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Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Some  lucky fallout from my recent frivolous investigations into literary puns is that, by accident, I came across another literary pun that does actually go to the heart of Jane Austen's fictions--and I've given it away in my Subject Line. To wit, as I was browsing in some of those 18th and 19th century riddle books, I came across the witty combination "Matrimony is a matter of money" in several of them, right next to the ones about "Pair of Dice"!

And while I could not find anything in JA's writing picking up on "pair of dice", I sure did find a couple of very interesting passages that seem (to me) to pick up very directly on that play on words with matrimony as a matter of money.

The best and clearest example of JA's wordplay in this regard is in Chapter 15 of Northanger Abbey.
First we have the description of the short letter from James Morland to Isabella Thorpe reporting Mr. Morland's consent to their marriage:

"The letter, whence sprang all this felicity, was short, containing little more than this assurance of success; and every particular was deferred till James could write again. But for particulars Isabella could well afford to wait. The needful was comprised in Mr. Morland’s promise; his honour was pledged to make everything easy; and by what means their income was to be formed, whether landed property were to be resigned, or funded MONEY made over, was a MATTER in which her disinterested spirit took no concern..."

So Isabella's crass mercenary interest in the money she'd have access to once matrimony with James has occurred, seems to be subtly hinted by "money"  and "matter" linked in that last sentence.

Then barely two paragraphs later, we read this exchange between Catherine and John Thorpe:

“Shall not you be late at Devizes?” said Catherine. He made no answer; but after a minute’s silence burst out with, “A famous good thing this marrying scheme, upon my soul! A clever fancy of Morland’s and Belle’s. What do you think of it, Miss Morland? I say it is no bad notion.”
“I am sure I think it a very good one.”
“Do you? That’s honest, by heavens! I am glad you are no enemy to
MATRIMONY, however. Did you ever hear the old song ‘Going to One Wedding
Brings on Another?’ I say, you will come to Belle’s wedding, I hope.”

So now, in short order, John has crassly chimed in, and uses the word "matrimony".

But that's not the last of this little web of wordplay in Chapter 15. Catherine has the last word, responding to Thorpe and really giving him a broadside:

“Very true. I think like you there. If there is a good fortune on one side, there can be no occasion for any on the other. No MATTER which has it, so that there is enough. I hate the idea of one great fortune looking out for another. And to marry for MONEY I think the wickedest thing in existence. Good day. We shall be very glad to see you at Fullerton, whenever it is convenient.” And away she went. It was not in the power of all his gallantry to detain her longer..."

So, once again, "matter" and "money" in close proximity, as the subject of marrying for money is explicitly on the table.

And, one  more time in the novel, in Chapter  26, JA deploys that same subliminal wordplay, as Catherine reflects (mistakenly, as it turns out) on the likelihood of the General's partiality for her being sufficient to outweigh her lack of fortune, in regard to the General's decision as to whether to consent to Henry's marrying her:

"The very painful reflections to which this thought led could only be dispersed by a dependence on the effect of that particular partiality, which, as she was given to understand by his words as well as his actions, she had from the first been so fortunate as to excite in the general; and by a recollection of some most generous and disinterested sentiments on the subject of MONEY, which she had more than once heard him utter, and which tempted her to think his disposition in such MATTERS misunderstood by his children.

So, to me it is clear from the above that JA was well aware of the riddle book wordplay on matrimony as a matter of money, and she chose not to say it explicitly, but instead to hint at it subliminally, but repeatedly and thematically. I.e., these close proximities of usage of these keywords occur only in passages directly related to money matters relative to matrimony. And only in the Austen novel  where this issue is most saliently and explicitly foregrounded.

Before closing, I will make mention of the one other passage where "money" and "matter" are in closest proximity, in Chapter 14 of Sense &Sensibility:

"The sudden termination of Colonel Brandon's visit at the park, with his steadiness in concealing its cause, filled the mind and raised the wonder of Mrs. Jennings for two or three days: she was a great wonderer, as every one must be who takes a very lively interest in all the comings and goings of all their acquaintance. She wondered with little intermission what could be the reason of it; was sure there must be some bad news, and thought over every kind of distress that could have befallen him, with a fixed determination that he should not escape them all.
"Something very melancholy must be the matter, I am sure," said she. "I could see it in his face. Poor man! I am afraid his circumstances may be bad. The estate at Delaford was never reckoned more than two thousand a year, and his brother left everything sadly involved. I do think he must have been sent for about MONEY MATTERS, for what else can it be? I wonder whether it is so. I would give anything to know the truth of it."

Mrs. Jennings wonders whether pressing money matters have pulled Brandon away from the planned outing, but I wonder if JA is not also subliminally hinting that "matrimony" might not the primary motivation for Brandon's departure--but how? Ah, that's a very good question for us all to contemplate, regarding the offstage actions of Colonel Brandon, man of matrimonial mystery.

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