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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sir Thomas Bertram’s disturbingly “injudicious” particularity…toward his nubile female relations!

It’s been nearly eight years since I first began writing about both Sir Thomas Bertram and his all too compliant son Edmund, of course in Austen’s Mansfield Park, as both bearing a disturbing resemblance to Pandarus from Shakespeare’s Troilus & Cressida, with the 18 year old Fanny forced to play the role of Cressida. First she is ogled by her uncle upon his return from Antigua, and then, shortly thereafter, he attempts in effect to sell her to Henry Crawford, until she haltingly but bravely objects to being treated as a inanimate commodity without a say in the matter of her entire future life.

For example, in this post…  …I wrote the following:

“In Mansfield Park, Chapter 21, we read Edmund Bertram (or as this speech to Fanny marks him, a Pandar-in-Training) pushing cousin Fanny Price to accept unacceptable ogling by her uncle:

"... But when did you, or anybody, ever get a compliment from me, Fanny? Go to my father if you want to be complimented. He will satisfy you. Ask your uncle what he thinks, and you will hear compliments enough: and though they may be chiefly on your person, you must put up with it, and trust to his seeing as much beauty of mind in time."
Such language was so new to Fanny that it quite embarrassed her.
"Your uncle thinks you very pretty, dear Fanny—and that is the long and the short of the matter. Anybody but myself would have made something more of it, and anybody but you would resent that you had not been thought very pretty before; but the truth is, that your uncle never did admire you till now—and now he does. Your complexion is so improved!—and you have gained so much countenance!—and your figure—nay, Fanny, do not turn away about it—it is but an uncle. If you cannot bear an uncle's admiration, what is to become of you? You must really begin to harden yourself to the idea of being worth looking at. You must try not to mind growing up into a pretty woman."
"Oh! don't talk so, don't talk so," cried Fanny, distressed by more feelings than he was aware of..."

It occurred to me this morning to compare the above passage to the following passage in Northanger Abbey, Chapter 13, describing the end of Catherine Morland’s visit to the Tilney residence in Bath:

"The general attended her himself to the street-door, saying everything gallant as they went downstairs, admiring the elasticity of her walk, which corresponded exactly with the spirit of her dancing, and making her one of the most graceful bows she had ever beheld, when they parted. Catherine, delighted by all that had passed, proceeded gaily to Pulteney Street, walking, as she concluded, with great elasticity, though she had never thought of it before...."

Now, how to account for the extreme difference in reaction in two parallel situations, i.e., in both we have an 18 year old girl receiving compliments on her beauty from a much older man? I.e., why does Fanny freak out inside while Catherine gets an extra skip in her stride? I suggest to you that the explanation is simple and powerful--- Catherine has no history of being sexually abused, but Fanny does….”

However, it was not until this morning that I realized that Sir Thomas’s ogling of Fanny could have been predicted by a close reader of the following passage in Chapter 2 of MP, in which we are introduced to Bertram family dynamics when Fanny first arrives at Mansfield Park:

“The young people were all at home, and sustained their share in the introduction very well, with much good humour, and no embarrassment, at least on the part of the sons, who, at seventeen and sixteen, and tall of their age, had all the grandeur of men in the eyes of their little cousin. The two girls were more at a loss from being younger and in greater awe of their father, who addressed them on the occasion with RATHER AN INJUDICIOUS PARTICULARITY. But they were too much used to company and praise to have anything like natural shyness; and their confidence increasing from their cousin’s total want of it, they were soon able to take a full survey of her face and her frock in easy indifference.
They were a remarkably fine family, the sons very well-looking, the daughters decidedly handsome, and all of them well-grown and forward of their age, which produced as striking a difference between the cousins in person, as education had given to their address; and no one would have supposed the girls so nearly of an age as they really were. There were in fact but two years between the youngest and Fanny. Julia Bertram was only twelve, and Maria but a year older.”

While relatively innocuous interpretations of what is meant by Sir Thomas’s “injudicious particularity” are not implausible (e.g., Deidre Lynch’s 2016 annotation: “[It] suggests that he has discomfited his daughters by singling them out for attention or has spoken with excessive minuteness (another sense of particularity) about how he expects them to behave toward their little cousin…”), it is clear to me that Jane Austen also meant for her careful rereaders to notice the disturbing resonance of that ambiguous passage in Chapter 2 ---- in which Sir Thomas can all-too-plausibly be understood to be making very pointed comments about his 12- and 13-year old daughters’ early-blossoming figures --- with Sir Thomas’s explicit ogling of the 18-year old Fanny’s late-developing female body which, as I’ve argued many times, Edmund appallingly tries to blame on the victim, Fanny, in Chapter 21. That we hear of Maria’s and Julia’s lack of “natural shyness”, that they compare themselves to Fanny in physical appearance, and that we then immediately hear that they are “decidedly handsome”, all point to Sir Thomas’s injudiciousness being that of having no proper sexual boundaries with his own nubile young daughters (reminding us of yet another disturbing parallel between Sir Thomas and a powerful man in the news today, besides those I have pointed out previously).

As always seems to be the case with Jane Austen’s fiction, it took perhaps my twentieth reading of that passage over twenty years to notice what had slipped right past me the first nineteen times. That is partly my bad, but it’s also the result of Mansfield Park’s drily ironic narrator being especially delicate and discreet when describing the most disturbing matters. It’s as if it really was Jane Austen herself speaking: a worldly wise and mature woman, who, as Mitford famously observed, quietly observed everything around her, was too polite --- or careful as to deniability--- to be explicit, but made sure she gave just enough data so that a sharp-eyed reader could fill in the blanks of what was deliberately left implicit.

I never realized till this moment how much Jane Austen meant it when she famously wrote, at the end of MP:  “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.”   Now I see that this oft-quoted line is not just about leaving out almost all of the details of what happens in the rushed, unromantic ending of the novel; it’s reminding us, looking ahead to the next rereading, that it has been that way from the very first page, so keep an eye out for the guilt and misery which has not been dwelt on, but which has nonetheless been given just enough emphasis not to be ignored.

Still skeptical? Then, before I close, let me show you a few other passages in MP, in which the word “particularity” has that same subtly suggestive connotation of sexuality:
Chapter 12: “I dare say he did, ma’am. Mr. Rushworth is never remiss. But dear Maria has such a strict sense of propriety, so much of that true delicacy which one seldom meets with nowadays, Mrs. Rushworth—that wish of avoiding PARTICULARITY!...”

Chapter 32: “You must have been aware,” continued Sir Thomas presently, “you must have been some time aware of a PARTICULARITY in Mr. Crawford’s manners to you. This cannot have taken you by surprise. You must have observed his attentions; and though you always received them very properly (I have no accusation to make on that head), I never perceived them to be unpleasant to you. I am half inclined to think, Fanny, that you do not quite know your own feelings.”
“Oh yes, sir! indeed I do. His attentions were always—what I did not like.”

Chapter 36: [Fanny to Mary] “…As to your brother’s [i.e., Henry’s] behaviour, certainly I was sensible of a PARTICULARITY: I had been sensible of it some little time, perhaps two or three weeks; but then I considered it as meaning nothing: I put it down as simply being his way, and was as far from supposing as from wishing him to have any serious thoughts of me….”

