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Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Answers to My Quiz with a “Twist”: Austen meets Aristophanes!

I’m thinking of a great work of literature that meets ALL of the following criteria:

ONE: It was written long ago by an author whose name is known to countless people, including many who’ve never read their works:  

 JANE AUSTEN  & ARISTOPHANES


 TWO: It was one of this author’s earliest works, but one that they significantly revised later in their career:  

Both NORTHANGER ABBEY and THE CLOUDS were youthful works later revised.

My central claim is that when Jane Austen revised Northanger Abbey in 1816, she was not only aware of the great early Greek comic playwright, Aristophanes, but that she made The Clouds a central allusive source for her novel about a naïve heroine who achieves self-knowledge.

Today, I will just give summary answers to the clues I listed in my Quiz. In followup posts to come, I will go into greater detail on some key points, all fleshing out the surprising news (to many, but not to me) that Austen’s knowledges of the ancient classics was very deep and granular, indeed.


THREE: Among the general public, it is NOT the most famous of that author’s works:

Her most famous novel is PRIDE & PREJUDICE.         His most famous play is LYSISTRATA


FOUR: It focuses on the theme of self-knowledge, and how one can help another person find it.

Henry Tilney says to Catherine Morland:
“Such feelings ought to be investigated, that they may know themselves”. This statement epitomizes Henry’s teasing manner of speaking to Catherine, and virtually repeats Socrates’s most famous maxim that a life well lived has the goal of self-knowledge. But the key point is that Austen had both Plato’s Socrates and Aristophanes’s Socrates in mind as she wrote Northanger Abbey, and wove both of them into the character of her charming hero.


FIVE: It has a major male character who:
is a braggart of mammoth proportions;
who constantly lies;
contradicts himself in every other sentence he speaks;
who is particularly obsessed with racing his horses and chariots/carriages; and
who repeatedly uses the expression “By Jove!”

John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey and Strepsiades’s son, Pheidippides, in The Clouds both fit every one of these specific points to a tee, far past the possibility for coincidence.  Compare these two passages:

1853 Translation of The Clouds by William James Hickie:
[STREPSIADES to SOCRATES, seeking to receive education at the latter’s school in the art of lying, so as to be able to go to court and get out of all his debts that his son’s horse obsession got him into]:

 “I will do so in reliance upon you, for NECESSITY oppresses me, on account of the blood-horses, and the marriage that ruined me. Now, therefore, let them use me as they please. I give up this body to them to be beaten, to be hungered, to be troubled with thirst, to be squalid, to shiver with cold, to flay into a leathern bottle, if I shall escape clear from my debts, and appear to men to be BOLD, glib of tongue, audacious, IMPUDENT, shameless, a fabricator of FALSEHOODS, INVENTIVE of words, a practiced knave in lawsuits, a law-tablet, a thorough RATTLE, a FOX, a sharper, a slippery knave, a dissembler, a slippery fellow, an impostor, a gallows-bird, a blackguard, a TWISTER, a troublesome fellow, a licker-up of hashes. If they call me this, when they meet me, let them do to me absolutely what they please. And if they like, by Ceres, let them serve up a sausage out of me to the deep thinkers….”

And now look at the strong parallelism to the above speech in Catherine Morland’s reaction to John Thorpe’s endless lying and boasting:

“Catherine listened with astonishment; she knew not how to reconcile two such very different accounts of the same thing; for she had not been brought up to understand the propensities of a RATTLE, nor to know to how many IDLE assertions and IMPUDENT FALSEHOODS the excess of vanity will lead. Her own family were plain, matter-of-fact people who seldom aimed at wit of any kind; her father, at the utmost, being contented with a pun, and her mother with a proverb; they were not in the habit therefore of telling lies to increase their importance, or of asserting at one moment what they would contradict the next…”

And the above parallels are why I give “credit” to Donald Trump for unwittingly helping me discover these parallels between Aristophanes and Jane Austen, both of whom obviously knew, and knew of, men in their worlds, 2200 years apart, who were just like him.


SIX: It has a major male character who repeatedly, teasingly asks questions which seem to be designed to provoke his conversation partner to think outside the box, to question basic assumptions, and to seek self knowledge.

Henry Tilney, to Catherine Morland            Socrates, to Strepsiades


SEVEN: It has a short scene in which clouds are observed and interpreted as meaning or signifying different things.

In The Clouds (this scene was also clearly a source for Hamlet’s riddling of poor addled Polonius), Socrates teaches Strepsiades that we see what we want to see, and not necessarily what is there:

Socrates. Answer, then, whatever I ask you.
Strepsiades. Then say quickly what you wish.
Socrates. Have you ever, when you; looked up, seen a cloud like to a centaur, or a panther, or a wolf, or a bull?
Strepsiades. By Jupiter, have I! But what of that?
Socrates. They become all things, whatever they please. And then if they see a person with long hair, a wild one of these hairy fellows, like the son of Xenophantes, in derision of his folly, they liken themselves to centaurs.
Strepsiades. Why, what, if they should see Simon, a plunderer of the public property, what do they do?
Socrates. They suddenly become wolves, showing up his disposition.
Strepsiades. For this reason, then, for this reason, when they yesterday saw Cleonymus the recreant, on this account they became stags, because they saw this most cowardly fellow.
Socrates. And now too, because they saw Clisthenes, you observe, on this account they became women.
Strep. Hail therefore, O mistresses! And now, if ever ye did to any other, to me also utter a voice reaching to heaven, O all-powerful queens.

Then they go on to discuss the relationship between clouds and rain.

Austen, the mistress of ironic deflation, clearly had this scene in mind when she wrote about Catherine’s anxious imaginings about rain interfering with her planned outing with the Tilneys, in Chapter 11 of Northanger Abbey:

“The morrow brought a very sober-looking morning, the sun making only a few efforts to appear, and Catherine augured from it everything most favourable to her wishes. A bright morning so early in the year, she allowed, would generally turn to rain, but a CLOUDY one foretold improvement as the day advanced. She applied to Mr. Allen for confirmation of her hopes, but Mr. Allen, not having his own skies and barometer about him, declined giving any absolute promise of sunshine. She applied to Mrs. Allen, and Mrs. Allen's opinion was more positive. “She had no doubt in the world of its being a very fine day, if the CLOUDS would only go off, and the sun keep out.”
…. At half past twelve, when Catherine's anxious attention to the weather was over and she could no longer claim any merit from its amendment, the sky began voluntarily to clear. A gleam of sunshine took her quite by surprise; she looked round; the CLOUDS were parting, and she instantly returned to the window to watch over and encourage the happy appearance. Ten minutes more made it certain that a bright afternoon would succeed, and justified the opinion of Mrs. Allen, who had “always thought it would clear up.” But whether Catherine might still expect her friends, whether there had not been too much rain for Miss Tilney to venture, must yet be a question.”


BONUS PARALLEL:

And to add to all of the above I add a final “twist”, hinted at in that last word of my Subject Line. It is no accident that (1) Strepsiades meant “twister”, as in twister of words, i.e., liar, in ancient Greek, and (2) we read the following in Northanger Abbey, as Catherine Morland suffers through her final conversation with John Thorpe in Chapter 15:

“Shall not you be late at Devizes?” said Catherine. He made no answer; but after a minute's silence burst out with, “A famous good thing this marrying scheme, upon my soul! A clever fancy of Morland's and Belle's. What do you think of it, Miss Morland? I say it is no bad notion.”
“I am sure I think it a very good one.”
“Do you? That's honest, by heavens! I am glad you are no enemy to matrimony, however. Did you ever hear the old song 'Going to One Wedding Brings on Another?' I say, you will come to Belle's wedding, I hope.”
“Yes; I have promised your sister to be with her, if possible.”
“And then you know”—TWISTING himself about and forcing a foolish laugh—“I say, then you know, we may try the truth of this same old song.”
“May we? But I never sing. Well, I wish you a good journey. I dine with Miss Tilney today, and must now be going home.”

Twisting himself indeed – It is Jane Austen who has the last laugh on the fools of the world!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Another literary quiz with a twist


I’m thinking of a great work of literature that meets ALL of the following criteria:

It was written long ago by an author whose name is known to countless people, including many who’ve never read their works.

It was one of this author’s earliest works, but one that they significantly revised later in their career.

Among the general public, it is NOT the most famous of that author’s works.

It focuses on the theme of self-knowledge, and how one can help another person find it.

So far, those criteria are probably met by at least several works of literature. Now I narrow things down considerably:

It has a major male character who:
is a braggart of mammoth proportions;
who constantly lies;
contradicts himself in every other sentence he speaks;
who is particularly obsessed with racing his horses and chariots/carriages; and
who repeatedly uses the expression “By Jove!”

It has a major male character who repeatedly, teasingly asks questions which seem to be designed to provoke his conversation partner to think outside the box, to question basic assumptions, and to seek self knowledge.

It has a short scene in which clouds are observed and interpreted as meaning or signifying different things.

As you know from prior quizzes of mine, there may be one answer that appears obvious to you – but don’t stop, because I assure you that there are others reading this quiz who think that a different work than the one that came to your mind is the “obvious” answer!

Let me know (at arnieperlstein@gmail..com) if you come up with either or both answers, and then I will reveal both works, and how each of the above clues fit each of those works, by tomorrow (Sunday) evening PST.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The many idle assertions and impudent falsehoods the excess of vanity will lead to: Then and Now

Did you ever think about the unwitting ironic "tell" of Trump constantly using the words "incredible" and "unbelievable" when he's telling his biggest lies???

The following remarkable video by talented young mimic J.L. Cauvin captures, better than any other I have seen, exactly how Trump weaponizes abuse of language, in particular relying on repetition of those telltale, cringeworthy words: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbPQCJtnT6o  

In this particular installment of Cauvin’s weekly podcast @TrumpPod, he savagely skewers Trump’s hypocritical, unholy mutual embrace with Far Right religious bigots. And so, henceforth, whenever Trump invades the TV screen with another installment of his cruel Covid 19 circus, I will, for instant relief, listen to other episodes of Cauvin-as-Trump.

Watching that parody also reminded me that Trump speaks like a fool or villain, or both, from a Jane Austen novel. I recalled that in October 2016, less than a month before I and most of the civilized world was shocked by the election results, I wrote a blog post I entitled “Jane in Trumpland”. My premise was that the rise of Trump had been presciently foreseen just over two centuries ago by Jane Austen, in the characters of General Tilney and John Thorpe, in Northanger Abbey:

As I reflect back with 20:20 hindsight on that 2016 post (which I invite you to read in full), written by me in the naïve belief that Trump would surely lose, I am not surprised that it was a literary satirist, rather than a political scientist or historian, who was a lonely Cassandra warning us all of Trump’s likely ascent to power – I am talking about one of the greatest modern satirists, Michael Moore. From Roger and Me to Fahrenheit 11/9, Moore has, like forerunners like Austen, Twain, and Swift, effectively deployed absurdity to make a satirical point about contemporary politics. So perhaps there is something in achieving mastery of satire in language that attunes one’s ear to hear when a demagogue and con man twists language for evil ends?

3 ½ years ago, when Trump had already to some extent done a hostile takeover of public media, I went into great detail as to a half dozen ways in which I saw Trump’s multifariously evil character in passages describing General Tilney, in the following categories:

ONE: An older man with an eye for young women;
TWO: A man with lots of money, who provides employment and a high standard of living to a son:
THREE: A man with lots of money who loves showing off his YUUUGE estate to young women:
FOUR: A lecherous older man with a dangerous interest in visiting, unannounced and uninvited, the bedroom of his young female houseguest in the middle of the night:         
FIVE: A late night devotee of paranoid right wing conspiracy theories about the "dangerous" "unpatriotic" countrymen who don't agree with his politics:     
SIX: A husband who did not treat his wife well: 

Eerie, isn’t it, how many of those boxes are ticked off by Trump –most relevant to my point today, instead of writing midnight letters by candlelight like the anti-Jacobin General, Trump Tweets by the light of his IPhone.

After spending most of that earlier post on the General Tilney in Trump, I gave short shrift to the John Thorpe:

“And I see the other half of Trump in John Thorpe, a man who boasts about his carriages and horses as if it would impress a young woman of taste and intelligence; a xenophobe, misogynist, anti-semite; and a sexual predator who thinks nothing of falsely imprisoning a young woman in a small space from which she cannot escape. Most Janeites can readily recall the passages in NA which illustrate each of these repellant characteristics of John Thorpe.”

Well, today I am back to remedy that gap, and present to you the particular passage in Chapter 9 of Northanger Abbey, in which, I suggest, Jane Austen predicted, with chilling accuracy, the type of abuse of language that Trump has forced on the rest of us a thousand times during his lethal Reign of Error. Be prepared for chills of recognition, as our heroine Catherine Morland is forced to listen to John Thorpe rant on and on:

“Catherine listened with astonishment; she knew not how to reconcile two such very different accounts of the same thing; for she had not been brought up to understand the propensities of a rattle, nor to know to how many idle assertions and impudent falsehoods the excess of vanity will lead. Her own family were plain, matter-of-fact people who seldom aimed at wit of any kind; her father, at the utmost, being contented with a pun, and her mother with a proverb; they were not in the habit therefore of telling lies to increase their importance, or of asserting at one moment what they would contradict the next.
She reflected on the affair for some time in much perplexity, and was more than once on the point of requesting from Mr. Thorpe a clearer insight into his real opinion on the subject; but she checked herself, because it appeared to her that he did not excel in giving those clearer insights, in making those things plain which he had before made ambiguous; and, joining to this, the consideration that he would not really suffer his sister and his friend to be exposed to a danger from which he might easily preserve them, she concluded at last that he must know the carriage to be in fact perfectly safe, and therefore would alarm herself no longer.
By him the whole matter seemed entirely forgotten; and all the rest of his conversation, or rather talk, began and ended with himself and his own concerns. He told her of horses which he had bought for a trifle and sold for INCREDIBLE sums; of racing matches, in which his judgment had infallibly foretold the winner; of shooting parties, in which he had killed more birds (though without having one good shot) than all his companions together; and described to her some famous day's sport, with the fox-hounds, in which his foresight and skill in directing the dogs had repaired the mistakes of the most experienced huntsman, and in which the boldness of his riding, though it had never endangered his own life for a moment, had been constantly leading others into difficulties, which he calmly concluded had broken the necks of many.
Little as Catherine was in the habit of judging for herself, and unfixed as were her general notions of what men ought to be, she could not entirely repress a doubt, while she bore with the effusions of his endless conceit, of his being altogether completely agreeable. It was a bold surmise, for he was Isabella's brother; and she had been assured by James that his manners would recommend him to all her sex; but in spite of this, the extreme weariness of his company, which crept over her before they had been out an hour, and which continued unceasingly to increase till they stopped in Pulteney Street again, induced her, in some small degree, to resist such high authority, and to distrust his powers of giving universal pleasure.

I didn’t exaggerate the uncanny parallelism, did I? It just goes from one to another, all the way through.  And in particular, did you take note of Thorpe’s boasts of selling horses (for Trump that would translate to high rise buildings, right?) “for INCREDIBLE sums”? Doesn’t it almost seem as if Donald Trump modeled his entire shtick on John Thorpe?

But of course, the correct explanation is not supernatural – it’s that there were indeed narcissistic monsters like Trump in Jane Austen’s era; and, hard-headed realist that she was (as Auden famously pointed out), she probably would not be at all surprised to see Trump if she were here with us today. Mary Crawford, Austen’s cynical alter ego in Mansfield Park, would sadly say, “Plus ca change…” and then move on to more agreeable subjects.

But I’m still not done with Chapter 9 of Northanger Abbey.  In the paragraph that immediately follows Catherine’s having to endure John Thorpe’s rant, we find that John Thorpe’s sister, Isabella, is equally enamored of absurd exaggeration and denial of commonsense reality – and watch for her regaling Catherine with not one but two “INCREDIBLES”!:

“When they arrived at Mrs. Allen's door, the astonishment of Isabella was hardly to be expressed, on finding that it was too late in the day for them to attend her friend into the house: “Past three o'clock!” It was inconceivable, INCREDIBLE, impossible! And she would neither believe her own watch, nor her brother's, nor the servant's; she would believe no assurance of it founded on reason or reality, till Morland produced his watch, and ascertained the fact; to have doubted a moment longer then would have been equally inconceivable, INCREDIBLE, and impossible; and she could only protest, over and over again, that no two hours and a half had ever gone off so swiftly before, as Catherine was called on to confirm; Catherine could not tell a falsehood even to please Isabella; but the latter was spared the misery of her friend's dissenting voice, by not waiting for her answer.
[Isabella’s] own feelings entirely engrossed her; her wretchedness was most acute on finding herself obliged to go directly home. It was ages since she had had a moment's conversation with her dearest Catherine; and, though she had such thousands of things to say to her, it appeared as if they were never to be together again; so, with smiles of most exquisite misery, and the laughing eye of utter despondency, she bade her friend adieu and went on…”

So, in conclusion, what seems truly incredible is that a woman with no formal education, writing two centuries ago, could somehow shoot her literary arrow so accurately and true, so as to land right in the bull’s eye of a bright orange target of our present day, who rivals the boundlessly narcissistic, all powerful Prince Regent of her era, who was Jane Austen’s favorite contemporary real-life satirical target.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sunday, March 15, 2020

More Evidence of Mr. Elton’s ‘invasion’ of Emma, during their snowy carriage ride,as a parody of Napoleon ‘frozen’ in Russia

In November, 2015, I wrote a post in this blog….. http://tinyurl.com/pph3n9j    …..entitled “Mr. Elton’s ‘invasion’ of Emma, during their snowy carriage ride, as a parody of Napoleon ‘frozen’ in Russia!
In that post, as the title makes clear, I gave a variety of evidence for the following:

“…the comic theme of the danger of the carriage ride between Hartfield and Randalls on Christmas Eve in Emma is actually a brilliant (and savagely satirical) parody of Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812-13, when he was defeated by the harsh Russian winter and brilliant scorched earth Russian tactics. That spectacular and horrific defeat (in terms of lost lives and suffering) led quickly to Napoleon’s first exile to Elba as a result of the Congress of Vienna in 1814. We may infer from JA’s letters from June 1814 that she did not live with her head buried in the group, but knew all the details of Napoleon’s defeat, including whatever inside dope brother Henry may have gathered while attending the fabulous London ball that celebrated Napoleon’s defeat.”

To read all the evidence I presented then, I invite you to click on the link to my earlier blog post, and read it. I’m back today with an unexpected addendum of one more remarkable piece of evidence in the text of Emma which I failed to take notice of 4 ½ years ago, and which I stumbled upon by serendipity today, while looking at another topic entirely in Emma.

Here’s the passage in Chapter 26 which I read with fresh eyes today. The scene is the party that the Coles throw, that Emma grudgingly attends, knowing that in part she will have to endure hearing about Mr. Elton (who is a friend of the Coles) and his bride-to-be, Miss Hawkins of Bristol. And indeed, at one point in this very long chapter, he is mentioned, but only in brief passing:

“The party was rather large, as it included one other family, a proper unobjectionable country family, whom the Coles had the advantage of naming among their acquaintance, and the male part of Mr. Cox's family, the lawyer of Highbury. The less worthy females were to come in the evening, with Miss Bates, Miss Fairfax, and Miss Smith; but already, at dinner, they were too numerous for any subject of conversation to be general; and, while politics and Mr. Elton were talked over, Emma could fairly surrender all her attention to the pleasantness of her neighbor [i.e., Frank]. The first remote sound to which she felt herself obliged to attend, was the name of Jane Fairfax. Mrs. Cole seemed to be relating something of her that was expected to be very interesting. She listened, and found it well worth listening to.” 

