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

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

There Ain’t No Cure For Love? Not according to Closet Classicist Mrs. Jennings!



As part of my followup on my series of posts the past two days about the veiled and layered allusions (to Ovid, to Shakespeare, & to Goldsmith) in Sense & Sensibility (as reflected by hints at such allusions in Jane Austen’s Letter 74 (written as she was proofreading S&S prior to publication), I decided to check in all the usual online venues to see if I could find any additional previous scholarly identifications of allusions to Ovid in JA’s writing, of which I was unaware.

In short order, I struck gold in the JASNA website, where I was led to the following paragraph in Persuasions #15, 1993 ppg. 89-100 “Persuasion: or, The Triumph of Cheerfulness”, written by my friend Isobel Grundy, writing about Anne Elliot:

“….About Anne’s first disappointment in love Austen wrote, “No second attachment, the only thoroughly natural, happy, and sufficient cure, at her time of life, had been possible to the nice tone of her mind, the fastidiousness of her taste, in the small limits of the society round them” (57)…..That sentence about second attachments is so unobtrusive that it can use some unpacking here.  The usual grammatical form for maxims or aphorisms or Truths Universally Acknowledged, like the one which opens Pride and Prejudice, is statement. THAT IS THE FORM THE ROMAN POET OVID USED WHEN HE WROTE “ALL LOVE IS VANQUISHED BY A SUCCEEDING LOVE” [“Successore novo vincitur omnis amor” (Remedia Amoris or The Cure For Love)].  Jane Austen, virtually paraphrasing Ovid here, conceals her Truth Seldom Acknowledged in an appositional phrase.  If we rejig her syntax we get the statement, “A second attachment is the only thoroughly natural, happy, and sufficient cure for lost love” (at her time of life).  This is a very odd aphorism to discover embedded in a novel which is all about fidelity, and the almost magical restoration of first lost love, as good as new.”  END QUOTE

I found Isobel’s analysis very ingenious and insightful, and was 90% convinced, but ultimately her catch was not 100%  satisfying, because the need to “rejig” JA’s syntax so much in order to bring it into  parallel with Ovid’s original, cast at least some doubt on the intentionality of JA’s allusion.

But then, it flashed into my mind that there _was_ actually _another_ passage in JA’s fiction which was also a virtual paraphrase of Ovid’s formulation, but did _not_ have to be “rejigged” in order to bring it into syntactical parallelism with Ovid. And what’s more, this other passage in JA’s fiction just happened to be located in one of the _very_ _same_ two speeches by Mrs. Jennings about the mulberry tree, which Jane Odiwe had first identified as being a veiled allusion to Ovid’s tale of Pyramus & Thisbe in The Metamorphoses!!!

 Here are the relevant portions of Mrs. Jennings’s speech in Chapter 30:
“….quite shut in with GREAT GARDEN WALLS that are covered with the best fruit-trees in the country: and SUCH A MULBERRY TREE IN ONE CORNER!....Well, I shall spirit up the Colonel as soon as I can. ONE SHOULDER OF MUTTON, YOU KNOW, DRIVES ANOTHER DOWN. If we can but put Willoughby out of her head!"

Mrs. Jennings is nothing less than an Austenian female Falstaff, rephrasing Ovid’s abstract prose into the earthiest concreteness, without sacrificing a whit of Ovid’s meaning!

And it did not take me long to spot the passage a little bit earlier in Chapter 30, when Jane Austen’s narrator winks broadly at the title of Mrs. Jennings’s source for that earthy aphorism, being Ovid’s “The Cure for Love”:

“Marianne was to have the best place by the fire, was to be tempted to eat by every delicacy in the house, and to be amused by the relation of all the news of the day. Had not Elinor, in the sad countenance of her sister, seen a check to all mirth, she could have been entertained by MRS. JENNINGS’S ENDEAVOURS TO CURE A DISAPPOINTMENT IN LOVE, by a variety of sweetmeats and olives, and a good fire……”

And there’s more---punny wordplay is Jane Austen’s m.o.----so think about where “mutton” comes from---it comes from _sheep_. And what is the Latin name of the genus to which all species of sheep belong?  _OVIS_!

JA, with her rare combination of encyclopedic knowledge, and unerring ear for puns and wordplay, recognized that she could have her shoulder of mutton and eat it too, so to speak! I.e., she could use the serendipity of the vulgar English adage happening to involve a word that coincided with the name of the Roman poet who first made that adage famous in Latin!

So, looking back at my last four posts about Letter 74 and S&S, could it possibly be a coincidence that there would be so much “smoke” pointing to two entirely different Ovidian allusions hiding in the same _paragraph_ of S&S? And the icing on the allusive layer cake is that their close proximity in that paragraph of Chapter 30 of S&S is not trivial---these two Ovidian allusions are actually thematically connected---i.e., Thisbe  (and Marianne)_refuse_ the “cure for love” that Ovid (and Mrs. Jennings) suggest!

And I conclude by pointing out that JA, by making the marriage of Brandon and Marianne so…. romantically unconvincing (at least, to many Janeites), JA seems to be straddling the “great garden wall” on the great question of whether, when it comes to the cure for love, one shoulder of mutton _always_ drives another down. And, I suggest, that unconvincingness is directly connected to the oddness that Isobel Grundy found in the “rejigged” passage about second attachments in Persuasion. JA was always, I think, on guard against getting too wrapped up in a romantic fairytale.

In conclusion, I cannot help but provide a YouTube link for a remarkably fine cover of a great song by a modern day poet---Leonard Cohen---who disagrees with Ovid and Mrs. Jennings---his song is entitled “There Ain’t No Cure For Love”, sung by the soulful Aaron Neville:


Cheers, ARNIE

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