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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It must be borne

[The following is the text of the messages I have just sent to the Austen-L and Janeites groups-I believe I explain the context sufficiently to make what I wrote explicable]

As you will see, below, I feel I have no choice but to set the record straight on some matters of importance to me. But first, my apologies to those of you in Janeites who have in the past objected to discussions of shadow stories---I did not start this thread here, I did not have any desire for this thread to be started here, but now that it has been started, these are important points for me to be clear about here, publicly.

Perhaps this particular round will be a source of amusement for David, Victoria, Jeannie and others who believe that Jane Austen never wrote any shadow stories. ;)

"It must be borne" was the title of the talk I gave at Chawton House in July (i.e., 8 weeks ago), in which I revealed publicly, for the first time, my own original interpretation of the circumstances of the shadow story of _Emma_, in which Jane Fairfax's giving birth to a girl baby is followed by Jane Fairfax covertly giving that baby to Mrs. Weston to pretend it is really Mrs. Weston's baby (just think about the rumors last year about Sarah and Bristol Palin).

It was in the Spring of 2007 that I made my breakthrough and figured out that, in the shadow story (always, I must repeat that caveat), Jane gave her baby to Mrs. Weston. That was shortly before I gave my first public talk about Jane Austen, at Oxford (for which honor I will always be grateful to Fiona Stafford, Georgina Green and Olivia Murphy!), about the puzzles of _Emma_ in June, 2007. I came to that discovery after being uncertain for over two years from the time I first realized Jane F. was pregnant, as to whether the various physical symptoms Jane F. was undergoing in the latter part of the novel were reflective of an actual birth or of a miscarriage or even an abortion. After all, the big question was, if she was pregnant, what happened to the baby? Then I realized the solution to JA's diabolically clever puzzle. It was, as you might imagine, a wonderful moment for me.

Even though I did not reveal my discovery publicly until July, 2009, I began, in June, 2007, revealing it in confidence to selected friends. It was four months after I began doing that, that in October, 2007, I privately revealed the above to a new acquaintance, Anielka Briggs, whom you cannot fail to have noticed has recently joined this Janeites group. It is her recent posts in Janeites and Austen-L which have prompted me to set the record straight.

Although she has been a serious Austen scholar for many years, with particular focus on genealogical matters, Anielka, by her own honest and explicit acknowledgment to me at the time she first contacted me in October 2007, previously had NO idea whatsoever as to any shadow or concealed plotting in _Emma_. She acknowledged quite freely that _Emma_ had always been opaque to her. Therefore, with regard to the above, it is quite odd when Anielka now writes "No need to wait for me to print a book to tell you my theory - might as well tell you now and get your feedback. Besides, it would be terrible to publish a book and then discover you had the theory wrong, wouldn't it?".

This statement by her, made immediately after she has cited a sampler of some of the textual clues regarding Jane F's concealed pregnancy, gives the false and misleading impression that somehow the notion of Jane F. being pregnant was Anielka's idea--but it was not. This idea of Jane having a baby and giving it to Mrs. Weston was one I explicitly revealed to Anielka in October 2007, and as to which she had no prior inkling whatsoever.

Be that as it may, despite the oblique advice which Anielka, by the above comment, unmistakably is giving to ME (and which I take as being as "kindly meant" as the advice the shadow Mrs. Elton gives to the shadow Jane F. about "the abolition", which, as I stated at Chawton House, is code for "abortion"!), I will nonetheless somehow blunder ahead on my own and "deliver" my book about the shadow story of _Emma_ .

But that leads to one OTHER very important point in regard to this matter. When I privately revealed my interpretation of Jane F's pregnancy and baby swap to Anielka in October, 2007, she then made what I consider a very, very important discovery for the world of Janeites, i.e., that there was a word game in _Emma_ which seemed to suggest a real life referent for Jane F's pregnancy and baby swap.

Anielka revealed the essence of her discovery publicly on March 2, 2009, in Austen-L, and so I quote her now:

"Jane Austen uses these codes all the time. For example, in "Emma" the Weston's baby is Miss Anna Weston which is Miss A. Weston = Miss Awe-ston which (as with Elinohr) is the correct pronunciation of the educated classes for Miss Austen ("oss-tin" being also the more modern pronunciation). Jane Austen uses the same code for Miss Emma Watson with the addition of an anagram. Miss E. Watson = Miss aWEston = Miss Austen once again."

I.e., anyone reading those comments can readily infer that "Anna Weston" becomes "Ann Awe-ston" becomes "Anna Austen". That was the brilliant discovery that Anielka made in October 2007 AFTER I privately revealed to her that Jane Fairfax had given her baby to Mrs. Weston. And, by the way, when I mentioned this discovery of the punny meaning of "Anna Weston" at the end of my recent Chawton House presentation, I cited its brilliance and gave Anielka full credit for that discovery.

