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

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Anne Elliot’s “faint blush at some recollections”…of her stream of (sexual) consciousness at Pinny!

I’m back (as my famous namesake famously said) to provide even more textual evidence to support my claim that Coleridge’s Kubla Khan was actually a key allusive text for Persuasion, primarily because it symbolizes the sexual reawakening of Anne Elliot which JA, in breaking new fictional ground, depicts in Anne’s stream (all puns intended, vis a vis Kubla Khan) of sexual consciousness.

To begin, I remind you that during the past few weeks, I’ve explained the intense sexual charge I see in three separate passages in Persuasion:

First, at the end of Chapter 9, when Wentworth catches Anne entirely by surprise when he rescues Anne from little Walter Musgrove’s “little sturdy hands fastened around her neck”:

“[Anne’s] sensations on the discovery made her perfectly speechless. She could not even thank him. She could only hang over little Charles, with most disordered feelings. His kindness in stepping forward to her relief, the manner, the silence in which it had passed, the little particulars of the circumstance, with the conviction soon forced on her by the noise he was studiously making with the child, that he meant to avoid hearing her thanks, and rather sought to testify that her conversation was the last of his wants, produced such a confusion of varying, but very painful agitation, as she could not recover from, till enabled by the entrance of Mary and the Miss Musgroves to make over her little patient to their cares, and leave the room. She could not stay. It might have been an opportunity of watching the loves and jealousies of the four--they were now altogether; but she could stay for none of it. It was evident that Charles Hayter was not well inclined towards Captain Wentworth. She had a strong impression of his having said, in a vext tone of voice, after Captain Wentworth's interference, "You ought to have minded me, Walter; I told you not to teaze your aunt;" and could comprehend his regretting that Captain Wentworth should do what he ought to have done himself. But neither Charles Hayter's feelings, nor anybody's feelings, could interest her, till she had a little better arranged her own. She was ashamed of herself, quite ashamed of being so nervous, so overcome by such a trifle; but so it was, and it required a long application of solitude and reflection to recover her.”

Second, in Chapter 11, when we read the following narration describing the last stage of the road trip from Uppercross to Lyme, narration which I claim is filtered through Anne’s poetry-infused mind:

“The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more, its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands, make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest trees and orchards of luxuriant growth, declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again, to make the worth of Lyme understood.”

The above passage, which already contains imagery reflecting Anne’s thawing sexuality, also carries as its echo the even more intensely sexual passage in Coleridge’s poem which would have been recently known to at least some of Austen’s contemporary readers:

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:

And third, in Chapter 23, Austen shows that sexual energy is already building inside Anne’s body as she debates gender and constancy with Harville --- but then, after she reads Wentworth’s letter, the floodgates  open, and she once again finds herself at Pinny, so to speak, enveloped in the waters (hormones) that rushed over her heart, mind, soul, and body:

“Such a letter was not to be soon recovered from. Half an hour's solitude and reflection might have tranquillised her; but the ten minutes only which now passed before she was interrupted, with all the restraints of her situation, could do nothing towards tranquillity. Every moment rather brought fresh agitation. It was an overpowering happiness. And before she was beyond THE FIRST STAGE OF FULL SENSATION, Charles, Mary, and Henrietta, all came in."

So there you have three passages in the same vein depicting Anne’s sexual arousal, to which I will now add a fourth, which I only found because I took note of Coleridge’s subtitle for Kubla Khan:
“A vision in a dream. A Fragment.”

Knowing JA’s predilection for using unusual keywords to tag her allusions, I wondered whether she might have picked up on that powerful word “vision” somewhere in Persuasion other than the Pinny scene, in order to further point to Coleridge’s poem. And guess what! That word picked me up and carried me straight to another, fourth passage in Persuasion in which Anne is caught up in Coleridgean feelings. And wait till you see the bonus in understanding which identifying this fourth passage yields!

The word “visions” appears in the midst of the narrative in Chapter 20 (therefore, after the Pinny passage, but before the White Hart Inn scene). The scene depicts Anne’s brief conversation with Wentworth prior to the concert at Bath, and it gets interesting right after he thrills her with his negative comments about Benwick’s engagement to Louisa. It’s not just that he criticizes it as a mismatch of minds, it’s that Louisa gets the short end of the mismatch from Wentworth, although he does also criticize Benwick’s very short memory and therefore inconstancy toward his previous fiancée, Harville’s late sister Fanny:

“Either from the consciousness, however, that his friend [Benwick[ had recovered, or from other consciousness, he went no farther; and Anne who, in spite of the agitated voice in which the latter part had been uttered, and in spite of all the various noises of the room, the almost ceaseless slam of the door, and ceaseless buzz of persons walking through, had distinguished every word, was struck, gratified, confused, and beginning to breathe very quick, and feel an hundred things in a moment. It was impossible for her to enter on such a subject….”

Note that Anne is so “gratified” by Wentworth’s speech, that she herself immediately falls once more into an aroused, disordered state which might have reminded her of how she felt when Wentworth rescued her from the boy on her neck in Chapter 9, but which, as her next words show, definitely reminds her of that other erotic, Wentworth-infused moment in Chapter 11, because look at what she brings up next:

“…and yet, after a pause, feeling the necessity of speaking, and having not the smallest wish for a total change, she only deviated so far as to say--"You were a good while at Lyme, I think?"

In her own mind, she is suddenly back on that carriage ride past Pinny, reexperiencing the burn of passion! And now note what she says after Wentworth responds without particular passion, not taking the bait she has dangled in hopes of a different response from him:

"About a fortnight. I could not leave it till Louisa's doing well was quite ascertained. I had been too deeply concerned in the mischief to be soon at peace. It had been my doing, solely mine. She would not have been obstinate if I had not been weak. The country round Lyme is very fine. I walked and rode a great deal; and the more I saw, the more I found to admire."
"I should very much like to see Lyme again," said Anne.
"Indeed! I should not have supposed that you could have found anything in Lyme to inspire such a feeling. The horror and distress you were involved in, the stretch of mind, the wear of spirits! I should have thought your last impressions of Lyme must have been strong disgust."

Anne has tried to entice him into going back to Lyme with her, but again he has not responded in kind. And now here is the punch line which shows that Anne persists in trying to convey to Wentworth the sexual thrill she experienced as they passed by Pinny:

"The last hours were certainly very painful," replied Anne; "but when pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure. One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering, which was by no means the case at Lyme. We were only in anxiety and distress during the last two hours, and previously there had been a great deal of enjoyment. So much novelty and beauty! I have travelled so little, that every fresh place would be interesting to me; but there is real beauty at Lyme; and in short" (with a faint blush at some recollections), "altogether my impressions of the place are very agreeable."

Her impressions of the place are very agreeable? A faint blush at some recollections? What she almost says, but then pulls back, is that she nearly had an orgasm as they rode in the bouncing carriage past Pinny, and the landscape kindled her flame of desire! After Wentworth walks away, Anne’s mind then feverishly parses the romantic significance she sees in what has just transpired between her and Wentworth:

“She could not contemplate the change as implying less. He must love her. These were thoughts, with their attendant visions, which occupied and flurried her too much to leave her any power of observation; and she passed along the room without having a glimpse of him, without even trying to discern him. When their places were determined on, and they were all properly arranged, she looked round to see if he should happen to be in the same part of the room, but he was not; her eye could not reach him; and the concert being just opening, she must consent for a time to be happy in a humbler way.”

“With their attendant VISIONS”? No, Wentworth did not get a charge out of riding past Pinny, it was only Anne – but she does not realize this!  It is only she who, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but without the need for opium, experiences “visions” as she gazes at Pinny, which had “given a great deal of (sexual) enjoyment”, so much so that she blushes to recollect it some time afterwards!
By the way, Jill Heydt-Stevenson almost got there 23 years ago on why Anne blushes. In her first scholarly publication which discussed sex in Austen’s novels, JHS gave her interpretation of Anne’s “faint blush at some recollections”:
"Unbecoming Conjunctions": Mourning the Loss of Landscape and Love in Persuasion Jill Heydt-Stevenson  Oct. 1995 8/1 Eighteenth Century Fiction
“Towards the end of the text, Anne says outright that "'when pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure. One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering ... but there is real beauty at Lyme: and in short' (with a faint blush at some recollections) 'altogether my impressions of the place are very agreeable"'. Anne blushes because she has inadvertently referred to her own beauty there, to Elliot's admiration of her beauty, and to Wentworth's acknowledgment of Elliot's admiration. The events at Lyme gradually replace the troubled events of eight years before; Lyme itself becomes an erotic landscape, as Anne and Wentworth alternately blush, redden, and glow while recollecting the past, and in this sense it becomes a restorative, as it colours their faces and strengthens their constitutions.”
As I’ve always said, Heydt-Stevenson deserved enormous credit for having made it impossible for the Janeite world to continue to ignore sex in Austen’s novels, and so, in 1995, how could she have recognized everything I’ve written about, above, with the benefit of hindsight? But it’s worth noting that had JHS was really close. Had she thought further about her ingenious idea that “Lyme itself becomes an erotic landscape”, she’d have realized that she was nearly there, and all she needed to do was to recognize that Jane Austen gave Anne Elliot a sexual life in Persuasion.
But there’s one last wonderful strand in this rich braid of Austenian subtext. It was only as I was finalizing this post, that something tickled my memory, and I searched for other usages of “faint blush” in Austen’s fiction, and that was when the search engine enabled me to catch Jane Austen in a brilliant act of intertextual genius – as she wrote about Anne’s “faint blush”, she was slyly recollecting what she had written nearly four years earlier, in P&P!

Specifically, Anne in the conversation with Wentworth at the concert is in virtually the identical situation as Elizabeth Bennet was when she speaks with Darcy at Pemberley, not long after he has surprised and electrified her by being so attentive and kind to her and the Gardiners:

“With a glance, [Elizabeth] saw, that [Darcy] had lost none of his recent civility; and, to imitate his politeness, she began as they met to admire the beauty of the place [Pemberley]; but she had not got beyond the words "delightful," and "charming," when some unlucky recollections obtruded, and she fancied that praise of Pemberley from her, might be mischievously construed. Her colour changed, and she said no more.”

Those unlucky recollections which made Elizabeth blush because they “might be mischievously construed” are, I now realize, exactly the same as those which Anne blushed at – whereas Anne became aroused by riding past Pinny with Wentworth on the road to Lyme, Elizabeth was recollecting her own strong sexual arousal upon first seeing Pemberley, both outside and inside.

So, while JA wrote P&P before she read Kubla Khan, she recognized in Coleridge’s poem a perfect addition to her other scenes of Anne’s sexual arousal in Persuasion.

Pinny = Pemberley (pendulous member) = the "pen" Anne wished to hold and Darcy wished to mend?  Yes!

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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