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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Turtles All The Way Down: Jane Austen's Rosetta Stone

I just wrote the following in response to a post in Austen-L by Anielka Briggs:


You just wrote "Harriet is definitely very clever and the reader should not be tricked along with Emma. The most revealing scene that "proves" Harriet is clever is when she reveals, in front of Emma, that she knows the answer to The Charade perfectly well. In fact she knows the real answer is "Leviathan" (which Colleen Sheehan also sees as a parody on Prince of Wales). I've posted this several times but here's the scene that proves without a shadow of a doubt that Harriet knows the answer to the charade and cannot be a "moron" ".

To be clear, your (excellent) discovery about Harriet reciting the Royal Navy ship names in proper order of rank, was the _second_ discovery that Harriet is a sharp elf at charade solving, not the first.

Colleen was the first to show Harriet's brilliance, in 2006:

Here is what Colleen wrote on that specific point, it deserves to be repeated:

"Emma quickly and confidently dismisses Harriet Smith’s guesses to the charade and readily offers the solution:  court and ship, or courtship.  While this is a perfectly credible solution to the riddle, I do not think it is the only one. Harriet’s more literal guesses to the charade include kingdom, Neptune, trident, mermaid, and shark. If unlike Emma we are not so quick to reject the more literal approach to solving the charade, then “Lords of the earth” could be princes or, in the singular, prince.  (Since in later lines “Lords” becomes “Lord,” we are encouraged to change plurals to singulars, and vice versa.)  And the “monarch of the seas” is certainly whale or, in the plural, whales. United?  Well, you have it:  Prince [of]
Whales! On 15 March 1812 a satirical poem about the Prince was published in the Examiner, the English periodical edited by James Henry Leigh Hunt and his brother John Hunt.  The poem was entitled “THE TRIUMPH OF THE WHALE,” replete with kings, sharks, mermaids, and a Regent to boot..."

So, when we step back a pace and observe the above in full perspective, we can see that your discovery shows that Harriet was a sharp elf in seeing not one but _two_ solutions to the charade, and, what's more, your discovery shows that Harriet, with true Austenian parsimony, manages to wink at _both_ of those secret and _related_ answers (Prince of Whales and Leviathan) by means of the _same_ "wrong" (in Emma's clueless opinion) answers!

But that's only the beginning of the wonder of all this. Stepping back one step further, we gain additional perspective, when we take note that this sort of tightly bound, parsimonious, double-duty structure of hidden meaning is exactly analogous to the tightly bound structure of hidden meaning which Colleen also opened the door to in 2006, when she pointed out that each of the two stanzas of this charade has an anagrammed acrostic on the word/name "Lamb".

Just as Colleen inspired _you_ to identify Harriet's ship-naming prowess pointing to the secret answer "Leviathan", Colleen's acrostic discovery provided _me_ with the clue I needed in order to realize that this charade was also one and the same as the "acrostic" which Mrs. Elton is given by the "abominable puppy" whom I had in 2005 already identified as Frank Churchill himself!

So all of the above, i.e., Colleen's initial discoveries which inspired you and me, reveals that this charade truly is the Rosetta Stone of Jane Austen's fiction, both for all these multiple intertwined structures of
hidden meaning, but also, on a metaphorical level, because JA is practically screaming to us that it is not only this charade which is structured this way, but also Jane Austen's _novels_, most of all _Emma_,
which _also_  have multiple meanings--i.e., my discovery of JA's "shadow stories" and your later claims of multiple additional layers of meaning.

It means that with Jane Austen, it never was just about parlor tricks and clever charades, but it  _always_ comes down to the stories themselves, and the characters.

Or as Stephen Hawking famously put it in A Brief History of Time: "It's turtles all the way down!"

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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