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

Monday, September 2, 2013

Followup re Jane Austen Learned to Sigh for (Cipher) Words from Her Ciphering (Sigh-for-ing) Mentor, Shakespeare

In Austen-L, Anielka Briggs responded to my previous post, and I respond, below, to excerpts from what she wrote: 

Anielka wrote: "As to cipher in Shakespeare, yes, been there, done that. In fact Shakespeare and Milton is where I looked first."

Anielka, if you did look at Shakespeare first, and noted all the Shakespearean usages I found and described in my last post, and which you've now further elaborated (in an interesting way) in your latest post,  then I am very surprised that you omitted such an interesting and relevant point from your first message. Why am I surprised? Because I believe it obviously bolsters the likelihood that Jane Austen did it if we know that her primary literary source, Shakespeare, did exactly the same thing, and, in fact, did it in a variety of ways.  And you could have made that point in a single sentence.

But in any event, the much more important point is that we both agree that Shakespeare did do this sigh for/cipher punning before JA did it, and it's meaningful.

As I wrote in my last post, I believe the Twelfth Night example (in which the letter to Malvolio containing the cryptic cipher on his name just happens to contain one of the five "sigh for" puns in all of Shakespeare's oeuvre) is the most telling and convincing example of all, as evidence both as to Shakespeare's having done it intentionally, and also as to JA (whose Box Hill scene owes much to Twelfth Night's Box Tree scene, as Fiona Stafford pointed out two decades ago).


Anielka wrote: "Now Samuel Morland. Let's parse him with the critical criteria (? tortology) necessary to ascertain the difference between Code and Coincidence....if anyone can demonstrate further reasons why Westminster might be code for NORTHanger I'm happy to change my mind"

(the word you were reaching for was "tautology")   Anielka, it seems you did not actually read my post which I linked to.....

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2012/01/byrne-portrait-two-abbeys-their-awful.html

....in which I spelled out the most significant reasons (together with two extraordinary photos), when coupled with his surname,  as to why I claim Samuel Morland was a significant source for General Tilney.  You might want to take a look at it now.

In a nutshell, those two memorials [erected by Samuel Morland in Westminster Abbey to his two child brides who both died in childbirth, "memorials" which literally loom "awfully" over the modest brass floor memorial to Aphra Behn (whom Morland knew) below], together with Morland's well-known (to historically-knowledgeable people living in JA's era) work on ciphers and spying on other people's mail, are, collectively, the main reasons why I claim that Samuel Morland stands right behind General Tilney as an allusive source.

Just remember this passage from NA as you look at those photos of Samuel Morland's memorials, and ask yourself how many hints there are in this passage which wink in the direction of Westminster Abbey:

"She was to be their chosen visitor, she was to be for weeks under the same roof with the person whose society she mostly prized—and, in addition to all the rest, this roof was to be the roof of an abbey! Her passion for ancient edifices was next in degree to her passion for Henry Tilney—and castles and abbeys made usually the charm of those reveries which his image did not fill. To see and explore either the ramparts and keep of the one, or the cloisters of the other, had been for many weeks a darling wish, though to be more than the visitor of an hour had seemed too nearly impossible for desire. And yet, this was to happen. With all the chances against her of house, hall, place, park, court, and cottage, Northanger turned up an abbey, and she was to be its inhabitant. Its long, damp passages, its narrow cells and ruined chapel, were to be within her daily reach, and she could not entirely subdue the hope of some traditional legends, some awful memorials of an injured and ill-fated nun."

You get so complicated and convoluted in your explanations and rules, when I find that the simple explanations are the best ones. They are the ones that ring truest, because Jane Austen gravitated to them, she always strove for the beautiful and the elegant, and they also conform to Occam's Razor. She would not have expected readers to dig up all sorts of tiny details from Tudor history in order to grasp the essentials of what she was pointing to. She would have expected them to first grasp some simple clue (you oughta know, being the one who extrapolated from Anna Weston to Anna Austen), and then to think about what it could be a cipher for. And if the correct answer were chosen, there'd be lots of textual evidence in her novel (like the above quoted passage about "awful memorials" lying right there in plain sight, which only took on its special meaning when the cipher was decoded.

THAT'S the Jane Austen Code.

Which is why I think the most significant aspect of her word play on cipher/sigh for in Northanger Abbey, which encompasses within it the Samuel Morland subtext, is the allusion to Wollstonecraft's sentence about the horrible marital laws of England turning a married woman into "a mere cipher"--that's the core of the onion, in my opinion, because it ties together the entire feminist subtext of Northanger Abbey, which is primarily about serial pregnancy and death in childbirth, Jane Austen's most consistent, persistent hobby horse. Samuel Morland is EVERYWHERE in that core message, as is the wordplay on "cipher".

In any event, thanks again for posting about "sigh for" yesterday, which spurred me to revisit all of my prior knowledge about that feminist message in NA, and find all the additional wrinkles I have derived the past 24 hours, starting from your very significant catch of cipher/sigh for!

As to what is to be understood from discoveries like that, I'd just say that you've derived what is of interest to you, I've derived what is of interest to me, and i say, Vive la difference, there's now more knowledge of various kinds out there for Janeites to consider than there was before, and people can pick and choose what they find convincing!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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