ABOVE: The 1813 Cruikshank caricature of The Prince of Whales: The Fisherman at Anchor.................. Read Colleen Sheehan's articles (including the footnotes) for the amazing Jane Austen connection:
http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol27no1/sheehan.htm


FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER: @JaneAustenCode

MY MOST RECENT PRESENTATIONS WERE...

...Halloween, 2010, when I addressed the JASNA AGM in Portland re: "Remember the country and age in which we live": The Covert Death-in-childbirth Anti-parody in Northanger Abbey"

http://www.jasna.org/agms/portland/breakout.html

AND MY OTHER RECENT PRESENTATIONS HAVE BEEN:

...to various JASNA chapters re: “The Shadow Story of Emma: Jane Austen, the Secret Feminist”:

In NYC....

http://www.jasnany.org/pdf/may1.pdf

...and also in Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Gainesville, Atlanta, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.

WANT ME TO GIVE A PRESENTATION TO YOUR JASNA REGIONAL GROUP, TOO?

I want to present to other JASNA chapters. Email arnieperlstein@myacc.net if you're interested!


Friday, February 24, 2012

"...complaisant as a sister....careless as a woman and a friend...." and careful as a reader

Yesterday in Austen L, Anielka Briggs wrote the following about a passage in Mansfield Park:

"I've remembered that classic phrase: "......Miss Crawford, complaisant as a sister, was careless as a woman and a friend." Apparently Fanny has worked this out (is this what they call referred speech?) by chapter 26. Very damning isn't it? "careless as a woman and a friend". An interestingly non-feminist approach to Mary Crawford's character: implicit is the suggestion that there are standards expected of friends and women and Mary does not strive to meet these. Particularly interesting to suggest that Mary shows a certain approach to life that Austen terms "careless as a woman". Not "careless as a person and a friend" or "careless as a confidante and a friend" or even "careless as an advisor and a friend". What standards does the author suggest Mary has failed to exhibit that Austen does not expect of men? Of course if you replaced it with a homophone "complacent as a sister...careless as a woman and a friend" it also makes an interesting picture of Lady Bertram or either of the other two Ward sisters. "

I found that to be a very interesting question, and I have just spent an enjoyable hour analyzing, and then writing up, all its little twists and turns. To understand this passage properly, I will show below, we need to read the full context, and we also need to be aware of changes in the meaning of words between JA's time and our own. And I don't agree with Anielka's assertion that this passage is non-feminist.

First re context: Mary has just been deploying every ounce of her considerable wiliness in order to maneuver Fanny into accepting the gift of the necklace, even as Mary has (in her Satanic way) first made sure not only that Fanny was aware that Mary had received that necklace from Henry, but also adds the spicy additional and explicit suggestion that Fanny should think of Henry as well as Mary whenever Fanny subsequently wears the necklace--the better to corrupt Fanny with, my dear, in JA's Gothic fairy tale.

I believe this is also the first time I have noticed that Mary maneuvers Fanny out of her moral scruples and into accepting the gift of the necklace, just as Mary and Henry adeptly maneuvered Edmund out of _his_ moral scruples and into agreeing to take a leading role in Lover's Vows several chapters earlier.

Anyway, that is the immediately preceding context to the following passage which includes the phrase you've quoted:

"Fanny dared not make any farther opposition; and with renewed but less happy thanks accepted the necklace again, for there was an expression in Miss Crawford's eyes which she could not be satisfied with. It was impossible for her to be insensible of Mr. Crawford's change of manners. She had long seen it. He evidently tried to please her: he was gallant, he was attentive, he was something like what he had been to her cousins: he wanted, she supposed, to cheat her of her tranquillity as he had cheated them; and whether he might not have some concern in this necklace—she could not be convinced that he had not, for Miss Crawford, complaisant as a sister, was careless as a woman and a friend. Reflecting and doubting, and feeling that the possession of what she had so much wished for did not bring much satisfaction, she now walked home again, with a change rather than a diminution of cares since her treading that path before." END OF CHAPTER 26

Our first task, I suggest, is to infer what expression Fanny discerns in Mary's eye which Fanny "could not be satisfied with". Upon examination, I believe it can only be some sort of subliminal wink of triumph, as Mary has indeed finessed Fanny into accepting the necklace. Mary wants to make sure that Fanny knows that Mary did all of this finessing entirely intentionally, but also with _total_ deniability. I.e., exactly the same way Mary puns about rears and vices, and exactly the same way that JA layers in her own authorial subliminal meanings in her writing, always with total deniability. Anyway, that is why Fanny's thanks to Mary for the gift of the necklace are "less happy" (translating Fanny-ese into English, "less happy" means "furious and miserable"!) than they were three paragraphs earlier, right _before_ Mary sprang her little trap on Fanny.

Then Fanny reflects on Henry's recent wooing of herself, and (correctly) infers what Henry has already explicitly but privately stated to Mary in Chapter 24, i.e., that he wants to make a hole in Fanny's heart, the same way he previously did this with Maria and Julia. It was no fun cheating Maria and Julia of their tranquility, apparently, because it was just way too easy--Henry is the kind of sociopathic misogynist who only gets his jollies from meeting a really tough wooing challenge! But even as Fanny accurately assesses Henry's motives, I would also suggest that she is not fully aware of just how vulnerable she really is to his charms--but _that_ is a digression for another post at another time.

Getting back on track, that point is what brings us to the phrase in question, about Mary's complaisance and carelessness, when Fanny next skeptically mulls over Mary's disclaimer of Henry's having somehow been part of Mary's little plot to yoke Fanny to Henry via the necklace.

Now, I gathered from what Anielka wrote, quoted above, that she was not aware of the Regency Era meaning of the word "complaisant". The word "complaisant" is uniformly used by JA in MP (and indeed, in _all_ of her novels) synonymously with the way we (in the U.S. of today, at least, I don't know about the modern meaning of this word in other English speaking countries) use the word "compliant" (i.e., _obedient_). That's a very different meaning than our contemporary U.S. meaning of "complacent", which can be "overconfident" or (as you suggested vis a vis Lady Bertram) "overly self-satisfied".

So, using the proper Regency Era meaning, Fanny here is first imagining Mary to be _compliant_ to Henry's orders, and then sets that up in her mind as a direct contrast to Mary's _carelessness_ towards another woman, especially another woman who (like Fanny) was Mary's friend. And that brings us to the _other_ word whose meaning has changed since 1814. The word "careless" is used several times in MP, and I understand it to be more or less opposite in meaning to "complaisant"---i.e., if someone gives you an order, one extreme is to be "complaisant" (compliant) and to fulfill the order without question, whereas the other end of the spectrum of response is to be "careless" (deaf or unheeding), and to ignore the order entirely.

And that brings us to the final point, which is the question of how this analysis fits with my central claim of JA's radical feminism. I believe this passage goes to the heart of JA's feminism, as JA has set up a situation rich in irony on that very issue. Here we have Fanny--who spends the entire novel being extraordinarily compliant to the wishes and orders of just about everybody around her, but who also thrills the world with her Jane Eyreian refusal to bow to Sir Thomas's pressure to accept Henry's proposal---seeing _Mary_--she who takes special delight in repeatedly goring sacred cows of every breed, who portrays herself as her own woman free to flout all conventions and to live as she pleases, regardless of what any man might wish--as the one who takes orders from a man like Mary's brother!

JA is once again pushing the reader into the zone of moral relativism and ambiguity, and challenging us to think about what it is to be a woman in a man's world, what it is to be free of the "chains" that men would place on women, and what better way to dramatize that moral dilemma than to show us Mary (if Fanny is correct in her judgment) acting as Henry's willing panderer, and to show us Fanny struggling to stay out of their Satanic clutches, and perhaps finding that she is not as strong as she thinks herself to be.

This is Jane Austen the sophisticated feminist, examining this grey area of female character and moral judgment, and demonstrating the perils of the life paths of _both_ Fanny _and_ Mary. JA invites those readers careful and curious enough to take the time and effort to decode that passage in Chapter 26, to consider this rich problem, because out of wrestling with same will arise the power to choose a middle path between Fanny and Mary, a path with heart and knowledge where women can navigate between the Scylla of Henry Crawford and the Charybdis of Sir Thomas Bertram, and find happiness and fulfillment.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

George Augustus Frederick, The Prince of Whales, The Big Bad Wolf, King George & Dr. Whale

So far, in my previous two posts, I have focused on the mysterious August Wayne Booth in my argument that Once Upon A Time (OUAT) is, in part, a veiled reworking of Jane Austen’s greatest novel, _Emma_:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2012/02/august-wayne-booth-in-once-upon-time.html

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2012/02/more-clues-that-once-upon-time-is-sly.html

And I also noted that the name “Emma Swan” is based, in part, on the name of the eponymous heroine of _Emma_, Emma Woodhouse. Before going on, I also want to add that it is not a coincidence that Emma’s last name is “Woodhouse”, because in an important way she is like the three pigs who are not safe from the Big Bad Wolf while they are in their house of twigs (which is a “wood house”)—and this is a fairy tale which interested Jane Austen:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/12/jane-austens-letter-57-and-big-bad-wolf.html

Anyway, with that background, I am now going to expand my OUAT name analysis to also include FOUR OTHER character names:

DR. WHALE is a doctor at Storybrooke’s's hospital. He has very strong ties to Regina Mills, and is willing to do anything for her.

KING GEORGE is the father of Prince James and his twin.

FREDERICK is a knight who was accidentally turned to gold, when he saved King Midas from an attack.

HENRY is a precocious 10 year-old boy who believes the inhabitants of Storybrooke are characters from his fairy tale book trapped in the real world by the Evil Queen’s curse.

So what does the interaction of the above six character names (August Wayne Booth, Emma Swan, Dr. Whale, Frederick, King George, and Henry) have to do with Jane Austen’s _Emma_? Only everything!

Let me take you through this step by step:

As every Janeite knows, in Chapter 9 of Austen’s _Emma_, there is a charade:

My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
Another view of man, my second brings,
Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!

But, ah! united, what reverse we have!
Man’s boasted power and freedom, all are flown;
Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,
And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.

The heroine, Emma Woodhouse, naively believes she understands everything and is smarter than her friend Harriet, and Emma quickly solves the charade with the answer “courtship”. However, in 2006, my friend the brilliant scholar Colleen Sheehan found that there was at least one other _secret_ answer to the charade, one which Harriet’s “dumb” answers actually point to, and that answer is the “Prince of Whales”:

http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol27no1/sheehan2.htm

So far so good?

