...Anielka Briggs wrote the following in Austen-L:
"But if, Diane and Ellen, we are to believe that Austen and CEA
implicitly referenced testicles when referring to nuts in the letters,
what then, are we to make of Persuasion? " Louisa drew Captain Wentworth
away, to try for a gleaning of nuts in an adjoining hedge-row" Surely
not......? And if you are quite sure that Austen uses nuts in this sense
in her letters and novels, what then are we to make of other testicular
analogies such as strawberries? "Come, and eat my strawberries. They are
ripening fast" If these frumentaceous testicle analogies you suggest
Austen is using are genuine, then do you really think Austen could place
these words in Mr. Knightley's mouth when addressing Mrs. Elton? Could
Austen place strawberries in Mrs. Elton's mouth when they belonged to
Knightley? Is it possible........? "
I responded as follows:
The answer is obviously "yes, yes, yes, yes."
In particular in that scene in Persuasion, Anne cannot _see_ Wentworth
and Louisa, she can only hear them. So that makes their dialogue
particularly suggestive, as to what they are doing with their bodies
while they are speaking these words:
"...You are never sure of a good IMPRESSION being DURABLE; everybody may
SWAY IT. Let those who would be happy BE FIRM. Here is A NUT," said he,
catching one down from an upper bough, "to exemplify: a beautiful glossy
nut, which, blessed with original strength, has outlived all the storms
of autumn. Not a puncture, not a weak spot any where. This nut," he
continued, with PLAYFUL SOLEMNITY, "while so many of its brethren have
fallen and been trodden under foot, is still in possession of all the
happiness that a hazel nut can be supposed capable of." Then returning
to his former earnest tone -- "My first wish for all whom I am
interested in, is that they should BE FIRM. If Louisa Musgrove would be
beautiful and happy in her November of life, she will cherish all her
present powers of mind." He had done, and was unanswered. It would have
surprised Anne, if Louisa could have readily answered such a speech:
words of such interest, spoken with such serious warmth! she could
imagine what Louisa was feeling."
That emphasis on being durable and firm, and not swaying---could it be
more obvious? And yet, Anne could _not_ (consciously) imagine what
Louisa was feeling, and why Wentworth and Louisa went verbally silent at
that point--because Anne is clueless and naive.
And then Ellen Moody added her thoughts in Austen L, and I responded as follows:
Ellen: "Aneilka, all you have said is besides the point."
Ellen, her name is spelled A-N-I-E-L-K-A. Your consistent misspelling
of Anielka's name is actually very much _to_ the point, which is your
remarkable---indeed nearly infinite--capacity to consistently _ignore_
what is right before your eyes in Jane Austen's writings, when you hand
down such imperious judgments as "There is nothing in all those passages
to suggest that the nuts Captain Wentworth picks up from the autumn
landscape is being salacious." I will now demonstrate how wrong your
statement is, on multiple levels.
First, even within the narrow context of that short hedgerow passage,
there is plenty to make it a very plausible interpretation that
Wentworth and Louisa are engaged with the birds and the bees, and not
the nuts and the trees, at that moment. It is _universally_ understood
at that stage of the story (Chapter 10) that Captain Wentworth is still
feeling a great deal of bitter anger and resentment towards Ann. And he
has therefore been flirting quite brazenly with Louisa for several
chapters, when this scene occurs. He has been flirting so strongly with
Louisa because Louisa has patently been inviting his attentions. And,
at this particular instant, the two flirters have separated themselves
from the other four walkers, which presents them with a _unique_
opportunity to be alone and unobserved. So, for Frederick and Louisa to
engage in a little hanky-panky in that situation is _exactly_ what a
reasonable reader would suspect to be the case. It is totally _in_
Second, once we enlarge the scope of our analysis, we find that there is
a great deal of additional context that supports the interpretation of
hanky-panky between the Captain and Louisa. It was in Chapter 8, _only__two_ chapters earlier, that Frederick and Louisa have engaged in an
extended, coded conversation, chez Musgrove, in company with the Crofts,
the other Musgroves, and Anne, in which the sexual innuendo fairly drips
from the pages of the novel:
As I have been writing about this scene for years, there is a strong
current of thinly veiled aggression being expressed by both Frederick
and Louisa specifically toward Anne, speaking derisively of her as "used
goods" in the sexual/marriage marketplace, via the image of the "old
Asp" and "any old pelisse, which you had seen lent about among half your
acquaintance ever since you could remember...". Louisa, in contrast, is
brand new, very attractive "merchandise" freshly out on the marriage
block, which Wentworth seems very intent on sampling, while making very
very certain that Anne is aware of this--and hard as Anne tries to look
away, on some deeper subconscious level, Anne is disturbed by what she
is forced to witness.
So I take from that larger context the very real possibility that
Wentworth and Louisa are very much aware that Anne is eavesdropping on
them behind the hedge, and so they put on a little performance (just
think about what the matchmaking schemers do in a similar setting in
Much Ado About Nothing, a scene JA knew and loved well) for an audience
of one, i.e., Anne, the better to break her heart with. But again, Anne
is so heavily defended, she (like Ellen, who is equally heavily
defended) does not let it in, Anne is incredibly naive.
And third, to enlarge the context still further, it was David Lodge who
famously wrote the following passage decades ago in one of his novels:
" [Prof. Morris Zapp] snatched up the text and read with feeling: " . .
. she found herself in the state of being released from him . . . Before
she realized that Captain Wentworth had done it . . . he was resolutely
borne away . . . Her sensations on the discovery made her perfectly
speechless. She could not even thank him. She could only hang over
little Charles with the most disordered feelings. How about that?" he
concluded reverently. "If that isn't an orgasm, what is it?" He looked
up into three flabbergasted faces. The internal telephone rang. . . "
I agree 100% with both Professor Zapp, and also with his creator, David
Lodge, that this is a prime example of sexuality hidden just beneath the
surface in Persuasion, which certainly supports the notion that there
would be _other_ sexual innuendo elsewhere in Persuasion---and guess
where that passage is--in Chapter 9, sandwiched in between the "dear old
Asp" passage in Chapter 8 and the hedgerow passage in Chapter 10---so it
illustrates that Anne, despite herself, is beginning to thaw sexually,
as a result of her exposure in close quarters to the heat being
generated between Wentworth and Louisa, and with the right trigger, she
is swept up in her own unpent sexual energy--which is why we hear about
her "blooming" not long afterwards.
Ellen: "It's out of character and would offend Anne Elliot too. She
would not register it as a mind Austen invented and it's her register of
consciousness all is filtered through."
Ellen, that is a staggering statement---you have decided (based on who
knows what) that Jane Austen, the author, was incapable of having one of
her heroines, Anne Elliot, be clueless as to an event which occurs in
her presence, or as to her own reactions thereto. Need I remind you that
JA's novels are filled, from one end to the other, with examples where
her heroines _are_ clueless about events which occur in their presence,
and as to which they misunderstand their own reactions? Why should Anne
Elliot in particular be exempt from misunderstanding what she sees, any
more that Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse?
It is precisely _your_ profound, ideologically-based tone deafness to
irony, Ellen, which leads you to believe that JA was incapable of
showing Anne Elliot's thoughts in an ironic light. JA has done this with
each of her heroines precisely so as to catch her readers up in her
heroines's delusions and misconceptions, so that we readers, at least,
will eventually understand, probably only upon _re_reading, that there
was more going on than met the eye in so many scenes in these six novels.
Ellen: "Reading Austen's letters and words (the compliment to Cassandra
and thanking her for the "intelligence") as if she wrote text
(presumably for us too) in a state of mind closely akin to someone today
inventing or doing a Sunday Times cross-word is contrary to common sense. "
That would be _me_ who has often used that exactly metaphorical parallel
between crossword puzzles and subtextual fiction like JA's, so I will
reply to that statement as well. I suggest to you, Ellen, that what is
"contrary to common sense" is to fail to identify Jane Austen (like her
greatest role model, Shakespeare) as precisely that sort of writer who
embeds subtextual puzzles in her writing. And, again, the authorial
motivation is not merely to play sadistic literary parlor tricks, but to
replicate for her readers the uncertainties and confusions of real life,
to present her readers with ambiguities up the wazoo, and to challenge
us to sort out truth from falseness to the best of our (fallible human)
ability.---and hopefully, to get better at it, by means of training
ourselves (safely) in the experimental, illusory space of her novels,
where we get to reread them and test fresh hypotheses as to what is
going on. And eventually, to learn to treat what we see in real life
with equal circumspection, having been sensitized to the myriad ways our
pride, prejudices, sensibilities, and the persuasion of others, may sway
our opinions about what we see.
A lovely bit of praise from my youngest (at heart) supporter in Seattle:
[The 80-ish Mary Watson of the Puget Sound chapter commenting on the 2010 JASNA AGM]
"...Two sessions were outstanding: Juliet McMasters on the more subtle, deeper meanings of "Northanger Abbey" and a Darcy-like young lawyer, Arnie Perlstein, who revealed his very plausible theory that the "shadow story" behind much of Jane Austen's work is the horror of multiple childbirth and women's deaths. I am a Jane-Austen-as-feminist person and this really resonated with me!"
Thank you, Mary!
"Arnie's theories [about Austen and Shakespeare] may strain credulity, but so much the greater his triumph if they turn out to have persuasive force after they are properly presented and maturely considered. That is what publication is all about"
"When great or unexpected events fall out upon the stage of this sublunary world—the mind of man, which is an inquisitive kind of a substance, naturally takes a flight behind the scenes to see what is the cause and first spring of them."--Tristram Shandy
I'm a 63 year old independent scholar (still) working on a book project about the SHADOW STORIES of Jane Austen's novels (and Shakespeare's plays). I first read Austen in 1995, an American male real estate lawyer, i.e., a Janeite outsider. I therefore never "learned" that there was no secret subtext in her novels. All I did was to closely read and reread her novels, while participating in stimulating online group readings. Then, in 2002, I whimsically wondered whether Willoughby stalked Marianne Dashwood and staged their “accidental” meeting. I retraced his steps, followed the textual “bread crumbs”, and verified my hunch. I've since made numerous similar discoveries about offstage scheming by various characters. In hindsight, it was my luck not only to be a lawyer, but also a lifelong solver of NY Times and other difficult American crossword puzzles. These both trained me to spot complex patterns based on fragmentary data, to interpret cryptic clues of all kinds, and, above all, not to give up until I’ve completed the puzzle--and literary sleuthing Jane Austen's novels (and Shakespeare's plays) is, bar none, the best puzzle solving in the world!