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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chawton House Conference on New Directions in Jane Austen Studies

It's been a long while since I've used this blog, always having it in the back of my mind that one day at the right time, I would begin to use it the way most bloggers use their blogs. That time has, I think, come, as the above-referenced 3-day Conference on New Directions in Jane Austen Studies that was held at Chawton House has now come to an end, where I made a presentation about the shadow story of Emma. While I am working on my book about Emma, I thought it would be fun to post here now and again, and see if anyone would be interesting in talking with me about the shadows in Jane Austen novels, the subtext that is rarely noticed or discussed in most Janeite group conversations.

Let me start with a big caveat, however, the one I stated in my presentation at Chawton---I believe that each Jane Austen novel has TWO valid stories "in" it--one is the overt story, which you get when you read the novel more or less in a linear, straightforward way, which is very romantic, the other is the shadow story, which is what you get when you consistently read AGAINST the grain, hearing the irony that is latent in so many of the words and phrases in the novel, which is not so romantic, and is darker in terms of the characters.

Regardless of how that might otherwise sound, I do NOT mean to suggest that the overt story is not what "really" happens in the novel, not at all! It means there are two parallel fictional universes that Jane Austen intended to create, and it seems to me that if she did that, she wanted her readers to be aware of BOTH of them. One fascinating aspect of that structure is the question of WHY she'd want her readers to read both of them, and that is a topic that I hope will be discussed here.

So, as a kind of "debut" for this blog, I will toss out a teaser for the day, a question about Jane Austen that points to her shadow story in Sense and Sensibility. The question is, what is the married name of Lucy Steele, can you find where it is used in the novel itself, and what is its special significance?

Those of you who've already seen my handout at the conference already have the answer there, so if you do, please don't cheat! Let's give someone who hasn't seen the answer a chance to figure it out....

Okay, signing off from Winchester,


PS: I had a funny experience today as I was walking around in Winchester (where I am staying an extra day so I can do a little research at the Hampshire Record Office which is located here right next to the train station where I'll catch a train to London tomorrow afternoon)....I of course went to pay my respects at the little house on College Street, which (I hadn't realized before) is located RIGHT behind Winchester Cathedral...and I popped my head into the very well stocked bookstore located two doors down from that house--I was chatting with the woman at the desk--I asked her if she had ever had any interesting conversations with anyone who came in the store, in relation to Jane Austen--you'd think that the bookstore is THERE, after all, precisely because most of the people who'd come down that little street with only residential homes, would be there for one reason, and they'd be people who read a lot of books.

Well, she advised me that she really wasn't into Jane Austen even though she was a literature major in university, because Jane Austen wasn't ironic or sarcastic enough for her. I tried for 2 minutes to talk her out of that misconception, but she was not buying what I was selling, so I left her to her special form of purgatory, working in a bookstore 20 feet away from a place where people from all over the world come to pay respects to one of literature's greatest geniuses, and being so utterly, incredibly wrong about that writer! ;)


Jennifer Bales said...

I already know the answer to the name question, so I won't say, but it did make me laugh again. Whatever JA's hidden attitudes may have been, I think we can conclude she really didn't like Lucy!

Arnie Perlstein said...


That laugh is the key---JA doesn't just insert clever, dry, obscure coded messages in her novels, they are almost always VERY funny when you get the joke! But not only funny, also significant and thematic.

She managed to touch ALL the bases.

Thanks for posting, I hope others will join in.....


Unknown said...

Hi Arnie! So glad you've enjoyed your opportunity. I've been to Winchester Cathedral and the house on College Street. I can picture it all so well in my mind. How ironic that the lit major in the bookstore near where Jane breathed her last is so ignorant!!! I don't know the Lucy Steele answer. I am going to go try to figure it out though. Will you give us an answer soon? I did notice in S&S that Marianne is Annamarie in reverse. Annamarie was the three year old, indulged daughter of Mrs. Middleton. I don't have your powers of imagination...I am afraid that the overt is about all I get at this point, but I am trying to keep an open mind! Cheers!

Arnie Perlstein said...

Teresa, I am just giving it some time, to give more people a chance to see the question before I give the answer, or someone sees it.

Yes, it is amazingly ironic that the clerk in that bookstore, out of all the bookstores in the world, should have that attitude. I think that a suitably karmic punishment should be that every Janeite who visits that place should pop their head into that bookstore and ask the same question I did! ;)

Cathy L said...

Hi Arnie,
I am glad to see that you have left Hamlet for a time to concentrate on Emma again. I look forward to following your progress. I am sorry I missed the Chawton conference. I hope you will write more about the comments and questions you received after you talk. Today I leave for 3 weeks in the cottage, but will check back here when I return.

Arnie Perlstein said...


Enjoy your time at the cottage, and I will be happy to give lots of details about the conference, it was, from a Janeite point of view, chock full of interesting stuff.

I also hope to be able to report some real movement on the book front as well.

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