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

Monday, April 30, 2012

" half a year's residence in her family afforded": The Six-Month Massacre of Steventon

In Austen L & Janeites, Anielka Briggs wrote: "All film versions of Sense and Sensibility lead one to believe that Fanny Dashwood and her irritating demeanour ejected the first Mrs. Dashwood from Norland very swiftly. And yet the text is very clear that the second Mrs. Dashwood lived in her son-in-law's home for at least six months..... "Mrs. Dashwood began shortly to give over every hope of the kind, and to be convinced, from the general drift of his discourse, that his assistance extended no farther than their maintenance for six months at Norland. " It seems almost reasonable that after six months Fanny Dashwood should begin to grow anxious to dispense of the other Mrs. Dashwood....... "

I responded as follows:

Let's see......Le Faye's Chronology entry on p. 249 reads as follows:

"late November-early December [1800]: Steventon: Revd and Mrs GA suddenly decide to leave the rectory and retire to Bath; when JA and Martha arrive from Ibthorpe Mrs. GA greets them with the decision; JA is said to have been much upset by it...."

This dating by Le Faye seems pretty solid, because Letter 28 posted December 1, 1800 contains not a hint of any proposed move from Steventon, and yet, by Letter 29, dated January 5, 1801, it is clear that the move to Bath has been in the works for a pretty long while. then we have Letters 29 through 36 (spanning the time period from January 5, 1801 through May 13, 1801) which all provide ample evidence of what I have previously referred to as "the Massacre of Steventon", during which James and Mary Austen do their very best imitations of John and Fanny Dashwood:

And we know from Letter 35 that Jane Austen left Steventon for Bath during the first week of May, 1801, which means that the time span from the moment JA first learns of the move to Bath, until she finds herself living in Bath, is between just over _five_ months.

Hmm......Yes, Anielka, surely by May, 1801, after an eternity lasting nearly six months (it would be very much the exaggerating mindset of a grasping, greedy usurper to refer to a time period of five months and four days as "nearly six months") that would try anyone's patience, Mary Austen was indeed quite anxious to have her tiresome in-laws gone from Steventon already. After all, who knew what sort of horrid, malicious rumors these overstaying-their-welcome ingrate in-laws might spread about Mary's attempts to feather her new nest properly, if they continued to be so inconveniently impolite as to remain physically present in Steventon to bear accurate witness to the details of the Massacre, such as the following passage in Letter 36 dated May 13, 1801:

"....James I dare say has been over to Ibthrop by this time to enquire particularly after Mrs. Lloyd's health, & forestall whatever intelligence of the sale I might attempt to give.-Sixty-one guineas & a half for the three cows gives one some support under the blow of only Eleven Guineas for the Tables. Eight for my Pianoforte, is about what I really expected to get; I am more anxious to know the amount of my books, especially as they are said to have sold well."

So you say, "almost reasonable"? I think JA's Letters 29-36, as well as Chapter 2 of S&S, tell us pretty clearly what JA thought and felt about the Massacre of Steventon---a massacre based firmly on the following principle enunciated by JA in Letter 37 dated May 22, 1801:

"The whole World is in a conspiracy to enrich one part of our family at the expence of another.”

And it is quite interesting to read the characterization of all of the above that was written 70 years later by the real-life model for Fanny Dashwood's "poor little Harry":

"The loss of their first home is generally a great grief to young persons of strong feeling and lively imagination; and Jane was exceedingly unhappy when she was told that her father, now seventy years of age, had determined to resign his duties to his eldest son, who was to be his successor in the Rectory of Steventon, and to remove with his wife and daughters to Bath. Jane had been absent from home when this resolution was taken; and, as her father was always rapid both in forming his resolutions and in acting on them, she had little time to reconcile herself to the change."

Tell me, was Jane Austen prescient or not, when she put the following words in Fanny and John Dashwood's mouths in Chapter 2 of S&S:

"....why was he to ruin himself, and their poor little Harry, by giving away all his money to his half sisters?....Consider...that when the money is once parted with, it never can return. Your sisters will marry, and it will be gone for ever. If, indeed, it could be restored to our poor little boy—"

"Why, to be sure," said her husband, very gravely, "that would make great difference. THE TIME MAY COME when Harry will regret that so large a sum was parted with. If he should have a numerous family, for instance, it would be a very convenient addition."

That time _did_ come for the elderly James Edward Austen Leigh when he wrote the above passage in the Memoir, and tried to whitewash over JA's obvious bitter resentment against James & Mary (i.e., against his own parents!) by reframing JA's unhappiness as a response to her father's overhasty decision making predilections, and utterly omitting any reference to James or Mary in that regard!

And I finish by repeating for the umpteenth time that just because there were women like Mary Austen who were clever enough to find ways to unofficially twist the knobs of power, does not negate the sexist status quo that put the eldest son of the Austen family, James, in a position of absolute power vis a vis his sisters in the first place. Fanny Dashwood, Mrs. Ferrars, Mrs. Churchill, Lucy Steele, Charlotte Lucas, and Mrs. Clay, to name the most obvious examples from JA's fiction, represent one species of distortion in _female_ personality that was triggered by the mostly gender-based institutional inequalities of JA's world, just as, e.g., the Wickhams, WIlloughbys, Crawfords, et al represent another such distortion on the male side.

JA was a master psychologist, and recognized that "the system" was at the root of so much amoral or reckless behavior of all kinds in her society, on the part of both males and females. Had there been true gender equality in the society, JA is suggesting, there would have been much more truly Christian behavior by one part of the world toward the other.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Two Curs Worrying Over A Bone": Another Austen-Shakespeare Allusive Matrix

In Austen-L, Anielka Briggs wrote the following this morning: 
  "   "the butcher with his tray, a tidy old woman travelling homewards from shop with her full basket, two curs quarrelling over a dirty bone" ------ Apparently two curs quarrelling over a bone was a metaphor for two-party politics where a third individual or party stole "the bone" whilst the curs were distracted: "When two curs are snarling at each other, and quarrelling for a bone, a third very frequently, watching his opportunity, whips it up and runs away. This observation has often been metaphorically applied to politics" Joseph Moser "Prospectus of a Canine Dictionary" as reviewed in The European Magazine of 1802 Note that Austen uses the comparatively unusual word "cur" rather than dog. I don't think Austen ever uses this word on any other occasion. The juxtaposition of "two curs", and the very specific word "quarrelling" over a bone makes me think that this particular little detail from "Emma" must have been derived from a reading of The European Magazine.  " END QUOTE

Anielka, I agree that it is likely, for the reasons you state, that JA was struck by that passage you found in The European Magazine and decided to weave it into the shadows of _Emma_. Certainly, it puts an interesting spin on the following laughing confession by Frank Churchill at the very end of _Emma_....

"Oh! no—what an impudent DOG I was!—How could I dare—"

....especially if we think about all the male wooers of Emma as "curs" quarreling over the "bones"--i.e., their female targets, Harriet, Emma, Miss Hawkins, & Jane. And, as you and I both are well aware, there is a rich political subtext in _Emma_, whereby “courtship”, in both the romantic and the political senses, is seamlessly braided together, most of all in the person of the Prince Regent (aka Frank Churchill).

But I think you’ve only unearthed a “rib” there, and I suggest that we can find the “skull” sought by those "two curs quarreling" in Emma's snapshot of Highbury, if we take Henry Crawford, and not Joseph Moser, as our guide, and realize that beneath that contemporary political subtext, there is a fossil treasure trove courtesy of Shakespeare! As evidence thereof, look at these three seemingly unrelated passages written by the Bard which ALL pertain to “two curs”, which I dug up this morning!:

AS YOU LIKE IT, 1.3:  (Rosalind has caught the love bug for Orlando from watching him play "David" in a wrestling match over the "Goliath" Charles, and she doesn't want to talk about it!)
CELIA: Why, cousin! why, Rosalind! Cupid have mercy! Not a word?
CELIA: No, thy words are too precious to be cast away upon CURS;  throw some of them at me; come, lame me with reasons.

TITUS ANDRONICUS, 2.3: (The clueless, bumbling Quintus & Martius, sons of Titus Andronicus, literally fall into Aaron's trap and wind up framed for the murder of Bassianus, whose “bones” they inadvertently “dig up”)
SATURNINUS: [To Titus]  TWO of thy whelps, fell CURS of bloody kind, Have here bereft my brother of his life. Sirs, drag them from the pit unto the prison: There let them bide until we have devised Some never heard-of torturing pain for them.

TROILUS & CRESSIDA, 1.3:  (the Greek leaders debate their response to Hector's challenge to individual combat; Ulysses craftily suggests a sham lottery so that Ajax, and not Achilles, will fight Hector, and the pride of both Hector and Achilles will thereby be tamed)
ULYSSES: Give pardon to my speech: Therefore 'tis meet Achilles meet not Hector. Let us, like merchants, show our foulest wares, And think, perchance, they'll sell; if not, The lustre of the better yet to show, Shall show the better. Do not consent That ever Hector and Achilles meet; For both our honour and our shame in this Are DOGG'D with TWO strange followers.
NESTOR: I see them not with my old eyes: what are they?
ULYSSES:  What glory our Achilles shares from Hector, Were he not proud, we all should share with him: But he already is too insolent; And we were better parch in Afric sun  Than in the pride and salt scorn of his eyes, Should he 'scape Hector fair: if he were foil'd, Why then, we did our main opinion crush In taint of our best man. No, make a lottery; And, by device, let blockish Ajax draw The sort to fight with Hector: among ourselves Give him allowance for the better man; For that will physic the great Myrmidon Who broils in loud applause, and make him fall His crest that prouder than blue Iris bends. If the dull brainless Ajax come safe off, We'll dress him up in voices: if he fail, Yet go we under our opinion still That we have better men. But, hit or miss, Our project's life this shape of sense assumes: Ajax employ'd plucks down Achilles' plumes.
NESTOR: Ulysses, Now I begin to relish thy advice; And I will give a taste of it forthwith To Agamemnon: go we to him straight. TWO CURS shall tame each other: pride alone Must tarre the MASTIFFS on, as 'twere their BONE.

As my opening gambits in analyzing all of the above:

First, I point out that the above quoted passage in 1.3 of  _As You Like It_ dovetails nicely with Jane Austen’s veiled allusion to that play’s title, as Mrs. Elton discusses with Knightley the proposed outing to Donwell Abbey, which, along with Box Hill, collectively function very much like the “Forest of Arden”, i.e., the greenworld where “courtship” reigns supreme, in _Emma_:

"That's quite unnecessary; I see Jane every day:—but AS YOU LIKE. IT is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite a simple thing….”

Second, I find it quite striking that the passages in As You Like It (a romantic comedy) and in Troilus & Cressida (a sour problem play), while otherwise seeming to be utterly unrelated to each other, BOTH involve the imagery of bones being thrown to curs being used in close proximity to individual combat between two men. That cannot be coincidental. 

Third, a veiled allusion to Troilus & Cressida in _Emma_ would dovetail even more nicely with the complex allusion to that same troubling play in _Mansfield Park_ which I have written about on several occasions, most recently here:

So, what did Shakespeare mean by these varied metaphorical curs quarreling over bones? And, equally important, what did Jane Austen understand Shakespeare to mean by this? I need to give both of those questions a lot more thought and study, but I already know she understood a great deal, and hinted at her own deep understanding with the following famous line which ends that quoted Highbury snapshot:

“…A mind lively and at ease, can do with seeing nothing, and can see nothing that does not answer. “

Indeed, JA wrote these veiled allusions to Shakespeare for the sharp elf with “a mind lively and at ease” who “can see nothing”---in Shakespeare’s plays and JA’s novels, that is---“that does not answer”—to a deeper meaning in both instances! So for now, thanks to sharp elf Anielka for prompting me to focus on this passage today and to excavate these Austenian-Shakespearean “bones”.

Cheers, ARNIE    @JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Gender Bias Today & In Jane Austen's Lifetime

In another online venue, a good friend just posted the following link:

I urge you all to read it. It is a brilliant, outspoken rebuttal by the English classical scholar Mary Beard to an obnoxious, sexist review of her most recent documentary about the ancient world, a review in which the misogynist male critic, A.A. Gill, focused inordinately on Prof. Beard's physical appearance---specifically, her obvious and principled refusal to conform to prevailing norms for female public presentation, implicitly insisting on her right to keep to a natural look which does not hide her age or other non-conforming features,  and to be judged solely on the merits of her performance as a scholar and public speaker. But, to her full credit, Prof. Beard at the same time being herself respectful of women who do choose to conform as Prof. Beard does not. In other words, Prof. Beard rips this jerk apart in very blunt terms, and one cannot help but cheer, because he so thoroughly deserves it.

I also took a look at Gill's Wikipedia page, and everything there is consistent with what Mary Beard wrote about him.

And I also found this article from yesterday written in support of Beard's polemic:

So what does this have to do with Jane Austen? I think, a great deal. I mention it here because I thought of Jane Austen immediately as I read Beard's comments about how some men respond with hostility and fear when in the presence of intelligent, outspoken women. It is not hard to find even intelligent creative men like Henry James and EM Forster, let alone pretenders like Naipaul, to find examples of how threatening JA's writing can be to men.

And Beard's example made me reflect again on the perpetual fascination amongst nearly all Janeites wondering what Jane Austen actually looked like, and how she presented herself to the world. My impression is that she did conform to prevailing norms for female presentation, but of course this did not in the slightest degree interfere with her ability to express herself creatively exactly as she wished to do.

And I thought again how it would have been suicidal for Jane Austen to respond to the AA Gills of her world (of which there must have been a staggering number) the same open direct way that Mary Beard did, because, imperfect as the present still is in terms of gender bias, it is obviously a good deal better than it was two centuries ago in Jane Austen's England.  A woman today can safely speak her mind, and defend herself directly against misogyny, whereas JA's strategy of covert sarcasm and mockery of male sexism was the only safe option for JA to express her strong feminist views.

But most of all, I see in the character of Mary Bennett a prototype of Mary Beard, a modern "Bluestocking". A woman who values intellectual achievement and who does not worry about most of the norms of superficial female public presentation and beauty, which these days passes for "accomplishment" in the minds of many MCPs.

The key to understanding JA's attitude toward Mary is to realize that the narration about Mary is entirely filtered through the mind of Elizabeth Bennet, and that Lizzy, with her many gifts, does not understand, or appreciate, her younger (and much better self-educated) sister Mary. And because of Lizzy's prejudice against Mary, the reader also is infected with Lizzy's prejudice.  And I remain utterly convinced that this was all entirely intentional on JA's part, as both Lizzy and Mary represent sides of JA's own Protean personality.

And I have also noted that Miss Bates is another self portrait of JA, in which JA plays with the stereotype of the verbose and foolish spinster (who actually knows what is going on better than anyone else in Highbury).

And JA goes even further toward the edge, when she makes Mrs. Bennet such a figure of fun and derision for her husband, a sadistic jerk, and draws the reader into Mr. Bennet's point of view by making him so witty. It takes some effort to pull back and say, as many Janeites have eventually said, that Mrs. Bennet is the one who is dealing with hard, cold reality that threatens to leave the Bennet women high and dry if Mr. Bennet dies, while Mr. Bennet fiddles heedlessly in his library.

JA was a teacher, and she recognized that one effective strategy for awakening readers to their own prejudices was to first draw them into feeling those prejudices, and only then to provide a small splash of literary cold water, to make the reader perhaps regret their initial enjoyment of laughing at others unfairly.

And the best example of this in all of JA's writing that I have found, which I mentioned last year, is the scene when Elizabeth experiences a bit of karma, as she induces her father to step in to stop Mary from singing and playing, only to witness Mr. Bennet subject Mary to total humiliation. At which point we read:

"Mary, though pretending not to hear [Mr. Bennet's thinly veiled insult], was somewhat disconcerted; and Elizabeth, sorry for her, and sorry for her father's speech, was afraid her anxiety had done no good."

A small but significant awakening of conscience in Elizabeth vis a vis Mary, realizing that Mary had been sacrificed on the altar of Lizzy's attempt to make her family look better to Darcy and the Bingleys.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Anna Weston's New Caps: Part Two

I just got back to my computer desk and found myself drawn right back to Anielka's marvelous disclosure of the punny meaning of Anna Weston's (and ergo
also Anna Austen's) first set of "caps", meaning, _initials_, which I commented earlier today:
As I've found is almost always the case with JA's best puns/clues, the more you look at them, and reread them repeatedly from various perspectives, the more significance and brilliance gradually emerges, like the image on a gradually developing photographic negative.

What just came into focus for me now is realizing the hidden significance of the _context_ in which we hear about Anna Weston's new caps. I.e., it comes right after we have read about reactions to the revelation of the news of the (briefly) secret engagement of Knightley and Emma, as follows:

"...The difficulty of disposing of poor Mr. Woodhouse had been always felt in [Mrs. Weston's] husband's plans and her own, for a marriage between Frank and Emma. How to settle the claims of Enscombe and Hartfield had been a continual impediment—less acknowledged by Mr. Weston than by herself—but even he had never been able to finish the subject better than by saying—"Those matters will take care of themselves; the young people will find a way." But here there was nothing to be shifted off in a wild speculation on the future. It was all right, all open, all equal. No sacrifice on any side worth the name. It was a union of the highest promise of felicity in itself, and without one real, rational difficulty to oppose or delay it.
Mrs. Weston, with her baby on her knee, indulging in such reflections as these, was one of the happiest women in the world. If any thing could increase her delight, it was perceiving that the baby would soon have outgrown its first set of caps....."   END QUOTE

And what I realized a few moments ago is that the above passage is not an isolated gem, it also sets the stage for another extraordinary tour de force by Jane Austen, a brilliant ambiguity that JA has, I claim, _intentionally_ created, and lovingly and playfully exploits! I will explain.

As we go on to the following excerpt which immediately follows the above quoted passage, I assert that the following excerpt can be read with either of two completely different meanings, depending on whether "the news" refers...

(1) _two_ paragraphs back to the news about the engagement of Emma and Knightley (which of course is how everyone has always read it), or

(2) only _one paragraph back to the news about Anna Weston soon outgrowing its first set of caps, when this latter news is decoded, as per Anielka's brilliant interpretation, to refer to the news of the baby swap from Jane to Mrs. Weston.

Read on and see how perfectly the following passage fits _both_ interpretations, depending on which "news" is being referred to:

"The news was universally a surprize wherever it spread; and Mr. Weston had his five minutes share of it; but five minutes were enough to familiarise the idea to his quickness of mind.—He saw the advantages of the match, and rejoiced in them with all the constancy of his wife; but the wonder of it was very soon nothing; and by the end of an hour he was not far from believing that he had always foreseen it.

"It is to be a secret, I conclude," said he. "These matters are always a secret, till it is found out that every body knows them. Only let me be told when I may speak out.—I wonder whether Jane has any suspicion."

He went to Highbury the next morning, and satisfied himself on that point. He told her the news. Was not she like a daughter, his eldest daughter?—he must tell her; and Miss Bates being present, it passed, of course, to Mrs. Cole, Mrs. Perry, and Mrs. Elton, immediately afterwards. It was no more than the principals were prepared for; they had calculated from the time of its being known at Randalls, how soon it would be over Highbury; and were thinking of themselves, as the evening wonder in many a family circle, with great sagacity."  END QUOTE

I could spend several paragraphs unpacking all the hilarious nuances of the alternative meaning of the above pasage, as we contemplate Mr. Weston being the last one to know of the faux-pregnancy charade that his wife has enacted, in concert with Miss Bates and Jane, and also to imagine the angry reactions of Mrs. Cole and Mrs. Elton, who are the villains who have been foiled by this entire stratagem, which it is now too late for them to foil-- Jane will no longer need to contemplate the horror of a new life under the thumb of _Madam_ Smallridge!

And then the tidy literary artisan Jane Austen recognizes that she has milked this cow dry, and it's time to end the brief ambiguous we either have a continuation of, or a return to, the discussion of the engagement of Emma and Knightley, depending on whether the intervening above quoted passage was one long parenthetical about Anna Weston, or not:

"In general, it was a very well approved match...."

Jane Austen never ceases to astound me with such achievements, even after more than a decade of collecting and analyzing them. Her novels are a veritable rainforest teeming with them!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Anna Weston's New Caps: Part One

This morning, Anielka Briggs wrote the following remarkable statement in Austen-L and Janeites:

"If any thing could increase her delight, it was perceiving that the baby would soon have outgrown its first set of caps." (Emma) 
...A baby's First Set of Caps are it's initials. A baby girl outgrows  her caps. when she marries and takes those of her married name. The second set of caps owned by baby Anna Weston were AW (= Anna Weston -  Ann Aweston - An Austen) if she is not really the Weston's child."

I replied initially as follows:

Indeed, Anielka, you've added yet another exquisite layer of validation to the following, already-compelling syllogism that was first articulated in October 2007, when I revealed to you _my_ longstanding interpretation of Jane Fairfax having covertly given her baby to Mrs. Weston, and you then immediately upped the ante with _your_ discovery of the Anna Austen ===> Ann Awe-ston ===>; Anna Weston metamorphosis. Together, of course, my discovery and yours synergistically constitute Jane Austen's cryptically suggesting the closest of relationships between herself and Anna.

What makes this latest catch of yours exquisite, of course, is that it involves just the sort of punning wordplay that we know JA dearly loved, which allowed her to hide her alternative meanings in plain sight to those who see the wordplay, but safely invisible to all others.

And, I take your catch one small additional distance further. I believe this same pun on "caps" must be implicated in the following collateral usages in _Emma_ of the full word "capital" itself:

[Re Emma's sketch portraits of family members] "A LIKENESS pleases every body; and Miss Woodhouse's PERFORMANCES must be CAPITAL."

"Former provocations re-appeared. The aunt was as tiresome as ever; more tiresome, because anxiety for [Jane's] health was now added to admiration of her powers; and they had to listen to the description of exactly how little bread and butter she ate for breakfast, and how small a slice of mutton for dinner, as well as to see exhibitions of NEW CAPS and new work-bags for her mother and herself; and Jane's offences rose again. They had music; Emma was obliged to play; and the thanks and praise which necessarily followed appeared to her an affectation of candour, an air of greatness, meaning only to shew off in higher style her own very superior PERFORMANCE. She was, besides, which was the worst of all, so cold, so cautious! There was no getting at her real opinion. Wrapt up in a cloak of politeness, she seemed determined to hazard nothing. She was disgustingly, was suspiciously reserved."

"Here ceased the concert part of the evening, for Miss Woodhouse and Miss Fairfax were the only young lady PERFORMERS; but soon (within five minutes) the proposal of dancing—originating nobody exactly knew where—was so effectually promoted by Mr. and Mrs. Cole, that every thing was rapidly clearing away, to give proper space. Mrs. Weston, CAPITAL in her country-dances, was seated, and beginning an irresistible waltz; and Frank Churchill, coming up with most becoming gallantry to Emma, had secured her hand, and led her up to the top. "

"Mrs. Elton then said, "Nobody can think less of dress in general than I do—but upon such an occasion as this, when every body's eyes are so much upon me, and in compliment to the Westons—who I have no doubt are giving this ball chiefly to do me honour—I would not wish to be inferior to others. And I see very few pearls in the room except mine.—So Frank Churchill is a CAPITAL dancer, I understand.—We shall see if our styles suit.—A fine young man certainly is Frank Churchill. I like him very well." "

Each of the above four passages, three of which use the full word "capital" in connection with a sort of artistic "performance", seem to revolve around the central one using the abbreviated word "caps" that Anielka identified, but two stand out.

First, Miss Bates's passing reference, in Chapter 20, to "exhibitions of new caps" is, when read in the light of Anielka's catch re Anna Weston's "first set of caps", a hint that Jane is already actively engaged, when she first arrives in Highbury, in the desperate business of arranging for "_new_ caps" (i.e., finding a husband to marry and thereby provide a _legitimate_ new surname for the baby] for her unborn baby just passing the first trimester of gestation.

Second, the final one, which I have always identified as Mrs. Elton very nastily hinting at the relationship between Frank and Jane (which I assert she knows about LONG before Emma becomes aware of it in Chapter 49), takes on even more sinister meaning when we think of Mrs. Elton taking relish in pointing (incorrectly as it turns out) to Frank as the father of Jane's unborn baby, and in expressing her unhappiness in having been treated by Frank as "inferior" to Jane in the courtship sweepstakes. And this is only one of several instances in which the venomous Mrs. Elton takes a particular relish in hinting at Jane's and Frank's _sexual_ "performances" via innuendo & punning on actions like dancing, balls, singing, etc.

So, again, as always giving credit where credit is due, I applaud Anielka's latest discovery, which is a noteworthy advance!

And...please read the next post immediately following in this blog, for Part TWO of my reactions to Anielka's catch, which further my praise & extension thereof.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, April 20, 2012

Jane Austen, Jimmy Carter, feminist nuns & Jesus 

When I first saw Jimmy Carter's above quote, I immediately saw the connection to my repeated claims in this blog and elsewhere that Jane Austen, in the shadow stories of her novels, was saying more or less the same thing about the deep-seated sexism of the state-sponsored Anglican church 200 years ago during her lifetime. I think she'd be saddened, but not at all surprised, to learn that things have not changed much in that regard in many places in the world, even today in 2012.

She would not be surprised, because she showed she recognized the extent of the deep-seatedness of that church-based sexism, when she put the following rant in the mouth of Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey:

"If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to—Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?"

While the traditional Janeite interpretation of this rant is that Henry Tilney is correct in suggesting that terrible crimes could not have been perpetrated by General Tilney on his long dead wife, in an England where the church, the state and the family structure itself were there to protect English wives like Mrs. Tilney, I have made the case that this rant is meant to be read parodically, as Jane Austen's veiled mockery of this rant, because she DID live in an England where wives and unmarried women were subjected to all manner of abuse in the name of God, the King and the English family.

And, as for these American nuns (described in the above-linked Washington Post article) whom the current Vatican hierarchy is so intent on muzzling and stripping of legitimacy for their feminism, for their social activism--in short, for their genuine Christianity!---I wonder why these nuns don't think way outside the box and electrify the world and start their own Christian denomination on their own frankly feminist, socially conscious terms--Jesus (and Jane Austen) would have approved! 

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lord Brabourne Protests Strongly, But not Too Much

Lord Brabourne, the grand-nephew of Jane Austen who in 1884 published the first edition of many of Jane Austen's letters, wrote the following in his appendix thereto, in giving his interpretation of the love story between Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride & Prejudice:

 "I reject altogether the idea that the beauties of Pemberley had any effect in inducing Elizabeth to reconsider her refusal, and the sole doubt which remains upon my mind is the extent to which gratitude for his generous behaviour to her sister Lydia and her worthless husband really supplied the place of warmer feeling in Elizabeth's heart. Gratitude, however, is a soil in which love readily grows and thrives, and in this instance the two may very well have existed and flourished side by side. "

As I have complained in the past, Lord Brabourne was guilty of occasional Bowdlerizations ...

...and other editorial sins. However, here I am pleased to see him being more even handed, by at least letting his readers know about an important interpretive dispute relative to what was already in 1884 JA's most popular novel, P&P,  instead of nakedly stating his own opinion as if there were no existing disagreement.

I write in my caption that Lord Brabourne protests a lot, because I believe he is responding to the opinion of  a very formidable adversary--none other than Sir Walter Scott, who in 1816 wrote (anonymously at the time) the following about the process of Lizzy falling in love with Darcy:

" The lady [Elizabeth], on the contrary, hurt at the contempt of her connections, which the lover [Darcy] does not even attempt to suppress, and prejudiced against him on other accounts, refuses the hand which he ungraciously offers, and does not perceive that she has done a foolish thing until she accidentally visits a very handsome seat and grounds belonging to her admirer. They chance to meet exactly as her prudence had begun to subdue her prejudice; and after some essential services rendered to her family, the lover becomes encouraged to renew his addresses, and the novel ends happily."

And by the way,  anticipating that some might wonder if Lord Brabourne might have been ignorant of Walter Scott, look at what he wrote about Scott in his first Appendix to his 1884 edition of JA's letters:

"....Joanna Baillie and Maria Edgeworth were indeed far from courting publicity; they loved the privacy of their own families, one with her brother and sister in their Hampstead villa, the other in her more distant retreat in Ireland; but fame pursued them, and they were the favourite correspondents of Sir Walter Scott. Crabbe, who was usually buried in a country parish, yet sometimes visited London, and dined at Holland House, and was received as a fellow-poet by Campbell, Moore, and Rogers; and on one memorable occasion he was Scott's guest at Edinburgh, and gazed with wondering eyes on the incongruous pageantry with which George IV was entertained in that city. "

So, obviously, Brabourne knew a great deal about Scott's literary career, including his letters and biographical data.

Scott's above-quoted, highly cynical, opinion about the romantic climax of P&P is one which I only learned about after I myself had come to the same conclusion over a long period of time and much re-rereading of P&P _against_ the grain, and went looking for the earliest kindred spirits I could find in the critical literature. I was particularly pleased to have found it, because it is the most contemporary third party opinion about an Austen novel that survives, and it is the opinion of a brilliant, insightful fellow-writer. So it rather decisively puts the kibosh on the notion that against-the-grain, anti-romantic interpretations of Jane Austen's novels are a product of the cynical post-DW Harding era of Austen criticism, a modern distortion of what JA's contemporaries would have all understood upon first reading her novels.  Scott's words show that cynical readings of romance in JA's novels were out there practically before the ink was dry on the first edition of P&P itself!

So, even though it is possible that Lord Brabourne was, in part, replying to opinions of late-Victorian literati of his own era, I would bet the house that those contemporary cynics did not hesitate to bring forward the imposing figure of Sir Walter Scott, whose literary reputation still loomed quite large in the UK in 1884, as evidenced in part by Brabourne's two above-quoted explicit mentions of Scott. And so Lord Brabourne felt compelled to rebut Scott, nearly 70 years after Scott wrote his cynical take on P&P.

And I find it fascinating that even after rebutting the charge that Lizzy's love was mercenary, some spark of intellectual integrity prompts Lord Brabourne to nonetheless refuse to go all the way to the other side by claiming pure love for Lizzy. Rather, he adopts a middle ground, where he allows that a chaste, platonic gratitude for generosity could have played as strong a role as purely romantic feelings, in bringing Lizzy to wind up feeling fully in love with Darcy.

Good stuff!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Jane Austen's Two Most Famous AND Misunderstood Artistic Pronouncements

In Austen-L, Ellen Moody just wrote the following comments about a famous passage in one of Jane Austen's surviving letters to her nephew (and, much later, her Memoirist), James Edward Austen Leigh (JEAL):  

"Her description of JEAL's fiction is by-the-way more than slightly off. He does not write "manly glowing" and grand pictures: he's a writer of sensitive narratives, the kind of male who writes "l'ecriture-femme," not only in the memoir, but in his Hunting at the Vine (a nostalgic gentle piece) wherein at some point he says (or maybe his daughter quotes him) that he becomes so hurt when people mock Scott that he has to leave the room. He appears to have liked the romantic melancholy Scott. His daughter understood this (though the aunt did not). Perhaps had Austen written a biography of JEAL it would have been as "off" as his or her, though in her fiction when her imaginative self took over she could pick up aspects of all these people and turn them into first caricatures and then develop humanely -- at least in those cases where she felt they deserved such honoring." 

  I responded as follows:

 Ellen, for the umpteenth time, you fail to note Jane Austen's irony, and therefore come to exactly the wrong conclusion about something significant in JA's writing. Don't you see the amazing parallelism between the combination of praise and self-deprecation of Letter 146 dated 12/16-17/16....

 "By the bye, my dear Edward, I am quite concerned for the loss your Mother mentions in her Letter; two Chapters & a half to be missing is monstrous! It is well that I have not been at Steventon lately, & therefore cannot be suspected of purloining them;-two strong twigs & a half towards a Nest of my own, would have been something,-I do not think however that any theft of that sort would be really very useful to me. What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited Sketches, full of Variety and Glow ?-How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour? "

 ....and the _exact_ same combination of praise and self-deprecation of Letter 138(D) dated April 1, 1816 (i.e., written 8 1/2 months before Letter 146)?:  

"You are very very kind in your hints as to the sort of composition which might recommend me at present, and I am fully sensible that an historical romance, founded on the House of Saxe Cobourg, might be much more to the purpose of profit or popularity than such pictures of domestic life in country villages as I deal in. But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other. "

 As I have previously explained, at length, in a series of posts, it is no coincidence that Letter 138(D) was written on April Fool's Day:

And I have also previously explained, at length, in a series of posts, that JA was mocking JEAL when she wrote the above passage in Letter 138(D) in much the same disingenuous way she pretended to praise Clarke:

So Ellen, you are with Virginia Woolf in completely missing the boat on this point.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Jane Austen's Ode to Pity Covertly Alludes to Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus: The Textual Data

In my immediately preceding post.....

....I concluded by giving a giant clue to the particular scene in Titus Andronicus which I believe the 16 year old Jane Austen was veiledly alluding to when she wrote her Ode to Pity:

"shed pale groves philomel melancholy sweet lovely moon heap pitiful pity"

These are eleven key words from Jane Austen's Ode to Pity, including the dedication and title.

I suggest you submit it to my friend Mr. Google, and _he_ will tell you which scene from Titus Andronicus _also_ contains _all_ of those words. It will be easy to spot, trust me. Read that scene carefully, and I shall return within the next day to sketch out the significance of Jane Austen's _shocking_ allusion to Shakespeare's most disturbing play, as that allusion is further illuminated by a close reading of that scene in relation to her Ode to Pity."

Now, for those who did not already follow these bread crumbs yourselves, here is, first, the entire text of Jane Austen's Ode to Pity, immediately followed by the passages in Act 2, Scene 3 of Titus Andronicus, which I claim Jane Austen was winking at. The capitalized words are (obviously) the words which Jane Austen tagged from Shakespeare, and I give some additional context in brackets for the quoted excerpts.

I will return at the end of the quotations with a brief additional comment as to their thematic relevance:

To Miss Austen, the following Ode to PITY is dedicated, from a thorough knowledge of her PITIFUL Nature, by her obedt humle Servt, The Author

Ever musing I delight to tread
The Paths of HONOUR and the Myrtle GROVE
On disappointed Love.
While PHILOMEL on airy hawthorn BUSH
SINGS SWEET and MELANCHOLY, And the thrush
Converses with the Dove.

Gently brawling down the turnpike road,
SWEETLY NOISY falls the SILENT Stream–
The MOON emerges from behind a CLOUD
And darts upon the Myrtle GROVE her beam.
Ah! then what LOVELY Scenes appear,
The hut, the Cot, the Grot, and Chapel queer,
And eke the Abbey too a mouldering HEAP,
Conceal’d by aged pines her head doth rear
And quite invisible doth take a peep.

Titus Andronicus, Act 2, Scene 3, highlights:

[Tamor and her lover Aaron lounging amorously in the forest]

Tamora. My LOVELY Aaron, wherefore look'st thou sad,
When every thing doth make a gleeful boast?
The snake lies rolled in the cheerful sun,
The green leaves quiver with the cooling wind
And make a chequer'd shadow on the ground:
Under their SWEET shade, Aaron, let us sit,
And, whilst the babbling echo mocks the hounds, 750
Replying shrilly to the well-tuned horns,
As if a double hunt were heard at once,
Let us sit down and mark their yelping NOISE;
And, after conflict such as was supposed
The wandering prince and Dido once enjoy'd, 755
When with a happy storm they were surprised
And curtain'd with a counsel-keeping cave,
We may, each wreathed in the other's arms,
Our pastimes done, possess a golden slumber;
Whiles hounds and horns and SWEET MELODIOUS BIRDS 760
Be unto us as is a nurse's SONG
Of lullaby to bring her babe asleep.

Aaron. Madam, though Venus govern your desires,
Saturn is dominator over mine:
What signifies my deadly-standing eye, 765
My fleece of woolly hair that now uncurls
Even as an adder when she doth unroll
To do some fatal execution?
No, madam, these are no venereal signs: 770
Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand,
Blood and revenge are hammering in my head.
Hark Tamora, the empress of my soul,
Which never hopes more heaven than rests in thee,
This is the day of doom for Bassianus: 775
His PHILOMEL must lose her tongue to-day,
Thy sons make pillage of her chastity
And wash their hands in Bassianus' blood.
Seest thou this letter? take it up, I pray thee,
And give the king this fatal plotted scroll. 780
Now question me no more; we are espied;
Here comes a parcel of our hopeful booty,
Which dreads not yet their lives' destruction.


[The nasty Bassianus falls into Aaron's trap, as he, accompanied by the sweet Lavinia, happens upon Tamora immediately after Aaron slips away]

Bassianus. Who have we here? Rome's royal empress, 790
Unfurnish'd of her well-beseeming troop?
Or is it DIAN, habited like her,
Who hath abandoned her holy GROVES
To see the general hunting in this forest?

Tamora. Saucy controller of our private steps! 795
Had I the power that some say DIAN had,
Thy temples should be planted presently
With horns, as was Actaeon's; and the hounds
Should drive upon thy new-transformed limbs,
Unmannerly intruder as thou art!


Bassianus. Believe me, queen, your swarth Cimmerian
DOTH make your HONOUR of his body's hue,
Spotted, detested, and abominable.
Why are you sequester'd from all your train, 810
Dismounted from your snow-white goodly steed.
And wander'd hither to an obscure plot,
Accompanied but with a barbarous Moor,
If foul desire had not conducted you?


[Enter DEMETRIUS and CHIRON] [who happen upon Tamora as she is engaged in her war of words with Bassianus]

Demetrius. How now, dear sovereign, and our gracious mother! 825
Why doth your highness look so PALE and wan?

Tamora. Have I not reason, think you, to look PALE?
These two have 'ticed me hither to this place:
A barren detested vale, you see it is;
The TREES, though summer, yet forlorn and lean, 830
O'ercome with moss and baleful mistletoe:
Here never shines the sun; here nothing breeds,
Unless the nightly owl or fatal raven:


[Lavinia unsuccessfully pleads for mercy from Demetrius, Chiron & Tamora]

Lavinia. When did the tiger's young ones teach the dam? 880
O, do not learn her wrath; she taught it thee;
The milk thou suck'dst from her did turn to marble;
Even at thy teat thou hadst thy tyranny.
Yet every mother breeds not sons alike:
[To CHIRON] 885
Do thou entreat her show a woman PITY.

Chiron. What, wouldst thou have me prove myself a bastard?

Lavinia. 'Tis true; the raven doth not hatch a lark:
Yet have I heard,—O, could I find it now!—
The lion moved with PITY did endure 890
To have his princely paws pared all away:
Some say that ravens foster forlorn children,
The whilst their own birds famish in their nests:
O, be to me, though thy hard heart say no,
Nothing so kind, but something PITIFUL!


[Titus's son Martius finds Bassianus's corpse]

Martius. Lord Bassianus lies embrewed here,
All on a HEAP, like to a slaughter'd lamb, 970
In this detested, dark, blood-drinking pit.

Quintus. If it be dark, how dost thou know 'tis he?

Martius. Upon his bloody finger he doth wear
A precious ring, that lightens all the hole,
Which, like a taper in some monument, 975
Doth shine upon the dead man's earthy cheeks,
And shows the ragged entrails of the pit:
So PALE did SHINE the MOON on Pyramus
When he by night lay bathed in maiden blood.
O brother, help me with thy fainting hand— 980
If fear hath made thee faint, as me it hath—
Out of this fell devouring receptacle,
As hateful as Cocytus' misty mouth.


[Titus falls for Aaron's framing of Martius & Quintus for the murder of Bassianus]

Titus Andronicus. High emperor, upon my feeble knee
I beg this boon, with tears not lightly SHED,
That this fell fault of my accursed sons,
Accursed if the fault be proved in them,—


Here I am, back again, for my conclusion. For me, the emotional epicenter of Act 2, Scene 3 occurs when Lavinia eloquently pleads for mercy--or, more accurately, for PITY--from the ruthless Tamora and her sociopathic sons--and receives none--and it is exactly that emotion that I have always felt lurking just beneath the surface of Jane Austen's youthful Ode To Pity, and I cannot help wondering what happened to Jane Austen that made her identify so strongly with the tragic Lavinia, the ultimate Shakespearean guiltless victim?

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Jane Austen's Ode to Pity Covertly Alludes to Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus: Imagination Verified Experimentally

The subconscious works in mysterious and serendipitous ways, and this post is a perfect example.

Three days ago, I posted about the covert allusion to Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus that I spotted in Jane Austen's juvenilia poem Ode To Pity:

Here's how I argued my claim:

"Now, it's not just the reference to Philomel which leads me to this opinion, because I acknowledge that merely reciting the name Philomel would not by itself prove that JA meant to invoke all the horror of the Ovidian tale. What has made me so certain of JA's darker meaning is that this reference is embedded in a poetic context in Ode To Pity with a great deal of jarring, almost grotesque clanging of metaphors, which most decidedly point in a dark but mysterious direction."

I then went on to outline the mature Jane Austen's veiled and complex allusion to Titus Andronicus in Mansfield Park.

Then...just this morning, I posted about Jane Austen's kinship with Einstein and Darwin, united in their genius-level imaginative faculties, to which their vast stores of knowledge were subordinated:

In my said post, I also quoted from Darwin's step-grandmother, Mrs. Pole, whose opinion of Mansfield Park included praise for Jane Austen's being "experimentally acquainted" with the humans whom she observed "in the wild" with such precision and insight.

Now I will explain how my subconscious imagination led me to a wonderful crossing of streams from these two recent posts. This afternoon, while enjoying watching my favorite sports team, the Miami Heat, outlast the New York Knicks on national TV, I found myself drawn back to the text of Titus Andronicus, a text I have not studied as closely as many other Shakespeare plays, led on by the nagging intuition there had to be more evidence lurking in the play text which would provide further evidence of my recent claims about Jane Austen's covert allusions to Titus Andronicus, if only I would take the time to make the text my own by repeated close readings.

Somehow, I just _knew_, if I primed the pump, my imagination would lead me to some dramatic discovery. And it didn't take long.

When I got up to a certain scene in Titus Andronicus, suddenly I realized that I had found the mother lode, I was reading Jane Austen's primary allusive source for her juvenilia Ode to Pity. Can you guess which scene it is?

If you are still with me and don't want to read through all of Titus Andronicus looking for it, or would like to but are not sure how to go about it, never fear--- I've got a big hint, which I am giving to you now because it also constitutes what I believe is _conclusive_ experimental verification that the _sixteen_ year old Jane Austen was alluding to that particular scene in Titus Andronicus when she wrote her Ode to Pity.

Here's the clue:

shed pale groves philomel melancholy sweet lovely moon heap pitiful pity

These are eleven key words from Jane Austen's Ode to Pity, including the dedication and title.

I suggest you submit it to my friend Mr. Google, and _he_ will tell you which scene from Titus Andronicus _also_ contains _all_ of those words. It will be easy to spot, trust me.

Read that scene carefully, and I shall return within the next day to sketch out the significance of Jane Austen's _shocking_ allusion to Shakespeare's most disturbing play, as that allusion is further illuminated by a close reading of that scene in relation to her Ode to Pity.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

The Imagination of Einstein, Darwin….and the “Experimentally Acquainted” Jane Austen!

I sometimes do the double acrostic in the Sunday paper, to wake my brain up, and this morning I _loved_ the quotation which was revealed upon my solving the puzzle, and decided to write about it:

“I believe in intuition and inspiration. … At times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason….Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.”

You might be surprised to learn that the famous author of these words was not an artist, but was one of the greatest scientists of all time, Albert Einstein. My point in bringing it forward here today in a Jane Austen venue is that I continue to strongly believe that Jane Austen was 100% in agreement with Einstein on this crucial, fundamental point, i.e., that imagination is the supreme gift.

All of my literary sleuthing during the past decade has shown me, a thousand times over, that Jane Austen spent her all-too-short life accumulating a staggering quantity of knowledge in a wide variety of subjects. Time and time again, I have been astonished to learn that she had a sophisticated understanding not only of a multitude of literary sources, but also of the humanities and natural sciences as well. I believe that she never missed a chance, when in the presence of a new library, to make extracts of passages which would be meaningful to her for her writing.

However, as knowledgeable as I believe JA to have been, I am also certain that she herself fervently believed that having all the knowledge in the world--born of extensive reading, as Darcy recommended-would be a sterile useless accomplishment unless it was harnessed and subjugated to a strong, fertile and free imagination, and was used for the betterment of humankind.

And so that is one reason why I argue so vigorously and tirelessly against the conventional Janeite interpretations of the dangers of over-imagination in _Emma_ and _Northanger Abbey_. Yes, on the surface, it does appear that JA is telling cautionary tales, in which Emma Woodhouse and Catherine Morland allow their imaginations to run away with themselves, and harm results therefrom.

But...beneath the apparent parody of imagination gone amok, there is a much deeper and truer _anti_-parody, i.e., an inversion of that apparent satire of Emma and Catherine, which carries the very serious warning that JA was implicitly sending to all her readers, especially her female readers---and that dire warning is that it is ten times _more_ dangerous to have too _little_ imagination than to have too _much_ imagination. In a nutshell, one can learn to ignore part of what one has already perceived, but one cannot learn to see what one cannot see in the first place!
So, I think JA and Einstein would have each considered the other to be the very best of company, and I conclude by reiterating a claim I have been making the past 6 years, ever since I first learned that _another_ of history’s greatest scientists was a lifetime Janeite---I refer to Charles Darwin, originator of the theory which Einstein referred to in his above quotation—evolution.

My claim is that Charles Darwin imbibed Jane Austen as a child at the knee of Mrs. Pole, his stepmother and the widow of his famous biological and intellectual ancestor, Erasmus Darwin...

...but, far more important, I believe that Charles Darwin’s lifelong devotion to Jane Austen’s fiction resulted in the intense cultivation of his own scientific _imagination_, as applied to the complex adaptive systems of nature, with all their intertwined feedback loops of cause and effect, which can never be reduced to simple linear analysis. Darwin’s theory of evolution, updated and validated as it has been by his many scientific successors over the past century and a half, is a theory that can be used to grasp the complexity of the origins and development of life on Earth, and to discern the secrets of nature, whom Einstein referred to as the secrets of “the Old One”.

And I assert that, in addition to all the scientific knowledge that Charles Darwin accumulate during his career from the realm of science, none of that knowledge was more important to the development of his own scientific imagination than the lifelong rereading of Jane Austen’s novels, each of which is itself a remarkable representation of the complex adaptive system of _human_ nature and society, with intertwined feedback loops of cause and effect which can never be reduced to simple linear analysis.

And so, however paradoxical it might at first seem, I say that Einstein was right---all great scientists are also artists, and all great artists are also scientists, and it is no accident that Mrs. Pole, Charles Darwin’s step grandmother, wrote the following opinion about Mansfield Park:

“"There is a particular satisfaction in reading all Miss A----'s works -- they are so evidently written by a Gentlewoman -- most Novellists fail & betray themselves in attempting to describe familiar scenes in high Life; some little vulgarism escapes & shews that they are not _experimentally acquainted_ with what they describe, but here it is quite different. Everything is natural, & the situations & incidents are told in a manner which clearly evinces the Writer to /belong/ to the Society whose Manners she so ably delineates." Mrs. Pole also said that no Books had ever occasioned so much canvassing & doubt, & that everybody was desirous to attribute them to some of their own friends, or to some person of whom they thought highly. -- "

Indeed, JA was “experimentally acquainted” with the social world she described in her novels, and she deployed the full measure of her own boundless imagination in order to give all of her readers full access to those same worlds.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Honorable Mr. Yates is...the Player King of Mansfield Park!

In Janeites & Austen L, Christy Somer presented a normative interpretation of the character of Mr. Yates in Mansfield Park, and I strongly disagreed with her, as follows:

Christy, you and I could not disagree more as to the significance of the role that Mr. Yates plays in the Lover's Vows episode in Mansfield Park. From the passages about Yates that you've quoted, I see Mr. Yates as an integral part of Jane Austen's elaborate but veiled allusion to Hamlet in Mansfield Park--an allusion that had been previously noted by some Austen scholars (most notably Roger Sales in his wonderful book Jane Austen & Representations of Regency England), but as to which I was the first, in 2006, to unpack the full significance of such allusion, as I first publicly outlined here in my blog back in September 2010:

In essence, in that lengthy post, I sketched the case for Tom Bertram having subtly choreographed the entire Lover's Vows episode from Day One, all for the purpose of confronting his father with a staged performance which would mirror back to Sir Thomas the heinousness of Sir Thomas's past misdeeds, and perhaps awaken his dormant conscience.

However, I did not in my 2010 post dwell on the importance of Mr. Yates, whom I have always seen as Tom Bertram's willing and talented confederate---and I realized only today that Mr. Yates actually is Jane Austen's version of the Player King in Hamlet--he's the acting veteran who just happens to show up at "Elsinore" at precisely the right moment to spark the performance of a home theatrical specifically designed to catch the conscience of the King.

And there are multiple Hamletian layers here. Kotzebue knew his Shakespeare, and Baron Wildenhaim was _his_ version of King Claudius! And Jane Austen saw all of that very clearly, which is, along with Mrs. Inchbald's particular translation, the main reason why I believe she chose Lover's Vows to be _her_ play-within-the-novel. And this gives us one great advantage in interpreting JA's intentions in this regard, as we have the entire text of Lover's Vows at our disposal, whereas Shakespeare scholars have searched in vain for the text of the Mousetrap or The Murder of Gonzago.

And so, also for the first time today, I realized that it was possible to identify, with a high degree of probability, the very speech that Mr. Yates would have been in the midst of delivering as Sir Thomas walked in on him, while Tom Bertram, watching from the wings, carefully observed his father's reactions to Yates the way Hamlet observed Claudius's reactions to the Mousetrap. Tom's satisfaction was such that he could barely hold his countenance as he observed "...such an exhibition, such a piece of true acting, as he would not have lost upon any account. It would be the last--in all probability--the last scene on that stage; but he was sure there could not be a finer. The house would close with the greatest éclat.."

This was Tom Bertram's purpose from Day One, I suggest, and he and Yates had been waiting for just this moment for Yates to deliver the following speech for its intended audience of one, Sir Thomas Bertram:

" Go.--Your heart will tell you how to act.[Exit Anhalt.] [Baron distractedly.]Who am I?What am I?Mad--raving--no--I have a son--A son!The bravest--I will--I must--oh![with tenderness.]Why have I not embraced him yet?[increasing his voice.]why not pressed him to my heart?Ah!see--[looking after him]--He flies from the castle--Who's there?Where are my attendants?[Enter two servants]. Follow him--bring the prisoner back.--But observe my command--treat him with respect--treat him as my son--and your master.[Exit].

Please note that this is the _only_ speech given by Baron Wildenhaim in the entire text of Lover's Vows in which he is actually ranting, and isn't it remarkable that it is the scene in which his world has been turned upside down, because he has just learned that Frederick is actually his illegitimate son, the fruit conceived from the Baron's extramarital tryst with Agatha, just before he carelessly abandoned her to a life of disrepute? And in Lover's Vows, it is not long afterwards that the Baron delivers a followup speech to the above, one which reminds us of Claudius's tortured guilty soliloquy after he has stormed out of the Mousetrap:

"Young man!Frederick!--[calling after him.]Hasty indeed! would make conditions with his father.No, no, that must not be.I just now thought how well I had arranged my plans--had relieved my heart of every burden, when, a second time, he throws a mountain upon it.Stop, friend conscience, why do you take his part?--For twenty years thus you have used me, and been my torture."

This was the effect Tom hoped to achieve by confronting his father with Yates as Baron Wildenhaim upon his return to his private chambers at Mansfield Park.

A Mousetrap indeed, but alas, judging by his behavior subsequent to his return to Mansfield Park, I fear that Sir Thomas's conscience was _not_ caught.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

The Hunger Games, Titus Andronicus, Philomela, & Mary Crawford's Heathen Heroes

The following is a link to my blog post earlier today about the veiled allusion to Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy:

You may ask, what is the relevance of my post to Jane Austen? And my answer to that reasonable question is that just as Shakespeare was particularly interested in the Philomela myth (which is a tightly wound ball of rape, mutilation, murder, cannibalism, and revenge) from Ovid's Metamorphoses when he wrote the tragic character of Lavinia for Titus Andronicus, so too have I long been of the opinion that the young Jane Austen showed a surprising (and, from my perspective, highly disturbing) interest in that same disturbing Philomela myth when she wrote her juvenilia poem, Ode to Pity, and included the following line therein:

While Philomel on airy hawthorn Bush
Sings sweet and Melancholy, And the thrush
Converses with the Dove...

Now, it's not just the reference to Philomel which leads me to this opinion, because I acknowledge that merely reciting the name Philomel would not by itself prove that JA meant to invoke all the horror of the Ovidian tale. What has made me so certain of JA's darker meaning is that this reference is embedded in a poetic context in Ode To Pity with a great deal of jarring, almost grotesque clanging of metaphors, which most decidedly point in a dark but mysterious direction.

But that's not all there is to the Jane Austen connection to Philomel. Speaking of things jarring and grotesque, writing my above linked blog post also led me to realize, as a collateral benefit, that JA's interest in Philomel was not merely a passing youthful fancy on JA's part. No, I now am convinced that when Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram have the following exchange about Sir Thomas's imminent return from Antigua....

"Your father's return will be a very interesting event."

"It will, indeed, after such an absence; an absence not only long, but including so many dangers."

"It will be the forerunner also of other interesting events: your sister's marriage, and your taking orders."


"Don't be affronted," said she, laughing, "but it does put me in mind of some of the old heathen heroes, who, after performing great exploits in a foreign land, offered sacrifices to the gods on their safe return."

...I believe that Jane Austen, through her wickedly satirical creature Mary Crawford, is very very pointedly and specifically painting a portrait of Sir Thomas as nothing less than a Regency Era Titus Andronicus! The allusion becomes obvious when you look closely at the precise circumstances which arise at the very beginning of Titus Andronicus, in Act 1, Scene 1.

What do we have? A heathen war hero, Titus Andronicus, has just returned to Rome after performing great exploits in the wars against the Goths, bringing back with him as prisoners the Goth queen Tamora and her three sons---and what does Titus do immediately upon his safe return with only a handful of his own sons surviving, as he prepares to inter the most recently deceased of his sons?

Of course, like any worthy heathen hero, he promptly _sacrifices_ Alarbus, one of Tamora's sons, in order to take ritual revenge for the deaths of so many of his own sons, specifically for the one whom he is at that moment interring in the family mausoleum.

And that sacrifice of the Goth prince is the first domino to fall in a grotesquely tragic spiral of revenge which leaves nearly every major character in Titus Andronicus dead by the end of Act 5.

But JA (via Mary) also points to Lavinia when she refers to "your sister's marriage"---because Lavinia, daughter of the returning hero Titus Andronicus, is also supposed to be married to Bassianus, one of two princes vying to be emperor--however, in short order, Lavinia is passed around like a piece of meat, first to the other prince, Saturninus, who first claims Lavinia as bride, then just as quickly rejects her as nonconforming goods, then she is raped, mutilated and eventually murdered by her own father.

And I believe we see shadows of Lavinia in both Maria Bertram and Fanny Price.

So, Sir Thomas as Titus Andronicus.....a darkly droll, satirical concept that JA has baked into a pie and served to her readers in Mansfield Park, her darkest novel. And perhaps, JA also closes the loop with her youthful reference to Philomel, with both Ode to Pity and Mansfield Park pointing toward dark secrets of the Austen family which must not be spoken aloud, but can only be hinted at.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

The Hunger Games’s Veiled Allusion to Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus

Let me start with a large caveat: before last Saturday, I knew absolutely NOTHING about The Hunger Games book trilogy, or the new film adaptation of the first book in the series, other than that the books were the biggest hit in publishing since Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code, and that the film was breaking box office records. None of this hype had raised in me any particular desire to read the books and/or to see the film.

Then, as part of family holiday activities, I wound up tagging along on Saturday to a showing of the new film, with no expectations other than that it would probably be a well-made action movie. [From here on in, be prepared for some spoilers, if you don’t know about the books or the film]

Imagine my surprise when two hours passed quickly with no squirming in my seat (always a good sign), and with my mind working at the end. As I walked out of the multiplex, I found myself thinking that this big-budget, mass market film, while simplistic, had nonetheless managed to produce a satisfying and powerful resonance with one of the most crucial issues in current American politics— it was clear to me, even before I sampled some online interviews with the author, Suzanne Collins, that the same populist sensibility informed the story told in this film as provided the energy that fueled 2011’s global Occupy Wall Street movement--a movement which I strongly support, as evidenced by the following-linked sample of posts at my blog during the past year:

In The Hunger Games as depicted in the film, we have an authoritarian, cynical central government, which enforces its tight control over the oppressed 99% for the benefit of a morally degraded, grotesquely flamboyant and self-absorbed 1%, in part by means of a futuristic form of gladiator entertainment, The Hunger Games, which both intimidate and entertain the downtrodden plebeian masses, as well as providing spicy entertainment for the jaded elite.

As many have pointed out, this is a futuristic reimagining of the Roman Empire, emphasized via character names (Caesar, Brutus, Portia, Cinna, Cato, etc.) and even the “Capitol” of “Panem” (from the Latin for “bread”, as in “bread and circuses”, and as in the crust of bread thrown to the heroine in flashback earnly in the movie).

And speaking of ancient Rome brings me to the serendipity when has led me to write this post today, because, by pure coincidence, I saw The Hunger Games right after my own literary sleuthing had independently led me to a close examination of the one Shakespeare play which I had never previously taken seriously, Titus Andronicus:

At a future time, I will post about the OTHER literary sleuthing I was doing that led me to look closely at Titus. What occurred to me as I was watching The Hunger Games, however, was that there was an eerie parallelism between the way that the 24 contestants were rapidly whittled down, one by one, and the way that pretty much every one of the (14, by my count) main characters in Titus Andronicus winds up dead by the end of the play—what these two high body count stories have in common is that the dead are killed by each other, bloodily and in close quarters.

So,with all the Roman imagery and names in the Hunger Games, I had a strong gut feeling that it was not only Shakepseare’s very famous and popular play, Julius Caesar, which Collins had in mind while writing this trilogy. No, she was also slyly pointing to the much less well known and much less well loved early play of Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus.

I was so sure of my gut feeling, because my closer look at Titus had already led me to understand that the endless parade of grotesque violence that occurs in Titus Andronicus is NOT gratuitous, it is not frivolous or cruel, it is actually thematic and carries a highly moral message. Close study reveals that the young Shakespeare was grappling with the universal theme of revenge head-on, and was laying out a carefully constructed sequence of falling dominoes, which illustrated what happens in any human society when people begin to take the law into their own hands. What happens is that mercy goes by the boards entirely, and humans, tragically, choose instead to perpetuate a cycle of violence, until everyone is dead. In this sense, Titus Andronicus is closely akin to other greater and more famous Shakespeare tragedies in which the blood lust for revenge leave corpses strewn everywhere, such as Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet.

And doesn’t that sound like the Hunger Games? Here is the cruel logic of President Snow and his government, who created the Hunger Games so that a dog-eat-dog, shoot-first mentality (yes, the awful tragedy of the murder of Trayvon Martin is ALSO anticipated by Titus) would be celebrated and enjoyed, instead of being seen for the true horror that it is. Or, in Occupy Wall Street terms, let the 99% fight it out for the crumbs, and learn to love the fight, while the 1% indulge in their gluttony and titter.

And now I approach my punch line. Thinking about revenge in Shakespeare’s plays got me wondering why the central tragic character of Titus Andronicus had not made an appearance in The Hunger Games—I refer to Lavinia, the daughter of Titus, who suffers the especially cruel sequential fate of having her fianc√© brutally murdered; then being dragged off to the deep forest to be raped, with the rapists using the fiance’s corpse as a pillow (and “raping” chillingly sounds a lot like the “reaping” which describes the selection process for the Hunger Games); then having her tongue cut out and her hands cut off so that, like the mythical Philomela in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, she cannot accuse the culprits; then, after she does manage to nonverbally identify them nonetheless, her final fate is to be slain by her own father, Titus, because….she was raped! Sounds a great deal like the fate suffered by Jesus during his last days, doesn’t it? And that’s NOT an accident, nor, I suspect, is the opening of The Hunger Games only two weeks before Easter Sunday!

Anyway, out of curiosity, I Googled “Lavinia” and “Hunger Games” and was led to the following:

As those of you who’ve read the trilogy carefully already know, “Lavinia is an Avox [“no voice”] girl who worked as a Capitol servant for Katniss before the 74th and 75th Hunger Games…..Years later, Lavinia waited as an Avox whose tongue had been cut out for committing crimes against the Capitol….”

Not having read the trilogy myself, I will not attempt to interpret this allusion to Lavinia in Titus Andronicus beyond the superficial analysis I’ve provided, above. But don’t you find it curious that I just knew that Shakespeare’s Lavinia had to be somewhere on Collins’s radar screen when she wrote this trilogy? This illustrates the power of reading allusively.

I merely wanted to illustrate that there are not only allusive shadows in the novels of Jane Austen or the plays of Shakespeare, as I have been writing about online for the past decade, they are also to be found in popular literature and movies, if one tunes one’s antennae and listens carefully---and one’s appreciation of such popular stories can be enhanced by knowing and learning more about the high literature that undergirds it.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter