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

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Janeites group is looking for a few good Janeites to join our conversations!


To those of you who might be interested in participating in an email group devoted to discussion of all things Austen in that format, you might be interested in learning, if you don’t already know, that the Janeites group, which originated way back around 1999 (when it split off from Austen-L) has migrated from yahoogroups, which is on its last legs, to the wonderful new platform provided by io. Alas, the listowner Anne Woodley has still not been able to get yahoogroups to allow the vast archive of posts going back to 1999 to be shifted over to the io group page, but the discussion still lives on (under the friendly stewardship of Nancy Mayer, who’s been in that role from the beginning) like Scheherazade’s head, for another day, and posts are sent to the new email address for the group,  Janeites@groups.io.

While the activity in the group is nothing like it once was, there remains a band of true friends who still participate regularly. I am proud to count myself one, and I know we all would love some fresh members to show up, so that we can have even more of the best company than we already have. The conversation is smart, we keep each other informed about the latest Austen-related scholarship, conferences, etc etc, but also have fun raising all sorts of Austen-related topics that provide grist for our mill.

So if you’re interested, go to this page  https://groups.io/g/Janeites  and join the group (as I recall, it was very easy to do, and I believe you had to join io first, and then this specific group). If you try, and you have any problem, for whatever it is worth, I’d be happy to try to help – just reach out to me.


Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter
arnieperlstein@gmail.com

Friday, May 3, 2019

Anne Elliot, Mrs. Clay, and the varying effects of ‘weather’ on sailors in Persuasion


After an unintended delay, for which I apologize, I’m finally ready to give my answer to the quiz about Jane Austen’s last completed novel, Persuasion, which I presented nearly a week ago. In that quiz, I invited you all to spot the sly ironic joke Austen made at the expense of her unwitting heroine, Anne Elliot.

Specifically, I claimed that there is a speech by the devious Mrs. Clay early in the novel, which Anne unwittingly echoes much later, in the climactic scene at the White Hart Inn; and moreover, I suggested that such unlikely, unwitting echoing of Mrs. Clay by Anne casts an ironic shadow on that romantic climax of the novel.

Without further ado, then, I’ll begin by giving you the text of the speech by Mrs. Clay which was later echoed by Anne. It occurs in Chapter 3, in the scene when Mrs. Clay’s father, the lawyer Mr. Shepherd (with suspiciously accurate prescience, as it turns out) suggests to his client Sir Walter that a navy man would be most likely to become the much needed new tenant for Kellynch. Mrs. Clay and Anne both chime in supportively, but then Sir Walter goes off on a narcissistic rant about how a career at sea prematurely ages a navy man’s appearance, a rant which ends with this “evidence”:

“…I shall not easily forget Admiral Baldwin. I never saw quite so wretched an example of what a sea-faring life can do; but to a degree, I know it is the same with them all: they are all knocked about, and exposed to every climate, and every weather, till they are not fit to be seen. It is a pity they are not knocked on the head at once, before they reach Admiral Baldwin's age."

It is at that moment that Mrs. Clay intervenes and waxes eloquent in a speech of surprising scope and rhetorical ingenuity:

"Nay, Sir Walter," cried Mrs Clay, "this is being severe indeed. Have a little mercy on the poor men. We are not all born to be handsome. The sea is no beautifier, certainly; sailors do grow old betimes; I have observed it; they soon lose the look of youth. But then, is not it the same with many other professions, perhaps most other? Soldiers, in active service, are not at all better off: and even in the quieter professions, there is a toil and a labour of the mind, if not of the body, which seldom leaves a man's looks to the natural effect of time. The lawyer plods, quite care-worn; the physician is up at all hours, and travelling in all weather; and even the clergyman--" she stopt a moment to consider what might do for the clergyman;--"and even the clergyman, you know is obliged to go into infected rooms, and expose his health and looks to all the injury of a poisonous atmosphere. In fact, as I have long been convinced, though every profession is necessary and honourable in its turn, it is only the lot of those who are not obliged to follow any, who can live in a regular way, in the country, choosing their own hours, following their own pursuits, and living on their own property, without the torment of trying for more; it is only their lot, I say, to hold the blessings of health and a good appearance to the utmost: I know no other set of men but what lose something of their personableness when they cease to be quite young."

Mrs. Clay argues that it’s not just a navy man whose face would bear witness to his years of work, and thereby elicit the scorn of Sir Walter; any prospective male tenant who has worked for a living, whether outdoors at sea or indoors on land, whether with his hands or his mind, will, she suggests, also end up looking prematurely old. The moving air, whether sea winds or sickroom miasmas, will carve evidence of ageing into the working man’s face.

So, why does Mrs. Clay make this argument at this moment? It seems clear that she is backing up her father’s strange prescience about a naval man being a promising candidate to rent Kellynch from Sir Walter. It’s almost as if she, too, knew that a man like Admiral Croft was about to appear, Johnny-on-the-Spot, to save the Elliots from complete financial ruin. Whether she and her father actually knew Admiral Croft prior to that scene --- well, that’s a subject for another post. Back to Mrs. Clay’s speech.

Note how adeptly and seamlessly Mrs. Clay segues into open flattery of Sir Walter, in order to distract him from returning to his resistance to a sailor tenant. Instead, she waves a magic rhetorical wand, and reframes, for an audience of one, his useless parasitic existence into a portrait of a noble career, because Sir Walter, like Dorian Gray (and now I suspect that Oscar Wilde had Sir Walter Elliot in mind 7 decades later), will never age.  

And that is the end of the first part of this post. Before I go on, can you who know Persuasion identify the speech by Anne Elliot later in the novel, in which our heroine unwittingly echoes the words of Mrs. Clay -- the very same Mrs. Clay whom Anne fears will succeed, via adept flattery, in ensnaring Anne’s father into marriage? Have I prompted you to now recall the speech by Anne, in a group setting, which she uses similar verbiage to Mrs. Clay’s, in speaking about the effects of a career at sea on a naval man? I bet some of you now do! But for the rest of you, here is the second part of my reveal.

It is one of several short speeches by Anne in Chapter 23, in the uber-romantic White Hart Inn scene, during Anne’s extended debate with the navy man Captain Harville about the relative constancy, in love, of men and women. Let me set the stage at precisely the right point in that scene.

Harville has just shown Anne the miniature portrait of his naval comrade, Benwick, which was painted for Harville’s sister Fanny before she died; but which, to Harville’s chagrin, was being casually recycled by Benwick, to be given instead to Benwick’s new fiancée, Louisa Musgrove. Anne then broadens Harville’s sad reflection on Benwick into a debate about the relative constancy of men and women, in which Anne introduces the subject of the effects of the exertions of a naval career on a sailor, and then Harville responds:

[Anne] "It would not be the nature of any woman who truly loved [to be inconstant]."
Captain Harville smiled, as much as to say, "Do you claim that for your sex?" and she answered the question, smiling also, "Yes. We certainly do not forget you as soon as you forget us. It is, perhaps, our fate rather than our merit. We cannot help ourselves. We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us. You are forced on exertion. You have always a profession, pursuits, business of some sort or other, to take you back into the world immediately, and continual occupation and change soon weaken impressions."
[Harville] "Granting your assertion that the world does all this so soon for men (which, however, I do not think I shall grant), it does not apply to Benwick. He has not been forced upon any exertion. The peace turned him on shore at the very moment, and he has been living with us, in our little family circle, ever since."

We’re sailing on the same water, so to speak, as in Mrs. Clay’s artful rhetorical production in Chapter 3; but instead of the trivial topic of the durability of a sailor’s facial beauty, now we are on the significant subject of the durability of a sailor’s devotion to his beloved. Coincidence? Well, now check out the next part of their amicable verbal duel, and, again, think about Mrs. Clay’s speech as you read it:

"True," said Anne, "very true; I did not recollect; but what shall we say now, Captain Harville? If the change be not from outward circumstances, it must be from within; it must be nature, man's nature, which has done the business for Captain Benwick."
"No, no, it is not man's nature. I will not allow it to be more man's nature than woman's to be inconstant and forget those they do love, or have loved. I believe the reverse. I believe in a true analogy between our bodily frames and our mental; and that as our bodies are the strongest, so are our feelings; capable of bearing most rough usage, and riding out the heaviest weather."

