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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Jane Austen’s & Sir Walter Scott’s interwoven “everlasting ‘said he’s’ and ‘said she’s’ “

 A month ago, I wrote here….  ….about Jane Austen’s winking allusions to Sophia Lee’s historical novel The Recess (1783) and Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel Waverley (1814) in her novel about novels and history, Northanger Abbey (posthumous). In particular, I explored the subtle distinction between a male vs. a female perspective on the writing of histories in the late 18th & early 19th centuries, and also the blurry line between novels and histories. Today I’m back with an unexpected gloss on that earlier post, regarding the unrecognized literary dialog which I now believe, more than ever, was covertly conducted between Austen and Scott during the last five years of JA’s life.

I say “unexpected”, because this morning, during my routine periodic trawling of scholarly databases for the latest literary scholarly articles, I happened by pure serendipity upon an article from last winter with a title which ought to raise the intrigued curiosity of Janeites: “Walter Scott’s ‘everlasting said he’s and said she’s’: Dialogue, Painting, & the Status of the Novel” by Christopher J. Scalia in ELH 82/4, Winter 2015 p. 1159 et seq.

What raised my curiosity was only not the name of the article’s author (who, if you were wondering, is indeed the son of the late SCOTUS Justice Scalia, as well as an expert Scott scholar), but the quotation in the title of Scalia’s article: “everlasting said he’s and said she’s”. This quote reminded me of the following famous, oft-quoted paragraph in Jane Austen’s Jan. 29, 1813 letter to her sister about the critical reception of Pride & Prejudice by its first, Austen-family readers:       ‘There are a few Typical errors – & a “said he” or a “said she” would sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear – but “I do not write for such dull Elves” “As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves.” ‘

I’ve often written about the mock modesty of JA’s supposed acknowledgment of errors in not providing enough pronoun references for the dialog in P&P—as if she would ever have made such a rookie error! ---and, in addition thereto, three years ago I wrote the following about the Scott aspects of the above-quoted passage:    
JA alludes to Scott’s famous poem Marmion, but she materially changes and expands his original line, which went: "I do not rhyme to that dull elf, Who cannot image to himself". It’s clear why she changes “rhyme” to “write”, but why does she change Scott’s “image” to the similar-sounding, but different-meaning “ingenuity”? What does she mean by this? Judging by scholarly reaction to that sentence, a number of possible meanings could be plausibly applied to “ingenuity”—and so we must ask, why would JA be so vague, presenting a mangled line of famous poetry in an ambiguous way, instead of writing clearly and exactly what she means? I smell a rat…… ;) My reading of “ingenuity”, by the way, is that JA is herself imagining a sharp-eyed reader who is ingenious enough to figure things out not only who “he” and “she” are in various passages, but, equally important on a metafictional level, to figure out why these attributions have been left ambiguous in the first place—and to then realize that one effect of such ambiguities is that it permits the text to be plausibly read in alternative ways, i.e., where “he” might be, e.g., Darcy in one interpretation, but Bingley in another, with two completely different meanings….this last comment will take on extra meaning by the end of this post.
And JA then goes on to cryptically hint at her own intentionality in these “errors” by highlighting that her final revision involved a massive cutting of text from the last previous draft…plus, JA points out that she is fully cognizant that as a result of her cutting, there is now a much greater proportion of narrative to dialogue in the second volume than there was previously. So it’s not just quantity she has dramatically altered, it’s the fundamental nature of the words themselves, since narration is a whole different beast than dialogue….”  END QUOTE FROM MY 2013 POST

So far, so good, but what neither I nor any other literary scholar has taken note of prior to this post of mine today, was that JA’s decision---in a private letter to her sister written in January 1813, a letter that remained unpublished until seven decades later----to link a bon mot about “he said’s and she said’s” in P&P to an 1809 poem by Sir Walter Scott, must somehow, by some form of off-channel communication, have become known to Walter Scott prior to 1821 when he published The Bride of Lammermoor, the novel containing the passage which Scalia quoted from in his article title! I.e., despite the “truth universally acknowledged” by Austen scholars that Scott and Austen were never in private contact, it is now 100% clear to me that this is not a truth at all, since Scott must’ve seen what JA wrote about Marmion in her private letter written more than eight years earlier.

For other reasons entirely, which I haven’t blogged about publicly [regarding extraordinary novelistic parallels which I’ve detected as Scott and Austen in effect played a remarkable game of “Dueling Novels” between 1814 and 1816], I’ve long speculated that Scott and Austen were in direct, personal communication with each other during the last five years of her life, even though no correspondence between them is known to exist, or to have ever existed. So you can just imagine my pleasure when I happened upon Scalia’s article title, which, as I’ll explain below, provides strong written—even if circumstantial- evidence of exactly that sort of private communication between these two most influential of early 19th century English novelists.
The unlikelihood that Scott’s and Austen’s “said he’s and said she’s” is merely an extraordinary coincidence, is compounded when we take a closer look at the entire passage in Scott’s Bride in which this usage occurs. But first, Scalia’s article expertly summarizes and sets the stage for me:

In both The Bride of Lammermoor and Ivanhoe, Scott seeks to explain the craft of novelistic dialogue by comparing fiction to drama and painting. For Scott, novelistic dialogue is best considered in reference to these art forms because the former relies almost entirely on dialogue and the latter is inherently silent. His use of painting as a touchstone for fictional speech is particularly thought-provoking because he seems to contradict himself in these two passages. The introductory chapter of TBOL features a character named Dick Tinto, who argues that excessive dialogue makes novels too much like drama and that novelists should instead borrow more painterly approaches to composition. Although the chapter is generally interpreted as a straight-forward send-up of Tinto’s attempt to conflate painterly and fictional techniques, I interpret it as a deeply nuanced passage that, while certainly satirizing Tinto, clears original space for novelistic dialogue by both repeating theories that Scott had expressed elsewhere and also relying heavily on contemporary theories of painting. On the other hand, the introductory letter of Ivanhoe aligns theories of painting, and in particular Sir Joshua Reynolds’s arguments about balancing general and specific detail, with Scott’s approaches to dialogue. The barrier separating painting from fiction, constructed in TBOL, is razed in Ivanhoe. But rather than creating a problematic contradiction, this inconsistency comprises a multi-front vindication of the novel in which dialogue represents both the traditional and innovative possibilities of the form, its distance from and proximity to more ancient and critically appreciated arts.”  END QUOTE FROM SCALIA ARTICLE

Scalia goes on in his article to explain the deep nuance he sees in Scott’s treatment of the issue of dialog vs. narration in novels, and so I recommend you read it from start to finish. But for my purposes today, I merely piggyback on Scalia’s observations, which dovetail perfectly with my above-stated claim that Scott must have, sometime between 1813 and 1821, read JA’s paragraph channeling his poem Marmion. I believe Scott produced an excellent literary injoke, by writing a passage in Bride which in effect returns the favor to JA’s letter which alludes to his famous poem, a favor she of course did not live long enough to enjoy.

Here, then, is that Bride passage, in the context set up by Scalia, above. It is in Chapter 1 of Scott’s novel, and is a first person narrative by the character Pattieson, a novelist, describing the debate of the aesthetics of dialog vs. narration in novels with his painter friend Tinto, whose artistic services Pattieson has commissioned to illustrate his novel:

“...while [Tinto] thus proposed to unite his own powers with mine for the illustration of these narratives, he mixed many a dose of salutary criticism with the panegyrics which my composition was at times so fortunate as to call forth.
“Your characters,” he said, “my dear Pattieson, make too much use of the gob box; they patter too much (an elegant phraseology which Dick had learned while painting the scenes of an itinerant company of players); there is nothing in whole pages but mere chat and dialogue.”
“The ancient philosopher,” said I in reply, “was wont to say, ‘Speak, that I may know thee’; and how is it possible for an author to introduce his personae dramatis to his readers in a more interesting and effectual manner than by the dialogue in which each is represented as supporting his own appropriate character?”
“It is a false conclusion,” said Tinto; “I hate it, Peter, as I hate an unfilled can. I grant you, indeed, that speech is a faculty of some value in the intercourse of human affairs, and I will not even insist on the doctrine of that Pythagorean toper, who was of opinion that over a bottle speaking spoiled conversation. But I will not allow that a professor of the fine arts has occasion to embody the idea of his scene in language, in order to impress upon the reader its reality and its effect. On the contrary, I will be judged by most of your readers, Peter, should these tales ever become public, whether you have not given us a page of talk for every single idea which two words might have communicated, while the posture, and manner, and incident, accurately drawn, and brought out by appropriate colouring, would have preserved all that was worthy of preservation, and saved THESE EVERLASTING ‘SAID HE’S’ AND ‘SAID SHE’S,’ with which it has been your pleasure to encumber your pages.”
I replied, “That he confounded the operations of the pencil and the pen; that the serene and silent art, as painting has been called by one of our first living poets, necessarily appealed to the eye, because it had not the organs for addressing the ear; whereas poetry, or that species of composition which approached to it, lay under the necessity of doing absolutely the reverse, and addressed itself to the ear, for the purpose of exciting that interest which it could not attain through the medium of the eye.”
Dick was not a whit staggered by my argument, which he contended was founded on misrepresentation. “Description,” he said, “was to the author of a romance exactly what drawing and tinting were to a painter: words were his colours, and, if properly employed, they could not fail to place the scene which he wished to conjure up as effectually before the mind’s eye as the tablet or canvas presents it to the bodily organ. The same rules,” he contended, “applied to both, and an exuberance of dialogue, in the former case, was a verbose and laborious mode of composition which went to confound the proper art of fictitious narrative with that of the drama, a widely different species of composition, of which dialogue was the very essence, because all, excepting the language to be made use of, was presented to the eye by the dresses, and persons, and actions of the performers upon the stage. But as nothing,” said Dick, “can be more dull than a long narrative written upon the plan of a drama, so where you have approached most near to that species of composition, by indulging in prolonged scenes of mere conversation, the course of your story has become chill and constrained, and you have lost the power of arresting the attention and exciting the imagination, in which upon other occasions you may be considered as having succeeded tolerably well.”
I made my bow in requital of the compliment, which was probably thrown in by way of placebo, and expressed myself willing at least to make one trial of a more straightforward style of composition, in which my actors should do more, and say less, than in my former attempts of this kind. Dick gave me a patronising and approving nod…”  END QUOTE FROM SCOTT’S BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR

I believe you can already discern from the above passage why I claim that it makes it even less likely to be coincidental that Scott’s novel contains unusual verbiage identical to that of JA’s private letter. This is because of the other, related, remarkable parallel which permeates the above passage, i.e., that both JA’s letter and Scott’s novel refer to “he said’s and she said’s” in the context of discussion of novelistic artistry. More specifically, JA’s acknowledgment of “usual errors” is a mock, ironic critique on her manner of depicting dialog in P&P; and Dick Tinto’s fictional critique of his friend Pattieson’s writing is also a commentary on novelistic dialog—one which is moreover also ironic (as Scalia acutely noted), when we consider that the above quoted passage is….filled with dialog! This shows that Tinto the character who hates dialog in novels did not speak for his creator Scott the novelist, who gives Tinto a great deal of dialog in Scott’s novel….criticizing dialog in novels!  Wheels within ironic wheels!

And there are three other parallels between Scott and Austen which also emerge upon closer consideration:

First, as I just reread Dick Tinto’s critique while writing this post, I heard in his aesthetic judgment “But as nothing can be more dull than a long narrative written upon the plan of a drama…” what seems like a further wink at another private Austen document – JA’s famous satirical and ironic “Plan of a Novel”, her mock description of a surefire plotline for a successful novel, along the lines suggested to her in total seriousness by the clueless James Stanier Clarke, the Prince Regent’s court librarian.

Second, I also reconsidered my prior observation about how JA’s famous “lopping and cropping” of P&P while revising same in 1812, must’ve involved cutting out a lot of narration from the first half of the novel, leaving it the most extended narrative-scarce extended section in all of JA’s novels. Did Scott realize this? I think so!

As for my third and last point, I once more rely on Scalia’s article to introduce it:

“As if to underscore that theories of painting can apply to fiction—and recalling Scott’s appropriation of painterly theory in Bride-both Ivanhoe and the Quarterly Review piece adapt controversial ideas expressed by Sir Joshua Reynolds in his influential Discourses on Art, delivered to the Royal Academy between 1769 and 1790. In these lectures, Reynolds frequently instructs historical painters to avoid including minute details and to focus instead on the commonalities between ages, to prefer the general or ideal over the particular. For example, in his fourth discourse, delivered in 1771, Reynolds argues that minute detail distracts the audience from the more important elements of a painting…” END QUOTE

I wrote two years ago… … about Sir Walter Scott’s famous 1816 review of Emma in which Scott picked up on Austen’s covert allusion in Emma to Sir Joshua Reynolds’s highly sexualized painting of “Cupid as Link Boy”, as well as via the character “Mrs. REYNOLDS” in P&P. I also wrote a few months ago about the extensive, barely veiled allusion to Gilpin’s picturesque theories in P&P. So, the theme of visual art that saturates so much of P&P is exactly the sort of thematic engagement that is debated by Dick Tinto and his writing friend in Scott’s Bride.

In conclusion, then: the aggregate of all of the above, densely clustered parallels between Austen’s 1813 letter and Scott’s 1821 novel, reinforces my prior confidence that Scott and Austen were in direct communication about their respective literary productions. It frees me to imagine a series of private meetings between these two immortals of English literature, perhaps during JA’s extended stays in the anonymous privacy of London, which they mutually agreed to keep secret from the world, which would have made their game of literary cat and mouse more delicious to them both.

But then, when JA passed away so prematurely at 41 ½, Scott (who survived JA by 15 years, despite having been 4 years older) would’ve mourned the loss of his friendly literary sparring partner very strongly. And that would suggest even more poignancy in Scott’s famous journal entry in 1826:

“Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!”

To which I only add, what a pity that it took nearly two centuries to recognize the secret bond between these two such gifted creatures!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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