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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Letter 85 to Cassandra dated May 24, 1813: Mrs. Bingley and MISTER Darcy!

 Early in Letter 85,  writing from London to CEA in Chawton, JA effuses about a portrait she saw that day which reminds her, with great specificity, of Mrs. Bingley (i.e., the former Miss Jane Bennet):  

“…Henry & I went to the Exhibition in Spring Gardens. It is not thought a good collection, but I was very well pleased-particularly (pray tell Fanny) with a small portrait of Mrs. Bingley, excessively like her. I went in hopes of seeing one of her Sister, but there was no Mrs. Darcy;-perhaps however, I may find her in the Great Exhibition which we shall go to, if we have time;-I have no chance of her in the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds's Paintings which is now shewing in Pall Mall, & which we are also to visit.-Mrs. Bingley's is exactly herself, size, shaped face, features & sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite colour with her. I dare say Mrs. D. will be in Yellow.”

Later in Letter 85, JA returns to the topic of real life portraits of characters in P&P when she writes:

“We have been both to the Exhibition & Sir J. Reynolds',-and I am disappointed, for there was nothing like Mrs. D. at either. I can only imagine that Mr. D. prizes any Picture of her too much to like it should be exposed to the public eye.-I can imagine he wd have that sort of feeling-that mixture of Love, Pride & Delicacy.-Setting aside this disappointment, I had great amusement among the Pictures…”

These passages have been oft noted by Austen scholars as light-hearted, and ultimately insignificant examples of JA’s ebullient and justified pride as she visits Henry in London. She already knows that her “darling child” is by then already the buzz of the literati, and so she imagines her heroines’ faces hanging on walls  and admired by all, the way Lizzy admires the Darcy portraits at Pemberley.

However, following the trail of an interpretation of P&P that I had been developing for a while before then, a year ago, I discovered a very surprising alternative significance of the above passages. I.e., based on various pieces of evidence which I quickly found with the aid of ILL and scholarly databases,  I presented evidence at the end of my address to the JASNA SW California chapter a year ago, supporting my claim that the portrait of “Mrs. Bingley” which JA playfully refers to in Letter 85 was an actual real life portrait, which, in turn, was _strongly_ linked to, of all women, the most famous _courtesan_ of the Regency Era, Harriette Wilson!

As many of you already know, Harriette Wilson, 5 years after JA’s death, published the most scandalous tell-all memoir of the Regency Era, famously excluding therefrom only those illustrious clients who paid handsomely for her silence.

I concluded that final segment of my presentation by suggesting, in perfect seriousness, that, in (the recently published) P&P,  Jane Austen very consciously intended to represent Harriette Wilson in the character of  Jane Bennet, and, further, that Harriette Wilson’s most high profile client, the Prince Regent, was represented by none other than the “Prince” of Pemberley himself,  the “First Gentleman of Austenland”, Mr. Darcy himself!

Make of all that what you will, pending my publication of the supporting evidence for those claims.   

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Jane is taking them in....about her (g)loves!

Earlier this week, I noticed, for the first time, one of the many clues to Jane and Frank's secret relationship in _Emma_ that Miss Bates reveals to those readers who (unlike Emma) are listening carefully to her torrent of words. Since then, I've done some diligent checking, and I am pretty sure that I _am_ the first person to take note of this clue--at least, I can't find any reference to it in any print publication or webpage findable via the Internet.

I think it is a particularly interesting one, which is why I am bringing it forward now. If you love _Emma_, you will love this discovery! And actually, it's very simple to explain, so bear with me....

Numerous commentators have taken note of the scene in Chapter 24 of _Emma_ when Frank Churchill buys a pair of gloves at Ford's, apparently in a desperate attempt to buy a few minutes to collect his thoughts so as to be able to "casually" deflect the intense cross examination he is being subjected to by Emma with respect to his dealings with Jane Fairfax at Weymouth. Here is the relevant text:

"At this moment they [Frank and Emma] were approaching Ford's, and he hastily exclaimed, "Ha! this must be the very shop that every body attends every day of their lives, as my father informs me. He comes to Highbury himself, he says, six days out of the seven, and has always business at Ford's. If it be not inconvenient to you, pray let us go in, that I may prove myself to belong to the place, to be a true citizen of Highbury. I must buy something at Ford's. It will be taking out my freedom. I dare say they sell GLOVES."

"Oh! yes, GLOVES and every thing. I do admire your patriotism. You will be adored in Highbury. You were very popular before you came, because you were Mr. Weston's son; but lay out half-a-guinea at Ford's, and your popularity will stand upon your own virtues."

They went in; and while the sleek, well-tied parcels of "Men's Beavers" and "York Tan" were bringing down and displaying on the counter, he said -- "But I beg your pardon, Miss Woodhouse, you were speaking to me, you were saying something at the very moment of this burst of my _amor patriae_. Do not let me lose it. I assure you the utmost stretch of public fame would not make me amends for the loss of any happiness in private life."

So far so good, but a few commentators have also noticed that these are not the only gloves purchased at Ford's, and that's where Miss Bates comes in. In Chapter 27, as she and Mrs. Weston lead Emma to Mrs. Ford's prior to escorting her over to the Bates residence, where Jane and Frank are engaged in "riveting" business while the spectacle-less Mrs. Bates dozes, Miss Bates greets Mrs. Ford thusly:

"How do you do, Mrs. Ford? I beg your pardon. I did not see you before. I hear you have a charming collection of new RIBBONS from town. Jane came back delighted yesterday. Thank ye, the GLOVES do very well -- only a little too large about the wrist, but Jane is TAKING THEM IN."  "What was I talking of?" said she, beginning again when they were all in the street."

However, it apparently has never occurred to anyone prior to myself that the pair of gloves which Frank buys in Chapter 24 are the _same_ gloves which Miss Bates is talking about in Chapter 27!!!

There is a great deal of corroborative evidence and interpretation that I could muster in support of this reading, which I gathered during the past several days, and I also see this discovery as supporting several threads of the shadow story of _Emma_ that I have sleuthed out over the past eight years. But for now, for this post, in order not to overwhelm you with details, I will rest my prima facie case with the following few salient points:

1.  Only three chapters (and therefore less than one week of fictional time) have elapsed in between the purchase of the glove's by Frank and the description by Miss Bates of the alterations on the gloves being done by Jane, a natural, short interval during which alterations would be performed. Yes, it could have been the result of two independent purchases of gloves at Ford's, but then, wouldn't Miss Bates have mentioned Frank's purchase as having prompted her own? That's exactly the sort of extraneous detail that Miss Bates seems to relish repeating over and over. And...if you think about it, Miss Bates can't afford to buy bread or apples, she depends on her rich friends to keep her, her mother and her sick niece on an adequate diet--was she really going to buy a pair of gloves? No way!

2. While it is completely ambiguous as to whether the gloves Miss Bates refers to were meant to be worn by Miss Bates herself, or by Jane, in either case, the key point is that they are both _women_, and, as we all know, men's wrists are much larger than women's wrists. And this explains why the gloves were "a little too large about the wrist", because they are _men's_ gloves!  So this interpretation fits perfectly with the inference made by countless Austen scholars and readers that Frank actually had no need for a new pair gloves, but only bought a pair at Ford's while stalling to answer Emma's probing questions. This inference tells us the _rest_ of that little story, which is that, after Frank leaves Emma and breathes a sigh of relief having dodged her suspicious questions, he finds himself with a pair of gloves as to which he has no need himself, and so he gives them to Jane--not terribly romantic if he failed to tell Jane about the circumstances of his recent purchase, but's a more than plausible chain of events.

