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Friday, November 1, 2013

“Alone, alone in prison strong…Let pass my weary guiltless ghost…”: More Evidence of General Tilney as Henry VIII & Mrs. Tilney as his Queen in Jeopardy, Anne Boleyn.



 I probably watch Jeopardy an average of once per week, as I very patiently await Alex Trebek’s retirement from hosting the show (he’s been a great host for THREE decades---but former contestants during his tenure are barred from competing again as long as he remains the host!).  I tell you this because, although Final Jeopardy was my Waterloo in my one appearance on Jeopardy in 1999, Jeopardy FINALLY has helped me in my literary sleuthing! Let me tell you how.

As I will explain below, the Final Jeopardy answer last night serendipitously provided me with strong additional support for a longstanding (since 2009) interpretation of mine re Northanger Abbey. I.e., that General Tilney is a representation, via a pervasive but covert death-in-childbirth subtext, of the wife-murdering real-life “Bluebeard” King Henry VIII:


What I learned from yesterday’s Final Jeopardy answer helps me now identify Mrs. Tilney with one in particular from among Henry VIII’s several murdered wives—Anne Boleyn!

The Final Jeopardy question on last night’s show was: “Alone, alone in prison strong/I wail my destiny” & “Let pass my weary guiltless ghost/Out of my careful breast.” are lines from a poem attributed to her.

I was certain the answer was Mary Queen of Scots, and two of the contestants agreed. However, it wasn’t, and no one got the right answer, which was….Anne Boleyn!

As soon as I heard that answer, I had a very strong hunch that once I read the full text of Boleyn’s poems and compared them to the text of NA, I’d find that JA had the former in mind as she wrote the latter.  Now that I’ve done this, I believe this is so, have a look, below, and see what you think.

First, here’s the full text of the two poems generally attributed to Anne Boleyn, as having been written by her in the Tower of London just after the show trial that convicted her, and just before her beheading for the real “crime” of not bearing Henry a male heir. These poems were set to music, and I found two songbook editions (1784 and 1810) which contained the full text of these poems, which JA might not only have read, but perhaps also played on piano?

After the text of these poems, you will find my brief analysis of the echoes of these poems which I see everywhere in Northanger Abbey:

    “Defiled is my name full sore
    Through cruel spite and false report,
    That I may say for evermore,
    Farewell, my joy! Adieu comfort!
    For wrongfully ye judge of me
    Unto my fame a mortal wound,
    Say what ye list, it will not be,
    Ye seek for that can not be found.”

    O Death, O Death, rock me asleepe,
    Bring me to quiet rest;
    Let pass my weary guiltless ghost
    Out of my careful breast.
    Toll on, thou passing bell;

    Ring out my doleful knell;
    Thy sound my death abroad will tell,
    For I must die,
    There is no remedy.

    My pains, my pains, who can express?
    Alas, they are so strong!
    My dolours will not suffer strength
    My life for to prolong.
    Toll on, thou passing bell;
    Ring out my doleful knell;
    Thy sound my death abroad will tell,
    For I must die,
    There is no remedy.

    Alone, alone in prison strong
    I wail my destiny:
    Woe worth this cruel hap that I
    Must taste this misery!
    Toll on, thou passing bell;
    Ring out my doleful knell
    Thy sound my death abroad will tell,
    For I must die,
    There is no remedy.

    Farewell, farewell, my pleasures past!
    Welcome, my present pain!
    I feel my torment so increase
    That life cannot remain.
    Cease now, thou passing bell,
    Ring out my doleful knoll,
    For thou my death dost tell:
    Lord, pity thou my soul!
    Death doth draw nigh,
    Sound dolefully:
    For now I die,
    I die, I die.

And now the echoes, which you are free to confirm yourself in the text of NA, they’d require a couple more pages for me to lay them all out in detail:

In the Big Picture, it is obvious that the final chapter of Anne Boleyn’s life was something out of a Gothic novel, with the exception that it was all happening in the heart of Merry Olde England, and not in the Alps or the Pyrenees. So I well recognize that it is not enough for me merely to point to the theme of imprisonment and/or murder of a wife by a husband, and claim that this establishes that NA was meant by JA to point to Anne Boleyn as Mrs. Tilney. The Jane Austen Code always involves subtle allusive wordplay that show that JA was “there” first.  


When I looked, I did find the web of subliminal wordplay which showed me that JA wished to particularly point to Anne Boleyn’s final poems (and we all also know that in 1817, JA wrote a final deathbed poem of her own, that itself is reminiscent of Anne Boleyn’s!). 

There are several references to "guilt" in NA, which almost all relate in some way to General Tilney. We have Catherine’s imaginings as to the General’s remorse for having imprisoned or murdered his wife. I see this as JA’s veiled commentary on Henry VIII’s sociopathy, because his behavior toward so many wives reveals no trace of a conscience. But we also have the guiltlessness of Catherine which does not prevent General Tilney from throwing her out of the Abbey on a dime.

There are several references to “imprisonment”, “confinement” and the like in NA, when Catherine thinks about Mrs. Tilney and obviously these fit nicely with Anne Boleyn’s actual imprisonment in the Tower.

I’ve suggested many times that the ghost of Mrs. Tilney haunts Catherine, a ghost of a  woman whom Catherine (based on the hints given to her by Henry and Eleanor) clearly considers to have been “guiltless” of the mysterious cruel mistreatment she receives from her husband the General. This also fits with the false reports that the General relies on in expelling Catherine from the Abbey, just as Anne Boleyn’s poem refers to the “false report” that undergird her downfall.

There is an extended riff on “torment” in NA, as well as much reference to “pain” and “misery”, which resonate with Anne Boleyn’s usage of all three of those words.

When inexplicably and unjustly expelled from the Abbey (just as Henry VIIII expels his Queen from his palace), Catherine (identifying with Mrs. Tilney) bemoans her inability to bid Henry “farewell”.

Catherine is  “alone, unattended” in the long carriage ride home from the Abbey, just as Anne Boleyn is “alone” in her “prison strong”.

And finally I hear the ironic echo of Anne Boleyn’s “bell” tolling her death in the following famous line in the final paragraph of NA:

“Henry and Catherine were married, THE BELLS RANG, and EVERYBODY SMILED; and, as this took place within a twelvemonth from the first day of their meeting, it will not appear, after all the dreadful delays occasioned by the general's cruelty, that they were essentially hurt by it.”

Now, if the above wordplay were the only evidence in support of my interpretation, of course they would not rise above the level of the speculative. However, when all that wordplay is viewed as one additional strand of convergent evidence, alongside the extensive death-in-childbirth subtext everywhere in NA which originally pointed me to Henry VIII as General Tilney, PLUS…the strong veiled allusion to Shakespeare’s Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn being courted by Henry VIII in the subtext of Mansfield Park, then I hope you’ll agree that they do strongly support my claims as a whole.


Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: Almost forgot. Tell me if you think it a coincidence that the maternal grandmother of Anne Boleyn was….Elizabeth TILNEY, Countess of Surrey!

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