Now we get to the meat on the bone.

If you read Colleen Sheehan’s article carefully, you may have noted that the full name of the Prince Regent was GEORGE AUGUSTUS FREDERICK of the House of Hanover. And even without having read Colleen’s article, you might have known already that his father was the famous KING GEORGE III who lost the American colonies during our American Revolutionary War, and that the Prince became KING GEORGE IV in 1820 when his father finally died.

So, is it just a coincidence that all these names have been applied to characters in OUAT which, in its fairy tale world is all about kings and queens?
The icing on the allusive cake, so to speak, is that the secret answer to the charade in Chapter 9 of _Emma_ is the Prince of WHALES (which of course is a pun on the place name “WALES” without an “h”). Jane Austen was secretly but very satirically alluding to the derisive name that the English people had given to the Prince, who, in addition to being a manslut, profligate gambler, and general hellraiser for decades before he became king, was also extremely obese, due to the awful combination of his gluttonous lifestyle and the rare genetic disease, porphyria, that seriously disabled and then killed his father King George III.
Now, you will have to believe me that, never having watched OUAT before this past Sunday, I had absolutely no idea until this morning that there was a character in OUAT named “Dr. WHALE”—but after finding all of the above connections in OUAT’s character names to the charade from Chapter 9 of _Emma_, just for the helluvit, I searched “OUAT Whale” to see what came up, and Dr. Whale is what turned up on my screen!!!!

Now, what are the odds that all of these names, including most of all “Whale”, would be used in OUAT in this particular courtly, fairy tale context by accident, by pure unintended coincidence? I would suggest to you, vanishingly small odds indeed! It seems to me that at least one of the creators of OUAT has been reading up online about the shadow story of _Emma_ , which I have been talking about since early 2005 in public Austen discussion groups.

So I will leave you all to absorb all of the above, and ponder what the veiled allusion to _Emma_ in OUAT might mean?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: And I will leave for a future post the curious fact that the man whom Emma marries at the end of Austen’s novel is named……GEORGE KNIGHTley, and that the name of Emma’s father and also that of one her nephews, is HENRY! And, for good measure, to note that Jane Austen’s own father (and her second eldest brother, who was disabled in some unknown way) was GEORGE, and that two of Jane Austen’s brothers were, respectively, named HENRY and JAMES!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Jane Austen" song and music video by Holly Christina

To all,

I would like to pass along to you all an email from a creative, musical young singer-songwriter/Janeite, Holly Christina, which includes a link to the Youtube link for her song and music video which I just listened to and enjoyed. One thing I know for sure is that Jane Austen would heartily approve of Holly's entrepreneurial spirit and witty playfulness.

Cheers, ARNIE


EMAIL FROM HOLLY CHRISTINA:

Hi Janeites in cyberspace,

Greetings from New Zealand. Hoping that many of you have a passion for all things Jane Austen, I'm sending you the link to the music video for my new song "Jane Austen":

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vD2XIarhE08

The song takes us on a journey from the 2000s back to the 1800s. I would love to share this with as many Jane Austen fans as possible (who will hopefully enjoy the symbolism and humour of the song), so please feel free to pass this link on in whatever manner you wish. The song is available on iTunes.

Kind regards, Holly Christina
www.hollychristina.co.nz
www.facebook.com/hollychristinamusic

Monday, February 20, 2012

MORE clues that Once Upon A Time is a sly reworking of Jane Austen's Emma!

OK, this is getting VERY interesting!

So, my immediately preceding post earlier today.....

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2012/02/august-wayne-booth-in-once-upon-time.html

.....has already, in less than 12 hours, become the seventh most read post in the short history of my blog, and bids fair to move into second place before I wake up tomorrow morning EST!

In that post, I recounted the improbable serendipity of my stumbling upon a giant clue that the new hit TV series Once Upon A Time is not only an obvious reworking of various Disney-fied stories, but is also (perhaps solely for the intellectual amusement of the show's literarily sophisticated writers) a sly and veiled reworking of many elements from Jane Austen's work of staggering genius, Emma.

That clue was the character name "August Wayne Booth", and I also finished that post by pointing out the obvious additional clue, which is that the heroine of Once Upon A Time, like the heroine of Jane Austen's novel, has the first name "Emma"!

Well, now here's another tantalizing clue from last night's episode, which adds weight to my increasing certainty that the writers of this show have been playing some very clever literary games, in very much the same way that Jane Austen did in all her writing, but most of all in Emma!

Here goes:

August Wayne Booth, that very same mysterious character with the literary critic's name, picks up Emma Swan and takes her to a "watering hole" he knows, but Emma is surprised to find out that this is only the town wishing well, but then he tells her of the well's magical powers, etc etc.

So what does that have to do with Jane Austen? Well, any Janeite really familiar with her novels, and with the social history of the Regency Era during which she spent the final decade of her all too short life, knows that seaside pleasure destinations like Brighton and Weymouth (sorta like Atlantic City in the modern day US), where twenty somethings would hook up, Regency Era-style, were commonly referred to as "watering holes" or "watering places"!

And look in particular at the following descriptions of Frank Churchill spit out most uncharitably by the jealous Mr. Knightley to Emma Woodhouse in Emma:

"We hear of him for ever at some WATERING-PLACE or other. A little while ago, he was at Weymouth. This proves that he can leave the Churchills......Frank Churchill is, indeed, the favourite of fortune. Every thing turns out for his good.—He meets with a young woman at a WATERING-PLACE, gains her affection, cannot even weary her by negligent treatment—and had he and all his family sought round the world for a perfect wife for him, they could not have found her superior.—His aunt is in the way.—His aunt dies.—He has only to speak.—His friends are eager to promote his happiness.—He had used every body ill—and they are all delighted to forgive him.—He is a fortunate man indeed!"

And look at this---the young woman that Frank C. has met at Weymouth is of course Jane Fairfax, the mystery woman whom Emma is so jealous of. As you will find out if you browse in this blog using the search function for her name, I claim was secretly pregnant in the shadow story of _Emma_, and who secretly gives away her illegitimate baby daughter to Mrs. Weston, who has pretended to be pregnant.

And of course Frank Churchill in _Emma_, like Emma Swan's son Henry, was given away for adoption years before, but has come back to the town of his birth (Highbury in Emma, Storybrooke in OUAT) and has brought mystery with him.

So....anyone out there want to help me find more clues to the puzzle that the writers of OUAT have constructed, which points to Jane Austen's Emma?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

August Wayne Booth in Once Upon A Time: Jane Austen Really IS Everywhere in 2012!

Whenever I check my blog statistics, I always get a kick out of noting all the varied home countries of those who read my blog (I am sorry I did not keep track, but my impression is that over the past 20 months, at least 100 countries have been represented), but I am even more interested in seeing what words people Googled that led them to my blog in the first place.

This morning, I was astonished to see not one but three searchers during the last day had entered the words "August Wayne Booth fairy tale" and had thereby been led to my blog.

I was astonished because even though I knew I had written a blog post a while back about Wayne Booth's reversal of his original opinion about the feminism of _Emma_ ....

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/search?q=%22Wayne+Booth%22

...I did not recall there being any reference to a fairy tale in Booth's 1983 Persuasions article.....

http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number5/booth.htm

.... from which I had quoted in my above-linked 2010 blog post.

It did not take me long to find out that Booth had indeed referred to fairy tales not once but twice in the following passage I had quoted, which I now quote again:

"....G. B. Stern once wrote that the marriage of Emma and George Knightley is not a happy ending. “Oh, Miss Austen, it was not a good solution; it was a bad solution, an unhappy ending, could we see beyond the last pages of the book.” Edmund Wilson predicted that Emma would find a new protegĂ© like Harriet, since she has not been cured of her inclination to “infatuations with women.” Marvin Mudrick emphatically rejected Jane Austen’s final sentence, claiming that Emma is still a “confirmed exploiter.” For him, the ending must be read as ironic. When I first reported views of this kind, more than two decades ago, I rejected them. Though I still see them as at best half of what should be said, I think my response was too simple. My point here is that unless we can somehow incorporate something like an ironic vision of the ending, even while pretending not to, EVEN WHILE ENJOYING THE FAIRY TALE TO THE FULL, we are indeed confirming its capacity to implant a harmful vision of the sexes. In other words the ending is indeed a happy ending, not the least ironic, given the world of the conventional plot, a world that we are to enter with absolute whole-heartedness. And yet, simultaneously, we are taught by this work the standards by which the ending must be experienced as we experience fairy-tales or fantasies; the implied author has been teaching us all along what it means to keep our wits about us, and how we must maintain a steady vision about the follies and meannesses in our world. Though all is well for Emma and George Knightley, IN THEIR FAIRY-TALE WORLD, we have been taught that all is far from well in the real world implied by the book, either for their kind (if any such exist) or for those less fortunate men and women who surround them. Every perceptive reader will have learned, by the end, that in the realer world portrayed so perceptively by Jane Austen, the lot of women is considerably more chancy, considerably more threatening, than the lot of men. Emma, with her rich fortune, could build some sort of decent life without a Knightley, just as she earlier claimed. But where would a Jane Fairfax be if Mrs. Churchill had not died to fulfil the needs of the conventional plot?....."

Being the Austen nerd/obsessive that I am, I found this extremely exciting, because even though I just checked and saw that Booth did during his long and distinguished career make _other references to fairy tales [in "Of the Standard of Moral Taste", Booth took note, in passing, of the perverse pleasure that readers take in reading gruesome fairy tales; and in "Who is Responsible in Ethical Criticism", Booth discussed the suspension of disbelief vis a vis the moral message of fairy tales], it is very clear to me that at least someone on the Once Upon A Time creative team, by naming the mysterious stranger "August Wayne Booth", was pointing very very VERY specifically and slyly to the above passage in which Booth wrote in 1983 about the doubleness of the fictional worlds of _Emma_ (Emma's fairy-tale view of things, and the more objective reality concealed in the shadows of the text).

After all, those who watch the show (and many others who've merely heard about it) know that the central conceit of Once Upon A Time is that of a fairy tale world intertwined with the real world, which the primary source of the enormous confusion, mystery, and suspense that the show generates. And "Wayne Booth" is the furthest thing from a common name like "John Smith". This all cannot be a coincidence, it is one GIANT wink by the creators of the TV show!

And then I Googled to see whether anyone else had noticed what my blog statistics had serendipitously brought to my attention, and I did find the following comment by a perceptive viewer of Once Upon A Time in a Google Blogs discussion thread about the character name "August Wayne Booth":

"On the other hand there's a Wayne Booth who was a literary critic and coined the term "unreliable narrator". ...And another book had the string "... August, Wayne Booth..." in reference to some critique Booth had made about Light in August. So maybe the writers are saying we shouldn't believe a word they say. Or perhaps that none of this is real, Emma is Dorothy and it's all a Wizard of Oz dream...."

Spot-on! is my reply. And that dream/reality blurring is exactly the thrust of Booth's 1983 analysis of _Emma_, which is that having the story filtered through Emma's subjective consciousness results in a profound distortion of the objective reality behind it. The entire edifice of my theory of Jane Austen's fiction rests on such an approach to her writing.

So now I think I will make my wife happy and start watching Once Upon a Time with her (we're about to run out of Frasier reruns to watch together), because I have a very strong hunch that there are going to be some sly references to _Emma_ in Once Upon A Time every now and then.

Speaking of sly references to _Emma_, those reading this post today who ARE regular watchers of Once Upon A Time will _already_ be nodding approvingly when I tell you that the show's heroine, played by Jennifer Morrison (who made her reputation starring in House), is named.......EMMA Swan!

So I think that one day (maybe at the Prime Time Emmys?), the creators of Once Upon A Time have some 'splaining to do about all of the above!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: I am amazed at the large number of people who have read this post today! If any of you would like to make a comment, I would love to hear what you think. And those of you reading this who have watched all the episodes so far, and who also have read some of Jane Austen's novels, I would love to hear from you as to any additional winks toward Jane Austen in the TV show!

P.P.S: Please be sure to read my followup post here:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2012/02/more-clues-that-once-upon-time-is-sly.html

Sunday, February 19, 2012

This Means War....Between Me & All Those Snobs Who Dissed It!

My wife and I were looking for some light comic relief today, and decided to go see This Means War (the new action/romcom hybrid starring Reese Witherspoon, the young Captain Kirk, and an English actor largely unknown in the US, Tom Hardy), despite our both having seen some REALLY strongly negative reviews. Something about the concept of the film drew us, and we went in without overly high expectations.

I am so glad we did, because it turned out to be exactly what Reese Witherspoon said it was in an interview I heard-----a witty, fast-paced, cleverly constructed hybrid that winks at the audience at every single step, inviting discerning filmgoers to let their hair down and enjoy a well constructed and (most important) unpretentious romp.

Which is why I am diverging from my usual Austenian fare to vent my spleen at the herd of top critics who have all apparently scared each other into conformity, as they all frantically and snobbishly attempt to trample this movie into box office oblivion. There are films which are fascinating in a metacritical sense, i.e., where it is worth looking at the critical response to a film more for what it says about the critics than about the film itself.

I have a theory that accounts for the huge discrepancy between critical reaction to this particular film (which accounted, I think, for the theater being virtually empty on this the first weekend out in the world) and audience reaction. I strongly suspect that the egos of some of these snobs who pass for knowledgeable film critics were injured by the film's clever mockery and send-up of phony talk about the art of Gustav Klimt, and also about the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

I think that these critics heard themselves being sent up, and they did not like it one single bit, and so they took their revenge by misrepresenting this film as being stupid, heavy-handed, mind-numbing, etc---when actually I was astounded to learn just now that the film was 2 hours in length-I had the impression leaving the theater that it was about 90 minutes. That says a lot about the film, as I can't count the number of romcoms I have seen where each minute seemed an eternity--I am not an easy mark for such films, but this one charmed me throughout.

And what makes the Hitchcock and Klimt send-up so much more satisfying was that this film, beneath the glitzy hi-tech surface, actually is kinda old school in a sneaky way--it makes a host of sly references to a variety of the cliches of the modern romcom and action film, and shows that the screenwriters were very well aware of the genres they were so cleverly mixing and matching.

And in particular, the explicit allusion to Hitchcock is actually not a diss of Hitchcock at all, it is an homage, as this film both acknowledges that it is not high art, but also dares to suggest that it is worthy of being just a cut below Hitchcock's own unique ability to achieve high art while also making films that unsophisticated filmgoers looking for some suspense and romance could also enjoy.

Anyone who regularly reads in this blog knows that I take literature (and also film) very seriously, and I know the difference between high art and commercial art in the manner in which stories are told. So I do not use the word "snob" lightly in my critique on film critics, because I've been accused of being a snob many times. But in this case, the attacks on This Means War are so mean-spirited, so vicious, that I realized that for these critics, having to watch a film that dares to cleverly mock their critical bona fides was apparently an act of war calling for all out attack.

The whole point of this rant, then, is that if you want to watch a film that moves at a fast but not too-fast tempo, that is witty and unpretentious, and will have you smiling more often than not during it, then go see This Means War, and ignore all those snobs who tried so hard to talk you out of it!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: For Janeites, there is one Austenian trivia point---if you see the film and figure out what I mean, please post a comment here and tell about it! Otherwise, I will eventually do that myself.

Jane Austen WAS Mary Bennet!

In Austen L, Ellen Moody wrote the following about Jane Austen's education:

"Austen knew no Greek. It was not taught in the schools. Pope made a fortune by translating Homer because most people (men too) couldn't read Homer. She had a little Latin -- less than Shakespeare. What she picked up from her father teaching her brothers with her alongside. But she was probably not held responsible for really learning much. She was a girl."

I responded as follows:

Ellen, you are speaking about Jane Austen as if she were a passive Barbie doll who dutifully accepted whatever educational crumbs were tossed in her direction by her father and brothers. The veiled learnedness of the Juvenilia, and also of the several entries in the Loiterer which I have previously speculated were actually written by JA at age 13-14....

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2009/11/luke-lickspittle-sophia-sentiment-and.html

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/02/jane-austens-two-earliest-surviving.html

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/02/james-austens-epitaph-for-loiterer.html

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/06/reverend-benjamin-william-portal.html

...all point toward JA's having been, from an extremely young age, a self-directed autodidact, who took full advantage of access to a pretty good home library at Steventon and basically taught herself everything _she_ was interested in!


Ellen: "For the rest I find it somewhat painful. Her comments on Lady Jane shows she is not taking seriously the young woman's horrible death, how she has not thought about how the young woman was thrown away. In this connection Radcliffe is incomparably more humane and adult. She knows when she is reading history and when it is filled with cruelty and takes it seriously. Novels are different. Austen is treating history as a novel."

No, I claim that JA shared Radcliffe's compassion for women treated abominably, but the difference is that Radcliffe did not engage in the same sort of parodic mimicry that JA did.


Ellen: "I know that her satire of Mary Bennet is targeted at hypocrisy, pretense at understanding, in a sense crass stupidity, but the way it's used and functions is to degrade reading girls -- of which surely she was one. She hits at herself. I don't like the grounds of her slurring of girls' schools. Why should there not be pretense if pretense means learning real history. I realize she is trying to protect herself but at the expense of women who had she thought about it should have been her allies. And would be in decades to come. It's the same thing when she makes fun of emotional novels where the story is justified - and Radcliffe too. There's she's jealous and understandably but it does not make her any more likeable. "

Ellen, if you only realized that Mary Bennet IS Jane Austen (in exactly the same way that Miss Bates IS Jane Austen, too), then you'd realize that you are 180 degrees off in your understanding of why JA presents Mary Bennet as she does in P&P. If you understand that the reader of P&P is not seeing Mary Bennet as she really is, but is seeing Mary Bennet as _Elizabeth_ Bennet sees Mary, then it changes _everything_! Just think about how Emma so grossly misunderstands Jane Fairfax, and you will realize that JA has, via her sleight of hand, done exactly the same thing with Lizzy vis a vis Mary!

Mary is not a hypocrite, Mary is not stupid, Mary is not vain---Mary is actually a true and worthy scholar, musician, and feminist, as Colleen McCullough so aptly portrayed Mary in her sequel a few years ago, and as Steven D. Scott so aptly described Mary in The Talk in Jane Austen, and as I have written on numerous occasions, including these:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/08/re-reading-p-mary-bennet-good-satan-of.html

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/09/most-accomplished-actress-in.html

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/03/men-shant-come-and-part-us-i-am.html


I am certain that it was enormously cathartic for JA to concoct these parodies, a way of not going mad in a male-dominated society that could never accept a full blown world class female genius who was not afraid to expose all of that society's hypocrisies and crimes against women.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Jane Austen found great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions not her own

In our ongoing group read of Jane Austen's letters in Janeites and Austen L, we reached Letter 66 this week, written when JA was 33 years old, and which included the following curious passage:

"I am sorry my verses did not bring any return from [JA's brother] Edward, I was in
hopes they might-but I suppose he does not rate them high enough.-It might be partiality, but they seemed to me purely classical-just like Homer & Virgil, Ovid & Propria que Maribus."

I posted about the above passage in Letter 66 last year, and quoted at lavish length from the excellent article on this very topic by my friend, Mary DeForest, who in my considered opinion is the preeminent scholar in the world today on the topic of Jane Austen & the Greek & Roman classics:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/02/1988-persuasions-article-about-jane.html

My posting of the above had followed my own preliminary explorations into Jane Austen's veiled allusions to the Heroides of Ovid:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/02/i-have-now-had-chance-to-followup-on-my.html

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/02/eliza-bennet-another-one-of-jane.html

That thread then moved into speculations pro and con about Jane Austen's knowledge of Greek and Latin--the languages and/or the literature---and my position was that Jane Austen almost certainly read, and read extensively, in the classics in English and not in the original ancient tongues. And then a couple of other people mentioned the following passage in Jane Austen's History of England, written when she was just 16 years old:

"....she had one daughter, afterwards the Mother of Lady Jane Grey, who tho' inferior to her lovely Cousin the Queen of Scots, was yet an amiable young woman & famous for reading Greek while other people were hunting...the King died & the Kingdom was left to his daughter in law the Lady Jane Grey, who has been already mentioned as reading Greek. Whether she really understood that language or whether such a study proceeded only from an excess of vanity for which I beleive she was always rather remarkable, is uncertain. Whatever might be the cause, she preserved the same appearance of knowledge, & contempt of what was generally esteemed pleasure, during the whole of her Life, for she declared herself displeased with being appointed Queen, and while conducting to the Scaffold, she wrote a Sentence in Latin & another in Greek on seeing the dead Body of her husband accidentally passing that way."

