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

Friday, July 29, 2016

Emma as a “charade” with 2 answers, & Harriet Smith & Hetty Bates as 2 sides of designing Jane Austen

This is a followup to my two recent posts “Harriet Smith’s a riddle, “to be sure”, in Jane Austen’s Emma  and “Not poor Harriet, but poor Emma to be the dupe of her misconceptions and Harriet’s (designed) flattery!”, both about Harriet Smith as the designing (i.e., intentional) flatterer of Emma Woodhouse in the shadow story of Emma,

As I was mulling them both over again this morning, I took a second, closer look at one parallel I had briefly touched on, the one between Harriet’s flattery of Emma in regard to Harriet’s decision as to how to respond to Robert Martin’s proposal in Chapter 4, and Harriet’s flattery of Emma in regard to the correct answer to Mr. Elton’s charade in Chapter 9.

Upon that further consideration, I noticed an additional strong parallel, hidden in plain sight by the diabolically clever Jane Austen. I.e., when you compare those two situations on a more abstract level, in both cases Emma blithely assumes she has come up with the correct answer to a puzzle connected to Mr. Elton, but then Emma turns out to be wrong.  Allow me to explain more specifically:

In Chapter 4, the puzzle facing Emma and Harriet is the question as to whether Harriet should accept Robert Martin’s proposal, or not. Emma, because she’s so certain that Mr. Elton is courting Harriet, does not hesitate to meddle and dissuade Harriet from accepting that proposal, and so suggests that the Martins would be bad connections for Harriet. Emma simply rolls right over Harriet’s obvious ambivalence. However, as we all know, we find out a dozen chapters later that Mr. Elton was courting Emma, not Harriet, and so Harriet is left out in the courtship cold.

Similarly, in Chapter 9, the puzzle is Mr. Elton’s charade, an actual poem pointing to an answer Because Emma thinks she’s much smarter than Harriet, Emma blithely ignores and overrides Harriet’s guesses at possible answers, suggesting instead that “courtship” is the obvious and only answer. However, thanks to Colleen Sheehan in 2007, we know that there is indeed an additional alternative correct answer to Mr. Elton’s charade, “Prince of Whales”, which is Lamb’s and Cruikshank’s joint, insulting moniker for the corpulent Prince Regent, an answer which validates Harriet’s “wrong” guesses!

So, laying these two scenarios side by side, I note that Mr. Elton’s courtship behavior toward Emma and Harriet has functioned as a kind of “charade”, requiring a “solution” by Emma and Harriet, just like his literal charade. Therefore, what a lovely irony there is in this parallelism, that the answer to the charade that Emma arrives at is….”courtship” – is an answer which hints at that subversive answer to the charade, which is about Prince George, the great “Whale” who rules the British court as well as the ships of the British navy!

And that brings me to the crucial point that really made me smile this morning. As I thought about “Prince of Whales” as the unflattering public nickname for the Prince Regent, I also thought about the gambit I and Colleen Sheehan have both long believed Jane Austen engaged in, i.e., that Austen induced the Prince Regent to “invite” her to dedicate Emma to him! Here’s how Colleen put it:

“If Austen made this cheeky but veiled critique of the Prince’s planned scheme for Regent Street prior to any knowledge that she might be invited to dedicate Emma to him, then the encounter with his surgeon, the invitation to Carlton House, and the permission to dedicate the novel to the Prince Regent would seem to constitute an uncanny coincidence at the hands of Fortuna.  One can hardly believe it; it is all too pat.
Could it have been the case that she revised the novel after it went to the publishers but before it was printed?  Or could she have somehow orchestrated the invitation for the dedication?  I know of no extant evidence that would solve this riddle.  So, for now, I must settle with being suspicious.  
….The second solution to this charade is precisely a prologue to the play:  it is a second dedication to HRH, the Prince of Whales.  Moreover, as I have argued in the essay preceding this one, the novel itself includes numerous mischievous plays on the Prince and his exploits, though of course, as Austen expected, he seems never to have picked up on them. “

So, go with me on this, even further outside the box. What if Jane Austen meant for the reader like myself who had sleuthed out all of the above, to then recognize that the novel Emma itself could reasonabley be viewed as a kind of “charade” with two “correct answers”? What would this mean exactly?

I say it would mean that this feeds right into my theory of Austen’s anamorphic novels. I.e., as is the case with all of Austen’s six novels, in Emma there is both an overt story and a shadow story, both of them plausible, coherent interpretations of the same words. This is Jane Austen Code 101. If you read Emma with the grain, as if the narration is to be understood as mostly objective—as it has been read for two centuries by pretty much all its readers before myself—you get the overt story—correct answer #1. But… if you read Emma against the grain, as I am the first to do, as if the narration is to be understood as mostly subjective, seeing Highbury as Emma sees it, and therefore not accurately in many ways, then you get the shadow story. Two parallel fictional universes in one novel. Same characters, but very different story.

And here’s where I make my metaphorical leap. In such an anamorphic interpretation, we can in effect split Jane Austen into the two Harriet Smiths of Emma, and the reader into the two Emmas, all as I wrote about in my first two posts in this current thread. So, if we the reader take Austen’s Emma at face value, and see the overt story, then the Austen who wrote that story is the undesigning, sincere presenter of objective truth most Janeites believe her to have been--- very like the sincere Harriet. But if we the reader put on our skeptical spectacles, and read against the grain, with suspicion that Austen is playing the same sort of trick she played with Mr. Elton’s charade, then Jane Austen becomes the authorial counterpart of the manipulative, designing Harriet Smith of the shadow story.

Now, I know it is shocking to even imagine Harriet Smith as a self-portrait of Jane Austen, but as I think about it, it is a very elegant bookend to the other alter ego of Jane Austen whom I have long seen in Emma, which I’ve written about many times going back a decade ---Miss Bates. A key part of what still makes me see Miss Bates as an autobiographical surrogate for Jane Austen, is that so much of the torrent of words that Miss Bates unleashes whenever she is around Emma, turns out to be meaningful, when we really listen and do not tune her out, as Emma always does.

So to me it makes perfect sense to see the scheming Harriet of the shadow story and the intelligent Miss Bates of the shadow story function as two key aspects of one protean genius of an author, Jane Austen.

And finally, this seemingly incongruous pairing of Harriet and Miss Bates also just happens to close a 30-year-old Austen scholarly circle. It was the following, oft-cited 1985 Persuasions article by Edith Lank… …that was the first to float the wild idea that Harriet Smith’s biological mother is actually Miss Bates. Lank relied in significant part on Miss Bates’s nickname being “Hetty”, which in that era could have been short for….”Harriet”, as the linchpin of her argument:

“…in 170 years’ study of [Emma], no one has ever caught the clue, mischievously left in plain sight by Jane Austen, to the identity of Harriet Smith’s mother. Perhaps modern readers miss it because they forget the conventions governing the naming of daughters in Jane Austen’s world.  The first girl was properly named for the mother; thus Jane’s older sister bore the name of Cassandra, and their cousin Jane Cooper was named for her mother, Mrs. Austen’s sister Jane Leigh.
 As Jane Austen’s novels move away from the early burlesques, we find the convention more and more strictly observed.  Miss Frances Ward becomes the mother of Fanny Price, and Miss Maria Ward’s first daughter is Maria Bertram.  Lady Elizabeth Elliot, dead before Persuasion opens, has given her own name to her oldest daughter, and Jane Bates has left Jane Fairfax.  Isabella Woodhouse’s oldest daughter is Bella, and poor Miss Taylor that was, referred to as Anne or Anna, names her infant, Anna Weston.
 Lady Susan follows the rule, for her daughter Frederica bears the middle name of Susanna.  Even an illegitimate child carries her mother’s name, witness Colonel Brandon’s lost love, his cousin Eliza Williams, whose daughter Eliza is eventually seduced and abandoned by Willoughby.”

So how marvelously fitting that this naming clue would so closely dovetail with the parallel puzzle-like structure I outlined at the start of this post. It only adds to my own certainty that none of this is coincidence, or imaginism on my own part – this is indeed the masterful handiwork of Jane Austen.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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