Note the exquisite subtlety of the echoing of Mrs. Clay’s speech in the above exchange, along the lines I just articulated. In Chapter 3, Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay were focused on the trivial topic of the “change” in “outward circumstances” caused by men’s work, especially naval men; and in particular Sir Walter was obsessed with the “rough usage” of sailors’s skin by “the heaviest weather”! Here, Anne is focused on “outward circumstances” and “change” of a very different nature – this is a very clever sort of double entendre, designed, I believe, to remind the reader, however subliminally, of Mrs. Clay’s speech.

Perhaps some of you may still respond, this cluster of subtle echoes, while noteworthy and ironic, might be unconscious on Jane Austen’s part, and not particularly significant Well, I hope I can lay that  possibility to rest --- giving it a proper burial at sea, if you will --- when I now present you with the actual speech by Anne which seals the deal, in my opinion:

"Your feelings may be the strongest," replied Anne, "but the same spirit of analogy will authorise me to assert that ours are the most tender. Man is more robust than woman, but he is not longer lived; which exactly explains my view of the nature of their attachments. Nay, it would be too hard upon you, if it were otherwise. You have difficulties, and privations, and dangers enough to struggle with. You are always labouring and toiling, exposed to every risk and hardship. Your home, country, friends, all quitted. Neither time, nor health, nor life, to be called your own. It would be hard, indeed" (with a faltering voice), "if woman's feelings were to be added to all this."

Do you now hear the echo of specific verbiage, which first alerted me to the parallels between Chapter 3 and Chapter 23 of Persuasion, before I had done any of the thematic analysis I’ve set forth above?:

Mrs. Clay in Chapter 3: “…even in the quieter professions, there is a TOIL and a LABOUR of the mind, if not of the body, which seldom leaves a man's looks to the natural effect of time…”

Anne in Chapter 23: “…You are always LABOURING and TOILING, exposed to every risk and hardship…”

Standing alone, this echoing of the words “toil” and “labour” might seem too ordinary to be significant. However, as I hope I’ve illustrated, above, this parallel verbiage by Mrs. Clay and then Anne is only the tip of an iceberg -- the context of that verbiage which I’ve detailed is also extraordinarily parallel --- yet, it is changed just enough to render the parallels subliminal – you can only see these passages, separated by most of the rest of the novel, when you lay them side by side and compare them, as I have done the past several days.

And there I will stop, for now – but I make a further promise, that, within another week’s time, I shall reveal to you something I came across in my research on the above-described echo, which I believe to be a crucial clue as to a deeper meaning of this echo. Specifically, I say there is a prior allusive source – a book which was famous and controversial during Jane Austen’s entire writing career, and which played a key role in shaping her fiction and her deepest meanings – which undergirds both Mrs. Clay’s and Anne Elliot’s ‘toil’ and ‘labour’ speeches.

So don’t forget to apply Gowland’s Lotion every day till I return, so that Sir Walter’s sensitive eye will not be offended by any sadly weathered faces. 😉

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


Friday, April 26, 2019

An Austen mini-quiz about Persuasion

This evening, I happened, quite by accident, upon another of the few thousand gems of brilliant, subtle interconnectivity hidden in plain sight in Austen's fiction. It occurred to me that it would make a lovely question for a mini-quiz. 

I found it in Persuasion, and here's the quiz. If a poll were taken of Janeites who love Persuasion and who know the novel really well, and they were asked which other characters in the novel Anne Elliot would have been LEAST likely to have been influenced by, I feel safe in claiming that most such readers would name Mrs. Clay as one of the top three answers, with strong competition from Anne's father and her sister Mary  - or if the three of them were Disney characters,we might call them Sneaky, Snobby, & Whiny.  ;)

Therefore, I was delighted to catch Jane Austen in the act of playing a sublimely subversive trick on her heroine, Anne, and on her trusting readers who see through Anne's eyes, by parading an example right before our eyes of Anne unconsciously echoing Mrs. Clay in a way that is nontrivial, in fact it goes to the heart of the romance of the novel

Can you guess, or if you have the time, search for and find, the two passages in Persuasion which provide the basis for my seemingly absurd claim?

If no one provides the answer by Saturday morning, I will reveal it then!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Edward Austen Knight’s Disturbingly 'Un-Wealdy' Wollstonecraftian Harem


My topic today is the strong, pervasive influence of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman on passages contained in three letters written by Jane Austen between April, 1811, and February 1813, during which time period JA finally was able to complete and publish both S&S and P&P. I’ve long claimed that Austen’s fiction takes Wollstonecraft’s protofeminist message as a starting point, and extends it significantly further, especially in Austen’s shadow stories. So it should hardly surprise that today I found evidence hiding in plain sight which reflects that same influence in contemporary letters Austen wrote, while in the full flush of her triumph in overcoming institutional (and perhaps also familial) resistance to females holding the pen of authorship.

It’s well known in Austen scholarly circles that on Feb 16, 1813, in the thick of the huge public scandal that engulfed the Royal Family, Jane Austen wrote Letter 82 to Martha Lloyd. In it, JA wrote took off the gloves and wrote perhaps the fiercest feminist words that we find in her surviving letters. JA forgave Princess Caroline for her scandalous marital indiscretions, because of extenuating circumstances – being the Prince Regent’s unceasingly abominable treatment of his wife, which explained why the Princess was driven to act out inappropriately. “Poor Woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she IS a woman, and because I hate her husband” is Jane Austen’s unvarnished, unambiguous indictment of the “first gentleman of Europe”, whom she later covertly skewered as the ‘Prince of Whales’, the alternative answer to Mr. Elton’s “courtship” charade in Emma.

I’ve oft noted that JA wrote her most uncensored, edgy comments to Martha Lloyd, evidently because JA wasn’t worried that such letters might be read by the wrong eyes; but also because JA had a very intimate, honest relationship with Martha. a kindred feminist spirit to which JA could safely express sharp criticism of male authority figures.

With that background, I next point you to comments I made in 2012, during our Janeites groupread of JA’s letters, on a brief passage in Letter 77, also to Martha, written a mere 2 ½ months before JA wrote of her hatred for the Prince Regent, the horrible husband:

“[Jane Austen] is…being even more sarcastic about her brother Edward, not once but twice:
‘We have been quite alone, except Miss Benn, since 12 o'clock on wednesday, when Edward & his Harem drove from the door.....We have reason to suppose the change of name has taken place, as we have to forward a Letter to Edward Knight, Esqre from the Lawyer who has the management of the business. I must learn to make a better K.’
Edward the pasha, Edward the man who took on a new name and, with it, great wealth and privilege.”
END QUOTE FROM MY 2012 POST

Apropos the reference to “Edward & his Harem” in Letter 77, I just came across what I now recognize as a key source for further decoding JA’s sarcastic reference to brother Edward “Harem” – it turns out not to have sprung solely from JA’s own imagination, but instead is an allusion, and a very fitting one, to a passage in Chapter 4 of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, the title of such chapter being  “Observations on the State of Degradation to which Woman is Reduced by Various Causes”:

“Most of the evils of life arise from a desire of present enjoyment that outruns itself. The obedience required of women in the marriage state, comes under this description; the mind, naturally weakened by depending on authority, never exerts its own powers, and the obedient wife is thus rendered a weak indolent mother. Or, supposing that this is not always the consequence, a future state of existence is scarcely taken into the reckoning when only negative virtues are cultivated. For in treating of morals, particularly when women are alluded to, writers have too often considered virtue in a very limited sense, and made the foundation of it solely worldly utility; nay, a still more fragile base has been given to this stupendous fabric, and the wayward fluctuating feelings of men have been made the standard of virtue. Yes, virtue as well as religion, has been subjected to the decisions of taste.
It would almost provoke a smile of contempt, if the vain absurdities of man did not strike us on all sides, to observe, how eager men are to degrade the sex from whom they pretend to receive the chief pleasure of life; and I have frequently, with full conviction, retorted Pope's sarcasm on them; or, to speak explicitly, it has appeared to me applicable to the whole human race. A love of pleasure or sway seems to divide mankind, and THE HUSBAND WHO LORDS IT IN HIS LITTLE HAREM, THINKS ONLY OF HIS PLEASURE OR HIS CONVENIENCE. To such lengths, indeed, does an intemperate love of pleasure carry some prudent men, or worn out libertines, who marry to have a safe companion, that they seduce their own wives. Hymen banishes modesty, and chaste love takes its flight….”