That passage was interpreted literally by Ellen Moody, and I responded as follows:

Ellen, once again you completely misread JA's irony--these mocking statements are not JA's own opinions, she has adopted the voice of one of men who held their pens (so to speak) and wrote the histories which either ignored women, or failed to give women such as Lady Jane Grey the respect they merited. This is the kind of joke a man who felt threatened by female intellectual achievement would make--sorta like the self-revealing joke made by Santorum's biggest financial supporter the other day.

Therefore, your thinking this is the true, sincere, non-parodic voice and opinion of Jane Austen about Lady Jane Grey is a tragic error!

And there's another giant hint that JA is horsing around which is readily discernible by those who hear the echo of the end of the above-quoted passage....

"while conducting to the Scaffold, she wrote a Sentence in Latin & another in Greek on seeing the dead Body of her husband accidentally passing that way"

...in the following, strikingly parallel passage from Letter 10 (written seven years after JA wrote her History of England) which we discussed 10 months ago:

"Mrs. Hall of Sherbourn was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, oweing to a _fright_.--I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband."

I wrote about the above passage in Letter 10 from two different angles last year:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/02/dr-halls-stillborn-child-and-mrs.html

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/03/frightened-childbearing-mothers-in-jas.html

My point, once again, is that the failure to realize that JA loved to occasionally and abruptly shift into parodic voice mimicry mode in her letters is a fatal error indeed, if one wishes to capture the quicksilver essence of JA's Protean personality.

And the final, giant hint that JA loved to play this sort of parodic game is that she uses Mr. Darcy to tell us all about it, when he accuses Elizabeth Bennet of getting a great deal of pleasure out of doing that very same thing:

"....I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own."

And that is exactly why I paraphrased Mr. Darcy in my Subject Line:

Every Janeite has _indeed_ had the pleasure of JA's acquaintance long enough to know that she found great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact were not her own.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley: My Preliminary Review upon reading it through the first time

So, I finished PD James's Death Comes to Pemberley (DCTP) and here are the thoughts that come to mind now, although I do intend to reread parts of it in order to better grasp James's subtle narrative strategies:


1. On balance, I recommend (let's say, a 7 out of 10) James's novel to Janeites who know the story of P&P well, I think most who read DCTP will get comfortable after the first 40-50 pages with the idea of a continuation (you can tell, I am not a Janeite who reads continuations as a rule, there has to be a good reason for me to do so), and then you will be carried along by James's easy, subtle, elegant writing style, and by curiosity to see how she lands the plane, so to speak. Those who said there is no suspense are being unreasonable, in my opinion. Okay, it's not The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but there is good character development, fair play in terms of clues to the reader of what is going on behind the scenes, and a satisfying if understated denouement.

2. Apropos James's writing style, the good new is that there is no presumptuous attempt by James to imitate JA's writing style. As befits an excellent fiction writer, James seems to me to be writing in her own style, based on my reading of one of her earlier novels (the one I have not identified).

3. Aside from the above difference in writing style, there is a fundamental difference between James's and JA's narrative structure. To wit, all of JA's novels, including P&P, are written 95% from the point of view of the heroine, with only very brief and sporadic "trips" inside the minds of a few other key characters. So, in P&P, almost everything we read is presented to us through the filter of Lizzy's mind. Obviously, this creates rich possibilities, which JA exploited as well as any writer ever did, for ambiguity and natural psychological mystery--the mystery of everyday life, if you will.

In stark contrast, point of view in DCTP is divided more or less equally (I did not attempt an exact statistical analysis) between that of Darcy and that of Elizabeth. Ergo we no longer have Darcy as a mystery man as he is in P&P, we _know_ what Darcy thinks about everything that happens. I would have hoped James would have followed JA's practice, but in the end, I accepted James's and went along. There was still plenty of room for mystery as to the motivations of the other major characters in the story, which James does exploit to good advantage. In the end of the day, she does seem to be carrying forward, in a different way, JA's basic premise, which is that life is mysterious because we are trapped inside our own minds, and we only know what others show us as to their minds and motives. In that sense, DCTP really is a sequel to P&P, which happens to play with the same characters (and the few new ones who are added).

4. I will come back with more in the next week after I spend a bit more time delving more deeply into DCTP, giving it my usual treatment to try to dig down to the mysteries still left unresolved at the end, despite the appearance of closure. I am pretty sure James was playing that same Austenian game of authorial cat and mouse, and that we are meant to question the validity of the explanations presented to us in the final of the novels six sections, where most of that explaining is done not by the narrator, but by the characters themselves, either in spoken words or in letters. It is for sure that James means for us to spend that extra time with this novel, and to try to figure out what she has slyly left in the shadows. And in that, she is paying the most sincere homage of all to Jane Austen, who was the master of that art as no other writer before or since.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Part 1 (of 2) of Comments on PD James's Death Comes to Pemberley !!SPOILERS!!

Before going further, I want to reaffirm that there are spoilers in this post as to various aspects of PD James's Death Comes to Pemberley (DCTP for short), so if you were planning on reading it yourself, and don't want to have any surprises spoiled, then stop reading now, and come back when you've read it!

But for the rest of you, scroll down a bit, I hope you'll enjoy what I have to say.

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I've started reading DCTP, and I expect it will take me about a week or less to work through its 270+ pages in the most pleasurable way.

So I thought I'd give a week's worth of reports "from the road" during each of the next 7 days as to my first impressions (ha ha) upon reading DCTP (I will decide later if I will do a reread before returning it to the library).

But first, some introductory remarks:

1. The reviews of DCTP that I've read so far have been more negative than positive, with the majority of them falling in the "damning with faint praise" category--i.e., mostly acknowledging the high quality of the writing, but expressing disappointment in the way James has handled the themes and characterizations handled so perfectly and memorably in P&P, and/or with the low quality of the mystification in what presents itself as a PD James murder mystery, which raises expectations pretty high.

2. Until four months ago, I had actually never read a PD James novel, although I had seen the film version of The Children of Men without even realizing it then that the novel upon which it was based had been written by PD James.

3. The most important reason for my own personal interest in DCTP is to find out if James had any insight into what I call the "shadow story" of P&P, i.e., how much of the offstage action in P&P did James perceive and understand? If you had asked me as recently as 4 months ago, I would have guessed that James had very _little_ insight into JA's shadow stories, and indeed, I'd not have been particularly eager to read DCTP.

Why? Because, as I have pointed out on a dozen occasions in my public presentations about Jane Fairfax as the shadow heroine of _Emma_, PD James's famous and much-lauded analysis of all (or at least many) of the clues in _Emma_ which point to a secret engagement between Jane and Frank is, in my opinion, fundamentally flawed, because James did not (seem to) recognize that these textual clues only point to a secret _relationship_ between Jane and Frank, and not necessarily a secret engagement.

3. But note that, a la Jane Austen, I wrote "seem to" in that last sentence. Why?

First, I became aware of something funny and quite odd in the text of Children of Men, after someone posted a comment online about having noticed an explicit allusion to _Emma_ in it. That led me to browse about in Children of Men, upon which I wrote the following blog post, in which I concluded that James's allusion to _Emma_ was not trivial at all, even though I did not then get a sense that James had peered deeply into the shadow story of _Emma_:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/10/allusions-to-emma-in-pd-jamess-children.html

4. Not long after #3 occurred, I was chatting with a good friend (who by the way is not an Austen obsessive at all) about my research, and she mentioned DCTP, because she was herself a serious fan of James's mysteries. That window of opportunity prompted me to ask her for a recommendation as to some other writing by PD James that I ought to read, and she instantly recommended that I read one of James's mystery novels (and I have my reasons for not revealing which one), which was a particular favorite of my friend.

5. When I eventually got that mystery novel and read it, I quickly realized, and then confirmed, not only that James was a writer of high grade mysteries, but also that James was (as I had already discerned vis a vis the Emma allusion in Children of Men) playing a much slyer game as an Austenian interpreter than I had previously believed, based on her analysis of _Emma_'s clues. It turns out that James, in that novel I read, demonstrated, albeit covertly, a strong understanding of at least some aspects of Jane Austen's shadow stories as I understand them, in particular (and most amazingly to me) _Emma_, the very novel James had appeared not to penetrate deeply enough!

4. So _that_ is why I suddenly became quite eager to read DCTP after all, proceeding on the working hypothesis that if James _seems_ to have shortchanged her readers on mystery in DCTP, perhaps the most interesting part of the mystery is not the whodunit aspect of the murder, but rather is _covert_ as to _other_ mysteries. And that James, as in that earlier novel, was not going to be too forthcoming with overt hints to the reader to look for the covert mystery in DCTP.


OK, enough for introductory comments, now on to my reactions to the Prologue of DCTP:

1. The 12-page Prologue is James's very telescoped recapitulation of the action of P&P, and it has been criticized in some of the reviews as unnecessary and/or poorly executed. I disagree strongly, I think that these negative reviewers have missed James's understated, dry wit entirely, and have missed James's picking up on shadows in P&P. To wit, James does a wonderfully subtle job of showing how closely she read P&P, and the centerpiece of her Prologue starts with the following sentence:

"...Miss Elizabeth's triumph [in marrying Darcy] was on much too grand a scale. Although [the ladies of Meryton] conceded that she was pretty enough and had fine eyes, she had nothing else to recommend her to a man with ten thousand a year and it was not long before a coterie of the most influential gossips concocted an explanation: Miss Lizzy had been determined to capture Mr. Darcy from the moment of their first meeting...."

James then spends two pages sketching the textual evidence in P&P that these gossips relied on, something that you will search for in vain in the text of P&P, because JA left all of that implied, but unstated. So James is telling the knowing reader, right off, that we need to stay on our toes in reading DCTP, because she has done her homework, and has seen some things behind the curtain in the text of P&P, in this case, a point that many readers of P&P _don't_ catch, i.e., that much of what Lizzy does in P&P looks to the outside world like she is deliberately hard to get with Darcy, even though we the readers, who are inside her head, know that it's all unconscious on Lizzy's part.

2. James then articulates the last item in the gossippers's checklist as to how Lizzy has had her eyes set on Darcy from Day One is the following:

"But at last all had come right when Mrs. Gardiner and her husband...had invited Elizabeth to accompany them on a summer tour of pleasure. It was to have been as far as the Lakes, but Mr. Gardiner's business responsibilities had apparently dictated a more limited scheme....no one in Meryton believed the excuse...It was obvious that Mr. Gardiner, a partner in her favorite niece's matrimonial scheme, had chosen Derbyshire because Mr. Darcy would be at Pemberley..." Etc etc.