And so, when I think of Sir Thomas’s little smile when he is getting ready to exile Fanny to Portsmouth, to teach her to renounce her “disgusting” “independence of spirit”, and now think about how Fanny is only Sir Thomas’s latest family victim, it makes me “quite hate him” even more than before.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

“Long live! Hail, Austen!”: The Julius Seize-Her at the heart of Mansfield Park

In Austen-L and Janeites today, Diane Reynolds wrote: "I love to see art having relevance: Terrific article on a NY staging of Julius Caesar with a Trump-like Caesar...I am reminded of what I used to read in graduate school of the dangerous political ground "Roman" plays used to tread on in the early 17th century. This is apropos to Austen as she loved Shakespeare..."

Diane, as I know you know, Austen’s love of Shakespeare is universally acknowledged by mainstream Austen scholars, because the explicit references to Shakespeare in Mansfield Park are so strong that even those diehards who otherwise remain skeptical of the breadth and depth of JA’s literary knowledge cannot avoid the fair import of this exchange:

“It will be a favourite, I believe, from this hour,” replied Crawford; “but I do not think I have had a volume of Shakespeare in my hand before since I was fifteen. I once saw Henry the Eighth acted, or I have heard of it from somebody who did, I am not certain which. But Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is a part of an Englishman’s constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them everywhere; one is intimate with him by instinct. No man of any brain can open at a good part of one of his plays without falling into the flow of his meaning immediately.”
“No doubt one is familiar with Shakespeare in a degree,” said Edmund, “from one’s earliest years. His celebrated passages are quoted by everybody; they are in half the books we open, and we all talk Shakespeare, use his similes, and describe with his descriptions; but this is totally distinct from giving his sense as you gave it. To know him in bits and scraps is common enough; to know him pretty thoroughly is, perhaps, not uncommon; but to read him well aloud is no everyday talent.”

As perhaps you don’t recall, Diane, in October 2014 I gave a talk about the "Shakespeare in Mansfield Park"  at the JASNA AGM in Montreal, and then repeated it for the Portland JASNA chapter later in 2014. In that talk, I spoke about a great deal of previously unrecognized evidence I found in MP, of JA’s knowing, and alluding to, many Shakespeare plays “pretty thoroughly” indeed; including, notably among the heretofore unrecognized allusions in MP, several thinly veiled winks at Julius Caesar. Of course, the explicit allusion to Shakespeare’s most famous Roman play in MP has been noted, but always in passing, on the way to other, supposedly more significant allusions. I.e., “How many a time have we mourned over the dead body of Julius Caesar, and to be'd and not to be'd, in this very room, for his amusement!” has always been read as a bit of background, evidence of how Shakespeare was read aloud in family salons as  practice in elocution. But what if that was actually a clue to a web of implicit allusions as well?

Those latter allusions include what I find to be the most audaciously groanworthy pun in all of JA’s writing, which I found several years ago hiding in plain sight in this passage in Chapter 40 of MP:

“Susan had read nothing, and Fanny longed to give her a share in her own first pleasures, and inspire a taste for the biography and poetry which she delighted in herself. In this occupation she hoped, moreover, TO BURY some of the recollections of Mansfield, which were too apt to SEIZE HER mind if her fingers only were busy; and, especially at this time, hoped it might be useful in diverting her thoughts from pursuing Edmund to London, whither, on the authority of her aunt's last letter, she knew he was gone.”

The clue I’ve given is in the words I capitalized (or, to borrow Shakespeare’s pun, Capitol-ized):


The Shakespeareans amongst you will recognize the source of my pun in this pun-drenched exchange:

LORD POLONIUS That did I, my lord; and was accounted a good actor.
HAMLET  What did you enact?
LORD POLONIUS  I did enact Julius Caesar: I was killed i' the CAPITOL; Brutus killed me.
HAMLET  It was a brute part of him to kill so CAPITAL a calf there. Be the players ready?

But back to Jane Austen’s “TO BURY…CAESAR”. That of course points unmistakably to the universally famous opening of Mark Antony’s eulogy for his fallen leader who aspired to godhood:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears (or, as Mary Crawford would say, your rears)  
I come TO BURY CAESAR, not to praise him.

So, have I already convinced some of you that this “to bury Caesar” I see in MP is one of the passages that the description of the Bertrams’ elocution practice was pointing to? Even if so, surely some others among you will think I’m out too far on a limb with this one. But blessed are the skeptics, because they require more evidence --- and fortunately, I’ve got lots more!

First, I assure you that this is the single, solitary usage of that exact Caesar-homophone “seize her” in all six Austen novels, as well as in her juvenilia, fragments, and letters. And so, given the uniqueness of that phrase in the Austen canon, don’t you find it suspicious that it just happens to have Antony’s “to bury” (a usage which appears four times in MP, but only once in any of JA’s other novels, hence is also nearly unique to MP) right before it in the same sentence?! What are the odds of that happening randomly in the Austen novel which openly celebrates Shakespeare repeatedly, and which even refers explicitly to mourning over the body of Julius Caesar? Vanishingly small!

But where, the punctilious amongst you might then ask, is the “I come…not to…” part of Antony’s great line? It seems untidy of Jane Austen to fail to cover that base. Well, we need only look a bit more than a single chapter later, at the very start of Chapter 42, to find the verbiage which perfectly brackets Chapter 40’s “TO BURY…SEIZE HER”:

“The Prices were just setting off for church the next day when Mr. Crawford appeared again. HE CAME, NOT to stop, but TO join them; he was asked to go with them to the Garrison chapel, which was exactly what he had intended, and they all walked thither together.”

Now, when we reassemble those jigsaw pieces which JA has ever so slightly jumbled in this way, we have “HE CAME…TO BURY…SEIZE HER,…NOT TO” in all its Roman splendor!

That alone is, I think, proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Jane Austen, that known inveterate punster and wordplayer (an obsession she happily shared with Shakespeare), was winking at Julius Caesar in that single, innocuous sentence about Fanny and Susan, which seems the furthest thing from Shakespearean tragedy. But that’s only the outer layer of the onion, it’s time to peel off the next layer to see what else lies in the next one.

Recall that Julius Caesar is not only a tragedy heavily based on an actual biography (by Plutarch) of Caesar’s life and death, but it is also a play, like all of Shakespeare’s plays, written in poetry. So we can readily imagine that Fanny chose Julius Caesar as the “biography and poetry” reading she chose to share with Susan, which narration, filtered through Fanny’s mind, would organically incorporate “bits and scraps” of Shakespeare’s poetic verbiage!

So Jane Austen has indeed touched even more Shakespearean bases as well in that short, seemingly trivial passage. But there’s still one more large Shakespearean base which Jane Austen touched in that allusion, which we find when we reach the third and richest layer of JA’s literary onion. These passages in MP are not just a punning, erudite, literary word game, in which Austen idly shows off her literary knowledge for a tiny coterie of cognoscenti.

Recognizing this allusion turns out to provide a key to interpreting the inner life of one of literature’s most enigmatic protagonists, Fanny Price; who, as I went on to explain in my talk, is at that very instant in the gravest danger of falling head over heels in love with Henry Crawford--i.e., of having a hole made in her heart as Henry brashly predicted he would do two dozen chapters earlier.