Please note that if you don't know anything about the shadow story of _Emma_, in particular that Jane F. gives her baby to Mrs. Weston, then this "Anna Weston/Ann Awe-ston/Anna Austen" word game, while elegant and beautiful in its "hiding in plain sight" aspect, is not significant in terms of what it seems to suggest about the Austen family.

After all, as to the overt story of _Emma_, where Anna Weston really is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Weston, the word game is only a private hommage. I.e., it would suggest that Mr. and Mrs. Weston stand for James Austen and his first wife, and that the girl baby, Anna Weston, stands for Anna Austen. If there is no baby swap, i.e., then the word game is just an Austen family in-joke.

But if you know that in the shadow story of _Emma_, Jane F gives her baby to Mrs. Weston, then the innocent word game takes on additional potential meaning.

Apropos that, Anielka wrote the following the other day in Austen-L:

"Also if you look at Ellen's magnificent calendar for Emma
you will notice something interesting about 1796 which she has kindly spelled out for us!"

Here are the relevant portions of Ellen's calendar entries:

"1793 Birth of Jane Fairfax; she is 21 when story opens...."

"1796: Jane Fairfax's mother dies when Jane is three"

"1796, June 23: Harriet is 17 when novel opens so Harriet Smith born in the same year that Mrs Jane Fairfax died. Edith Lank has suggested Miss Henrietta Bates could have left Highbury during this time to help her poor sister, thus giving an alibi for a pregnancy (!). See Edith Lank's intriguing essay in /Persuasions/ 7, pp. 14-15. "

In regard to the above, note that Anna Austen and Fanny Knight were both born in 1793, and that James Austen's first wife died in 1795.

But note also that Ellen's entry for 1793 should have read "Births of Jane Fairfax [and Emma Woodhouse, they are both] 21 when story opens..."

That is the truth as to the above matters.



Kitty Scraps said...

Dear Arnie,
I've been lurking on the list for a very long time, years in fact, and have never ventured forth a comment in any of the discussions because frankly I feel woefully inadequate to the task of contributing anything worthy in such esteemed company. Instead I have indulged in reading all the beautifully written and well thought out theories of it's various members meanwhile wishing I had a better understanding of what everyone was posting about.

I'm not a scholar, obviously, I'm not even a college graduate, I'm just a 40 something full time working woman who decided seven years ago to improve my mind by extensive reading. It was my great fortune that I started with Jane Austen and eventually stumbled across the yahoo group a few years ago which today finally led me to your blog.

I've been a great admirer of yours. When I have time to indulge in reading the list I've often marveled at your posts, how well thought out and presented your arguements were, how educational they were to me the novice reader, and how I ended up longing for more as in a Austen Sub Plot/Shadow Stories for Dummies version from you.

It's rather daunting for me to presume to even comment on things that I know so little about but my courage has been properly raised to the challenge and I hope I'm not ridiculed to presume too much by begging of you to please give me advice on how to read my beloved Jane in such a manner as to increase my understanding of her and hopefully discover these shadow stories for myself.

I don't know how many people in the yahoo group are like me, silent and unenlightened but longing to have the shroud removed from our eyes. But you would certainly have my unwavering devotion should you generously decide to take up the task of tutoring we (if my presumption of others is correct or me if I stand alone in my silent lurkerdom) who fear to give voice to our secret longings thereby exposing our ignorance to the list members and have been suffering in bliss-less silence.

I fear I ask too much. Pray tell me it's not too much to ask, for one word from you will silence me forever on this topic and I will return to lurkerdom forever more.

Arnie Perlstein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arnie Perlstein said...

Kitty, you are so melodramatic! ;)

I would give you three pieces of advice to start:

1. Re-read all the novels regularly, and consciously try to read against the grain, meaning, try to imagine that the narrator is being very sly, and is hinting at motivations and actions of the characters other than the heroine which are not as they seem.

2. Go to the JASNA website...

click on "Publications" on the left side of the homepage, and then just start reading articles in Persuasions and Persuasions Online, many of which are readable online.

3. Join JASNA and start attending AGM's--they are great fun, and you will both learn a lot at them, and also meet others who love Jane Austen. The October 2009 AGM is sold out (I missed out on it myself!), but the October 2010 AGM in Portland would be a good one for you to attend.

Otherwise, if you have specific questions as you go along in your readings that have to do with subtext and shadows, just bring them to this blog, I will try to help!

Thanks for your very kind words, ARNIE

Unknown said...

But Mrs Weston did not dance at the ball with Mr Elton.Wasn't it because she was expecting a baby?Or was that merely due to the fact that it was wrong for married women to be dancing ?

Arnie Perlstein said...


In the shadow story of Emma (i.e., the parallel fictional universe that lurks in the shadows of the text of the novel, placed there by Jane Austen), I claim that Mrs. Weston did not dance with Mr. Elton precisely because she was PRETENDING to be pregnant!

Unknown said...

Oh.Well, I suppose that could be a theory. Are you going to write a book about to it ??

Arnie Perlstein said...

Yes. ;)