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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 Emmahttp://tinyurl.com/h2w9qr2  and “Not poor Harriet, but poor Emma to be the dupe of her misconceptions and Harriet’s (designed) flattery!” http://tinyurl.com/zqdyjlh, 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. “
END QUOTE FROM SHEEHAN ARTICLES

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… http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number7/lank.html …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

“Not poor Harriet, but poor Emma to be a second time the dupe of her misconceptions and Harriet’s (designed) flattery”!

As I hoped and expected, yesterday I received an excellent, thought provoking response from Andrew Shields to my post… http://tinyurl.com/h2w9qr2 …in which I took up the friendly challenge of answering Andrew’s question as to how to interpret the “to be sure” usages in Emma, and I’d like to respond to the first, and for my purposes, most important, paragraph of his response:

Andrew wrote: “You sum up your thorough and helpful reading of Harriet's early uses of "to be sure" as follows: "fawning on Emma by playing on her pride". I can see that element in her responses, but I also read her "to be sure" as a marker of her struggle with herself as she tries to understand Emma's take on Robert Martin. Harriet wants to accept his offer, after all, and is quite surprised to discover that Emma thinks she should reject it. At the same time, she wants to agree with Emma. She is "mortified" by this conflict between her two desires, and "to be sure" is the phrase that marks that conflict.”

Andrew, your excellent further development of my idea has in turn led me to a deeper understanding of Harriet Smith’s “to be sures” on even more levels, and to now see even more clearly how that phrase resonates at the deepest levels of Emma, the greatest of all novels, as I will now explain.

First, your above reading is spot-on vis a vis the naïve, impulsive, deferential Harriet Smith of the overt story – Harriet does indeed articulate, in detail, her grappling with Emma’s pontifications, trying to find a way to act on her desire to say yes to Mr. Martin, but finding Emma’s counterarguments too strong to overcome. And those repeated “too be sures” are indeed the marker and mantra of Harriet’s conflict.

It is equally clear, I suggest, that Harriet’s articulation of her ongoing struggles also prompts Emma to repeatedly press and elaborate her advice (that Emma repeatedly tries to mask, and pretend she is not really giving advice). This process makes Emma feel like Perry Mason: a clever expert—in her own mind---in the study of human character. Emma is pushed to work harder to achieve the result of convincing Harriet to make the “right” choice, without Emma having had to be explicit in her directives. A job well done, is clearly how Emma feels about her own campaign of subtle persuasion, precisely because she had to work so hard to achieve her goal, it did not come easy. That which must be fought for is all the more satisfying.

But, as you may have already guessed where I was going with that last paragraph, Andrew, your reading is also spot-on vis a vis the worldly wise, calculating, faux-deferential Harriet Smith I see in the shadow story! I.e., Harriet’s seeming to put up a struggle, and seeming to keep struggling over and over again in different ways, all makes for far more satisfying flattery of Emma’s bloated vanity than a few simple “Yes, Miss Woodhouse” replies could ever have produced---and Harriet knows it! Emma’s excessive pride is stroked by every twist and turn in Harriet’s apparent struggle. If you don’t believe me, just ask Mr. Knightley, who puts it (or should I better say, predicts it) to a tee one chapter laterr, in Chapter 5, as he confidentially vents his spleen to Mrs. Weston:

“But Harriet Smith—I have not half done about Harriet Smith. I think her the very worst sort of companion that Emma could possibly have. She knows nothing herself, and looks upon Emma as knowing every thing. She is a flatterer in all her ways; and so much the worse, because undesigned. Her ignorance is hourly flattery. How can Emma imagine she has any thing to learn herself, while Harriet is presenting such a delightful inferiority?”

By the way, I was just kidding about Knightley as prophet. That Knightley can so accurately describe the effect of Harriet’s slavish orientation toward Emma in the previous Chapter 4, in a tete-a-tete at which he was not present, is actually telling evidence that Harriet has not just started flattering Emma in this way at that moment. No, she must have started doing it, both in and out of Knightley’s presence, from the first minute Harriet showed up at Hartfield! Indeed, besides her alluringly plump blond beauty, perhaps the most essential part of what makes Harriet’s company so attractive and necessary to Emma is precisely that Harriet is such a continual flatterer in so many ways.

So, as I said, the threshold question, for purposes of interpreting these scenes, is whether Harriet’s flattery via “delightful inferiority” is, as Knightley refers to it, “undersigned” –that is the Harriet of the overt story---or designed, in which alternative reading of the novel it is Emma who is from start to finish Harriet’s “delightful inferior”---or, to be more specific, it is Emma who is a foolish narcissist who is easily led around by the nose via Harriet’s flattery!

I’m reminded very strongly of that episode in the original Star Trek TV series, the one when Kirk, McCoy and other members of the Enterprise crew beam down on a planet where their deepest desires and fantastical wishes are satisfyingly gratified (and by the way, wow, is it an eye-opener to see the crude blatant sexism that permeates this 1969 episode---how far we’ve come in 47 years!):
Just as the advanced race that created the “amusement park” that so dazzles Kirk, McCoy et al, have the power to provide satisfying wish fulfilment experiences---perhaps most perfectly symbolized by Kirk’s getting the chance to brawl with, and after a mighty struggle vanquish, the classmate at the Starfleet Academy who tormented him in his youth, so too does the scheming Harriet of the shadow story provide a satisfying but completely ersatz “victory” experience to Emma---who is so clueless she never realizes how she has been so easily manipulated—or, to put it more accurately, how she has been Satanically tricked by Harriet into fooling herself!

The above extended peek behind the curtain at Harriet the Wizard of Highbury, and how she performs her magic on Emma in Chapter 4 is (I only realized while writing this post) symbolized and heightened by the satisfying flattery of Emma’s ego in the very next chapter, Chapter 9, in which Emma (seems to) solve Mr. Elton’s charade by finding what Emma blithely assumes to be its only answer, “courtship”.

As Colleen Sheehan brilliantly showed in her 2007 article here…   http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol27no1/sheehan2.htm  ….Harriet’s “wrong” guesses about the superficially correct answer to Mr. Elton’s charade turn out to be 100% spot-on vis a vis the covertly correct second answer to the charade, “the Prince of Whales”. Sheehan brilliantly elaborates: 

“…Emma quickly and confidently dismisses Harriet Smith’s guesses to the charade and readily offers the solution:  court and ship, or courtship. While this is a perfectly credible solution to the riddle, I do not think it is the only one.  Harriet’s more literal guesses to the charade include kingdomNeptunetrident, mermaid, and shark.  If unlike Emma we are not so quick to reject the more literal approach to solving the charade, then “Lords of the earth” could be princes or, in the singular, prince. (Since in later lines “Lords” becomes “Lord,” we are encouraged to change plurals to singulars, and vice versa.) And the “monarch of the seas” is certainly whale or, in the plural, whales. United?  Well, you have it:  Prince [of] Whales! On 15 March 1812 a satirical poem about the Prince was published in the Examiner, the English periodical edited by James Henry Leigh Hunt and his brother John Hunt.  The poem was entitled “THE TRIUMPH OF THE WHALE,” replete with kings, sharks, mermaids, and a Regent to boot…”
END QUOTE FROM SHEEHAN

But the ultimate triumph of Jane Austen’s genius in her subtle depiction of Harriet’s ambiguous undesigned/designed flattery of Emma is, I suggest, the following passage in Chapter 47 (only a few paragraphs before Harriet springs her trap on Emma and reveals, with her utterly unflattering “to be sure”, that she has her sights on Mr. Knightley, to Emma’s utter horror):

"Harriet, poor Harriet!"—Those were the words; in them lay the tormenting ideas which Emma could not get rid of, and which constituted the real misery of the business to her. Frank Churchill had behaved very ill by herself—very ill in many ways,—but it was not so much his behaviour as her own, which made her so angry with him. It was the scrape which he had drawn her into on Harriet's account, that gave the deepest hue to his offence.—Poor Harriet! to be a second time the dupe of her misconceptions and flattery. Mr. Knightley had spoken prophetically, when he once said, "Emma, you have been no friend to Harriet Smith."—She was afraid she had done her nothing but disservice.—It was true that she had not to charge herself, in this instance as in the former, with being the sole and original author of the mischief; with having suggested such feelings as might otherwise never have entered Harriet's imagination; for Harriet had acknowledged her admiration and preference of Frank Churchill before she had ever given her a hint on the subject; but she felt completely guilty of having encouraged what she might have repressed. She might have prevented the indulgence and increase of such sentiments. Her influence would have been enough. And now she was very conscious that she ought to have prevented them.—She felt that she had been risking her friend's happiness on most insufficient grounds. Common sense would have directed her to tell Harriet, that she must not allow herself to think of him, and that there were five hundred chances to one against his ever caring for her.—"But, with common sense," she added, "I am afraid I have had little to do."
END QUOTE FROM EMMA

Could Knightley have read Emma’s mind at the moment she thought “Poor Harriet! to be a second time the dupe of her misconceptions and flattery”, he might’ve wittily responded (as he did back in Chapter 1 when Mr. Woodhouse pitied “poor Miss Taylor”), “Not poor Harriet, but poor Emma to be a second time the dupe of her misconceptions and Harriet’s flattery”!

I.e., everything Emma cluelessly and mistakenly thinks at this moment, in that fleeting intervals when Emma believes that Harriet will be crushed by the shocking news that Frank Churchill is not free to marry Harriet, is clearly designed by Jane Austen to actually be applicable to Emma, when Harriet drops her shattering courtship bombshell on Emma minutes later.   

I suggest to you that there is no more elegant, decisive, brilliant, and mind-blowing example than the above, of Jane Austen’s mastery of anamorphism by the time she was writing Emma at the height of her powers—the creation of a double story that works with equal, extraordinary power in two completely different interpretations of the same novel.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

No one SO proper, SO capable as….Hillary! A strange business in America, indeed!

The lines from President Obama’s remarkable speech tonight at the Democratic National Convention that I suspect, and hope, will be most often repeated, retweeted, and shared during the coming weeks and months, as the American electorate lurches toward its November appointment with destiny, choosing between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, is the following rousing climactic passage:

“And there is only one candidate in this race who believes in that future, and has devoted her life to it; a mother and grandmother who'd do anything to help our children thrive; a leader with real plans to break down barriers, blast through glass ceilings, and widen the circle of opportunity to every single American, the next president of the United States, Hillary Clinton.
That's the Hillary I know. That's the Hillary I've come to admire. And that's why I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman — not me, not Bill, nobody — more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America.”

As I floated along at that moment, deeply moved, on the magic carpet of the President’s tastefully eloquent, persuasive rhetoric, I realized that we were all witnessing the precise karmic instant at which the decade-long, complicated, seesaw history between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton finally came to a soft landing. More than eight years ago, of course, Obama narrowly bested Clinton in a long, bruising primary race, followed thereafter by Hillary’s extraordinarily gracious concession, her supporting Obama in his first victorious race to the White House, and his appointing her as his secretary of state for his first term.

During the current campaign, the President cautiously held back from endorsing Hillary over Bernie until the result of their bruising primary battle had itself become a foregone mathematical conclusion, but this time with Hillary on the other side of the seesaw this time, just far enough ahead to win. And now, finally, tonight, this powerful moment of full reconciliation and positive payback of a debt, and healing of all old wounds.

As I watched the President finish his speech, and then Hillary appeared at the side of the stage, and then they embraced warmly and held onto each other, I could not help but notice the remarkable (albeit entirely coincidental) parallels between this heartwarming climax of a real life political drama played out between a remarkable man and equally remarkable woman, and a fictional tale about a different sort of  second chances, this one in love instead of politics, played out over a similar time span between a fictional male-female pair whose characters have also held millions spellbound.

Rather than give you an explanation, I will just let the creator of that fictional pair tell you in her own words, and I am sure you will be more than capable of discerning and enjoying the richness of the parallels:

“Eight years, almost eight years had passed, since all had been given up. How absurd to be resuming the agitation which such an interval had banished into distance and indistinctness! What might not eight years do? Events of every description, changes, alienations, removals--all, all must be comprised in it, and oblivion of the past-- how natural, how certain too!” 

"Then it is settled, Musgrove," cried Captain Wentworth, "that you stay, and that I take care of your sister home. But as to the rest, as to the others, if one stays to assist Mrs Harville, I think it need be only one. Mrs Charles Musgrove will, of course, wish to get back to her children; but if Anne will stay, no one so proper, so capable as Anne."
She paused a moment to recover from the emotion of hearing herself so spoken of. The other two warmly agreed with what he said, and she then appeared.
"You will stay, I am sure; you will stay and nurse her;" cried he, turning to her and speaking with a glow, and yet a gentleness, which seemed almost restoring the past. She coloured deeply, and he recollected himself and moved away. She expressed herself most willing, ready, happy to remain. "It was what she had been thinking of, and wishing to be allowed to do. A bed on the floor in Louisa's room would be sufficient for her, if Mrs Harville would but think so."

‘I am not yet so much changed,’ cried Anne and stopped, fearing she hardly knew what misconstruction. After waiting a few moments he said, and as if it were the result of immediate feeling, "It is a period, indeed! Eight years and a half is a period."

It is a period, indeed! How wonderful to think about these parallels, and to know that the deep love of country that unites Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is a true one that has healed wounds first suffered eight years ago; and that we, the American people, will be the beneficiaries of that love in November, when we elect the first American female president, an event that I am pretty darned sure would have brought a smile to Jane Austen’s face, even as she might also have added with a twinkle in her eye:

"A strange business this in America….but very pleasing, to be sure!”

Before I close, I cannot resist adding this final quotation from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, a description of the “not altogether completely agreeable” John Thorpe, which tells us, as if we didn’t already know, that there were men walking around in England two centuries ago who were uncannily similar in character, judgment, and temperament, to a certain candidate for President in 2016 who does not need to be named (although he makes sure his name is always on everyone’s lips nonetheless):

“…all the rest of his conversation, or rather talk, began and ended with himself and his own concerns. He told her of horses which he had bought for a trifle and sold for incredible sums; of racing matches, in which his judgment had infallibly foretold the winner; of shooting parties, in which he had killed more birds (though without having one good shot) than all his companions together; and described to her some famous day's sport, with the fox-hounds, in which his foresight and skill in directing the dogs had repaired the mistakes of the most experienced huntsman, and in which the boldness of his riding, though it had never endangered his own life for a moment, had been constantly leading others into difficulties, which he calmly concluded had broken the necks of many.
Little as Catherine was in the habit of judging for herself, and unfixed as were her general notions of what men ought to be, she could not entirely repress a doubt, while she bore with the effusions of his endless conceit, of his being altogether completely agreeable….”

I mean, really! Could anyone give a more telling textbook definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder than that? The only thing she left out was the size of John Thorpe’s hands!  ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Harriet Smith’s a riddle, TO BE SURE, in Jane Austen’s Emma

I recently had the pleasure to make the online acquaintance of a sharp literary elf from across the Big Pond, Andrew Shields, who blogs at http://andrewjshields.blogspot.com:

I call Andrew a sharp elf, because he is sensitive to ambiguity in literature, and asks the right sort of questions when he encounters it. For example, in his 04/11/16 post, he wrote the following:

“The idea of “reading something into” a poem came up in a discussion just now. I was supposedly “reading something into” a poem; hence my reading of the poem was implied to be wrong. Whether or not I was doing so, I’m curious if anyone knows of any essays/research that address the issue of “reading into”. It seems like several issues are involved:
“Reading” the poem is distinguished from “reading into” the poem.
“Reading” the poem is *distinguishable* from “reading into” the poem.
The claim that someone is “reading something into” the poem, that something is being “read into” it, is used to call the validity of that reading into question.
The person making that claim is rhetorically staking out a position of being a better “reader” of the poem: “I am not ‘reading into’ the poem; you are. And my reading is thus better…” END QUOTE

Of course, Andrew’s question reminded me of how many times people have suggested to me that I read too much into Jane Austen’s words – and that indeed is the $64,000 question in close reading – how does each reader decide what sort of meaning it is valid to extract from a given text by a given author, and where’s the line that separates the valid reading from reading “too much” and going beyond the author’s intention? My experience on the ground has consistently been that writers like Austen and Shakespeare did leave much under the surface to be excavated by their readers.

So, Andrew and I are kindred spirits in our approach to literature—plus he has the very good taste of being a Janeite! Which brings me to the point---a great example of Andrew’s sharp intuition about Jane Austen can be found in his 03/26/14 post, which begins as follows: “[T]here are many…appearances of "TO BE SURE" in Austen's Emma. I really wonder about how to interpret this expression. It's quite slippery. Suggestions?“   Andrew then gave seven examples from the text of Emma – three spoken by Harriet, one spoken by Miss Bates, and three spoken/thought by Emma. Immediately upon reading Andrew’s question, my gut told me that Andrew had identified a phrase which needed to be added to my lexicon of the Jane Austen Code—but what did it mean in Emma

There are, notably, a total of 25 such usages in Emma. Miss Bates, Mrs. Cole, and Mr. Weston each use it once, Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Bates each use it 3 times, but I realized that it was likely significant that Emma and Harriet each use it a total of eight times! And so it seemed to me that Andrew’s sharp intuition had similarly led him to mostly choose 6 of his 7 examples from those spoken by Emma or Harriet.

After collecting all 25 and reading them as a group, applying the principles of the Jane Austen Code I’ve mapped over the past dozen years, I just figured out the answer to Andrew’s excellent question. It is indeed connected to that skewed distribution of usages among her characters in Emma. And, as I will now explain, it is very significant, catching Jane Austen in another of her myriad acts of subliminal greatness.

Emma uses the phrase “To be sure” routinely, both in her speech to others, and also in unspoken thoughts. In five cases, she uses or thinks it unironically, but the three exceptions to that general rule, all spoken to Mr. Knightley, are of special interest:

Chapter 8:  "Come," said [Emma], "I will tell you something, in return for what you have told me. He did speak yesterday—that is, he wrote, and was refused."
This was obliged to be repeated before it could be believed; and Mr. Knightley actually looked red with surprize and displeasure, as he stood up, in tall indignation, and said,"Then she is a greater simpleton than I ever believed her. What is the foolish girl about?"
"Oh! TO BE SURE," cried Emma, "it is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for any body who asks her."
"Nonsense! a man does not imagine any such thing. But what is the meaning of this? Harriet Smith refuse Robert Martin? madness, if it is so; but I hope you are mistaken."
"I saw her answer!—nothing could be clearer."
…"Upon my word, Emma, to hear you abusing the reason you have, is almost enough to make me think so too. Better be without sense, than misapply it as you do."
"TO BE SURE!" cried she playfully. "I know that is the feeling of you all. I know that such a girl as Harriet is exactly what every man delights in—what at once bewitches his senses and satisfies his judgment. Oh! Harriet may pick and chuse. Were you, yourself, ever to marry, she is the very woman for you. And is she, at seventeen, just entering into life, just beginning to be known, to be wondered at because she does not accept the first offer she receives? No—pray let her have time to look about her."

Chapter 12:
"What a comfort it is, that we think alike about our nephews and nieces. As to men and women, our opinions are sometimes very different; but with regard to these children, I observe we never disagree."
"If you were as much guided by nature in your estimate of men and women, and as little under the power of fancy and whim in your dealings with them, as you are where these children are concerned, we might always think alike."
"TO BE SURE—our discordancies must always arise from my being in the wrong."
"Yes," said he, smiling—"and reason good. I was sixteen years old when you were born."

As you can see, Emma, saucy with self-confidence despite being 16 years younger, doesn’t defer, but is repeatedly playful, as she teases him for his claim to wisdom in regard to the Harriet Smith-Robert Martin relationship. And she emphasizes her satire by using that particular phrase “to be sure” ironically---she makes it clear that Knightley’s alleged superior wisdom is not assured in her mind!

The next important point is that all of Emma’s 8 usages of “to be sure”, whether ironic or serious, are in distinct contrast to the first 6 usages of “to be sure” by Harriet. In every one of those six, Harriet uses it the exact same way that Horatio repeatedly says “Yes, my lord” to Hamlet –i.e., as a clear signal of obedient, humble deference to the wisdom of someone (Emma) of far greater status and intelligence.

To hammer that subliminal point home, Jane Austen gives us a rapid-fire series of five such usages (not just the two of them that Andrew quoted) in one single, long conversation (actually, it’s more a lecture by Emma, punctuated by Harriet’s obedient agreements) in Chapter 4, all on the topic of the unsuitability (or should I say, “un-suitor-ability”?) of Robert Martin as a husband for Harriet:

"That may be, and I may have seen him fifty times, but without having any idea of his name. A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do. A degree or two lower, and a creditable appearance might interest me; I might hope to be useful to their families in some way or other. But a farmer can need none of my help, and is, therefore, in one sense, as much above my notice as in every other he is below it."
"TO BE SURE. OH YES! It is not likely you should ever have observed him; but he knows you very well indeed—I mean by sight."
…"Well, and that is as early as most men can afford to marry, who are not born to an independence. Mr. Martin, I imagine, has his fortune entirely to make—cannot be at all beforehand with the world. Whatever money he might come into when his father died, whatever his share of the family property, it is, I dare say, all afloat, all employed in his stock, and so forth; and though, with diligence and good luck, he may be rich in time, it is next to impossible that he should have realised any thing yet."
"TO BE SURE, SO IT IS. But they live very comfortably. They have no indoors man, else they do not want for any thing; and Mrs. Martin talks of taking a boy another year."
"I wish you may not get into a scrape, Harriet, whenever he does marry;—I mean, as to being acquainted with his wife—for though his sisters, from a superior education, are not to be altogether objected to, it does not follow that he might marry any body at all fit for you to notice. The misfortune of your birth ought to make you particularly careful as to your associates. There can be no doubt of your being a gentleman's daughter, and you must support your claim to that station by every thing within your own power, or there will be plenty of people who would take pleasure in degrading you."
"YES, TO BE SURE, I SUPPOSE THERE ARE. But while I visit at Hartfield, and you are so kind to me, Miss Woodhouse, I am not afraid of what any body can do."
"You understand the force of influence pretty well, Harriet; but I would have you so firmly established in good society, as to be independent even of Hartfield and Miss Woodhouse. I want to see you permanently well connected, and to that end it will be advisable to have as few odd acquaintance as may be; and, therefore, I say that if you should still be in this country when Mr. Martin marries, I wish you may not be drawn in by your intimacy with the sisters, to be acquainted with the wife, who will probably be some mere farmer's daughter, without education."
"TO BE SURE. YES. Not that I think Mr. Martin would ever marry any body but what had had some education—and been very well brought up. However, I do not mean to set up my opinion against yours—and I am sure I shall not wish for the acquaintance of his wife. I shall always have a great regard for the Miss Martins, especially Elizabeth, and should be very sorry to give them up, for they are quite as well educated as me. But if he marries a very ignorant, vulgar woman, certainly I had better not visit her, if I can help it."
Emma watched her through the fluctuations of this speech, and saw no alarming symptoms of love. The young man had been the first admirer, but she trusted there was no other hold, and that there would be no serious difficulty, on Harriet's side, to oppose any friendly arrangement of her own.
They met Mr. Martin the very next day, as they were walking on the Donwell road…..
…"He is very plain, undoubtedly—remarkably plain:—but that is nothing compared with his entire want of gentility. I had no right to expect much, and I did not expect much; but I had no idea that he could be so very clownish, so totally without air. I had imagined him, I confess, a degree or two nearer gentility."
"TO BE SURE," said Harriet, IN A MORTIFIED VOICE, "he is not so genteel as real gentlemen."
"I think, Harriet, since your acquaintance with us, you have been repeatedly in the company of some such very real gentlemen, that you must yourself be struck with the difference in Mr. Martin. At Hartfield, you have had very good specimens of well educated, well bred men. I should be surprized if, after seeing them, you could be in company with Mr. Martin again without perceiving him to be a very inferior creature—and rather wondering at yourself for having ever thought him at all agreeable before. Do not you begin to feel that now? Were not you struck? I am sure you must have been struck by his awkward look and abrupt manner, and the uncouthness of a voice which I heard to be wholly unmodulated as I stood here."
"CERTAINLY, he is not like Mr. Knightley. He has not such a fine air and way of walking as Mr. Knightley. I see the difference plain enough. But Mr. Knightley is so very fine a man!"

And then, for good measure, Jane Austen adds a sixth, in exactly the same vein, soon after in Chapter 7:

Harriet had not surmised her own danger, but the idea of it struck her forcibly.
"You could not have visited me!" she cried, looking aghast. "NO, TO BE SURE YOU COULD NOT; but I never thought of that before. That would have been too dreadful!—What an escape!—Dear Miss Woodhouse, I would not give up the pleasure and honour of being intimate with you for any thing in the world."
"Indeed, Harriet, it would have been a severe pang to lose you; but it must have been. You would have thrown yourself out of all good society. I must have given you up." 

So, we can infer from these six usages that Harriet demonstrates her obedience to Emma not only by agreeing frequently with the substance of Emma’s opinions (about Harriet’s love life!), but by using one of Emma’s pet expressions, “to be sure”, as the very words by which Harriet agrees –which doubles the impact of Harriet’s deference. Emma’s insouciant usages with Knightley are therefore the opposite of Harriet’s usages thereof with Emma, which are all unambiguously deferential………

…or are they??? Forgive me, but I was not sincere with you in the immediately preceding paragraph, in order to make my main point. Those who follow my posts about Jane Austen, and Emma in particular, know that I have long identified Harriet Smith as a completely ambiguous character, in the following sense:

In the overt story of Emma, Harriet is----to be sure-----the obsequious, naïve, foolish, impulsive teenager  that readers of Emma see when they read the novel text with the grain, taking Harriet at face value.

However, in the shadow story, Harriet is the opposite – a clever, worldly-wise, calculating young woman  (very much like Fielding’s Shamela) who is determined to even the courtship playing field that is so heavily tilted against her by a hypocritical, unjust, sexist, classist society, by using (as Jane Austen put it in a letter to her dear friend Ann Sharpe) the power of the strong mind over the weak.

And in this instance, shocking as it may sound to many Janeite ears, the weak minded individual in this equation is Emma! I.e., it is Emma, whom the shadow Harriet plays like a drum, by sucking up to Emma, playing on Emma’s narcissism with faux deference, all in order to get close to Harriet’s true goal, which from Day One of the action of the novel has been……marriage to Knightley!

So, while I’ve long believed there are these two Harriets, today Andrew’s brilliant intuition gave me yet another piece of textual evidence to support my alternative subversive reading of Harriet against the grain. And I’ve saved the “cream” of this implicit textual riddle (borrowing Emma’s phraseology from the charade scene in Chapter 9) for last. It is not delivered to the reader aware of JA’s authorial game, until near the end of the novel, in Chapter 47, when Harriet delivers a massive, totally unexpected shock to Emma:

“Harriet, who was standing at some distance, and with face turned from her, did not immediately say any thing; and when she did speak, it was in a voice nearly as agitated as Emma's.
"I should not have thought it possible," she began, "that you could have misunderstood me! I know we agreed never to name him—but considering how infinitely superior he is to every body else, I should not have thought it possible that I could be supposed to mean any other person. Mr. Frank Churchill, indeed! I do not know who would ever look at him in the company of the other. I hope I have a better taste than to think of Mr. Frank Churchill, who is like nobody by his side. And that you should have been so mistaken, is amazing!—I am sure, but for believing that you entirely approved and meant to encourage me in my attachment, I should have considered it at first too great a presumption almost, to dare to think of him. At first, if you had not told me that more wonderful things had happened; that there had been matches of greater disparity (those were your very words);—I should not have dared to give way to—I should not have thought it possible—But if you, who had been always acquainted with him—"
"Harriet!" cried Emma, collecting herself resolutely—"Let us understand each other now, without the possibility of farther mistake. Are you speaking of—Mr. Knightley?"
"TO BE SURE I AM. I never could have an idea of any body else—and so I thought you knew. When we talked about him, it was as clear as possible." “

Note that when Emma asks, in horror, whether Harriet is attached to Mr. Knightley, Harriet delivers the final blow to Emma’s pride using that very same phrase, “to be sure”, which, 40 chapters earlier, she had used while fawning on Emma by playing on her pride—now that’s poetic justice! Harriet has taken off her mask, and the same words once spoken deferentially are now uttered with cool self-assurance.

This is deliberate, Harriet’s little bit of revenge on Emma, releasing anger she must have been stifling for 40 chapters, finally believing that pretense is no longer necessary. That Emma winds up with Knightley anyway suggests that the joke was on Harriet after all, but the topic of how that final reversal of fortune comes about in the shadow story is a subject for another day. For today, I am just grateful to Andrew Shields for his good question prompting me to reach this further understanding of the enigma known as Harriet Smith.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Monday, July 25, 2016

“He…had the greatest knack for finding names”: UNDINE SPRAGG‘s breathtaking undertext

For a century, the deeper meaning of the heroine’s strange name “Undine Spragg” has intrigued readers of Edith Wharton’s 1913 late masterpiece The Custom of the Country (as to which, by the way, the first and eagerly anticipated film adaptation, to star Scarlett Johansson, has been in development since late 2014). That curiosity was surely first sparked by the following salient and suggestive passage early (in Chapter 6) in Custom, in which Undine’s mother explains the origin of her daughter’s odd name:  

Mrs. Spragg, once reconciled-or at least resigned-to the mysterious necessity of having to "entertain" a friend of Undine's, had yielded to the first touch on the weak springs of her garrulity. She had not seen Mrs. Heeny for two days, and this friendly young man with the gentle manner was almost as easy to talk to as the masseuse. And then she could tell him things that Mrs. Heeny already knew, and Mrs. Spragg liked to repeat her stories. To do so gave her almost her sole sense of permanence among the shifting scenes of life. So that, after she had lengthily deplored the untoward accident of Undine's absence, and her visitor, with a smile, and echoes of divers et ondoyant in his brain, had repeated her daughter's name after her, saying: "It's a wonderful find—how could you tell it would be such a fit?"-it came to her quite easily to answer: "Why, we called her after a hair-waver father put on the market the week she was born—" and then to explain, as he remained struck and silent: "It's from UNdoolay, you know, the French for crimping; father always thought the name made it take. He was quite a scholar, and had the greatest knack for finding names. I remember the time he invented his Goliath Glue he sat up all night over the Bible to get the name…“

As an prelude to my own explanation of Wharton’s choice of the name “Undine Spragg”, which I’ve hinted at in my Subject Line, and which I’ll reveal, below, here are three insightful explanations of Wharton’s choice, which collectively pick up on several of Wharton’s subtle literary hints:

“An Undine by Any Other Name?” by Kevin Nelson
“According to the Wikipedia entry on The Custom of the Country, some have called Undine Spragg’s name “the worst character name [ever] conceived...It’s an ugly, dreadful name. But that doesn’t subtract from its consummate perfection. Undine’s parents, however, aren’t likely to agree with me. [The above ‘greatest knack’ quotation] This is a stroke of genius by Wharton. The name Undine, then, stands as much for a product with a market value as it does the elegant curl or wave that a fashion-conscious social diva might impart to her hair. Not to mention a preoccupation for all things French.
Now interestingly, Undine’s second husband, Ralph Marvell, a shy, reserved, and intelligent man with a deeply poetic cast of mind, sees something slightly different than the Spragg’s in Undine’s name. He and his wife are on their honeymoon in Italy, and the fact that they’re a terrific mismatch hasn’t occurred to Ralph yet:
“He spoke in the bantering tone which had become the habitual expression of his tenderness; but his eyes softened as they absorbed in a last glance the glimmering submarine light of the ancient grove, through which Undine’s figure wavered nereid-like above him. “You never looked your name more than you do now,” he said, kneeling at her side and putting his arm about her. She smiled back a little vaguely, as if not seizing his allusion, and being content to let it drop into the store of unexplained references which had once stimulated her curiosity but now merely gave her leisure to think of other things.”
In Greek legend, a nereid is a sea nymph, and even more pertinently in European mythology, an ondine (or undine) is a water spirit that becomes ensouled through marriage and child birth. So we have the wavering insubstantiality of a beautiful nereid who has so little depth that she’s not even shallow, as Nietzsche might say. And we have Undine’s quest to become something significant and worthwhile through serial monogamist marriages. Undine Spragg may be an ugly guttural choke of a name. But it’s perfectly conceived.” END QUOTE FROM NELSON

“Review of Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country”  9/26/12 by blogger Katherine ___
“…I was intrigued by the author's choice of the name Undine for her protagonist. An undine is a water spirit, said to gain a soul by marrying and having a child. So you might easily see the connection between the mythological creature and Undine Spragg and the hope that Wharton might have had for her main character as she created her. There's also the German folktale of Ondine, in which a woman curses her unfaithful husband to cease breathing. Shoe-on-the-other-foot syndrome, maybe? You get the sense that Edith Wharton was not only fascinated with the monster she created, but repelled by her actions at the same time. As such, the reader doesn’t quite know whether to dislike Undine or laugh at her, because half the time her antics are really quite ridiculous. At the end of the day, though, the reader has to wonder: what’s all of this social striving for? To what end? That’s why this novel is sometimes tinged with a hint of sadness.”  END QUOTE FROM KATHERINE

The greatest knack for finding names”  by Sarah Emsley  7/18/13
“In a wonderful conversation between Undine Spragg’s future husband Ralph Marvell and her mother, Mrs. Spragg, Ralph learns the source of Undine’s beautiful first name. He has been thinking of her as a water-spirit, hearing “echoes of divers et ondoyant in his brain” (the quotation is from Montaigne’s
Essays, and in the 19th Century the story of Undine the water-spirit was retold in a book by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, and later in two operas, with music by E.T.A. Hoffman & Albert Lortzing). But when he says the name is “‘a wonderful find’” and asks, “‘how could you tell it would be such a fit?’” Mrs. Spragg disappoints him with her explanation: “‘Why, we called her after a hair-waver father put on the market the week she was born.’” Undine is named for a product, a brand. Ralph is “struck and silent.” No literary reference is intended, though Mrs. Spragg claims her husband is “‘quite a scholar’”—the name is “‘from undoolay, you know, the French for crimping,’” she adds.
What Mrs. Spragg says of her husband is true of Edith Wharton as well: both have “‘the greatest knack for finding names.’” I love the name Wharton chose for the heroine of this novel: “Undine Spragg” is such a great combination of beautiful and harsh sounds (much like “Lily Bart” in The House of Mirth). It’s no coincidence that her initials, U.S., also stand for “United States.” Neither is it a coincidence that she’s from a place called Apex, which makes her “U.S. of A.”…For further reading: Undine, or, the Water Spirit; and Sintram and his Companions, by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, trans. Thomas Tracy (1855). (There are also excerpts from Undine, or, the Water Spirit in the appendices in my Broadview edition of The Custom of the Country).”  END QUOTE FROM EMSLEY

I was led to retrieve from the Internet the above three explanations by my realization yesterday, while delving into Wharton’s Custom for another reason entirely, that there was something very suspicious in that peculiar name “Undine Spragg”, something smacking of a word code. I’m particularly sensitive to coded wordplay in character names, because of over a decade of experience decoding Jane Austen’s and Shakespeare’s shadow stories.

In 2005 I recognized that LUCY FERRARS--being Lucy Steele’s married name which comes into being when she marries Robert Ferrars at the very end of Austen’s Sense & Sensibility --- was Austen’s coded reference to the LUCIFEResque aspects of Lucy’s character, in particular Lucy’s Satanic ability to manipulate others into unwittingly doing her bidding – in S&S, to allow Lucy to become the de facto power behind the throne in the wealthy Ferrars family. I’ve also blogged numerous times about the anagram-acrostics that Shakespeare scattered everywhere throughout his plays, including perhaps most notably the disturbing perfect “SATAN” acrostic in Friar Laurence’s speech to Juliet about the safety of her drinking the sleeping potion.

So, my approach to decoding the meaning of “Undine Spragg” was to suspect Wharton of the same kind of anagrammatical wordplay that I already knew was part and parcel of the subtext of both Shakespeare and Jane Austen. It took me less than two minutes to come up with a working hypothesis of the two-word phrase which Wharton expected her knowing readers to figure out, and then an enjoyable day of additional research, in order to make sense of Wharton’s meaning in that two-word code, which turned out to be spot-on, in ways I had no idea about before I found it, as I will explain below.

If you’re not anagrammatically inclined, the following is the link to the online anagram generator into which I fed “undinespragg”. Can you scroll through the “hits” and find the two-word phrase that caught my eye? I’ll give my answer a little further down: http://wordsmith.org/anagram/anagram.cgi?anagram=UndineSpragg&t=1000&a=n

(scroll down)


(scroll down)


(scroll down)


My answer is:    GASPING UNDER

Finding that answer was when my real literary-sleuthing fun began, as it took me an enjoyable two hours of browsing in the online text of The Custom of the Country directed by strategic word searching, in order to verify that this was actually the two-word phrase which Edith Wharton was winking at so strongly –and indeed, Edith Wharton, speaking ventriloquistically through her fictional puppet Mrs. Spragg, had a very great knack for finding a name that would go to the heart of the deepest themes of The Custom of the Country.

First I suggest to you that, in furtherance of Sarah Emsley’s wonderful 2012 article about the influence of Jane Austen’s fiction on Edith Wharton, [Persuasions Online #33/1 “Nothing against her, but her husband & her Conscience: JA’s Lady Susan in Edith Wharton’s Old New York” ] that Wharton, in Mrs. Spragg’s claim of her husband’s “knack”, also intended to produce a distinct echo of the following, equally winking speech in Mansfield Park:

“To good reading, however, she had been long used: her uncle read well, her cousins all, Edmund very well, but in Mr. Crawford’s reading there was a variety of excellence beyond what she had ever met with. The King, the Queen, Buckingham, Wolsey, Cromwell, all were given in turn; for WITH THE HAPPIEST KNACK, the happiest power of jumping and guessing, he could always alight at will on THE BEST SCENE, or THE BEST SPEECHES of each; and whether it were dignity, or pride, or tenderness, or remorse, or whatever were to be expressed, he could do it with equal beauty. It was truly dramatic. His acting had first taught Fanny what pleasure a play might give, and his reading brought all his acting before her again; nay, perhaps with greater enjoyment, for it came unexpectedly, and with no such drawback as she had been used to suffer in seeing him on the stage with Miss Bertram….”

I’ve believed for some time that the reference to Henry Crawford’s “happiest knack” in the above passage is a giant wink by Jane Austen that points to a much deeper and broader allusion to Shakespeare’s late history, Henry VIII, not only in Mansfield Park, but also in Austen’s preceding novel, Pride & Prejudice. And similarly, I now claim that Wharton had exactly the same covert authorial agenda.

So I was encouraged to take an even deeper dive into the literary subtext of Custom than the above-quoted Wharton scholars had previously attempted. I started from Emsley’s observations (“the quotation is from Montaigne’s Essays, and in the 19th Century the story of Undine the water-spirit was retold in a book by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, and later in two operas, with music by E.T.A. Hoffman & Albert Lortzing”) and also this one by Katherine ___ (“There's also the German folktale of Ondine, in which a woman curses her unfaithful husband to cease breathing”), and look where it quickly took me.

The full quotation from Montaigne, Essays, Book 1, pointed to by Mrs. Spragg’s “visitor, with a smile, and echoes of divers et ondoyant” is as follows:   
“Truly man is a marvellously vain, diverse, and undulating object. It is hard to found any constant and uniform judgement on him.
So, it seems, Mrs. Spragg’s learned, smiling young visitor understood that Undine Spragg’s name marks her as a quintessential Montaignesque character---“marvelously vain, diverse and undulating”—inconstant and therefore almost impossible to judge accurately.

Next, I turned to Wikipedia for more detail on Fouque’s novella:
the story of Ondine and Hans, characters in Ondine, a 1938 play by Jean Giraudoux based on traditions tracing back through Undine (a novella of 1811) to earlier European folk tales. Ondine tells her future husband Hans, whom she had just met, that "I shall be the shoes of your feet ... I shall be the breath of your lungs". Ondine makes a pact with her uncle the King of the Ondines that if Hans ever deceives her he will die. After their honeymoon, Hans is reunited with his first love Princess Bertha and Ondine leaves Hans only to be captured by a fisherman six months later. On meeting Ondine again on the day of his wedding to Bertha, Hans tells her that "all the things my body once did by itself, it does now only by special order ... A single moment of inattention and I forget to breathe". Hans and Ondine kiss, after which he dies.”

You can imagine my excitement to read that greater detail, as I’d be hard pressed to better encapsulate the fatally dangerous power of Fouque’s Undine than in “gasping under”, the two-word phrase Wharton hid in plain sight in the name of her own dangerously powerful heroine Ondine Spragg.

I.e., I claim Wharton started from the folk name “Undine”, so as to tag her novel to Touque’s novella, and then Wharton precisely constructed the surname “Spragg” letter-by-letter so as to be a perfect anagram of “GASPING UNDER”, so as to bring in that concept of fatal suffocation as the hard price of unfaithfulness.

And there I’ll end this first half of my discussion of Wharton’s heroine’s name “Undine Spragg”. Tomorrow, I’ll return with a detailed textual unpacking of the many ways in which Wharton subliminally echoed the motif of suffocation from Fouque’s novella, and brilliantly grafted the simple folk tale onto a complex feminist critique of Wharton’s sexist world, which (as predicted by Mary Wollstonecraft) turned women into Undine Spraggs, who would leave men gasping under water in their wake, because their society suffocated their aspirations, and gave them no honorable path toward self-realization.

Which all dramatically validates Emsley’s brilliant detection of resonance between Jane Austen’s Lady Susan and Wharton’s Undine Spragg. In both, we see a woman behaving very badly, but somehow we cannot entirely blame her, because she is in a larger sense a Nemesis sicced on a deserving patriarchy.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, July 22, 2016

Tom Barrack & Mrs. Reynolds: The seductiveness of (phony) testimonials to Mssrs. Trump & Darcy

Last night at the 2016 Republican Convention, Donald Trump’s old friend Tom Barrack gave a stirring personal testimonial to The Donald’s character, as a key leadup to Trump’s own acceptance speech. Here’s a transcription of key sections of Barrack’s 13-minute Rhapsody in Trump:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRhBLl6q-Jg    Donald Trump has been one of my closest friends for 40 years...I’m the son of a very humble Lebanese grocer from Culver City California...for me to be here tonight to talk about my friend, my partner, and the future president of the United States, Donald Trump…I have nothing negative to say about Hillary I have only amazing things to tell you about Donald. He's tough enough, smart enough, and he's well-versed enough to do it on his own merits….I’m talking to you about...the man without his armor, without his weaponry…what is he made out of... You've all had the great opportunity to see his kids over the last couple days what do you think of that? …my mother used to say you learn what a man is by listening to your mother, but you learn how to be a man by watching your father. You watch this man, you get it. Those of us who are married or have a partner understand that the best reflection on us is our wives…in Donald's case for sure it's his wife Melania….and her grace under pressure.
…I’m going to use words that you probably haven't heard about him…I had the great fortune of working for Robert Bass in Fort Worth Texas in the 80s. We bought a company which, in addition to lots of other things, happened to own the hotel that was right behind Donald's window at his office. Well, you know Donald well enough by now to know that he needed that hotel. I was a young pup, he was a big giant in New York real estate at the time…I'm scared to death because my boss is going to fire me for selling to Donald, who is smarter & better, and who will end up getting a much better deal. In the midst of this, Donald did something I’d never seen before…He said ”I want to do this, but I don't know what I should know. So I will pay your boss the price that he wants and I'll close it in one week on one condition: that you tell me everything I should know that I don't know…I'm not doing a contract, you and I shake hands right here, you just tell me the things that I should know how to fix it and I'll do this deal”…. He played me like a Steinway piano…He was incredible.
He practices an unbelievable set of disciplines. Everybody says OK that the man is rich…how does he do it? He is relentless and something beautiful happens. He shows up on time, he believes punctuality is the courtesy of kings. He pushes everybody, including you, to go over barriers that I never thought that they could ever ever shatter. He does all this with the discipline of an animal in the jungle. His motto is if a lion wakes up every morning and knows one thing, that it has to run faster than the fastest gazelle. And that gazelle knows something, she knows that she needs run faster than the fastest lion. Whether a gazelle or a lion, when you wake up in the morning, you get the hell going.
…I want to share with you two stories that really stuck in my mind…I'm telling you after 35 years of being with a man through the valleys in the mountains he really is better than the billing that you see--
as an administrator, as an executive, as a guy who can actually take care of the people he works with…  It was 1989…it was a Tyson fight, it was big and Atlantic City, and he calls me and says, OK let's go... I said I had with my little sons with me. He said no problem I'll bring Johnny…we hop in the Trump helicopter, fly to Atlantic City. When we land, 1,000 paparazzi, 1,000 people everywhere. We go in his limo, go to the front of the convention center and there's 10,000 cameras….we start walking in, people harassing him like mad. At the side of the door there's a little nondescript man and he calls out to Donald. He walks over to the door, and he says, “I'm so happy to see you and thank you for what you done for my boys and thank you for what you do for me and I just want you know that my critically ill son thinks you’re the greatest man in the world.”
Well everything is going crazy to get to the fight, but Donald he's focused on this man who at that moment thought that he was the only star in Donald’s universe. He said, “Louie, I'm not the greatest man in the world, you are.” So we take the kids, and it's five minutes into the fight, and Donald is fidgeting. I can't figure what happened, I said what's wrong, he said give me your program, he wrote something, and calls the security guards over and sends it back to the guy. I asked, what was that you said, I just want to know what the note said. He wrote, “Louie, I came here tonight to see 2 champions, Mike Tyson and your dad. “ True story.  In the middle of his celebrityship, he has the presence to focus on the littlest guy in the shop. And that is Donald Trump.
10 years later the greatest man in Donald's life passed away, Fred Trump. The funeral was being held, he calls me, says I'm going to go over early, come over, I said fine. We’re sitting, two middle-age guys thinking about when your father leaves, what's the difference between relevancy and mortality… we are really questioning what's important and what's not important. It's not about money, it's not about power. ….And all the agony that you have with your father at that instant just evaporates.…I said how do you feel? He said, “I'm thankful that I have my dad’s strength and my mom’s sensitivity and all I want to do is leave a legacy of the Trump name that they build, brick by brick, a little bit better than I found it.” He's done it.
The world is a mess, this necklace of globalism that we talk about has crumbled and shattered into 1000 shards, we need a jeweler to take those jewels one by one starting with America its diamond, and polish it, and put it back together….We’ve been on an adventure, and people say wow Donald, it's like a fairy tale from businessman to celebrity to father to potential president of United States. And I say to you, it is a tale. But it's up to you…to make once upon a time once upon this time. Thank you.”

Powerful stuff, right? As much as I’m appalled, daily, by Trump’s candidacy, and his frightening ability to stay close in the polls despite (or because of) his daily gaffes, lies, and excesses, I had to acknowledge that Barrack’s testimonial sounded really good. I had to work to remind myself, more than once, that just because a gifted motivational speaker is skilled at humanizing even a moral monster, it doesn’t prove his vignettes were true. We’re all vulnerable to persuasion by talented orators and writers --it’s hard wired into our deeply social human genetic inheritance to believe a simple, “sincere” version of a complicated reality, and it’s hard to hear, and read, against that “natural” grain.

I say all of this because what immediately came to my mind’s eye as I listened to Barrack’s paean to Trump, was the imposing profile of Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice---who, during the first 42 chapters of the novel, gives every evidence of being exactly the same sort of narcissistic, selfish, super-rich, status-obsessed (i.e., Trumpian) jerk he seems to be upon his arrival at the Meryton assembly:

“[Bingley’s] friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend….What a contrast between [Bingley] and his friend!...His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again. Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs. Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment by his having slighted one of her daughters…”

Those who know the story of P&P well do not need me to recount the dozens of ways, in the first 42 chapters, that Darcy behaves and speaks, providing confirmation of such very negative universal first impression of him. Most of all we have his over-the-top narcissistic, insulting first proposal of marriage to the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet:  http://www.pemberley.com/etext/PandP/chapter34.htm

Barrack’s speech about Trump specifically brought Darcy to my mind, however, because of the uncanny and disturbing resonance of his political testimonial to the following passage in Chapter 43 of Pride & Prejudice, in which we observe, firsthand, the conversion experience of Elizabeth and the Gardiners. This “miracle” is crucially enabled by the compelling, salt-of-the-earth testimonial to the excellence of the “real” character of Mr. Darcy, given by a seemingly unimpeachable “witness”, claiming to have known his true character since he was a child. As you read along, substitute “Pemberley” with “Trump Tower”, “the housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds” with “Tom Barrack”, and “Georgiana, Darcy’s ward & accomplished younger sister” with “Trump’s accomplished children”, and see if the parallels don’t give you shivers:

“The housekeeper came; a respectable-looking elderly woman, much less fine, and more civil, than she had any notion of finding her. They followed her into the dining-parlour. It was a large, well proportioned room, handsomely fitted up. Elizabeth, after slightly surveying it, went to a window to enjoy its prospect. The hill, crowned with wood, which they had descended, receiving increased abruptness from the distance, was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground was good; and she looked on the whole scene, the river, the trees scattered on its banks and the winding of the valley, as far as she could trace it, with delight. As they passed into other rooms these objects were taking different positions; but from every window there were beauties to be seen. The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of its proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendour, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings.
"And of this place," thought she, "I might have been mistress! With these rooms I might now have been familiarly acquainted! Instead of viewing them as a stranger, I might have rejoiced in them as my own, and welcomed to them as visitors my uncle and aunt. But no,"—recollecting herself—"that could never be; my uncle and aunt would have been lost to me; I should not have been allowed to invite them."
This was a lucky recollection—it saved her from something very like regret. She longed to inquire of the housekeeper whether her master was really absent, but had not the courage for it. At length however, the question was asked by her uncle; and she turned away with alarm, while Mrs. Reynolds replied that he was, adding, ‘But we expect him to-morrow, with a large party of friends.’ How rejoiced was Elizabeth that their own journey had not by any circumstance been delayed a day!
Her aunt now called her to look at a picture. She approached and saw the likeness of Mr. Wickham, suspended, amongst several other miniatures, over the mantelpiece. Her aunt asked her, smilingly, how she liked it. The housekeeper came forward, and told them it was a picture of a young gentleman, the son of her late master's steward, who had been brought up by him at his own expense. "He is now gone into the army," she added; "but I am afraid he has turned out very wild."
Mrs. Gardiner looked at her niece with a smile, but Elizabeth could not return it.
"And that," said Mrs. Reynolds, pointing to another of the miniatures, "is my master—and very like him. It was drawn at the same time as the other—about eight years ago."
"I have heard much of your master's fine person," said Mrs. Gardiner, looking at the picture; "it is a handsome face. But, Lizzy, you can tell us whether it is like or not."
Mrs. Reynolds respect for Elizabeth seemed to increase on this intimation of her knowing her master.
"Does that young lady know Mr. Darcy?"
Elizabeth coloured, and said: "A little."
"And do not you think him a very handsome gentleman, ma'am?"
"Yes, very handsome."
"I am sure I know none so handsome; but in the gallery up stairs you will see a finer, larger picture of him than this. This room was my late master's favourite room, and these miniatures are just as they used to be then. He was very fond of them."
This accounted to Elizabeth for Mr. Wickham's being among them.
Mrs. Reynolds then directed their attention to one of Miss Darcy, drawn when she was only eight years old.
"And is Miss Darcy as handsome as her brother?" said Mrs. Gardiner.
"Oh! yes—the handsomest young lady that ever was seen; and so accomplished!—She plays and sings all day long. In the next room is a new instrument just come down for her—a present from my master; she comes here to-morrow with him."
Mr. Gardiner, whose manners were very easy and pleasant, encouraged her communicativeness by his questions and remarks; Mrs. Reynolds, either by pride or attachment, had evidently great pleasure in talking of her master and his sister.
"Is your master much at Pemberley in the course of the year?"
"Not so much as I could wish, sir; but I dare say he may spend half his time here; and Miss Darcy is always down for the summer months."
"Except," thought Elizabeth, "when she goes to Ramsgate."
"If your master would marry, you might see more of him."
"Yes, sir; but I do not know when that will be. I do not know who is good enough for him."
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner smiled. Elizabeth could not help saying, "It is very much to his credit, I am sure, that you should think so."
"I say no more than the truth, and everybody will say that knows him," replied the other. Elizabeth thought this was going pretty far; and she listened with increasing astonishment as the housekeeper added, "I have never known a cross word from him in my life, and I have known him ever since he was four years old."
This was praise, of all others most extraordinary, most opposite to her ideas. That he was not a good-tempered man had been her firmest opinion. Her keenest attention was awakened; she longed to hear more, and was grateful to her uncle for saying:
"There are very few people of whom so much can be said. You are lucky in having such a master."
"Yes, sir, I know I am. If I were to go through the world, I could not meet with a better. But I have always observed, that they who are good-natured when children, are good-natured when they grow up; and he was always the sweetest-tempered, most generous-hearted boy in the world."
Elizabeth almost stared at her. "Can this be Mr. Darcy?" thought she.
"His father was an excellent man," said Mrs. Gardiner.
"Yes, ma'am, that he was indeed; and his son will be just like him—just as affable to the poor."
Elizabeth listened, wondered, doubted, and was impatient for more. Mrs. Reynolds could interest her on no other point. She related the subjects of the pictures, the dimensions of the rooms, and the price of the furniture, in vain. Mr. Gardiner, highly amused by the kind of family prejudice to which he attributed her excessive commendation of her master, soon led again to the subject; and she dwelt with energy on his many merits as they proceeded together up the great staircase.
"He is the best landlord, and the best master," said she, "that ever lived; not like the wild young men nowadays, who think of nothing but themselves. There is not one of his tenants or servants but will give him a good name. Some people call him proud; but I am sure I never saw anything of it. To my fancy, it is only because he does not rattle away like other young men."
"In what an amiable light does this place him!" thought Elizabeth.
"This fine account of him," whispered her aunt as they walked, "is not quite consistent with his behaviour to our poor friend."
"Perhaps we might be deceived."
"That is not very likely; our authority was too good."
On reaching the spacious lobby above they were shown into a very pretty sitting-room, lately fitted up with greater elegance and lightness than the apartments below; and were informed that it was but just done to give pleasure to Miss Darcy, who had taken a liking to the room when last at Pemberley.
"He is certainly a good brother," said Elizabeth, as she walked towards one of the windows.
Mrs. Reynolds anticipated Miss Darcy's delight, when she should enter the room. "And this is always the way with him," she added. "Whatever can give his sister any pleasure is sure to be done in a moment. There is nothing he would not do for her."
The picture-gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shown. In the former were many good paintings; but Elizabeth knew nothing of the art; and from such as had been already visible below, she had willingly turned to look at some drawings of Miss Darcy's, in crayons, whose subjects were usually more interesting, and also more intelligible.
In the gallery there were many family portraits, but they could have little to fix the attention of a stranger. Elizabeth walked in quest of the only face whose features would be known to her. At last it arrested her—and she beheld a striking resemblance to Mr. Darcy, with such a smile over the face as she remembered to have sometimes seen when he looked at her. She stood several minutes before the picture, in earnest contemplation, and returned to it again before they quitted the gallery. Mrs. Reynolds informed them that it had been taken in his father's lifetime.
There was certainly at this moment, in Elizabeth's mind, a more gentle sensation towards the original than she had ever felt at the height of their acquaintance. The commendation bestowed on him by Mrs. Reynolds was of no trifling nature. What praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant? As a brother, a landlord, a master, she considered how many people's happiness were in his guardianship!—how much of pleasure or pain was it in his power to bestow!—how much of good or evil must be done by him! Every idea that had been brought forward by the housekeeper was favourable to his character, and as she stood before the canvas on which he was represented, and fixed his eyes upon herself, she thought of his regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before; she remembered its warmth, and softened its impropriety of expression.
When all of the house that was open to general inspection had been seen, they returned downstairs, and, taking leave of the housekeeper, were consigned over to the gardener, who met them at the hall-door.”  END QUOTE

But those of you who know Pride & Prejudice are now objecting, “Hey, Mrs. Reynolds was telling the truth about Mr. Darcy being a really good man, who has been unfairly misjudged to be a bad man.” And my reply, which will be familiar to those who know my theory of Jane Austen’s six novels (including Pride & Prejudice) as being double stories, is this: (1) in the overt story of P&P which is familiar to all, Darcy is indeed a good man who is sincere in his loving motivation for repairing damage to the Bennet family caused by his earlier behavior-which makes P&P one of literature’s greatest love stories. But (2) in the cautionary shadow story of P&P which I’ve been “excavating” during the past decade, Mr. Darcy is in fact and indeed every bit the dreadfully narcissistic jerk he seems to be at first, and he only pretends to reform and repent, because he is, like Donald Trump, the kind of man who just can’t take “No” for an answer, especially when that answer has been given to him by a woman who dares to challenge his “droit du seigneur” as a Master of the Universe to have whatever—and whomever—he wants.

So, please, don’t be taken in by Tom Barrack, and recognize that two centuries ago, Jane Austen was very familiar with the dangers posed by powerful men who offer us a feeling of security and status, who have the resources and influence to be able to deploy “honest” surrogates who “prove” to us that their “masters” are really good men. She satirized the dissolute Prince Regent as the “Prince of Whales” in Emma, and my more recent research has shown that the character of Darcy is based on disturbingly dark models like King Henry VIII, Fielding’s Blifil, and the Marquis de Gange. Janeites thinks Mr. Bennet is just being ironical, when he says the following to beloved daughter Elizabeth when she asks him for his consent to her accepting Darcy’s second proposal, but now you know better: 
"Lizzy," said her father, "I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse anything, which he condescended to ask. I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life. You know not what you are about."

America, let us not have the grief (and grave danger) of seeing us, after January 2017, unable to respect our President. Don’t drink the tasty Kool-Aid offered by snake oil salesmen likeTom Barrack; dare to refuse Donald Trump the most powerful office in the world.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter