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

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