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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"There are people who, the more you do for them, the less they will do for themselves" --Emma channeling BOTH Fanny Dashwood and Jane Austen!

In Janeites & Austen L, Diane wrote: “…chapter 11…is the sort of chapter, I will argue, that opens the novel up to the idea of subtexts, as it seems to unnecessarily raise questions it  never answers. This is also chapter that can be read as light or dark, and I see both a charming, amused picture of happy family life as the Woodhouses unite for Christmas and the darker undercurrents of tenser family dynamics. It is in my opinion a brilliant expose of the little lies and collusions, enacted largely by the women, that maintain the surface harmony of a happy family--and arguably, that the women enable by over-catering to the men.”

Diane, you have a rare gift for fictional synopsis, which manages to combine very sharp insight with extremely reader-friendly presentation—your students are lucky to have you ushering them into the pleasures of literature.

And it’s a particular pleasure to me to observe you experiencing something like what I did ten years ago when Emma first really lit up for me like a Christmas tree (an apt metaphor for today, but I have been using that metaphor a hundred times in the past decade, because that is really what it felt like to me that first moment of epiphany).

The subtext really seems to be everywhere, and the “bread crumbs” seem to lead everywhere, but always seem to trail off suggestively into murky shadows—until you really embrace the notion of a coherent alternative shadow story—then it becomes the most pleasurable and challenging scavenger hunt imaginable.

While I believe all five of the other novels have, like Emma, a coherent shadow story, there are many more suggestive hints in the text of Emma than in the other five –it’s as if, by early 1816, Jane Austen had realized that she needed to give her readers MORE HELP to see into her (by then highly sophisticated) shadow story—the other five novels are comparable to Mozart or Beethoven symphonies---but only Emma is like Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion—one story in 12 part harmony, in counterpoint to a second story, also in 12 part harmony—but in different “keys”!

And those words “more help” are actually my segue into responding to one other point that you made in your excellent summary of this latest chapter, which sparked a new insight for me:

[Diane] “After these glimpse of the truth, Emma quickly hides from herself in the next (famous) thought:  "There are people, who the more you do for them, the less they will do for themselves." “
It is only because we just went through unpacking the Swiftian Modest Proposal subtext of the “charitable” visit that Emma takes Harriet on----in which we can clearly see JA covertly but insistently depicting Emma as a Fanny Dashwood in training---that I was primed today to read the above (famous) quote from off-center, and to realize that this is the exact sort of statement that Fanny Dashwood would make!
Indeed, is this not the exact same rhetorical strategy that Fanny takes in convincing husband John that the Dashwood women really would be better off with less money, and that superannuated servants have the nasty habit of outliving their life expectancy? I would go further and wager that if 100 Janeites who did not know from memory which Austen character thought this thought, and were asked which character it was and were given multiple reasonable choices to pick from, then the majority would pick Fanny Dashwood—because it fits her character so perfectly as so memorably depicted overtly in Chapter 2 of S&S.
For those who might still think I’m reaching, just consider also this key point of evidence. This thought occurs to Emma at the very beginning of Chapter 11, almost immediately after that visit to the poor sick cottager ends at the end of Chapter 10!  Just a coincidence? Of course not! This is quintessential Austen subtext---and perhaps also, upon further reflection, at least part of the reason for this famous but somewhat mysterious echolalia not much later in Emma:
[End of Chapter 20]: Manners were all that could be safely judged of, under a much longer knowledge than they had yet had of Mr. Churchill. She believed every body found his manners pleasing." EMMA COULD NOT FORGIVE HER.
[Beginning of Chapter 21]: EMMA COULD NOT FORGIVE HER….
This famous analepsis (which Trollope must have had in mind for some purpose when he titled one of his most famous novels “Can you forgive her?” ) might to some seem that Jane Austen or her printer must have just made a mistake by duplicating a line the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next, I say it is a coded message to the alert reader to be particularly attentive to connections between the very end of one chapter and the very beginning of the next chapter—and this semantic (if you will) analepsis in Chapter 10-11 is a perfect example.

And that would have been enough for me for one day, also occurred to me almost simultaneously that this same quotation is ALSO a quintessential METAfictional utterance by Jane Austen herself to her readers! I.e., JA has just gotten through, in Chapter 10, depicting Emma as Fanny Dashwood. And so now, in the very same words in which Emma is rationalizing her meddling in Harriet’s love life and stuffing down any recollection of the poor cottager family, Jane Austen not only exposes Emma’s unconscious Fanny-ness, JA herself, being the thrifty writer making double use of her words, is also  speaking ventriloquistically to her readers, and is basically saying this:
that the more an author— Jane Austen herself!-- explains her text—Emma ! --- to her readers via omniscient narration, the less the readers will “do for themselves”. I.e., the more passive her readers will become in interpreting the nuances of the personality of JA’s characters.
And so JA, being the teacher-by-Zen-paradox that she was, teaches this lesson to her readers by leading them down the path of enmeshing them in Emma’s subjective rationalizations and making them (via JA’s astonishing genius for writing ambiguous narration) seem to be objective facts. But JA also gives sufficient clues--playing fair like any ethical “mystery” story writer—for an active reader to (sooner or later) realize that Jane Austen has put us all on.
And this was done by JA not for a cruel malicious satisfaction in making her readers go astray by clever authorial tricks, but for the worthy purpose of (ultimately) teaching us, upon rereadings, to be vigilant for similar scams in real life, as to which the adverse consequences of cluelessness will not merely be the harmlessness of missing out on deeper meanings of a fictional story, but suffering real harm in real life! 


I just checked my files, and found the following wonderful discussion in a file—it’s from an excellent article by Chris Jones, U. of Wales, Bangor, in Literature & History, Vol. 9, #2, Autumn 2000, entitled “Jane Austen and Old Corruption”:
“…Many critics see Knightley as representative of the traditional landowning class, as does Emma. Emma, however, objects to his derogations from traditional dignity,  such  as  walking  rather than using his carriage.  He is clearly a ‘new’, improving  landowner, who farms commercially for the London  trade,  and his values of truth,  openness,  sincerity, and independence can be seen as ‘traditional’  or alternatively  as connected  with the radical ideals of the 1790s.  He combines the virtues of these ideologies but  the issue of patronage shows his one blind  spot. His own  privileged position  blinds him to the incapacities of others for independent action. He fails to see the difficulty of moral independence for those, like Miss Taylor, Jane Fairfax, and Frank Churchill, who are materially dependent. ‘One law for the ox and the lion is oppression’  and Knightley’s attitude  verges on the laissez-faire doctrines that his benevolent interference contradicts. A pointed heteroglossia,  an intrusion  of a recognisable  public discourse,  also links the issues of patronage in the ‘match-making’  sense with the large question  of Poor  Relief. After Emma and  Harriet visit the  poor Emma discusses with Elton ‘what could be done and what should be done’. When her best efforts to bring the two supposed lovers together have failed, her thoughts echo contemporary debate on the treatment of the poor:  ‘There are people, the more you do for them,  the less they will do for themselves’ (73).  Independence might be an ideal, but in a complex,  unequal  society the conditions  of independence have to be managed. Highbury obviously had not taken advantage of Knatchbull’s 1723 Act to delegate care of the poor completely to an overseer. Neither workhouse nor house of correction are alternatives to ‘outdoor relief’ and a community  involvement  that extends  from meetings of prominent citizens to Miss Bates’s concern for an ostler’s father.  Emma, who pays her visit to the poor,  comes off rather  better than Elton, who defers his visit to pursue Emma, or Knightley, who, in the transports of his anticipated marriage, forgets parish business and fails to keep an appointment with Elton. In Knightley, however, Highbury has a progressive landlord, who also exercises a benevolent  patronage. A patronage that is exerted  to enable its objects to exercise their independent views (he speaks for Martin  though  he disagrees with his choice of Harriet) is very different from one that exerts its power to overawe and direct.”

The parts I agree with most are “Knightley’s attitude  verges on the laissez-faire doctrines that his benevolent interference contradicts.” & “When her best efforts to bring the two supposed lovers together have failed, her thoughts echo contemporary debate on the treatment of the poor:  ‘There are people, the more you do for them,  the less they will do for themselves’ “

So, bravo to Chris Jones for picking up in 2000 on that connection between Emma’s visit to the poor and her thoughts ostensibly only about Harriet and Elton.
Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode onTwitter

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