In my recent posts about Mr. Perry as Mr. Woodhouse’s imaginary friend, I’ve claimed, in part, that various other characters speak about Mr. Perry as if he were still alive, knowing full well that he is not, but with the purpose of concealing from Emma that she has never been told of Mr. Perry’s death, mostly so that she won’t realize that her father is completely and profoundly delusional. (and of course, this all is in parallel to what I’ve also been saying about Nurse Rooke in Persuasion and Mrs. Long in P&P)
I’d like to briefly add a major new wrinkle to my claims, using as my springboard the observation I made in those recent posts that the word “peri” is Farsi for “fairy”, and that JA had therefore most cleverly and aptly selected the surname “Perry” for him, her most fully realized imaginary friend (which is therefore like a fairy, spirit or ghost).
Yesterday it occurred to me to pick up on the obvious allusion that Miss Bates makes to A Thousand And One Nights when she says about the brightly lit festive room at The Crown:
“Well! This is brilliant indeed!—This is admirable!—Excellently contrived, upon my word. Nothing wanting. Could not have imagined it.—So well lighted up!—Jane, Jane, look!—did you ever see any thing? Oh! Mr. Weston, you must really have had ALADDIN’S LAMP. Good Mrs. Stokes would not know her own room again.”
Fittingly re a thousand and one nights, I, almost exactly a year and a week ago…..
…. posted at length about the overt Scheherazade allusion in Persuasion, in which I claimed that JA’s allusion was complex and highly significant.
Today I make a parallel claim about the allusion to that same, vastly popular and influential work of world literature, but this time in EMMA, as to which Mr. Perry as imaginary friend or “peri” turns out to be the most significant element, one among many symbols pointing back to the “entertainments” of that classic literary work (which first appeared in English just over a century before JA published Emma).
As with my posts about Mr. Perry, I am not going to lay out all my evidence, I will, with one exception, merely summarize it, and leave it to those who are so inclined to take my hints and go back to the text of Emma themselves, and see the rest of the evidence for themselves!
The key point is that JA was, I am now certain, alluding specifically to one particular tale among the 1,001 told by Scheherazade to the demented Sultan (who, like the protagonist of Garrick’s Riddle, takes a new virgin every night, to first behead her sexually, and then to behead her literally---no coincidence there!)—the tale of PERI Banou.
Here is a wonderful synopsis of most of the plot of the tale recounted by Marina Warner in her recent book, Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights, at p. 71 et seq:
“Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Peri Banou: “Three brothers, sons of the sultan of the Indies, are rivals for the hand of the exquisitely beautiful Princess Nouronnihar, their first cousin and an orphan, who lives in the palace with them. The three princes are dispatched by their father at the beginning of the story: the one who brings back the greatest wonder shall marry her. Prince Houssain, the eldest, …[buys] a flying CARPET that can take you in an instant where you want to be. …Ali… buys a TELESCOPE carved from IVORY, through which you can see anything and everything, whatever is happening in the world at the time. Ahmed, the youngest, [buys] an artificial APPLE which exudes a perfume that can heal any disease.
Once the brothers meet again at an INN on the road as arranged, they see through Ali’s TELESCOPE that the beautiful Princess has been taken terribly ill and is on the point of death. The three brothers immediately mount the flying CARPET and ride to her rescue—and then use the magic APPLE to cure her. Revived, she still has no say in her choice of suitor, and the father continues to declare himself undecided. So he sets a further test…the one who shoots an ARROW the farthest will win her for his bride.
Ahmed’s ARROW flies out of sight and he’s disqualified; she marries the winner, Prince Ali, while Houssain, in his fury at losing her, renounces the CROWN and becomes a dervish. Ahmed meanwhile sets out to find his ARROW and finds himself straying…until he discovers it pointing the way through rocks to an iron DOOR; through this he descends and enters…FAIRYLAND.
PERI Banou comes to greet him, leads him into her palace where she sits him down and tells him that she has contrived to bring him to her by her magic arts, for the CARPET, the GLASS and the APPLE were her handiwork, and she then carried off his ARROW. If he seizes his chance with her now, she promises to make him happy. According to FAIRY law, she explains, women can be forward and choose their love; she has chosen him, if he’ll agree. Prince Ahmed needs no persuading, and the ceremony takes place then and there between the two of them, contracted and sealed with a thousand kisses…..(and so on)”
Do I need to explain why I put the words “apple”, “telescope/glass”, “arrow”, “fairyland”, “crown”, “fairy”, “door”, and “peri” in all caps? Anyone familiar with the text of Emma, and in particular with the speeches of Miss Bates, will know EXACTLY why I did this.
But in particular, I draw everyone’s attention to the following speech by Miss Bates, which is the epicenter of JA’s complex allusion. Start here in Chapter 27….
"Very well, I am much obliged to you. My mother is delightfully well; and Jane caught no cold last night. How is Mr. Woodhouse?—I am so glad to hear such a good account. Mrs. Weston told me you were here.—Oh! then, said I, I must run across, I am sure Miss Woodhouse will allow me just to run across and entreat her to come in; my mother will be so very happy to see her—and now we are such a nice party, she cannot refuse.—'Aye, pray do,' said Mr. Frank Churchill, 'Miss Woodhouse's opinion of the instrument will be worth having.'—But, said I, I shall be more sure of succeeding if one of you will go with me.—'Oh,' said he, 'wait half a minute, till I have finished my job;'—For, would you believe it, Miss Woodhouse, there he is, in the most obliging manner in the world, fastening in the rivet of my mother's SPECTACLES.—The rivet came out, you know, this morning.—So very obliging!—For my mother had no use of her SPECTACLES—could not put them on. And, by the bye, every body ought to have two pair of SPECTACLES; they should indeed. Jane said so. I meant to take them over to John Saunders the first thing I did, but something or other hindered me all the morning; first one thing, then another, there is no saying what, you know. At one time Patty came to say she thought the kitchen chimney wanted sweeping. Oh, said I, Patty do not come with your bad news to me. Here is the rivet of your mistress's SPECTACLES out. Then the baked APPLES came home, Mrs. Wallis sent them by her boy; they are extremely civil and obliging to us, the Wallises, always—I have heard some people say that Mrs. Wallis can be uncivil and give a very rude answer, but we have never known any thing but the greatest attention from them. And it cannot be for the value of our custom now, for what is our consumption of bread, you know? Only three of us.—besides dear Jane at present—and she really eats nothing—makes such a shocking breakfast, you would be quite frightened if you saw it. I dare not let my mother know how little she eats—so I say one thing and then I say another, and it passes off. But about the middle of the day she gets hungry, and there is nothing she likes so well as these baked APPLES, and they are extremely wholesome, for I took the opportunity the other day of asking Mr. Perry; I happened to meet him in the street. Not that I had any doubt before—I have so often heard Mr. Woodhouse recommend a baked APPLE. I believe it is the only way that Mr. Woodhouse thinks the fruit thoroughly wholesome. We have APPLE-dumplings, however, very often. Patty makes an excellent APPLE-dumpling. Well, Mrs. Weston, you have prevailed, I hope, and these ladies will oblige us.…I declare I cannot recollect what I was talking of.—Oh! my mother's SPECTACLES. So very obliging of Mr. Frank Churchill! 'Oh!' said he, 'I do think I can fasten the rivet; I like a job of this kind excessively.'—Which you know shewed him to be so very.... Indeed I must say that, much as I had heard of him before and much as I had expected, he very far exceeds any thing.... I do congratulate you, Mrs. Weston, most warmly. He seems every thing the fondest parent could.... 'Oh!' said he, 'I can fasten the rivet. I like a job of that sort excessively.' I never shall forget his manner. And when I brought out the baked APPLES from the closet, and hoped our friends would be so very obliging as to take some, 'Oh!' said he directly, 'there is nothing in the way of fruit half so good, and these are the finest-looking home-baked APPLES I ever saw in my life.' That, you know, was so very.... And I am sure, by his manner, it was no compliment. Indeed they are very delightful APPLES, and Mrs. Wallis does them full justice—only we do not have them baked more than twice, and Mr. Woodhouse made us promise to have them done three times—but Miss Woodhouse will be so good as not to mention it. The APPLES themselves are the very finest sort for baking, beyond a doubt; all from Donwell—some of Mr. Knightley's most liberal supply. He sends us a sack every year; and certainly there never was such a keeping APPLE anywhere as one of his trees—I believe there is two of them. My mother says the orchard was always famous in her younger days. But I was really quite shocked the other day—for Mr. Knightley called one morning, and Jane was eating these APPLES, and we talked about them and said how much she enjoyed them, and he asked whether we were not got to the end of our stock….”
…and continue until here in Chapter 28…
"Oh! Mr. Knightley, one moment more; something of consequence—so shocked!—Jane and I are both so shocked about the APPLES!"
"What is the matter now?"
"To think of your sending us all your store APPLES. You said you had a great many, and now you have not one left. We really are so shocked! Mrs. Hodges may well be angry. William Larkins mentioned it here. You should not have done it, indeed you should not. Ah! he is off. He never can bear to be thanked. But I thought he would have staid now, and it would have been a pity not to have mentioned.... Well, (returning to the room,) I have not been able to succeed. Mr. Knightley cannot stop. He is going to Kingston. He asked me if he could do any thing...."
…and don’t overlook the mention in the interim about CARRIAGE rides as a kind of metaphorical “magic carpet” rides!
My point being that JA is telling her knowing readers that SHE is none other than the Peri Banou of fiction, so we should all put on the special spectacles she has fixed up for us, take a bite of the scented apples she has laid out for us to eat, and take a magic carpet ride courtesy of Air Austen!
That’s precisely when it will dart through YOU, with the speed of an ARROW, that Jane Austen was the greatest genius in the history of literature, matched only by HER “peri”, Shakespeare.
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