FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER: @JaneAustenCode
(& scroll all the way down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Friday, December 12, 2014

“Every thing they could command…was disTASTEful”: Jane Fairfax’s Irish-inflected hunger for thoroughly wholesome baked apples points to Swift’s wholesome tasty Irish babies



Last night, I was thinking some more about the veiled allusion to Swift's "a modest proposal" in Emma which I posted about twice yesterday….
…and this time I focused on the macabre essence of Swift's satire, which was the "kindly meant" advice to Irish parents to eat their babies who were a “burden” they could not otherwise carry.

Thinking about babies who were a burden a parent could not handle took me straight to the heart of the shadow story of Emma, as to which I have maintained for the past decade that Jane Fairfax is the shadow heroine, not Emma, and Jane’s “burden” is Jane’s unborn child and the pregnancy she conceals while searching for a solution to her longterm problem—what to do with the baby after she’s born?!

In the end, Jane’s desperate returns to Highbury to conceal her unwed pregnancy is successful, as she winds up giving her baby Anna to Mrs. Weston. But it became clear to me last night that Jane Austen, with her own sharply macabre sense of humor, went out of her way to repeatedly but subliminally point to Swift’s “Modest Proposal” specifically vis a vis Jane Fairfax.

I.e., Jane Fairfax has a comparable "problem" to that of Swift’s “poor” Irish parents, and Jane Austen makes sure we are constantly reminded that Jane may feel forced by the exigencies of her situation, especially the malicious meddling of Mrs. Elton, to in effect “eat” (i.e., abort)  her baby!

Let’s start with a quick tally of all of Jane Fairfax’s Irish connections, which clearly have some coded meaning, since Jane F. is unique among Austen characters for her multiple, varied, and seemingly random associations with Ireland and the Irish:

First re the suitor Emma imagines Jane is involved with is the Irishman, Mr. Dixon, who is engaged to Jane’s “sister”, Miss Campbell, we hear all about Ireland from the informative Miss Bates:

Ch. 20: GOING TO IRELAND, DUBLIN, BALY-CRAIG
"…The case is, you see, that the Campbells are GOING TO IRELAND. Mrs. Dixon has persuaded her father and mother to come over and see her directly. They had not intended to go over till the summer, but she is so impatient to see them again—for till she married, last October, she was never away from them so much as a week, which must make it very strange to be in different kingdoms, I was going to say, but however different countries, and so she wrote a very urgent letter to her mother—or her father, I declare I do not know which it was, but we shall see presently in Jane's letter—wrote in Mr. Dixon's name as well as her own, to press their coming over directly, and they would give them the meeting in DUBLIN, and take them back to their country seat, BALY-CRAIG, a beautiful place, I fancy. Jane has heard a great deal of its beauty; from Mr. Dixon, I mean—I do not know that she ever heard about it from any body else; but it was very natural, you know, that he should like to speak of his own place while he was paying his addresses—and as Jane used to be very often walking out with them—for Colonel and Mrs. Campbell were very particular about their daughter's not walking out often with only Mr. Dixon, for which I do not at all blame them; of course she heard every thing he might be telling Miss Campbell about his own home in Ireland; and I think she wrote us word that he had shewn them some drawings of the place, views that he had taken himself. He is a most amiable, charming young man, I believe. Jane was quite longing TO GO TO IRELAND, from his account of things."
At this moment, an ingenious and animating suspicion entering Emma's brain with regard to Jane Fairfax, this charming Mr. Dixon, and the NOT GOING TO IRELAND…”
Colonel and Mrs. Campbell."
…"But, in spite of all her friends' urgency, and her own wish of SEEING IRELAND, Miss Fairfax prefers devoting the time to you and Mrs. Bates?"
…"Jane caught a bad cold, poor thing! so long ago as the 7th of November, (as I am going to read to you,) and has never been well since. A long time, is not it, for a cold to hang upon her? She never mentioned it before, because she would not alarm us. Just like her! so considerate!—But however, she is so far from well, that her kind friends the Campbells think she had better come home, and try an air that always agrees with her; and they have no doubt that three or four months at Highbury will entirely cure her—and it is certainly a great deal better that she should come here, than GO TO IRELAND, if she is unwell. Nobody could nurse her, as we should do."
"Yes—entirely her own doing, entirely her own choice; and Colonel and Mrs. Campbell think she does quite right, just what they should recommend; and indeed they particularly wish her to try her native air, as she has not been quite so well as usual lately."
…With regard to her not accompanying them TO IRELAND, her account to her aunt contained nothing but truth, though THERE MIGHT BE SOME TRUTHS NOT TOLD. It was her own choice to give the time of their absence to Highbury; to spend, perhaps, her last months of perfect liberty with those kind relations to whom she was so very dear: and the Campbells, whatever might be their motive or MOTIVES, WHETHER SINGLE, OR DOUBLE, OR TREBLE, gave the arrangement their ready sanction, and said, that they depended more on a few months spent in her native air, for the recovery of her health, than on any thing else. Certain it was that she was to come; and that Highbury, instead of welcoming that perfect novelty which had been so long promised it—Mr. Frank Churchill—must put up for the present with Jane Fairfax, who could bring only the freshness of a two years' absence.

It is no accident that the above passage includes the broadly hinting language I’ve put in all caps about truths not told, and treble motives.

And next we have two passages where Frank Churchill, who, I have long maintained, first realizes that Jane is pregnant as he stares at her, twice invokes Jane’s Irish connections in coded reference to Jane’s pregnancy, a code Emma is clueless about:

Ch. 26: AN IRISH FASHION
He started. "Thank you for rousing me," he replied. "I believe I have been very rude; but really Miss Fairfax has done her hair in so odd a way—so very odd a way—that I cannot keep my eyes from her. I never saw any thing so outree!—Those curls!—This must be a fancy of her own. I see nobody else looking like her!—I must go and ask her whether it is AN IRISH FASHION. Shall I?—Yes, I will—I declare I will—and you shall see how she takes it;—whether she colours."

Ch. 28: A NEW SET OF IRISH MELODIES
"What felicity it is to hear a tune again which has made one happy!—If I mistake not that was danced at Weymouth."
She looked up at him for a moment, coloured deeply, and played something else. He took some music from a chair near the pianoforte, and turning to Emma, said,
"Here is something quite new to me. Do you know it?—Cramer.—And here are A NEW SET OF IRISH MELODIES. That, from such a quarter, one might expect. This was all sent with the instrument. Very thoughtful of Colonel Campbell, was not it?—He knew Miss Fairfax could have no music here. I honour that part of the attention particularly; it shews it to have been so thoroughly from the heart. Nothing hastily done; nothing incomplete. True affection only could have prompted it."
Emma wished he would be less pointed, yet could not help being amused; and when on glancing her eye towards Jane Fairfax she caught the remains of a smile, when she saw that with all the deep blush of consciousness, there had been a smile of secret delight, she had less scruple in the amusement, and much less compunction with respect to her.—This amiable, upright, perfect Jane Fairfax was apparently cherishing very reprehensible feelings.

In the next two passages, Emma has no idea as to what Jane’s blush really means, but that doesn’t stop Emma from picking up on Frank’s ironic Irish digs. And then Miss Bates  chimes in again.

It seems half of Highbury is speaking in an Irish code that Emma does not understand the full meaning of:

Ch. 34: THE IRISH MAILS
Jane's solicitude about fetching her own letters had not escaped Emma. She had heard and seen it all; and felt some curiosity to know whether the wet walk of this morning had produced any. She suspected that it had; that it would not have been so resolutely encountered but in full expectation of hearing from some one very dear, and that it had not been in vain. She thought there was an air of greater happiness than usual—a glow both of complexion and spirits.
She could have made an inquiry or two, as to the expedition and the expense of THE IRISH MAILS;—it was at her tongue's end—but she abstained. She was quite determined not to utter a word that should hurt Jane Fairfax's feelings; and they followed the other ladies out of the room, arm in arm, with an appearance of good-will highly becoming to the beauty and grace of each.

Ch. 43: THE IRISH CAR PARTY
"Now, ma'am," said Jane to her aunt, "shall we join Mrs. Elton?"
"If you please, my dear. With all my heart. I am quite ready. I was ready to have gone with her, but this will do just as well. We shall soon overtake her. There she is—no, that's somebody else. That's one of the ladies in THE IRISH CAR PARTY, not at all like her.—Well, I declare—"


JANE’S HUNGER FOR BAKED APPLES

So now, after reading the above, and recognizing that Ireland and Jane are connected for a deeper reason not explicitly told but everywhere hinted at, read the following passages with Swift's culinary proposal very specifically in mind, I.e., think about Jane Fairfax as the parent whom "friends" like Mrs. Elton "modestly propose" that Jane “abolish" (i.e. abort):

The first two passages occur in Chapter 27, when Jane Fairfax is about midway through her concealed pregnancy:

First Emma talking with Harriet about Jane’s and Emma’s comparative piano skills, and Harriet refers three times to Emma’s “taste”:

"Those who knew any thing about it, must have felt the difference. The truth is, Harriet, that my playing is just good enough to be praised, but Jane Fairfax's is much beyond it."
"Well, I always shall think that you play quite as well as she does, or that if there is any difference nobody would ever find it out. Mr. Cole said how much TASTE you had; and Mr. Frank Churchill talked a great deal about your TASTE, and that he valued TASTE much more than execution."

& then Miss Bates talking about Jane’s lack of appetite in language that is a direct and indeed virtuosic multiple echoing of Swift’s satiric rhapsodies about the wonderful taste and wholesome nutritional value of Irish babies—just think of the baby as a “baked” apple, as in the still common colloquial expression about “buns in the oven” as a euphemism for gestating embryonic babies in utero:

"Then the baked apples came home, Mrs. Wallis sent them by her boy…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….”

Just let that sink in----Miss Bates, in code, is repeatedly invoking Swift’s “Modest Proposal”!

And, as an unmistakable echo of that passage, the following description of Miss Bates’s comments to Emma occurs at precisely the moment when Jane Fairfax is in labor and therefore obviously receiving no visitors:

Ch.45 
 “…[Emma] submitted, therefore, and only questioned Miss Bates farther as to her niece's appetite and diet, which she longed to be able to assist. On that subject poor Miss Bates was very unhappy, and very communicative; JANE WOULD HARDLY EAT ANY THING: -- MR. PERRY RECOMMENDED NOURISHING FOOD; but every thing they could command (and never had anybody such good neighbours) was DISTASTEFUL."

I mean, really, No wonder the radically absurdist Sixties playwright Joe Orton loved Jane Austen's fiction- she was there 150 years before him!!! Except that in one of his plays, Jane Fairfax would've actually eaten her baby.

Cheers,
Arnie
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

No comments: