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Saturday, November 18, 2017

The surprising answers to my Austen quiz (including Rocky Raccoon and Rocky Rococo!)

The following was the Austen quiz I posed the other day:

In a well known (although, I would imagine, not widely read) novel by an author as famous as Jane Austen, there is a single long chapter which contains every single one of the following:

ONE: The chapter title refers to a character whose first name is Jane.
TWO: A paragraph of narration containing multiple references to both “wood(s)” and a “house”.
THREE: In that same paragraph, as well as in a later paragraph in that same long chapter, the young heroine enjoys “views” of those “woods”, as well as the “gardens”, which comprise that same estate, and those “views” are described repeatedly as “sweet” and “English”; and that narration includes usages of all of the following words: “shade/shadow”, “view” “beauty”, and “charming”.
FOUR: One reference to those views also comments on whether the situation is “oppressive” to the young heroine.
FIVE: There’s a reference to a young female character being waylaid while walking in that forest.
SIX: A young female character confesses to having kept “relics” as “treasure” wrapped in “paper”, the specific color of which paper is described.
SEVEN: There are references to a woman who had nursed one of the characters, and also to an old maid.
EIGHT:  There are multiple pointed references to “apples”.
NINE: There are multiple references to a “governess”.
TEN: 6 or 7 years after writing that later novel, that other famous author expressed opinions about Austen’s fiction, opinions which, when viewed through the lens of the above nine echoes, are at a minimum disingenuous, and may well have been deliberately (but covertly) ironic.

Who is that later author, and what is that title of that later novel? For bonus points, in which chapter of that later novel do all those allusions occur?

That was my quiz, and I’d guess that most Janeites, upon reading it, realized pretty quickly that those first nine textual points all point unmistakably to Austen’s masterpiece, Emma, and, in particular, to the mysterious shadow heroine of the novel, Jane Fairfax. And so the deeper point of my quiz was that if a post-Austen novel by a famous author met all ten of those criteria, it meant that such later author wished to remind well-read readers of Emma in 9 distinct ways, and so we ought to ponder what that complex allusion might mean.

I received only one answer, but it was a really great one, from my good friend Diane Reynolds:         
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

What made Diane’s answer so great in my eyes was that Jane Eyre was NOT the answer I was expecting!! But I then realized, with 20:20 hindsight, that Diane’s guess was shockingly accurate – not just for the references to “Jane” and a “governess”, but also for those other, less prominent echoes.

But, you then ask, what answer was I expecting? And my answer is: The Awkward Age by Henry James—and, zeroing in further, Book 5 of James’s novel, entitled “The Duchess”. If anyone wants to read The Awkward Age, here is the Project Gutenberg link:  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/7433/7433-h/7433-h.htm

This is the point at which I give credit to another Austen scholar, Deidre Lynch, for writing the following in her chapter in the 2010 book Henry James in Context:

“[Henry James’s] heroines, in particular, can come across, therefore, as having been designed as test cases [for] how unserviceable the traditional novel’s marriage plot has become. Thus the allusions to Austen’s Emma made twice in the opening of Book 5 of The Awkward Age underscore how, in contrast to Austen’s day, also the day of Nanda Brookenham’s grandmother, the contemporary moment has become inept at managing the timing of girlhood…”

It is a tale for another day to explain what led me to find Lynch’s passing observation about James alluding twice to Emma in the opening of Book 5. For today, what matters is that when I read Lynch’s catch, and went through Book 5 (less than 24,000 words long), I soon realized that it wasn’t just two allusions in the opening of Book 5; it was Book 5 in its entirety that was saturated with all nine of the allusions to Emma I itemized in my quiz. And so now, thanks to Diane, I also realize that James made those same nine allusions to Jane Eyre as well!

As soon as I verified that Jane Eyre was indeed also a match for my quiz bullet points, that led me to my next extrapolation – i.e., that Henry James, in writing The Awkward Age just before the end of the 19th century, was for some reason(s) pointing his allusively-sensitive readers back not only to Austen’s Emma but also to Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

So, first and foremost, a major bravo to Diane for her sharp literary intuition, and major thanks to her for thereby alerting me to even greater implications than I had discerned when I posed this quiz the other night – with Diane’s help, I now see Henry James’s three-layer literary cake in its fuller glory.

It would take a much longer post than I was originally prepared to write today, in order to present all of the textual significance I see in James’s 3-layer “confection”, including, most significantly, my strong sense that Henry James, for all of his well-known condescending opinion of Austen’s fiction,  was an extraordinarily attentive and insightful reader of what I’ve long called Austen’s “shadow stories”.

More specifically still, I believe that James’s heroine Nanda Brookenham owes no small portion of her origin to the resourceful, manipulative Harriet Smith I have described in my analyses of the shadow story of Emma. But it’s not just the shadow Harriet Smith whom I believe James saw with clear insight – more amazingly still, it was also the scheming, lesbian Charlotte Lucas of the shadow story of Pride & Prejudice, as I will explain in a future post!

But, for today, I will leave you with one short passage in The Awkward Age which contains not one but two extraordinary tidbits –see if you can identify them both, before I identify them for you:

“…Vanderbank shook his head sadly and kindly. “So he had. And you remember Nancy, who was handsome and who was usually with them?” he went on.
Mr. Longdon looked so uncertain that he explained he meant his other sister; on which his companion said: “Oh her? Yes, she was charming—she evidently had a future too.”
“Well, she’s in the midst of her future now. She’s married.”
“And whom did she marry?”
“A fellow called Toovey. A man in the City.”
“Oh!” said Mr. Longdon a little blankly. Then as if to retrieve his blankness: “But why do you call her Nancy? Wasn’t her name Blanche?”
“Exactly—Blanche Bertha Vanderbank.”
Mr. Longdon looked half-mystified and half-distressed. “And now she’s Nancy Toovey?”
Vanderbank broke into laughter at his dismay. “That’s what every one calls her.”
“But why?”
“Nobody knows. You see you were right about her future.”

So, did you see the two significant pieces?

The first is for anyone who might doubt that Jane Eyre was on Henry James’s radar screen as he wrote The Awkward Age  ---- the name “BLANCHE BERTHA Vanderbank” points like a laser beam at Jane Eyre, because “Blanche” is the first name of the socialite whom Mr. Rochester courts at Thornfield; and “Bertha” is the first name of the madwoman in the attic, i.e., his insane West Indian wife – in other words, the two most significant women in Rochester’s life during his stormy courtship of the heroine Jane Eyre!!

The second is one which I hinted at in my Subject Line – Rocky Raccoon and Rocky Rococo – let me explain. As a child of the Sixties, imagine my surprise and delight when I read that “everyone” knew Blanche Bertha Vanderbank as Nancy. That of course points to the famous lyrics from Paul McCartney’s Beatles song, “Rocky Raccoon”, of course on The White Album from 1968:

Her name was McGill,
And she called herself Lil,
BUT EVERYONE KNEW HER AS NANCY

And, for those Boomers like myself whose Sixties experiences included listening to the absurdist, literate, postmodern comedy group The Firesign Theatre, we also have their memorable parody of McCartney’s song in their absurdist classic comedy album The Adventures of Nick Danger: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwG5c9IsgbA

The villain Rocky Rococo, who owes his name to Rocky Raccoon, is a sendup of Peter Lorre’s Cairo from The Maltese Falcon. One of the album’s most memorable lines occurs in two exchanges:

ROCKY ROCOCO: …Worthless? Not to Melanie Haber.
NICK: Melanie Haber?
ROCKY: You may remember her as Audrey Farber.
NICK: Audrey Farber?
ROCKY: Susan Underhill?
NICK: Susan Underhill?
ROCKY: (quickly) How about Betty Jo Bialosky!!
NICK: (interior monologue) Betty Jo Bialosky. I hadn’t heard that name since college. EVERYONE KNEW HER AS NANCY…

That exchange is echoed in reverse a few minutes later between Nick and the inscrutable and decidedly English butler Catherwood, in which we hear Nick channel Rocky:

NICK: …I’ve come to see Nanc—ah, Mrs. Haber.
CATHERWOOD: Mrs. Haber?
NICK: Audrey Farber?
CATHERWOOD: Audrey Farber?
NICK: (quickly) How about Betty Jo Bialosky?
CATHERWOOD: OH, YOU MEAN NANCY! She’s in the aviary stuffing trees….

It’s now over 47 years since I first laughed at those lines, but it never occurred to me till a few days ago, when I first read about Henry James’s Blanche Bertha Vanderbank, whom everyone called Nancy, that I realized that the Firesign Theatre was not only winking in an obvious way at the Beatles’s Rocky Raccoon, but they were also winking in the most esoteric literary way at Henry James’s The Awkward Age, a story in which their ancient old butler Catherwood would have been right at home.

What’s all this brouhaha??????? 😉

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Quiz re Jane Austen & her strange literary bedfellow

 In a well known (although, I would imagine, not widely read) novel by an author as famous as Jane Austen, there is a single long chapter which contains every single one of the following:

ONE: The chapter title refers to a character whose first name is JANE.

TWO: A paragraph of narration containing multiple references to both “WOOD(s)” and a “HOUSE”.

THREE: In that same paragraph, as well as in a later paragraph in that same long chapter, the young heroine enjoys “views” of those “woods”, as well as the “gardens”, which comprise that same estate, and those “views” are described repeatedly as “sweet” and “English”; and that narration includes usages of all of the following words: “shade/shadow”, “view” “beauty”, and “charming”.

FOUR: One reference to those views also comments on whether the situation is “oppressive” to the young heroine.

FIVE: There’s a reference to a young female character being waylaid while walking in that forest.

SIX: A young female character confesses to having kept “relics” as “treasure” wrapped in “paper”, the specific color of which paper is described.

SEVEN: There are references to a woman who had nursed one of the characters, and also to an old maid.

EIGHT:  There are multiple pointed references to “apples”.

NINE: There are multiple references to a “governess”.

TEN: 6 or 7 years after writing that later novel, that other famous author expressed opinions about Austen’s fiction, opinions which, when viewed through the lens of the above nine echoes, are at a minimum disingenuous, and may well have been deliberately (but covertly) ironic.

Who is that later author, and what is that title of that later novel? For bonus points, which chapter is it in that later novel?

Whether I get any replies or not, I will post the answers to these questions by no later than Saturday afternoon. In addition, I will make the argument for why those answers are even more significant than they might at first glance seem to be.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Monday, November 13, 2017

Jane Austen, Professor Marston, and their respective Wonder Women

Yesterday, on a strong personal recommendation, I went to see the new film Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, which Rotten Tomatoes describes as follows:     “Any comic book character that sticks around for more than a few issues tends to build up a pretty interesting backstory, and Wonder Woman - one of the medium’s longest-lasting and most beloved heroes - certainly fits that description. But as this weekend’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women illustrates, the lasso-wielding defender of justice has a real-life history that’s every bit as interesting -- and occasionally just about as colorful -- as anything she’s gotten up to on the printed page. Starring Luke Evans as Wonder Woman creator William Marston, this biopic depicts the forward-thinking views that helped Marston mold the character - more importantly, details the many ways in which her development was strongly influenced by the polyamorous relationship between Marston, his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), and their lover Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). It’s the type of story that could have been given a luridly shallow treatment under different circumstances, but critics say writer/director Angela Robinson has assembled an appropriately thoughtful ode to the behind-the-scenes life of a wonderfully complicated superhero.”

After seeing Robinson’s film, I couldn’t agree more with that collective critical thumbs up. I found it both poignant and thought-provoking, not least because I had zero prior acquaintance with any aspect of the Wonder Woman (back)story beyond these facts: Wonder Woman was the first female comic superhero; Lynda Carter had played the role on TV decades ago; & there was the excellent 2017 action movie which has not only broken box office records, but also has been widely applauded for its powerful female role model, a superhero who uses her powers to bring peace to a male-dominated world of oppression and war. So, before I go further, I urge you to go see Robinson’s film!

What was of special interest to me as an Austen scholar in Robinson’s film was its dramatization of the covert feminist agenda behind the origin of Wonder Woman. That agenda was succinctly described by Prof. Ann Matsuuchi as follows back in 2012 in  “Wonder Woman Wears Pants: Wonder Woman, Feminism and the 1972 'Women 's Lib' Issue ”:

“William Moulton Marston, Harvard psychologist and inventor of the first polygraph test, created the Wonder Woman character with a stated pedagogic intent. In a 1937 NY Times interview, Marston, with seemingly genuine optimism, predicted that ‘within 100 years the country will see the beginning of a sort of Amazonian matriarchy. Within 500 years a 'definite sex battle for supremacy' would occur, and after a millennium 'women would take over rule of the country, politically and economically.'’ In an attempt to avert the sort of moral censorship that led to the Hays Code in Hollywood, comic book publishers at the time sought institutional support from psychologists and educators, prominently listing their names as part of an editorial advisory board. Marston was hired as a psychological consultant and hoped to utilise this popular medium as an “emotional reeducator,” using images of gender reversal to inspire social change. His vision of a feminised utopia was distant: a 1943 cover of Wonder Woman issue #7 depicts an American presidential campaign 1000 years in the future, with Wonder Woman standing triumphantly over a crowd of supporters.”

As I watched the film, and read that scholarly summary, I couldn’t help but be struck by the remarkable coincidence that just over a month ago, I gave a talk at the 2017 JASNA Annual General Meeting, entitled  “ ‘Galigai for ever and ever’, St. Swithin, & Diana Parker: the power of the strong mind over the weak, & the dying Jane Austen’s ambition for immortality & gender justice". In that talk, I made my most comprehensive public argument to date in support of my longstanding claim that Jane Austen was a pioneer in creating female characters who, when properly “decoded”, were Regency Era “wonder women”, with “superpowers”, i.e., strong minds, which they used to subvert and counteract patriarchal oppression, and in particular to subtly advocate for gender fluidity, freedom, and equality.

With that brief introduction, then, I will in the remainder of this post present excerpts from my AGM talk, which focus on Lady Susan, the character whom I believe was Jane Austen’s first, fully developed “wonder woman”, a powerful, defiant, charismatic female arch-nemesis of patriarchal oppression. It should be obvious as you read along why the Marston film resonates so strongly with my beliefs about Jane Austen’s heroic, feminist, pedagogical agenda:

RELEVANT EXCERPTS FROM MY OCTOBER 6, 2017 JASNA AGM TALK:  During 15+ years of research, I’ve come to see Jane Austen as an ambitious author who joked about writing for the money, but whose deepest motive for seeking fame was noble. She dreamt of exerting widespread, lasting, benign influence on her female readers. She was determined that her words would survive her mortal body, to vindicate and promote the power of women, by strengthening their minds by reading her radically new type of novel. My talk today springs from a clue to the motivation of that ambitious, radical feminist Jane, not in her published novels, but, when mortality loomed large, in her lesser known 1817 writings, in which she three separate times asserted her strong powers of mind:

FIRST, in a comment in her letter written 2 months before her death, to old friend and former Godmersham governess Anne Sharp:     “But how you are worried! Wherever Distress falls, you are expected to supply Comfort. Lady P. writing to you even from Paris for advice! It is the Influence of Strength over Weakness indeed. Galigai de Concini for ever & ever.-Adeiu.”

SECOND, in her last fiction, the Sanditon fragment, in words spoken by the “officious” DIANA Parker:
“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”;
&
THIRD, in what truly are her last words, the final stanza of her deathbed testament, the “fanciful” poem “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…”.

I perceive a maternal presence hovering over these expressions of the power of the strong mind over the weak, and the duty to be useful in exercise of that power. That ghost is the author who preceded Austen in publication, in protofeminism, and in death --Mary Wollstonecraft, who throughout Austen’s career, I will argue, seemed to call to her successor to remember her advocacy for the power of the strong female mind. I believe Wollstonecraft electrified the teenaged Jane Austen in late 1791 with her revolutionary Vindication.

Then I believe Mary’s death in childbirth in late 1797, and the ensuing misogynist attack on her legacy, further radicalized the 22 year old Jane. At the 2010 JASNA AGM, I argued that the late Mrs. Tilney was the symbol of Mary Wollstonecraft and all the other victims of that uniquely female childbed epidemic. I also believe Wollstonecraft’s tragic death inspired Austen to pick up the pen dropped by her fallen idol, and to further the cause of strengthening female minds, and to strive for gender justice.

….When she was dying and knew she’d never see Ann Sharp again, with her “Galigai for ever and ever. Adeiu” Jane Austen was bidding her very dear friend a sad farewell, and using a lesbian rallying cry to do so. This is the only letter Austen wrote to Anne Sharp that has survived –preserved, perhaps, because, along with her precious first edition of Emma, it was all Anne had left of Jane, just like Ennis’s bloodstained shirt kept for years by Jack, as we see in the poignant final scene of Brokeback Mountain.

That brings me to the second 1817 Austen passage, in the Sanditon fragment, in which Diana Parker (perhaps named for the chaste huntress goddess who wasn’t into men?) refers to her own and her sister’s strong minds, which I’ll repeat:

“…my dear Miss Heywood, we are sent into this world to be as extensively useful as possible, and where some degree of strength of mind is given, it is not a feeble body which will excuse us or incline us to excuse ourselves. 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”. …etc etc

The echoing of Diana Parker’s words by her brother Sidney, and also in yet another 1817 letter written by Jane Austen to brother Charles, shows how much of herself Austen was pouring into her latest parodic fictional alter ego, Diana Parker. Diana’s hypochondria reflects the essence of the tragedy of Jane, a genius of strong mind trapped in a prematurely dying body, but still ambitious to keep being useful by writing till her pen dropped.

And all of the above also fits with her final written words, dictated to her sister in her final days of life—the last stanza of the poem “When Winchester Races”, which I quoted before. I’ve long argued that St. Swithin is Jane Austen in her ironic, defiant thumbing of her nose at Death and at anyone who thought her fiction would die with her. Even as her weak body surrendered, her still strong mind hurled its final defiance: “When once we are buried, you think we are gone. But behold me immortal!”

Jane Austen the author and would-be teacher knew that she, like Wollstonecraft, was dying before she could completely fulfill her mission; yet her “darling children”, the six completed novels, would survive and become immortal. And even if she never dreamt that in 2017, she’d triumph not merely in book sales, translations, and adaptations, she did aspire to the triumph of the “powers” of her strong mind, and hope that the dangerous secret of  her “deviant” sexual orientation, would one day become fully manifest. And now I’m ready to show you the best examples of how “the influence of the strong mind” played out in Austen’s fiction, beginning with her novella which strangely mirrored Edgeworth’s Leonora, Lady Susan.

A year ago I blogged about resolving the apparent contradictions of Austen’s Lady Susan after seeing Love and Friendship, Whit Stillman’s brilliant film adaptation. Many were puzzled by the seeming irreconcilable contradiction between its subversive anti-romantic heroine and the sophisticated positive romance in Austen’s six novels. Why did Austen decided to create an unapologetic female rake, who revels in her effortless ability to manipulate men, and even make her a boastful protagonist, a female Richard III? And how and why did she make Lady Susan so irresistibly witty, daring, and entertaining, that many of us actually fall under her spell, and somehow forget to recoil in disgust at her machinations? For those of you who’ve only seen the movie and haven’t read the book, rest assured that pretty much all those zingers that Beckinsale delivers so perfectly were Austen’s own. Stillman’s film isn’t anachronistic, it doesn’t impose a modern feminist sensibility on a late 18th century woman, it’s faithful to the sociopathic brilliance of JA’s own heroine.

I think that part of what makes many readers (and viewers), like myself, forget to feel too much sympathy for the victims of Lady Susan's guile --- especially her principal male target, Reginald de Courcy--- is that Lady Susan manages to turn what was ordinarily a kind of death sentence for middle-aged women in that era --becoming a widow without money--into opportunity---like a female Nemesis spawned by and sicced on Austen’s male-dominated world, as poetic justice for the universally ignored abuse and oppression of women, both married and single. 

In Northanger Abbey, an appalled Henry Tilney castigates Catherine Tilney for imagining his father the Bluebeard-like murderer of his mother, as if all the “worthy” powers that be of English society would turn a blind eye to such horrors – but Austen’s bitingly ironic joke is actually on Henry and the unsuspicious reader, because, as the narrator drily notes at the end of the novel, Catherine was correct in essentials, if not details, about the horrible English every-husband, General Tilney. Lady Susan would’ve known exactly how to handle General Tilney, rest assured!

And I also see Austen’s seeming indulgence of her female rake as echoed by her much later refusal to judge a transgressive, real life female, in Austen’s candid comments about Princess Caroline to Austen’s most trusted confidant, Martha Lloyd, in her January 1812 letter: 
"I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales's Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband….if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. --"

Jane Austen might just as well have said “if I must give up Lady Susan, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the patriarchal social system had not been totally rigged against women, and she could have attained personal fulfilment in an ethical way". Indeed, “the influence of strength over weakness indeed” could have been Lady Susan’s motto!

I see it in what Lady Susan writes to his bosom buddy Alicia Johnson about Reginald:
“He is lively & seems clever, & when I have inspired him with greater respect for me than his sister's kind offices have implanted, he may be an agreable Flirt. There is exquisite pleasure in subduing an insolent spirit, in making a person predetermined to dislike, acknowledge one's superiority. I have disconcerted him already by my calm reserve; & it shall be my endeavour to humble the Pride of these self- important De Courcies still lower, to convince Mrs. Vernon that her sisterly cautions have been bestowed in vain, & to persuade Reginald that she has scandalously belied me. This project will serve at least to amuse me, &prevent my feeling so acutely this dreadful separation from You & all whom I love. Adeiu. Yours Ever S. Vernon.”

And she is later unwittingly echoed by her unwitting boy toy Reginald in his bitter reproach to her:
“…From what have I not escaped! I have only to be grateful. Far from me be all complaint, every sigh of regret. My own folly had endangered me, my preservation I owe to the kindness, the integrity of another; …After such a discovery as this, you will scarcely affect further wonder at my meaning in bidding you adieu. My understanding is at length restored, and teaches no less to abhor the artifices which had subdued me than to despise myself for the weakness on which their strength was founded.”

Googling about Lady Susan as a Wollstonecraftian symbol of a strong minded woman, I found a brilliant June 2016 article entitled “Jane Austen Vindicates the Rights of Women” by Sarah Skwire, which adds these insights: “Lady Susan is a wrecking ball in petticoats…Austen’s and WSC’s works…taken together…provide a persuasive argument --philosophical and artistic-- for the importance of women’s liberty and for the crippling effects of denying that liberty.”

But, as I suggested at the start, my research has gradually shown me Wollstonecraft’s pervasive influence on all of Austen’s writings, not just Lady Susan. The published work of a dozen renowned Austen scholars, from the late Allison Sulloway in 1976, to Margaret Kirkham, Claudia Johnson, and Jocelyn Harris, provide many pieces of the puzzle, to which I’ve added my own findings. I assert that Austen took Wollstonecraft in an extraordinary new direction, using fiction to dramatize the power of strong female minds who use what Wollstonecraft dismissed as mere cunning….” 
END QUOTE FROM MY AGM TALK

In the not too distant future, I will present the remainder of my AGM talk in this blog, in which I made the case for several other, previously unrecognized "wonder women" in Austen's novels. Until then, I leave you with my playful speculation that if Marston and his two real life wonder women were alive today and could read my interpretations of Austen’s “wonder women”, they would surely exclaim, in unison, “Great Jane, give me strength!”

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

The "cannon's roar" that Jane Austen didn't hear...or did she?

As the Luftwaffe’s bombs fell on England, Virginia Woolf wrote the following in 1940, in  support of her claim that neither Jane Austen herself, nor JA’s “vision of human life” was “disturbed or agitated or changed by war”:

“In 1815 England was at war, as England is now. And it is natural to ask, how did their war—the Napoleonic war—affect them? Was that one of the influences that formed them. . . ? The answer is a very strange one. The Napoleonic wars did not affect a great majority of those writers at all. The proof of that is to be found in the work of two great novelists—Jane
Austen and Walter Scott. Each lived through the Napoleonic wars, each wrote through them. But, though novelists live very close to the life of their time, neither of them in all their novels mentioned the Napoleonic wars. *This shows that their model, their vision of human life, was not disturbed or agitated or changed by war. Nor were they themselves.* . . . . Wars were then remote, wars were carried on by soldiers and sailors, not by private
people. The rumours of battle took a long time to reach England. . . .Compare that with our state today. Today we hear the gunfire in the Channel. We turn on the wireless; we hear an airman telling us how this very afternoon he shot down a raider; his machine caught fire; he plunged into the sea; the light turned green and then black; he rose to the top and
was rescued by a trawler. Scott never saw sailors drowning at Trafalgar. Jane Austen never heard the cannon roar at Waterloo.* Neither of them heard Napoleon's voice as we hear Hitler's voice as we sit at home in the evening.”

Jane Austen never heard the cannon roar at Waterloo. When I read that line, I was distinctly reminded of the following well-known passage in Letter 63 to CEA dated Dec. 27-28, 1808:

"…Mr. Fitzhugh…is brother to Mrs. Lance, and very much the gentleman. He has lived in that house more than twenty years, and, poor man! is so totally deaf that *they say he could not hear a cannon, were it fired close to him; having no cannon at hand to make the experiment, I took it for granted, and talked to him a little with my fingers, which was funny enough. I recommended him to read Corinna…."


It might at first appear that Woolf (who, by 1940, had surely long since closely read Austen's published surviving letters, including Letter 63) had, whether intentionally or unconsciously, chosen a metaphor (for JA’s seeming indifference or “deafness” to the Napoleonic wars) which echoed JA’s own words about the actual deafness of the gentlemanlike Mr.Fitzhugh. Woolf seems to be suggesting that Jane Austen could not have kept her domestic fictional worlds so insulated from the shocks of war had she, like Woolf, been forced to listen to the bombs dropping during the Blitz.

And that’s what I thought till I did some more Googling and found the following 1918 poem by Jesse Edgar Middleton, in which he, a Canadian, sang the praises of England, as the defender of the Commonwealth, in the aftermath of World War I. I am sure will agree with me that, whether or not Woolf had Austen’s witty reference to Mr. Fitzhugh in mind, she clearly also had Middleton’s poem in mind:

The Canadian

I never saw the cliffs of snow,
The Channel billows tipped with cream,
The restless, eddying tides that flow

About the Island of my dream.
I never saw the English downs

Upon an April day,
The quiet, old Cathedral towns,
The hedgerows white with may.

And still the name of England
Which tyrants laugh to scorn

Can thrill my soul. It is to me
A very bugle-horn.


A thousand leagues from Plymouth shore,
In broader lands I saw the light.
I never heard the cannon roar
Or saw a mark of England's might;
Save that my people lived in peace,

Bronzed in the harvest sun,
And thought that tyranny would cease,

That battle-days were done.

And still the flag of England
Streamed on a friendly breeze,

And twice two hundred ships of war
Went surging through the seas.

I heard Polonius declaim
About the new, the golden age,

When Force would be the mark of shame

And men would curb their murderous rage.
'Beat out your swords to pruning hooks,'

He shouted to the folk.
But I—I read my history books

And marvelled as he spoke.

For it was glorious England,

The Mother of the Free,
Who loosed that foolish tongue, but sent

Her Admirals to sea.

And liberty and love were ours,

Home, and a brood of lusty sons,
The long, North sunlight and the flow'rs.

How could we think about the guns,
The searchlights on a wintry cloud,

The seamen, stern and bold,
Since we were hurrying with the crowd

To rake the hills for gold?

But it was glorious England

Who scanned the threatening morn—

To me the very name of her
Is like a bugle-horn.

So, the very name of England is, to Middleton, very like a bugle-horn, a sound which proclaims England’s role as wartime defender of freedom around the world. And Woolf’s comments about JA, viewed through the lens of Middleton’s poem, suggest that she regrets that Jane Austen did not hear that bugle-horn.

Whereas it is my belief that the Napoleonic wars are very much woven deep into the fabric of all her novels, but only audible via a subliminal high pitched tone that the reader must work hard to detect. That doesn't mean that I believe Jane Austen saw the English Empire through rose-colored spectacles -- I believe quite the opposite, she saw the oppression that the English patriarchy imposed on its less powerful inhabitants, most notably the slaves in the Americas and the women everywhere!

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Addiction to Trump: is there a cure for this equally dangerous epidemic?

A few days ago, while enjoying the first real rays of hope for our collective future in almost exactly one year, I happened to read the following article, which prompted me to the realization which I’ve crystallized in the form of the question I’ve posed in my Subject Line, "Addiction to Trump: Is there a cure for this equally dangerous epidemic?".

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/08/donald-trump-johnstown-pennsylvania-supporters-215800  ‘Johnstown Never Believed Trump Would Help. They Still Love Him Anyway’ by Michael Kruse  In a depressed former steel town, the president’s promises don’t matter as much as they once did.

To make my point, I will first quote the first portion of Kruse’s excellent article, and then return with my brief comments afterwards:

“Johnstown, Pa.—Pam Schilling is the reason Donald Trump is the president. Schilling’s personal story is in poignant miniature the story of this area of western Pennsylvania as a whole--one of the long-forgotten, woebegone spots in the middle of the country that gave Trump his unexpected victory last fall. She grew up in nearby Nanty Glo, the daughter and granddaughter of coal miners. She once had a union job packing meat at a grocery store, and then had to settle for less money at Walmart. Now she’s 60 and retired, and last year, in April, as Trump’s shocking political ascent became impossible to ignore, Schilling’s 32-year-old son died of a heroin overdose. She found needles in the pockets of the clothes he wore to work in the mines before he got laid off.
Desperate for change, Schilling, like so many other once reliable Democrats in these parts, responded enthusiastically to what Trump was saying—building a wall on the Mexican border, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, bringing back jobs in steel and coal. That’s what Trump told them. At a raucous rally in late October, right downtown in their minor-league hockey arena, he vowed to restore the mines and the mills that had been the lifeblood of the region until they started closing some 40 years ago, triggering the “American carnage” Trump would talk about in his inaugural address: massive population loss, shrinking tax rolls, communal hopelessness and ultimately a raging opioid epidemic. When Trump won, people here were ecstatic. But they’d heard generations of politicians make big promises before, and they were also impatient for him to deliver.
“Six months to a year,” catering company owner Joey Del Signore told me when we met days after the election. “A couple months,” retired nurse Maggie Frear said, before saying it might take a couple of years. “He’s just got to follow through with what he said he was going to do,” Schilling said last November. Back then, there was an all-but-audible “or else.”
A year later, the local unemployment rate has ticked down, and activity in a few coal mines has ticked up. Beyond that, though, not much has changed—at least not for the better. Johnstown and the surrounding region are struggling in the same ways and for the same reasons. The drug problem is just as bad. “There’s nothing good in the area,” Schilling said the other day in her living room. “I don’t have anything good to say about anything in this area. It’s sad.” Even so, her backing for Trump is utterly undiminished: “I’m a supporter of him, 100 percent.”
What I heard from Schilling is overwhelmingly what I heard in my follow-up conversations with people here who I talked to last year as well. Over the course of three rainy, dreary days last week, I revisited and shook hands with the president’s base—that thirtysomething percent of the electorate who resolutely approve of the job he is doing, the segment of voters who share his view that the Russia investigation is a “witch hunt” that “has nothing to do with him,” and who applaud his judicial nominees and his determination to gut the federal regulatory apparatus. But what I wasn’t prepared for was how readily these same people had abandoned the contract he had made with them. Their satisfaction with Trump now seems untethered to the things they once said mattered to them the most.”  END QUOTE FROM KRUSE ARTICLE

Kruse then goes on to present several other short profiles of Trump voters, which convincingly bring home his central thesis, which is that these folks are not very likely to abandon Trump, regardless of what he does, or doesn’t do, during the remainder of his Presidency.

It was while reading that article, particularly the references to the horrific toll suffered from the opioid epidemic which has swept through Trump Country, that I realized, with a shock, that there is a second epidemic, completely intertwined with the addiction to actual opioid drugs, but which, as far as I can ascertain online, has not been identified for what it is by any of the mainstream media.  

That is the epidemic of Trump voters hooked on Trump himself! I.e., the “high” which they get on a daily or more frequent basis from following his every Tweet and TV appearance, as well as the tsunami of news coverage that inevitably follows in his huge wake-- and the more outrageous and horrifying the Tweet or quote, the higher the high.

And they get the high regardless of which news outlet they watch. When it’s CNN or MSNBC, they have the deep satisfaction of watching legitimate journalists struggle with the seemingly impossible task of covering a never-ending nightmare, in which they are demonized by Trump & Co. for doing their job well.

But this line of reasoning also identifies Fox News for what it really has become in the Trump Era – the “pusher” which makes its obscene profits from peddling Trump around the clock. Fox News was already dispensing toxic cocktails long before Trump’s rise, but it has clearly taken on an especially lethal addictiveness when the Trump receptor was plugged into the Fox molecule.

And finally, this explains why Trump has never given up appearing at rallies -- the peak high for a Trump addict would seem to be the chance to attend one of his rallies, and experience the Trump high live and in the flesh.

So, given the particularly strong addictiveness of Trump, is there a cure? For those Trump voters who hated Obama, I’d have to say, perhaps not – but for those, like some of those profiled in Kruse’s article, who had voted for Obama at least once before, perhaps it tells us that our next Presidential candidate has to have enough “juice” (i.e., charisma) to act as methadone for Trump addicts – to give them something to replace the high that Trump provides – a positive high of hope for a united America that Obama provided, which the Republican congress did its best to destroy for 8 years.

Can we get enough of those Obama-to-Trump folks to go cold turkey on Trump before it’s too late, so that our government can function? In the face of what we must acknowledge will be a daunting task, I say, yes we can…again.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter