One very fortunate aspect of my decade-long research on Jane Austen can best be explained by the metaphor of a puzzle grid (think of sudoku, crosswords or any type of puzzle you like to do).
I think of all the mysteries, cruxes, shadows, and other open questions about Jane Austen's novels, letters, biographical facts, allusions, etc., as each being represented by blank boxes and sections, respectively, in one giant puzzle grid.
If you've ever done such puzzles, particularly the most challenging ones, you know that there are generally two stages in solving them. The first part is the harder one, as the solver attempts to get a foothold, searching for clues which can be solved without the assistance of any partially filled in boxes from other clues. This is generally the longest part of the process, and can be very challenging, because you have to imagine answers entirely out of your own head, with no extra hints to help
you. And you lack a sure sense of the exact parameters of the concealed themes of the puzzle, as a double-check.
But then, once you establish enough footholds, you eventually reach a tipping point in solving the puzzle, after which it's "all downhill", because you are getting so many hints from already-solved clues that there is as snowballing effect, and it tends to go much more quickly. Plus, answers you already got take on deeper meaning, when you have a sure sense of the overall themes.
And that's exactly where I'm at in solving the vast puzzle of Jane Austen's shadow stories. At this mature stage of my puzzle-solving, I've gotten to the most enjoyable part of the process, when getting answers in one sector enable you to solve answers in other sectors, because, again, the whole puzzle is very interconnected. And answers I got before I am now able to improve, sharpen, deepen, because I have context from all the other by-now answered clues.
I think you get the picture by now.. ;)
Anyway, I was prompted to explain my puzzle-grid metaphor today by a perfect and extraordinary example of that sort of interconnectness, and how rich the rewards of insight are, when you've already got more than half the grid filled in.
To wit, as I was following up yesterday on my discovery of the complex allusion to Shakespeare's As You Like It in Sense & Sensibility.....
....,which also pertains to Jane Austens bitter judgments about the Austen family's removal from Steventon in 1801, I came across something astounding from another section of the "grid" entirely, which till yesterday I would not have considered to be interconnected--a virtually incontrovertible cluster of circumstantial evidence that validates my longstanding claims about Mark Twain loving Jane Austen's writing!
My own previous claims about Mark Twain and Jane Austen....
...are themselves a major extension of earlier claims by James Flavin and a tiny number of brave and insightful Austen scholars who have not simply floated along on the gentle, unthreatening waves of the conventional dogma that Twain hated JA's writing, but who have swum against that current, and
have made the leap and recognized that Twain was only pretending to hate A's writing.
And I still stand by every word I wrote in those earlier posts. But now I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Flavin, myself, and the few others in our camp, have all been correct, even more than even I had imagined.
In fact, much more so. Mark Twain was not just a Janeite, he was an Austen savant! Take that one to the bank, I guarantee it....when you see the evidence, properly presented, there will be no reasonable doubt as to the very high esteem in which Twain held Jane Austen's brand of satire, and also her noble authorial purposes as a satirist. ;)
I have already reached out to helpful contacts in the world of Twainites (as we Janeites might be inclined to call them) and expect in due course to be in a position to spread the word about my recent discovery about Twain and JA in both literary worlds, and hopefully even beyond.
But this process could take a little while, and so in the interim, I wanted at least to make this limited announcement, because it is of interest to a lot of Janeites, Twainites and Jane/Twainites! ;)
More to come.....
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter
P.S.: It was Rudyard Kipling who coined the term "Janeite" and so it is only fitting that Twain lovers be called "Twainites", when we read the following about Kipling's idolization of Twain, and it makes me wonder what secrets about Jane Austen the two men shared during their encounter:
"In 1889, having published six short-story collections in a one-year period, the 23-year-old Rudyard Kipling left India for a tour of America and Europe. His travels brought him to New York and Connecticut, where he hoped to locate and "shake hands with" Mark Twain, the "man I had learned
to love and admire fourteen thousand miles away." His recollection of that encounter was published in newspapers from Allahabad to New York. "An Interview with Mark Twain" is more than a transcription of his conversation with the author of Tom Sawyer; Kipling also recounts the humorous story of how he hunted down his idol, his awe at actually meeting him, and Twain's genteel demeanor to a stranger arriving unannounced at the door. When Rudyard Kipling traveled to England the following year and soon became a literary celebrity, Mark Twain did not immediately connect the young visitor with the rising star of English letters--but Twain's daughter Susy, enamored with the idea that anyone could hail from such an exotic locale, had kept Kipling's calling card with its address in India. Twain then read Plain Tales from the Hills and wrote to a friend, "whereas Kipling's stories are plenty good enough on a first reading they very greatly improve on a second." Mark Twain later recalled his initial encounter with Kipling: "I believed that he knew more than any person I had met before, and I knew that he knew that I knew less than any person he had met before--though he did not say it, and I was not expecting that he would. . . . He was a stranger to me and to all the world, and remained so for twelve months, then he became suddenly known, and universally known."