With the background I’ve given you, above, about Mr. Elton’s snowy quasi-Napoleonic disaster in Chapter 15, can you figure out what it is that just leapt out at me in Chapter 26 that relates back to it? After you give it some thought, scroll down a bit for my answer:


(SCROLL DOWN)



(SCROLL DOWN)



I never before noticed, and thought about the meaning of, the conversation which Emma so studiously ignores, in which “politics and Mr. Elton were talked over”. When first examined, it might seem nothing more than a bit of quintessential wry, absurdist, Austenian irony, i.e., that the two discussion topics of greatest interest to the partygoers that float by Emma’s self-absorbed ears are, so to speak, “apples and oranges” – i.e., the great ---political affairs of state affecting the entire nation, versus the small -- small town gossip about Mr. Elton’s shockingly sudden marital success. And ironically, Emma is surely much more interested in Mr. Elton than politics.

16 chapters later, we will witness Emma, in the full bloom of her narcissism, utterly uninterested in matters of great import in England -- the only sort of attention she gives to England is when she sits outside at Donwell Abbey:

“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.”

Not for a nanosecond does the fate of the English people -- especially the rural poor who have been displaced by major enclosure of the commons by squires like Knightley, to say nothing of the soldiers whose lives are at risk at that very moment on the Continent --- intrude on her fantasy that views the English countryside as nothing more than a grand painting created for her personal, exclusive viewing pleasure.

But that description certainly does not apply to Jane Austen herself, whom we all know to have been among the keenest-eyed and most well-informed of English citizens. And so, it occurred to me that this passing reference to “politics” must be much more than a trivial offering to lovers of her small ironies. But what could it really mean? At that moment, I recalled that the Coles’ party occurs right before
Valentine’s Day, 1814, when Frank goes to London to get his hair cut (and, I suggest, much more). And when I Googled “February 1814”, look what popped up in Wikipedia:

“The Battle of Champaubert (10 February 1814) was the opening engagement of the Six Days’ Campaign…a final series of victories by the forces of Napoleon… as the Sixth Coalition closed in on Paris… It was fought between a French army led by Napoleon and a small Russian corps…After putting up a good fight, the Russian formation was effectively destroyed…”

However, Napoleon’s shocking victory, which surely was reported as very bad news in England shortly thereafter, was strikingly akin to the Battle of the Bulge 130 years later – e.g, it was a short lived surprising victory for a Continental conqueror, that was rapidly followed by his defeat – Paris fell two months later, and Napoleon was exiled to Elba in April 1814.

So we see, once again, as with the slavery subtext that pervades all of Mansfield Park, Austen places major world events just at the edge of her stories. And knowledgeable early readers of Emma in 1816, only two years after the Six Days’ Campaign, could, with a small mental effort, have discerned the hidden calendar of the novel, and figured out exactly what was meant by “politics” – which, by the way, only adds to the absurdist humor of placing Napoleon’s fleeting military resurrection and Mr. Elton’s courtship triumph on equal footing!

But then, as I said at the beginning of this post – this is not a stand-alone allusion – knowing what I first saw 4 ½ years ago, there is no question that we’re meant to connect Mr. Elton’s disastrous miscalculation in the snowy Christmas Eve carriage ride with Emma, to Napoleon’s disastrous miscalculation in the snowy steppes of Russia in the Winter of 1812-13!

And many readers of Emma would say that Mr. Elton’s landing the Bristol heiress Miss Hawkins would, after the end of the novel, ultimately turn out to be his own personal Waterloo.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter