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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

Saturday, January 19, 2019

A Midwinter Night’s Nightmare: Titania MUST win this Mexican Standoff to get us to a happy ending


For reasons literary rather than political, I was just reading the brief, angry exchange in Act 2 Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream between Titania and Oberon, who are of course the Fairy Queen and King. So it was a big surprise when, while reading Titania’s long, eloquent speech about the chaos in the world caused by the rift between them she blames on Oberon, I was struck by an unlikely yet, upon reflection, chilling coincidence with our current political world.

Of course I mean by this the (literally) Mexican standoff that began nearly a month ago between Trump, the (would-be) King of the United States, and Nancy Pelosi, the valiant Queen. She has, since reassuming power as Speaker of the House, repeatedly given us fresh hope, by showing an iron spine in politely but firmly refusing to bow to his insane, malevolent demands.

But how will this compelling political drama -- our seemingly never-ending national nightmare which began just over two years ago,  got really bad a month ago, and just refuses to leave the stage, or to let us leave our seats --- reach its resolution? Will it be tragedy with bodies littering the stage, or a comic ending in which evil is banished and harmony prevails? How can we write the final act of this play to get us to the latter?

I’ve written in the past --- “Did Greenblatt overlook the most unkindest cut of all? Steve Bannon’s Shakespearean Caesarean ghostwritten misbegetting of Donald Trump”
about how I see Bannon, the failed literary modernizer of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, successfully wrote the real-life lines that Donald Trump read, which enabled him to usurp control of the “Rome” of today.  Today I am back with another Shakespearean riff on Trump.

And so now I will present to you the text of Titania’s eloquent, impassioned speech. As I proceed, I’ll point out the many eerie parallels between Shakespeare’s dreamworld and the all-too-real nightmarish tragedy unfolding before our eyes -- parallels which are so striking that it might almost make one wonder whether Shakespeare out-Nostradamused Nostradamus, by having his plays double as predictions of the far distant future. Or is it really just that history repeats itself?

The scene is set by Puck, who of course is Oberon’s “fixer” (and aren’t we all counting the days until Michael “Puck” Cohen takes the microphone in the House and spins a web of incriminating truth around his former master, telling all about the many times he has sprinkled green-backed “fairy dust” in order to accomplish his master’s every wish and command?:


Titania won’t sleep with Oberon anymore, out of jealousy for his many affairs (hmm… where have we seen that headline recently?), and Oberon counters with allegations of her own dalliances, That’s when Titania steps up and, like Nancy Pelosi in her recent televised addresses, really socks it to the Oberon of that ersatz greenworld, Mar-a-Lago:

TITANIA
These are the forgeries of jealousy:
And never, since the middle summer's spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb'd our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,  [Here begins an Elizabethan description of Global Warming!]
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land   [Hurricanes]
Have every pelting river made so proud  [Massive flooding]
That they have overborne their continents: [Earthquakes]
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,  [Famine]
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here; [Drought]
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound: [Epidemics]
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts [Climate change!]
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes  [All of the above caused by human beings]
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.

What happened next in Shakespeare’s dark comedy? Oberon, in the throes of a massive masculine narcissistic injury, first took spiteful revenge on Titania, by having Puck sprinkle a love potion on Titania, causing her to fall in love with a jack-ass. Is that not what Putin did to the American people, using the love potion of fake news and disinformation which caused 1/3 of the American people to fall madly in love with that monstrous jack-ass, Donald Trump? But in the end, somehow, magically, harmony is restored to Shakespeare’s dreamworld.

But in our real world, far removed from Shakespeare’s, we are going to need our new Titania (the role that Hillary Clinton would have played had she not been denied election by fraud), Nancy Pelosi, to stand her ground (and thereby our ground) against tyranny. She has no option but to use all her political skills to coordinate the continuing massive resistance that will bring the tyrant to his knees –harnessing the power of all the good people in our country. And perhaps then begin to restore the natural world to harmony before the curtain falls forever on our human stewardship of planet Earth, so that a later 21st century Titania will tell a different tale about the State of the Earth.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The answer to my Austen Quiz regarding six passages in Emma united by one hidden theme


In my previous post, I gave 3 final hints to the answer to my Austen quiz regarding 6 seemingly unrelated passages, taken from 6 different chapters, in Emma:

ONE: “oppression” is the word which appears in 4 of the 6 passages; and

TWO: “oppression” is the word which appears, not directly in the 5th passage, but indirectly, i.e., in the speech by Romeo which Emma recalls in that 5th passage, as she pities Jane Fairfax as a victim of “the world’s law”; and

THREE: In the 6th passage (in which Emma jokes with Mr. Knightley that perhaps it was not really Harriet who accepted Robert Martin’s second proposal), the keyword in that 6th passage (for purposes of my quiz) is one that resonates strongly with the animal allegory of the false friendship of the bull and the hare in Mrs. Elton’s quotation from Gay’s Fable “The Hare and Many Friends” just 2 chapters earlier.

I then said that Googling the keywords from the above 3 hints would lead straight to the answer to my quiz. No one has gotten the answer, so I will now reveal it.

To start, what keyword in the 6th passage resonates strongly with Gay’s animal fable/allegory? There’s only one animal mentioned by Emma – “the famous ox”. In a passage I long ago claimed was recalled by Sholem Aleichem (when Tevye the Milkman thinks Lazar Wolf wants to buy his favorite cow, when it’s Tevye’s daughter whom Lazar Wolf wants to marry), Emma playfully suggests that Knightley may be wrong in thinking that Robert successfully proposed to Harriet again, when, Emma teases, perhaps all Robert Martin really was talking about was buying a valuable ox.

We may guess that Emma is faintly recalling Harriet’s boast to her, 50 chapters earlier, about one aspect of the wealth of the Martin family:
“… their having eight cows, two of them Alderneys, and one a little Welch cow, a very pretty little Welch cow indeed; and of Mrs. Martin's saying as she was so fond of it, it should be called her cow…”
For Emma to now refer to an ‘ox’ is not just funny, it’s also a big clue from Austen to us.

So…the three keywords for my quiz are thus “oppression”, “law”, and “ox”. While we can readily imagine “oppression” and “law” appearing in the same sentence, where in the world would an “ox” come into that mix? What would oppression and the law have to do with oxen?

When I first Googled those three words together about 10 days ago, imagine my delight when the first hit was the following December 2013 blog post:

“The Lion & the Ox and the Law”
One Law for the Lion & Ox is Oppression. — William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

That blog post (I could not find a name of its unassuming author) begins thusly:
“Some people take particular offence at Blake’s assertion in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell [1790] that “one law for the lion & the ox is oppression”. The statement concludes one of Blake’s “memorable fancies” in which he witnesses a debate between a Devil and an Angel over the merits of Jesus. Ironically, it is the Devil who extolls the virtues of Jesus and the Angel who comes close to negating them. Caught up in his own self-contradiction the Angel, subsequently, was consumed in “a flame of fire” and resurrected as a “devil” himself….”

I’ve spent a fair amount of time since I received that remarkable Googling result, sleuthing out all the implications I see in Austen’s veiled but undeniable allusion to Blake’s influential, politically radical masterpiece, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. I’ve always believed that Miss Bates’s comment to Knightley (“My dear sir, you really are too bountiful. My mother desires her very best compliments and regards, and a thousand thanks, and says you really quite oppress her.”) was meant by JA to be read by us as a veiled barb at Knightley, i.e., that the thousand thanks are all sarcastically offered. Now I’ve got some extraordinary textual evidence to back up that subconscious intuition.

For today, I will only go so far as the following summary of the most significant aspects of this discovery, with the promise of future unpacking during the coming weeks (including my belief that Blake himself was inspired to write that particular epigram by prior authors). Here goes.

The analogy to the animal world as a way of understanding the ooppressive impact of “equal” laws on powerless, unprivileged people (which of course is the gist of Romeo’s cynical comment to the poor apothecary, and of Emma’s quoting same in her pitying concern for poor Jane Fairfax) is one that Blake examined in several passages scattered through multiple writings of his over a period of years, in particular involving Bromion, the slave overseer of his fantastical worlds.

The two most elegant explanations I’ve found online of Blake’s very famous epigram (it began being quoted and discussed during Jane Austen’s writing career, and that quoting and discussion has continued up to the present in 2019) are as follows:

A Tweeter calling himself “uncle dennis‏” @theyseemetweetn on 01/07/2018 tweeted as follows:
“Blake wrote, ‘One law for the lion and ox is oppression’. That doesn't mean there shouldn't be any law governing either "lions" or "oxen". Rather, rules & standards must factor in the imbalances of power, wealth, & influence that exist in society, or else be unjust & oppressive.”

And a blogger named Stephen Sedley gave this longer, powerful explanation:

“How Laws Discriminate” by Stephen Sedley 04/29/99
“ ‘One law for the Lion & Ox,’ wrote Blake, ‘is oppression.’ He was describing in his oblique way what Anatole France a century later described more brutally as ‘the majestic even-handedness of the law, which forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.’ France’s English contemporary Lord Justice Mathew made the point in more genteel terms: ‘In England,’ he said, ‘justice is open to all, like the Ritz.’…”

In that same blog post, Sedley went on to make the following very interesting observation:

“…As to crime, it is not law – the argument goes – that criminalises some people and not others, but social conditions or personal choice that lead wrongdoers to do wrong. The law may be able to mitigate the consequences for those who offend through misfortune, but it cannot treat them as free of blame without forfeiting the very claim to even-handedness which its detractors mock. But Blake, too, was right to claim that one law for all is ‘oppression’. His was the age of large-scale enclosures and of the Game Laws when, as the jingle went:
The fault is great in man or woman
Who steals a goose from off a common;
But what can plead that man’s excuse
Who steals the common from the goose?
Enclosure in England was the work of the law, but few poor people benefited from it. The rich never found themselves trespassing in search of game: they could pursue it on their own or their friends’ land. The law which in form governed the powerful and the submissive -the lion & the ox –without distinction, was in substance a means by which the one could oppress the other, and was meant to be so. There is little doubt that the sole reason Georgian and Regency judges, who were otherwise active in developing new crimes, did not criminalise trespass by itself was that it would have made foxhunting impossible. The dilemma has plagued the law to the present day, resulting in the creation of statutory constructs like ‘trespassory assembly’. So undisguised an intention to discriminate by law between classes, genders or races may be a thing of the past, but the unequal effects of equal laws remain a living – indeed a growing – issue….”

Although Helena Kelly has never given me credit or acknowledgment, as I explained in detail here…. (“ALL the Shadow Stories of Jane Austen the Secret Radical (Feminist)”  http://tinyurl.com/j6mh3k4
 I will now take the high road and acknowledge her for being the first to explain, in a 2010 Persuasions Online article, http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol30no2/kelly.html  entitled “Austen and Enclosure”, how enclosure was an important subtext in several of Austen’s novels, including Emma. After first detailing several clues to the adverse effects of enclosure in Highbury and its environs, Kelly then points the finger at Knightley:

If the enclosure around Highbury is of recent date, then the identity of the culprit is obvious:  it is George Knightley. Knightley is, as Austen reminds us, a magistrate, but he is primarily a farmer—his Christian name of course denoting one who is involved with the earth—and transparently an improving farmer, occupied with drainage and fencing [quotation omitted].
There is notably no discussion of common land, though long-established Donwell Abbey, “rambling and irregular” with its “old neglect of prospect” surely must be the local manor.  Moreover, Donwell is—we presume--on the site of an abbey. Religious houses had often been “rectors” for the local parishes, meaning that they were entitled to the “predial” or “great” tithes, ten percent of the gross of all produce arising from the earth.  After the dissolution, the tithe rights were often sold along with monastic lands, meaning that they ended up in lay hands. There must be a distinct possibility that such is the case with Donwell. This assumption gains support from the fact that the parsonage house, home to the Reverend Mr. Elton, has a very small allowance of glebe, placing it “almost as close to the road as it could be”, and that Mr. Elton is said to be reliant on his “independent property”.  Donwell has its own parish, and all the rest of Highbury, that is, all of Highbury other than Hartfield, belongs to “the Donwell Abbey estate”. It would thus be very easy for Knightley to obtain an enclosure act for Donwell and for Highbury village, particularly if he is rector as well as lord of the manor.  He is overwhelmingly the largest landowner, and there is no one to oppose him.
 There is one problem with my assertion that Highbury is enclosed, a mention of common land.  On the occasion of the Christmas party at Randalls, John Knightley much upsets his father-in-law by asserting the likelihood of the carriages being “‘blown over in the bleak part of the common field’”.  Common field means either the common proper or the open fields, farmed in individual strips, which are characteristic of pre-enclosure agriculture patterns.  Randalls, however, is outside Highbury, “half a mile” the other side of Hartfield (6).  It seems likely that both Randalls and Hartfield would have an interest in the “common fields” that lie between them.  It is difficult to conceive that Mr. Woodhouse, with his hatred of change and his fussy concern for his servants and dependents, would agree to be an active encloser.  Mr. Weston, with his city background, might well not consider the investment required worthwhile.  Whatever the reasons might be, Austen indicates quite clearly that whereas Highbury and Donwell are under Mr. Knightley’s command, Hartfield and Randalls are not.  The only common land explicitly mentioned in the novel is firmly placed outside Highbury and so beyond Knightley’s control.
As the major landowner, it must be Knightley who has enclosed Highbury and Donwell, and the local poverty and desperation lie at his door.  Even the remaining common fields between Randalls and Hartfield will be swallowed up in time.  We are told that Hartfield is “a sort of notch in the Donwell Abbey estate”, meaning that the concluding marriage between Emma and Knightley nicely rounds off the property.  When Mr. Woodhouse dies, Hartfield will pass to Emma and Isabella as co-heiresses:  in effect, it will pass to their husbands, the brothers Knightley.
Austen’s endings are rarely purely comedic, but in Emma the conclusion is even darker than usual…[more examples of Blake’s epigram in action in Highbury”]”

So, again, Miss Bates actually says it out loud, for Emma and everyone else, that Knightley is the Great Oppressor of Highbury – and so, I suggest, not only will Knightley take all of Emma’s income once she married him – he will also, perhaps, by incorporating Hartfield into Donwell Abbey, extend his enclosing campaign even further.

And one final point, regarding my recent thread about Sir Edward Knatchbull as a key source for the character of George Knightley. I would not be surprised to learn that the Knatchbull family, ancestral lords of the huge Mersham le Hatch estate to which I speculated Godmersham might be a “notch”, were the chief enclosers of that neighborhood in Kent as well.


From the above discussion of enclosure as oppression, please do not take away the impression that the only or main oppression which Jane Austen wished to critique in Emma was that of enclosing the commons. Of course, in addition to that form of oppression, the even more significant form of oppression displayed in Emma -indeed in all of Austen’s novels -- is that of male oppression of women, as epitomized by the desperate experience of Jane Fairfax, but also, in a more subtle sense, the threat to Emma's well being after she is married to Knightley and she disappears as a legal person with autonomous control over her wealth and her body -- and of course, there's also Harriet as the cow/ox being sold to Mr. Martin!

And there I will leave things for today, with the promise of more detail in the future, fleshing out this remarkable,  veiled, and seemingly improbable allusion by Jane Austen to the fire-breathing champion of radical (in the best sense) criticism of oppression of the poor by the rich, William Blake.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, January 12, 2019

An Austen Quiz: six passages in Emma united by one hidden theme


It’s been a very long while since my last Austen quiz, but I have another one for you today.

Quiz Question: What hidden theme unites the following six passages, taken from six different chapters, in Emma?

Hint #1: The answer resonates strongly with my recent comments in the Janeites group (which is in tthe process of transferring its online home from yahoogroups to the superior Io platform) about the relationship of the bull and the hare as subtext of Mrs. Elton’s allusion to Gay’s Fable “The Hare and Many Friends”, as it relates to Jane Austen’s veiled prediction of Fanny Knight’s future marriage to Sir Edward Knatchbull.

Hint #2: Unless you’re a scholar of late 18th and early 19th century literature, you’ll need Google in order to find the answer – but if you bark up the right virtual tree, you’ll know immediately that you’ve found the answer when Google serves it up to you on a virtual platter.

Now here are those six seemingly unrelated passages from Emma:

21: [Miss Bates to Knightley] “Well! that is quite—I suppose there never was a piece of news more generally interesting. My dear sir, you really are too bountiful. My mother desires her very best compliments and regards, and a thousand thanks, and says you really quite oppress her.”

42: It was a sweet view—sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.

43: [Jane to Frank] “…I would be understood to mean, that it can be only weak, irresolute characters, (whose happiness must be always at the mercy of chance,) who will suffer an unfortunate acquaintance to be an inconvenience, an oppression for ever.”

46: “Much, indeed!” cried Emma feelingly. “If a woman can ever be excused for thinking only of herself, it is in a situation like Jane Fairfax's.—Of such, one may almost say, that 'the world is not their's, nor the world's law.'”

53: [Emma to Knightley] “Oh!” she cried with more thorough gaiety, “if you fancy your brother does not do me justice, only wait till my dear father is in the secret, and hear his opinion. Depend upon it, he will be much farther from doing you justice. He will think all the happiness, all the advantage, on your side of the question; all the merit on mine. I wish I may not sink into 'poor Emma' with him at once.—His tender compassion towards oppressed worth can go no farther.”

54: Emma could not help laughing as she answered, “Upon my word, I believe you know her quite as well as I do. --But, Mr. Knightley, are you perfectly sure that she has absolutely and downright accepted him. I could suppose she might in time—but can she already?—Did not you misunderstand him?—You were both talking of other things; of business, shows of cattle, or new drills—and might not you, in the confusion of so many subjects, mistake him?—It was not Harriet's hand that he was certain of—it was the dimensions of some famous ox.”

Happy hunting!

ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Glenn Close's vindication in The Wife: Joan Castleman -- not Shakespeare -- in Love

I saw The Wife on a long airplane trip yesterday, and was totally blown away by everything about it, but most of all the astonishing performance by Glenn Close (and Jonathan Pryce was pitch perfect as her unworthy husband). A film based on a screenplay by a woman, adapting a novel by a woman, starring a woman.   

As I watched it, the film that first came to my mind was Shakespeare in Love -- While Shakespeare in Love is an excellent film, it is ultimately the celebration of a gifted woman's life being reduced to fodder for a man's literary achievements, The Wife reverses that unfortunate message, and is ultimately about the celebration of a woman's literary achievements, "fixing" what a man was incapable of, because of that woman's greater humanity and genius.

It was only while writing this post that a second film came to mind -- Fatal Attraction -- a film entirely written and directed by men 32 years ago, in which Glenn Close played the ultimate female monster of the cheating male id -- a monster who must be killed more than once to prevent her from killing the hero. What a satisfying irony to consider the ending of The Wife (I won't spoil it for you) alongside that earlier sexist abomination. 

The following excerpt from a recent interview of Glenn Close after she won the Golden Globe is wonderful, and renews my own commitment to A.G.E., http://ageinthearts.org/ and the advance of gender equity through the arts:

"Speaking via phone from her mountain home far from California, Close looks back on the making of the Björn Runge-directed film, and the emergence of a cultural climate that allowed it to be truly seen.

Congratulations on the Globe win. It felt in that moment almost like your character in The Wife getting the Nobel Prize she earned.

Oh, my God. I never thought of it in that way, but I suppose you could say that. That’s not a bad analogy.

Had you read the original Meg Wolitzer book? What was the process of getting involved?

I attached my name to the project five years before we actually gathered and got to film it. I thought it was intriguing. I met Meg Wolitzer for the first time backstage after she came to a performance of A Delicate Balance, which I was doing on Broadway with John Lithgow.
One of my co-stars had set up a little lending library, she was a voracious reader, and on the shelf of that lending library was The Wife and I think I read it then. At that time I didn’t hear about a movie version. That was later when my agent Franklin Latt and Kevin Huvane got the script, and even though I couldn’t answer all the questions about her, I was intrigued enough to say, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll put my name in that and see what happens.”

It was some years in the making. How has the nuance of this character changed for you during that time?

Oh my gosh. I think it was 14 years ago. Now it’s been 15 years from the book, and I think Jane Anderson wrote the screenplay not long after the book came out. We did it in the fall; it was end of the year 2016. The #MeToomovement hadn’t broken yet. It was only after we finished it, and before it made its world premiere at Toronto in 2017, that what happened in the world gave it such deeper nuance, I think.

From the minute he wakes her up at the beginning of the film, I wanted to kill him. And then when he died I wasn’t really sorry. That’s wrong isn’t it?

Oh, I have a little bit of a different take on him. I think it’s because of what it means to be an actress, but I’m always trying to figure out why people behave the way they do. And usually in that quest, I find I get great empathy for them. I feel that for him. It goes back to the scene where he says, “How can you love me if I’m a hack?” And then it moves on to where she says, “I know how to fix this. Do you want me to fix it?” And he lets her come in, and basically her talent takes over his life. And I think he never felt that he was worth loving because that’s the way he thinks. And the fact that the last question he asks her is, “Do you love me?” It really was so hard to answer that question, even in the scene. In fact, I think I stopped and said, “Do you have to ask me that right as you’re dying? That’s so unfair!” But his question is really, “Do I love myself?” Of course he didn’t. And so he was still saying “Do you love me?” and then, “You’re such a good liar.” I think he’s always beholden to her emotionally. And a lot of the behavior came out of that. It was a very difficult moment.

Joan made me think of my grandma always saying, “You’ll spend your whole life stitching a man’s testicles back on.” I thought, “This is what she meant.”

[Laughs] Oh my god, that’s incredible! It was just, we didn’t know anything different until the world started changing. There were times in my life when I was in college, I actually was married for the beginning of it. And that’s a whole other story we won’t go into, because he was a good guy. But I was making lunch for us, doing all the laundry, cooking the meals, working 18 hours, and saying to him, “You can do it! You can do it!” And then you say, “You know what? I can’t do this anymore.”

Did you draw on your own life then? The scene at the Nobel prize dinner where he thanks Joan and searing rage is just coming off your body without you even having to speak. It’s incredible.

Well, I work in my imagination, really. I grew up running rampant around the Connecticut countryside with our little gang, and we were pretending all the time. And I think to be an actress, it’s creating this character in your mind so you can think her thoughts. And I don’t substitute my life or anything else. I try to be so totally in the moment that I will think her thoughts, and that feeds the emotional apparatus."