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Monday, December 25, 2017

Such a Henry Austen! His surprisingly deep insight into the mystery of his sister Jane’s genius


Having slept on my last post in which I concluded that James Edward Austen Leigh, and not Henry Austen, was the author of the 1817 Biographical Notice, it occurs to me to add a bit more of the Big Picture I see, now that I've read, for the first time ever, Henry's 1832 revision (actually it's more of an expansion than a revision) of the 1817 Notice. Specifically, I feel much more kindly feelings toward Henry Austen as biographer of Jane than I have for the past decade.

First, I now see that Henry’s primary goal was NOT to damn Jane's writing by faint, condescending praise; nor, even more importantly, was Henry motivated by a desire to hide from the world the inconvenient truth of JEAL's side of the Austen family being the true target of Jane Austen's famous but unspecific May 1801 aphorism after James and Mary Austen virtually stole Steventon out from under Revd. & Mrs .Austen, Jane and Cassandra:
"The whole world is in a conspiracy to enrich one part of our family at the expence of the other." 

In stark contrast, now I see that those two sins are precisely the ones which were committed by JEAL in BOTH the 1817 Biographical Notice, and more egregiously still in his 1870 Memoir. In short, JEAL now stands alone as the perpetrator of the Myth of Jane Austen, and Henry is off the hook, in my estimation.

Second, even as Henry felt compelled to add his regrettably excessive special pleading about Jane as an orthodox Christian, he also added a section about her fiction which shows the deep insight Henry had into the secrets of his sister's genius, insight that went light years beyond nephew's JEAL's condescending, clueless, sexist assessment. Here's what Henry added that is a brilliant encapsulation of Jane as a true savant of human nature --- perhaps even more insightful than Sir Walter Scott's 1816 praise (in his famous "Bow Wow strain" review http://www.bartleby.com/303/2/1001.html )

[Henry Austen, 1832]:
"The secret is, Miss Austen was a thorough mistress in the knowledge of human character; how it is acted upon by education and circumstance; and how, when once formed, it shows itself through every hour of every day, and in every speech to every person. Her conversations would be tiresome but for this; and her personages, the fellows to whom may be met in the streets, or drank tea with at half an hours’ notice, would excite no interest; but in Miss Austen’s hands we see into their hearts and hopes, their motives, their struggles within themselves; and a sympathy is induced, which, if extended to daily life, and the world at large, would make the reader a more amiable person; and we must think it that reader’s own fault who does not close her pages with more charity in his heart towards unpretending, if prosing, worth; with a higher estimation of simple kindness, and sincere good-will; with a quickened sense of the duty of
bearing and forbearing, in domestic intercourse, and of the pleasure of adding to the little comforts even of persons who are neither wits nor beauties,-who, in a word, does not feel more disposed to be benevolent.
In the last posthumous tale ('Persuasion') there is a strain of a higher mood; there is still the exquisite delineation of common life, such life as we hear, and see, and make part of, with the addition of a finer, more poetic, yet equally real tone of thought and actions in the principals. If Miss Austen was sparing in her introduction of nobler characters, it was because they are scattered sparingly in life...'

Isn't that lovely and brilliant at the same time? It shows that Henry Austen really loved reading and rereading Jane's novels very closely, and that he spent
time thinking about what he read. It also shows that he wished to particularly rebut the common complaint of dull elves about Jane's fiction: "Nothing happens in her stories, they're so boring". In effect, he provided a gloss on Elizabeth Bennet's brilliant and telling retort to Darcy about the never ending alterations of character even in a confined country
neighborhood.

I particularly love that last line, about the rarity of nobler characters in her fiction, because of their rarity in real life -talk about a classic Austenian ironic aphorism - that's a line Jane herself would have been proud to write, and perhaps we also get a taste here of the kind of high-grade repartee that Jane and Henry must have enjoyed with each other. Just as Fanny Price cannot help but smile at Henry Crawford’s witty brilliance, so too, I believe Henry could hold his own with Jane in witty exchanges, something they had a great deal of opportunity to engage in during the crucial extended visits she paid to him (both when cousin Eliza was still alive, and afterwards as well).

Most valuably of all, Henry hammers home that Jane Austen was, at the deepest level, all about the realest of real life, and so now I must now echo Jane who fondly wrote "Such a Henry!"

Happy holidays to all.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

The mystery of the 1817 Biographical Notice of Jane Austen, its 1832 revision, & the 1870 Memoir

A week ago, after reading Juliette Wells’ recent Persuasions Online article about authorship of the 1817 Biographical Notice of Jane Austen, which served as preface to the 1818 first edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, I wrote a blog post… [“On Jane Austen’s 242nd birthday, a vindication of her passionate “Scarlets Letter” complaint” https://tinyurl.com/yb3sqzc5 ] ...in which I was the first to ever speculate that the author of the 1817 Notice was not brother Henry Austen, as has long been universally believed, but instead was nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh. In that post, I argued that JEAL wished to exculpate Mr. and Mrs. Leigh-Perrot from blame for hastening Jane Austen’s death via the shock of disinheritance only a few months earlier. Instead, JEAL seized the moment, and deliberately left the cause of his aunt’s complaint unstated and therefore unknown to strangers unaware of the true cause.

Three days ago, another essay appeared online…  https://sarahemsley.com/2017/12/22/henry-austens-biographical-notice-of-the-author/  …in which Peter Sabor disagreed with Wells, and claimed that Henry Austen was indeed the sole author of the 1817 Notice, based on what Henry wrote to Bentley in a letter dated October 4, 1832 letter which is currently held by the British Library, but the text of it was shown in full in Deirdre Le Faye’s “Jane Austen: New Biographical Comments,” Notes and Queries 39.2 (1992), 162-63). Sabor wrote: “The letter clearly reveals Henry’s authorship of both the Biographical Notice and the revised memoir.” However, when Peter, at my request earlier today, graciously found time during this holiday to shoot me back a pdf of Le Faye’s article, I read Henry’s very short 1832 letter to Bentley, and the only excerpt which was relevant to the question of authorship of the 1817 version was this description of Henry’s 1832 version: "A biographical sketch of the Authoress, which is to supersede that already publishd." It does not say, “already publishd by myself”.

This seems to me to be Henry Austen playing very coy indeed with Bentley about who wrote the 1817 version which Henry was superseding. This ambiguity seems intentional on Henry's part, so that Bentley would assume it was Henry who also wrote the 1817 version. Why? So that Bentley wouldn’t contact JEAL and get his input before publishing Henry’s revision! However, Henry also would’ve wished to avoid an outright lie to Bentley, which might’ve been embarrassing not long after, when JEAL read Henry’s published revision. If JEAL ever contacted Bentley-- especially given that Henry had both coopted and edited down JEAL’s original, without JEAL’s even being told by his uncle – at least Bentley could plead ignorance, as Henry could plead inadvertent unclarity on his own part. As I said, very coy.

But that is all background to my main point today. Sabor’s post had also reminded me that I had left a big loose end dangling from my first post, because I hadn’t checked the 1832 revision of the 1817 Notice. What specifically had been altered, I wondered, from the 1817 Notice, and for what possible reason?

That led me to the 1997 print Persuasions article, “Henry Austen's Memoir of Miss Austen”, by David Gilson, which is readable online here: http://www.jasna.org/assets/Persuasions/No.-19/gilson.pdf   Gilson very helpfully provided the full text of the 1832 revision, and I urge you to read it when you have a chance, although you don’t need to, in order to follow the rest of my argument.

First, Gilson reconfirmed what both Wells and Sabor agree on, which is that it is 100% certain (from that October 1832 cover letter that Henry Austen wrote to Bentley) that Henry was indeed the author of the 1832 revision. Which would make it all the more interesting if the 1817 Notice had not been written by Henry, but by his and Jane’s young nephew, JEAL. Then we’d potentially have a case of “dueling biographers”, with Henry having waited 15 years to supersede his nephew’s version of Jane’s life, and then JEAL waiting nearly 40 years after that, when none of Jane Austen’s siblings remained alive, to reclaim, on a permanent basis, the role of definitive family biographer of Jane Austen.

But was there anything in the changes made by the 1832 revision by Henry, and then by the 1870 Memoir by JEAL, that fingers JEAL as the original 1817 author? After comparing the 1817 and 1832 versions, there are various changes and additions which are worthy of notice, such as the insertion of a great deal of special pleading in the 1832 revision about Jane Austen’s Christianity (which surely can be explained by the protean Henry’s having by then fully morphed from the worldly London banker/socialite married to his and Jane’s enigmatic cousin Eliza, into a zealous Evangelical clergyman during the reign of George IV). As Sabor aptly put it: “Like all biographers, Henry Austen had an agenda…he devotes the final paragraph of his piece entirely to spiritual matters and is evidently writing as a parson here. Jane Austen was ‘thoroughly religious and devout; fearful of giving offence to God, and incapable of feeling it towards any fellow creature.’ Although everything we know of Austen’s acerbic wit from her novels and letters belies these words, Henry presses on to a strange conclusion: “her opinions,” he declares, “accorded strictly with those of our Established Church.” The word “strictly” is especially jarring: Austen’s opinions, of course, were her own.”

However, I soon discerned something else of even greater significance to the authorship enigma: two  excerpts from the 1817 Notice were omitted in the 1832 revision, but then, both intriguingly popped up again in slightly altered form….in JEAL’s 1870 Memoir! That on-off-on pattern, I suggest, constitutes persuasive circumstantial evidence that JEAL was the anonymous author of the 1817 Notice!

Here is the first such excerpt as it appears in the 1817 Notice:  “[Jane Austen’s] favourite moral writers were Johnson in prose, and Cowper in verse. It is difficult to say at what age she was not intimately acquainted with the merits and defects of the best essays and novels in the English language. Richardson's power of creating, and preserving the consistency of his characters, as particularly exemplified in Sir Charles Grandison, gratified the natural discrimination of her mind, whilst her taste secured her from the errors of his prolix style and tedious narrative. She did not rank any work of Fielding quite so high.”

Other than the swipe at Fielding (which, as I suggested in my post last weekend, was clearly false – Tom Jones, Joseph Andrews, and Shamela were, collectively, notable allusive sources for Pride and Prejudice and Emma, at a minimum), these are hardly controversial claims of Jane Austen’s particular interest in Richardson, Cowper, and Johnson. Nonetheless, in the 1832 revision, there is no reference whatsoever to Johnson, Cowper, Richardson, or Fielding! This omission is all the more striking, because the 1832 revision otherwise includes, mostly verbatim, substantially all of the other verbiage from the 1817 Notice; and, it also includes Henry’s addition of that completely new, long and final passage which frantically asserts that sister Jane was the epitome of an orthodoxly Christian writer (a claim which, by the way, I took issue with at some length yesterday here:  http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2017/12/on-comet-on-cupid-on-blunder-and-dixon.html)

However --- and here’s the key---in the 1870 Memoir, which indubitably was written by JEAL, we read what is essentially an expansion of the above quoted passage from the 1817 Notice about Richardson, Cowper, and Johnson as touchstones for Jane Austen, a passage which (it bears repeating) was omitted entirely by Henry Austen in 1832!:  “Her knowledge of Richardson's works was such as no one is likely again to acquire, now that the multitude and the merits of our light literature have called off the attention of readers from that great master. Every circumstance narrated in Sir Charles Grandison, all that was ever said or done in the cedar parlour, was familiar to her; and the wedding days of Lady L. and Lady G. were as well remembered as if they had been living friends. Amongst her favourite writers, Johnson in prose, Crabbe in verse, and Cowper in both, stood high.  It is well that the native good taste of herself and of those with whom she lived, saved her from the snare into which a sister novelist had fallen, of imitating the grandiloquent style of Johnson.”

To those who would argue that Henry Austen was the author of the 1817 Notice, how do you explain why he would decide in 1832 to single out for deletion his own summary of his sister’s most important literary influences? It makes no sense, especially in light of his nephew’s reinstating, substantially, those very same claims of literary influence. But if JEAL wrote the 1817 Notice, there’d be no strangeness at all about Henry’s amending JEAL’s original, but then JEAL, in 1870, reinstating his own original version.

The same pattern applies to the other on-off-on excerpt, which appears as follows in the 1817 version:
“From this place [Chawton Cottage] she sent into the world those novels, which by many have been placed on the same shelf as the works of a D'Arblay and an Edgeworth.”

In the 1832 revision, there is not a word about either Burney or Edgeworth, but then, again, in the 1870 Memoir, we find that same idea reinserted in so many words: “Sometimes a friend or neighbour, who chanced to know of our connection with the author, would condescend to speak with moderate approbation of Sense and Sensibility, or Pride and Prejudice; but if they had known that we, in our secret thoughts, classed her with Madame D'Arblay or Miss Edgeworth, or even with some other novel writers of the day whose names are now scarcely remembered, they would have considered it an amusing instance of family conceit.” 

In the totally ambiguous circumstance established by the actual words of Henry’s letter to Bentley, the preponderance of this circumstantial evidence favors my claim that JEAL, at the precocious age of 19, was the actual author of the 1817 Notice. It avoids having to twist the on-off-on pattern into a pretzel in order to try to come up with an equally plausible explanation for why Henry Austen would, on a point of the highest importance in a literary biographical notice--- the identity of the author’s most significant literary influences and favorites --- delete his own crucial report in that regard provided within months after his sister’s death, in a revision 14 years later; only to have his nephew, 40 years still further on, reinsert the substance of claims which his uncle seemingly deemed unworthy of reiteration?

No, the simplest, most direct explanation is what I’ve written above, which I see as both a validation of Juliette Wells’s scholarly thoroughness in checking to verify Henry’s authorship of the 1817 Notice, and also of the right direction of her hunch that another Austen family hand, Cassandra’s, had held the pen, at least some of the time, in 1817. I am merely walking through the door Wells cracked open, by comparing the 1832 revision with both the 1817 Notice and the 1870 Memoir, and thereby revealing the telltale pattern I’ve outlined above.

In fairness to prior scholars (such as Bharat Tandon, who in his 2004 book about Austen briefly noted that the 1817 Notice and the 1870 Memoir contain similar references to Johnson, Richardson, and Cowper), there was no reason for anybody to even think about authorship, when the entire Janeite world, including myself, believed Henry’s authorship of the 1817 Notice a settled fact. Not until Wells’s diligent show-me fact-checking did this first become a plausible line of inquiry.

And if I’m right, then at least two important questions occur to me.

First, what exactly was going on in late 1817 that resulted in the 19 year old JEAL being tasked with writing the first version of the Biographical Notice? Henry, after all, was Jane’s literary executor, as well as a mature adult who’d had a much longer and closer relationship with her than JEAL, and who surely  knew her novels much better as well. Perhaps this was an early recognition of a profound shift that had just occurred in Austen family politics, due to the event which, as I claimed in my post last weekend, had motivated JEAL to quote from his aunt’s letter about being “too complaining” – the death of James Leigh-Perrot. At that transitional moment, the eldest Austen sibling, James Austen was (as I recall) already too ill to attend his sister’s funeral, and died only a year or so later. Therefore, pursuant to the Leigh-Perrot Will, it was clear to all that JEAL would one day be The One; upon great-aunt Leigh-Perrot’s death, he would inherit Scarlets and all their other wealth. As we all know Jane Austen knew better than anyone, money talks.

So perhaps the honor of writing the 1817 Notice, even anonymously, was a plum that Jane’s mother, sister, and two eldest brothers agreed should be awarded to the literarily ambitious JEAL, with whom they all wished to curry favor. In particular, remember Jane’s 1817 “two inches of ivory” letter, which is filled with what I believe is totally insincere flattery of JEAL, for that exact same reason. Money talks.

If that all is so, then it seems plausible that Henry Austen could have jealous and resentful of this family decision; and therefore, when opportunity knocked in the form of Bentley’s reaching out to him, after 14 long years, Henry let opportunity in, and chose to pick up the pen and reshape the world’s opinion about his writing sister as he saw her; primarily to conform to his own religious agenda, but also perhaps to find something –anything--in his usurping nephew’s 1817 version to undo. We’ve all seen this happen in American politics in 2017. The politics of undoing on a national scale, but maybe also on the micro scale in the Austen family as well.

This could account for why Henry chose to delete both of JEAL’s most literarily significant claims –the authors Jane loved most, and the authors with whose writing Jane’s was most worthy of favorable comparison. It’s just improbable that Henry really disagreed with JEAL’s original literary judgments; nor can these deletions have been the result of a shortage of writing space—because, as already noted, Henry inserted a much longer paragraph about Jane’s Christianity.

We’ll probably never know for sure what motivated this strange on-off-on pattern, but I want to close this post by setting the stage for a third post of mine on this rich vein of ore opened up by Wells’s article. To wit: it was while writing this post that I realized that Jane Austen, who was the sharpest elf of all, actually laid a trap for JEAL in the lines she wrote that appear in the 1817 Notice, the 1832 revision, and the 1870 Memoir:  “'But I am getting too near complaint. It has been the appointment of God, however secondary causes may have operated.”

I’ve already suggested that JEAL chose that quote from her late letter, because his aunt’s words seemed to give the Leigh-Perrots, as well as JEAL and his parents, a “Get out of jail free” card from guilt and blame for having accelerated Jane Austen’s decline. But can you spot the “virus” that she hid in plain sight in those seemingly exculpatory words, which actually points a finger of blame right at that same group, but most of all at JEAL’s mother, Mary Lloyd Austen?

I’ll be back by the end of tomorrow with that third installment, in which I’ll make that case, till then, I’ll call John Knightley over to the keyboard, so he can add his two pence:
 “MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!”

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, December 23, 2017

On, Comet! on CUPID! on, BLUNDER and DIXON!: A (Girl) Child is Born in Austen’s Emma

As happens nearly every year at this time, the topic of Christmas in Jane Austen’s novels in general, and in Emma in particular, has again been raised in the Janeites group. I wish to briefly add my own latest offbeat perspectives thereon.

The first major pivot point in the story arc of Emma is the Christmas Eve dinner at Randalls midway through the first volume. It is pivotal, because it marks the first of Emma’s major realizations of her blunders about the un-smooth course of true love and marriage. In that context, I believe it was entirely intentional on Jane Austen’s part, that the highlights of that scene are not heartwarming moments of warm, cozy, spiritual family togetherness around the fire, singing Christmas carols.

No, instead, Austen creates a veritable anti-Christmas: an extended scene the highlights of which consist first of John Knightley (aka Scrooge, Jr.) venting his spleen over being forced to attend the dinner at all; followed by John sadistically tormenting his demented father in law, by stoking Mr. Woodhouse’s absurd fears of calamity in the snow; and then, as if all that were not un-Christmas-like enough, the scene culminates in the very drunk Mr. Elton nearly sexually assaulting Emma during the short but painfully slow carriage ride back to Hartfield!– which, in an odd way also seems intentional on Austen’s part, because it makes Mr. Woodhouse’s delusional fears of great danger during a less than one mile carriage ride seem like prescient greatness of mind, if somewhat offbase in specifics – because it turns out that the greater danger to Emma came not from Mother Nature, but from a more dangerous source – an avaricious, lustful young man feeling entitled to attempt to force himself on a rich, attractive young woman he desires.

Now, given that Jane Austen wrote Emma near the end of her all-too-short life, does that seem like the writing of the lifelong pious, traditional Christian that so many Janeites, as the bicentennial of her death draws to a close, still suppose her to have been? I learned only yesterday that the earliest published seeds of that erroneous belief were planted by Henry Austen’s 1832 revision of the 1817 Biographical Notice, when he added this entire section of pure propaganda at the end:

“Miss Austen has the merit (in our judgment most essential) of being evidently a Christian writer: a merit which is much enhanced, both on the score of good taste and of practical utility, by her religion being not at all obtrusive. She might defy the most fastidious critic to call any of her novels (as Celebs was designated) a dramatic sermon. The subject is rather alluded to, and that incidentally, than studiously brought forward and dwelt upon. In fact, she is more sparing of it than would be thought desirable by some persons; perhaps even by herself, had she consulted merely her own sentiments, but she probably introduced it as far as she thought would be generally profitable; for when the purpose of inculcating a religious principle is made too palpably prominent, many readers, if they do not throw aside the book with disgust, are apt to fortify themselves with that respectful kind of apathy with which they undergo a regular sermon, and prepare themselves as they do to swallow a dose of medicine, endeavouring to get it down in large gulps, without tasting it more than is necessary." Perhaps these volumes may be perused by some readers who will feel a solicitude respecting the authoress, extending beyond the perishable qualities of temper, manners, taste, and talents.-We can assure all such (and the being able so to do gratifies us more than the loudest voice of human praise) that Jane Austen's hopes of immortality were built upon the Rock of ages. That she deeply felt, and devoutly acknowledged, the insignificance of all worldly attainments, and the worthlessness of all human services, in the eyes of her heavenly Father. That she had no other hope of mercy, pardon, and peace, but through the merits and sufferings of her Redeemer.”

The Evangelical Henry Austen was a skilled casuist and master of rhetorical disguise, because it is not apparent at first that he is actually attempting to reframe the virtual absence of any overt religious content in his sister’s novels as an alleged strategy to promulgate Christian precepts to her readers by the back door, so as not to drive them away with a “dramatic sermon”. Nice try, Henry Austen, but you protest way too much, and thereby reveal your desperation to hide the far more probable meaning of that absence of pious messaging in Jane Austen’s novels – that she simply did not buy into traditional church dogma!

Actually, Henry was half-correct, because Jane Austen’s authorial strategies were indeed often indirect and subtle, and she did have what could broadly be described as a Christian moral agenda she wished to promote. But where he is dead wrong, I claim, is that Jane had in mind a very different sort of Christianity than Henry was alluding to; most of all in her challenge to male domination of Christianity –whether Anglican or Evangelical--- in all aspects. And so, I claim, we can see that defiant challenge in her Christmas Eve scene, which foregrounds the depiction of various men, including an Anglican “man of God”, Mr. Elton, acting badly, and completely against the spirit of universal love at Christmas.  

But it was only while writing this post that I realized that the core idea of Christmas actually undergirds the entirety of Emma in a much more fundamental way. I.e., I believe we see Jane Austen’s most powerful assertion of an equal female seat at the table of Christian power, in the shadow story of Emma, which, I have claimed for nearly 13 years now, entirely rotates not around Emma, but around Jane Fairfax and her concealed pregnancy which exactly coincides with the three “trimesters” of the novel’s timeline.

How so? Because the climax of that concealed story arc, I’ve long claimed, is the birth of Jane’s daughter, followed immediately by the “forwarding” of that girl child (like a letter delivered to the wrong addressee, apropos the discussion in Chapter 34 of letters delivered by the English postal system) to Mrs. Weston, who only began pretending to be pregnant two months earlier, just long enough to support a thin veil of pretense to have borne that child herself.

And it is in the description, in Chapter 51, of the immediate aftermath of that pretended childbirth by Mrs. Weston, that I find the strongest echo of the Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus -- but this time rewritten by Jane Austen to celebrate the coming of a female messiah, who will finish Jesus’s job, by delivering women from oppression:

“Mrs. Weston’s friends were all made happy by her safety; and if the satisfaction of her well-doing could be increased to Emma, it was by knowing her to be the mother of a little girl. She had been decided in wishing for a Miss Weston. She would not acknowledge that it was with any view of making a match for her, hereafter, with either of Isabella’s sons; but she was convinced that a daughter would suit both father and mother best. It would be a great comfort to Mr. Weston, as he grew older—and even Mr. Weston might be growing older ten years hence—to have his fireside enlivened by the sports and the nonsense, the freaks and the fancies of a child never banished from home; and Mrs. Weston—no one could doubt that a daughter would be most to her; and it would be quite a pity that any one who so well knew how to teach, should not have their powers in exercise again.”

Think about it—the Virgin Birth of Jesus has been a source of theological controversy, with some scholars suggesting… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_birth_of_Jesus  …that there is an ancient tradition that it was a cover story for what was, in ancient times and today, the extraordinarily vulnerable circumstance of an unmarried woman carrying and bearing a baby out of wedlock. That is the heart of the poignant, dramatic story of Jane Fairfax, the shadow heroine of the novel named for the young woman, Emma, who yearns to know Jane’s story, and who, upon acknowledging her prior blindness,  asks for Jane’s forgiveness for not having been a true friend to her – that veiled image of female forgiveness for failure to protect each other is the heart of what I believe was Jane Austen’s Christianity.

As Anielka first pointed out a decade ago, the fictional baby Anna Weston is a code for the real life Anna Austen (Jane Austen’s niece, and perhaps more), and so this also suggests to me the hopes and dreams Jane Austen still harbored for Anna’s literary career in late 1815 as she completed the writing of Emma, hopes which were cruelly dashed when Anna, by early 1817 had become a “poor animal”, unable to keep writing because overwhelmed by serial pregnancies. Jane, writing less than 2 years before her own death, clearly had hoped to anoint Anna as a female messiah who would carry her beloved aunt’s feminist agenda forward far into the future, and help make the world a better place for women.

Speaking of “dashed” hopes…. I end by explaining the cryptic first part of my Subject Line, which is drawn from the following:

Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on CUPID! on, BLUNDER and DIXON!:

Of course that is a Spoonerized version of the most famous couplet from “The Night Before Christmas”, and, from that, perhaps some of you have already guessed why I put four of those reindeer names in ALL CAPS in a post about Christmas in Emma:

CUPID is the shadow protagonist of the full version of Garrick’s Riddle, which Mr. Woodhouse struggles to recall in full in Chapter 9, but which (as Jill Heydt-Stevenson first pointed out 20 years ago) alludes to syphilitic men appealing to the god of love to kindle their flame so they can “sweep” the chaste “chimneys” of virgins, in a barbaric attempt to cure their disease:

Kitty, a fair, but frozen maid,
Kindled a flame I still deplore.
THE HOOD-WINKED BOY I called in aid,
Much of HIS near approach afraid,
So fatal to my suit before.
At length propitious to my prayer,
THE LITTLE URCHIN came.
At once HE sought the midway air,
And soon HE clear'd with dexterous care
The bitter relics of my flame.
To Kitty, Fanny now succeeds,
She kindles slow, but lasting fires;
With care my appetite she feeds;
Each day some willing victim bleeds,
To satisfy my strange desires.
Say by what title or what name,
Must I THIS YOUTH address?
CUPID and he are not the same—
Tho' both can raise or quench a flame —
I'll kiss you if you guess."
[The official answer is "A Chimney Sweep"]

BLUNDER and DIXON are, of course, the two words formed from Regency Era scrabble tiles, which so mysteriously upset Jane Fairfax at Donwell Abbey in Chapter 41. I’ve longed wondered at the uncanny perfection with which those that pair of words work as a Spoonerized version of ‘DONNER and BLITZEN’.

And, given that, how more curious still that:

In Chapter 26, the word “DASHED” appears in the same sentence as “DIXON”:  “I dare say you would; but I, simple I, saw nothing but the fact, that Miss Fairfax was nearly DASHED from the vessel and that Mr. DIXON caught her.

The word “DANCER” is associated with the man (Knightley) Emma at one point fears might love Jane, and also with the man (Frank) Emma is shocked to learn was involved from the get-go with Jame:

“Me!—oh! no—I would get you a better partner than myself. I am no DANCER.”

“…So Frank Churchill is a capital DANCER, I understand…”

But what could this possibly mean?

First and foremost, the coupling of “BLUNDER” and “DIXON” fits uncannily well with my assertion that Emma nearly blunders into the truth, when she suspects Mr. Dixon of being Jane Fairfax’s secret lover, because it is John Knightley, not Mr. Dixon, who is the married man who impregnates Jane Fairfax, and thereby triggers the entire arc of the novel’s shadow story.

Beyond that, you’re surely wondering, as I have, why Emma would seem to be strangely connected to “The Night Before Christmas”. To start, Wikipedia tells us that “this famous Christmas poem first appeared in the Troy Sentinel on December 23, 1823. There seems to be no question that the poem came out of the home of Clement Moore, and the person giving the poem to the newspaper, without Moore's knowledge, certainly believed the poem had been written by Moore. However, several of Livingston's children remembered their father reading that very same poem to them fifteen years earlier.”

So, we have evidence that “The Night Before Christmas” was conceived by Clement Moore in 1808, seven years before Emma was published. But I also found this contrary claim in “Whither Evil” by the  Rev. Sharon Dittmar of the Unitarian Church in Cincinnati dated January 7, 2001: “Clement Moore did not write "'Twas the Night Before Christmas". Instead, another man wrote it, and when first credited to Moore, Moore neither agreed nor disagreed, letting people believe what they wanted. Twenty years later Moore was taking credit, and I assume royalties, for a plagiarized piece of verse. My favorite part of the story is that for over one hundred years no one thought to question the authorship because Moore was a theologian, and, as we all know, religious types such as theologians and ministers never sin, never participate in evil.”

Whatever the truth is as to who wrote “The Night Before Christmas”, and whether it was published in such a way that Jane Austen could have read it prior to writing Emma, are all of the striking resonances of reindeer names with keywords in Emma, the one Austen novel which prominently depicts a Christmas Eve scene, just a freaky coincidence?

In that regard, I will remain agnostic for now, and give the last word to Austen’s Scrooge, John Knightley:   “This will prove a spirited beginning of your winter engagements, sir. Something new for your coachman and horses to be making their way through a storm of snow.”

Was that John’s droll hint at Santa Claus, the coachman who meets his “winter engagements” every Christmas Eve, merrily wishing “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night”?

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAusten at Twitter

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Fanny Price’s Portsmouth Ecstasy & Agony, her voyage back to Mansfield Park (& Woolf & Joyce, too)

It is a truism of Austen studies that there is a minimum of visual description in the six novels, compared to the fiction of most other great authors. Beyond the obvious explanation that the building blocks of Austen’s fictional worlds are primarily invisible feelings, thoughts, and moral judgments, I also see a subtler, second reason for that paucity of visuals: we see each Austenian fictional world through the eyes and minds of the main heroine; and so, unless that heroine is struck by a particular visual detail, we don’t read about the rest of her visual field, so we don’t learn visual details that another author’s omniscient narrator might describe, in order to set a scene.

Austen’s minimalist visual narration has the effect of making her visual details, when provided, especially memorable. Just think of Mrs. Musgrove’s “fat sighings” on the sofa, Edward Ferrars’s cutting scissars, and the tarnished silver lock on the great chest in Catherine’s room at the Abbey.

Perhaps the most memorable example of rare Austenian narration with lots of visual detail is the extended narrative tableau in Chapter 43 of Pride and Prejudice, when Elizabeth arrives at Pemberley with the Gardiners. She is overwhelmed -- almost, it seems, to the point of climax -- by the cumulative effect of all she sees, both inside and out. As has been noted before, as she rides and/or walks along, the boundary in Elizabeth’s mind’s eye between Pemberley and its master seems to melt away, until they are fused into one awesome object of idolatry.

Much less noticed, however, is another, much shorter, yet strikingly similar Austenian scene, also with extraordinary visual detail driven by the heroine’s romantic ecstasy. In Chapter 42 of Mansfield Park. I suggest that exactly the same internal process is at work as with Elizabeth at Pemberley, but this time it is Fanny Price for whom the picturesque waterfront panorama from the Portsmouth ramparts becomes fused with the person (and, more minutely and tellingly, the supportive, gentlemanlike arm) of Henry Crawford:

“The day was uncommonly lovely. It was really March; but it was April in its mild air, brisk soft wind, and bright SUN, occasionally clouded for a minute; and everything looked so beautiful under the influence of such a sky, the effects of the shadows pursuing each other on the ships at Spithead and the island beyond, with the ever-varying hues of the sea, now at high water, dancing in its glee and dashing against the ramparts with so fine a sound, produced altogether such a combination of charms for Fanny, as made her gradually almost careless of the circumstances under which she felt them. Nay, had she been without his ARM, she would soon have known that she needed it, for she wanted strength for a two hours' saunter of this kind, coming, as it generally did, upon a week's previous inactivity. Fanny was beginning to feel the effect of being debarred from her usual regular exercise; she had lost ground as to health since her being in Portsmouth; and but for Mr. Crawford and the beauty of the weather would soon have been knocked up now.
The loveliness of the day, and of the view, he felt like herself. They often stopt with the same sentiment and taste, leaning against the wall, some minutes, to look and admire; and considering he was not Edmund, Fanny could not but allow that he was sufficiently open to the charms of nature, and very well able to express his admiration. She had a few tender reveries now and then, which he could sometimes take advantage of to look in her face without detection; and the result of these looks was, that though as bewitching as ever, her face was less blooming than it ought to be. She said she was very well, and did not like to be supposed otherwise; but take it all in all, he was convinced that her present residence could not be comfortable, and therefore could not be salutary for her, and he was growing anxious for her being again at Mansfield, where her own happiness, and his in seeing her, must be so much greater.”

As I’ve often noted, it’s no accident that this scene occurs at the same point in the story arc of Mansfield Park as Elizabeth’s first seeing Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. Austen meant for readers (like brother Henry Austen, who admired Henry Crawford) to recognize that parallel, aided by such visual cues, which open a window into the heart of her heroine, by letting us see the world through her rose-colored glasses.
I go further still, in suggesting that the alert first time reader of Mansfield Park who knows nothing of the actual ending, but has previously read Pride and Prejudice, would be as shocked as Fanny when she not long afterwards finds out that Henry has run off with Maria. The equivalent would’ve been Eliza finding out, shortly after her abrupt departure from Pemberley, that Darcy had run off with Anne de Bourgh or Caroline Bingley!

I suspect that Jane Austen deployed this game of inter-novel cat and mouse, as part of her larger agenda as a new kind of didactic fiction writer – to cross up readerly expectations, and keep readers on their toes; not out of a perverse delight in tricking readers, but because in real life a prudent single woman should be ready for either turn of the romantic screw, good or bad. Romantic appearances, especially the appearance of major reform in the flawed character of a rich, handsome, spoiled man, can be very deceiving. Which brings me to the point which actually prompted me to write this post today. I hadn’t previously noticed that Austen actually provides two overtones to Fanny’s Portsmouth ramparts rhapsody, before she sets off the bomb which is Henry and Maria’s shocking matrimonial fracas.

First, in the immediately ensuing Chapter 43, look at what Mary Crawford writes to Fanny:  "I have to inform you, my dearest Fanny, that Henry has been down to Portsmouth to see you; that he had a delightful walk with you to the dockyard last Saturday, and one still more to be dwelt on the next day, on the ramparts; when the balmy air, the sparkling sea, and your sweet looks and conversation were altogether in the most delicious harmony, and afforded sensations which are to raise ecstasy even in retrospect. This, as well as I understand, is to be the substance of my information….”  Mary (perhaps with Henry’s authorization?) is making sure to revive and refresh Fanny’s memory of her magical moments hanging on Henry’s arm, the more to keep that loving feeling alive (or rather, keep the hole open) in Fanny’s heart.

And then, three chapters later, in Chapter 46, we get what I now recognize to be the parodic bookend of Fanny’s ramparts ecstasy--- Fanny’s agony as she gazes, frozen in horror, at the hellish ‘landscape’ of the Price household:   “She was deep in other musing. The remembrance of her first evening in that room, of her father and his newspaper, came across her. No candle was now wanted. The sun was yet an hour and half above the horizon. She felt that she had, indeed, been three months there; and the sun's rays falling strongly into the parlour, instead of cheering, made her still more melancholy, for sunshine appeared to her a totally different thing in a town and in the country. Here, its power was only a glare: a stifling, sickly glare, serving but to bring forward stains and dirt that might otherwise have slept. There was neither health nor gaiety in sunshine in a town. She sat in a blaze of oppressive heat, in a cloud of moving dust, and her eyes could only wander from the walls, marked by her father's head, to the table cut and notched by her brothers, where stood the tea-board never thoroughly cleaned, the cups and saucers wiped in streaks, the milk a mixture of motes floating in thin blue, and the bread and butter growing every minute more greasy than even Rebecca's hands had first produced it…"

Note Austen’s brilliant stroke, in raising all these subtle echoes of the ramparts scene, but with each visual element now connected to the opposite feeling: the sun, which had earlier created “dancing” shafts of fire on the moving water, is now ‘only a glare’; the ‘ever-varying hues of the sea’ have now been replaced by ‘a mixture of motes floating in thin blue’; etc. [Christina Denny, in her 2014 Persuasions Online article, “‘Delighted with the Portsmouth Scene’: Why Austen’s Intimates admired Mansfield Park’s Gritty City”, noted both of these opposing passages, but did not connect them thematically]

Rather than telling the reader that Fanny’s ecstasy has turned to agony, Austen shows this via Fanny’s visual imagery. And how true to character is it, that Fanny, who, like Anne Elliot, is a connoisseur of romantic poetry, turns her feelings into poetry. And, in that precise regard, Geoff Chapman wrote the following in Janeites in May 2000:
“I think the quote below is blank verse, and I have lineated it thus:
She sat in a blaze of oppressive heat, in a cloud of moving dust;
and her eyes could only wander from the walls marked by her father's head,
to the table cut and notched by her brothers,
where stood the tea-board never thoroughly cleaned,
the cups and saucers wiped in streaks,
the milk a mixture of motes floating in thin blue...” 

For the remainder of this post, I now turn to later authors who I see as reacting to the above. First, I suspect that James Joyce, writing a century after Mansfield Park, had Fanny’s ecstasy and agony both in mind, when he wrote the following clashing visual imagery in Chapter 1 of Ulysses, reflecting Stephen Dedalus’s tortured, mixed feelings about his late mother. I see Stephen as emulating Fanny Price’s poetic conflation of water in a bay with water in a bowl.

[Buck Mulligan] mounted to the parapet again and gazed out over Dublin bay, his fair oakpale hair stirring slightly.
—God! he said quietly. Isn’t the sea what Algy calls it: a great sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea. Epi oinopa ponton. Ah, Dedalus, the Greeks! I must teach you. You must read them in the original. Thalatta! Thalatta! She is our great sweet mother. Come and look.
Stephen stood up and went over to the parapet. Leaning on it he looked down on the water and on the mailboat clearing the harbourmouth of Kingstown.…The ring of bay and skyline held a dull green mass of liquid. A bowl of white china had stood beside her deathbed holding the green sluggish bile which she had torn up from her rotting liver by fits of loud groaning vomiting.”

And, speaking of great 20th century writers reacting to Fanny’s clashing visual impressions, it is no secret that Virginia Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out (rewritten by her many times before she published it in 1915, three years after Ulysses), explicitly alludes to Persuasion in a conversation among Mrs. Dalloway, her husband, and Woolf’s tragic heroine, Rachel Vinrace. However, Mansfield Park also lurks in Woolf’s shadows, as flagged in the Janeites group six years ago by our very own Elissa Schiff: 
Virginia Woolf's first published novel (1914), The Voyage Out, which many think her most "Austen-like" satiric novel in style, has many, many specific references and allusions to Elizabeth Bennet and Fanny Price in heroine Rachel, their social "situations," includes the vapid Allans and Elliots among the characters, and has specific mention of Shakespeare in the text.”

What I noticed, and perhaps was one of the allusions Elissa saw, is the striking echo of Fanny’s ecstasy on the Portsmouth ramparts, on one hand, and the following passage in The Voyage Out, on the other:

“…[Rachel] was overcome by an intense desire to tell Mrs. Dalloway things she had never told any one—things she had not realised herself until this moment.
"I am lonely," she began. "I want—" She did not know what she wanted, so that she could not finish the sentence; but her lip quivered. But it seemed that Mrs. Dalloway was able to understand without words.
"I know," she said, actually putting one arm round Rachel's shoulder. "When I was your age I wanted too. No one understood until I met Richard. He gave me all I wanted. He's man and woman as well." Her eyes rested upon Mr. Dalloway, leaning upon the rail, still talking. "Don't think I say that because I'm his wife—I see his faults more clearly than I see any one else's. What one wants in the person one lives with is that they should keep one at one's best. I often wonder what I've done to be so happy!" she exclaimed, and a tear slid down her cheek. She wiped it away, squeezed Rachel's hand, and exclaimed: "How good life is!" At that moment, standing out in the fresh breeze, with the sun upon the waves, and Mrs. Dalloway's hand upon her arm, it seemed indeed as if life which had been unnamed before was infinitely wonderful, and too good to be true.
Here Helen passed them, and seeing Rachel arm-in-arm with a comparative stranger, looking excited, was amused, but at the same time slightly irritated….”

Why did Woolf elect to sound this striking echo of Fanny’s besotted visual impressions (inspired by Henry) in Rachel’s passionate moment with Clarissa? Is Dick Dalloway a sexually ambiguous Henry Crawford? Is Rachel Vinrace a Fanny Price torn among feelings for Edmund, Henry….and Mary?
Woolf famously complained about what was left unstated in Austen’s fiction, and I’ve long thought this was pointing to traumatizing incest. But now, based on the above, I’m convinced that fluidity in sexual orientation is also a significant thematic linkage of Rachel to Fanny, each a heroine on a voyage of sexual self-discovery. And, most troubling speculation of all: did Woolf mean to hint that Fanny’s voyage back to Mansfield Park, to a conventional heterosexual marriage to Edmund, was a kind of early death?

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Much ado about something wonderful: the priceless gift of the cancelled chapters of Persuasion

Prof. Paul Wray’s article, “Persuasion: Why the Revised Ending Works So Well”, argues that “the cancelled chapters are an artistic failure, as Jane Austen must have seen”. Today, I’ll rebut the first of Wray’s two central arguments (that “the original ending alters the character of Admiral Croft”). In so doing, I’ll argue that the cancelled chapters of Persuasion are a priceless gift, because they provide the best evidence I’ve found, to support my longstanding claim that each of Jane Austen’s six novels is a double story, with both an “overt story” (the novel’s plot as generally understood) and a “shadow story”, in which characters other than the heroine have very different motivations, and perform very different actions “offstage” out of the heroine’s view, than in the “overt story”. Or, my theory in a (firm wal)nut shell: one novel, two independent, parallel fictional universes, each of infinite dimension.

First, here is Wray claiming in his new article that Austen recognized that the change in Admiral Croft’s character was an artistic failure, which she therefore corrected by replacing those final chapters with the new ending which all Janeites know and love:     

“In the cancelled chapters, Admiral Croft, who has heretofore been friendly and frank, cajoles Anne against her inclination into ‘calling on’ Mrs. Croft: ‘‘You are going to call upon my wife, said he, she will be very glad to see you’’. This is not an invitation but an affirmation.  Anne, her mind full of what she has just heard from Mrs. Smith, tries to cut the encounter short, but he insists.  Anne is “vexed” because the admiral will not allow her to leave and because she fears that Captain Wentworth may be there, as indeed, he is, but first the pretense of visiting his wife must be prolonged:  “‘I will not swear that she has not something particular to say to you—but that will all come out in the right place.  I give no hints’”. This dissembler is not the admiral that we know.  This is not the admirable admiral whose “manners were not quite of the tone to suit Lady Russell, but…delighted Anne” and whose “goodness of heart and simplicity of character were irresistible”. What has become of the admiral who jovially asks her to take his arm after scoffing at the print in the shop window:  “‘Ha! is it you? Thank you, thank you. This is treating me like a friend’”? That admiral has gone missing in the cancelled chapters, along with the Admiral Croft who makes “himself very agreeable by his good-humoured notice of [Mary’s] little boys” when the Crofts visit Uppercross Cottage. 
What is the admiral’s motive in ushering Anne into Wentworth’s presence in such an underhanded way? Wentworth tries to persuade Anne (and the reader) that his brother-in-law “‘is a Man who can never be thought Impertinent by one who knows him as you do—.  His Intentions are always the kindest & the Best’”. That the author feels obliged to defend the admiral from this allegation (which Anne has not made) indicates that even while writing the original, Jane Austen saw the inconsistency she was creating in Admiral Croft’s character. The manuscript scene is an unsatisfying contrivance by the author. The admiral she created would not have misleadingly enticed Anne into his house. He and his wife have never been conniving (wittingly or unwittingly). Austen saw the inconsistency and looked for a way to resolve the narrative complication without compromising the genial character of Admiral Croft. Her solution does much more, however, than preserve the admiral’s character:  it completes Anne’s emergence into her role as one who “gloried in being a sailor’s wife”.  END QUOTE FROM WRAY ARTICLE

Alas, Wray overlooked a scholarly article by the late Prof. Jim Heldman, which presciently annihilates Wray’s claim, because Heldman had already shown, in literally dozens of ways, that the apparent late change in Admiral Croft’s character was no change at all, but was actually a foregrounding of his true character as subtly hinted all along during the entire novel. It was 25 years ago, in the 1993 Persuasions, that Heldman’s “The Crofts and the Art of Suggestion in Persuasion: A Speculation”… http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number15/heldman.htm  ...made a comprehensive case for seeing Admiral (and Mrs.) Croft as benign schemers throughout Persuasion. While I urge you to read Heldman’s succinct and reader-friendly, jargon-free article in full, here, for those in a hurry, is my abbreviated version of his introduction and conclusion:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen’s original ending of Persuasion was a bad idea and that the revised ending is a vast improvement…It is…tempting to consider the possibility that the cancelled chapters may have represented her original intentions for the conclusion and further that she may have been preparing for that conclusion in the earlier chapters of the novel…The cancelled chapters seem to be a setup to bring Anne and Wentworth together without their prior knowledge. Admiral Croft is insistent that Anne visit Mrs. Croft even though Anne makes a concerted effort to decline. He blatantly lies when he asserts that no one else is present, he forces Anne and Wentworth to remain together after he leaves them, and he insists that Wentworth broach with Anne the subject that leads to their reconciliation. …it is totally out of keeping with the characters of Anne and Wentworth as they have been presented earlier. It is also unflattering to them both and particularly unsatisfactory in that neither Anne nor Wentworth is responsible for their reconciliation. Instead of acting for themselves, as they do in the revision, they are ploys for the manipulation of Admiral and Mrs. Croft. But, for all its shortcomings, the scene suggests…a conspiracy of sorts on the part of the Crofts to bring Anne and Wentworth together. And assuming that this conspiracy may have been Jane Austen’s intention from the beginning, the scene suggests…that Jane Austen may have been preparing for the Crofts’ role in the reunion earlier in the novel[, and] that Admiral and Mrs. Croft would have known of Wentworth’s unhappy experience seven years earlier…it suggests that Admiral and Mrs. Croft, without Wentworth’s knowledge and certainly without his consent, have been busy, subtly and indirectly, from their first appearance in the novel, exploring the possibility of a reconciliation and attempting, by hints, indirect comments, prodding, and casually planted nudges, to bring about that reconciliation. A number of scenes in Persuasion may be read in a way that suggests this gentle conspiracy.” 

After that intro, Heldman then goes on meticulously document those scenes (for those who want a bit more, see the end of this post where I present my abbreviated version of the body of Heldman’s article). And now, here is Heldman’s conclusion:

“Every major scene in Persuasion in which the Crofts appear with Anne, and that means every scene but one in which they appear at all, includes some pointed or loaded comment by one or both of them – a question, the introduction of a subject, a general or indirect observation – which may be read as applying to the relationship between Anne and Wentworth.  These comments suggest a number of possibilities. They suggest that the Crofts know about Anne and Wentworth’s earlier relationship, that they are feeling out the present state of her affections, that they are encouraging Anne to think about Wentworth by reminding her of his possible attraction to Louisa, that they are aware of Wentworth’s present feelings for Anne, that they are attempting to force the issue gently and indirectly – though not always with subtlety – and, in view of the cancelled chapter, that they are engaged in a kind of conspiracy to bring Anne and Wentworth together again if possible.  There does seem to be a consistent pattern in the Crofts’ conduct, a pattern that is a persuasive one involving hints, suggestions, implications, prodding, and gentle nudges. In view of this pattern, the alternative – that they do not know about the past and that their comments on the subject are random, casual, accidental and simply responses to immediate situations- seems far less likely.”  END QUOTE FROM HELDMAN ARTICLE

Impressive stuff, right? So, which scholarly portrait of Jane Austen do you find more true-to-life?
Wray’s Austen, so out of artistic control as she was first finalizing the ending of Persuasion, that she presented Admiral Croft, a major character, in a totally inconsistent light vis a vis all his earlier appearances; and then, almost immediately after dating her first version, realized that she had made a huge error, and had to desperately scramble, within a 10-day period, to edit out that anomaly? Or
Heldman’s Austen, in total artistic control as she wrote all of Persuasion, but who chose at the last minute to alter her ending, not only to create a more powerful romantic climax, but also to continue her novel-long pattern of implication and hint at Admiral Croft’s (and his wife’s) joint romantic scheming? As a rule of thumb, I am glad to be of the party of those who give the benefit of the doubt to Jane Austen, and don’t presume to assume she has made a neophyte writer’s error!

But that’s only the first half of my own argument today, as I’ll now explain. I first read Heldman’s article in 2005, and it rocked my Austenian world in a very personal way, because it so powerfully supported my then newly minted Austen “shadow story” theory. I.e., I quickly realized that the cancelled chapters, in comprising the only known existing verbiage (in Austen’s own handwriting no less) of any earlier draft of text in one of her six completed novels, provided a unique window into her shadow stories. How so? Because that earlier draft, when viewed through the lens of Heldman’s airtight analysis, proved beyond a doubt that Austen was that rare author who would leave a crucial plot element (the Crofts as schemers) not explicitly revealed to either her readers -- or to her heroine, Anne Elliot -- at the end of the novel.

First, though, I wish to reemphasize that all Janeites, including Heldman, Wray, and myself, are united in believing that the published ending of Persuasion is without question one of the great romantic endings in all of literature. That quantum artistic leap would in and of itself have more than justified Austen’s artistic decision to replace the clearly inferior cancelled chapters.

However, it was after reading Heldman’s article in 2005, that I realized something even Heldman, in his pioneering insight, hadn’t grasped --- i.e., that in replacing the cancelled chapters but retaining all those earlier passages which Heldman flagged in his 1993 article, Austen had preserved the Crofts as schemers. And, even more probatively, the final tranche of textual evidence for Mrs. Croft as a schemer is present even in the replacement chapters! Here is the section of Heldman’s article which brings that point home:

“In the final scene in which Mrs. Croft speaks – the second scene at The White Hart in which Wentworth writes the letter to Anne – a scene WRITTEN AFTER Jane Austen had rejected her original ending – Mrs. Croft once again makes a pointed remark...Until this scene in the novel, the pointed comments of Admiral and Mrs. Croft seem to have been directed to Anne only. But for the first time Mrs. Croft has the opportunity to make an indirect suggestion when both Anne and Wentworth are present, and she might be read as encouraging both of them to get on with it….Does Mrs. Croft know about [Wentworth’s] feelings at this point? The novel doesn’t tell us, but we can speculate that it is possible, and perhaps even probable, that she does…In the cancelled chapters, Admiral Croft tells Anne that he and Mrs. Croft had discussed the rumors of Anne’s possible engagement to Mr. Elliot and suggests that they had not believed it. The Crofts seem to have been very much interested in Anne and Wentworth from the very beginning…it would seem very unlikely that the Crofts were not privy to at least some of Wentworth’s feelings about Anne. In this context, Mrs. Croft’s comments to Mrs. Musgrove assume even greater significance and implication.” END QUOTE FROM HELDMAN ARTICLE BODY

Those hints reconfirm that Austen didn’t replace the cancelled chapters so as to obliterate all those earlier hints at the Crofts as matchmaking schemers. But then, was Austen’s goal really only to create a more powerful romantic ending? No, it was definitely that, but I say it was also something even more audacious and extraordinary. I claim that Austen realized that she could not only upgrade her ending, she could also give covert agency to other characters involved in the benign matchmaking conspiracy that Heldman perceived – it wasn’t just the Crofts, i.e., it was also several of the other characters at the White Hart Inn who were in on it –and, what’s more, some of them were at cross purposes with the rest!

I’m not prepared today to give you a full or even a substantial account of all the secret scheming going on at the end of Persuasion as I see it. I plan to lay that argument out in a complete and careful way in the not too distant future. However, for now, what I hope will satisfy the curiosity of those who’ve come with me this far, is the following-linked 2013 blog post of mine, in which I made the case for Austen, in her revised ending of Persuasion, having plainly (to my eyes) paid homage to one of the most famous romantic comedies known to her and her audience: I am hinting at a play in which a band of benign secret matchmakers overcome the efforts of a smaller band of malign would-be matchbreakers in order to help two true lovers come together after having previously failed to do so. Of course, I am hinting broadly at  Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing , in which the reluctant warring lovers Beatrice and Benedick are deviously assisted into matrimony by Don Pedro, Ursula, and the other merry pranksters of the play:

And so I hope you’ll agree that my above argument was much ado about something wonderful: the priceless gift of the cancelled chapters of Persuasion illuminating its shadow story.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

My abbreviated version of Heldman’s scene-by-scene analysis of the Crofts as matchmakers

“…[Anne] may…be wrong, in her first meeting with the Crofts, in her satisfaction that they know nothing about her earlier relationship with Captain Wentworth…the Crofts may be read in their first meeting with Anne as feeling her out, as reconnoitering, in their ambiguous and perhaps exploratory comments…if there is a conspiracy of sorts between the Crofts regarding Anne and Wentworth, these brief and ambiguous remarks may be read as the Crofts’ early efforts to test the waters, to introduce a delicate subject and then watch for a response from Anne. Subsequently, at a dinner with the Musgroves, Wentworth and the Admiral discuss Wentworth’s first command…the Admiral’s response seems…loaded with implication…Admiral Croft seems to be making a pointed remark about the past- to be hinting about what might have been – to be saying something to contribute to the flow of conversation but something which, at the same time, would have special significance for Anne.
In a later scene, after Wentworth has asked the Crofts to take Anne home in their gig, [when] the Admiral and his wife begin talking about Wentworth,…forcing the issue, raising the subject of Wentworth’s apparent interest in one direction when Anne knows that his interest was once in her. By itself, the Admiral’s remark is potent with suggestion. It might be read as hinting to Anne that Wentworth may move in the direction of one of the Musgrove girls if he is not presented with a more desirable alternative and that if Anne herself is that alternative Wentworth might need some indication that she would be receptive to him. The Admiral pursues the matter further…And Mrs. Croft responds by telling Anne how quickly she and the Admiral “ ‘came to an understanding’ ” – perhaps to remind Anne how soon she and Wentworth came to a similar understanding in 1806 when she and Wentworth ‘were gradually acquainted
 and when acquainted, rapidly and deeply in love’. The parallel here seems too close to be accidental – at least on Mrs. Croft’s part – and too clear for Anne to miss the application to her. And when the Admiral describes Louisa and Henrietta as “ ‘very nice young ladies’ ” and Mrs. Croft responds with “ ‘Very good humoured, unaffected girls, indeed’ ”, Anne detects “a tone of calmer praise” which leads her to suspect that Mrs. Croft’s “keener powers might not consider either of them quite worthy of her brother”. … this exchange with Anne involving the possibility of Wentworth’s interest in one of the Musgrove girls, the need for sailors to have short courtships, the parallel between the Crofts and Anne and Wentworth, and Mrs. Croft’s less than enthusiastic praise of the Musgrove girls suggests that the Crofts are once again probing, prodding, hinting, and perhaps even implying that at least Mrs. Croft would prefer Anne as a sister-in-law.  The evidence is beginning to accumulate, and the converging probabilities reflected in these three scenes may suggest that, tentatively and indirectly, the Crofts are up to something.
Anne does not see the Crofts again until after Louisa’s accident at Lyme and until Lady Russell returns to Uppercross when she and Lady Russell call on Mrs. Croft at Kellynch.  At this meeting …Mrs. Croft... makes a special point to tell Anne that Wentworth had enquired about her “particularly”, as if to stress to Anne Wentworth’s increasing interest in her. And the Admiral cannot resist the temptation to refer once again to Wentworth’s apparent relationship with Louisa…It would appear that Admiral Croft can never miss an opportunity to bring up the possible connection between Wentworth and Louisa, as if he doesn’t want Anne to forget that as at least an alternative for a man who is apparently interested in marrying.
After the Crofts arrive in Bath and after an exchange of courtesy calls, Anne encounters the Admiral in Milsom Street…[o]nce again the Admiral cannot resist introducing the subject of Louisa Musgrove with Anne, as he has done previously…his comment is once again packed with suggestion, though as is often the case with the Admiral, he is not very subtle…This time, instead of testing Anne or perhaps warning her as he may have been doing in earlier remarks about Louisa, he seems to be assuring Anne that the Louisa-Wentworth relationship was never a serious one…In other words, he is assuring Anne that Louisa is not Wentworth’s interest, with the possible implication of who is. When their conversation leads them to Anne’s acquaintance with Benwick and a discussion of his character, the Admiral takes the opportunity to put in a plug for his brother-in-law...The Admiral then ends his conversation with Anne with the most loaded and pointed comment in the entire exchange…Once again he seems to be forcing the issue by addressing Anne directly, and not very subtly, on the possibility of bringing Anne and Wentworth into proximity and in the context of Wentworth’s potential alliance with one of the many pretty girls in Bath….[T]he more likely probability is that Admiral Croft, as he seems to have been in earlier scenes, is quite purposeful in conveying a message to Anne, praising Wentworth, and again raising the possibility of the reconciliation between Anne and Wentworth that he and Mrs. Croft have been hoping for all along.
In the final scene in which Mrs. Croft speaks – the second scene at The White Hart in which Wentworth writes the letter to Anne – a scene written after Jane Austen had rejected her original ending – Mrs. Croft once again makes a pointed remark...Until this scene in the novel, the pointed comments of Admiral and Mrs. Croft seem to have been directed to Anne only. But for the first time Mrs. Croft has the opportunity to make an indirect suggestion when both Anne and Wentworth are present, and she might be read as encouraging both of them to get on with it….Does Mrs. Croft know about [Wentworth’s] feelings at this point? The novel doesn’t tell us, but we can speculate that it is possible, and perhaps even probable, that she does…In the cancelled chapters, Admiral Croft tells Anne that he and Mrs. Croft had discussed the rumors of Anne’s possible engagement to Mr. Elliot and suggests that they had not believed it. The Crofts seem to have been very much interested in Anne and Wentworth from the very beginning…it would seem very unlikely that the Crofts were not privy to at least some of Wentworth’s feelings about Anne. In this context, Mrs. Croft’s comments to Mrs. Musgrove assume even greater significance and implication.”  END QUOTE FROM HELDMAN ARTICLE