Isn’t it obvious that JA was especially focused on that short passage in Wollstonecraft’s great work, as JA wrote both Letter 77 and also Letter 82? In both of those passages written to trusted confidante, Martha Lloyd, JA takes to task the kind of husband who lords it in his little harem, and thinks only of his pleasure or their convenience? Whether at the Royal Court, or at Godmersham, the same principles seem to apply.

But I am also prompted to connect the dots from the above discussion of Wollstonecraft as a source for passages in two Austen letters containing plain-spoken feminist critiques of bad husbands, to a third letter JA wrote. In a post I wrote in Janeites in 2015, I discussed a short passage in Letter 72, written by JA on April 30, 1811 (and so, only 7 months before she wrote Letter 77 to Martha) to sister Cassandra, who was at Godmersham i.e., Edward’s Kentish estate, at the time. As you read, keep in mind that any criticism, especially sharp criticism, of brother Edward, therefore had to be in code, because Cassandra would have had to pass Jane’s letter around to Edward and/or his eldest daughter Fanny:

I congratulate Edward on the Weald of Kent Canal Bill being put off till another Session, as I have just had the pleasure of reading. There is always something to be hoped from delay.
Between Session and Session 
The first Prepossession 
May rouse up the Nation, 
And the villanous Bill 
May be forced to lie still 
Against wicked men's will.
-There is poetry for Edward and his daughter.“ END QUOTE FROM LETTER 72
 …I quoted the poem here because Jane Austen’s apparent metaphor of a legislative Bill as a woman being “forced to lie still” by an aroused Nation, which will then foil “wicked men’s will” by causing the Bill to be “put off till another Session”, is pretty disturbing, even if the metaphor is a little wobbly in its poetic execution. It’s even more disturbing when we consider Jane Austen’s conclusory comment: “There is poetry for Edward and his daughter”. Just think about Edward, widowed only 2 ½ years earlier by the death in childbirth of his wife, Elizabeth, after bearing him 11 children in 15 years. It seems to me that Jane Austen by this poem, was recalling that Elizabeth Austen Knight had been “forced to lie still” by Edward one too many times, when she might have survived Edward’s “wicked will” had someone---her family or friends---roused themselves in her defense and “put” her insistent husband “off till another Session”?  
 Recall also in that specific regard the infamous passage from the 12-year old Fanny Knight’s diary entry for August 5, 1805, or three years before her mother’s death:  
“I slept half with Mama & half with Sackree [the family nurse], for Papa came home late in the evening & I was obliged to be pulled out of bed. “
 So, it does seem to me that Jane Austen is hinting at the prospective building of a major canal in the Weald as being equivalent to Edward Austen Knight, as husband, having insisted on his conjugal right to launch 11 voyages of “cargo” down his wife’s birth canal!
And if you think I’m overreaching for that point, take another look at the last four lines of Jane Austen’s poem. Without changing any letters, I’ve moved the letters of the first word in each of those lines, so as to bring into obvious view the familial name that daughter Fanny Knight would have used in addressing her mother:
M    May rouse up the Nation, 
A     And the villanous Bill 
M   May be forced to lie still 
A    Against wicked men's will.
 Fanny indeed lost her dear “Mama” as a result of her wicked father’s wilful actions!”
END QUOTE FROM MY 2015 POST

As I revisit my 2015 post, I’m even more strongly struck by how dangerously close JA came to crossing the line from implicit to explicit in her subversive, sexualized subtext. If the poem were really only about Edward’s legislative struggles, why in the world (or Weald) would  JA write a poem, which uses a metaphor for oppressive governmental action sounding dangerously close to rape, and then call it “poetry for Edward AND HIS DAUGHTER”?

In early 1811, that daughter could only be Edward’s eldest daughter, Fanny, then just turned 18, but who already had served, for 2 ½ years, as mistress of Godmersham in place of her late mother. Is this possibly a “dangerous opening”, a hint at incest? And that disturbing speculation brings to mind Mr. Woodhouse struggling to recall the second stanza of another short ‘poem”, Garrick’s Riddle, in which, as Jill Heydt-Stevenson first pointed out 20 years ago, the barely concealed subtext is that of a mn with syphilis having sex with a virgin (named Fanny) as a “cure”.

As I said, this all could not be more disturbing, and yet, because it’s in code, no other Austen scholar has ever suggested a darker meaning to JA’s poem about the ways of ‘the Weald” (which, as I pointed out in 2015, was pronounced like ‘world’). To repeat the final words of that passage from Wollstonecraft:

“THE HUSBAND WHO LORDS IT IN HIS LITTLE HAREM, THINKS ONLY OF HIS PLEASURE OR HIS CONVENIENCE. To such lengths, indeed, does an intemperate love of pleasure carry some prudent men, or worn out libertines, who marry to have a safe companion, that they seduce their own wives. Hymen banishes modesty, and chaste love takes its flight….”

So now you see the full context of my discovery today of a Wollstonecraft undergirding of Austen’s letters. It is clear to me from the above quotations from JA’s letters, that as JA was revising and publishing S&S and P&P, she was feeling angrily critical of the unbridled power of husbands in England. In overt terms writing to Martha, and covertly while writing to Cassandra, JA repeatedly took savagely satirical aim at both the most powerful man in her own family, and also at the most powerful man in England; and then kept them in her sights continuously thereafter, at least through her publication of Emma 3 years after she wrote Letter 82.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, February 15, 2019

Dante's Francesca & Paolo in Persuasion: Austen’s towering Inferno remix


In my post the other day giving my preliminary answer to my Persuasion quiz, I wrote, in relevant part:

“…I started looking at the Francesca-Paolo episode in Inferno, and a whole universe of allusion and significant thematic meaning opened up to me -- it didn’t take me long to realize that Austen's interest went far beyond a passing wink at Byron's epigraphs of Dante [in The Corsair].
And yes, indeed, the scene when Anne translating for Cousin Elliot the lyrics of the Italian song they listen to at the recital in Bath is one of several additional passages in Persuasion that I identified… which ALL point to Dante --- mostly, again, to the very famous episode of  Paolo and Francesca, the two damned lovers who whirl in the wind forever in the second circle of hell, in Inferno. And, to further confirm, JEAL notes in passing in his Memoir that while JA was fluent in French, she also had some knowledge of Italian.
I have spent hours today collecting so much probative material relating to…the allusion to Dante in Persuasion, [which] is SO huge and multi-faceted, because it also includes Chaucer's Troilus & Cressyde, Shakespeare's Troilus & Cressida, and Byron (and Leigh Hunt, surprisingly) as well -- It is spectacularly intertextual, and Jane Austen was in full command of it all.
…7-8 years ago…I argued…that there were Dantean allusions by JA in 3 letters (Letters 43, 44 & 46) that she wrote in April and August,1805….she wrote those letters shortly after the publication of an acclaimed…new translation of Inferno that came out early in 1805! I have no doubt that this is when JA's interest in Dante, if it did not already exist, exploded, and took its most elaborate and central place in JA's fiction in Persuasion.” END QUOTE FROM MY PRIOR POST

Because of the sprawling, complex intertextuality I’ve uncovered, I’ve decided not to write a detailed post at this time, and will save that for the future, after I’ve had a chance to let all the implications sink in. In the interim, I will just present the center of the circle, so to speak, of the allusion to Dante’s Divine Comedy in Austen’s Persuasion.

To start, here is the full text of Henry Cary’s 1805 translation of the Francesca/Paolo episode in Canto V of Inferno, with the lines in ALL CAPS which I claim Austen was most interested in. To briefly set the stage, the narrating pilgrim, led by Virgil (his ‘sage instructor’), has picked out one couple from among the many damned souls whirling around him in the perpetual wind of the second circle of Hell, perhaps because the pilgrim recognizes this unfortunate couple:

As you read this translation of this particular passage of Dante’s poetry, know that you’re following in the illustrious footsteps of some of the greatest artists/interpreters in history—readers like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Blake, Byron, Austen, Tennyson, and Rodin, among many others –who were inspired by this short, but endlessly fascinating Dantean passage (trust me, there have been many scholarly articles and chapters written about it, arguing to and fro about how to interpret its mysteries), to create some of their own greatest art.

So, please read and reread this short passage to get familiar with it, and, for brief real-life context for Francesca da Rimini, read here  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francesca_da_Rimini  and then I’ll be back at the end of this passage with the passages in Persuasion which I claim point to it:

When I had heard my sage instructor name
Those dames and knights of antique days, o'erpower'd
By pity, well-nigh in amaze my mind
Was lost; and I began: "Bard! willingly
I would address those two together coming,
Which seem so light before the wind."  He thus:
"Note thou, when nearer they to us approach.

"Then by that love which carries them along,
Entreat; and they will come."  Soon as the wind
Sway'd them toward us, I thus fram'd my speech:
"O wearied spirits! come, and hold discourse
With us, if by none else restrain'd."  As doves
By fond desire invited, on wide wings
And firm, to their sweet nest returning home,
Cleave the air, wafted by their will along;
Thus issu'd from that troop, where Dido ranks,
They through the ill air speeding; with such force
My cry prevail'd by strong affection urg'd.

"O gracious creature and benign! who go'st
Visiting, through this element obscure,
Us, who the world with bloody stain imbru'd;
If for a friend the King of all we own'd,
Our pray'r to him should for thy peace arise,
Since thou hast pity on our evil plight.
Of whatsoe'er to hear or to discourse
It pleases thee, that will we hear, of that
Freely with thee discourse, while e'er the wind,
As now, is mute.  The land, that gave me birth,
Is situate on the coast, where Po descends
To rest in ocean with his sequent streams.

"Love, that in gentle heart is quickly learnt,
Entangled him by that fair form, from me
Ta'en in such cruel sort, as grieves me still:
Love, that denial takes from none belov'd,
Caught me with pleasing him so passing well,
That, as thou see'st, he yet deserts me not.

"Love brought us to one death: Caina waits
The soul, who spilt our life."  Such were their words;
At hearing which downward I bent my looks,
And held them there so long, that the bard cried:
"What art thou pond'ring?"  I in answer thus:
"Alas! by what sweet thoughts, what fond desire
Must they at length to that ill pass have reach'd!"

Then turning, I to them my speech address'd.
And thus began: "Francesca! your sad fate
Even to tears my grief and pity moves.
But tell me; in the time of your sweet sighs,
By what, and how love granted, that ye knew
Your yet uncertain wishes?"  She replied:
“NO GREATER GRIEF THAN TO REMEMBER DAYS
OF JOY, WHEN MIS’RY IS AT HAND! That kens
Thy learn'd instructor.  Yet so eagerly
If thou art bent to know the primal root,
From whence our love gat being, I will do,
As one, who weeps and tells his tale.  One day
For our delight we read of Lancelot,
How him love thrall'd.  Alone we were, and no
Suspicion near us.  Ofttimes by that reading
Our eyes were drawn together, and the hue
Fled from our alter'd cheek.  But at one point
Alone we fell.  When of that smile we read,
The wished smile, rapturously kiss'd
By one so deep in love, then he, who ne'er
From me shall separate, at once my lips
All trembling kiss'd.  THE BOOK AND WRITER BOTH
WERE LOVE’S PURVEYORS.  In its leaves that day
We read no more."  While thus one spirit spake,
The other wail'd so sorely, that heartstruck
I THROUGH COMPASSION FAINTING, SEEM’D NOT FAR
FROM DEATH, AND LIKE A CORPSE FELL TO THE GROUND.

And now, without further explanation (because it would go on for pages and pages), I will simply give you those same passages in Persuasion which I presented in my Quiz, but this time with the verbiage in ALL CAPS which I claim points back to Dante’s Francesca and Paolo. I will be back one last time at the end of these Persuasion quotations, with a few final comments:

Ch. 6: Anne had not wanted this visit to Uppercross, to learn that a removal from one set of people to another, though at a distance of only three miles, will often include a total change of conversation, opinion, and idea. She had never been staying there before, without being struck by it, or without wishing that other Elliots could have her advantage in seeing how unknown, or unconsidered there, were the affairs which at Kellynch Hall were treated as of such general publicity and pervading interest; yet, with all this experience, she believed she must now submit to feel that another lesson, in THE ART OF KNOWING OUR OWN NOTHINGNESS BEYOND OUR OWN CIRCLE, was become necessary for her; for certainly, coming as she did, with a heart full of the subject which had been completely occupying both houses in Kellynch for many weeks, she had expected rather more curiosity and sympathy than she found in the separate but very similar remark of Mr and Mrs Musgrove.

Ch. 8: From this time Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot were REPEATEDLY IN THE SAME CIRCLE. They were soon dining in company together at Mr Musgrove's, for the little boy's state could no longer supply his aunt with a pretence for absenting herself; and this was but the beginning of other dinings and other meetings.
Whether former feelings were to be renewed must be brought to the proof; former times must undoubtedly be brought to the recollection of each; they could not but be reverted to; the year of their engagement could not but be named by him, in the little narratives or descriptions which conversation called forth. His profession qualified him, his disposition lead him, to talk; and "That was in the year six;" "That happened before I went to sea in the year six," occurred in the course of the first evening they spent together: and though his voice did not falter, and though she had no reason to suppose his eye wandering towards her while he spoke, ANNE FELT THE UTTER IMPOSSIBILITY, FROM HER KNOWLEDGE OF HIS MIND, THAT HE COULD BE UNVISITED BY REMEMBRANCE ANY MORE THAN HERSELF. THERE MUST BE THE SAME IMMEDIATE ASSOCIATION OF THOUGHT, THOUGH SHE WAS VERY FAR FROM CONCEIVING IT TO BE OF EQUAL PAIN.
They had no conversation together, no intercourse but what the commonest civility required. Once so much to each other! Now nothing! There had been a time, when of all the large party now filling the drawing-room at Uppercross, they would have found it most difficult to cease to speak to one another. With the exception, perhaps, of Admiral and Mrs Croft, who seemed particularly attached and happy, (Anne could allow no other exceptions even among the married couples), there could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved. Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.

Ch.11: [Benwick] was evidently a young man of considerable taste in reading, though principally in poetry; and besides the persuasion of having given him at least an evening's indulgence in the discussion of subjects, which his usual companions had probably no concern in, she had the hope of being of real use to him in some suggestions as to the duty and benefit of struggling against affliction, which had naturally grown out of their conversation. For, though shy, he did not seem reserved; it had rather the appearance of feelings glad to burst their usual restraints; and having talked of poetry, the richness of the present age, and gone through a brief comparison of opinion as to the first-rate poets, trying to ascertain whether Marmion or The Lady of the Lake were to be preferred, and HOW RANKED THE GIAOUR and The Bride of Abydos; and moreover, HOW THE GIAOUR WAS TO BE PRONOUNCED, he showed himself so intimately acquainted with all the tenderest songs of the one poet, and all the impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony of the other; he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that SHE VENTURED TO HOPE HE DID NOT ALWAYS READ ONLY POETRY, AND TO SAY, THAT SHE THOUGHT IT WAS THE MISFORTUNE OF POETRY TO BE SELDOM SAFELY ENJOYED BY THOSE WHO ENJOYED IT COMPLETELY; AND THAT THE STRONG FEELINGS WHICH ALONE COULD ESTIMATE IT TRULY WERE THE FEELINGS WHICH OUGHT TO TASTE IT BUT SPARINGLY.

