(& scroll all the way down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Lopping and Cropping, Part One: Jane Austen, her Darling Child & King Solomon

It occurred to me this morning for the first time to do an analysis which I have never seen in print during all my research, so _perhaps_ I am the first to do it. I will present it to you in the form of a logical progression of heretofore apparently unconnected facts, from which I believe the inferences I make emerge organically. You may think that crunching numbers will not lead to insight into the mysteries of Jane Austen's creative process, but I beg to differ, sometimes numbers are revealing about art, and I invite you to read on to see if you agree with me in this case.

To begin....many Janeites are familiar with the following thrilling words which we read in Letter 79 dated 01/29/13, at the precise moment of publication of Pride & Prejudice, as Jane waxes eloquent to Cassandra:

"I want to tell you that I have got my own darling Child from London....The 2d vol. is shorter than I cd wish--but the difference is not so much in reality as in look, there being 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..."

It occurred to me that a little bit of cutting and pasting using the Project Gutenberg versions of all six novels would yield some interesting data that would let us know how accurate JA's guesses were, as to (a) the relative lengths of P&P and S&S, and (b) the relative length of Vol. 2 of P&P, vis a vis the other two Volumes of P&P.

The relative lengths of the six novels are as follows:

Title #Words #Chapters Words/Chapter Pages(12 font)

NA 77325......31........2494............137
Pers. 83361......24........3473............143

S&S 119593......50........2392............220
P&P 121889......61........1998............240

MP 159915......48........3332............269
Emma 160460......55........2990............287

And here is a further breakdown of the three volumes of P&P:

Vol 1 37745......21........1799.............76
Vol 2 37278......21........1775.............75
Vol 3 46857......20........2343.............89

Here are my inferences, but I hope and believe that others will derive further insights from considering the above:

1. JA was almost correct in her estimate that the lopt and cropt final version of P&P was very close in length to S&S--actually, P&P remained trivially ( 1 ½ %) longer than S&S.

2. JA was correct that the Vol. 2 of P&P was not in fact shorter than Vol. 1, actually she was uncannily correct, because Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are virtually identical in length (differing by only 467 words (about 1/2 %).

3. I realize from the cross-novel stats that I have for the past 5 years been under a profound misapprehension about the length of P&P and of S&S as well. I have up till today divided the novels into two groups by length: the shorter novels (NA, Persuasion, & P&P) and the longer novels (S&S, MP, and Emma).

Now I see that there are actually _three_ categories, by length: the little bears (NA & Persuasion), the middle bears (S&S and P&P) and the big bears (MP and Emma).

Within two of those three groupings, it is uncanny how close the novels are in length. I.e., Emma is virtually identical in length to MP (it is less than 1/3 % longer than MP!), P&P and S&S are very close to each other in length (P&P is 1 1/2 % longer).

As for the relatively greater difference in length between Persuasion and Northanger Abbey (Persuasion is nearly 9% longer than NA), the explanation has also, amazingly, been provided to us by JA, and it is not merely because these two shortest novels were both published posthumously (actually, simultaneously), so that JA was not there, obviously, to participate in the reading of proofs, etc.)

No, the explanation, I assert, for why Persuasion is over 6,000 words longer than NA is that JA altered the final chapters of Persuasion, and when she did (as we know from the actual manuscript of the cancelled chapters), she added nearly 9,000 words!

This tells me that she was willing to override her usual punctilious sense of proportion and length in her novels in Persuasion, because she realized that the rewritten climax of Persuasion (You pierce my soul)was infinitely superior to her earlier version, and so proportion must this one time give way to passion!;)

4. It is also fascinating to look at average chapter length in the six novels. I have recognized for a long while now that the chapters in P&P are much shorter than in all the other 5 novels. My data shows this to be dramatically so. But, now we can zero in on precisely where JA did her lopping and cropping in P&P, because the average length of chapters in Volume _Three_ is almost exactly the same as that in S&S, whereas the average chapter length of chapters in P&P Vols. 1 & 2 is much shorter than in Vol. 3, or for that matter in any of her other novels!

What I believe can be fairly inferred, then, is that JA lopt and cropt in Volumes 1 & 2, but not in Volume 3, which (in parallel to what I wrote about the climax of Persuasion, above) suggests that JA was ready to sacrifice proportion and symmetry for passion in the climactic moments of two of the three JA novels which have true romantic climaxes (P&P and Persuasion are joined by Emma in this regard, whereas NA races past romance at the end, and MP and S&S are decidedly and notorious unromantic in their endings).

And my final observation as to chapter length is that if we discount the long average chapter lengths of Persuasion as being heavily skewed to JA's huge expansion of the romantic climax, that leaves MP standing apart from the other novels in its much greater average chapter length, with Emma a distant second. Why would this be? I think, because my guess is that MP is the least dramatized of all the novels, and that would be because Fanny Price is JA's most interior heroine, the only most likely to be thinking many deep thoughts, but rarely expressing them to anyone else. That makes for a narrative-heavy novel!

If anyone has additional observations to make about the above, or would like to take issue with my inferences, I would be most interested to hear it.

I finish by noting an irony of the words I quoted from Letter 79, in which JA refers to P&P as her darling child, and then speaks of lopping and cropping it. The metaphor of giving a young child his first haircut, or giving a garden its first serious pruning, would be fitting to the radical editorial shortening that JA achieved so brilliantly in P&P.

However, the strange juxtaposition of a darling child with lopping and cropping also brought to my Monty Pythonesque imagination the idea of the most famous story in Western literature about the "lopping and cropping" of a "darling child", which we find in 1 Kings 3:16-28:

Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. One of them said, Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us. During the night this woman's son died because she lay on him. So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. The next morning, I got up to nurse my son and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn't the son I had borne.
The other woman said, No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours. But the first one insisted, No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine. And so they argued before the king. The king said, This one says, My son is alive and your son is dead, while that one says, No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.
Then the king said, Bring me a sword. So they brought a sword for the king. He then gave an order: Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other. The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him! But the other said, Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!
Then the king gave his ruling: Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother. When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.

I had a strong feeling that JA had this Biblical tale in mind as she wrote Letter 79, and that she savored the irony that in the instance of her editing of _her_ darling child, P&P, she had the wisdom of a literary Solomon, and realized that paradox was the order of the day, such that lopping and cropping was exactly what her darling child needed in order to emerge light, bright and sparkling into the world, a world which that darling child has come to rule as no other novel ever written.

But then, as I was getting ready to sign off on this post, I realized something else, something _so_ amazing that Jane Austen did, that I felt it deserved its own post, because it will show, I promise you, something amazing about a passage in P&P which is as famous among Janeites as the story of King Solomon is among readers of the Bible, but which has an additional layer of allusive meaning that has never been understood before. A passage whose Biblical allusiveness has been hiding in the plainest sight possible for 199 years!

To read the _rest_ of that story, go here, to Part Two:

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

No comments: