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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lionel Trilling’s Massive Trojan Horse Moment about Emma and As You Like It



Shortly after posting my latest demonstration of the deep and powerful presence of Shakespeare in Jane Austen’s writing….


….in this case, the complex allusion to As You Like It  hidden in plain sight in Emma  [especially Jane Austen’s hiding the actual title of Shakespeare’s comedy in plain sight in the text of Emma, which I first discovered in 2005 in Mrs. Elton’s little speech about the excursion to Donwell Abbey: "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..."], I decided to go back to the Internet and see if I could collect whatever prior literary critical noticings of JA’s alluding to As You Like It were out there, to put my discovery in a deeper critical context.

Within a few minutes, Google brought me to the following discussion, originally published in 1957 by the late, great literary critic, Lionel Trilling, in an essay entitled “Emma and the Legend of Jane Austen”:

"The weather plays a great part in Emma; in no other novel of Jane Austen's is the succession of the seasons, and cold and heat, of such consequence, as if to make the point which the pastoral idyll characteristically makes, that the only hardships that man ought to have to endure are meteorological. In the Forest of Arden, we suffer only 'the penalty of Adam/ The seasons' difference', and Amiens' song echoes the Duke's words: Here shall he see/No enemy/But winter and rough weather.'
Some explicit thought of the pastoral idyll is in Jane Austen's mind, and with all the ambivalence that marks the attitude of As You Like It toward the dream of man's life in nature and simplicity. Mrs. Elton wants to make the strawberry part at Donwell Abbey into a fete champete: 'It is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite a simple thing. I shall wear a large bonnet, and bring one of my little baskets hanging on my arm. Here,—probably this basket with pink ribbon. Nothing can be more simple, you see. And Jane will have such another. There is to be no form or parade—a sort of gipsy party. We are to walk about your gardens, and gather the strawberries ourselves, and sit under trees;—and whatever else you may like to provide, it is to be all out of doors—a table spread in the shade, you know. Every thing as natural and simple as possible. Is not that your idea?" To which Knightley replies: 'Not quite. My idea of the simple and the natural will be to have the table spread in the dining-room. The nature and the simplicity of gentlemen and ladies, with their servants and furniture, I think is best observed by meals within doors. When you are tired of eating strawberries in the garden, there shall be cold meat in the house."
That the pastoral idyll should be mocked as a sentimentality by its association with Mrs. Elton, whose vulgarity in large part consists in flaunting the cheapened version of high and delicate ideals, and that Knightley should answer her as he does--this is quite in accordance with our expectation of Jane Austen's judgment..."

On the one hand, I was very happy to see that an esteemed critic like Trilling had preceded me by several decades in the assertion that Jane Austen had meant to invoke the pastoral/urban dichotomy in As You Like It—indeed, his analysis is spot on, and perfectly articulated, and I was glad to see my own insights validated in this way. 

But, on another level, I was not merely very happy, I was ecstatic, because I also realized that Trilling , in writing the above quoted passage, had actually experienced a massive “Trojan Horse Moment”, which I recently had reason to define again in this blog:

“Such is the lengthy "gestational period" for some of Jane Austen's subliminal textual hints to blossom into a realization in a suggestible  reader's conscious  mind—an event which happens so often with her  writing  that I coined the term “Trojan Horse Moment” to describe it. I gave it that name because Jane Austen in effect sneaks a “horse” past the “walls” of the mind of the reader, undetected, which only opens up later to allow the alternative meaning to pop out and reveal itself to the conscious mind of the reader. That is the essence of the Jane Austen Code as I have excavated it.”

The Trojan Horse Moment I attribute to Lionel Trilling in his 1957 essay is that in his selection of the passage in Emma to quote in support of his argument for a conscious allusion by Jane Austen to As You Like It,  he chose to begin quoting as follows:

“'It is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite a simple thing….”

And…it just so happens, if you were paying attention earlier in this post, that Jane Austen’s audacious hiding of the title of Shakespeare’s play begins exactly three WORDS earlier than Trilling’s quotation:

“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...."

Now, of course it is possible that Trilling was drawn to quote that particular passage from Emma to the exact extent that he did, because he was consciously zeroed in on the pastoral ironies that he so succinctly describes. But…I cannot help but infer—but of course can never prove---that his eye was originally and subconsciously drawn to that passage precisely because, on some subliminal level, he registered  the play title, and that  was the goad that subtly guided his powerful analytical conscious mind to suss out the thematic significance of that passage, as it related to As You Like It.

And so what I want to leave you with today is the clear and undeniable image of Jane Austen as an author who chose to “tag” her thematic allusions to Shakespeare and other literary and historical sources by means of wordplay, in this instance by the extreme example of hiding a play title, fully written out, at the beginning of a passage that is in utter thematic synchrony with the covertly alluded-to text.

It took me from 2005 to 2013 to realize the full implications of the wordplay I originally discovered, before my knowledge of Shakespeare and Jane Austen, and my subconscious imagination, were all fully up to the task of understanding and explaining the significance of what I had stumbled across eight years ago.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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