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

Friday, February 7, 2014

Perry/Peri's on Horseback & In Dreams

In Janeites, a skeptic raised the subject of the scene in Ch. 41 when Emma,
Harriet, Miss Bates, Jane, Mr. Weston, Mrs. Weston and Frank all seem to
see Mr. Perry passing the gates of Hartfield on horseback one evening.

In fact, I would have earlier posted about that passage as a prime example
in support of my claims, but it would have made my already long post much
longer. But now that it's been raisee, I’m thrilled to address it. I’ve
copied it out in its brief entirety, below, for ready reference.

First, JA makes it clear that whoever it is who passes by on horseback at
that moment, he is far enough away that no one greets him verbally. So it
would be easy for a misattribution (in this case, I claim, deliberate) to
be made. JA also makes a point of saying that “the gentlemen” spoke of
Perry’s horse, and it must have taken less than a minute for the horseman
in question to pass into and out of sight of the group. “The gentlemen”
would be Frank and Mr. Weston. This is not presented as objective
narration, and I claim that it is Frank who raises the subject. Why?

Because Frank is a prankster, seizing that moment, being himself well
aware that the “Mr. Perry” everybody always talks about is actually not
alive, but that Mr. Woodhouse and Emma believe he is. Frank cannot resist
this opportunity, especially because he has already been asked to help
preserve the secret. He takes what really happened, which is that Mrs.
Weston, after the Christmas party at Randalls not long before (when John
Knightley teased Mr. Woodhouse about the dangers of riding in a carriage
in a “snowstorm” for 1mile) must have written to Frank to alert him as to
the sad reality of Mr. Woodhouse’s delusional “Mr. Perry”, and of Emma not
being in on the truth either.

So what does Frank do?  He deliberately stirs the pot, and raises, in
Emma’s presence, the very subject of Mr. Perry (Mr. Woodhouse’s “peri” or
spirit), just to put Mrs. Weston on the spot.

Frank is an imp, and so he decides to play with dangling the truth in
front of Emma’s nose. You can go to the bank that he never dreamed
anything about Perry. That’s all raillery. He’s teasing, he’s winking, to
everyone present except Emma, that Perry is Mr. Woodhouse’s “dream
character”— that is just Frank’s playful invention, to force her to react
without giving away the game to Emma.

Where have we seen Frank engage in this sort of teasing, almost cruel,
hinting and winking at a secret? Of course!  He has been doing it for half
the novel about his secret relationship with Jane. This is absolutely
characteristic of the Frank Churchill that every Janeite knows!

And as validation of my reading, just read Mrs. Weston’s reactions AS IF
this is happening as I’ve laid out, test my claim out empirically by
making that assumption and seeing what happens, and you tell me if it
works. I say it works like a charm. That’s why she “looks surprized”,
that’s why she says “impossible!”, “never heard of it till this moment”.
Frank is having a jolly good time with this joke, and he makes his
stepmother very uncomfortable in the process.

And that’s why he revisits it 13 chapters later, near the very end of the
novel, and Jane, trying not to smile, gently chastises him for it then.
And that’s why Mr. Weston and Miss Bates both chime in on the absurdity of
Frank’s dream—this is all damage control! They’re trying to cover over for
Emma—and it works—Emma tunes it all out.

And---wonderful extra hint-- JA also goes out of her way to show that Emma
has tuned this all out:
[Mr. Weston] “…Well, Frank, your dream certainly shews that Highbury is in
your thoughts when you are absent. Emma, you are a great dreamer, I
think?"
Emma was out of hearing. She had hurried on before her guests to prepare
her father for their appearance, and was beyond the reach of Mr. Weston's
hint.”

Indeed Emma is beyond the reach of all such hints. But Jane Austen’s
readers need no longer be beyond their  reach.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode  on Twitter

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