.---and giving him inspiration to build on the
connections between Anatevka, on the one hand, and Meryton and Highbury, on the other.

Or......and this will give you another opportunity to spill some more coffee ----since S.A. was (as Bel Kaufman informed me, and it is no secret among S.A. scholars) a big fan of Tolstoy--S.A. translated Tolstoy into Yiddish, for example---and...since Tolstoy was himself a _massive_ closet Janeite.....(waiting while you mop up some more spilled coffee)......perhaps the great Russian Orthodox author himself turned the great Russian Jewish author on to the miracle of the great English Anglican author! ;)

Or....perhaps there was a production of Pride & Prejudice around the turn of the century in one of the Yiddish theaters in NYC which S.A. got wind of.....after all, they did Yiddish versions of Shakespeare and other classic English literature, didn't they?

I don't know _how_ it happened, but I know _that_ it happened!

Cheers, ARNIE

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

General Tilney as Bluebeard Murdering His Wives Through Childbirth

An interesting thread arose today in Austen L in response to my recent reiteration of my 2009 interpretation of General Tilney as a Bluebeard murdering his wife through childbirth:

[Nancy Mayer wrote] : “I do think Austen was appalled at the number of women who died in childbed and think it was her main reason for not marrying. I think even before she took to wearing caps that she subtly discouraged suitors-- despite the propensity of biographers to claim she was madly in love with several men. However, I do think that her point would have been made more clearly if she had Mrs. Morland die, or mentioned that there were many small graves in the church yard with the name Tilney. This way is an inefficient way to carry her protest. I think she was clever enough to make it more obvious without making it blatant.”

Thank you for engaging with my claims, but I respectfully and completely disagree. I think that JA's solution was brilliant---it is a quintessential and utterly brilliant example of how to hide a giant elephant (or a 900 pound gorilla) in plain sight, as follows:

In JA's day, the superficial Gothic parody would have been completely satisfying to those readers (mostly men) who thought that Gothic novels like Radcliffe's Udolpho were at best pulpy crap, and at worst dangerous incitements to women's unhealthy imagination. And so such readers excluded themselves from ever seeing the deeper level, because they were trapped by their own sexist assumptions, which were fed by the put-on faux-modest authorial voice and persona of "sweet harmless Aunt Jane". For those who wanted to think that everything was just hunky-dory in English marriage, JA gave them a masking surface that would _seem to_ completely validate their complacent self-serving, mindless assumptions.

However...for contemporary readers (almost all women) who didn't assume such sexist nonsense, and who were either living the marital nightmare themselves, and/or knew sisters/sisters in law/mothers/daughters who were living that same nightmare, and were all suffering in silence (except in very private correspondence with a trusted sister or friend, as we see between JA and CEA), it would not have taken much to trigger an awareness that there was an anti-parody going on in NA. And any women who "got it" would quickly realize that this Jane Austen Code should _not_ be disclosed to the powers that be, who, if they knew, might have triggered calls for burning all copies of NA.

You think I am exaggerating? Well, just remember Sir Thomas's reaction to Lovers Vows, when he returned from Antigua (not coincidentally, a giant symbol of another even more horrible Holocaust-the English colonial slave trade/plantation system). He burned every copy of Lover's Vows. JA is telling us, "This is what men like Sir Thomas do when confronted with the truth of their own sins". So it was very important to JA that the code only be visible to those who could be trusted not to publicly expose it.

It reminds me a lot of what happened this year in the Arab Spring. In Tunisia and Egypt, the organizing advanced covertly to a sufficient degree that the dictator could no longer keep the genie in the bottle. I think this was JA's hope. But what has happened in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria is also a relevant cautionary tale, because it shows that JA had good reason to fear a brutal reaction if individual English gentlewomen such as herself were to openly petition for redress from domestic tyranny. Those in power rarely cede an equal share of it to the disenfranchised, without a fight.

And that is how things stood in the reading of NA until less than 20 years ago, when the first glimmerings of awareness that JA might have meant the opposite to a Gothic parody, began to surface in JA scholarly circles. But, before myself, nobody ever found the "smoking gun", which is Mrs. Tilney's death in childbirth, hiding in plain sight. It is the key that unlocks the treasure chest of the anti-parody, and what is inside is a "laundry list" of all the horrors of ordinary English marriage. That is when the whole anti-parody unfolds itself in quadrophonic brilliance through the entire length of NA--that was my own experience, the first time I _reread_ NA after finding this "key"!

Today, fortunately, serial pregnancy is an almost unimaginable absurdity in the First World. But there are still a huge number of women living in the world today, who bear the same cross that English gentlewomen bore 2 centuries ago.

How anyone could suggest that this is not a feminist message is mind-boggling to me. There could not be a more feminist message for an English author writing during the Regency Era. This was not the time to advocate for suffrage for women, or for equal pay for equal work, serial pregnancy was a matter of life and death on a mass scale. You have to put out a raging fire first, before you worry about rebuilding a comfortable house.

And, by the way, the subtext regarding Henry VIII and his wives (which, again, I spoke about in Portland in November, 2010, and was earlier discussed in a scholarly article by Terry Robinson) is part of that feminist matrix of meaning, it is a means to a larger end.

[Someone named Linda then responded with a couple of comments which spurred me to clarify myself further:
First, thanks for responding to me substantively, Linda, I really appreciate it! I have no problem engaging in a civil disagreement in which different positions are sharpened by conversation.

[Linda] "I suppose the argument could be made that Austen possessed an understanding different from her sisters-in-law and other female contemporaries and saw an injustice where they did not. "

As you have deduced, I think, that _is_ my argument, with the modification that I speculate that there were (at least) three categories of women in this regard:

A: Those, like JA, who saw it as a Holocaust on a society-wide scale. I suspect that this was rare.
B: Those who personally experienced it as a horror, but were isolated, felt powerless, and just went along because they felt they could not say no.
C. Those who, as you suggest, consciously chose to be serially pregnant.

My guess is that there were more in Category B than in Category A, but there is no way anybody can say with a high degree of confidence.

[Linda] "(I personally think that her rather facile recommendation of "the simple regimen of separate bedrooms" suggests the limitation of her insight into the most intimate aspects of marriage.)"

And my riposte is that she felt extreme frustration when she saw women _not_ exercising whatever personal power they had. The only thing facile about it was the assumption that a married woman could impose such a regimen on her husband.

Mary Wollstonecraft's novel Maria was, I believe, an accurate representation of how hard it was for women to defend their own bodies, whether married or not.

[Linda] " However, it seems very odd to me that Austen, who had not lost a mother, sister, or particularly dear friend to death-in-childbirth...."

You are inaccurate. JA _did_ lose a maternal grandmother, as well as two sisters in law, in childbirth, as well as a number of close and casual acquaintances, before JA herself died, and a third sister in law died 6 years after JA died.

This is not speculation on my part, it is fact, fact that has been noticed by dozens of Austen scholars prior to my coming on the scene. If you pay attention to this point in her letters, there is a monotonous staccato of vignettes of wives dying in childbirth, as well as wives overburdened with a zillion children.

[Linda] "... would adopt this as the driving force of her entire creative life and subordinate her art to a campaign of this nature."

And I think that you've made my point for me, it was because JA did see this Holocaust up close and very personal that she decided to take it on as a cause.

A woman living in the West who chooses to have a dozen children today, when there is a much smaller risk to her health, and when women are in a much stronger position in society than they were 2 centuries ago in England, and are infinitely better educated, can be said to be making a rational choice. That was not the case with many women in JA's day.

JA's world was much more similar to what life is like today in a place life Afghanistan than it is to life in 21st century England. It is a fact that as societies modernize, the birth rate plummets. There's a good reason for that--in regard to male-female relations, the society JA lived in was, to my mind, very primitive. And what made it worse was the hypocrisy, the pernicious lie that women were on a pedestal, that women somehow really were in control--I think JA saw that as perverse propaganda from the likes of Polwhele, with his "Unsex'd Females" drivel. this is a Jane Austen discussion group, and not a history discussion, I will finish by pointing out that even if you were correct in your assertion that married women in England had power over their own bodies, I still assert that I believe I have a very strong case that JA herself did not believe that!

Thanks for your interesting comments.

And then finally, Nancy Mayer commented further:
[Nancy] "Yea, Linda. That is so much what I wanted to say, but feared being thought contentious for posting on the subject too often."

You are never contentious, and your posts usually induce others to join in with their own comments, so I am glad you posted again.

[Nancy] "Most blamed God for pregnancies, deaths in childbirth, and the deaths of children, unless the husband had done something really nasty.Most husbands weren't bullies-- though some existed, of course. Women perfected the headache and the semi-invalidish status to avoid the conjugal embrace when it and the husband were distasteful to them. Jane Austen as a virgin spinster could not understand all the dynamics of a married couple, nor the desire women had for their husbands or even for children."

Or...JA had insight into the lives of many women who lacked that insight themselves.

And as to husbands being bullies or not, I am certain that JA's point was that the default setting for conjugal relations was a form of institutional bullying.

And I have opined previously that Mrs. Bennet, Lady Bertram, Mary Musgrove were all practitioners of "the headache".

But my bigger point is that regardless of whether JA was accurate in her judgments on English marriage or not, I do believe that it is clear where JA really stood on them, and that is a big deal, given that so many Janeites, particularly those who have never read her letters, believe that JA considered marriage to be an unadulterated blessing.

I claim that it is no accident that we never see her heroines actually living as married women, and it is also no accident that the climactic moments in her novels are so often bluntedly anti-romantic. I think JA knew exactly what she was doing in this regard, and was not being (as has been argued) squeamish. She means to withhold the very same throbbing strains of idyllic romance which are the sine qua non of all Austen film adaptations, even Davies's.

[Nancy] "There have always been women who have desire for their husbands and accept whatever consequences come."

These same debates continue today, in a different social context, don't they?

Cheers, ARNIE

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Complete Change of Mr. Collins's Ordination! PART TWO

Finding myself awakened at an ungodly hour, I found myself with new clarity and insight about the following comments I made just before retiring:

"So, JA has suggested that she did not write her dialogue for dull elves who expected it to be "immediately clear", but for those readers who would work hard and ingeniously to figure things out. And then she turns around, _ostensibly_ after "a complete change of subject", and immediately writes about what appears to be the future Mansfield Park....but in doing so, she covertly points right back to P&P! What does covert pointing mean? What it means, I think, is not immediately clear, but I suggest it is worth the effort to work hard and ingeniously to try to figure out what it means!"

I believe I can now more accurately explain the meaning of the covert pointing to P&P in the Letter 79 snippet "a complete change of subject--Ordination", as my Subject Line suggests.

First, JA's immediately preceding comments regarding the final editing and publication of P&P do more than vaguely & generally point to the veiled allusion to Mr. Collins's speech in JA's current reference to "Ordination". JA means for the "dull elves" dictum to refer not only to the ambiguities in the speaker attributions in the text of P&P in general, she also means for it to refer to "a complete change of subject-Ordination"!

I.e., JA is saying that she is not going to make "immediately clear" _to CEA_ what JA means by this cryptic comment about "Ordination" in Letter 79--instead, JA has challenged CEA to be a sharp elf and figure out what JA means!

And CEA, as a sharp elf faced with a challenging puzzle posed by her sister, would first realize that JA's referring to "a complete change of subject" means precisely the opposite, i.e., that this was another of those textual "red flags" which screamed "Warning Warning! Irony Alert!"

In this instance, this would tell CEA that there was no change of subject at all, JA was actually _still_ talking about P&P!

That would be when CEA, who would probably have known P&P backwards and forwards from the 15 years of reading JA's countless refinements of same (recall JA's playful joke in Letter 21 about Mary Lloyd knowing the text of First Impressions a little too well!), would recognize the covert allusion to Mr. Collins's speech triggered by the clue of the close proximity of the words "subject" and "ordination".

But CEA would still not be home yet. CEA's remaining task would be to try to figure out what veiled meaning could be lurking in Mr. Collins's seemingly straightforward epistolary account of the circumstances of his own ordination at Easter.

It's one level of ambiguity challenging a reader of P&P to ascertain who spoke a given line of dialogue in P&P--but it's a deeper and more significant level of ambiguity challenging a reader of P&P, to ascertain whether there was more to Mr. Collins's ordination than Mr. Collins himself has realized.

And here is my punch line---it was 7 years ago when I first gave serious consideration to the curious, indeed extraordinary, circumstances surrounding Mr. Collins's ordination. Here we have a young man with only one apparent talent, that of flattering the powerful. Nothing else recommends him, nothing makes him stand out from the crowd of clerical initiates coming onto the job market when he finishes his divinity studies. And yet, what extraordinary good fortune he has to be, at that very instant, thrown into the path of a powerful woman upon whom he has the opportunity to practice his talents of flattery, and who is in a position to do him so much good!

Is this just an amazingly happy coincidence, as Mr. Collins believes it to be? Or did Lady Catherine have reasons she has _not_ shared with Mr. Collins for plucking him in particular out of his religious studies and handing him the plum position as rector of Hunsford?

Which all ties back to the most absurd apparent coincidence of all in P&P, i.e., the triple coincidence that first Mr. Darcy, then Mr. Wickham, then Mr. Collins---three young men having one or two degrees of separation from Lady Catherine, but only one of them, Mr. Collins, actually having a prior connection to anyone living in Meryton--- ALL converge on the Bennet family in Meryton within an extraordinarily short period of time.

Lizzy never stops to ponder what an extraordinary coincidence this really is, nor does the narrator of P&P say a word about it. And so most readers of P&P never notice it, and the few who do have always ended up concluding that this coincidence was an expediency on JA's part, a way of moving the plot forward quickly.

But what if there is no coincidence, but instead this is a clue that not only Mr. Collins, but also Lizzy and the readers of P&P, are all in the dark about the actual circumstances bringing about this treble coincidence?

And that is, I claim, the ultimate purpose of JA's elaborate "charade" in Letter 79 which I have been at such pains to describe--i.e., to prompt CEA to scrutinize more closely the curious circumstances of Mr. Collins's ordination!

And, in keeping with the above, I finish by pointing out what JA writes in Letter 79 immediately _after_ referring to "Ordination":

"I am glad to find your enquiries have ended so well.—If you cd discover whether Northamptonshire is a Country of Hedgerows, I shd be glad again”-- We admire your Charades excessively — but as yet have guessed only the 1st. The others seem very difficult. There is so much beauty in the Versification however, that the finding them out is but a secondary pleasure. "

Can we be so sure that the referent behind CEA's "enquiries" is "immediately clear"? Are we sure that this is only about CEA doing research on JA's behalf in regard to Northamptonshire hedgerows, or could it also refer to questions CEA has posed to JA about _P&P_, questions which "have ended so well" precisely because JA has now given CEA sufficient clues to find the answer herself?

After all, we could also say about P&P that there is so much beauty in the _prosification_ of P&P however, that the finding out of the mysteries lurking in its plot is but a secondary pleasure!

And finally, isn't it very interesting, in light of all I have just written about JA giving riddling clues to CEA about P&P, that JA turns the subject to some "very difficult" charades which CEA has sent to JA?

We know that JA had a particular fondness for charades which had (at least) two answwers, one of which was revealed, and one which remained secret. I assert that "a complete change of subject---Ordination" --is meant to both refer forward to Mansfield Park (which, I also note in passing, has as a key allusive source, Shakespeare's _All's Well That Ends Well_---hence "have ended so well" in Letter 79) and also to refer backwards to P&P!


A Complete Change of Mr. Collins's Ordination! PART ONE

This post is the first of two posts in followup to my recent posts in Janeites and Austen L in which I suggested that Jane Austen had a curious love affair with the word "subject" in her novels, in particular the way I now see her references to _changes_ of subject as hints to look for a concealed, alternative meaning somewhere in that new subject.

In those posts, I responded to Nancy's mentioning JA's famous comment in Letter 79 about "a complete change of subject---Ordination", by pointing out how ambiguous this sentence is---it has been the subject of widely varying interpretations by more than a dozen Austen scholars, as well as by many ordinary Janeites.

Now I am back to point out _another_ wrinkle connected to that mysterious sentence. As I was browsing through the usages of the word "subject" in P&P, my eye was caught by the following extended blast of hot air emitted by Mr. Collins in Ch. 13 of P&P:

"My mind, however, is now made up on the _subject_, for having received _ordination_ at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavour to demean myself with grateful respect towards her ladyship, and be ever ready to perform those rites and ceremonies which are instituted by the Church of England."

That is some major league bloviation! But my focus is not on Mr. Collins's high B.S. quotient, nor is it on my own interpretation of the concealed meanings in this speech. Rather, I direct your attention to the close proximity of the words "subject" and "ordination" in the same sentence--actually, they are separated by only three intervening words. I wondered, could JA, in writing, in Letter 79, about "a complete change of subject--Ordination", have had some reason for referring _back_ to Mr. Collins's little speech in P&P, which deploys those same two words?

The likelihood that this is not just a coincidence increases significantly, I suggest, when we look at the full context of JA's famous comment in Letter 79. I.e., she has _just_ gotten through a whole paragraph talking about.....the writing of P&P!!:

"There are a few Typical errors – & a “said he” or a “said she” would sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear – but “I do not write for such dull Elves” “As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves.” – The 2d vol. is shorter than I cd wish – but the difference is not so much in reality as in look, there being a a larger proportion of Narrative in that part. I have lopt & cropt so successfully however that I imagine it must be rather shorter than S. & S. altogether. – Now I will try to write of something else; – it shall be a complete change of subject –

So, JA has suggested that she did not write her dialogue for dull elves who expected it to be "immediately clear", but for those readers who would work hard and ingeniously to figure things out. And then she turns around, _ostensibly_ after "a complete change of subject", and immediately writes about what appears to be the future Mansfield Park....but in doing so, she covertly points right back to P&P!

What does covert pointing mean? What it means, I think, is not immediately clear, but I suggest it is worth the effort to work hard and ingeniously to try to figure out what it means!

Cheers, ARNIE

Friday, May 20, 2011

Echoes (of a very or totally different nature ) of NA, P&P and Emma in Letter 25

Letter 25, like so many of JA's early letters, is rich, I claim, in echoes of JA's novels.

"Having just finished the first volume of Les Veillees du Chateau, I think it a good opportunity for beginning a letter to you while my mind is stored with Ideas worth transmitting."

Is JA being serious? I think she is, i.e., she _was_ very interested in this particular de Genlis story (as well, of course, as in Adele & Theodore when JA wrote Emma). I believe this to be so because JA alluded to Les Veilles du Chateau in Northanger Abbey, as first noted by Stephen Derry in "The Northanger Hyacinths", Persuasions #11, 1989, p.14*.

*Here is how I picture JA writing this letter. It was Saturday, probably in the morning, JA has just been enjoying a quiet read, getting geared up for a day of writing, and I suspect that she was excited thinking about having a go at tinkering with the manuscript of NA later that day, and was going to get warmed up first by starting this letter to CEA. And, as my following comments will illustrate, I believe JA's authorial mind _was_ indeed "stored with ideas worth transmitting", however obliquely, to CEA, about JA's fiction-writing.

"The Tables are come, & give general contentment. I had not expectcd that they would so perfectly suit the fancy of us all three, or that we should so well agree in the disposition of them; but nothing except their own surface can have been smoother;-The two ends put together form our constant Table for everything, & the centre peice stands exceedingly well under the glass; holds a great deal most commodiously, without looking awkwardly.-They are both covered with green baize & send their best Love.-The Pembroke has got its destination by the sideboard, & my mother has great delight in keeping her money & papers locked up.-The little Table which used to stand there, has most conveniently taken itself off into the best bed-room, & we are now in want only of the chiffoniere, which is neither finished nor come."

But before getting to the echoes of JA's novels in this letter, as I read the above passage, I wonder whether the Austens had recently come into a bit of extra money, to be able to afford CEA's shopping spree on their behalf while passing through London? I don't recall any other passage in the pre-Bath era when several family purchases were described.

"So much for that subject; I now come to another, _of a very different nature_, as other subjects are very apt to be."

And now JA cuts to the chase. This might seem to merely be a bit of droll ironic transition, but I was immediately reminded of the following memorable lines penned by Mr. Darcy in his first missive to Elizabeth in Ch. 35 of P&P:

"Two offenses _of a very different nature_, and by no means of equal magnitude, you last night laid to my charge. The first mentioned was, that, regardless of the sentiments of either, I had detached Mr. Bingley from your sister, and the other, that I had, in defiance of various claims, in defiance of honour and humanity, ruined the immediate prosperity and blasted the prospects of Mr. Wickham."

This parallelism of phrasing tells me that JA has also been tinkering with P&P as well as NA, and was enjoying that very suggestive turn of phrase. It was one that she apparently enjoyed so much that she returned to a variation of it ("of a totally different nature") not once but _twice_ much later, when writing Emma:

[Emma staggers Knightley with this] "There is no admiration between [Jane and Frank], I do assure you; and the appearances which have caught you, have arisen from some peculiar circumstances—feelings rather _of a totally different nature_—it is impossible exactly to explain:—there is a good deal of nonsense in it—but the part which is capable of being communicated, which is sense, is, that they are as far from any attachment or admiration for one another, as any two beings in the world can be."

" A sudden seizure of a different nature from any thing foreboded by her general state, had carried her off after a short struggle. The great Mrs. Churchill was no more."

In both cases, I read this phrase "of a totally different nature" as cryptically suggesting something significant that is known to the speaker but is not made explicit. In the case of Mrs. Churchill's struggle, it suggests to me (as it did to Leland Monk in 1990) that Mrs. Churchill's seizure was at the hands of _another person_ "after a short struggle".

And, apropos JA writing this letter after reading a French novel, did JA get the idea for this turn of phrase from reading a translation of another French novel, the Princess of Cleves, which has the following passage early on:

"[the Dauphiness] must now...entertain you with some anecdotes _of a very different nature_, that have occurred since your absence from court. I must begin with Nemours’s history. Do you know that his conduct is a mystery not to be discovered? It is certain he loves some woman in this kingdom sufficiently to make him neglect the prospect of being wedded to a powerful Princess. No one is his confidant, not even, I am assured, your uncle de Chartres, who was always his most intimate friend."

What a remarkable parallel to the conduct of Darcy, which indeed was a mystery--and a horror---to his aunt and Caroline Bingley, among others, because his feelings for Lizzy are sufficient to make him neglect the prospect of being wedded to either Ann De Bourgh or Caroline Bingley!

"I hope it is true that Edward Taylor is to marry his cousin Charlotte. Those beautiful dark Eyes will then adorn another Generation at least in all their purity."

And is it just a coincidence, in light of what I just suggested about Darcy, that _this_ comment is _also_ echoed by Darcy's fascination with Lizzy's "fine eyes"!

Cheers, ARNIE


[Ellen Moody just wrote the following in Austen L after I wrote the above]:

"Diane R suggests that Austen's obliqueness is to be attributed to rumors that there had been a duel. She's right: Earle was adam[a]nt to say it had not been a duel, people looked at the direction of the bullet, "Such a wound could not have been received in a duel."

I just responded thusly:

Which is precisely why JA introduces that dicey topic with:

""So much for that subject; I now come to another, _of a very different nature_, as other subjects are very apt to be."

A subject "of a very different nature" is, precisely, a subject which must not be spoken of explicitly, but must instead be hinted at obliquely.

Which is precisely why I read those two usages in Emma which I quoted as being written according to the same "law of obliqueness" as the Harwood passage in Letter 25-JA was very consistent over her entire lifetime in her application of these "laws" of coded expression!

If you're going to use a code, which hides your deeper meaning, it is crucial to be consistent in deployment of that code, so as to avoid confusion for the person _de_coding your message!

And, by the way, are we, in this tale of Earle Harwood and his dueling wound, getting a hint of the mystery in S&S about Willoughby's and Brandon's shadowy offstage confrontation?

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Jane Austen Code: Part Two

Anielka Briggs responded to my previous post in Austen L, and I have rebutted her response below:

[Anielka wrote] "I think the gist of your post is that you reckon (yet again) that you thought of my idea first. you didn't. I have really bad news for you Arnie. You are 200 years too late;) Jane Austen thought of it first."

Anielka, you put a whole new spin on plagiarism. To me, Austen studies are like science. In science, it is the physical world which scientists study. In the realm of Austen studies, what Jane Austen did is the subject matter we Janeites study. Your comment that "Austen thought of it first" is absurd, and is an attempt by you to deflect attention away from your own actions.

In Austen studies, just as in science, it is important to give credit to individuals where credit is due, even as the collective arc of Austen studies moves forward, especially in this area of subtext studies, where it is a "brave new world", and only a very few scholars such as yourself and myself, are breaking new ground. As in your recent posts, you often write as if _everything_ you are saying is your own discovery, even though only _some_ of what you are saying is original to you.

This has nothing to do with copyright or patent law, this is common courtesy, and the way academic scholarship is done in all fields. It is a matter of giving credit where credit is due.

I had actually planned to stop responding to your posts at all, but the final straw for me was when you yesterday referred to General Tilney killing his wife in childbirth without (as would have been effortless) adding "as Arnie has claimed". Unless you would like people to believe that you have been a member of these groups during the past year and yet you never read anything I wrote about my discovery in this regard, but then, miraculously, you had the same idea yourself. Who do you think is foolish enough to believe such a preposterous thing?

If you were merely a casual poster in these groups, with no apparent scholarly aspirations, then I would not care about what you wrote. But you are not merely a casual poster in these groups. Despite your endless smarmy and completely insincere self-deprecations, you present yourself as a scholar. And you are a scholar, and you sometimes do bring forward interesting discoveries. So it is offensive and outrageous to me, when a fellow scholar is not merely careless in failing to give credit when discussing discoveries, but actually seems to take some malicious glee in doing so.

And what is even more galling is that I have never done anything like this to you. Anyone can read back in these groups and see that on a dozen or more occasions in the past 3 years, I have given you credit, and sometimes high praise, for discoveries you have brought forward which really are your own original work. In fact, in some cases, I have been the _only_ person to respond to you at all, let alone to engage deeply with what you have brought forward. My response in late 2009 to your discovery of the "Leviathan" solution to the Emma charade is the best example. I was the _only_ person who solved the puzzle after you presented clues, and I responded enthusiastically, because I thought it a very important discovery.

And I have credited you on several dozen occasions not only for that discovery, but also for your discovery in October 2007 of the "Anna Weston" == > "Anna Austen" wordgame in Emma, which, as you of course recall, you discovered _after_ I privately informed you in October 2007 as to my own original interpretation of Jane Fairfax as the mother of Anna Weston, who covertly gives her baby to Mrs. Weston. Just as I have credited a thousand other Austen scholars for their discoveries, as I have done my research.

Where can you give a single example of where you brought forward an original idea, and I then used your idea without acknowledging you as the source? It has never happened!

[Anielka also wrote] "What apparently angers you is that I can read the code off the page and read it more accurately than you can. We are reading the same code. Instead you could rejoice that our suspicions mutually confirm one another's beliefs that a code exists but instead every time I post my ideas you erroneously claim "I thought that first". "

No, what I am careful to do is to make sure that credit for original discovery is given to the proper person. I never consciously present anyone else's discoveries as my own, but you do this, particularly with my discoveries, on a regular basis, and it amazes me that you have the chutzpah to complain when I challenge your doing this, and I don't ask you to stop talking about my discoveries, I merely ask you to simply acknowledge my having made them.

I have absolutely no problem with your presenting your own original ideas anywhere you want, and I have absolutely no problem with your presenting _my_ ideas, whether to praise them or to critique them, _so long as_ you add an explicit acknowledgment of my priority of discovery. Frankly, most of your word games are not of interest to me at all, and so I do the right thing in those instances, and simply ignore your posting in that instance. I keep a polite distance.

"Bad luck. I suspect Rudyard Kipling and Virginia Woolfe got there before you. And me. I solved Northanger Abbey through "Dare Lamentor Hinc" and "Mr. Elton IN charade" plus "Seymour Land and reclaim throne" which is a DIFFERENT method to you. I've not read any source you quote or heard any of your ideas (some of which are incorrect: It's NOT feminism. there is a code word but you patently don't know it.) By your own admission you "research things to death" Instead I read the texts continuously, work on codes whilst doing the housework and have spent twelve years on Austen family research and reading literary sources that Austen might have read."

You've not heard any of my ideas? What nonsense! See the above re "General Tilney as murdering his wife in childbirth"! Again, before I started writing about it publicly a year ago, this topic was _never_ mentioned publicly by anyone else! be clear as to my own opinion as to the three word games you have just brought forward yet again:

I could care less about "Dare Lamentor Hinc", which has no validity at all, in my opinion. Unless you've got some other way of linking that Latin phrase to Jane Austen, this is, in my opinion, way off the deep end.

As was clear from my (accurate and favorable) response to your puzzle re "Mr. Elton in Charade", I think that _was_ a good catch on your part, and I have my own interpretation of its significance, which apparently is very different from yours.

"Seymour land and reclaim throne" sounds very iffy to me, but I already believed that there was a royal subtext, even without your clever wordgame, so it really does not matter to me either way.

And finally, I could care less that you don't agree with my claim that feminism is at the core of Jane Austen's shadow stories (which is original to me only in that I am the first to claim that Jane Austen wrote coherent alternative stories in her novels--many other scholars have previously argued that Jane Austen in general was a feminist). In fact, I am _glad_ you disagree. And I really don't care if you never bring forward that other word you keep hinting at, or if you do it later today. It's all the same to me.

And finally, when you write these outrageous things, and then write in a tone of sweetness and light, it is no accident that I am repeatedly reminded of Mrs. Elton.

Cheers, ARNIE

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Jane Austen Code

[In Janeites and Austen-L, Anielka Briggs wrote, inter alia, the following] " So here we have General Tilney and Henry VIII vying for Catherine Morland's affections and General Tilney having already "murdered" his wife through childbirth. We then have General Tilney somehow unable to look upon the portrait of his dead wife. Lashings of Shakespearean guilt fits rather nicely ."

I would like to briefly clarify who the originators are of _four_ points mentioned recently by Anielka:


First go to the following link:

If you scroll down to the blurb for Breakout Session C2, you will see that I am the sole originator of the interpretation of Northanger Abbey that she has mentioned above, i.e., Mrs. Tilney dying in childbirth. I first came up with this interpretation two years ago, and submitted it to Mary Margaret Benson of the Portland JASNA chapter about a year and half ago. From all the research I have done, I have never seen any sign in the critical literature of anyone else ever positing this interpretation prior to my doing so.

And of course I have been writing about this same theme for over a year now in these groups and in my blog. This is not some incidental detail, it goes to the heart of the novel.

At the JASNA AGM, I also spoke about JA intentionally depicting General Tilney as a "Bluebeard" character who "murders" his wife through childbirth, showing that JA saw Perrault's Bluebeard story as a fractured feminist fairy tale, depicting the true "horrors" of life in England. I still hold strongly to that strong interpretation, and consider it to be the central theme of the anti-parody that sits right beneath the Gothic parody that is the conventional reading of Northanger Abbey.


I also spoke at the AGM about General Tilney courting Catherine for himself, and not on behalf of his son Henry--but I also stated that idea was _not_ original to me, even though it did occur to me on my own in 2009--when I first researched that point after thinking of it, I saw that it was first argued in print, as best I can determine, in an excellent 1998 article by my friend John Dussinger:

“Parents against Children: General Tilney as Gothic Monster”, Persuasions 1998, #20, 165-177

But even John, writing in 1998, did not realize that earlier credit is due to Maggie Wadey, the screenwriter of NA1, back in the late 80's. When I re-watched NA1 after getting this idea, I saw that there is one moment in that adaptation (when the house maid at the Abbey comes in to wake Catherine up) when the General's amorous interest in Catherine is implied by what the house maid says to Catherine, even though Catherine (and, I would guess, probably 99% of those who watched that adaptation) does not (consciously) register the implication.


I also spoke (briefly) at the AGM about Henry and Catherine as representations of Henry VIII and Catherine,--again, giving credit to an earlier originator of that interpretation---and here are the exact words I spoke in Portland, which tie in directly with the Bluebeard theme I argued for, as mentioned above:

"From English history, Terry Robinson ["A mere skeleton of history’: Reading Relics in JA’s /Northanger Abbey./” /European Romantic Review/, 17:2 (Apr 2006) 215-227]draws an intriguing parallel between our Henry and Catherine and another even more famous Henry and Catherine—of course, Henry VIII and his Catherines!Henry Tudor dissolved monasteries like Northanger Abbey, and was the prototypical husband from hell. Austen's /The History of England/ shows she knew all about him. She doesn’t mention Henry’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr, who died after childbirth, but Austen was aware that Henry was unique--a literal andmetaphorical Bluebeard. As Austen’s nephew noted, she called Henry an “embodied Blue Beard”. “Embodied” as in /women’s /bodies?"


And finally, this is to confirm _again_ that I was the first person to use the phrase "The Jane Austen Code" in connection with subtext in Jane Austen's novels. I first sent that name to a literary agent in 2005, and I specifically mentioned it to Anielka on several occasions in late 2007.

Cheers, ARNIE