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

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Cluelessness of the Orthodox Reader of Jane Austen's EMMA

In Austen-L, Ellen Moody, an extremely learned Austen scholar who yet is utterly orthodox in her denial of the existence of any shadow stories in Jane Austen's novels, just wrote the following there rebutting my claim that Mr. Knightley's motives in marrying Emma might be less than pure:

"...The leap that Mr Knightley is marrying Emma for her money goes against the text utterly: The center of the book is Emma and Mr Knightley's deep congeniality, his love for her which goes so far as to blind him as to what she is..."

Since Ellen chooses a metaphor of centrality in describing Emma's apparently exclusive dominance of the storyline, she might be interested in what the late Irish scholar W.J. Harvey wrote 45 years ago, a line I quote at the beginning of my presentations about Jane Fairfax as shadow heroine of the novel:

“The world of Emma is binary. Around the visible star, Emma herself, circles an invisible planet whose presence and orbit we can gauge only by measuring the perturbations in the world we can see. “

These "perturbations in the world we can see" are the myriad of subtle clues we find in nearly every paragraph of this long 55-chapter novel, which collectively point to a whole unseen world of action and reaction, motive and deception, ignorance and undetected knowledge, all just beyond the perception and awareness of Emma herself.

So, Ellen, the inventor of that "other book" you keep mentioning is Jane Austen herself! I am merely the first Janeite to decode the major strands of that shadow story, the center of that invisible planet being the pregnant Jane Fairfax who gives her baby to Mrs. Weston.

And Anielka Briggs, Diane Reynolds, and a few other hardy souls have been digging the past 5 years in that same literary-archaeological site I presented to the Janeite world in early 2005.

And the sharpest and most telling irony of all, Ellen, is that in your fevered denials of any significance in those "perturbations" the rest of us keep writing about, you are the absolute epitome of Emma herself! You are so much like Emma, it is uncanny. And that's not a good thing.

Look at the way smoke starts coming out of Emma's ears when Elton comes on to her during the carriage ride. Look at the way an actual flame comes out of Emma's ears when Harriet reveals to Emma that Harriet's actual target is Knightley.

That's you, Ellen, trying to stamp out the flames coming out of your own ears as you stick your fingers in your ears, metaphorically speaking, and do your best not to listen to what you don't want to hear.

With all the hundreds of clues I have excavated from the shadow story of Emma during the past 8 years (to the date, practically), I have long since realized that the quintessential clues which demonstrate that Jane Austen was the inventor of the alternative "shadow" story of Emma, are what I described most succinctly in the following blog post:

Here is the briefest of summaries of that matrix of clues which I was the first to assemble into a meaningful whole:

1. In 2005, Colleen Sheehan discovered not only that the "courtship" charade had more than one correct answer, she also demonstrated that this particular charade was a double anagram acrostic on the word "lamb" (and also "balm").

2. Later in 2005, I realized that Frank's much-discussed trip to London for a haircut, which much later was explained as a trip to buy a pianoforte for Jane, could also have served another purpose, i.e., to jilt the young woman he had been courting seriously up till that time, Miss Hawkins of Bristol! And that would explain Mrs. Elton's acting so much like a woman scorned, including her creepily excessive attempts to control everything in Jane's already constricted life, once she arrives in Highbury as Mr. Elton's wife.

3. I recognized that Frank himself must be that "abominable puppy" whom Miss Hawkins speaks of so bitingly. And I began searching in the text of Emma for the text of the "acrostic", but came up empty in my search, until a few years later, when one day the obvious explanation hit me----i.e. that Mrs. Elton's acrostic was actually hidden in the plainest sight possible, because it was that very same "courtship" charade!

4. And it was then, that i inferred the following syllogism, as I wrote in my above linked blog post:

"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."

For Ellen or anyone else to claim that the above structure, which fits together like a Rubik's Cube after all the proper twists and turns are accomplished, is accidental, or a figment of my imagination, is to indulge in absolute absurdity!

There is only a single assumption that underlies my method for reading the shadow story of a Jane Austen novel--to recognize what JA hints at everywhere in all her novels, which is that placing almost exclusive point of view in the eyes and mind of a young, clueless heroine, enabled Jane Austen to embed hundreds of clues in the texts of her novels which point toward offstage action which is misunderstood by the heroine, and therefore also is misunderstood by the reader perched, so to speak, on the heroine's shoulder.

Jane Austen wanted to teach her readers to stop following the example of the clueless heroine, and instead to turn our necks, and to look at the world of activity going on behind her heroine's back!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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