I just realized that I never posted the answer to the quiz I posed last Saturday—which is, who is the real life soldier that Isabella Thorpe is sighing for when she glances nervously around the Pump Room near the end of the Bath episode in Northanger Abbey.
I found the answer to that quiz question as part of my getting geared up for last weekend's JASNA Portland reading group discussion of reading Jane Austen in wartime. Given that (as Jocelyn Harris first pointed out) the action of Persuasion coincides almost exactly on the calendar with Napoleon’s tenure in initial exile on the isle of Elba, I wondered whether Jane Austen, with her extreme love of groan-worthy puns (like haircut, heircut, etc), might have punned on the name “Elba”, as a way of pointing to Napoleon in one of her novels, without saying his (in the eyes of British conservatives, demonic) name aloud.
And sure enough, I found that pun in that passage I quoted from Northanger Abbey, which I now show here again—you will now understand that the ALL CAPS verbiage all hints or points at Napoleon on Elba!:
“With a mind thus full of happiness, Catherine was hardly aware that two or three days had passed away, without her seeing Isabella for more than a few minutes together. She began first to be sensible of this, and to sigh for her conversation, as she walked along the pump–room one morning, by Mrs. Allen’s side, without anything to say or to hear; and scarcely had she felt a five minutes’ longing of friendship, before the object of it appeared, and inviting her to A SECRET CONFERENCE, led the way to a seat. “This is my favourite place,” said she as they sat down on a bench between the doors, which COMMANDED A TOLERABLE VIEW of everybody entering at either; “IT IS SO OUT OF THE WAY.”
Catherine, observing that Isabella’s eyes were continually bent towards one door or the other, as in eager expectation, and remembering how often she had been falsely accused of being ARCH, thought THE PRESENT A FINE OPPORTUNITY FOR BEING REALLY SO; and therefore gaily said, “Do not be uneasy, Isabella, James will soon be here.”
“Psha! My dear creature,” she replied, “do not think me such a simpleton as to be always wanting to CONFINE HIM TO MY ELBOW. It would be hideous to be always together; we should be THE JEST OF THE PLACE. And so you are going to Northanger! I am amazingly glad of it. It is one of the finest old places in England, I understand. I shall depend upon a most particular description of it.”
“You shall certainly have the best in my power to give. But WHO ARE YOU LOOKING FOR? Are your sisters coming?”
“I am not looking for anybody. One’s eyes must be somewhere, and you know what a foolish trick I have of fixing mine, when MY THOUGHTS ARE AN HUNDRED MILES OFF. I AM AMAZINGLY ABSENT; I believe I am THE MOST ABSENT CREATURE IN THE WORLD. Tilney says it is always the case with MINDS OF A CERTAIN STAMP.”
Elba,of course, was chosen because “it is so out of the way”, and the British jailers, from their lookout point, “commanded a tolerable view of everybody” who might come to rescue Napoleon. And those on the European continent or in England thinking about “the amazing absent” Napoleon, who was. after his internment on Elba “the most absent creature in the world” of international relations, would say “My thoughts are an hundred miles off” with Napoleon!
And when Catherine decides to be “arch”, this is a wink at the recently begun “Arch de Triomphe”, which sets the stage for Jane Austen’s “jest” about Napoleon: “to be always wanting to CONFINE HIM ……TO ELBA”!!!!
The Portland JASNA reading group had a good laugh when I told them about this, but I was, and am, deadly serious, that this was all intentional on Jane Austen’s part, and I’ve got more supporting evidence for it-- if anyone is interested in hearing it, I will bring it forward in a followup post.
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