It would be tragic indeed, albeit on the small scale of Jane Austen’s two inches of ivory instead of the Roman Empire, if Henry somehow managed to seduce Fanny while she is most vulnerable and trusting (just like Caesar among his seemingly devoted followers, most of all, Brutus). Et tu, Henry, anybody?
So, it is also surely no coincidence that we find the following speech in Act 4, Scene 1 of Julius Caesar, this one spoken by Antony to Brutus:

To paraphrase Darcy, had Henry managed to complete his seduction, and make a hole in Fanny’s nether “heart” as well, and then, having satisfied his perverse freak, chose, Willoughby-like, to run off with Maria, then his degenerate triumph would indeed have been complete, and irreversibly tragic for Fanny. We might even find ourselves, at the end of the novel, also mourning over her body. And doesn’t that go to the essence of why Mansfield Park has always been seen by Janeites in the same light as Bardolaters see Troilus & Cressida, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Measure for Measure, Shakespeare’s “problem plays” (which also each take a bow in the subtext of MP)?

And so, the onion is now fully peeled (at least, I think that I’ve gotten them all, although I’ve learned that you can’t ever be certain of a complete solution of the literary riddles posed by the Sphinx of Chawton Cottage). But before I close, I will point out one final textual wink, in Antony’s above-quoted reference to Brutus’s “bad strokes”.

Keep that in mind as I now show you the narration at the start of Chapter 19 of MP in which the narrator describes the shock of the return of Sir Thomas to Mansfield Park from Antigua to be confronted by Lovers Vows in rehearsal. That is an episode which I’ve repeatedly claimed was designed by Jane Austen to track, in various ways, the shock experienced by Claudius when confronted with the Mousetrap in Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, Hamlet.

And so I am certain that this Shakespearean tragic context is the reason why we find that same unusual word “stroke” also used, as Antony used it, with a very negative connotation:

“How is the consternation of the party to be described? To the greater number it was a moment of absolute horror. Sir Thomas in the house! All felt the instantaneous conviction. Not a hope of imposition or mistake was harboured anywhere. Julia’s looks were an evidence of the fact that made it indisputable; and after the first starts and exclamations, not a word was spoken for half a minute: each with an altered countenance was looking at some other, and ALMOST EACH WAS FEELING IT A STROKE THE MOST UNWELCOME, MOST ILL-TIMED, MOST APPALLING!”

And there, I’ll stop, hoping you have found my musings welcome, well-timed, and thrilling; and allow me to also cry “Long live! Hail, Austen!”, in honor of Mansfield Park, the fourth of her six great strokes of Shakespeare-drenched genius, in which she took on the Donald Trumps of her era, not only in her masterful portrayal of the rich, narcissistic seducer Henry Crawford, but also, on a cloaked level, of that hypocritical, greedy, heartless master of the universe (seen so clearly by Patricia Rozema in her 1999 film), Sir Thomas Bertram.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Monday, June 12, 2017

Liking Elaine Bander’s Clueful “ ‘Liking’ Emma Woodhouse” a great deal

From my first JASNA AGM in 2005, when I heard Elaine Bander present a breakout session (about parallels among three 1814 novels: Austen’s Mansfield Park, Burney’s The Wanderer, and Edgeworth’s Patronage), I’ve been a major fan of Elaine. She and Juliet McMaster have long epitomized for me the very best of mainstream Austen scholarship. Elaine unfailingly writes with great insight, clarity, and tact about aspects of Jane Austen’s fiction and biography which go to the heart of what makes Austen great,  helping to illuminate the unending delights of reading JA two centuries after her death. Best of all, never does even a hint of litcrit jargon creep into Elaine’s lucid, witty prose.

So, even though Elaine and I approach Austen from very different points of view (she invariably focuses on what I call Jane Austen’s “overt stories”, whereas I am almost always delving into JA’s “shadow stories”), I always learn a great deal from, and find my critical imagination sharply stimulated by, pretty much everything Elaine writes about JA. That is partly because Elaine has a nose for what matters most in the fictional worlds of the novels; but it’s also what I realized in 2005—i.e., that Jane Austen intended both Elaine’s and my (seemingly irreconcilable) interpretations to be valid! The remainder of this post will be my attempt to transcend that apparent paradox, by articulating how closely linked Elaine’s deep interpretation of the overt story of Emma is to my interpretation of its shadow story.

But I will keep Emma cooling its heels another moment at the “door” of this post, and first present the most notable example to date of how Elaine’s mainstream interpretations inform my shadowy ones. It was her talk at the 2012 JASNA AGM about the allusive presence of Burney’s Cecilia (Elaine is as much a Burney, as an Austen, expert) beneath the light, bright, and sparkling surface of Pride & Prejudice.  Through her close reading of numerous significant parallels between Burney’s novel and Austen’s (as the latter is normatively read), Elaine enabled me to see a crucial new strand of the shadow story of P&P (that which involves Elizabeth Bennet as the unwitting heiress of Pemberley, and which I posted about here in 2013: through that same Burney prism. Jane Austen is great (in both senses) enough to comfortably encompass both of our seemingly irreconcilable viewpoints, because Jane Austen never meant for them to be reconciled, only to be separately appreciated for their very different, yet related, beauties and insights.

And that finally brings me to my main subject today, which is Elaine’s latest Austenian scholarly production: her article entitled “ ‘Liking’ Emma Woodhouse” in the recently published 2016 print Persuasions (it fittingly takes pride of place as the first article in the volume). In it, Elaine takes on two main subjects, and the one I will respond to in this post is her extended explanation of  “why Austen would deliberately create a disagreeable heroine” like Emma. My modus operandi will be to cherry pick three specific statements made by Elaine, and then respond to each from my alternative perspective, and to show how they each function as a funhouse mirror for the other. However, I urge you to read her article in full when you get a chance, because it is Elaine at the top of her game, and only a complete reading by itself will do her own thesis justice.

Elaine: “[Emma] treats most of the people around her (although never her father nor Mr. Knightley) as though they were characters in a novel that she is writing. Granted, it’s a bad novel, full of the very novel clichés that Austen set about to undermine, but, nevertheless, Emma’s creative temperament appears akin in many ways to Austen’s own.”

I’ve long argued that the supreme genius of JA’s dual construction of Emma is that, in the shadow story, Emma is not completely clueless in the sense of having no idea of what is really happening, most of all with respect to the shadow heroine, Jane Fairfax (as to whom the key questions which absorb Emma are about why Jane returns to Highbury in the first place, who is wooing Jane, to whom does Jane return her affections (in particular who might be the engaged man Emma is convinced Jane loves).  Rather, Emma is often almost correct in her guesses. It’s as if the aim of Emma’s intuitive bow is initially perfect, and she identifies the key points that really do matter; but then, when her arrow of insight is only inches from the bulls-eye, suddenly a gust of fairy dust (sent by Puck aka Jane Austen) blows the arrow sideways at the last instant. And so, what seem like novel clichés to Elaine become, in the shadow story, poignant twists torn from the often tragically realistic life of  a woman like Jane in the Regency Era – a gifted, good young woman, who endures an unwed pregnancy, genteel but desperate poverty in the home of her aunt, to the point of actual hunger, and the fickleness of John Knightley, the married man I say Jane was actually involved with in London (i.e., not Mr. Dixon). Jane suffers these and other ills at the hands of the hypocritical, patriarchal power structure, led by the Great Whale of Highbury, the Machiavellian Mr. George Knightley.

And so Elaine’s point that Emma’s creative temperament appears akin to Austen’s own is very much spot-on from my alternative point of view as well. I claim that JA deliberately hid the poignant, all-too-realistic, radically feminist shadow story of Jane Fairfax behind the smokescreen of Emma’s comically self absorbed “novel clichés”. But unlike her unlikable heroine Emma, the aim of Jane Austen’s storytelling archery never misses. I.e., creatively speaking, she has the sure hand of a literary Ulysses: just as he shot his arrow through 12 axe heads in a row, JA achieved the comparably miraculous feat of shooting two different arrows (stories), in two opposite directions, with a single pull of her bow (i.e., with the identical words contained in a single text)!

Elaine also wrote: “Early reviewer Walter Scott shrewdly observed that in Emma, despite the absence of romance elements associated with older novels, ’there are cross purposes enough for cutting half the men’s throats and breaking all the women’s hearts’. Janet Todd notes that both publisher John Murray and novelist Maria Edgeworth found the novel lacking in ‘incident’, even though, as Todd says, ‘The lack of story is in part the subject of Emma.

Once again, I find that Elaine’s valid point from a mainstream perspective on Emma takes on a startling, opposite meaning when filtered through my own heretical lens. I.e., there is a great deal of incident (as I see it) in the shadow story of Emma, which is narrated, however, obliquely, by Miss Bates’s torrent of words, which Emma consistently zones out on, but which (I am not the first to point out) is a fertile source of clues to what is happening offstage, which Emma subconsciously absorbs, but then unwittingly misinterprets.

And, again, there is the metafictional parallel (as Adena Rosmarin wrote about in her pioneering 1986 article “Misreading Emma”) to the reader of Emma who, like Emma, tunes out the “nothing” that is recounted in the many words of JA’s longest novel, and thereby never correctly understands what happens in its shadow story. And just as Emma never fully understands, neither does the reader whose focus is only on the overt story, and who therefore, like Emma, accepts Frank Churchill’s lengthy explanation of his relationship with Jane as truth, rather than a carefully manufactured cover story dictated to Frank by George Knightley (the same way the latter dictated Robert Martin’s proposal letter to Harriet 45 chapters earlier) in order to provide a coherent, but false, explanation for all that transpired during the novel.

Elaine: “Unlike the other flawed Good Girls, [Emma] is deliberately endowed with unpleasant character traits like snobbery and smugness…she does not earn sympathy for being snubbed, oppressed, or neglected. Instead, her unattractive qualities are compounded by her affluence and social status…As Emma says of Robert Martin, she can need none of our help.”

In the overt story, Elaine’s above analysis is once again spot-on. But I read Emma in the shadow story as being perhaps the biggest unwitting victim of all, because she trusts the wrong people. How so? Because I see Knightley as setting his sights, from the very beginning of the novel, on Emma not as the object of a sincere love, but as a target to bail him out of his desperate financial straits, which he has meticulously concealed from Emma. And so, very much as I have frequently articulated how Darcy does the same to Elizabeth in the second half of P&P, I see Knightley as systematically destroying Emma’s complacent, comfortable life at Highbury with her father, in order to make her so desperate that Emma will, when Harriet shocks Emma by taking off her mask of pretended silliness and claims Knightley for herself, “suddenly discover” that she loved Knightley all along.

And that is a good place for me to stop, and to remind you to read Elaine’s article when you get a chance—and when you do, perhaps you will keep in the back of your mind what you read in this post, so that you will then be ready, in your next rereading of Emma, to hold Elaine’s and my opposing viewpoints in mind at the same time, as if we were each providing one lens to a very special pair of spectacles for understanding the doubleness of both Emma and Emma.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

“Vanity…..definitely my favorite sin” & “Pride is a very common failing, I believe”

Yesterday, Diana Birchall wrote this in Janeites & Austen-L
"Here's an excellent panel discussion, recorded by the BBC in Oxford, on the subject of Jane Austen and religion. “Ernie Rea considers the religious world of Jane Austen and how it is reflected in her novels. Ernie is joined by novelist and priest Marie-Elsa Bragg, the social and architectural historian William Whyte, Oxford University lecturer Freya Johnston and Rev Paula Hollingsworth, author of The Spirituality of Jane Austen.”

Diana, thanks very much for posting the link to that show, it was surprisingly good. The intelligence of the knowledgeable Janeite was not insulted, as is so often the case with the typical dumbed-down radio talking heads show about JA. It managed the neat trick of being informative and provocative both to Janeites and non-Janeites alike. Aside from that general praise, I have four specific reactions:

First, Rev. Hollingsworth credited Paula Byrne with the discovery that the real life Chief Justice Lord Mansfield (author of the hugely important 1772 Mansfield decision banning slavery on English soil) was behind the title of the novel and its great estate. I don’t believe Byrne actually claimed that credit, which belongs to Margaret Kirkham, who made that argument first in 1982 in her groundbreaking, influential Jane Austen, Feminism & Fiction.

Second, I was very glad that the moderator’s (Ernie Rea) suggestion that JA was at heart a conservative Tory was politely but quickly shot down by the other talking heads. That such a suggestion was even presented at all shows how the Myth of Jane Austen perpetrated by James Edward Austen Leigh still lives on a century and a half later, not merely in the minds of the uninformed general public and casual Janeites, but even in the mind of a very knowledgeable Janeite like Rea.

Third, the best comment moment in the show for me was reminiscent of DW Harding. If you listen from 14:15 to 14:55 in the 30-minute audio, you’ll hear Marie-Elsa Bragg (the novelist/priest) shrewdly speculate as follows about Jane Austen’s modus operandi and moral agenda as an author, within the context of the religious meaning of her novels:

Bragg:  “I see [Austen’s] work as very clever polemic, because in truth if we are going to try to change things, we have to do it in ways that we know, and she writes about what she knows; but she very cleverly writes in such a way as people would want to read it; it’s too easy to be rebellious and have a message that those who we’re trying to persuade won’t even want to listen to. What she’s doing is something much more clever; she’s actually inviting people into understanding a world, in a way that she’d like to help them.”

I agree 100% with Bragg, as I understand her point. I’ve been saying something very similar for over a decade, my version being that I see Austen’s novels as Jesus-esque parables in disguise, which “bait” with pleasurable romance, but then “switch” to a subtle psychological, and epistemological lesson, that creeps up on those who reread her novels for pleasure.  For example, I’ve demonstrated repeatedly that the most memorable aphorisms in P&P (pride and prejudice, a truth universally acknowledged, poetry as the food of love, every savage can dance, we do not perform to strangers, the shades of Pemberley thus polluted, etc.) all carry the greatest allusive meanings; showing me that JA hoped that her well-read readers would eventually recognize the connections of those favorite (even memorized) turns of phrase to the thematically significant literary and historical sources lurking beneath.

And what do I think was the deepest spiritual, religious, moral purpose of Jane Austen’s irresistibly rereadable novels? I say that at its base, it was not so simple as correctly judging one character good and another one bad. It was to sensitize her readers to be suspicious of all apparent revelations as to who seems good and who seems bad. Yes, paradoxically, I have found that JA seemed to me to be warning that it is when we manage to correct an error of judgment caused by our pride or vanity, that we are most vulnerable!

I’ll unpack further. Jane Austen, whose morality was inseparable from her psychology, wished her readers (especially the female readers, who were disadvantaged by their strongly patriarchal society) to somehow reach a deeper level of wisdom, and remain ever vigilant, lest pride or vanity sneak right back into their hearts and minds by the back door, and lead them straight into a fresh, new error of moral judgment. Even the otherwise worthy act of confession and contrition for misjudgment can carry within it the seeds of pride. We tend to relax, and close our inner eye while we’re busy patting ourselves on the back for our virtuous humility. Now that is a sophisticated moral theology, which has little to do with God, and everything to do with helping ourselves, so as to truly merit God’s help.

And that’s exactly what I see happening, in particular, in the shadow story of P&P. When Elizabeth’s eyes are opened to Wickham’s true character, she falls right into the trap (laid for her by Darcy’s letter) of believing that moral judgment is a zero-sum game. I.e., after overcoming her initial pride and prejudice against Darcy and for Wickham, she assumes that she must therefore be correct in simply reversing herself: Wickham bad, Darcy good after all.

But pride is not simple. Note that by the end of the novel, Elizabeth is positively cocky about it all, going so far as to joke that a good memory is a bad thing to have, when it comes to marriage. Oh, Eliza, you ought to have listened to sister Mary –yes, the younger sister whom you’ve cavalierly judged to be a foolish pedant---when she spoke to you about vanity and pride, and later still, when Mary whispered that “the men shan’t come and part us…We want none of them; do we?”. What if Elizabeth’s pride at being a great “studier of character” has blinded her to Mary’s wisdom? Because her pride was not properly humbled, Elizabeth is a sitting duck for the skillful manipulation of Darcy –yeah, the same guy who said that “disguise of every kind was [his] abhorrence”—beginning with The Letter, and then continuing throughout the remainder of the second half of the novel.

Now, THAT’S a powerful moral theology, as Crocodile Dundee might’ve put it, and that’s what I would have said had I been on that BBC panel!

But I’m not quite done. This is a good moment to point out that I believe pretty much the same authorial game was skillfully played by the writer of the 1998 film The Devil’s Advocate (MASSIVE SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT!!!), with the protagonist Kevin being led to unwittingly jump through the same double set of hoops as Elizabeth Bennet in the shadow story of P&P.

Kevin, the ambitious young criminal defense lawyer (played by Keanu Reeves) is skillfully manipulated by John Milton (aka the Devil, played by Al Pacino) into gradually and voluntarily sacrificing all that he loves (his idealism and his marriage) in Kevin’s rising lust for success, power, and fame. At just the right moment, Milton reveals how Kevin bears full moral responsibility for how his own vanity and narcissism has propelled to the very precipice of hell, and it is a crushing moment of self-knowledge for Kevin:

MILTON Come on. You're not listening. Blaming me for Mary Ann? I hope you're kidding. You could've saved her any time you liked. She only wanted love. But you knew it wouldn't really work out, didn't you? Mary Ann in New York? Face it, you started looking to better-deal her the minute you got here.
KEVIN That's a lie.
MILTON Hey, it's not that you didn't care for her, it's just you were a little bit more involved with someone else. Yourself.
KEVIN What the hell do you know about love?
MILTON Biochemically no different than eating large quantities of chocolate. (sharply now) Don't be such a f--king chump. There's only one real sickness in all of creation and that is self-delusion. I told you to take care of your wife -- that the world would understand. And you made a choice. 'You know what scares me, John? I leave the case, she gets better and I hate her for it...' Remember?
KEVIN You set me up. It's entrapment.
MILTON Who told you to pull out the stops for Mr. Gettys? And Moyez -- the direction you took -- Snake handlers, Popes and swamis all feeding at the same trough -- whose ideas were those? And then Cullen -- knowing he's guilty -- seeing those pictures -- putting that lying bitch on the stand... What did I say, Kevin? Maybe it was time to lose, right? You didn't think so.
KEVIN That's my job. That's what I do!
MILTON Exactly! (gotcha) VANITY IS DEFINITELY MY FAVORITE SIN. Self love. It's so basic. What a drug. Cheap, all-natural, and right at your fingertips. Pride. That's where you're strongest. And believe me, I understand. Work for someone else? -- Hey, I couldn't hack it. 'Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.'….

The author of Ecclesiastes would be nodding in agreement with Satan on that one. But then, a shocking apparent reversal ---it appears that Kevin gets the better of the Devil. Feeling the full weight of his sins, Kevin seems to redeem himself by committing suicide, and the Devil appears genuinely shocked, screaming “NO!!”. We believe that the Devil has been foiled, and that Kevin has saved his own soul.

But, it seems, the Devil (who of course is nothing more than a metaphor for human nature) is no quitter.  Kevin somehow gets to go back in time to the crucial moment at the start of the film when his corruption first began, and this time Kevin is determined to do the right thing, which he did not do the first time around:

REPORTER (behind him) It was a nice run. Kev. Had to close out someday. Nobody wins 'em all.
MARY ANN Honey, what are you doing? (quietly) Are you okay?
Kevin nods. Smiles. Backs away. Into his seat. Gettys there beside him. Kevin will not look at him.
BAILIFF All rise for the honorable Justice Garson Deeds.
The Judge enters. Takes his seat.
JUDGE (to Barbara) You're still under oath, young lady.
(to Kevin) Your witness, Mr. Lomax.
KEVIN Your Honor, I'm terribly sorry, but I can no longer represent my client. I need to be replaced as counsel.

It seems clear that Kevin has succeeded, just as it seemed that Elizabeth had it made by marrying Darcy. He’s alive again, so is his wife, and this time he’s on the straight and narrow and won’t be fooled again. But then, what’s this?:

REPORTER Kevin! -- Hey! (catching up) Listen, this story -- this is the one, pal -- this is the one you dream about –
KEVIN There is no story.
REPORTER Bullshit. A lawyer with a crisis of conscience? You gotta be kidding. It's huge!
KEVIN They're gonna disbar me, Larry. You can cover that.
MARY ANN Can they do that?
REPORTER Not when I get through with the story. (still walking) You gotta talk, Kevin. You gotta gimme an exclusive…This is wire service. This is 'Sixty Minutes'. This is a story that needs to be told. It's you! You're a star!
KEVIN Call me tomorrow.
REPORTER You got it. First thing.
Kevin nods. Holding Mary Ann's hand as they escape.

And now, as Mr. Bennet would say, we come to the point, as you can watch here:

Here’s how the screenplay set it up: “The Reporter watching them go for a moment. Then turning back. And as he does, his features change, transforming - - like that -- into Milton. It's Milton. Always there. And he smiles. And we hear him say:  “Vanity…..definitely my favorite sin.”

So what does that have to do with Elizabeth Bennet? Only everything! I’m suggesting that Elizabeth’s epiphany that Wickham is not a good man, followed by her rapid reversal into believing Darcy is and always has been a good man, is the exact moral equivalent of Kevin’s belief that he has defeated the Devil by refusing to represent a man he knows is guilty. In the flush of pride over doing the right thing and beating the Devil at his own game, Kevin is seduced by the whispers in his ear of his own pride, and he starts the first chapter of a new life story, in which he is again the hero, this time not as a latter day Perry Mason, but of a laudatory (and probably lucrative) newspaper profile. From the Devil’s point of view, there are as many ways to steal a soul as there are ways for a human being to feel improper pride.

And, getting back one last time to Pride & Prejudice, vanity was definitely Jane Austen’s favorite sin; not because she was a devil who wished to tempt her readers to the dark side, but because she was a devil’s advocate, who wished to teach us how to avoid the moral pitfalls which come with our being human, as the Buddha taught 2500 years ago. Jane understood that message very well, but….(and here we get back to Bragg’s point) JA also recognized that it was not a message which could be effectively taught by lecture, the way Hannah More tried, in her heavy handedly didactic novels which JA playfully mocked.

How curious that it is Elizabeth Bennet who, out of nowhere, mouths the words “We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing.” When we see P&P as the double story that it is,  we realize that Elizabeth does not take her own wisdom to heart—a sharp irony indeed. But her creator, Jane Austen, sure did. Jane knew that self-knowledge of narcissism (aka vanity and pride) could only be taught by the back door –using the Devil’s tactics, if you will -- via the reading and rereading of a complex story in a novel. Let the reader discover this painful truth on her own, and maybe it will really be learned well.

To which parable, or sermon, I can only conclude with, “Amen, sister Jane.”

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, June 3, 2017

“Sharpe with an e”--another sharp blow to the tottering edifice of Le Faye’s bogus Myth of Jane Austen

Today I bring you a true story of both collaborative and convergent literary scholarship, which loosens still further the stranglehold of the “old guard” on Austen studies, which has deliberately stifled the truth about Jane Austen, especially her own decidedly unconventional romantic preferences, for far too long.

Six years ago, in my blog post  entitled “The “Not So Mythical Anne Sharpe's Escape from Godmersham....Aided and Abetted by Jane Austen!”, I summarized a Sept. 2011 thread in Austen-L, in which Ellen Moody, Diana Birchall, and I collectively delivered a “sharp” blow (pun intended!) to the Myth of Jane Austen. We collectively identified, and called out as deliberately misleading, the Biographical Index entry for Anne Sharp, the Godmersham governess, written by Deirdre Le Faye for her edition of Jane Austen’s letters. Specifically, Le Faye claimed that “the Miss Sharp whom JA mentions as being in Bath in 1805 is clearly not the same as this Miss Anne Sharp”. As you’ll see if you read all the way through my post today, a later, independent discovery recently published by two other academic scholars provides crucial additional support for Diana’s, Ellen’s and my collective September 2011 discovery.

First, here’s that summary of our trio’s original claim, written by me in my above-linked 2011 blog post:

“In Jane Austen's Letters 43 and 44, respectively, dated two weeks apart in April 1805, we read the following two passages about a governess/teacher named "Anne Sharpe":

"What honour I come to!-I was interrupted by the arrival of a Lady to enquire the character of ANNE, who is returned from Wales & ready for service.-And I hope I have acquitted myself pretty well; but having a very reasonable Lady to deal with, one who only required a tolerable temper, my office was not difficult. -Were I going to send a girl to school I would send her to this person; to be rational in anything is great praise, especially in the ignorant class of school mistresses-& she keeps the School in the upper crescent."  (Letter 43, April 8-11, 1805)
&  "...They go with their Masters & Mistresses, & are now to have a Miss: Amelia is to take lessons of MISS SHARPE." (April 23, 1805)

What makes these passages noteworthy, aside from my interpretation of them as Jane Austen providing a work reference, and injecting a bit of characteristic faux snobbery for comic effect, is the name of that woman---why? because Janeites familiar with JA's biography know that "Anne Sharpe" was for a period of a few years the name of the governess at Godmersham, for the children of Edward Austen Knight, JA's rich brother; and, more important, became such a good friend of Jane Austen that JA corresponded with her regularly, and made a gift to her of one of the precious first editions of Emma in 1816.  And yet, Deirdre Le Faye, the doyenne of Austen biographers and editor of the definitive edition of JA's letters, emphatically states in her Biographical Index entry for "Anne Sharp" that she is not the same person as the "Anne Sharpe" of Letters 43 & 44. That has led to some interesting discussion in Austen L, as follows:

Diana Birchall: “Nothing else makes much sense, except equally wild and baseless suppositions, i.e. Anne gets sick during her two-year tenure at Godmersham; goes to Wales to recover, and on her return joins the Austens in Bath and looks for other employment, with some help from the Austens, until deciding to take up her job at Godmersham again after all. Hm, come to think of it, that doesn't sound half bad, does it!"

Ellen Moody: "It depends what Diana means by "spurious." Le Faye turns every bit of obvious evidence that Eliza was Hastings's biological daughter with crass misreadings, erasures &c. It'd be par for the course if she wanted to distance her heroine, Jane, this way. In other cases, she's equally ruthless, such as numbering how many errors a said text is said to have in her estimation; her attack on Nokes's book because he suggests the aunt stole that lace. And in our looking at the notes there is a lot of skullduggery. Even the length of this note makes me suspicious at this point. My suggestion was that Anne Sharpe was quietly looking for another position. We don't write everything down; all time is not accounted for in Le Faye's pinpointing of where Sharpe was said to be and working. One can send a letter quietly without it making any record or you physically doing it. One can get a reply. One can have a friend offer testimony. I don't believe it was "ill health." Rather she couldn't stand the position - not uncommon I should think, especially in a house with so many children where also the firmness of ownership was in question. All the more would the owners be exacting. I don't see that people would ask an outsider who never had a woman as her servant for information. The Austens did not have that many servants at all. As far as their names go, they seem often to be villagers; the Austen in other words tended to take people who were low on the totem pole for their servants, not people of gentry or high status fallen or declined. I assume they obeyed more readily, were more deferent, maybe took less money. I agreed that the passage could be a servant but argued that it doesn't make sense that way. I have no investment here. I wouldn't have gone on about it this way myself. I do find it another instance of closeness for Austen and Anne Sharpe; that's why I wrote about it. Also how Austen was eager even in her own mind to put down that headmistress. She is acutely aware of her own loss of status. Interviewing is even now a come down no matter what people aver -- everyone endures them it's said. Well not people super-high in a profession or who have some "in" where it's a formality. In that level --Austen herself being gauged -- it's a scene of real searing if quiet."

Me: “And here is my addition to the discussion:  Well, I am no longer agnostic on the question of whether this really was the Anne Sharpe or not--although I continue to believe that Ellen misreads JA's ironic mock-snobbery about the school mistress on the upper crescent, I think that Ellen has gotten the much more important point 100% correct, about this really being the same Anne Sharpe! -----and Diana, I think you were already 75% of the way there yourself after you wrote the above-you just have to stifle your inner "Jane Bennet" to go the remaining 25% of the distance! ;) 
Le Faye seems determined (as I have documented she has done in a dozen or more other instances in these letters, although the Nokes example is still the most egregious of Le Faye's unjust and unjustified hatchet jobs) that this Anne Sharpe not be the Anne Sharpe. I arrive at that conclusion from thinking about Le Faye's possible motivation--what is it about this being the same Anne Sharpe that Le Faye would find too disturbing to allow to stand unchallenged? Ellen has hit the nail squarely on the head, but left out the final crucial point ---if this is the same Anne Sharpe, it means that JA is aiding and abetting Anne Sharpe who is attempting to make her escape from what must be an awful situation for her at Godmersham ---probably she is being overworked, breaking down her health, and perhaps she is also underpaid to boot. And of course Anne cannot give Edward and Elizabeth Knight as references, if she is escaping from their mistreatment---but who better than the sister of those employers, who conveniently happens to be in Bath (not far from Wales, hmmm), and so can vouch for Anne herself--and wouldn't YOU believe Jane Austen if she spoke highly about someone? ;) And Edward and Elizabeth need never know that JA performed this delicate bit of benevolent skullduggery.
I would like to see Le Faye's backup for her Bio info on Anne Sharpe---is it clear from independent sources that she only began working there in 1804? Is it clear that she was only governess to Fanny? I'd bet that the evidence is much murkier than she has presented, but I can't say for sure till I see the actual evidence. So, that "betrayal" is what is anathema to Le Faye--the idea that JA might support a female friend in defiance of the will of Edward Austen Knight and his wife---that "disloyalty" would not fit the tidy image of JA the dutiful daughter and sister, humbly acceding to the wishes of the Austen males, even if they impact harshly on powerless women like Anne Sharpe. And if you look at the Index to the Letters, you'll notice a striking "coincidence"----we read about the mysterious "Anne" in Letter 43, written on April 11, 1805, and then about the mysterious "Miss Sharpe" (who must be the same person as "Anne") in Letter 44, written only two weeks later, and then we have what Le Faye presents as the first mention of Anne Sharp in JA's surviving letters, which begins a steady stream of references to Anne Sharp thereafter---it begins with two of the three next surviving letters after Letter 44 ---Letters 45 & 47, both written in August 1805. I don't believe in that kind of coincidence, I think that we start hearing about Anne Sharpe in Letter 43, not Letter 45! (and by the way, it's sad that Anne did not make her final escape until 1806). And Ellen is also exactly right, the length and detail of Le Faye's footnote on this very question of Anne Sharpe's working life and why she left Godmersham is all "protesting too much". It is characteristic of Le Faye that she does not write "Some might argue that this is the same ‘Anne Sharpe’, she would rather put the kibosh on that idea without giving that alternative interpretation the dignity of explicit mention. (She only mentioned the Eliza Hancock-Hastings illegitimacy meme because it was already out there in print!). last point I find very telling, on the subject of JA working within her female network to accomplish goals that might not be to the liking of family powers-that-be. Read the following passage in Letter 44, barely half a page after the factoid about Miss Sharpe giving lessons to little Amelia:
"I am quite of your opinion as to the folly of concealing any longer our intended Partnership with Martha, & whenever there has of late been an enquiry on the subject, I have always been sincere; & I have sent word of it to the Mediterranean in a letter to Frank. None of OUR nearest connections I think will be unprepared for it, & I do not know how to suppose that Martha's have not foreseen it."
The key words there are "any longer"--they make it clear that the strategy of JA, CEA and Martha up till that time has been to actively conceal it from their respective families! Why? For exactly the same sort of reason that the covert operation on behalf of Anne Sharpe would be concealed from Edward and Elizabeth--i.e. so nobody would put the kibosh on these plans until it was too late to stop them! And don't think that Le Faye did not notice that resonance--she is very shrewd, and she sees these "unseemly" connections--she just does not want anyone else to notice them!”   END QUOTE

So ended my Sept. 2011 post regarding April 1805 references, in JA’s letters, to Anne Sharp(e). Apropos the spelling of that surname, Jane Austen, who was as poor a speller as she was great as a writer, spelled that surname “Sharpe” half the time, and “Sharp” the other half, so in this instance spelling is not determinative of identity. And Le Faye can hardly argue that point, because Le Faye’s own Chronology of Jane Austen includes an entry for a January 1804 letter written by the 11-year old Fanny Austen (later Knight), which spelled that surname “Sharpe”, a fact which could certainly account for why Jane Austen spelled it that way in her 1805 letters, as well as a few others later on.

Now, since September 2011, my understanding of how significant a role Anne Sharp(e) played in Jane Austen’ s life has steadily grown, to the extent that I became convinced a few years ago, from close imaginative interpretation of JA’s letters and late fiction, that the former governess of Godmersham was actually the object of passionate, long-lasting romantic feelings from JA, regardless of whether they were ever consummated physically. And I believe Le Faye’s editorial suppression of Anne Sharp(e) from those two April 1805 letters was intended not only to conceal Jane Austen’s seeming disloyalty to brother Edward, but the far more “scandalous” evidence that JA and Anne Sharp(e) loved each other for the last half of Jane Austen’s all-too-brief adult lifespan.

In that vein, Anne Sharp(e) will be a key figure in the talk I’ll be giving in the first round of breakout sessions at the upcoming JASNA AGM to be held October 6-8, 2017 in Huntington Beach, as I outlined four months ago: : “I’ve come to know a different Jane [than Le Faye’s]; a proud, ambitious artist; and, ironically, I find the best evidence of her proud (but well-regulated) ambition, not in her six novels, but, when physical death loomed large, in her 1817 writings, in which she thrice asserted her power and her will to survive…at least, on paper!: 
(1) in her late letter to old friend Anne Sharp (“Galigai for ever and ever, the influence of strength over weakness indeed”)
(2) in her last fiction, the Sanditon fragment (“The world is pretty much divided between the weak of mind and the strong; between those who can act and those who cannot; and it is the bounden duty of the capable to let no opportunity of being useful escape them. My…complaints…are happily not often of a nature to threaten existence immediately. And as long as we can exert ourselves to be of use to others,...the body is the better for the refreshment the mind receives in doing its duty"); AND 
(3) in her deathbed testament, the “fanciful” “When Winchester Races” (“When once we are buried you think we are gone But behold me immortal!...Set off for your course, I'll pursue with my rain.… Henceforward I'll triumph in shewing my powers…”).”  END QUOTE

With that lengthy but necessary preface, for which I thank those still with me for your patience, now I will at last turn to the recent exciting news I read today regarding the above:

Here is the press release in elite Austen scholar Sarah Emsley’s blog, for a new book which in significant part apparently focuses on the intense relationship between Jane Austen and (you guessed it!) Anne Sharpe. Note that the authors, Midorikawa and Sweeney, apparently independently of the Austen-L discussion thread I reported in my above-quoted Sept. 2011 blog post, six years later arrived at virtually the identical conclusions about the “Anne Sharpe” in Letter 44 being one and the same person as the Godmersham governess; and they also speculated, just as I did, that Le Faye wished to conceal that Jane Austen had apparently gone to bat for her intimate female friend, in seeming disregard for her rich elder brother’s wishes:

“Male literary friendships are the stuff of legend; think Byron and Shelley, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. But the world’s best-loved female authors are usually portrayed as isolated eccentrics. Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney seek to dispel this myth with a wealth of hidden yet startling collaborations.
A Secret Sisterhood looks at Jane Austen’s bond with a family servant.…a governess friend named ‘Miss Sharpe’ first crops up in Jane’s correspondence in the spring of that year (21–3 April 1805).
Surprisingly, an annotation tucked away at the back of the authoritative edition [i.e., Le Faye’s] of Jane Austen’s letters insists that this Miss Sharpe could not possibly be the same woman who taught Jane’s niece – a Miss Sharpe who would feature in Jane’s next surviving letter (24 August 1805), and whose name would litter the rest of Jane’s missives. [Per Le Faye, t]he first governess friend of the name “Miss Sharpe” cannot be Anne Sharpe, apparently, because she and Jane could not yet have met. There’s no evidence that Jane had paid a visit to her Kentish relatives during the fifteen months of Anne’s employment. And Anne must have been holed away in Godmersham throughout that time.
But this, in fact, was not the case. The metal-clasped diaries and wax-sealed letters of Jane’s niece Fanny reveal that, during the spring of 1805, her teacher was away from home. These unpublished manuscripts show that Anne’s month-long absence coincides with a time when Jane was moving house.
This was a period ridden with trepidation for the Austen women. The death of Reverend Austen had not only robbed them of an affectionate husband and father, they’d also lost a major source of income. Unable to continue to afford their tenancy of Green Park Buildings, Mrs. Austen and her two daughters removed themselves to poky rented rooms in a busy part of town.
Since Fanny waved off her governess during the week commencing 18 March and Anne didn’t return for almost a month, it seems possible that Edward sent her to assist the Austen women with their move, and that Jane and Anne grew fond of each other far from the watchful eyes of the owners of Godmersham.
If so, this would not have been the first time that Anne had been told to cancel lessons and fit herself around the family’s other plans. She was regularly instructed to work outside the schoolroom: sent to drop off the boys at their boarding schools at the beginning of term and pick them up at its close, and called on at times to chaperone her employer’s guests on their journeys too.
To have been a fly on the wall when Jane and Anne first met, to watch as their relationship transformed from that of employer and employee to a deep bond between two women who wrote.
Both were enduring difficult times during the spring of 1805. Anne suffered persistent headaches and eye problems that must have hampered her attempts at devising plays, and Jane – still unpublished at this stage – had not been able to concentrate on her new novel during the months since her father died.
It’s tempting to imagine that the pair’s shared love of literature sustained them through such difficult times and that their first flicker of friendship brightened each other’s lives.
In the years to come, these women would find all sorts of ways to support each other’s endeavours – Anne offered Jane astute critiques of her novels and Jane acted in one of Anne’s household plays – but, on this occasion, the pair could no sooner have become acquainted than they would have been forced to part ways. Anne had to return to her post at Godmersham and Jane had to endure her shrunken circumstances in Bath.
Jane did see some opportunities in her newfound impoverishment. It offered the perfect excuse to invite her childhood friend Martha Lloyd to join the new household – a plan Jane and her sister had plotted behind the backs of their relatives. Martha’s meagre finances could supplement the Austen women’s funds and her skills as an amateur cook and apothecary would come as welcome indeed. But, more than anything, it was her friendship they held dear.
Friendship was also at the heart of another of Jane’s schemes. That first mention in the surviving letters of a governess called “Miss Sharpe” gives the impression that Jane had been looking for teaching work in Bath on the woman’s behalf. If this governess friend was indeed the Anne Sharpe who taught Jane’s niece, such an endeavour would surely have involved Jane going behind her brother’s back.
This version of events exposes the myth of Jane as a conservative maiden aunt, devoted above all else to kith and kin. Here was a much more rebellious woman, someone prepared to flout social conventions by treating a family servant as an equal; someone ready to show disloyalty to her brother by prioritising the needs of a female friend.”  END QUOTE

The key new evidence provided by Midorikawa and Sweeney, which was unknown to our trio in Austen-L in Sept. 2011, was the following:
“The metal-clasped diaries and wax-sealed letters of Jane’s niece Fanny reveal that, during the spring of 1805, her teacher was away from home. These unpublished manuscripts show that Anne’s month-long absence coincides with a time when Jane was moving house.”

I didn’t believe in random coincidence regarding the name “Anne Sharpe” in those April 1805 letters, and so I doubly disbelieve in the additional coincidence of geography that Fanny’s letters reveal. We can only wonder how much more evidence of this kind lies gathering dust in archives, waiting for other diligent scholars to excavate the proofs, so long ignored, that the Myth of Jane Austen is just that—a fable made up by members of the Austen family and their “protectors” (most of all Le Faye). Don’t you agree with me that, after two centuries, that Myth ought to finally give way to honest and open-minded evaluation by scholars whose only “modern” agenda is to actively seek out, and honestly and open-mindedly evaluate, the evidence of startlingly modern aspects of the prescient and fearless genius, Jane Austen, which coincide, as in my above account, with the clues which have been hiding in plain sight for those two centuries, but which could not be seen for what they really are, because Austen scholars and ordinary Janeites alike have been reading them through the wrong “spectacles”!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: For more of what Midorikawa and Sweeney themselves have written online about Jane Austen and Anne Sharp(e), follow this link:
“How Jane Austen's mystery woman was edited out of history”

“…Two hundred years ago this month, an ailing Jane Austen gathered the energy to pen the last letter she would ever send from her cottage in rural Kent. She professed her “tender” feelings for the recipient, her dear friend and fellow writer Anne Sharp, proclaiming herself forever “attached”. But the extraordinary woman who Austen singled out for this prolonged and affectionate farewell of May 1817 is little known today. Historian Lucy Worsley suggested this week that although Austen almost certainly never slept with a man, she may instead have slept with a woman. We know not if her relations with Sharp were anything more than platonic, but either way, the obscurity of the latter is just as Austen’s relatives would have wished it. While the great novelist considered her correspondent a most treasured confidante, Austen’s family took a very different view of Anne. For this woman was a member of the servant class. Indeed, she’d worked for the Austens themselves – as a governess to Jane’s niece.
Such a friendship flouted the social norms of the time. By keeping it out of official versions of Austen’s life, the family could create a false image of the famous author as a conservative maiden aunt, devoted above all else to kith and kin. As a result, the close bond she shared with Anne, who wrote plays in between teaching lessons, has become one of literature’s most enduring secrets. To this day, we rarely hear about Anne’s valuable critiques of Austen’s novels Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma, nor of Austen’s support for Anne’s own plays. Austen even acted a role in one of these household theatricals – walking a mile in her friend’s shoes by playing the part of a teacher.

This kind of whitewashing is all too common. While male literary friendships have become the stuff of legend, mystery too often shrouds the relations that history’s most celebrated female authors sought with other creative, intelligent women….”