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

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The E-Lucy-dation of Elinor Dashwood

Jane Austen's inventive wordplay never ceases to astound and entrance me.

A few moments ago, while following a line of research I will be blogging about tomorrow, I happened to revisit the following passage in Letter 89 which I and others have taken note of in the past:

“Her sister in Lucina, Mrs. H. Gipps does too well we think. Mary P. wrote on Sunday that she had been three days on the Sofa. Sackree does not approve it--"

Le Faye repeats Chapman's footnote to the effect that Lucina was the Roman goddess of _childbirth_ (JA's hobby horse, as I have argued a hundred times). That got me thinking about two female Austen characters, so strikingly similar in their intense pragmatism, whose names share their first three letters with Lucina----of course I refer to the Luciferian Ladies, Lucy (Steele) Ferrars and Charlotte (Lucas) Collins!

Without getting further into the implications of the thematic significance of the resonance of their names with the Roman goddess of childbirth, I decided to check to see whether Jane Austen might have embedded any other wordplay in her novels besides those two character names, which might be deemed to be covertly pointing to that Roman goddess (or to Lucifer himself), and so I did something I had not thought to do previously---I did a word search in all six novels for words which include the sequence "luci".

It turns out there were only two such usages in all of JA's novels, and both of them involve the word "eLUCIdation":

The first, as you might have guessed from my subject line, occurs in S&S Chapter 30, when Colonel Brandon chats with Elinor about Willoughby and Marianne:

"Perhaps, then," he hesitatingly replied, "what I heard this morning may be—there may be more truth in it than I could believe possible at first." "What did you hear?" "That a gentleman, whom I had reason to think—in short, that a man, whom I KNEW to be engaged—but how shall I tell you? If you know it already, as surely you must, I may be spared." "You mean," answered Elinor, with forced calmness, "Mr. Willoughby's marriage with Miss Grey. Yes, we DO know it all. This seems to have been a day of general ELUCIDATION, for this very morning first unfolded it to us. Mr. Willoughby is unfathomable! Where did you hear it?"

I could not help but smile as I read the word "elucidation" in the context of Elinor and Brandon hearing surprising news about an inconstant man's engagement and marriage, because I recalled that in Chapter 24, not too far previously in the action of S&S, Elinor has received a _very_ cruel "elucidation" (e-Lucy-dation) of Edward's marital prospects from Lucy. So right there, it was already highly probable that this was intentional on JA's part, it has that satisfying compactness and thematic significance that marks it as such.

But it turned out that the second usage was also of interest.

It is in Chapter 46 of MP, just before Fanny learns the shocking news about Maria's elopement with Crawford:

"The next day came and brought no second letter. Fanny was disappointed. She could still think of little else all the morning; but, when her father came back in the afternoon with the daily newspaper as usual, she was so far from expecting any ELUCIDATION through such a channel that the subject was for a moment out of her head."

While there is no character in MP with a Luciferian name, there are, of course two Satanic tempters, Henry and Mary Crawford, and of course the unexpected elucidation Fanny receives from her father is about the Luciferian Henry, so the word fits this passage as well, a shocking revelation about a shocking impropriety.

But for the hell of it, I checked to see whether S&S was indeed the only Austen novel with a character named Lucy in it--and it turns out--not coincidentally, I suggest---that there is a Lucy in MP as well! Did you know that? I bet most Janeites have absolutely no idea about it, because she is mentioned only once, in passing, in Chapter 25, when Fanny and William discuss William's courtship exploits. Here it is:

"But you do not wish yourself at Portsmouth, William?" "No, Fanny, that I do not. I shall have enough of Portsmouth and of dancing too, when I cannot have you. And I do not know that there would be any good in going to the assembly, for I might not get a partner. The Portsmouth girls turn up their noses at anybody who has not a commission. One might as well be nothing as a midshipman. One /is/ nothing, indeed. You remember the Gregorys; they are grown up amazing fine girls, but they will hardly speak to /me/, because LUCY is courted by a lieutenant."

So....we have the Lucy Steelean flirt, Lucy Gregory, whose ridiculous overinflated self-importance has blighted William's chances with Lucy's sisters. Maybe not Luciferian, but not very nice either--and perhaps Lucy Gregory is a "sister in Lubricity" with Lucy Steele?

In any event, I don't think it's a coincidence that the only Austenian usages of "elucidation" occur in the two Austen novels which have a "Lucy" in them.

And so, in the end, I hope this post will constitute a satisfying "elucidation" of a gem of wordplay by Jane Austen.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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