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

Thursday, January 3, 2013

"Well, I declare---" The True Identity of the Lady in the Irish Car Party whom Miss Bates sees

Diane Reynolds wrote the following wonderful observation in Janeites and Austen L this morning:

"Once again I am troubled by the nagging comment from Miss Bates, before she walks off with Jane, leaving Emma alone with Mr. and Mrs. Weston and Frank. Miss Bates mistakes someone in the "Irish car party" for Mrs. Elton. What is that about? It's too odd a comment to be random. Miss Bates repeats that Mrs. Elton looks nothing like the woman in the Irish car party after all--or so I remember--which means what? That Mrs. Elton really does have a double? That there's some connection between Mrs. Elton and the Irish or someone Irish? It is through Emma's consciousness that we get the idea that Frank is engaged in high-pitched flattery after Jane leaves, but given that it is Emma, it is just as likely that he is insulting her or in other ways being cruel without her understanding--certainly Mr. and Mrs. Weston would say nothing to let on that she was being mocked. "

I responded as follows, with gratitude, as Diane thereby led me to a significant new discovery about the shadow story of  Emma.

You are very right to be troubled by that nagging bit of text. I noticed it in 2005, and inquired in Janeites at the time, but when no one else had any bright ideas, I forgot about it...till now.

I have an answer in two parts, which I think you're gonna like a lot:

First, any time we see the word "Irish" in Emma, we must think of the Dixons--every Janeite knows that Emma uses "Irish" as a code for Jane's supposed affair with Mr. Dixon. So perhaps on one level, Miss Bates is making a little joke of her own---a joke Emma does not get, of course---by also teasingly referring to the Dixons. I.e., they spot a woman whom they cannot at first identify, and so Miss Bates, actually being aware of Emma's stupid inside joke about Jane and the Dixons, enjoys a joke on Emma--as if to say, in so many words, "Is that a strange lady? Oh, then it must be Mrs. Dixon...."

But...while Miss Bates may have enjoyed a private joke of her own in that regard, what she's actually doing, in her usual double-function way, is deadly serious---the identity of the lady in that Irish car is actually something very important, something that Miss Bates especially does not want Emma to become aware of, so Miss Bates, clever elf that she is, is acting preemptively and audaciously by actually pointing out the mysterious lady, but then immediately giving it a totally innocuous spin, knowing full well that Emma will just zone out on what Miss Bates says, assuming that Miss Bates is just saying blah, blah, blah, and so this assures that Emma will just ignore the ladies in that Irish car.

Now the next part of this beautiful coded message from JA is to realize what an "Irish car" is. Here, follow this link... an 1808 book by Thomas Hartwell Horne entitled The Complete Grazier, etc. and go to page 220, you'll see a drawing of what was apparently called an "Irish car" in those days, and here is the relevant text:

"...Where, however, dispatch and celerity are required, as in housing hay, &c. it is obvious, that such ponderous machines are unfit for the purpose. A good horse, it may be observed, can draw upwards of a ton, or 2000 weight; in drawing which a great portion of the animal's strength is exhausted in pulling the waggon, rather than the load it contains, to which his strength ought to be applied. Hence several judicious farmers have availed themselves of lighter carriages, for conveying different articles to and from land, so as in a great measure (and in Ireland, and in a few other places entirely,) to supersede the use of waggons. For this purpose the IMPROVED IRISH CAR, of which the subjoined figure will convey an outline, is superior to any other vehicle that can be employed. Nothing? indeed, Mr. Young remarks, can surpass the amazing speed, with which corn and hay fields are cleared in Ireland, by means of this useful but inelegant carriage. With regard to form, the Irish car is almost square, the bed being only a few inches longer than it is in breadth; and the wheels, which should be at least six inches broad, arc made low and broad, hare a flat bearing, and are placed beneath the cart. The benefits to be derived from this machine, which was preferred to any other by the late eminent farmer and breeder, Bakewell, (by whom an interesting account of it is given in the "Communications to the Board of Agriculture,") are as follow; on acount of its lowness it may be easily filled; when narrow or confined gateways and roads occur, much room is gained by the wheels being placed below the body of the car; and it may be drawn with great facility on soft meadow or ploughed lands, with less injury to the latter than is practicable with any other cart. Another advantage is, that the rims of the wheels being cylindrical, the draught is much inclined; consequently there is more facility and less resistance, and heavier weights can bo drawn. [Very technical discussion of superiority of cylindrical rimmed wheels, then] ... But with all the advantages which the IMPROVED IRISH CAR above described possess, (and they are confessedly very great), there are some eminent agriculturists, who, after careful consideration and comparison of their merits, conceive single-horse carts to be preferable to the Irish cars. This difference of opinion is not for us to reconcile: it is, however, certain, that as horses have more power in drawing singly than in a team, these carts are superior to large carriages, by the increased proportion of labour which those animals can perform..."

So Miss Bates, in our world, might've been saying: "There she is—no, that's somebody else. That's one of the ladies in the party riding in that Ford pickup truck, not at all like her.—Well, I declare—"

But the most important words are "Well, I declare---"--and that dash is most important, because it indicates one of Miss Bates's characteristic half-sentences--i.e., when she starts to blurt something out, but then stops herself just before she says something she ought not to say aloud. Just as Jane Austen the author constantly gives the reader textual hints and clues which are the equivalent of those half-sentences--they tell you something is going on, but they don't tell you what it is, you have to figure it out!

So, I say, what is clearly going on is that Miss Bates (who is as I said putting on a performance at this moment, for Emma's benefit), as she is walking with Jane, says that she thinks she sees Mrs. Elton up ahead--but then, when Miss Bates gets close enough, she supposedly sees...that it's not Mrs. Elton at all. Now, of course, it could be a complete stranger to the storyline, and completely meaningless, and safely ignored----but...why would seeing a complete stranger elicit that "I declare-" from Miss Bates?

What is happening here, surely, is that Miss Bates already knew exactly who the lady in the Irish car was---and, what's more, this tells us that we the reader would also recognize the lady, if we were there, because that lady must be one of the major characters of the novel! By Chekhov's rule, you don't introduce a lady in an Irish car, without that being significant at some point--even if the significance is only in the shadow story.

But who from the cast of female characters in Emma is missing from the Box Hill party, whose presence would be surprising to Miss Bates at that moment?

I believe I know the "culprit", and what her "motive" is for being there under cover of an assumed identity as a strange lady:

Mrs. Weston, who, we are told at the beginning of the chapter, stayed with Mr. Woodhouse. Now, she's supposed to be extremely pregnant at this point, and that's why she is not out on the outing, in addition to having someone attend to Mr. Woodhouse.

So, how could it be that she could sneak away and come to Box Hill? I suggest that since she is actually not pregnant at all, and can get around quite easily on her own, she has come to Box Hill in that extremely mobile Irish car which can generate, as Horne tells us, "amazing speed". But the Irish car, which would ordinarily be used to transport hay at a rapid speed, this time will carry "cargo" in the form of Jane Fairfax herself, if Jane (as is what actually occurs) goes into labor during the excursion! Because it's a long way back to the Bates apartment, and Jane, if she is having contractions, is not going to walk back--and if she is in labor, she's damned well not going back in the Elton's carriage! Ergo, Mrs. Weston is there to take Jane back!

This really is something straight out of Agatha Christie, and I have, like you, long believed that Miss Marple is a representation of both Miss Bates and Jane Austen herself.

In my Jane Fairfax talk, I always include the following tidbit that shows how much of a closet Janeite Christie really was. Do you know the name of the fishing trawler which finds the message in a bottle in And Then There Were None?

It's the "Emma Jane"!!!!!!!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

1 comment:

Arnie Perlstein said...

[This is a message written by my friend Cathy Lamb:

An Irish car is described in a paper: "Ireland in the Time of Jane Austen" by Joan Duffy Ghariani, 2002 JASNA presentation.

Actually it sounds as if it might be used by gentry - as they were the only type of person who usually went sightseeing.

"The Irish car mentioned during the outing to Box Hill (374) was also known as a jaunting car. It had two long benches with guardrails, one on each side, facing outwards, and was used to drive visitors in places of scenic beauty such as the Lakes of Killarney."

My comment is that I suspect that Ghariani is correct, and that the vehicle she describes is very likely the kind that would have transported a group of ladies on a country excursion. But I still find something incongruously zany but apt in the idea of a horse drawn hay-cart carrying a very pregnant Jane Fairfax.