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

Friday, August 30, 2013

"There are so many who forget to think seriously till it is almost to late.": Mrs. Smith's Unnoticed Empathy to Anne Elliot re her Vision Impairment

 (Unless I receive further responses, this will be the last in the series of posts I began last weekend, in which I have spelled out important elements of the case for my claim that Jane Austen covertly depicted Anne Elliot as being significantly vision impaired, but in total denial as to what is happening to this deterioration.)

Today my subject, as suggested by my Subject Line, is Mrs. Smith, Anne’s old friend, whom Anne visits several times in Bath. We get our best insight into their relationship during the second visit which is described in Chapter 17 of Persuasion. My claim is that while Anne believes that that Mrs. Smith is talking about Mrs. Smith’s own straitened condition, Mrs. Smith is actually speaking in code, obliquely warning Anne about Anne’s own dire straits. I will insert my comments in between the novel text segments, as the easiest way to make my points:

“In the course of a second visit [Mrs. S.] talked with great openness, and Anne's astonishment increased. She could scarcely imagine a more cheerless situation in itself than Mrs Smith's. She had been very fond of her husband: she had buried him.

[Anne had been proposed to by Wentworth, she refused, and Anne had “buried” her love with that refusal]

She had been used to affluence: it was gone.

[If Sir Walter were to die in debt, who would provide an affluent lifestyle to Anne?]

She had no child to connect her with life and happiness again, no relations to assist in the arrangement of perplexed affairs, no health to make all the rest supportable.

[Anne at that moment had no child, no relations other than Mary who cared whether she lived or died, and, as I have claimed, the increasingly poor health of her eyes would also make all the rest insupportable.]

Her accommodations were limited to a noisy parlour, and a dark bedroom behind, with no possibility of moving from one to the other without assistance, which there was only one servant in the house to afford, and she never quitted the house but to be conveyed into the warm bath.

[And what would Anne do if she went completely blind? Would her circumstances be that different from Mrs. Smith’s?]

Yet, in spite of all this, Anne had reason to believe that she had moments only of languor and depression, to hours of occupation and enjoyment. How could it be? She watched, observed, reflected, and finally determined that this was not a case of fortitude or of resignation only.

[As is revealed during Anne’s conversation with sister Mary described in Chapter 5, Anne spent most of her time at Kellynch in languor and depression, engaged in trivial pointless actions that she tried to convince Mary, and herself, were actually useful occupations for a woman of Anne’s talents. So Anne’s own situation prior to the rekindling of love for Wentworth was exactly that—a case of not very successful fortitude, and way too much of resignation]

A submissive spirit might be patient, a strong understanding would supply resolution, but here was something more; here was that elasticity of mind, that disposition to be comforted, that power of turning readily from evil to good, and of finding employment which carried her out of herself, which was from nature alone. It was the choicest gift of Heaven; and Anne viewed her friend as one of those instances in which, by a merciful appointment, it seems designed to counterbalance almost every other want.

[And that is indeed what Mrs. Smith is offering to Anne- Mrs. Smith herself as a role model for how to turn such “lemons” into “lemonade”, by proactive steps to be active, to be engaged with other people, especially other women, even when one lacks the resources to move about and act freely in the wider world—in other words, to emulate not only Mrs. Smith, but also Miss Bates. ]

There had been a time, Mrs Smith told her, when her spirits had nearly failed. She could not call herself an invalid now, compared with her state on first reaching Bath. Then she had, indeed, been a pitiable object; for she had caught cold on the journey, and had hardly taken possession of her lodgings before she was again confined to her bed and suffering under severe and constant pain; and all this among strangers, with the absolute necessity of having a regular nurse, and finances at that moment particularly unfit to meet any extraordinary expense.

[And actually at that moment in Anne’s life, she was much closer to that sort of “bottom” than she allowed herself to even think about]

She had weathered it, however, and could truly say that it had done her good. It had increased her comforts by making her feel herself to be in good hands. She had seen too much of the world, to expect sudden or disinterested attachment anywhere, but her illness had proved to her that her landlady had a character to preserve, and would not use her ill; and she had been particularly fortunate in her nurse, as a sister of her landlady, a nurse by profession, and who had always a home in that house when unemployed, chanced to be at liberty just in time to attend her. "And she," said Mrs Smith, "besides nursing me most admirably, has really proved an invaluable acquaintance. As soon as I could use my hands she taught me to knit, which has been a great amusement; and she put me in the way of making these little thread-cases, pin-cushions and card-racks, which you always find me so busy about, and which supply me with the means of doing a little good to one or two very poor families in this neighbourhood. She had a large acquaintance, of course professionally, among those who can afford to buy, and she disposes of my merchandise. She always takes the right time for applying. Everybody's heart is open, you know, when they have recently escaped from severe pain, or are recovering the blessing of health, and Nurse Rooke thoroughly understands when to speak. She is a shrewd, intelligent, sensible woman. Hers is a line for seeing human nature; and she has a fund of good sense and observation, which, as a companion, make her infinitely superior to thousands of those who having only received 'the best education in the world,' know nothing worth attending to. Call it gossip, if you will, but when Nurse Rooke has half an hour's leisure to bestow on me, she is sure to have something to relate that is entertaining and profitable: something that makes one know one's species better. One likes to hear what is going on, to be au fait as to the newest modes of being trifling and silly. To me, who live so much alone, her conversation, I assure you, is a treat."

[And there you have the meaningful alternative life that Mrs. Smith is actually offering to Anne, that does not require marriage to a man! I.e., Mrs. Smith is saying in so many words, that you don’t need to spend the rest of your life isolated as you become more and more of a physical invalid, but instead have the option to live within a support, “gossip” network of mutually caring women.]

Anne, far from wishing to cavil at the pleasure, replied, "I can easily believe it. Women of that class have great opportunities, and if they are intelligent may be well worth listening to. Such varieties of human nature as they are in the habit of witnessing! And it is not merely in its follies, that they are well read; for they see it occasionally under every circumstance that can be most interesting or affecting. What instances must pass before them of ardent, disinterested, self-denying attachment, of heroism, fortitude, patience, resignation: of all the conflicts and all the sacrifices that ennoble us most. A sick chamber may often furnish the worth of volumes."

[And here Anne’s unfortunate Elliot snobbery kicks in—she considers herself to be of a higher “class”, and therefore somehow this life (one which in many ways was lived by Jane Austen herself) would be beneath her, so she has no clue that Mrs. Smith is talking about Anne’s own possibilities.]

"Yes," said Mrs Smith more doubtingly, "sometimes it may, though I fear its lessons are not often in the elevated style you describe. Here and there, human nature may be great in times of trial; but generally speaking, it is its weakness and not its strength that appears in a sick chamber: it is selfishness and impatience rather than generosity and fortitude, that one hears of. There is so little real friendship in the world! and unfortunately" (speaking low and tremulously) "THERE ARE SO MANY WHO FORGET TO THINK SERIOUSLY TILL IT IS ALMOST TOO LATE."

[There’s the key line, which I quoted in my Subject Line. Just as Elizabeth Bennet is cluelessly deaf to similar warnings and invitations given to her by her clearer-seeing sister, Mary (“…loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable; that one false step involves her in endless ruin; that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful; and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.” & “The men shan’t come between us, I am determined. We want none of them; do we?”) so too in this instance Anne Elliot is cluelessly deaf to a thinly veiled warning and invitation given to her by her clearer-seeing (in both a physical and psychological sense) and generous friend, Mrs. Smith.

It is Anne who is forgetting to think seriously till it is almost too late, about how Anne is going to handle her own life if Anne goes blind, is not married, and if her family’s finances remain precarious, or if her father dies, remarries and/or sires a child. In any such instance, Mrs. Smith is as much as saying, don’t despair, come be a part of our community of women in Bath, a kind of informal “Millenium Hall”!  As Gerald C. Wood put it in his recent article about Persuasion: “In league with her nurse, Smith establishes a confederacy of women dedicated to alternative sources of truth and action for women otherwise disadvantaged in the public world.” But, alas, Anne is not hearing the applicability to herself.]

Anne saw the misery of such feelings. The husband had not been what he ought, and the wife had been led among that part of mankind which made her think worse of the world than she hoped it deserved. It was but a passing emotion however with Mrs Smith;

[Anne saw nothing of herself, and her own misery that Mrs. Smith was discreetly alluding to, so low and tremulously, in the “mirror” that Mrs. Smith had so discreetly held up to Anne’s face. She is in that sense her father’s daughter, to whom all the mirrors in the world cannot give the ability to truly see himself as a human being, when all the titles are stripped away.
But Mrs. Smith is unaware in Chapter 17 of the actions which wind up being taken, which save Anne from adverse consequences for not having thought seriously, because Anne ends up with a husband who will watch over her, even when she loses her eyesight entirely. As Anne unwittingly anticipates when she says to Elizabeth about Mrs. Clay’s freckles in Chapter 5: "There is hardly any personal defect," replied Anne, "which an agreeable manner might not gradually reconcile one to."  In this case, it is Anne’s agreeable manner which will gradually reconcile Wentworth to Anne’s blindness, and Anne, like Scheherazade, will live another day despite her physical and psychological blindness.]

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Anne Elliot Drowning in "De Nile": "So Altered", Indeed!

In Austen-L this morning, Deb Barnum, the charming moving force of JASNA Vermont, responded to my recent posts claiming Anne Elliot's vision impairment as follows:

Deb: "Your thoughts on Anne Elliot are interesting, though as I am re-reading Persuasion as we speak, I do find that many of the references to her limited vision in various wordings are mostly referring to her not seeing because her mind is distracted, or she is upset or overwhelmed - I think Diane may have mentioned this.... but I am taking note as I read..."

I responded as follows:

Yes, that is true, Deb, but my point, in a nutshell, is that these frequent narrative descriptions (of Anne's feelings causing her not to see) can be plausibly interpreted in not one, but TWO ways:

As you just described, i.e., Anne Elliot's emotional turbulence interferes with and/or short circuits her visual perception--that is, I think it fair to say, the normative interpretation, the one that the text seems to invite the reader to make;  and

As I described, i.e., Anne Elliot's progressively worsening organic visual impairment is so disturbing to her emotionally that she is drowning in denial ("De Nile") about it, and therefore is constantly self-talking with rationalizations, on the general theme that she really is not interested in looking at this or that object or person within the range of normal sight.

We all agree that A and B are present, but the normative scenario is that A is the cause and B is the effect, whereas I turn that on its head, and claim that B is the cause and A is the effect!

To my eyes and ears, the lady (Anne E. that is) truly doth protest too much---way too much, even as I realize that this incessant rationalizing self-talk is what keeps her afloat emotionally--the internal mantra that she is standing on solid ground, so to speak, and is making her own choices--in short, she is not "nobody".

There's a PSA commercial that has gotten a lot of airtime down here in South Florida of late, maybe you've seen it, which underscores my point.  In the PSA, there's a middle aged woman who is identified as an asthma sufferer, who is sitting on half of a couch, speaking to the camera. The point of the PSA is that she is in total denial about the severity of the impact of her asthma on her life, even though everyone around her knows exactly what is going on:

When she says "My asthma does not interfere with my work", her boss pops onto the seat next to her, like Barbara Eden, talking about how our heroine misses workdays all the time;
When she says "My asthma doesn't interfere with my sleep", her husband pops onto the seat next to her, and complains about how her coughing keeps him up half the night;
When she says, "My asthma doesn't interfere with my parenting", her son pops onto the seat next to her and complains how she doesn't take him to extracurricular functions because she doesn't feel well.

You get the point.  THAT is the Anne Elliot I see in these passages, and it makes perfect psychological sense---any person living in that era, when medicine was incapable of curing most diseases and afflictions, would be extremely distressed if they began to lose their vision on  a steady basis, and it kept getting worse.  I think very few people, especially younger people, achieved a stoic calm internally, in the face of such horrible medical events--the will to live, the will to see, hear, taste, and feel, to move, to eat, etc., are all extremely powerful in every human being, regardless of societal expectations. It's not anachronistic thinking to ascribe such reactions to people living 2 centuries ago.

But someone in Anne's vulnerable position in the Elliot family would feel the additional distress of realizing that her already inferior status in her cruelly insensitive family would be driven down ten notches further if she were to become blind, or even were to plateau at half blind. Do you imagine that Sir Walter and Elizabeth would exert themselves to take extra care of Anne?  And if Anne could not longer see people even in confined spaces, what would her life be then? She's already powerless enough, but imagine her doomed to a life of spinsterhood living in the shadow of two insensitive domestic overlords, totally dependent on them (who have also frittered away precious family resources that could be used to help provide her with extra TLC that she'd need if she went blind).  This is truly a domestic Gothic horror story in the offing! No wonder she denies it, over and over and over again. It's unthinkable.

Having said all of that, Deb, I must also thank you for raising your concerns, just as Diana and Diane did in different words, because in my attempt to explain myself to you this time around, I just realized not one but two key additional points that have been hiding in plain sight, so to speak--points which make my interpretation even stronger. See if you agree.

FIRST POINT:  Anne's alleged "decisions" not to perceive are almost all involving not LOOKING at people other than Wentworth--there are over a dozen of them, I estimate. However, very curiously, none (or almost none) of her "decisions" are choices not to LISTEN to third parties other than Wentworth! Not only is that not the case, it's the opposite--she is constantly listening, and hearing and understanding what she hears, and not just Wentworth! Street noises, Lady Russell, her father and her sisters, all intrude

So...if focus on Wentworth was supposed to be a full explanation for Anne's repeated selective lapses of vision, how to explain why this laser focus is limited to vision and not also to listening?  It makes no sense, unless there is an organic physical reason. If it were purely emotional and psychological, it should apply across the board of all the senses, not just vision. And yet, vision is the only sensory modality adversely affected, and listening is the only one positively enhanced.

How else can this be explained in a simple plausible psychologically consistent way, and without recourse to saying that Jane Austen did all this by accident, being ill, etc etc.?

For those who agree with me, could there be a more perfect example of literary figure-ground, duck-rabbit anamorphism?

And to those not convinced but who are still open to entertaining my claim as a possibility, all my experience has taught me that there is only one really reliable method of testing my claim.  Just reread those passages I've quoted from in my three main posts on this topic AS IF you already knew, with certainty, that Anne's vision WAS declining, in a way that she found so alarming that she could not admit it, to anyone else or even to herself.

If you work on that single assumption, and reread all those passages scattered throughout the entire novel, and if it works as well for you as it does for me, then you have to ask yourself the followup question---could it work so well by accident, as a kind of unintended (by JA) side effect of depicting Anne's laser focus on Wentworth?  I say, as you might guess, that if it works so well, it CAN'T  be an accident. And then I bolster my argument by repeating the fatal flaw in the normative reading.

SECOND POINT: And now here's something I just recalled, without even rereading, which I had overlooked before, staring me right in the face in the text of the novel, but which only came to mind as I spent the time thinking about Anne's psychological coping with her ocular deterioration:

Chapter 7:  ...On one other question which perhaps her utmost wisdom might not have prevented, she was soon spared all suspense; for, after the Miss Musgroves had returned and finished their visit at the Cottage she had this spontaneous information from Mary:--"Captain Wentworth is not very gallant by you, Anne, though he was so attentive to me. Henrietta asked him what he thought of you, when they went away, and he said, 'You were SO ALTERED he should not have known you again.'" Mary had no feelings to make her respect her sister's in a common way, but she was perfectly unsuspicious of being inflicting any peculiar wound.  "Altered beyond his knowledge." Anne fully submitted, in silent, deep mortification. Doubtless it was so, and she could take no revenge, for he was not altered, or not for the worse. She had already acknowledged it to herself, and she could not think differently, let him think of her as he would. No: the years which had destroyed her youth and bloom had only given him a more glowing, manly, open look, in no respect lessening his personal advantages. She had seen the same Frederick Wentworth. "So altered that he should not have known her again!" These were words which could not but dwell with her. Yet she soon began to rejoice that she had heard them. They were of sobering tendency; they allayed agitation; they composed, and consequently must make her happier.  END QUOTE

Assuming that she knows what Wentworth meant by "so altered beyond his knowledge", Anne unconsciously suppresses any awareness that his statement might have had to do with her having, during the intervening years, gone half-blind, and noticeably so. It makes perfect sense that her mind (and therefore, the reader's mind) immediately leaps to what is actually a less devastating explanation, i.e., that she has visibly aged during that time period:

"Frederick Wentworth had used such words, or something like them, but without an idea that they would be carried round to her. He had thought her wretchedly altered, and in the first moment of appeal, had spoken as he felt. He had not forgiven Anne Elliot. She had used him ill, deserted and disappointed him; and worse, she had shewn a feebleness of character in doing so, which his own decided, confident temper could not endure. She had given him up to oblige others. It had been the effect of over-persuasion. It had been weakness and timidity."

And then at the end of Chapter 8, Anne again revisits this question inside her own head, where she can receive no contradiction from any objective source, and speculates without any basis in fact about what Wentworth is looking at her so intently:

 "Once she felt that he was looking at herself, observing her altered features, perhaps, trying to trace in them the ruins of the face which had once charmed him."

It never occurs to her that he might be observing her, in a benign and concerned way, trying to ascertain the extent of her vision loss.

This reminds me of what I speak about in my Jane Fairfax presentations, when Frank Churchill stares so intently and repeatedly at Jane, that his staring catches Emma's (jealous) notice--Emma accepts Frank's hasty explanation about Jane's outre hairstyle, but what he's really noticing for the first time, is something that no one else in Highbury has chosen to enlighten him, i.e., that Jane is pregnant!

JA delighted in repeating her covert motifs, and creating these echoes between novels.

But the best part of this interpretation is that we read this following famous passage in Chapter 23 in an entirely differently light:

"I was six weeks with Edward," said he, "and saw him happy. I could have no other pleasure. I deserved none. He enquired after you very particularly; asked even if you were personally altered, little suspecting that to my eye you could never alter." Anne smiled, and let it pass. It was too pleasing a blunder for a reproach. It is something for a woman to be assured, in her eight-and-twentieth year, that she has not lost one charm of earlier youth; but the value of such homage was inexpressibly increased to Anne, by comparing it with former words, and feeling it to be the result, not the cause of a revival of his warm attachment.

How much more poignant is this passage if we read Wentworth as not merely saying, as the normative reading would lead us to, that he loves her so much he doesn't care that she doesn't look as young at 27 as she did at 19. That is no especially great reflection on Wentworth's character, it merely means that he is not a typical Neanderthal with a double standard about physical appearance, i.e., that men can all age gracefully, but women can only age disgracefully.  It's something every decent and honorable man ought to do, especially in a sexist society as JA's was, and he does not deserve massive praise for doing what is right and reining in any male sexism of his own.

But if we read this as Wentworth agreeing to go ahead and marry a woman who may well go completely blind in the next few years, this implies GREAT beauty of character in him! It is a sad truth, witnessed in news accounts on a regular basis, that serious illness or disability is often a cause of the breakup of marriages and other committed relationships, due to the increased burden on the healthy or undisabled partner.   Sadly, many people get out of Dodge pretty quickly when the going gets rough in that way.

And so I am glad to be able to conclude that in this instance, my alternative reading makes the Austenian romance even more romantic, instead of the contrary!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: Last night I also found that many years after Hugh Hennedy, in 1973, identified Anne Elliot’s strong sensory imbalance of hearing over sight, David Selwyn, hardly a revolutionary among Austen literary critics, wrote the following at p. 41 of his book Jane Austen And Leisure:

“…in the Octagon Room, [Anne’s] impression of interior noise parallels that of the noises of the streets on her arrival in Bath: her rising excitement as she realizes that Captain Wentworth is not in love with Louisa Musgrove is counterpointed by ‘the almost ceaseless slam of the door, and ceaseless buzz of persons walking through’. The whole scene is interesting for the EMPHASIS that is placed ON Anne’s AURAL, RATHER THAN VISUAL, experiences.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Horrid Mr. Thorpe of Northanger Abbey & his Heretofore Unacknowledged “Father”, the Horrid Mr. Bellamy in Fanny Burney’s Camilla: & Lord Brabourne, The Improbably Ultra-Sly Sharp Elf?

In Chapter 7 of Northanger Abbey, we read the following exchange between Catherine Morland and John Thorpe about contemporary novels:

“…[Catherine] ventured at length to vary the subject by a question which had been long uppermost in her thoughts; it was, "Have you ever read Udolpho, Mr. Thorpe?"
"Udolpho! Oh, Lord! Not I; I never read novels; I have something else to do."
Catherine, humbled and ashamed, was going to apologize for her question, but he prevented her by saying, "Novels are all so full of nonsense and stuff; there has not been a tolerably decent one come out since Tom Jones, except The Monk; I read that t'other day; but as for all the others, they are the stupidest things in creation."
"I think you must like Udolpho, if you were to read it; it is so very interesting."
"Not I, faith! No, if I read any, it shall be Mrs. Radcliffe's; her novels are amusing enough; they are worth reading; some fun and nature in them."
"Udolpho was written by Mrs. Radcliffe," said Catherine, with some hesitation, from the fear of mortifying him.
"No sure; was it? Aye, I remember, so it was; I was thinking of that other stupid book, written by that woman they make such a fuss about, she who married the French emigrant."
"Yes, that's the book; such unnatural stuff! An old man playing at see-saw, I took up the first volume once and looked it over, but I soon found it would not do; indeed I guessed what sort of stuff it must be before I saw it: as soon as I heard she had married an emigrant, I was sure I should never be able to get through it."
"I have never read it."
"You had no loss, I assure you; it is the horridest nonsense you can imagine; there is nothing in the world in it but an old man's playing at see-saw and learning Latin; upon my soul there is not."
This critique, the justness of which was unfortunately lost on poor Catherine, brought them to the door of Mrs. Thorpe's lodgings, and the feelings of the discerning and unprejudiced reader of Camilla gave way to the feelings of the dutiful and affectionate son, as they met Mrs. Thorpe, who had descried them from above, in the passage.”  END QUOTE

That reference to Fanny Burney’s Camilla (published in 1796, fittingly not long before the action of Northanger Abbey begins in 1798) has been universally understood, by all Austen scholars who have discussed it, to be evidence of Thorpe’s primitive, prejudiced view of good literature, but nothing more.

That narrow interpretation is of course encouraged, upon a rereading of Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen’s own reference to Camilla in Chapter 5, in a famous authorial intrusion which  condemns Thorpe in advance for the wrong-headed verdict he will hand down on it two chapters later:

“…there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. "I am no novel-reader—I seldom look into novels—Do not imagine that I often read novels—It is really very well for a novel." Such is the common cant. "And what are you reading, Miss—?" "Oh! It is only a novel!" replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. "It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda"; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”  END QUOTE

Today, I have one straightforward addition to bring to the table of Austen scholarship on this subject of the Austenian allusion to Camilla in Northanger Abbey. But in addition, as my Subject Line suggests, I may not be the first reader of Northanger Abbey and Camilla to detect this cover allusion—that honor might just belong to a very unlikely reader…..Lord Brabourne! Read on for the details…
I.e., it turns out, as my Subject Line suggests, that the character of John Thorpe owes much to the character of Alphonso Bellamy in Camilla. So that, with classic Austenian irony, his dismissal of Camilla as “horrible” can be seen by the knowing reader as his failure to see himself in the character of Bellamy.

Here is what seems to me to be an excellent Wikipedia synopsis of Bellamy’s character in Camilla:

“Nicholas Gwigg (Alphonso Bellamy): the younger son of the master of a great gaming-house. In his first youth, he had been utterly neglected, and run wild; but his father afterwards becoming rich, had bestowed on him as good an education as the late business with which it had begun could possibly give (it was pity, perhaps, that the education did not include morals). He tried gaming, but spending as fast as he earned, he acquired nothing; and once, in a tide of disfavor, he had cheated, and been found out. His father dead, his elder brother passive, he went to London, hoping to elope with some heiress by relying on his handsome face and lots of compliments. In the process he changed his name to Alphonso Bellamy. He had first met with the beautiful Mrs. Berlinton, and though this would not make him any money, her romantic turn of mind and loveliness tempted him to a scheme yet darker. They had exchanged letters with each other after she left, and soon after he forced Eugenia to marry him by shocking her gentleness of disposition with a suicidal threat. He treated her cruelly, yelling at her and trying to force her to write to her uncle for money, and continuing his heinous correspondence, and even meeting with, Mrs. Berlinton. Several unpleasant debts of honor being claimed, he had tried to force Eugenia to write to her uncle for money by putting a gun to her head and saying he would kill himself immediately after she was dead. Terrified, she was beginning to agree, when the alarmed postillion shouted out, "Hold, villain! or you are a dead man!" His hand shook—the gun went off—and he dropped dead. His behavior to Eugenia throughout was selfish, unfeeling, and brutally cruel. At first, Eugenia really believed in his passion for her, and though refusing to accept it, she sincerely pitied him and would not suspect him. After the marriage, she found out what he was really like, but refused to persecute him in court ("Solemn has been my vow! sacred I must hold it!")”

Fortune hunter, cruel, emotional blackmailer, gambler, insensitive—he is the very “twin” of John Thorpe. However, whereas Burney ends her nasty villain’s life by a suicide, Jane Austen, black humorist and realist that she is, lets Thorpe survive to fortune-hunt again.

I conclude this section of my post by asserting that Jane Austen meant for the reader who catches the Bellamy subtext of Thorpe’s primitive character to also think of another, even more famous literary character, another brutal, primitive, dangerous male beast who has a place in the lineage of John Thorpe. Courtesy of Oscar Wilde:

“The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass. / The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.”

We might say that Thorpe rages at the realism of Camilla as a mirror which reflects his own very real horridness back at him in a very unflattering light!

There is much more that could be said in parsing the details of this allusion, but I leave that pleasure to those who love both Burney and Austen enough to want to invest the time to suss all of it out.


The remainder of this post will concern the intriguing possibility that I am not the first scholar reading Northanger Abbey to find this covert allusion to Alphonso Bellamy in John Thorpe. Lord Brabourne, in his 1884 edition of Jane Austen’s letters, in one of his editorial comments, praises his great-aunt’s matchless ability to retain reader interest even with a minimal amount of incident and plot twisting, and then contrasts Jane Austen’s writing to that of Fanny Burney, as follows:

“To t[JA’s] standard Miss Burney never seems to me to approach, or to come within a mile of Jane Austen, whilst in some instances she approximates both to the vulgar and the horrible, neither of which is to be found in the pages of the immortal Jane. The scenes in 'Evelina' in which the unfortunate Madame Duval is victimised by the French-hating Captain Mirvan (a character to read of which makes an Englishman blush for his nationality), the courtship of Mr. Dubster, and the whole character of Mrs. Mittin in 'Camilla,' as well as the eccentricities of Mr. Briggs in 'Cecilia,' certainly savour of vulgarity, whilst THE ‘HORRIBLE’ IS EXEMPLIFIED BY the suicide of Mr. Harrell in 'Cecilia’, THE DEATH OF BELLAMY IN ‘CAMILLA,’' and sundry other harrowing passages which season Miss Burney's performances.”

Pretty much all Janeites would take Lord Brabourne at face value, and infer that

ONE: Lord B. has used the word “horrible” to describe the death of Bellamy in ‘Camilla’, in comparing that scene to scenes in novels by his aunt such as Northanger Abbey, without any conscious awareness of the allusion to Bellamy in the character of Thorpe which I have laid out, above, and

TWO: Lord B. was totally sincere in his harsh judgment on Burney’s literary merits.

But…there’s more than a small chance, I’d suggest, that Lord Brabourne was a super sly elf who knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote his above comments. How could that possibly be argued?

Well, by reminding you of two curious facts relative to John Thorpe which I have already presented earlier in this post:

ONE: “horrible” is a variant of “horrid”, which is the very word that John Thorpe, who I’ve claimed is modeled on Burney’s Bellamy, uses to describe Camilla as I will now re-quote in relevant part:

"You had no loss, I assure you; it is the HORRIDEST nonsense you can imagine; there is nothing in the world in it but an old man's playing at see-saw and learning Latin; upon my soul there is not."

That’s suspicious enough standing alone, but now add this strangeness:

TWO: Jane Austen, in Chapter 5, pre-condemned John Thorpe for the sin, committed by him in Chapter 7, of dismissing Fanny Burney’s novels, including Camilla specifically. But guess what—isn’t that exactly what Lord Brabourne has done in the above-quoted editorial comments? He has ripped Fanny Burney’s writing as both “vulgar” and “horrible”! I.e., he has done precisely what Jane Austen herself condemned in Chapter 5 of Northanger Abbey.

So smoke starts to come out of our ears as we contemplate a paragraph of literary criticism in which Lord B. is both a staunch advocate for his great-aunt, while in the next breath he commits the cardinal sin of literary criticism, in obvious violation of Jane Austen’s literary manifesto.  There could not be a more egregious inconsistency, and in the most specific way possible.

So….unless this is all a massive Trojan Horse Moment on Lord B.’s part, in which a subconscious Freudian awareness of Thorpe’s debt to Bellamy leaks through into a sincere condemnation of Burney, I’d say it is much more likely that Lord Brabourne was actually consciously emulating his great-aunt, paying her the worthiest sort of homage, by making a sly, learned, but totally covert allusion to Jane Austen’s having used Bellamy as a model for Thorpe, and JA’s having tied that modeling to her very famous call to arms on behalf of female authors.

And…that tickled my memory to my post 4 months ago….

…in which I took note of Lord Brabourne’s having, elsewhere in his 1884 edition of the Letters, recounted a strange, seemingly satirical, anecdote about Frank Austen and “sharks of the blue species”. At that time, I just could not imagine that Lord Brabourne was “in on the joke”.

But now, in light of this Burney-Austen shenanigans, I am really beginning to wonder about Lord Brabourne…..I’m wondering whether, despite the truly horrible Victorian-prudery-driven deletions by him of “vulgar” material from some of JA’s letters, he might nonetheless have been a clever enough reader of JA’s fictions to realize that there were matters in them, like the covert allusion to Camilla’s Alphonso Bellamy in Northanger Abbey’s John Thorpe, which were worthy of the sincerest form of flattery, i.e., imitation!   

Cheers, ARNIE
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