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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Believe not that the dribbling dart of love, Can pierce a complete bosom

One of the most famous images from the Paltrow Emma is the shot (not from the novel) in which Emma is poised to shoot an arrow at her archery target (and see also my P.S., below, re the archery scene in P&P0), and I am not the first person to point out that this was a clever wink at the following famous line in the text of Emma:

"It DARTED through her, with the speed of an ARROW, that Mr Knightley must marry no one but herself!"

However, I don't believe that anyone has previously noticed this is NOT the only passage in Austen's novels that deploys the metaphor of Cupid's archery for a sudden realization of someone being in love. There are (at least) four others.

First, we have a second such passage earlier in Emma:

"Well," said Mrs Weston, smiling, "you give him credit for more simple, disinterested benevolence in this instance than I do; for while Miss Bates was speaking, a suspicion DARTED into my head, and I have never been able to get it out again.

It is noteworthy here that Mrs. Weston is NOT correct in her suspicion that Mr. Knightley is in love with Jane Fairfax.

JA uses the dart metaphor twice in Northanger Abbey. Here is the first one:
Catherine’s understanding began to awake: an idea of the truth suddenly DARTED into her mind; and, with the natural blush of so new an emotion, she cried out, “Good heaven! My dear Isabella, what do you mean? Can you — can you really be in love with James?”

Just as with Mrs. Weston's suspicion, it is another "misaimed" dart, because Isabella does not really love James.

And then this in Ch. 26:

“My dear Catherine, you must not — you must not indeed — “ were Eleanor’s first connected words. “I am quite well. This kindness distracts me — I cannot bear it — I come to you on such an errand!”
“Errand! To me!”
“How shall I tell you! Oh! How shall I tell you!”
A new idea now DARTED into Catherine’s mind, and turning as pale as her friend, she exclaimed, “’Tis a messenger from Woodston!”
“You are mistaken, indeed,” returned Eleanor, looking at her most compassionately; “it is no one from Woodston. It is my father himself.”

Once more, a misaimed dart! At that very moment that Catherine imagines that Eleanor is bringing the news that Henry is proposing marriage to Catherine, it turns out that Eleanor is bringing the news that General Tilney is throwing Catherine out of Northanger Abbey! The very opposite of a "proposal"!

And then there is this one in Mansfield Park, during the ride to Sotherton from Mansfield Park:

"When they came within the influence of Sotherton associations, it was better for Miss Bertram, who might be said to have TWO STRINGS TO HER BOW. She had Rushworth feelings, and Crawford feelings, and in the vicinity of Sotherton the former had considerable effect."

I.e., Maria Bertram has two sticks in the courtship fire---the anything-but-romantic connection to Rushworth, and the romantic-but-also-dangerous-as-hell connection to Crawford---neither one of them anywhere close to being about true love.

So I find it extraordinarily curious that out of the five usages of the "dart" or "bow" metaphor in JA's novels, all save one of them are ironic reflections not of true love, but of the appearance, debasement or pretense of love.
Does this suggest that perhaps the aim was not perfect on that FIRST dart as well? Does Cupid need a handy repairman for his broken spectacles?


P.S: Unless I've missed something subtle in P&P, by the way, I do NOT see that metaphor having been used in the text of that novel, so it makes me wonder if Aldous Huxley had these allusions to Cupid's archery in three of JA's other novels in mind when he conjured up that memorable archery scene in P&P0 (which I just watched on YouTube)? That scene is all about Lizzy's uncannily good aim, which is rather at odds with her own less than stellar aim in the realm of courtship.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

quite interesting read. I would love to follow you on twitter.