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

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Fragmented Jane Austen: The OED is a dinosaur

A short while ago, the following blog  post  appeared in my daily Google  robot search for  all news Austenian....

....and that post included the following excerpt:

"Jane Austen’s novels and letters are frequently cited in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), putting her work currently as the 253rd most frequently quoted source in the OED, with a total of 1,620 quotations. Of these quotations, 44 currently provide the very first evidence of a particular word, including the adjective ‘fragmented’ (from Northanger Abbey: “In the shape of some fragmented journal, continued to the last gasp”) and “sponge-cake” (from an 1808 letter)....."

Having had occasion several times in the past few years to find usages of words prior to the earliest date shown in the OED, I was curious to know if this might be yet another example, so I went to Google Books and  searched for usages of "fragmented" between 1780 and 1818.

Surprise, surprise, I found three different published sources using "fragmented" prior to Jane Austen:

Anecdotes on the Arts in England or Comparative Remarks on Architecture … by James Dallaway (1800)

ppg. 247-8: "Venus Vestita, a statue......The restorations are very inferior, and the same blunder respecting the hair is repeated. It may be suspected, that the naked appearing in the fragmented part, was the work of Guelfi."
p. 345: "A vase with Bacchanals, fragmented, but the figures of good sculpture."
p. 431: "In the north transept of Christ Church is a fragmented subject of T. a Becket..."

A journal of the most remarkable occurrences that took place in Rome, upon the subversion of the ecclesiastical government, in 1798(1799) by  Richard Duppa

P. 117: "The Fragmented Hercules, called the Torso"
The Gentlemen's Magazine, 1788

P. 951: "A.B. the writer of the observations on petrified human  bones...has, in common with others on the same subject, confounded the  bones in the caverns of the rock at Gibraltar, with that part of the rock in which the mass of fragmented animal bones are found..."

So, why bother to go to the OED when you can go to Google Books and get more accurate answers yourself in no time flat? And, to have the fun of finding the answer yourself, instead of relying on someone else's answer?

And, it should also be noted, Jane Austen used the noun "fragment" twice in her novels as well, and the word "fragment" was extremely common in published writings during her lifetime--so the leap from the noun to the adjective hardly seems noting in any event.

But I am glad of all this nonetheless, because what I found most  illuminating was to read JA's usages of "fragment" and "fragmented" in NA....

"He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances—side-screens and perspectives—lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape. Delighted with her progress, and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline, and by an easy transition from a piece of rocky FRAGMENT and the withered oak which he had placed near its summit, to oaks in general, to forests, the enclosure of them, waste lands, crown lands and government, he shortly found himself arrived at politics; and from politics, it was an easy step to silence. "


"In the course of this morning's reflections, she came to a resolution of making her next attempt on the forbidden door alone. It would be much better in every respect that Eleanor should know nothing of the matter. To involve her in the danger of a second detection, to court her into an apartment which must wring her heart, could not be the office of a friend. The general's utmost anger could not be to herself what it might be to a daughter; and, besides, she thought the examination itself would be more satisfactory if made without any companion. It would be impossible to explain to Eleanor the suspicions, from which the other had, in all likelihood, been hitherto happily exempt; nor could she therefore, in her presence, search for those proofs of the general's cruelty, which however they might yet have escaped discovery, she felt  confident of somewhere drawing forth, in the shape of some FRAGMENTED  journal, continued to the last gasp. Of the way to the apartment she was  now perfectly mistress; and as she wished to get it over before Henry's  return, who was expected on the morrow, there was no time to be lost. The day was bright, her courage high; at four o'clock, the sun was now  two hours above the horizon, and it would be only her retiring to dress half an hour earlier than usual. light of the above prior usages of "fragmented", most of which had to do with ancient sculptures, and one of which had to do with ancient bones.

In the Beechen Cliff passage, we read about a "piece of rocky fragment"  being described by Henry in an aesthetic sense, like those books about  fragmented sculptures; and in the Abbey passage, we have exactly that  sense of a lost fragmented journal from the past, like those bones in the Gentlemen's Magazine article.

So, perhaps JA got the idea to use the adjective "Fragmented" from  reading it in one of those earlier sources, and she thought, "I would like to invoke the idea of sculpture and bones, so I will use it. Or she just made it up on her own.

And speaking of old bones, as I suggested, the OED is a dinosaur, that Google Books has rendered as outmoded as the beeper and the horse-drawn carriage--we live in an Internet Age when everyone can create his or her own OED, at will!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


Sh. said...

Very interesting. It especially helps while translating the word "fragmented". The result rendered by Google Books isn't exhaustive, though. Wish you could research more.

Good luck.

Arnie Perlstein said...

Sh, yes, there could be MORE earlier usages which Google Books does not include, I agree, but at least it took us back a bit further.