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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Louisa/Lydia/Marianne: Austen’s 3 strangely similar falling risktakers

This post is a brief followup to my post yesterday...

...about the surprisingly close parallels between the scene in P&P when Jane sends news of the elopement of Lydia & Wickham to Eliza in two stages, and the scene in Persuasion when the Lyme contingent sends news of Louisa’s fall to the Musgrove parents in two stages.

I concluded my last post with this observation: “So, based on these three strong parallels, I am now convinced that Jane Austen definitely had Chapter 46 of P&P firmly in mind as she wrote that initially quoted paragraph in Persuasion, but chose to present a similar situation in a subtler, more understated way in Persuasion, leaving more unstated, to be figured out by the ingenious reader---and this also perhaps reflects a growing authorial command gained by JA during the three years since P&P was published, such that she was willing to experiment in different ways of giving her readers the experience of the ambiguity that arises constantly in the messiness of real life.”

After writing that, I realized I had only skimmed the surface, as several other surprising, even more thematic parallels between these two passages popped out at me. They’re not only about the breaking of bad news, in stages, about an event occurring at a distance—in both cases, that bad news also involves all six of the following parameters:
(1) an impulsive young woman  
(2) takes  sudden, unexpected risky actions while
(3) she is being enticed/encouraged by
(4) a dashing military suitor whom
(5) the heroine (i.e., not the impulsive young woman) is or has been infatuated or in love, resulting in
(6) the impulsive young woman’s fall, whether literal (Louisa) or metaphorical (Lydia).

And laying out those six points of close correspondence immediately led me to recognize a third candidate for inclusion in this Austenian inter-novel karass (Kurt Vonnegut’s term for “a network or group of people who, unknown to themselves, are somehow affiliated or linked…”)—Marianne Dashwood!

In S&S, Marianne (1) is an impulsive young woman who (2) takes a couple of sudden risky actions while she (3) has been enticed/encouraged by a (4) dashing “military” suitor (Willoughby, who, while not in the military like Wickham and Wentworth, is a hunter, rider, and marksman with a cavalryman’s skills, to whom (5) [some Austen scholars, including myself, believe that] the heroine (Elinor) is unconsciously attracted, resulting in (6) both a literal (ancle-sprain) and metaphorical (pregnancy?) “fall”.

And even in regard to the other earlier-noted “breaking bad news” parallel I saw between P&P and Persuasion, there is a near hit as well with Marianne. I.e., the delivery to Mrs. Dashwood of the bad news about Marianne’s dangerous illness might well have progressed in two progressively worse stages, had Marianne died before Brandon brought Mrs. D to Cleveland. The narrator makes this clear to us:

…within half an hour after Willoughby's leaving the house, she was again called down stairs by the sound of another carriage.—Eager to save her mother from every unnecessary moment's horrible suspense, she ran immediately into the hall, and reached the outward door just in time to receive and support her as she entered it.
Mrs. Dashwood, whose terror as they drew near the house had produced almost the conviction of Marianne's being no more, had no voice to inquire after her, no voice even for Elinor…”

So…the question raised by these three scene “triplets” in three different Austen novels, spanning her entire novel output, is: why would she repeat the pattern so closely three times, involving three characters whose personalities differ amongst themselves? One possibility that occurs to me, based on my experience looking behind comparable patterns in the past, is that this was a veiled allusion to (a) some event in the history of JA’s immediate family, and/or (b) some event in one of the literary works JA had on her allusive radar screen (e.g., those in the Bible, or in the writings of Shakespeare, Richardson, Burney, Radcliffe, etc) that fits this same pattern?

But I am also interested to hear other speculations explaining what I have found.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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