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

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Jane Austen's Letter 95: Mr. Floor's Good Friend, Mr. Ogle, the Constant Salesman

In our ongoing group read of Jane Austen's letters in Janeites and Austen L, Diana Birchall wrote the following about a passage in Letter 95 written in late 1813:

 "Now comes Jane Austen's "Sweet Mr. Ogle," about whom she smilingly writes "I dare say he sees all the Panoramas for nothing, has free admittance everywhere; he is so delightful! - Now, you need not see anybody else." It's surprising that by the time of the Fourth Edition of the Letters which I have in hand, published 2011, Deirdre [Le Faye] did not know who Mr. Ogle was; for a good deal of material about him had appeared before that, for instance in the Jane Austen Society Report for 2010. Mr. Edward Ogle was the Worthing builder who was the probable prototype of Mr. Parker of Sanditon; Jane Austen would have known him from the six weeks she spent in Worthing in 1805. I remember reading about him when I wrote my Jane Austen at the Seaside paper, and here is a very nice and informative blog report about a visit of the Jane Austen Society (Midlands) members to Worthing in 2011, with lots of background:" END QUOTE

Diana, thanks for the link to that web-article, I previously had no idea that a real Mr. Ogle existed, I assumed from Le Faye's footnote/bio entry that Mr. Ogle was another imaginary person, like Mr. Floor.....

....whom JA whimsically named for his primary characteristic---in the case of Mr. Floor, so as to be "low" in her estimation; in the case of Mr. Ogle, so that he would be, ogling people and Panoramas!Hence "all the Panoramas" and "free admittance everywhere"---that would be the ultimate fantasy of a Peeping Tom, wouldn't it? To see everything everywhere?

And JA still has a few more jokes in the can before she will let this wordplay go. First, she tells CEA that she "need not see anybody else." I.e., not only will Mr. Ogle be the Universal Observer, he will simultaneously also be the Universally Observed!

And then second, note what JA writes immediately after her comments about Mr. Ogle: "I am glad to hear of our being likely to have a peep at Charles & Fanny at Christmas, but do not force poor Cass to stay if she hates it.”

That "peep" is JA's parting shot on the wordplay on "Ogle".

But enough on JA's wordplay, there is another angle here to be examined more closely. That article Diana linked to makes it clear that there really was a Mr. Ogle of whom JA undoubtedly was aware, as the real life Edward Ogle's professional resume does sound uncannily like Mr. Parker's.

Now, did CEA actually cross path with this man in London? I strongly doubt it. I think it much more likely that, as with JA's faux-personal references to George Crabbe (in letters written only a short time before Letter 95), JA loved to spin out mini-fantasies of encounters with famous folk for herself and her sister. And this was another one of them, prompted, perhaps, by CEA having written to JA that she read or heard that Mr. Edward Ogle was in London at the same time as CEA. That would have been more than enough to set JA's satirical mind spinning another web of clever absurdity.

Diana, does the full length JAS article pick up on the connection to "Panoramas" in Sanditon? Of course these would be the vistas which one sees with eyes, as when Tom Parker tells Charlotte about how the views from modern Sanditon, up on a hill, are the opposite of where Parker's ancestors first built their homes---in his own words, "in a hole". And then, 2 pages later, we hear again from Tom Parker how from "the very sight of the sea" from the hill of modern Sanditon ", "he could almost feel his ankle getting stronger already."

Tom Parker is a true ogler by this definition, who sees all the panoramas of Sanditon for nothing, and (so his constant talking would suggest, at least to him) is also a delightful guide to these wonders.

So, even though Mr. Edward Ogle was real, that doesn't mean that we must take literally JA's laudatory words about him in a letter to her sister. I remain confident that, given her endless obsession with wordplay, especially punning, she could not resist riffing off the name "Ogle"---but second, and more important, we need to recognize that in Sanditon, Tom Parker is a sort of clownish figure--a caricature of The Constant Salesman--a tireless motormouth--sorta like Mr. Weston, but much more abundant....and his stream of vocalization.

So, it is hard for me to read "Sweet Mr. Ogle" and "he is so delightful!" any way other than ironically! Unless someone wants to suggest that Tom Parker is only playing the fool, like Miss Bates, and actually has a deeper agenda--but that sort of "peeping" is for another time and place...

And maybe the above is precisely why Le Faye perhaps decided to let sleeping dogs lie, to not provide a link to the JAS article or the above linked web-article---even though surely she was aware of them before the 4th edition was finalized---so as not to provoke anyone to "peep" too closely into what Jane Austen might have meant by her reference to Mr. Ogle --much better to let him be an "extra", unnoticed and unimportant to our understanding of Jane Austen's life and writings, than to have us realize that once again, JA was making fun of a fool--and here, actually a fool who apparently is held in high esteem in the history of Sussex---in JA's deft, indirect way.

Cheers, ARNIE
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