3.  The best touch is the line spoken by Miss Bates which I use as my Subject Line:  "Jane is taking them in."  Of course the superficial meaning of that statement in context is that Jane Fairfax is altering the gloves to make them fit smaller hands. However, on a deeper level, it can also be read as Miss Bates communicating to someone present at Ford's (whether Mrs. Ford, or Mrs. Weston, or someone else) who understands her coded manner of speaking while around Emma, the following secret information: i.e., that Jane Fairfax is putting on an act in order to deceive (i.e.,"take in") Emma (and perhaps others) about Jane's secret loves!---Just take away the letter "g" from "glove" and you have "love"!

4. But there is more than one Jane involved here---there is also Jane _Austen_, and if we read Miss Bates as an alter ego of Jane Austen, as I do, then this is Jane Austen herself winking a very broad metafictional wink at her knowing readers, and telling us that Jane Austen is "taking in" her more gullible readers, the ones who read Miss Bates's words they way Emma listens to them--which is to say, not at all!

5.  There is a deeply Chekhovian beauty  in having two elements in a given novel be connected in this covert but clever way, which I believe Cornel West, the great lover of both Austen and Chekhov, would love. And that is the sort of novel _Emma_ is, in numerous ways. Most of all, as I have been saying for several years, the acrostic which Mrs. Elton mentions to Emma is one and the same as the charade which Mr. Elton gives to Harriet and Emma. Here is my most recent summary on that point:

 So whether it's a charade/acrostic, or a pair of gloves, we have _Emma_ creating covert connections which she leaves for alert readers to discern and sleuth out, as I have done in these two instances.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: In case anyone familiar with the scholarly literature about _Emma_ is wondering, two Austen scholars who specifically pored over _Emma_ to find the many clues to Jane and Frank's secret relationship strewn across the first 48 chapters of the novel, i.e., the great detective author PD James, and also JASNA lecturer Prof. David Bell, did _not_ detect the identity of the two pairs of gloves, even though both of those scholars take note of the two scenes at Ford's.  Talk about hiding something in plain sight, Jane Austen hid this one in plain sight of the writer who is famous for pointing out that Jane Austen hid things in plain sight!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Crowdfunding Basic Science Research

A month ago, I diverged from my usual outside-the-box Austen-drenched subject matter to write about some outside the  box science being practiced by my eldest son, Ethan:

Well...I am back with an update on his science crowdfunding project, with the hope that those of you who read and enjoy my unconventional anti-elitist approach to literary criticism will be in sympathy with his unconventional anti-elitist approach to scientific research as well. Over 1/2 of my readers are from  outside the US, but I encourage you to read along as well, because science, like everything else, is increasingly becoming a global matter, and so you're involved in what he's doing as much as my American readers!

So here, then, is the text of  the email I sent to a group of old school chums of a mostly liberal and libertarian persuasion a few moments ago, which I hope  will strike a chord with you as well:

 My son Ethan's debut crowdfunding event went off pretty well two weeks ago (and I am happy to report that I survived the trip to and from NYC with my neck brace on so that I could attend his event, as well as the Jane Austen conference later that weekend where I got to exchange a few words with Cornel West, also a hardcore Janeite, and otherwise satisfied my endless craving for all things Austen).

Ethan has now collected nearly 1/3 of his target amount of $25,000, and so is still on track to meet that goal within the remaining 30 days, as you can track here, as I do 2-3 times every day, like following the score of a Heat game or Federer match in progress....

....and, I think even more impressively, he's doing it Obama-style, with over 100 contributors (over 1/2 of whom he had no prior personal connection to whatsoever) to date. So he's getting the word out far and wide, and starting to become a public figure in cutting edge science circles.

As an example, here's an article that is just appearing in The Economist (both the online and the print edition), that gives him some very prominent and positive mention:

So he's at a critical juncture, where he needs to sustain this early momentum so as to keep raising his profile, so as to keep raising more money from fresh sources, etc etc, and that's why I am back here telling you about what he's doing, in the hope that some more of you (beyond those who've generously donated so far) will find his Quixotic quest worthwhile to donate to, and/or (equally helpful) pass this email on to friends or family who might also be interested in promoting positive change in the  way science is done in this country.