Ch. 12:  [At Lyme, Anne] was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features, having the bloom and freshness of youth RESTORED BY THE FINE WIND WHICH HAD BEEN BLOWING ON HER COMPLEXION, and by the animation of eye which it had also produced.
…THERE WAS TOO MUCH WIND TO MAKE THE HIGH PART OF THE NEW COBB PLEASANT FOR THE LADIES, and they agreed to get down the steps to the lower, and all were contented to pass quietly and carefully down the steep flight, excepting Louisa; she must be jumped down them by Captain Wentworth…. [Louisa] smiled and said, "I am determined I will:" he put out his hands; she was too precipitate by half a second, she fell on the pavement on the Lower Cobb, and WAS TAKEN UP LIFELESS! THERE WAS NO WOUND, NO BLOOD, NO VISIBLE BRUISE; BUT HER EYES WERE CLOSED, SHE BREATHED NOT, HER FACE WAS LIKE DEATH. THE HORROR OF THE MOMENT TO ALL WHO STOOD AROUND!

Ch. 13: …he was the last, excepting the little boys at the cottage, she was the very last, the only remaining one of all that had filled and animated both houses, of all that had given Uppercross its cheerful character. A few days had made a change indeed!
If Louisa recovered, it would all be well again. MORE THAN FORMER HAPPINESS WOULD BE RESTORED. There could not be a doubt, to her mind there was none, of what would follow her recovery. A FEW MONTHS HENCE, and the room now so deserted, occupied but by her silent, pensive self, MIGHT BE FILLED AGAIN WITH ALL THAT WAS HAPPY AND GAY, ALL THAT WAS GLOWING AND BRIGHT IN PROSPEROUS LOVE, all that was most unlike Anne Elliot!
An hour's complete leisure for such reflections as these, on a dark November day, a small thick rain almost blotting out the very few objects ever to be discerned from the windows, was enough to make the sound of Lady Russell's carriage exceedingly welcome; and yet, though desirous to be gone, she could not quit the Mansion House, or look an adieu to the Cottage, with its black, dripping and comfortless veranda, or even notice through the misty glasses the last humble tenements of the village, without a saddened heart. SCENES WHICH HAD PASSED IN UPPERCROSS WHICH MADE IT PRECIOUS. IT STOOD THE RECORD OF MANY SENSATIONS OF PAIN, ONCE SEVERE, BUT NOW SOFTENED; AND OF SOME INSTANCES OF RELENTING FEELING, SOME BREATHINGS OF FRIENDSHIP AND RECONCILIATION, BUT COULD NEVER BE LOOKED FOR AGAIN, AND WHICH COULD NEVER CEASE TO BE DEAR. SHE LEFT IT ALL BEHIND HER, ALL BUT THE RECOLLECTION THAT SUCH THINGS HAD BEEN.
Anne had never entered Kellynch since her quitting Lady Russell's house in September. It had not been necessary, and the few occasions of its being possible for her to go to the Hall she had contrived to evade and escape from. Her first return was to resume her place in the modern and elegant apartments of the Lodge, and to gladden the eyes of its mistress.
 …Anne, amused in spite of herself, was rather distressed for an answer, and the Admiral, fearing he might not have been civil enough, took up the subject again, to say--
"The next time you write to your good father, Miss Elliot, pray give him my compliments and Mrs Croft's, and say that we are settled here quite to our liking, and have no fault at all to find with the place. The breakfast-room chimney smokes a little, I grant you, but it is only WHEN THE WIND IS DUE NORTH AND BLOWS HARD, which may not happen three times a winter. And take it altogether, now that we have been into most of the houses hereabouts and can judge, there is not one that we like better than this. Pray say so, with my compliments. He will be glad to hear it."

Ch. 18: How do you like Bath, Miss Elliot? It suits us very well. We are always meeting with some old friend or other; the streets full of them every morning; sure to have plenty of chat; and then we get away from them all, and shut ourselves in our lodgings, and draw in our chairs, and are as snug as if we were at Kellynch, ay, or as we used to be even at North Yarmouth and Deal. We do not like our lodgings here the worse, I can tell you, for putting us in mind of those we first had at North Yarmouth. THE WIND BLOWS THROUGH one of the cupboards just in the same way."

Ch. 20: "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."
“THE LAST HOURS WERE CERTAINLY VRY PAINFUL,” REPLIED ANNE; “BUT WHEN PAIN IS OVER, THE REMEMBRANCE OF IT BECOMES A PLEASURE. ONE DOES NOT LOVE A PLACE LESS FOR HAVING SUFFERED IN IT, UNLESS IT HAS BEEN ALL 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."
….Anne's mind was in a most favourable state for the entertainment of the evening; it was just occupation enough: she had feelings for the tender, spirits for the gay, attention for the scientific, and patience for the wearisome; and had never liked a concert better, at least during the first act.
TOWARDS THE CLOSE OF IT, IN THE INTERVL SUCCEEDING AN ITALIAN SONG, SHE EXPLAINED THE WORDS OF THE SONG TO MR. ELLIOT. They had a concert bill between them.
“THIS,” SAID SHE, “IS NEARLY THE SENSE, OR RATHER THE MEANING OF THE WORDS, FOR CERTAINLY THE SENSE OF AN ITALIAN LOVE-SONG MUST NOT BE TALKED OF, BUT IT IS AS NEARLY  THE MEANING AS I CAN GIVE; FOR I DO NOT PRETEND TO UNDERSTAND THE LANGUAGE. I AM A VERY POOR ITALIAN SCHOLAR.”
“YES, YES, I SEE YOU ARE. I SEE YOU KNOW NOTHING OF THE MATTER. YOU HAVE ONLY KNOWLEDGE ENOUGH OF THE LANGUAGE TO TRANSLATE AT SIGHT THESE INVERTED, TRANSPOSED, CURTAILED ITALIAN LINES, INTO CLEAR, COMPREHENSIBLE, ELEGANT ENGLISH. You need not say anything more of your ignorance. Here is complete proof."
"I will not oppose such kind politeness; but I SHOULD BE SORRY TO BE EXAMINED BY A REAL PROFICIENT.”

Ch. 23:  …The party before her were, Mrs Musgrove, talking to Mrs Croft, and Captain Harville to Captain Wentworth; and she immediately heard that Mary and Henrietta, too impatient to wait, had gone out the moment it had cleared, but would be back again soon, and that the strictest injunctions had been left with Mrs Musgrove to keep her there till they returned. She had only to submit, sit down, be outwardly composed, and FEEL HERSELF PLUNGED AT ONCE IN ALL THE AGITATIONS WHICH SHE HAD MERELY LAID HER ACCOUNT OF TASTING A LITTLE BEFORE THE MORNING CLOSED. There was no delay, no waste of time. SHE WAS DEEP IN THE HAPPINESS OF SUCH MISERY, OR THE MISERY OF SUCH HAPPINESS, INSTANTLY.
…soon words enough had passed between them to decide their direction towards the comparatively quiet and retired gravel walk, where the power of conversation WOULD MAKE THE PRESENT HOUR A BLESSING INDEED, AND PREPARE IT FOR ALL THE IMMORTALITY WHICH THE HAPPIEST RECOLLECTIONS OF THEIR OWN FUTURE LIVES COULD BESTOW. There they exchanged again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure everything, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement. THERE THEY RETURNED AGAIN INTO THE PAST, MORE EXQUISITELY HAPPY, PERHAPS, IN THEIR RE-UNION, THAN WHEN IT HAD FIRST BEEN PROJECTED;  more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other's character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting. AND THERE, AS THEY SLOWLY PACED THE GRADUAL ASCENT, HEEDLESS OF EVERY GROUP AROUND THEM, SEEING NEITHER SAUNTERING POLITICIANS, BUSTLING HOUSEKEEPERS, FLIRTING GIRLS, nor nursery-maids and children, THEY COULD INDULGE IN THOSE RETROSPECTIONS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS, AND ESPECIALLY IN THOSE EXPLANATIONS OF WHAT HAD DIRECTLY PRECEDED THE PRESENT MOMENT, WHICH WERE SO POIGNANT AND SO CEASELESS IN INTEREST. All the little variations of the last week were gone through; and of yesterday and today there could scarcely be an end.
She had not mistaken him. JEALOUSY OF MR. ELLIOT HAD BEEN THE RETARDING WEIGHT, THE DOUBT, THE TORMENT…

Anyone very familiar with the story of Persuasion does not need more than that to begin to appreciate how deeply and densely Jane Austen wove the short tragic tale of Franesca and Paolo into the thematic fabric of Persuasion.

And there I will stop, with the caveat that there are other passages in The Divine Comedy which Jane Austen also pointed to in Persuasion (and also in several of her other novels), which are a topic, as I said, for the future. In the meanwhile, I very much want to hear your reactions to any or all of the above!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Seeing the Forest and ALL the Trees in Maya Lin’s re-aired episode on Finding Your Roots


I don’t know how many of you enjoy Finding Your Roots, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s wonderful show on PBS, now in its 5th season. Yes, one might wonder if some reactions of the famous participants are really spontaneous – but I focus on the many clearly genuine emotional responses which Gates artfully elicits, which are the heart of the show. Gates is a master of consistently seamlessly interweaving the homespun, the intellectual, and the spiritual.

What I value most is Gates’s politely insistent celebration of inclusion, individuality, and the great societal good of excavating and collectively witnessing lost (and suppressed) history. If this show were assigned high school civics class viewing, showing, person by person, how America has been great, but also as it has been terrible, we’d be a better country for it.

Apropos the state of our union, the other day I watched the episode that aired the night of the recent SOTU. The regularly scheduled new episode of Gates’s show didn’t air – and anyway, I doubt I could’ve endured watching those two slick hypocrites Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan. In any event, in its place, PBS aired a repeat of Episode 5 of Season 3, and I am very glad it did.

It was a great episode, which I first watched 2 years ago, but my 66-year old brain had forgotten most of it. The “stars” were Richard Branson, Franky Gehry, and Maya Lin, and I confess that the one I recalled least was Lin’s. A sad admission about me 2 years ago, but also positive evidence of how I’ve learned to be more alert to my own unconscious gender and racial bias, e.g., as to what I find “interesting”.  

I really enjoyed the entire episode upon re-watching it, and found the genealogical stories of all three subjects compelling; but my favorite moment occurred during the Maya Lin segment, and it is the one that prompted me to write this post. Maya Lin is, as many of you know, the designer/architect/artist who, at the tender age of 21, was given the honor of creating the Vietnam War Memorial in DC. I’ve visited it a couple of times, and everyone agrees that Lin knocked it out of the park --- it is stunningly powerful, a non-statuary inspiration as to how to recognize the huge human cost of war, without romanticizing war itself.

With that prologue, here then is a link to a video of the whole episode:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfB98S4vqP8  (please forgive the speeded up audio, which makes Gates sound like he inhaled a tiny shot of helium!)  For those who don’t want to watch it all, you can scroll straight to the 2-minute segment that begins at 42:42 in running time, and ends at 44:42, which is my focus. Please at least watch that part first, and give it some thought, and see what comes up for you, before you read my take on it, below:


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As I watched Gates hand Lin a copy of the document his investigative team discovered in a Chinese library --- the family “Japu”, a scroll containing her entire Lin family tree --- I recalled the brief shot earlier in the episode (at 10:54-11:00) of Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial, which consists, of course, of a very long granite wall. As Lin unfurled the full 20-foot “Japu” scroll listing hundreds of names of honored Lin ancestors, drawn from 3,000 years (or 100 generations), I found myself re-seeing Lin’s granite memorial as itself a kind of "scroll" unfurled out to its full length, containing the names of 58320+ U.S. honored dead from the Vietnam War!

It is a stunning parallel, and so very apt --- the reverence Maya Lin expressed as she held and gazed at this tangible symbol of her own ancient lineage, seems so similar to the awe which we, as Americans, feel when we walk along and touch Lin’s granite “scroll”, listing all of the fallen dead from the tragic national mistake that nearly ripped our country apart 50 years ago.

But there’s even more. The punster in me took delight in the treasure trove of variations on the word “tree” which permeates Lin’s portion of this episode. Gates explained to Lin that the family surname Lin meant “Forest”, a name derived from the original Lin family patriarch, a male child born as his mother, so the legend goes, held on to two trees. And the facsimile “Japu” Gates gave to Lin is a scroll of paper (which of course is made from trees) containing a genealogical “tree” for a family whose name, Lin, both in the shape of its written Chinese characters and also its meaning, is a group of trees! And even Lin’s granite wall resonates, because, as Gates pointed out, the granite does not stand ON the ground, it is actually set deep IN the ground --- which makes the entire wall a “forest”, with each of its many sections a “tree” rooted in the (civically) sacred soil of our nation’s capital – or, if you will, Lin’s granite wall is a tragic “limb” of our national family tree, consisting of 58,320+ “branches” cut off before their time.

Which leads to one final question. Neither Gates nor Lin mentioned any of these parallels between the wall and the family tree, nor any of the puns on “trees”. My guess is that they did recognize them, but, just as part of the mysterious power of Lin’s memorial lies in its subtlety and implications, so too do I believe that Gates and Lin elected to leave these meanings submerged and implicit, as “easter eggs” to be found and savored, by those viewers who pause and take the time to find them.

One of my favorite lines in Jane Austen’s fiction is Elizabeth Bennet’s cryptic aphorism, one which never makes it into any of the film adaptations: “We all love to instruct, but we can only teach what is not worth knowing.” I long ago recognized it as Austen’s own metafictional alert to her readers, a zen koan that asserts a seeming paradox -- that what is worth knowing, such as the lessons we take from wars, cannot be learned passively. Rather, the wise teacher comes in by the back door, and creates a space where the student can actively discover truth – as both Lin, with her memorial, and Gates, with his TV show, both understand very well.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode onTwitter

Sunday, February 10, 2019

A dauntingly infernal Austen Persuasion quiz


[There are two parts to this Austen quiz, which, as I’ve said, is about Persuasion. This one is a doozy, and I was inspired to discover the answer by a galvanizing insight presented to me a week ago by a brilliant member of my local JASNA chapter]

What short episode (comprising less than 400 words) contained in a very long work of literature written sometime (I won’t say how long) before 1816, was covertly, slyly, and profoundly alluded to by Jane Austen in the following five short passages in Persuasion?:

Ch. 8: From this time Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot were repeatedly in the same circle. Whether former feelings were to be renewed must be brought to the proof; former times must undoubtedly be brought to the recollection of each; they could not but be reverted to…and though his voice did not falter, and though she had no reason to suppose his eye wandering towards her while he spoke, Anne felt the utter impossibility, from her knowledge of his mind, that he could be unvisited by remembrance any more than herself. There must be the same immediate association of thought, though she was very far from conceiving it to be of equal pain….

Ch. 11: [Anne & Benwick sharing a love of poetry] …she ventured to hope he did not always read only poetry, and to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly….

Ch. 12:  [re Anne]: She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features, having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind which had been blowing on her complexion, and by the animation of eye which it had also produced.

Ch. 12: [re the walk at the Cobb]: …There was too much wind to make the high part of the new Cobb pleasant for the ladies, and they agreed to get down the steps to the lower, and all were contented to pass quietly and carefully down the steep flight, excepting Louisa; she must be jumped down them by Captain Wentworth... 

she smiled and said, "I am determined I will:" he put out his hands; she was too precipitate by half a second, she fell on the pavement on the Lower Cobb, and was taken up lifeless! There was no wound, no blood, no visible bruise; but her eyes were closed, she breathed not, her face was like death. The horror of the moment to all who stood around!

Ch. 13: [Anne with Admiral Croft in Bath] Anne, amused in spite of herself, was rather distressed for an answer, and the Admiral, fearing he might not have been civil enough, took up the subject again, to say--
"The next time you write to your good father, Miss Elliot, pray give him my compliments and Mrs Croft's, and say that we are settled here quite to our liking, and have no fault at all to find with the place. The breakfast-room chimney smokes a little, I grant you, but it is only when the wind is due north and blows hard, which may not happen three times a winter. And take it altogether, now that we have been into most of the houses hereabouts and can judge, there is not one that we like better than this. Pray say so, with my compliments. He will be glad to hear it."

BONUS CLUE: The following 2 additional passages in Persuasion also covertly allude to that same great prior work of literature, but to different passages in that earlier work, besides the single episode alluded to by the afore-quoted 5 passages in Persuasion:

Ch. 8: [Wentworth recalling his naval exploits at Uppercross]
"Your first was the Asp, I remember; we will look for the Asp."
"You will not find her there. Quite worn out and broken up. I was the last man who commanded her. Hardly fit for service then. Reported fit for home service for a year or two, and so I was sent off to the West Indies."
The girls looked all amazement.
"The Admiralty," he continued, "entertain themselves now and then, with sending a few hundred men to sea, in a ship not fit to be employed. But they have a great many to provide for; and among the thousands that may just as well go to the bottom as not, it is impossible for them to distinguish the very set who may be least missed."
"Phoo! phoo!" cried the Admiral, "what stuff these young fellows talk! Never was a better sloop than the Asp in her day. For an old built sloop, you would not see her equal. Lucky fellow to get her! He knows there must have been twenty better men than himself applying for her at the same time. Lucky fellow to get anything so soon, with no more interest than his."
"I felt my luck, Admiral, I assure you;" replied Captain Wentworth, seriously. "I was as well satisfied with my appointment as you can desire. It was a great object with me at that time to be at sea; a very great object, I wanted to be doing something."
"To be sure you did. What should a young fellow like you do ashore for half a year together? If a man had not a wife, he soon wants to be afloat again."
"But, Captain Wentworth," cried Louisa, "how vexed you must have been when you came to the Asp, to see what an old thing they had given you."
"I knew pretty well what she was before that day;" said he, smiling. "I had no more discoveries to make than you would have as to the fashion and strength of any old pelisse, which you had seen lent about among half your acquaintance ever since you could remember, and which at last, on some very wet day, is lent to yourself. Ah! she was a dear old Asp to me. She did all that I wanted. I knew she would. I knew that we should either go to the bottom together, or that she would be the making of me; and I never had two days of foul weather all the time I was at sea in her; and after taking privateers enough to be very entertaining, I had the good luck in my passage home the next autumn, to fall in with the very French frigate I wanted. I brought her into Plymouth; and here another instance of luck. We had not been six hours in the Sound, when a gale came on, which lasted four days and nights, and which would have done for poor old Asp in half the time; our touch with the Great Nation not having much improved our condition. Four-and-twenty hours later, and I should only have been a gallant Captain Wentworth, in a small paragraph at one corner of the newspapers; and being lost in only a sloop, nobody would have thought about me." Anne's shudderings were to herself alone; but the Miss Musgroves could be as open as they were sincere, in their exclamations of pity and horror….

Ch. 18:  [Admiral Croft to Anne]: “…. Here I am, you see, staring at a picture. I can never get by this shop without stopping. But what a thing here is, by way of a boat! Do look at it. Did you ever see the like? What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that anybody would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that? And yet here are two gentlemen stuck up in it mightily at their ease, and looking about them at the rocks and mountains, as if they were not to be upset the next moment, which they certainly must be. I wonder where that boat was built!’ (laughing heartily); ‘I would not venture over a horsepond in it….Lord! what a boat it is!’ taking a last look at the picture, as they began to be in motion.
....."There comes old Sir Archibald Drew and his grandson. Look, he sees us; he kisses his hand to you; he takes you for my wife. Ah! the peace has come too soon for that younker. Poor old Sir Archibald!..."

If you figure out the answer to this quiz, bravo, please reply. But that’s the easy part of this quiz. The “cream” is to then figure out the reason why Jane Austen alluded to that earlier great work of literature in the above-quoted passages in Persuasion which all involve Anne Elliot.

In particular, see if you can discern what drew her special attention to that earlier work, and in particular, that short episode, which she pointed to, I suggest, with all five fingers on one hand, and (at least) two on the other! When someone gets the answer, or if not, then within the next few days, I will reveal my own interpretation of this extraordinary allusion by Jane Austen.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Monday, January 28, 2019

Three Identical Strangers: did the Neubauer twins study inspire The Boys from Brazil?

Four months ago, while on a cross-country Delta flight, I watched a film –twice in a row, actually, and with no prior knowledge about the film whatsoever—that has since played in theaters nationwide and has generated so much public interest, that it just aired tonight on CNN – the riveting, disturbing documentary, Three Identical Strangers.

What made me watch a documentary twice in a row? My answer arises from an angry comment made in the film by one of the victimized protagonists of this poignant real life drama, Robert Shafran. He pulls no punches in characterizing the experiment masterminded by the late Dr. Peter Neubauer (the shadowy real-life psychiatrist-villain of this film) in which David and his two identical brothers were intentionally separated from each other shortly after birth, and then studied, in periodic home visits, for years afterwards, all the while their adoptive parents having no idea that they had actually adopted a triplet:      

Robert: “I’m sure it all started with some distinguished psychiatrist and a roomful of people, and the brilliant idea arises of a new way of studying nature versus nurture. ‘Okay, we’ll separate these kinds and watch them grow.’ This is nightmarish, Nazi shit.“

I watched the movie twice on the plane, and shortly afterwards did a bunch of online research about its background, because of an association which popped into my head as soon as I heard Robert Shafran tear into the Neubauer study that made him and his 2 brothers guinea pigs– an association which I’ve ever since been very surprised to find hasn’t occurred to more than one other viewer (and, trust me, I’ve read a lot of reviews and Tweets) who’ve seen this film and written about it online. As you can see in my Subject Line, I was eerily reminded of Ira Levin's The Boys from Brazil.

Many people who’ve seen the film have “gotten” that Robert Schafran’s caustic epithet ‘nightmarish Nazi shit’ referred to the monstrously evil experiments performed on twins by Josef Mengele, the ‘Angel of Death’ of Auschwitz. But there are multiple layers of this onion to be peeled, that lead to Levin's modern Nazi-Gothic fantasy. 

Midway through the film, the narration reveals the strange detail that all of the twins/triplets in the Neubauer study were adopted out only (i) FROM mothers who had suffered from some strong psychiatric disorder, and also only (ii) TO families in which there was an older adopted daughter (ergo big sister), 5 years older, already in the family. In other words, to flesh out Schafran’s comment, the experiment had one genetic constant – congenital mental illness ---,and one environmental constant – an older, by a precise # of years, genetically unrelated female sibling.

I’ve never read that Mengele devised such scientific niceties in his barbarous death camp house of horrors --- but that odd combination of scientific manipulation of nature and nurture in relation to a group of infants rang another very loud bell in my memory – to Ira Levin's chilling vision of Mengele's attempt to raise a Fourth Reich on the shoulders of a Hitler clone raised under controlled conditions.

Here was my second big clue: from my online research about Neubauer’s scientific and personal motivations for creating this ill-conceived experiment, I’ve gathered that Neubauer’s scientific interest in twins was a means to a deeper end – i.e., he was testing genetic determinism via his twins/triplets study, most of all because he wanted to understand how anti-semitism had morphed into the Nazi movement that annihilated the Jews of Europe, including unleashing Mengele’s pseudo-scientific butchery. And that genocidal cataclysm was one that Neubauer, a Jew born in Austria, had barely escaped as a young man in the Thirties, so we can well understand why that would be a consuming interest of his.

Here's how Neubauer's interest in the genesis of anti-semitism was summarized in a 1995 book:

"...Neubauer described recruitment of Nazis as he saw it as a child in Austria among his high school classmates. The first to be attracted to the Nazi party were adolescents who were clearly recognized as eccentric and psychologically deviant. They were joined by others who sympathized with the first group, but without it would not themselves have become involved. The third to join were those young people who had no strong political convictions but who were not able to withstand the pressure to join the others. A fourth group, composed mostly of Catholics, actively resisted the Nazi influence as a matter of religious principle.…Neubauer (1982) observes that turning against the stranger strengthens the group bond…”

So that summary makes it pretty clear that Neubauer was very interested in the roles that genetics and environment played in the formation of a fascist leader – the kind of "psychologically deviant" young man with charisma who seemed to be a necessary catalyst in order for a fascistic group to coalesce around him. Therefore, I infer that Neubauer, in 1960 or thereabouts, considered the threat of the rise of another Hitler in the world so grave and imminent, that he thought it justified his experiment, so that he could get some “scientific” answers, which he would then share with the world to avert another Holocaust. 

Sounds crazy and grandiose? It has been suggested that, cruel and amoral as his experiment sounds to us all today, in 1960 it was, alas, not outside the scientific mainstream, in its gross insensitivity to ethical concerns which are today commonplace. And if he believed, as his former research associate suggested, he considered this twins study to be "monumental", what would be more monumental than to simultaneously shed fresh light on nature vs. nurture, and also to show how that new knowledge might help prevent another Hitler from rising. 

But how did Neubauer reconcile the parallels to Mengele in his mind –and surely those parallels would have occurred to him, of all people, a Jewish refugee from the Nazis, and a shrink who would’ve prided himself on self awareness? I have no clue on that point, other than that sometimes the most obvious thing can be the most difficult to see.

But back to The Boys from Brazil for a much closer look, as it relates to Three Identical Strangers
If you're unfamiliar with the plot, just read through the above Wikipedia article about Ira Levin’s famous 1974 novel, The Boys from Brazil, (which I will abbreviate as TBFB from here on in) and also, if you wish, click on the link in that article to the article for the even more famous 1976 movie adaptation of Levin’s novel, which starred Gregory Peck as Mengele and Sir Laurence Olivier as the Nazi hunter Liebermann (aka Shimon Wiesenthal).

The plot is that Mengele is trying to re-create a new Hitler from the ashes of the Third Reich, using a combination of recreating Hitler’s genes (in a large number of clones implanted in mothers unaware these were Hitler’s genes) and Hitler’s childhood environment (his father was a civil servant who dies when his son was 13, so Mengele’s agents start killing all the fathers of these Hitler clones), such that at least one of them would become a second Hitler and initiate the Fourth Reich. 

The parallel between each of the triplets in Three Identical Strangers being adopted into families that already had a 5-years-older sister for him who was also adopted from the same adoption agency, and Mengele murdering each of the "fathers" of his Hitler-clones when the clones each turned 13, is chilling, and telling.

Again, an experiment in real life, combining nature and nurture. And the timing is the same – i.e., in Levin’s fictional world, Mengele began his South American cloning in the early Sixties, which was more or less when Neubauer found and adopted out his twins/triplets!

In a nutshell, then, that’s the association that, to my astonishment, I seem to be nearly the only person to take note of, at least in Google-able online venues. From talking to various people about this, I quickly realized that part of the reason for that, is that not many people under the age of 55 have even heard of The Boys From Brazil, let alone read the novel or seen the movie. But that leaves my whole Baby Boom generation, from which many would have done so.

And, here’s the crux of the matter for me -- even those one or two others who also thought of TBFB in relation to Three Identical Strangers [see Peter Debruge's April 2018 review of the film here: https://variety.com/2018/film/reviews/three-identical-strangers-review-1202755378/ don’t seem to have taken the further leap that I did, which is the subject of the remainder of this post – to ask whether it was mere coincidence that Ira Levin’s famous novel, which was published a decade after Neubauer’s study began, was (according to Levin’s literary papers) conceived when Neubauer’s experiment had just starting.

Now, I acknowledge that it’s plausible that the horrible memory of Mengele’s twin experiments was still so widespread, powerful and raw in the Sixties and early Seventies (especially in Jewish New York City where both Neubauer and Levin lived, and where so many Jewish families like mine had lost relatives in the Shoah only decades earlier)  that Neubauer and Levin might independently have reacted to Mengele, thinking along eerily similar lines purely by chance.

However, I think it is at least as plausible, and therefore worthy of further investigation, that somehow Ira Levin became aware of the essential details of Neubauer’s experiment --- the idea of looking at nature and nurture vis a vis personality formation in twins--- which was ongoing in close geographical proximity to where Levin lived and wrote. 

Might Levin have heard, first or second hand, a rumor of Neubauer’s experiment whispered at a Manhattan cocktail party? If so, might it have sparked Levin’s creative imagination to spin it 180 degrees around – i.e., instead of Neubauer trying to discover how much of the creation of a Hitler is nature and how much nurture, wishing to prevent it ever happening again, had Levin turned that topsy-turvy, from well-intentioned experiment into evil one, designed to make it happen again???!!!

Or, one last further-out-there speculation - maybe it was not just Levin overhearing a rumor at a cocktail party. Might there have been an actual intentional whistleblower, a “Deep Throat” privy to knowledge of Neubauer’s experiment, who had qualms about it at the time, and sought out and shared the essence of Neubauer’s experiment with Levin – and why Levin?

Because he was the famous author of Rosemary’s Baby, a writer who might be interested in writing a novel which obliquely echoed the real life Neubauer experiment, a new kind of “science” that has lost its moral bearings. The satanic coven in the former, and Mengele and his cohorts in the latter, could each be seen as dark metaphors for a NYC psychoanalyst’s Faustian attempt to alter the natural order?

And finally, might that leaker therefore be the inspiration for Levin to write the character of the young man in TBFB who overhears Mengele discussing his plans in detail, and then is murdered by Mengele trying to preserve the secrecy of his diabolical plot?

Before I close, I must add one strange personal note—in my research, trying to find any evidence that Ira Levin ever crossed paths with Peter Neubauer, I learned that Levin had attended Horace Mann, the prep school in Riverdale in the Bronx that I almost went to in 1964; and that Dr. Peter Neubauer’s wife, who died tragically young in 1971, had been a teacher at Fieldston, the prep school in Riverdale a stone’s throw from Horace Mann, that I did attend from 1964-70; and also Dr. Viola Bernard, the psychiatrist who was a consultant to the Louise Wise Adoption Agency that handled Neubauer’s adoptions, also attended Fieldston, although long before I was born.

So I’ll conclude with a little timeline, and perhaps someone reading this will be interested, and help track down more pieces of this puzzle that I have not found or even thought of:

1960         Ira Levin first conceives (ha ha) the plot of Rosemary’s Baby
1960         Peter Neubauer creates framework for separated twins study
1961        Adoption of the triplets in Three Identical Strangers
1967         Publication of Rosemary’s Baby
1967-74   Levin hears about Neubauer’s study????
1976        Levin publishes The Boys From Brazil
1978        Release of film The Boys From Brazil
1980       Mutual discovery of triplets from Three Identical Strangers

Let me know if you figure something else out!

And here are links to two interviews post-release of the film which are wonderful to see:

http://www.elisbergindustries.com/blog/three-identical-strangers-bonus

https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/turner-podcast-network/three-identical-strangers

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter