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

Monday, October 8, 2012

Jane Austen's Rosetta Stone: Mrs. Elton's Acrostic IS Mr. Elton's Charade!

The following is the full text of a post I wrote in Austen L way back on June 15, 2011, which, by an oversight, I did not cross-post here in my blog. That was an oversight which I am correcting now, because I wish to make reference to it in my next succeeding post, in which I will begin to present my own reactions to the 2012 JASNA AGM just completed yesterday in Brooklyn.

In 1995, the novelist Anna Quindlen, in her Intro to an edition of Pride & Prejudice, wrote: "For those of us who suspect all the mysteries of life are contained in the microcosm of the family, that personal relationships prefigure all else, the work of Jane Austen is the Rosetta Stone of literature. We can only hope that when she described her first novel as “rather too light and bright”, she was being ironic rather than self-deprecating.”"

That is why, when I first became aware, in early 2005, of secret answers in Emma's Chapter 9 word games, I myself began calling Chapter 9 of Emma the Rosetta Stone of Jane Austen's fiction, because these word games are perfect symbols of the novels themselves, i.e. , each novel has one "answer" (i.e., one story line) that everyone sees, and a second secret "answer" that is concealed. And, as I will explain before this post is over, the second charade in Chapter 9 of _Emma_ is also a Rosetta Stone in the sense of revealing a crucial secret within the shadow story of _Emma_.

I began calling the second charade a Rosetta Stone in early 2005, based on the following two discoveries that had already been made by other scholars by that time, but which I only first became aware of then, when I began reading the scholarly literature about Jane Austen.

In 1999, in "Slipping into the Ha-Ha", Jill Heydt-Stevenson made a remarkable discovery re the fragment from Garrick's Riddle which Mr. Woodhouse recalls in Chapter 9 of Emma. JHS claimed that while the official answer to Garrick's Riddle was "chimney sweep", the second secret answer was about the symptoms and treatment of tertiary syphilis, which makes the official answer metaphorical in a very graphic, sexual way. And the Bates's housemaid Patty's Freudian comment about the "chimney" needing "sweeping" in Emma is one way we know that JA knew about that secret answer. And JHS also noted the disturbing implications of Mr. Woodhouse remembering Garrick's Riddle, and of Emma's responding that she had previously copied it from Elegant Extracts, which is more or less the equivalent of someone today saying that they copied the text of a graphic Richard Pryor monologue from Good Housekeeping!

In 2000, in "The Riddles of Emma", Colleen Sheehan made another remarkable discovery re the FIRST charade in Chapter 9 of Emma--Sheehan claimed that while the official answer was "woman" (which by the way does NOT appear in the novel), the second secret answer is "heartfiel", which is the love dust that Puck sprinkles on Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The "woman" charade, by the way, was NOT written by JA herself (I have my own theory about who the identity of the actual author), JA found it in a published Riddle collection, which also contained a reprint of Garrick's Riddle. And Colleen's connection of Emma to A Midsummer Night's Dream in this way is extremely synergistic with Jocelyn Harris's brilliant 1986 analysis of the complex allusion to A Midsummer Night's Dream in the plot of Emma itself.

That was great, but then things got really exciting in terms of understanding what was going on in Chapter 9 of Emma.

In the 2007 Persuasions Online, Colleen Sheehan published the second secret solution to the second charade in Chapter 9 of Emma, "Prince of Whales":

I was privileged to have been emailing with Colleen about the Dedication of Emma to the Prince Regent, and our shared belief that it was a total put-on, when she made that spectacular discovery. It gave my own research into the shadow story of Emma a huge lift, as it is a true smoking gun, which dovetails perfectly with the two earlier discoveries of secret answers to wordgames in Chapter 9 of Emma. It made Chapter 9 even more of a Rosetta Stone (which had THREE languages on it).

And then in 2009, in Janeites & Austen L, Anielka, inspired by Colleen's discovery, published a _third_ secret solution to the second charade in Chapter 9 of Emma, "Leviathan":

And that immediately inspired me to discover a _fourth_ secret solution to the second charade in Chapter 9 of Emma, "Crown of Thorns":

And now, the other day, Anielka has published yet another _fifth_ secret solution, "Church of England". And I believe her when she claims she has more secret answers in reserve as well. Nothing surprises me anymore in terms of JA's virtuosic wordgames.

And I will add one last discovery I made regarding word games in Chapter 9 of _Emma_, which I speak about at every one of my presentations about Jane Fairfax as the shadow heroine of Emma (actually, Kathy, you heard me say this at the NYC presentation 13 months ago), and which I believe to be a particularly significant and elegant extension and culmination of all of the above.

As my Subject LIne states, I claim that Mrs. Elton's acrostic _is_ Mr. Elton's charade! I realized this a few years ago, when I revisited the question which had first occurred to me in 2005, i.e., where in Emma was Mrs. Elton's acrostic? I was convinced that JA would not have had Mrs. Elton mention receiving an acrostic on her name from an unnamed puppy, unless the text of that acrostic was hidden somewhere in Emma, and unless the identity of that puppy was somehow revealed in Emma as well. Like Chekhov's famous dictum:

"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

I believe that JA adhered to that dictum, and that all the "background" details in her novels which appear to be insignificant are actually significant. In that regard, I had guessed, in 2005, for various reasons, that Frank Churchill was the puppy who gives Miss Hawkins an acrostic,. But beyond that, I was frustrated, because I could not find any hints as to the actual text of the acrostic anywhere in the text of
the novel.

That was when I realized that the answer had been hiding right in front of my nose since 2006!---because Colleen Sheehan, in her later Persuasions Online article, had not only discovered "Prince of Whales" as a second secret answer to the second charade, she also had discovered that the second charade in Emma contains not one but _two_ anagrammed acrostics, both of them on the name "Lamb". So the second charade is _also_ a double acrostic!

In her article, Colleen made the sensible inference that the acrostic on "Lamb" was there to point to _Charles_ Lamb, the author of the satirical poem which JA was pointing to, which has as its punch line "the Prince of Whales". And that is certainly correct. But that was when I realized _another_ meaning of that acrostic, as it relates to the shadow story of _Emma_, which is Mr. Elton's charade must be the same acrostic that was given to Miss Hawkins!

I then combined that insight with my earlier guess that Frank Churchill was the puppy who gave that acrostic to Miss Hawkins, and deduced that Frank Churchill must therefore be _both_ the puppy, and also the unnamed friend of Mr. Elton who gives Mr. Elton that charade/acrostic to deliver to Emma!

So, the second charade is the acrostic, Frank is both the unnamed puppy and Mr. Elton's unnamed friend. This is Occam's Razor in duplicate---two mysteries explained by one answer! Everything ties together in an incredibly neat bow, and, more important, the implications of this discovery shed crucial light on the shadow story of Emma.

And that is why I claim that the second charade really is a Rosetta Stone for discovering the shadow story of _Emma_.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

1 comment:

Alice said...

It is very interested indeed! Thanks