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

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Satiisfaction of Living on Quality Street Which Even Religion Cannot Give

Here is the quiz I presented yesterday:

In Janeites, Louise Culmer and Ros Gordon have both given the correct answer:

Quality Street by J. M. Barrie---of course the author of Peter Pan (in its various versions as novel and play), and, as I will explain, apparently a closet Janeite (so  far, I could find no explicit acknowledgment of same by Barrie).

Before going further, here is a link to an online version of the full text of Quality Street:

I first became interested in JM Barrie as a secret Janeite a few months ago, when I came across the following scholarly article in the course of my research…

Media Matters in J. M. Barrie's Mary Rose” by Christopher Wixson

…which contained the following intriguing comment:

“Staging uncanny eruptions of the fantastic in the midst of more ordinary scenes of middle-class life, Barrie produces a theatrical experience almost as enigmatically ethereal as Mary Rose herself. That Barrie playfully chooses Morland as Mary Rose's maiden name establishes a connection to Gothic narrative, evoking Jane Austen's 1798 novel of haunted spaces and the triumph of sense over sensibility, Northanger Abbey. The play's Sussex manor setting is permeated by uncanny elements, as doors open and close amidst a "thousand whispers," the ghost "all over the house, in every room, and on the stairs." Unlike Austen, though, Barrie does not explain away these occurrences as mere fantasies of an impressionable female mind infused with sensational novels, allowing them instead to remain anxious textual disjunctures that build to significance within a play that lacks an adequate medium for assimilating them.”

What I found intriguing was not so much Wixson’s interpretation of spectrality in Barrie’s play, as the clear indication that Barrie had made a very striking veiled allusion to Northanger Abbey, and it made me wonder what Barrie meant by it.

Long story short, I obtained and read a copy of the text of Mary Rose and was a little disappointed when the “smoke” from Northanger Abbey that Wixson had outlined  did not lead to a “fire” of more veiled Austenian allusions, at least as far as I could discern. Mary Rose is a play that attracted  a lot of attention in its day, with a great deal of speculation about the mysterious treatment of time and the supernatural  in it, but not a whisper I could detect, prior to Wixson’s article, about any Austenian resonance. Perhaps  someone else might see more in the play text than I was able to, but Barrie  does not seem to me to have had any clue about the significance of the ghost of Mrs. Tilney, as I have previously opined.

But in the back of my mind, I retained the slim hope that there might be some other part of the Barrie oeuvre (he wrote a lot) where that Austenian fire might have been left smouldering in some interesting way.

Well, yesterday, I found it---as usual, via serendipity, while looking at something else. Again, long story short, I was led to another play by Barrie, Quality Street, which, it was immediately obvious, was saturated with Persuasion —but let me add immediately, I am far from the first to note that resonance, as you will see, below.

If you read through the play text, and I encourage every serious Janeite to do so, I think Barrie’s focus on Persuasion will be obvious to all, even beyond the bullet list of parallels I initially provided. But it’s interesting to read some critical reactions from nearly a century ago, after the play was performed, first on Broadway, and later on the London stage.

Here’s what HM Walbrook said in 1922:  “The work is indeed an invention, "a thing which nobody but Mr. Barrie would have written." It bears the stamp of his personality and genius in every scene. Several critics called it an echo of Jane Austen's "Persuasion," but the two stories are almost as little alike as Thrums is like Bath. The similarity between Quality Street and any of Miss Austen's works is little more than an accident of period and atmosphere. What appears at first to be its main idea that a woman found by her lover to have aged and faded may put on fresh youth and reconquer him is not particularly original. Indeed, as the play proceeds we perceive that such is not its main idea at all. The audience are merely led for a time to believe that it is; but before the third Act is over they discover to their delight that the author has a very different device in store.”

Needless to say, I find Walbrook to be totally and cluelessly wrong about the Austenian resonance being a  coincidence. Here is another contemporary take that doesn’t quite take the leap to saying Barrie was a Janeite, but is a whole lot sharper than Walbrook:

Drama and Life  by Arthur Bingham Walkley, 1908:  Its theme, to speak generally,  is the joy of living —of living, as the pedants would say. More particularly the theme is the desire of women to love tenderly and to be honourably loved in return. That desire is never more charmingly exhibited than it is in young spinsters verging on an age when love seems in danger of passing them by. It is the theme of Jane Austen's Persuasion. If that classic instance comes automatically to the pen it is because Mr. Barrie's play chooses Jane Austen's period, and his characters speak the delightfully stilted language of Jane Austen's people. It is true they all speak that language a little too emphatically; they are more royalist than the king, more Austenite than Jane herself. There are too many " ma'ams," and "vastlys," and "elegant females," and " vowings," and " protestings." Jane Austen's idiom was much more like our own than Mr. Barrie would have us suppose. And there are incongruities which grate on the ear. Jane Austen would never have talked of " object-lessons" or of a lady being " gown'd." To say "This will be a great year for females" and "I long to dazzle a male" is to burlesque her style. In harping on Jane Austen I am paying Mr. Barrie the greater compliment. He gives us something very like her delicate sampler-work, her pomander fragrance. And the story he tells might have been told by her.”

I agree with Walkley that Barrie’s writing style did not match JA’s, but I like that Walkley did in effect spot the ghost of Jane Austen  in Quality Street.

And here’s the lowdown on film adaptations , which  Ros has already mentioned in part, The play was adapted twice for film; a Marion Davies vehicle in 1927, and a 1937 one  starring Katherine Hepburn.  And by the way, the play was so popular that chocolates and caramels were named after it.

As I Googled to check to see if any others in the present time had seen Austen in the play or movie, I was led, of all places, to a November 2010 post at the excellent blog of my good Janeite friend, Jenny Allan:

“…a young woman (Katharine Hepburn) becomes an old maid waiting for a young man (Franchot Tone) to return from the Napoleonic Wars. OK, Kate Hepburn and Franchot Tone--I'm there already. Throw in Napoleonic Wars and you've definitely got me intrigued. And doesn't this outline sound just a little bit like PERSUASION?! Oh, Universe, you've done it again. You've reached into my brain and provided me with exactly what I wanted, when I wanted it. What a fun discovery this movie was. It IS a screwball version of Persuasion. Take out Louisa's head injury and add in Anne Elliott posing as her own coquettish, young niece, and you more or less have Quality Street. This film has all the tea-swilling, pelisse-wearing, repressed-sexual-smoldering of a Jane Austen adaptation and all the chaotic misunderstandings and physical gags of 1930s RKO comedies….”  [read the rest of the post at her blog!]

So, make of it what you will, but add J.M.  Barrie to the list of famous  closet Janeites. What I find intriguing is that Barrie was obsessed in his writing with the fantasy of defeating Father Time, and somehow remaining young  beyond the usual time allotted for same. That obsession would certainly led him unerringly to Persuasion  among all of JA’s novels.

If anyone else, including  but not limited to Louise and Ros, wants to say what you think was on Barrie’s mind when  he alluded to Persuasion, I am very curious to hear it.

I leave you with my favorite line from the play, which is not spoken by any character, but is the  first  line in the initial setting of the stage:

The scene is the blue and white room in the house of the Misses Susan and Phoebe Throssel in Quality Street; and in this little country town there is a satisfaction about living in Quality Street which even religion cannot give.”

Indeed, for me, and, apparently, for Barrie as well, there is a satisfaction about reading Jane Austen’s novels which even religion cannot give. And I do believe the same held true for the satisfaction Jane Austen felt when creating the characters who lived on her fictional streets and lanes.

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

What Famous Secret Janeite am I talking about?


Okay, I am thinking of a story, and the author of that story, with all of the following elements: 

. It takes place in England during the Napoleonic Wars.

2. The heroine and hero almost get engaged but when they don't, she waits over eight years for him to return from the war.

3. The symbol is emphasized of the heroine as being like flowers which have withered, but which bloom again when the hero returns.

4. The hero's interest in the heroine is spurred by his courting a younger flirtacious woman whose Christian name begins with L, who seems to become ill near the end of the story, but she does not die, and eventually she gives way to the heroine, whom the hero has always loved.

5. There are female characters named Henrietta and Fanny.

6. The author wrote a long time ago, but the author's name is still a household name.

7. This story has been adapted for both stage and screen, and the names of the actor and the actress who played the hero and heroine are both well known.

8. The  hero reveals his love for the heroine in a very romantic way.


The story is NOT Persuasion, and the author is not Jane Austen!

So, what is the name of the story and who is the author (who obviously was a secret Janeite)?

Unless someone guesses them by Sunday 10 am EST, I will reveal them then, and how I found out about them.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Every savage can dance” --“the most illiterate are in some measure able to perform it.”

In followup to my recent posts about the unseen Miss Owens in Mansfield Park, I was checking to see if the name “Owen” might in some way also be a veiled allusion to the famous Scottish utopian socialist, Robert Owen, and an archive search in Janeites reminded me that the seed for that thought was planted in 2008, when the following exchange occurred between Nancy and me: 

Nancy: "Though Jane Austen would not have known about Socialism, as the term wasn't invented yet, she would have known about Robert Owen. Owen was one of the first to whose philosophy the word "socialism" was applied. He was very active from 1800-1817, so Jane would have read about him."

Me in reply to Nancy: “I read somewhere (for some reason the name of some unrecognized literary scholar named Christie comes to mind) that JA was less interested in the Robert Owen than in the U.N. Owen.”

Today, following up on the above, my search serendipitously led me to the intersection of pedagogy and class, a topic of interest to both Owen and JA, but, more promisingly, to a surprising allusion hidden in plain sight in Pride & Prejudice. Read on for the details.

In an article entitled  “"Living Machines": Performance and Pedagogy at Robert Owen's Institute for the Formation of Character, New Lanark, 1816-1828”  by Cornelia Lambert in The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, Volume 4, Number 3, Fall 2011, pp. 419-433, the following comment caught my eye [see  the ALL CAPS]:

“The statements of commentators like Southey and M’Gavin illustrate the ambiguity of Owen’s project: while Owen felt that cultural accomplishments like singing and dancing were signs that the children had responded positively to education, to some it only magnified the materialist character of his project. What evidence, after all, was the performance of a dance?  Just as JANE AUSTEN’S MR. DARCY responds to the sanguine Sir William Lucas that “every savage can dance,” so did one contemporary critic say of reels and strathspeys, that “the taste for the country dance” comes not from its “elegance,” but from the fact that “it is so simple, that the most illiterate are in some measure able to perform it.”  When opening the doors of his Institute to the visiting public, Owen believed himself to be demonstrating the efficacy of his project to the world, but he also exposed his project to scathing criticism from those who did not share his faith in the meaning of cultural participation.” END QUOTE

I immediately followed Lambert’s footnote to its source, the passage that was so startlingly resonant with Mr. Darcy’s famous sarcastic epigram (“Every savage can dance”):

A Treatise on Dancing; and on Various Other Matters, which are Connected with that Accomplishment; and which are Requisite to Make Youth Well Received, and Regulate Their Behaviour in Company [first published in The Commercial Gazette (1802, Boston); republished prior to 1813 in England] at ppg. 83-84 [under the pseudonym Saltator]:

“Country dance is the most common of all dances, now practiced. The taste for the country dance arises from the agreeable party, not from the elegance of the dance. It is so simple, that the most illiterate are in some measure able to perform it.”

First, bravo to Lambert for spotting the resonance with Mr. Darcy’s sarcastic diss of dancing, which  might at first  seem coincidental, until we also realize that there is an ongoing debate in P&P about the worthiness of  country versus city  society and  culture, which extends far beyond the relative merits of country vs. city dancing.   

And when one closely examines some other passages from Saltator’s Treatise, we see even more resonance with P&P. For starters, this one:

P. 15: “The greatest care should be taken in making choice of those persons, for our companions, with whom we shall find the most durable pleasure in associating. For according to our choice of them, our disposition and character will receive a tincture. This is a truth so universally received, that it has become a proverb both in the natural and the moral world, “a man is known by the company he keeps.” “

The resonance is more than that of a similar turn of phrase, it’s also that the friendship of Darcy and Bingley, two very different personality types, and in particular Darcy’s strong influence over Bingley, is a topic for repeated discussion in P&P.

And now I leave you with the following open question--- what would Darcy’s and Lizzy’s reactions have been to the following passage in the Treatise, and also what would JA ‘s own opinion about it have been about it?:

P. 96 et seq: MANAGEMENT IN AN ASSEMBLY OR BALL:  When we are invited to the honors of an Assembly or Ball, we must either politely decide the compliment or go with a fixed resolution to please and be pleased. In order to accomplish this, preeminence of any kind, except preeminent civility and good behavior, must be banished, all party concerns must be left behind; each individual stands in equal freedom and an equal partaker of the pleasures of the circle. In this situation, room is given for the full display of good breeding. In the choir of the dance, every one should shew content with the lot of chance, if it fall not on the person of his voluntary choice. Civil salutes on the lots of chance, as on the partners of voluntary election, mark the accomplished Gentleman or Lady.
It ought to be considered, as an indispensable obligation in assemblies, or balls, that easy and modest address be made to partners on meeting and separating in the choir of dance. As these assemblies are more or less frequented by strangers, at the first sight of whom, we generally form such ideas, as we are scarcely ever persuaded to pay aside afterwards; on this account, it is of importance, that a person should have nothing disagreeable, or uncomely in his first approaches, and to be able to enter a room with a good grace, and even among the most intimate acquaintances, this rule of conduct, or law of decorum, should never be broken down. Familiarity without respect with friends will quickly run into contempt, then all the sweets of social intercourse will be annihilated. Whatever boldness a person may have about him in company, it must never arise to impudence, nor be dragged down to sheepishness. There should in carriage be shown an open, cheerful, modest independence, softened by an easy suavity of manners and address. Wit and pleasantry, raised by the depression of another, though for the time, it may be broken in the end, leaves a bitter sting, which generally brings  its author into disrepute, if not  into contempt; or at least into ill will. And if merry wags are invited into company, it is to be the subject of jest, for they are universally looked on as mean and worthless. If any one have wit, always avoid making the subject of it personal. The true gentleman will avoid it, as he would avoid putting a burning torch on a person.” END QUOTE

In conclusion, I do believe it very likely that JA consciously alluded to the passages in the Treatise quoted above in P&P, and meant to include P&P  in the ongoing public discourse on these very topics. Once again, beneath its light, bright and sparkling surface, P&P shows itself to be a work of outstanding, but covert, erudition.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, May 9, 2013

P.S. re "I know nothing of the Miss Owens."…. “how can one care for those one has never seen?” And Then There Were…Two

As I often do, I was just rereading the post I sent earlier today under the above the Subject Line (minus the P.S., of course)…..

….looking for errors/typos that might require correction or explanation. Instead what my review led me to do was to take a closer look at the text in Mansfield Park which immediately followed the passage in Chapter 29 which I had quoted in that previous post. And that quickly induced me to write this followup post, focused on the extraordinary, mysterious, infinitely enigmatic Mary Crawford.

Before I quote that additional text from Chapter 29, though, I want to state unequivocally that Mary Crawford has now become my favorite Austen character in terms of the enjoyment I derive from reading her dialog. For her combination of high intelligence, quick wit, brilliant sense of humor, unpretentious erudition, psychological penetration, empathy, poetic flair, and (most of all) bravery to speak inconvenient truth to power, she is unparalleled among all of JA’s literary creatures.

My admiration for Mary’s powers of expression has been growing gradually over the past few years, but it was only today that some threshold was passed in my mind, and I realized, from my close study of what Mary says to Fanny near the end of Chapter 29, that JA must have lavished extraordinary care on the dialog she wrote for Mary (and also, less so, on the verbiage in Mary’s letters to Fanny), breathing into Mary the peak of expressive perfection of what must have been JA’s own extraordinary gifts as a speaker of words. Because how could Mary speak with such an obvious abundance of gifts, if her creator did not first possess those exact same gifts?

Now, is Lizzy Bennet Mary’s equal? Lizzy is pretty hard to top, but I’d say that while Lizzy has a remarkable gift for spontaneous expression, Mary is clearly a much better educated and more sophisticated and insightful young woman than Lizzy, and her speech consistently reflects that superiority. And lets’s say this, I bet the two of them would have had a great time conversing with  each other, there’d be constant gales of laughter erupting out of their sharp repartee, and I bet Lizzy would be a quick study to pick up some hints from Mary in that regard.

And that is part of the challenge of reading Mansfield Park---how not to be utterly seduced by Mary, exactly as Edmund is for most of the novel, entranced by both the music of her speech and her harp (which we can’t hear, of course, but I bet she was an extraordinarily sensitive harpist)? How not to allow Mary’s siren song to put one’s moral critical faculties about her wobbly moral compass on permanent pause?

No wonder so many readers of MP prefer Mary to Fanny, and wish she were the heroine.

Anyway, that qualified encomium finished, let me turn to the rest of that passage, which is filled with interesting tidbits for consideration:   

“….Well, when your cousin comes back, he will find Mansfield very quiet; all the noisy ones gone, your brother and mine and myself. I do not like the idea of leaving Mrs. Grant now the time draws near. She does not like my going."
Fanny felt obliged to speak. "You cannot doubt your being missed by many," said she. "You will be very much missed."
Miss Crawford turned her eye on her, as if wanting to hear or see more, and then laughingly said, "Oh yes! missed as every noisy evil is missed when it is taken away; that is, there is a great difference felt. But I am not fishing; don't compliment me. If I am missed, it will appear. I may be discovered by those who want to see me. I shall not be in any doubtful, or distant, or unapproachable region."
Now Fanny could not bring herself to speak, and Miss Crawford was disappointed; for she had hoped to hear some pleasant assurance of her power from one who she thought must know, and her spirits were clouded again.
"The Miss Owens," said she, soon afterwards; "suppose you were to have one of the Miss Owens settled at Thornton Lacey; how should you like it? Stranger things have happened. I dare say they are trying for it. And they are quite in the light, for it would be a very pretty establishment for them. I do not at all wonder or blame them. It is everybody's duty to do as well for themselves as they can. Sir Thomas Bertram's son is somebody; and now he is in their own line. Their father is a clergyman, and their brother is a clergyman, and they are all clergymen together He is their lawful property; he fairly belongs to them. You don't speak, Fanny; Miss Price, you don't speak. But honestly now, do not you rather expect it than otherwise?"
"No," said Fanny stoutly, "I do not expect it at all."
"Not at all!" cried Miss Crawford with alacrity. "I wonder at that. But I dare say you know exactly—I always imagine you are—perhaps you do not think him likely to marry at all—or not at present."
"No, I do not," said Fanny softly, hoping she did not err either in the belief or the acknowledgment of it.
Her companion looked at her keenly; and gathering greater spirit from the blush soon produced from such a look, only said, "He is best off as he is," and turned the subject.”  END QUOTE

Just read and reread that passage, thinking about what is going through Mary’s mind as she reels off this  succession of short speeches, how quickly she is processing Fanny’s reactions (in that way, very much like Henry Crawford as he works HIS subtle seductions on Fanny), and shifting and turning in response. Especially in that extraordinary final exchange, with Mary’s two interrupted sentences about Fanny’s thoughts and feelings vis a vis Edmund. Mary pays attention to Fanny in a way that no other character in the novel does, and Mary has the powers required in order to understand Fanny’s own riddlingly complex personality.  

And of course, Fanny is no lightweight, as that final paragraph demonstrates. Fanny hopes she does not err in believing Edmund safe from the Miss Owens, and also in trusting Mary with words which, Fanny (rightly) fears, will reveal too much to Mary about Fanny’s deeply closeted personality and soul.

So this whole post is, in a sense, just me saying to all of you, read that passage carefully and see what you get out of it! 

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: I almost forgot to mention one other point that surely will occur to all Janeites who read the above quoted passage, which is its unmistakable echoing of the following super-famous narration in P&P…

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.  However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

…by Mary’s saying: “Their father is a clergyman, and their brother is a clergyman, and they are all clergymen together He is their lawful property; he fairly belongs to them.”

How JA must have laughed when she wrote those words of Mary’s in 1814, flush with the success of  P&P! Mary’s fertile imagination prompts us to imagine ourselves, for just a moment, in Peterborough (not London as I erroneously wrote in my earlier post) watching Edmund Bertram be seen by the Owen family the same proprietary way Mrs. Bennet sees Mr. Bingley!