Now, while I personally think the offstage actions bringing Darcy and LIzzy together "by accident" are a lot more complicated than that simple formulation by James, I still say bravo to James for picking up on, and articulating, that one part. It is, to me, one of the most obvious textual "bread crumbs" in P&P pointing the reader straight to the heart of the shadow story of P&P, because, in my own considered opinion, only an inferior writer would construct such an unlikely coincidence as that as the basis for the romantic climax of the novel.

And it occurs to me for the first time, as I write this now, that we have evidence in Jane Austen's _own_ handwriting for why she would never have been satisfied with such a coincidence for a romantic climax. Not in one of her letters, no. But much better evidence, in the cancelled chapters of Persuasion! That is where JA at first repeated a heavy handed reworking of the ending of P&P, by overtly showing the reader that Admiral & Mrs. Croft play clumsy matchmakers in bringing Wentworth and Anne together. Then a day or two later, JA woke up and thought much better of it, and came up with arguably the most romantic climax to a love story ever written, one in which the matchmaking is all submerged in the shadows where it belongs.

And there I will stop, but I will be back with thoughts about Book One (out of a total of six) of Death Comes to Pemberley!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Mansfield Park’s Allusion to the Bastille Leitmotif in Sterne’s Sentimental Journey (1762)

Writing my immediately preceding post about The Flying Books of Morris Lessmore has prompted me to expand upon my earlier post about the Bastille allusion hidden in plain sight in Mansfield Park…

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2012/02/allons-enfants-demansfield-park-part.html

.....which relates directly to what Maria says to Henry:

""...unluckily that iron gate, that ha-ha, give me a feeling of restraint and hardship. 'I cannot get out,' as the starling said." As she spoke, and it was with expression, she walked to the gate: he followed her...."

What none of the many Austen scholars who have described the allusion to Sterne's Sentimental Journey (1762) have noted, to the best of my knowledge, is that the context in which the starling yearns for freedom is the very same Bastille (albeit 27 years before it was stormed in 1789) that JA covertly alluded to in MP. As you read the first person account by Sterne's alter ego, Yorick, think about how it relates to the subliminal image of the Bastille as it plays out in Mansfield Park, and then read my additional comments which immediately follow this extended quotation, which is Yorick, as English tourist, considering the possibility of being imprisoned in the Bastille for want of a passport:

"....Eugenius, knowing that I was as little subject to be overburden’d with money as thought, had drawn me aside to interrogate me how much I had taken care for; upon telling him the exact sum, Eugenius shook his head, and said it would not do; so pull’d out his purse in order to empty it into mine.—I’ve enough in conscience, Eugenius, said I.—Indeed, Yorick, you have not, replied Eugenius.—I know France and Italy better than you.—But you don’t consider, Eugenius, said I, refusing his offer, that before I have been three days in Paris, I shall take care to say or do something or other for which I shall get clapp’d up into the BASTILLE, and that I shall live there a couple of months entirely at the king of France’s expense.—I beg pardon, said Eugenius, dryly: really I had forgot that resource.
Now the event I treated gaily came seriously to my door. Is it folly, or nonchalance, or philosophy, or pertinacity—or what is it in me, that, after all, when La Fleur had gone down-stairs, and I was quite alone, I could not bring down my mind to think of it otherwise than I had then spoken of it to Eugenius? —And as for the BASTILLE; the terror is in the word.—Make the most of it you can, said I to myself, the BASTILLE is but another word for a tower—and a tower is but another word for a house you can’t get out of.—Mercy on the gouty! for they are in it twice a year—but with nine livres a day, and pen and ink and paper and patience, albeit a man can’t get out, he may do very well within—at least for a month or six weeks; at the end of which, if he is a harmless fellow, his innocence appears, and he comes out a better and wiser man than he went in.
I had some occasion (I forget what) to step into the courtyard, as I settled this account; and remember I walk’d downstairs in no small triumph with the conceit of my reasoning.—Beshrew the /somber/ pencil! said I vauntingly—for I envy not its powers, which paints the evils of life with so hard and deadly a coloring. The mind sits terrified at the objects she has magnified herself, and blackened: reduce them to their proper size and hue, she overlooks them—’T is true said I, correcting the proposition—the BASTILLE is not an evil to be despised—but strip it of its towers—fill up the fossĂ©—unbarricade the doors—call it simply a confinement, and suppose ’t is some tyrant of a distemper—and not of a man, which holds you in it—the evil vanishes, and you bear the other half without complaint.
I was interrupted in the heyday of this soliloquy, with a voice which I took to be of a child, which complained “it could not get out.”—I look’d up and down the passage, and seeing neither man, woman, or child, I went out without further attention.
In my return back through the passage, I heard the same words repeated twice over; and looking up, I saw it was a starling hung in a little cage.—“I can’t get out—I can’t get out,” said the starling.
I stood looking at the bird: and to every person who came through the passage it ran fluttering to the side towards which they approach’d it, with the same lamentation of its captivity.—“I can’t get out,” said the starling.—God help thee! said I, but I’ll let thee out, cost what it will; so I turn’d about the cage to get to the door; it was twisted and double twisted so fast with wire, there was no getting it open without pulling the cage to pieces.—I took both hands to it. The bird flew to the place where I was attempting his deliverance, and thrusting his head through the trellis, press’d his breast against it, as if impatient.—I fear, poor creature! said I, I cannot set thee at liberty.—“No,” said the starling—“I can’t get out—I can’t get out,” said the starling.
I vow I never had my affections more tenderly awakened; or do I remember an incident in my life, where the dissipated spirits, to which my reason had been a bubble, were so suddenly call’d home. Mechanical as the notes were, yet so true in tune to nature were they chanted, that in one moment they overthrew all my systematic reasonings upon the BASTILLE; and I heavily walk’d up-stairs, unsaying every word I had said in going down them.
Disguise thyself as thou wilt, still, slavery! said I—still thou art a bitter draught! and though thousands in all ages have been made to drink of thee, thou art no less bitter on that account.—’T is thou, thrice sweet and gracious goddess, addressing myself to LIBERTY, whom all in public or in private worship, whose taste is grateful, and ever wilt be so, till NATURE herself shall change—no /tint/ of words can spot thy snowy mantle, or chymic power turn thy scepter into iron—with thee to smile upon him as he eats his crust, the swain is happier than his monarch, from whose court thou art exiled—Gracious heaven! cried I, kneeling down upon the last step but one in my ascent, grant me but health, thou great Bestower of it, and give me but this fair goddess as my companion—and shower down thy miters, if it seems good unto thy divine providence, upon those heads which are aching for them." END QUOTE

An additional irony is that the starling was taught his litany by an English owner, but the French people who now hear him cannot understand him.

And then, after posting the above, Diane Reynolds made the following serendipitous comment in Austen L in a thread about the incest theme in Mansfield Park:

"The incest--and more broadly parentage--theme interests me because it was so prevalent in the 18th century literature JA knew. She would have known, I imagine, that Sterne dropped hints that Tristram was Yorick's, not Mr. Shandy's, son. And JA with her sense of fun and play, would have loved working these ideas into her stories. "

That prompted me to reply to her as follows:

Diane, as you will recall, I was just writing yesterday about the Bastille references in Sterne's Sentimental Journey which I believe JA was invoking in Mansfield Park-----and of course, the protagonist of Sentimental Journey is that same Yorick. But I hadn't considered Yorick's presence in SJ as also being connected in JA's mind to Tristram's suspicious paternity--but I think you're absolutely right, that is an additional angle JA would have worked into Mansfield Park as well!

And I am sure you also recall Jane Austen's early and continuing interest in Tristram Shandy and in particular his paternity:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/08/letter-39-and-tristram-shandy.html [re Uncle Toby's Annuity--I personally think Tristram himself is Uncle Toby's "annuity", and it's interesting that there is a racial undertone in this reference in Letter 39]

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/05/11-year-olds-and-alternative.html

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/05/letter-26-jane-austens-cock-bull-story.html


Diane: "Further, if Mary and Henry are Creole children of Sir Thomas, how do we know that? We know they have dark hair and eyes and that Henry is described as quite black, or words, to that effect, but couldn't that simply mean dark haired?"

There are benign, safe, proper interpretations of pretty much every one of JA's innuendoes, hints, allusions, etc. Why should these be any different? Of course JA knew that she was writing ambiguously here. I have believed since 2006 that the Crawfords are meant to be seen as Creoles, because it fits so well with all the rest of the enormous Antiguan black hole that exerts its unseen gravity on the story of Mansfield Park.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

In The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore, More is Less AND Less is More!

In Austen L and Janeites, Diane Reynolds brought forward a link to a short movie (15 minutes)--The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore—which has been nominated for a 2012 Oscar, and she enticed us with “It's a very dear movie that book lovers will most likely appreciate."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Adzywe9xeIU

I watched it and loved it, and I’ve decided to do my bit to help spread the word about it!

Like a great novel, this excellent film can just be enjoyed uncritically simply as a lovely experience (in particular, what a fantastic score!) or it can be mulled over for its deeper meanings. In that regard, I read a few reviews of the film which pointed out the film’s broad wink at The Wizard of Oz, among other obvious allusions.

Being an Austen obsessive, it’s perhaps not surprising that I was strongly reminded at one point of one particular Jane Austen novel. I.e., watching the hero hop the gate and watching the books fly around like little birds, I immediately made an association to the Sotherton ha-ha episode in Mansfield Park, with Maria Bertram channeling Laurence Sterne’s 1762 fictionalized travel memoir, A Sentimental Journey, by quoting his starling trying to get out of its cage.

Morris Lessmore immediately gave me a fresh perspective on Maria's situation in Mansfield Park, making me realize that, yes, hopping a locked gate can be transgression....but it can also be liberation. It all depends on your point of view.....or maybe sometimes they're two inseparable sides of the same coin?

In my post immediately following this, I will expand on my above referenced interpretation of Jane Austen’s allusion to Sterne, but I finish here by recommending that you, too, invest 15 minutes, and watch this wonderfully suggestive cinematic love letter to imagination and literature and see if it rekindles any of your favorite stories in your imagination.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: I could not help also being reminded of one of the most romantic lines in all of Jane Austen's novels, when Knightley explains things to Emma right after she accepts his proposal of marriage:

"If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more."

Friday, February 10, 2012

Letter 65: an odd thing to occur to Cassandra

"I am happy to say that we had no second Letter from Bookham last week. Yours has brought its usual measure of satisfaction and amusement, and I beg your acceptance of all the Thanks due on the occasion.-Your offer of Cravats is very kind, and happens to be particularly adapted to my wants-but it was an odd thing to occur to you."

I've come to realize over the past 65 weeks that Jane Austen loved to begin her letters with something spicy, and, therefore, rare has been the humdrum beginning, and frequent has been the intriguing opening hook. This week's version is a little mystery--not a mystery, we would imagine, to Cassandra, but definitely one to us reading Letter 65 today.

At first, there seems nothing strange about JA offering thanks to Cassandra on the occasion of Cassandra having, in her last letter to JA, offered Cravats to JA. But what is very strange and very mysterious is what comes next: JA refers to these Cravats as being "particularly adapted" to JA's "wants". What could render Cravats "particularly adapted" to the "wants" of a 34 year old woman? And, even stranger and more mysterious, why does JA add that it (i.e., the offer of the Cravats) "was an odd thing to occur to" Cassandra?

Anyone have any theories as to what is going on here?

The first question that comes to my mind, and perhaps a Regency Era fashion maven can enlighten us, is as to whether ladies ever wore Cravats during JA's lifetime, and, if so, whether it was a fashion or political statement of some kind? Was a lady wearing a Cravat the equivalent of a lady wearing pants instead of a gown? Or was it stylish for both ladies and gentlemen to wear Cravats?

The answer to that question will go a long way, I think, toward explaining JA's observations about the particular adaptiveness of the Cravats, and the oddness of CEA's offer.

Now, with JA there is always the chance of a put-on, and this is no exception--except....that last part about oddness does not sound ironic to my ear.

It may or may not be relevant that this passage in Letter 65 happens to be the _only_ reference to cravats in all of JA's surviving letters, and, curiously, the only three references to cravats in the six novels _all_ appear in Northanger Abbey, and all seem to refer to same as items of _male_ apparel:

Chapter 3: They were interrupted by Mrs. Allen: "My dear Catherine," said she, "do take this pin out of my sleeve; I am afraid it has torn a hole already; I shall be quite sorry if it has, for this is a favourite gown, though it cost but nine shillings a yard." "That is exactly what I should have guessed it, madam," said Mr. Tilney, looking at the muslin. "Do you understand muslins, sir?" "Particularly well; I ALWAYS BUY MY OWN CRAVATS, and am allowed to be an excellent judge; and my sister has often trusted me in the choice of a gown. I bought one for her the other day, and it was pronounced to be a prodigious bargain by every lady who saw it. I gave but five shillings a yard for it, and a true Indian muslin." Mrs. Allen was quite struck by his genius. "Men commonly take so little notice of those things," said she; "I can never get Mr. Allen to know one of my gowns from another. You must be a great comfort to your sister, sir." "I hope I am, madam."

Chapter 22: "[Catherine's] greedy eye glanced rapidly over a page. She started at its import. Could it be possible, or did not her senses play her false? An inventory of linen, in coarse and modern characters, seemed all that was before her! If the evidence of sight might be trusted, she held a washing-bill in her hand. She seized another sheet, and saw the same articles with little variation; a third, a fourth, and a fifth presented nothing new. Shirts, stockings, CRAVATS, and waistcoats faced her in each. Two others, penned by the same hand, marked an expenditure scarcely more interesting, in letters, hair-powder, shoe-string, and breeches-ball..."

Chapter 30: "...in [Catherine's] silence and sadness she was the very reverse of all that she had been before. For two days Mrs. Morland allowed it to pass even without a hint; but when a third night's rest had neither restored her cheerfulness, improved her in useful activity, nor given her a greater inclination for needlework, she could no longer refrain from the gentle reproof of, "My dear Catherine, I am afraid you are growing quite a fine lady. I do not know when poor Richard's CRAVATS would be done, if he had no friend but you. Your head runs too much upon Bath; but there is a time for everything—a time for balls and plays, and a time for work. You have had a long run of amusement, and now you must try to be useful."

And finally, here is an informative blog post about the basics of cravat wearing by dandies during the Regency Era:

http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2009/03/21/the-art-of-tying-the-cravat/

So, I invite those who are as intrigued as I am to speculate as to what JA meant in that passage in Letter 65. In doing so, please feel free to be as playful and Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are when they try to figure out the meaning behind the numerical I.D. that he has been hiding behind in exchanging emails with her. Here are my guesses, and you can figure out which are playful and which are serious:

1. JA was going to a masquerade party dressed as a man.

2. JA needed to escape from the dreary walkup in Southampton by tieing the cravats in series as a rope ladder to ease herself down to the ground.

3. JA was dressing like a man without going to a masquerade party, i.e., in order to walk about as a man on Southampton's streets, and see what it was like.

4. JA canniballized the cravats in order to redesign them into some article of female attire.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Fear and Trembling Before Opening a Door in Mansfield Park and Jane Eyre

I was just browsing in the archives of Austen L and Janeites to ferret out any additional, prior inklings of Jane Eyre as a reworking ofMansfield Park, and I struck gold with two posts from long ago by Dorothy Gannon, who has not been active in either group since 2001 (does anyone know if she is still a member, or if she is still alive?).

Shortly said, Dorothy (1) was spot-on in her 1998 post in noting yet another pair of parallel passages in MP and Jane Eyre (hesitating & gathering courage before opening a door and enduring anticipated punishment from a domestic tyrant), and (2) was in her 1999 post within a hair of realizing that the reference to Roman emperors in Ch. 2 of Jane Eyre that she quotes had its “twin” in Ch. 2 of MP, as I pointed out in my last post. But Dorothy never actually does tip her hand as to whether she believes any of these parallels are accidental or were intended by Bronte.

As you read Dorothy's 1998 post, you will want to refer back to the following passage in MP described by Dorothy, where Fanny fears to open the door to go speak to Sir Thomas right after his unexpected return from Antigua:

"Fanny was left with only the Crawfords and Mr. Yates. She had been quite overlooked by her cousins; and as her own opinion of her claims on Sir Thomas's affection was much too humble to give her any idea of classing herself with his children, she was glad to remain behind and gain a little breathing-time. Her AGITATION and alarm exceeded all that was endured by the rest, by the right of a disposition which not even innocence could keep from suffering. She was nearly fainting: all her former habitual dread of her uncle was returning, and with it compassion for him and for almost every one of the party on the development before him, with solicitude on Edmund's account indescribable. She had found a seat, where in excessive TREMBLING she was enduring all these fearful thoughts............Fanny was just beginning to collect herself, and to feel that if she staid longer behind it might seem disrespectful, when this point was settled, and being commissioned with the brother and sister's apology, saw them preparing to go as she quitted the room herself to perform the dreadful duty of appearing before her uncle. Too soon did she find herself at the drawing-room door; and after pausing a moment for what she knew would not come, for a courage which the outside of no door had ever supplied to her, she turned the lock in desperation, and the lights of the drawing-room, and all the collected family, were before her....."

It is indeed obvious that Charlotte Bronte, sly covert alluder that she is, has made sure to leave a sufficiently savory "bread crumb" to catch the eye of a sharp close reader like Dorothy.

Otherwise, I leave Dorothy to express in her own words her own very interesting insights into the parallels between Jane Eyre and Mansfield Park, which I assert only redouble the certainty of Bronte's intention to create them.

Cheers, ARNIE sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com @JaneAustenCode on Twitter


First post by Dorothy Gannon, 10/27/98:

“People have compared Fanny Price to Jane Eyre, a character whose situation resembles hers in many ways, but one whom most people find somehow easier to swallow……[L]ast week, I reached for _Jane Eyre_ as an effective distraction, and was struck by the following:

“I now stood in the empty hall; before me was the breakfast-room door, and I stopped, intimidated and TREMBLING.What a miserable little poltroon had FEAR, engendered of unjust punishment, made of me in those days!I feared to return to the nursery, and feared to go forward to the parlour; ten minutes I stood in AGITATED hesitation:the vehement ringing of the breakfast-room bell decided me; I _must_ enter."

Fanny Price has an almost identical experience, standing outside a door and waiting for the courage to enter.She is often thought of as being deeply self-analytical, perhaps overly religious; Jane Eyre is almost evangelical. Austen would probably die before she would write such lines in a novel as "What my sensations were, no language can describe; but just as they all arose, stifling my breath and constricting my throat, a girl came up and passed me: in passing, she lifted her eyes.What a strange light inspired them!What an extraordinary sensation that ray sent through me!How the new feeling bore me up!It was as if a martyr, a hero, had passed a slave or victim, and imparted strength in transit.I mastered the rising hysteria, lifted up my head, and took a firm stand on the stool . . ."

Aunt Norris is Fanny Price's Mr Brocklehurst.Fanny is insulted, used, physically deprived, told she is not to think herself as good as her cousins. Like the child Jane Eyre, she is unable to articulate her objections to this hateful woman (when Edmund and she talk about her going to live with her aunt; Edmund performs the function of Jane's servant caretakers, in telling Fanny she ought to be pleased or happy when she simply cannot be).

But unlike Fanny Price, Jane Eyre tells her own story -- the narrator is a mature, articulate woman who has sympathy and affection for her former self. Mr Lloyd, the apothecary, asks the child what makes her so miserable, what things are making her unhappy? He asks, "Can you tell me some of them?" and the narrator says, "How much I wished to reply fully to this question!How difficult it was to frame any answer!Children can feel, but they cannot analyse their feelings; and if the analysis is partially effected in thought, they know not how to express the result of the process in words. . ."

We feel sympathy for this child, in spite of the fact that she is a bit of a complainer.Granted, she's got plenty to complain about, but Bessie and the other servants have obviously heard it all before -- it's not so black and white to them -- and when she tells her history to Miss Temple, the narrator admits it is partly fatigue that keeps her from getting on her old soap box. Yet the reader really feels 'with' Jane Eyre, as we rarely do with Fanny Price.

Jane Austen's detachment keeps us from getting quite first-person close to Fanny Price; and throughout _MP_ the narrator keeps slipping behind Mary Crawford's eyes as well-- sometimes we feel we are to identify with Fanny, and at others we can't help but see Mary's point of view. I think all of these things add up to our keeping a little bit of a distance from Fanny Price.There is nothing large or dramatic about her, she makes no flamboyant gestures, she has no temper that needs to be corrected.Neither, actually, does Jane Eyre:we are allowed to witness her one hour of rebellion, for in reality she is a submissive girl who declares to Helen Burns that "to gain some real affection from you, or Miss Temple, or any other I truly love, I would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken, or to let a bull toss me, or to stand behind a kicking horse, and let it dash its hoof at my chest ".

Like Fanny, she is a submissive girl who grows to be a submissive woman (though still passionate).Her most effective means of acting, finally, in life is by resisting, retreating.But we begin, as I said, by being witness to her rebellion against Mrs Reed.It is perhaps the most appealing thing about Jane Eyre, but of course, it is her swan song at Gateshead.It is what causes her to be ejected from the house of her wealthy relatives.”END QUOTE


Second post by Dorothy Gannon, Sept. 11, 1999:

“Fanny and Jane Eyre…are in fact much more similar than one tends to remember, but there is an important distinction in their situations.Rachel says, "But Jane Eyre differs in that she cherished "the germs of indignation at their treatment, of contempt of their judgement" -- and for that we applaud her.We admire the outbursts of passionate rage from the underdog when she is wronged."

But Jane Eyre's aunt and cousins are far more crude and brutal than the Bertrams:

"I instinctively started aside with a cry of alarm:not soon enough, however; the volume was flung, it hit me, and I fell, striking my head against the door and cutting it.The cut bled, the pain was sharp; my terror had passed its climax; other feelings succeeded."'Wicked and cruel boy!' I said.'You are like a murderer--you are like a slave driver--you are like the Roman emperors!'"

These people are pretty nasty.Of course we applaud Jane for rebelling.Next to them Aunt Norris looks like a piece of cake.Fanny is 10 when she is brought to Mansfield; Jane is 10 when she is sent away to school.Her talking back, her resisting being put into the red room was "a new thing for me."This is the first time Jane has rebelled:her previous faults lie in being so different from her cousins, "physically inferior," in needing to acquire a "more sociable and childlike disposition, a more attractive and sprightly manner" (Mrs Reed speaking - now _that_ sounds more like aunt Norris).It is only when John Reed's brutality gets extreme that Jane finally fights back. We're not privy to her years of meekly suffering this.I won't say I cannot believe any child would stand for such treatment, because, sadly, many children do- but I think the Fanny and Jane comparison can only be stretched so far.I believe the fictional character Jane Eyre would have been happy to be at Mansfield, little noticed except by kindly cousin Edmund and occasional barb from aunt Norris, and to forgo the hysterics, rebellion and fireworks.”END QUOTE

The Roman Emperors in Mansfield Park and Jane Eyre

The other day, I wrote about Mansfield Park’s veiled allusion to the storming of the Bastille...

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2012/02/allons-enfants-demansfield-park-part.html

...as a followup to my expansion of Kathryn Sutherland’s 1992 article about Charlotte Bronte’s complex allusion to Mansfield Park in Jane Eyre:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2012/02/allons-enfants-demansfield-park.html

Today, I wish to bring forward a particularly fine example of the specificity of Bronte’s allusiveness to Mansfield Park in a way that is actually strikingly reminiscent of Jane Austen’s own art of allusion, i.e., the textual “bread crumb” that is left by the hinting author so as to validate for the literary sleuthing Hansel and Gretel that this is indeed an intentional allusion, and that it is worth the reader’s while to stay on the trail, because soon they will reach “home”, i.e., the benefit of noting the covert allusion in all its nuances.

And this example I am bringing forward today will, I believe, lay utterly to rest any reasonable reservations some of you might still have as to the validity of Sutherland’s claims of an intentional allusion by Bronte to MP in Jane Eyre—claims which by the way, were first sent out into the world, albeit in undeveloped form, by Avrom Fleishman in his “Mansfield Park: A Reading” way back in 1967, as Sutherland herself acknowledges in a footnote—and you all know I have the greatest admiration for Fleishman’s seminal chapter:.

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/06/avrom-fleishman-superlative-judge-of.html


Anyway, with that brief intro, look at the following passage from Sutherland’s article:

“Jane [Eyre] herself has been from childhood a more critical reader of history than Fanny Price. Skilled in recognizing its permanent informing power relations of oppressor/victim and master/slave, she resents and questions their constraints on her own behavior. The tyrant of her young life, her cousin John Reed, is not merely a "wicked and cruel boy," but "like a slave- driver . . . like the Roman emperors!" She explains, "I had read Goldsmith's History of Rome, and had formed my opinion of Nero, Caligula, &c. Also I had drawn parallels in silence, which I never thought thus to have declared aloud" (1, 8). Like Plutarch, Jane imaginatively constructs parallels that wilfully flout history's declared impartiality; but pressed to the ideological justification of revolution, Jane's examples are doubly dangerous.”

Here is the actual passage from Chapter 2 of Jane Eyre, in which the young Jane is being abused by her cruel cousin John Reed, with the full encouragement of the maid Abbot:

“What were you doing behind the curtain?” he asked. “I was reading.” “Show the book.”
I returned to the window and fetched it thence.
“You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mama says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen’s children like us, and eat the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our mama’s expense. Now, I’ll teach you to rummage my bookshelves: for they are mine; all the house belongs to me, or will do in a few years. Go and stand by the door, out of the way of the mirror and the windows.”
I did so, not at first aware what was his intention; but when I saw him lift and poise the book and stand in act to hurl it, I instinctively started aside with a cry of alarm: not soon enough, however; the volume was flung, it hit me, and I fell, striking my head against the door and cutting it. The cut bled, the pain was sharp: my terror had passed its climax; other feelings succeeded.
“Wicked and cruel boy!” I said. “You are like a murderer—you are like a slave-driver—you are like the Roman emperors!” I had read Goldsmith’s History of Rome, and had formed my opinion of Nero, Caligula, &c. Also I had drawn parallels in silence, which I never thought thus to have declared aloud.”
END QUOTE

It is not clear from Sutherland’s analysis whether she realizes that the above passage is actually a direct and obvious allusion to a parallel passage in Mansfield Park. I have already given away the game in my Subject Line, but even I had not done so, now that I have set things up, I am certain many of you would have already recalled it. It is a passage involving the young Fanny Price not long after _her_ arrival as a poor dependent of her cousins’ family, a passage in which a contrast between cousins is foregrounded in regard to knowledge gained from reading, especially reading of history:

“As [Fanny’s] appearance and spirits improved, Sir Thomas and Mrs. Norris thought with greater satisfaction of their benevolent plan; and it was pretty soon decided between them that, though far from clever, she showed a tractable disposition, and seemed likely to give them little trouble. A mean opinion of her abilities was not confined to them. Fanny could read, work, and write, but she had been taught nothing more; and as her cousins found her ignorant of many things with which they had been long familiar, they thought her prodigiously stupid, and for the first two or three weeks were continually bringing some fresh report of it into the drawing-room. "Dear mama, only think, my cousin cannot put the map of Europe together—or my cousin cannot tell the principal rivers in Russia—or, she never heard of Asia Minor—or she does not know the difference between water-colours and crayons!—How strange!—Did you ever hear anything so stupid?"
"My dear," their considerate aunt would reply, "it is very bad, but you must not expect everybody to be as forward and quick at learning as yourself."
"But, aunt, she is really so very ignorant!—Do you know, we asked her last night which way she would go to get to Ireland; and she said, she should cross to the Isle of Wight. She thinks of nothing but the Isle of Wight, and she calls it the Island, as if there were no other island in the world. I am sure I should have been ashamed of myself, if I had not known better long before I was so old as she is. I cannot remember the time when I did not know a great deal that she has not the least notion of yet. How long ago it is, aunt, since we used to repeat the chronological order of the kings of England, with the dates of their accession, and most of the principal events of their reigns!"
"Yes," added the other; "and of the Roman emperors as low as Severus; besides a great deal of the heathen mythology, and all the metals, semi-metals, planets, and distinguished philosophers." “ END QUOTE

The multiple parallels of situation and detail, by themselves, are sufficient to confirm the allusion to the sensitive reader. However, the “bread crumb” which must be visible to every reader is the explicit reference to “the Roman emperors” in both passages!

There is much more that could be said in followup to the above, starting with the opposite way that the same motif is handled in Jane Eyre as opposed to Mansfield Park, but I will leave this for now as a prime example of how Fleishman and Sutherland were spot-on, and that Charlotte Bronte was lyin’ through her teeth when she wrote dismissively about Jane Austen’s fiction in her famous letters to Henry Lewes.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Allons enfants.....de Mansfield Park....et aussi de Loiterer #32!

In my usual way after spending some time on an intricate excavation of the full meaning of an Austen allusion, I reread what I had written, and was prompted to Google different word combinations in order to dig up additional interesting wrinkles from the Internet.

When I Googled "Crawford Mansfield Bastille", however, I never dreamt that I was going to be brought to something so supportive of my claims as the following passage in (the recently deceased) Jon Spence's _Becoming Jane Austen_, on P. 53:

"...Jane Austen was to give some of these 'French' qualities to Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park, a novel that has connections to Eliza de Feuillide and to themes found in The Loiterer. In the winter of 1788-89, Eliza [de Feuillide] was "la princess lointaine" in Henry's imagination, and he enjoyed adoring her, far away and unobtainable; but between March and the end of the summer circumstances changed, and he began to see Eliza in a different light. As early as February, Eliza and her mother were planning to return to England from Paris in June for about a month. They arrived on July 7, just one week before the fall of the Bastille on 14 July, signalling the beginning of the French Revolution. Eliza and Phila and three year old Hastings remained in England. Eliza's return threw Henry into confusion. He thought she was pursuing him. In September, he writes as "Rusticus", a rich but (as the name suggests) inexperienced country bumpkin. "

In my previous post, I claimed that the following passage in Mansfield Park Chapter 4 was a key element in the multipart, veiled allusion to the storming of the Bastille, hididen in plain sight by Jane Austen in the subtext of the novel:

"Such was the state of affairs in the month of July; and Fanny had just reached her eighteenth year, when the society of the village received an addition in the brother and sister of Mrs. Grant, a Mr. and Miss Crawford, the children of her mother by a second marriage."

Now I think you see why I found Spence's account of Eliza de Feuillide in 1788-9 so exciting. Long before Spence wrote the above passage, it had been established by multiple Austen scholars that there was a strong allusion to the real life Eliza de Feuillide in the character of Mary Crawford. But now, the meme of the Bastille takes this connection to a whole 'nother level of intensity. Just as Mary and Henry Crawford arrive at Mansfield Park in July and quickly induce chaos and destabilization in the rigid order left behind by Sir Thomas in the "Bastille" known as Mansfield Park, so too, do Eliza and her mother arrive home in England from France at almost the exact moment in actual history that the real life Bastille was stormed and the chaos of the French Revolution ensued! That these fictional and historical arrivals by the real life Eliza, and by her fictional representation Mary, both from far away, both in July, both connected to the storming of the Bastille, is _not_ a coincidence!

But there's even more to this, which was suggested to me by Spence's references to the Loiterer, which was published during almost the same time period, 1789-1790.

First, here is what Walton Litz had to say (about #32 of The Loiterer)in Litz's 1961 article:

"One of the liveliest essays in The Loiterer is Henry's letter from Rusticus (No. 32), which gives a comic turn to the periodical's social criticism. Rusticus is a simple man who has spent his life in the country, and he now writes to The Loiterer to ask advice on the complications that have followed a recent visit to the country estate of a cousin. There he found two fashionable but ageing daughters who were intent upon snaring him. The younger and more attractive, Miss Betsy, nearly succeeded, but her plans were disrupted at the crucial moment when a sudden puff of wind carried away two luxuriant tresses from her chignon. With this shock the 'delicate thread of sentiment and affection was broken', and Rusticus escaped from his cousin's house a single man. But now he has received word that the cousin and his daughters are soon to visit him; what can he do? The Loiterer recommends flight. In this brief satire Henry, approaches the spirit and pace of the juvenilia, and...Miss Betsy asks Rusticus if he has read 'The Sorrows of Werter or the new Rousseau'...."

First and foremost, I note (hardly to anyone's surprise at this point, I would hope) that the date of Loiterer #32 is September 5, 1789---i.e., only six weeks after the storming of the Bastille, and less than two months after Eliza's return to England from France!

Those who are still with me now may wish to read the entire Loiterer #32 here:

http://www.theloiterer.org/loiterer/no32.html

But suffice to say to those who do not read it that the situation is, as Spence observed, reminiscent of what happens between Henry Crawford and the Bertram girls during the early stages of Mansfield Park, and so we may thereby add yet another rich strand to the braided allusion to the Bastille in Mansfield Park, by weaving Loiterer #32 in. As to what it all means, well, that is where the fun really begins--What I find most significant, perhaps, is that Jane Austen so frequently and densely revisited not only her own Juvenilia, but also the Loiterer, and also (as I have argued in may prior posts) the Austen family charades, thus creating yet another of her patented, delicious, layer cakes of allusion.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode onTwitter

Allons enfants de....Mansfield Park! (Part Two)

One final point occurred to me as I was finishing my immediately preceding post about Fanny Price and Jane Eyre as fictional children of the French Revolution, as first argued by Kathryn Sutherland in 1992.....

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2012/02/allons-enfants-demansfield-park.html

....which quickly morphed into an entire blog post of its own, which you can read, below!

It all arose from a tiny seed: my wondering if Jane Austen's hidden calendar in Mansfield Park might even be specific not only to the YEAR 1789, but even to the MONTH in 1789 during which the defining event of the French Revolution occurred, i.e., the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14? And look at what I found that corroborated, beyond my wildest imaginings, this hunch:

First, according to Wikipedia, history does not notice one huge irony of the storming of the Bastille, which is that there were only seven prisoners in the Bastille when it was stormed---an irony that, if Jane Austen had read about it, would not have escaped her sharp eye!

And so, does this have anything to do with the following passage in Chapter 4 of Mansfield Park, describing the state of affairs at Mansfield Park while Sir Thomas was in Antigua, and his eldest son Tom had just returned (two paragraphs earlier) to Mansfield Park:

"Such was the state of affairs in the month of July; and Fanny had just reached her eighteenth year, when the society of the village received an addition in the brother and sister of Mrs. Grant, a Mr. and Miss Crawford, the children of her mother by a second marriage."

So first of all, this tells us that Fanny's birthday took place in JULY! And second, by my count, at the time of the arrival of the Crawfords at Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas Bertram being absent and Tom being home, there were...... SEVEN members of the "royal" family of Mansfield Park in residence:

Lady (let them sip laudanum) Bertram
Mrs. (off with their heads) Norris
the four Bertram children and
Fanny Price

I am pretty darned sure that the focalization of the date, the number of residents, and the arrival of the Bertrams, are NOT a coincidence!

So I can imagine Henry and Mary Crawford joking as the drove up to Mansfield Park for that first fateful visit, enjoying the prospect of turning the established order of things topsy turvy at Mansfield Park, and perhaps they might have even engaged in a little two part harmony singing a song that had been adopted as the French national anthem a dozen years earlier in 1795:

"Allons enfants de la patrie, le jour de gloire est arrive!"

And that reference to the arrival of "the day of glory" is perhaps why we read the following description of the meeting of the Crawfords with Mrs. Grant only two paragraphs later in that same Chapter 4 of Mansfield Park:

"The meeting was very satisfactory on each side. Miss Crawford found a sister without preciseness or rusticity, a sister's husband who looked the gentleman, and a house commodious and well fitted up; and Mrs. Grant received in those whom she hoped to love better than ever a young man and woman of very prepossessing appearance. Mary Crawford was remarkably pretty; Henry, though not handsome, had air and countenance; the manners of both were lively and pleasant, and Mrs. Grant immediately gave them credit for everything else. She was delighted with each, but Mary was her dearest object; and having never been able to GLORY in beauty of her own, she thoroughly enjoyed the power of being proud of her sister's."

Perhaps Mary even played the Marseillaise on her harp for Edmund, and sang her own witty adaptated lyrics, displaying her famous command of the French tongue:

"Allons enfants de Mansfield Park, le jour de gloire est VRAIMENT arrive!

And last but not least, look at this amazing independent validation of the allusion to the Bastille as noted by Elizabeth Jenkins many decades ago, which takes on a hundredfold greater significance when linked to the Chapter 4 analysis I provide, above. Jenkins quotes from the Sotherton ha-ha episode in Chapter 10 of Mansfield Park, and then from the passage from Sterne's Sentimental Journey which is one of the allusive sources for Maria Bertram's "starling" speech:

"Jane Austen's own manner of writing being what it is, the most interesting consideration connected with her reading is perhaps that she had in the background of her consciousness such work as Sterne's, so wild, so elusive and, above all, so trembling with sensitive humanity, as is that passage from A Sentimental Journey which occurred to her in Mansfield Park when Maria Bertram, looking through the iron gates, exclaims: 'I cannot get out, as the starling said.' It is Sterne's attempt to reason away the horrors of imprisonment.
'As for the Bastille, the terror is in the word--Make the most of it you can, I said to myself. The Bastille is but another word for a tower:--and a tower is but another word for a house you can't get out of... I was interrupted in the heyday of this soliloquy with a voice which I took to be that of a child, which complained: 'it could not get out,'...and looking up, I saw it was a starling hung up in a little cage. I stood looking at the bird, and to every person who came through the passage, it ran fluttering towards the side which they approached it, with the same lamentation of its captivity--'I can't get out,' said the starling. God help thee!--said I--but I'll let thee out,cost what it will; so I turned the cage about to get at the door; it was twisted and double twisted so fast with wire, there was no getting it open without pulling the cage to pieces... The bird flew to the place where I was attempting his deliverance, and thrusting his head through the trellis, pressed his breast against it...--I fear, poor creature, said I, I cannot set thee at liberty.--'No,' said the starling; 'I can't get out--I can't get out.' I vow I never had any affections more tenderly awaked... Mechanical as the notes were... in one moment they overthrew all my systematic reasonings upon the Bastille, and I heavily walked upstairs, unsaying every word I had said in going down them" (Jenkins, Jane Austen[NY: Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1949], pp 40-1).

And...how about these references to "prisons" in MP?:

Chapter 6:

"I wish you could see Compton," said [Rushworth]; "it is the most complete thing! I never saw a place so altered in my life. I told Smith I did not know where I was. The approach now, is one of the finest things in the country: you see the house in the most surprising manner. I declare, when I got back to Sotherton yesterday, it looked like a prison—quite a dismal old prison."
"Oh, for shame!" cried Mrs. Norris. "A prison indeed? Sotherton Court is the noblest old place in the world." END QUOTE

"noblest" old place? Ha ha, Mrs. Norris!

and

Chapter 14 (as Henry Crawford tries to persuade Julia Bertram to agree to play Amelia in Lovers Vows):

"...indeed you must. When you have studied the character, I am sure you will feel it suit you. Tragedy may be your choice, but it will certainly appear that comedy chuses you. You will be to visit me in prison with a basket of provisions; you will not refuse to visit me in prison? I think I see you coming in with your basket."

So the good news I bring here in this Part Two of this post is that the above quoted passages in Chapters 4, 6, 10 and 14 collectively represent a huge allusion to the storming of the Bastille hiding in plain sight all over the place in Mansfield Park. And the even better news is that these “body parts” of the elephant hiding in plain sight in the text of Mansfield Park connect seamlessly with other “body parts” detected by other scholars previously:
So, first, in particular one of the main reasons JA chose to have Maria Bertram famously allude to Sterne’s Sentimental Journey, was not only to depict Maria Bertram’s yearning to break free from Sir Thomas’s confinement, but was also to reinforce the subliminal allusion to the Bastille I have outlined above.

Second, in 1982, Margaret Kirkham's sharp eye noted that the Bastille allusions in Mansfield Park point also to Mary Wollstonecraft's novel The Wrongs of Woman: Maria (1798) in which the tragic heroine wails "Marriage has Bastilled me for life!"

And third, in Isobel Armstrong's 1988 book analyzing Mansfield Park, she speculates on P. 88 that Jane Austen would have noted parallels between the storming of the Bastille and Act 5 Scene 4 of Shakespeare's Henry VIII (yet another play that is covertly alluded to in Mansfield Park).

So the allusion to the Bastille in Mansfield Park turns out to be multilayered, vindicating the rights of those oppressed by tyranny in general, but also with JA’s never-failing particular focus on the oppression of _women_!
And just think......there are still many Janeites laboring under the delusion, created by two centuries of propaganda, and fostered by Jane Austen's covert allusiveness, that Jane Austen was not interested in, and did not make reference to, great world events which occurred during her lifetime!

Delusions arising out of too LITTLE imagination are much more damaging, I am certain Jane Austen is telling us, than delusions arising out of an EXCESS of imagination. The latter can be cured by altering one's interpretation of something you already see. The former offers no such hope.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter