In Janeites, Rita Lamb wrote: “If Frank was a precise, evangelical Christian at a time when naval officers generally weren't – and different enough from the norm to make others see him as quite a `character' – it might give rise to such tales. As he rose through the ranks and became superior to younger men, they would be likely to tell after-dinner stories illustrating what they perceived as his personal quirks. Brabourne does say something to the effect that he's heard this anecdote repeated about him `all my life'. So my guess is there's probably a grain of truth in the blue-shark story, but it may have been exaggerated for effect. And Diane is probably right, there may also be a bit of English self-mythologising involved. I feel I'm missing the point though. Even if it's true, I don't see that the story is necessarily the source for anything in Austen. She must have known about sharks anyway. Even Harriet knows what a shark is.”
I replied as follows:
Before you asked them, above, I answered all your above questions in Janeites earlier today, but, alas, I am still awaiting that message being distributed to Janeites.
In the interim, here are the links to that very same answer in both Austen-L and in my blog, read it as and where you like it:
In a nutshell, my revised claim, after reviewing all the evidence I could gather, is that the “shark of the blue species” story is not a source for what Jane Austen wrote, it is the precise opposite. It is the elderly Frank Austen’s very clever and erudite homage to Persuasion, showing that he understood, among other important things, Sir Walter’s color-coded wit and also the covert allusion to the Book of Job in Persuasion.
In that sense, it’s even more interesting than my original guess, because it makes it clear that Frank Austen was a serious “player” when it came to understanding the Jane Austen Code—hence my Subject Line for these latest posts.
And also following sister Jane’s example (with, e.g, her Dedication of Emma to the Prince), Frank Austen, from beyond the grave (having died in 1865) in effect gulled Lord Brabourne (in 1884) into including the anecdote in his edition of the letters, by making himself (Frank) sound ridiculous in it, and giving his overeager great-nephew the companion anecdote about the chronometer as a bonus, to really reel him in. Old Uncle Frank, Mr. Super Precise. Har har har.
I.e., the anecdote is a kind of cuckoo’s egg that Frank induced Lord Brabourne to take into his “nest”, appealing to the younger man’s desire to make fun of an elderly relative (from a competitive branch of the Austen family, I might add), the same way that JA induced the Prince to put out copies of Emma in all his residences, even as she was royally skewering him within the pages of Emma, repeatedly!
To the knowing reader of Brabourne’s letters, however, the “shark of the blue species” anecdote actually shows that Frank really ‘got’ his sister’s coded references in Persuasion to himself and to the Book of Job, and that Frank knew how to trick a fool. It’s part and parcel with Frank’s other cuckoo’s egg, the letter he wrote to Susan Quincy.....
...that demonstrates, similarly, that he understood the disturbing “rears and vices” subtext of Mansfield Park.
Very, very sharp elf, that Frank Austen. He knew a hawk from a handsaw.
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