Ethan is genuinely impressing me by wearing out his virtual shoe leather pursuing leads literally around the world--- he is scheduled for a trip to SF next week, and then another one to London in mid-November, during  both of which he'll be speaking publicly and networking privately at various science and crowdfunding events, all to raise public awareness about the possibilities of crowdfunding as a new wave of social activism in the world, to do for ourselves what we perhaps can never again count on government to do for us, in this Paul Ryan-infected world.

So there...I've gone on long enough, but if I've piqued your interest, and you want to at least watch the cool 3-minute Waking-Life style video at his crowdfunding website, which is, again....

...then I've accomplished  my goal, and I thank you all for your continued indulgence.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming already in progress.....

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Jane Austen''s Rare Authorial Intrusions

Last week in Austen L and Janeites, Anielka Briggs challenged the groups to come up with examples of the rare instances in which Jane Austen’s narrative voice intrudes to the point of disrupting, if only for a moment, the flow of the story. I responded in a series of posts, which I will summarize here:

First I responded to a post by Deb Barnum where she wrote:  "I have never forgotten this unexpected sentence in S&S that just jumps off the page and think that Austen perhaps did not catch it in the final Vol. II, ch. XIV - the 6th paragraph begins: "I come now to the relation of a misfortune which about this time befell Mrs. John Dashwood..." The "I" is quite unexpected! and the only one I believe in the text as from the narrator - perhaps a vestige of an original letter format?"  END QUOTE

My gut tells me that it's not so much a vestige of an original letter format (although that is a possibility worthy of serious consideration), as it  is a reflection of the chatty, winking narrator of S&S, who often reminds me (probably not by accident) of Mrs. Jennings.

And Deb's catch prompted me to search the word "misfortune" in S&S globally, which, by my lucky guess, led me to the following narrative passage in Chapter 32 (4 chapters earlier than the one Deb found):

"To give the feelings or the language of Mrs. Dashwood on receiving and answering Elinor's letter would be only to give a repetition of what her daughters had already felt and said; of a disappointment hardly less painful than Marianne's, and an indignation even greater than Elinor's. Long letters from her, quickly succeeding each other, arrived to tell all that she suffered and thought; to express her anxious solicitude for Marianne, and entreat she would bear up with fortitude under this misfortune. Bad indeed must the nature of Marianne's affliction be, when her mother could talk of fortitude! mortifying and humiliating must be the origin of those regrets, which SHE could wish her not to indulge!"

While the narrator has not used the first person, and has not explicitly referred to the reader, those exclamation points, as well as the gratuitous explanation for not repeating what the Dashwood  girls had already felt and said, is pretty intrusive, and comes close to breaking the fictional dream.

Then, the next day, I could not  resist  some further sleuthing and came up with two other Austen authorial intrusions, which each appear in the final chapter of their respective novels. Like the one that Deb found in Ch.36 of S&S......

"I COME NOW to the relation of a misfortune which about this time befell Mrs. John Dashwood..."

....and the oft-cited one that begins the final chapter  of MP:

"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I QUIT SUCH ODIOUS SUBJECTS AS SOON AS I CAN, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest."

.....they are each a sudden solitary eruption of first person narration:

First this one in Ch. 61 of P&P:

"Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs. Bingley, and talked of Mrs. Darcy, may be guessed. I WISH I COULD SAY, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; though perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly."

And then this one in Ch. 24 of Persuasion:

"Who can be in doubt of what followed? When any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point, be they ever so poor, or ever so imprudent, or ever so little likely to be necessary to each other's ultimate comfort. This may be bad morality to conclude with, but I BELIEVE IT TO BE TRUTH; and if such parties succeed, how should a Captain Wentworth and an Anne Elliot, with the advantage of maturity of mind, consciousness of right, and one independent fortune between them, fail of bearing down every opposition? They might in fact, have borne down a great deal more than they met with, for there was little to distress them beyond the want of graciousness and warmth."

And then, another day later still, I came up with this one from Chapter 20 of Emma: 

"With regard to her not accompanying them to Ireland, her account to her aunt contained nothing but truth, though there might be some truths not told. It was her own choice to give the time of their absence to Highbury; to spend, perhaps, her last months of perfect liberty with those kind relations to whom she was so very dear: and the Campbells, whatever might be their motive or motives, whether single, or double, or treble, gave the arrangement their ready sanction, and said, that they depended more on a few months spent in her native air, for the recovery of her health, than on any thing else. Certain it was that she was to come; and that Highbury, instead of welcoming that perfect novelty which had been so long promised it -- Mr. Frank Churchill -- must put up for the present with Jane Fairfax, who could bring only the freshness of a two years absence."

This famous passage in Emma does not contain an explicit first person authorial intrusion, but there is a strong implication that the narrator knows a great deal about those truths not told about why Jane F does not go to Ireland but goes to Highbury instead, and also knows a great deal about which of three unspecified motives led the Campbells to agree to Jane's extended visit to Highbury. A narrator who explicitly hints at unrevealed motivations in this way, not once but TWICE in the same paragraph, as to what turns out to be the central plot twist of the entire novel, is pretty intrusive--the role of objective reporter has been temporarily but explicitly undermined--the narrator is not only keeping an important secret from the reader, she's taking pains to tease the reader about that secret, to be sure to pique the reader's curiosity. The narrator is no longer a mind-reading robot, the narrator is a person---the author-- keeping teasing secrets from her readers!

I have always read that passage as the broadest possible hint to the alert, curious reader to try to discern what those unstated truths and motives might be. But the most important word in the whole paragraph is "treble", because it suggests to the REreader of Emma that there might be a third interpretation of Jane's coming to Highbury, one which was not driven by a secret engagement to Frank, but by ANOTHER secret motivation, one which is not explicitly debriefed in the novel text. And of course you know that my opinion since early January 2005 has been that this secret motivation is Jane's concealed pregnancy.

And then, finally Linda Thomas wrote:

“Here's a possible one from P&P, though it's not in the first person.  Does this qualify?
 "It is not the object of this work to give a description of Derbyshire, nor  of any of the remarkable places through which their route thither lay: Oxford, Blenheim, Warwick, Kenelworth, Birmingham, etc., are sufficiently known.  A small part of Derbyshire is all the present concern.  To the little town of Lambton..."

What's interesting to me is that, at the same time the narrator's intrusion forces the reader to step outside the fictional construct for a moment, the  narrator pretends that the novel is not a novel, by presenting Lambton and Pemberley as real places on a par with well-known ..”   END QUOTE

To which I replied: Bravo, Linda, I think it's a classic example, because it fits one of JA's repeated
patterns--the narrator stepping out of the shadows, ironically,  to tell us what she's NOT gonna tell us! ;)

We saw it in the guilt and misery passage at the end of MP, we saw it in the Emma passage I quoted earlier today about the treble motives not stated. JA uses her authorial soapbox very sparingly, and it seems one key purpose is to jar the reader into thinking about events that might be happening offstage---sorta like the old saying about telling people not to think of a pink elephant and then of course you HAVE to think of the pink elephant!

I believe JA was above all interested in point of view and in particular in sensitizing the reader to thinking about point of view as they read, and to open the possibility of multiple points of view on the same text. She knew that was the path to wisdom.

I bet there are a few more of them scattered through the novels.

And that’s more than enough for one post.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

P.S.  added 10/19/12 at 1 am EST:

I just did a little more checking, finding it hard to believe that no Austen scholar had previously systematically addressed this question before Anielka posed it earlier this week, and, sure enough, I found that John Mullan, in his 2012 book _What Matters in Jane Austen?", has entitled Chapter 19 as shown in my above Subject Line. In that chapter, Mullan covers ALL of the first person authorial intrusions which have brought forward during this recent discussion, as well as some others, and he gives plausible, insightful explanations for them. I saw nothing in the parts of his chapter that I could access online that in my estimation would support Anielka's theory of the novels as having been plays in earlier stages.