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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Answer to "What Color was Washington's White Horse?"

A respondent in another online venue to my little question suggested that it was obvious that Mrs. Elton did not attend the wedding at all, to which I responded as follows:

Not everybody is so careful a reader, especially as it is clear (to me) that JA was having a little fun by being sly about not being explicit about Mrs. Elton not being in attendance, i.e., I think JA laid a gentle trap for her readers who were having the last laugh at Mrs. Elton's last words, and thereby misread.

Just look at the answers [which speculated as to what sort of dress Mrs. Elton did wear] that were given earlier today, by folks who know this novel very well.

I would wager that a large majority of Janeites (including myself, till the other day) do not realize that Mrs. Elton did not attend Emma's wedding. I am too lazy to check the endings of the various film adaptations, but my guess is that most, if not all, of them depict Mrs. Elton as being present.

So I was merely alerting people to pay attention to what those last two paragraphs actually do say, and not to assume they know. Part of the slyness is that normally people don't speak with such an air of certainty in describing an event they did not actually attend in person. But of course, that is prototypical Mrs. Elton, so it's totally in character that she would sound as if she had been there, especially as she would not want to have to admit to her sister that she had not been there!

And it's not just me who found her non-attendance especially noteworthy. Sheila Kaye-Smith (the one who first noticed it in print, as far as I can tell) in 1943, and then Sheldon Sacks (1980), Janet Todd (1983), Dorothy Gannon in Austen-L (1998), Edward Copeland (2004), Peter Leithart (2004), and the late Bruce Stovel (2007), ALL find JA's presentation of this information to be "sly". As I said, many readers are too busy laughing at Mrs. Elton's absurd snobbery, and in that instance it's all too easy to be seduced into not noticing the implication, even though it is, as you suggest, hiding in plain sight.

But, as usual with JA, it's not just a cheap authorial trick on the reader, and it's not just a cheap laugh. It's also very true to character, and has been carefully and cleverly set up in an inobtrusive way. Mrs. Elton is not just being a total snob out of the blue. There is an obvious context, once you think about it. The fact that she was not there is something that upsets and disturbs her, and has to be rationalized in some way. So she is doing just what someone like her would do in such a circumstance--if she was not there, then it must have been a pitiful event not worth attending anyway--the applicable fruit in this instance is not strawberries, but grapes--as in, VERY SOUR GRAPES! ;)

And there's also the foreshadowing of this event in at least two ways, with other humiliations of women.

First we have the progression of Emma's feelings regarding the invitation to the Coles's party. She starts out being a total snob about attending, and runs a whole elaborate fantasy around why she is too elevated a personage to even consider attending a party thrown by vulgar folk like the Coles. Then when the invitation is delayed--when, to paraphrase Knightley, she actually wants the invitation first before she turns it down, but begins to doubt she will get that invitation, she starts to feel the lack of an invitation very acutely. And so when it comes, she is, whether she admits it or not, very relieved.

Second, we have Emma's famous putdown of Miss Bates at Box Hill. Look at how poor Miss Bates scrambles to say something that will hide how painful Emma's insult was.

Now, think about those two situations in relation to what is left to the reader's imagination regarding Mrs. Elton's reaction when she first hears of the wedding, and her not being invited to it.

What is most interesting to me is to speculate how it happened that Mrs. Elton was not in attendance. After all, we are also told that Mr. Elton did the honors as vicar, so she must have become aware of the wedding, if he also knew about it. So, does that mean she was pointedly NOT invited? That is what several of the above commentators conclude, and at first blush, it does seem the most likely explanation. However, what jars me is that it would be a marked departure from Knightley's and Emma's very careful dealings with Mrs. Elton from the moment she arrives in Highbury, always taking great pains not to openly offend her. Recall Emma inwardly fuming at Mrs. Elton's repeated presumptions, yet Emma never voices her anger to Mrs. Elton, and never ceases to be overtly polite to her. Recall Knightley handling Mrs. Elton's meddling with the planning of the Donwell Abbey picnic with such urbane finesse. Despite many temptations to do so, K and Emma never fail to be courteous to Mrs. Elton, and she is invited to all social events that are . I do not recall the reader getting any warning or intimation whatsoever from the text that such a major slight as a non-invitation to Mrs. Elton was in the offing. So isn't this out of character for Knightley and Emma to so blatantly offend Mrs. Elton by excluding her.

Or is it possible that Mrs. Elton received an invitation, but declined to attend? Theoretically possible, sure, but wouldn't it have been in character for her to show up in an outfit designed to upstage Emma? No, I can think of no plausible motivation for Mrs. Elton to decline to attend.

I also wondered for a moment whether the sequence might have been that Mrs. Elton went to visit her sister Selina (who, despite Mrs. Elton's repeated speculations, was like Frank Churchill during the first volume of the novel, and was not likely to be visiting Highbury herself anytime soon!), and it was during that window of her absence that Emma and Knightley chose to quickly announce their wedding, obtain a special license, and tie the knot. The fairy story about the theft of the turkeys could have been invented on a dime in order to provide cover--i.e., Emma and Knightley had to strike while the iron was hot, and before Mr. Woodhouse's fears about turkey thieves loose in the neighborhood abated. So there would not have been any direct insult to Mrs. Elton.

But.....then I noticed that JA, with her incredible attention to the thought processes of the reader, covered that point as well, because JA takes pains to let us know that Mrs. Elton is aware of the details of the wedding but Selina has not yet heard them. So the only way that would fit with Mrs. Elton being at Maple Grove when the wedding occurred would be if Mrs. Elton was indeed at Maple Grove when the wedding was announced and then took place, but...she returned to Highbury BEFORE Mr. Elton could write to her and report on the wedding. A very narrow window indeed, and it strikes me as unlikely.

So, I am undecided at this moment as to the explanation for this curious turn of events.

In closing, I find it a very interesting bookend to the other wedding no-show in Emma, which also has been pointed out in this group and in scholarly writing about Emma. The first occurs in the first chapter of the novel, the second occurs in the last chapter of the novel. Bookends, and, to me, obviously intentional.

Cheers, ARNIE

Monday, January 25, 2010

What color was George Washington's White Horse?

I just learned something yesterday (that some of you probably were already aware of) that is very cool, and I thought of a fun way to pass it along.

Just give it your best shot to find the answer to the following question: "How was Mrs. Elton dressed at the wedding of Emma and Mr. Knightley?" ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

Friday, January 22, 2010

The News that Really Made Jane Austen Sicker MORE......

Diana: "I think Arnie has done some excellent logical work in piecing together JEAL's motives, but perhaps goes a bit too far in demonizing him. What if he
did want to present himself and his family to the public in a pleasant Victorian light, that doesn't make him a monster. The Victorian way of framing a memoir wasn't warts-and-all realism. JEAL couldn't help being his father's heir, and he was fairly hard up at times until he finally got the money, long after JA's death. "

As I have previously argued, I believe that JEAL went far far beyond Victorian proprieties. And apropos warts, I think it's a crucial distinction that it's not JA's warts I am accusing him of intentionally covering up, it's his own, and those of his benighted benefactor.

As for JEAL being hard up at time, that must have been before 1828, when he married Emma Smith, because it is my understanding that Emma Smith was very wealthy, and that meant that after he married her, he was very wealthy too. And he had received a first rate education at Oxford, etc. Or do you have other info I am unaware of?

I think it bears repeating that what I find most noxious about JEAL's presentation of JA's life and works is that he relegates to the dumpster the pervasive message of all of JA's novels and letters, which was the way that women's lives were so constrained as to money, travel, courtship, and family matters. He gets a zero out of 100 in terms of his presentation of that fundamental aspect of JA's worldview, and the icing on the cake is his suppression of the specific way that he PERSONALLY was the biggest winner of that zero-sum game, and JA personally was the biggest loser. The hypocrisy is over the top awful.

"He had a lot of ill health himself and a very numerous family."

And who exactly is responsible for that very numerous family? Do you really think his wife was constantly on his case to make her continuously pregnant for 15 years? If he had illness, it was obviously not so serious as to prevent him from siring all those children!

"Primogeniture was the custom of the land and it meant women and dependents not getting the money. The whole point was keeping the
fortune together, in the hands of the eldest son; if you spread it around to all the sisters and cousins and aunts, it wouldn't be a fortune anymore. "

Isn't there such a thing as a matter of degree? Did I suggest that JEAL should have given his two sisters one third each of his wealth? Sure, that would have been a noble thing to do, but I am talking about much less than that. It seems obvious that whatever he gave to Anna was so little that she was forced to shuttle around in rented housing for a long while. Had he been more generous to her, there would not have been SUCH a large gap between his quality of life and hers during the last 30 years of their lives.

"The "daemon of the piece" was James Leigh Perrot in not making some provision for his widowed sister, and the disappointment certainly didn't help Jane
Austen's declining health any, poor soul. It's perfectly clear, from S & S if nowhere else, what she thought of this system of inheritance. But it
*was* the existing system. Perhaps JEAL felt guilty about it by 1870, which is why he tried to cover it up."

I don't think he felt guilty, in the sense of pangs of conscience, anymore than,e.g., Nixon et al felt guilty about Watergate- JEAL was engaged in a coverup, pure and simple. Had conscience been involved, what better moment to express it, and to come clean, than at the end of his own long life? No, he went to his grave having successfully pulled off that coverup, and everything in that Memoir speaks to his own sense of smug entitlement!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The News that Really Made Jane Austen Sicker: WHY JEAL DID IT

[The conversation continues in Janeites and Austen L]

Nancy: "....makes me more dubious than before that JEAL wrote as he did with a conscious agenda in mind. It seems as though his writing was influenced more by Victorian ideas of propriety and of the past then from any desire to hide or lie."

Nancy, we're not talking about shadow stories here. This stuff is entirely in the bright lights, there is no subtext, it's all text. And as this post will elaborate, I think that JEAL had many very significant reasons for trying to suppress the true meaning of that line from Letter 157. It turns out to be nothing less than the tape on the door at the Watergate Hotel, it's a wormhole through Sir Walter Elliot's looking glass and goes to the heart of JA's real and literary life.

First, I repeat what I have said, i.e., I can see absolutely no other plausible interpretation of JEAL's editorial liberties than a conscious intention to deflect blame for the exacerbation of JA's illness from its true cause, the Leigh Perrot disinheritance, to a phantom alternative cause, the Henry Austen bankruptcy.

The change of "legatees" to "party" alone would suffice to prove he intended to do that, but when it is combined with the deliberate conflation of the bankruptcy with the 1817 letters where JA writes about her illness, which conflation just happens to dovetail with that change of word, it is QUADRUPALLY proved. It is not possible to imagine that he just accidentally did both of these major and interlocking alterations, unless of course you do believe that Seth Grahame Smith was right and there really WERE zombies in 19th century England, and JEAL was one of them!

Edith: "Arnie, you're too harsh on JEAL. Remember that he grew up in the family that had probably long since rationalized its unequal share of the Leigh-Perrot estate. James was like a son to Mrs. P, the sailor brothers were away, Henry evidently didn't rally round as James did...and he was evidently Mr. P's godson, a clever move, and that counted for a lot in those days. JEAL would have absorbed his family's take on the whole thing -- tho I admit, changing "legatees" for "party" is pretty much a smoking gun. No chance, I suppose, that Charles changed it while forwarding a copy of the letter to JEAL...?"

Edith, first I thank you for acknowledging the smoking gun of the word change, and I also compliment the ingenuity of your suggestion about Charles as the creative editor---but the original letter is in the British Museum, and I think somebody would have noticed if there had been an erasure and substitution of such a key word in that sentence!

But I think you're also raising a moot point. You seem to be suggesting that JEAL "inherited" from his parents the point of view that he deserved to inherit the Leigh Perrot fortune. Even if it were so that his parents indoctrinated him thusly, it only adds to my argument that JEAL felt entitled and justified, once he recognized that Charles's letter put a damper on the celebration of his own good fortune, to sanitize the facts! Even Iago had his own reasons!

But back to Nancy's comment about JEAL's Victorian propriety as JEAL's motivation. Does it hold water? Well, yes, there are many other instances in the Memoir where he seems to be concealing certain material, but where he himself would not seem to have a personal stake. In those instances, I would acknowledge that it WOULD be plausible for you to point to "Victorian ideas of propriety" to account for his bowdlerizing, rather than some malevolent personal motivations. this instance of the Leigh Perrot disinheritance, where JEAL himself became the principal legatee, it is SUCH an obvious and dramatic conflict of interest, that it is, as JA would have joked, 'beyond every thing". I could not imagine a MORE suspicious and incriminating circumstance! Victorian propriety as a motivating factor pales in comparison to this very personal motivation. And it also fits perfectly with the omission that both Harding and Sutherland both have pointed to at length in their respective Introductions, i.e., the shoplifting case of Mrs. Leigh Perrot.

And so I can see no plausible explanation for JEAL's motivation in undertaking this creative editing other than that he wished to utterly negate JA's explicit statement that the disinheritance made her much sicker. Since he could not negate her statement as she wrote it, since he clearly lacked the power to destroy the letter or prevent its eventual publication, he boldly decided to take the bull by the horns and purport to publish the relevant portion of that letter, but to edit it to say something COMPLETELY different than what JA actually wrote. We're talking major cojones and chutzpah here.

Nancy, your position, as you stated it, is actually contradictory on its face---if JEAL had no desire to hide or lie, then where exactly did Victorian ideas of propriety come into play, if not to hide or lie about a piece of information he considered improper to be described in the Memoir?


But now perhaps for the most important aspect of this subject, which so far I have only addressed in passing. I.e., let's step back a few paces and ask, even if JEAL did these things intentionally and for these reasons, does it really matter? Should we care today? And my answer is, "YES!" Think about it---could there be any subject more important when examining the memoir of a genius author beloved of millions of people around the world today, than to consider events which contributed more than trivially to that author's very premature death? At the very top of the list of regrets that JA's readers would list regarding her, is that she died so young, at the peak of her powers, when she might, given the pace at which she seemed to write, have given the world a half dozen or more masterpieces. It's a sentiment that has been voiced a thousand times in print, and felt by any Janeite who knows her biography at all.

But, curiously, I'd be willing to bet that the only biography written about her which does NOT express that regret at her early death as depriving the world of many masterpieces is....JEAL's Memoir, which I have just looked through, and could not find a single expression of that kind. Very curious, and if I am correct, very revealing.

Regardless, I think JEAL was no fool, and he recognized just how high the stakes were on this troubling point raised by that single sentence in Letter 157. Here he was writing this memoir of his aunt, which was in effect her "coming out" party on the larger stage of English literature, and suddenly he has to put out that fire before it consumes his entire project.


Perhaps it happened at a late stage in the process of putting this Memoir together, when he first became aware of the existence of Letter 157, and its damning contents. Perhaps Charles Austen's daughter, Cassandra Esten, who was 9 years old when her father received that letter from his dying sister, but was now 62 in 1870, had never forgotten hearing her father complain bitterly to her mother. Because surely the disinheritance was a heavy blow to Charles himself, and not just to his mother and sisters. Le Faye's footnotes to Letter 157 reveal that "During Mar. 1817 CJA's daughter Harriet-Jane continued to be seriously ill, and in addition his mother- and sister-in-law Mrs. and Miss Harriet Palmer both fell ill; his diary entries reveal his worries in this situation." That disinheritance was potentially a matter of life and death not only for JA but also for the women in Charles's life---Medical care was very expensive in those days! And so that letter (which is the ONLY letter from JA to Charles, among the hundreds that JA must have written, that survives today--suggesting it was of special significance to Charles) perhaps was a symbol to Charles of a family where, as JA famously wrote in another letter, there was a conspiracy by one part of the family to impoverish another part of it. Where the lucky few prospered, while the unlucky men languished in genteel poverty.

And I also just noticed the following very curious factoid in Le Faye's biographical note about Charles's children: "Cassandra-Esten assisted her father in executing CEA's Will in 1845....She was also able TO ASSIST JEAL IN THE COMPOSITION OF HIS MEMOIR." (!!!)

The plot thickens! I wonder first what Le Faye's sources were for that last statement---is it possible that Cassandra Esten approached JEAL when she learned he was working on the Memoir, and brought Letter 157 to his attention, knowing full well what his reaction would be? Is it possible that her "assistance" in the composition of the Memoir came at a steep pecuniary price, albeit one that JEAL could very well afford? I.e., did JEAL pay off Cassandra Esten not only to allow him to publish that letter, but also for her to look the other way when he changed "legatees" to "party", and reconstructed the context of that letter to point the finger at Henry Austen, who was by then long deceased, leaving no children of his own to defend his memory? and to keep her lips sealed for the rest of her life about this change that she was well aware of. There must be SOME reason why Cassandra Esten apparently never raised an objection to that change of words in the 27 years she survived the first publication of the Memoir, and why Letter 157 did not get sold and published until after her death. Speculation, yes, but reasonable, plausible speculation, based on solid premises.


But let's get back to JEAL and his motivations. As he's writing this Memoir, it's about 30+ years after he inherited the fortune of Uncle Leigh Perrot. That inheritance in 1837 not only provided him with a life of gentlemanly ease from that point forward. If you think about it, the expectancy of that inheritance long before Mrs. Leigh Perrot died was surely a powerful tool that JEAL did not hesitate to deploy in inducing Emma Smith, an heiress from the Chute family, to marry him in 1828. So he had the luxury to then sire 10 (count 'em, 10) children in 14 years and to have the serious money at hand right from Day One to raise them in grand style.

And that raises yet another question, on the subject of JEAL's character and morality. As far as I am aware, and please somebody correct me if I am wrong, but JEAL apparently never felt it necessary to share much of his unearned prosperity with his elder widowed half sister Anna. Here's what Le Faye tells us in her bio note about Anna, who was widowed at 36 in 1829 (one year after JEAL married his rich heiress Emma), with seven children to raise, ages 2 to 14: "Following [her husband Ben Lefroy's] early death in 1829, Anna and her children lived in various rented houses in Westham, Oakley, Basingstoke, Winchester, Monk Sherborne, and Reading; she died in Reading 1 September 1872..."

Sounds to me like JEAL was a chip off James Perrot's block, carrying on the proud tradition of a complete lack of generosity toward impecunious female relatives. Even as, in their old age, he solicits Anna's assistance in compiling the Memoir.

So it makes even more sense that JEAL would go to extreme lengths to preserve James Leigh Perrot's reputation, as he himself had by 1870 long since became a kind of replica of his great uncle, repeating and extending his sins of omission unto the fourth generation......

In light of ALL of the above, the very last thing on earth that JEAL wants is to have to explain how his own personal circumstances might fairly be considered relevant to the accuracy and faithfulness of his account of his famous aunt's life and work. And in particular he does not want anyone to ever go through the chain of analysis that I have done in this series of posts, to question how credible his facts and interpretations are. He does not want to deal with the extreme embarrassment of having to explain that he has been living on wealth, the denial of which to JA, her impecunious siblings, and her mother apparently and tragically played a contributing role, we can never know how large, in precipitating JA's early demise.

No wonder he even goes out of his way repeatedly in the Memoir NOT to refer to his own familial ties to JA and the other Austen family members, even when the context begs that he reveal his personal, subjective interest in the matters he describes as if he were an objective disinterested biographer. Of course, he wants to put his readers's critical faculties to sleep at every point.

And it's no accident, and very revealing, that nowhere (unless I have overlooked it) in the Memoir OTHER THAN the veiled allusion to Henry's bankruptcy, does JEAL ever address the issue of wealth and poverty, either in regard to JA's own life, or in regard to any of the novels. Of course the JEAL who was so intent on putting the kibosh on any suggestion that James Leigh Perrot had stiffed the Austens, was not about to talk about any resemblance between such behavior and that of, say, John and Fanny Dashwood. So that raises the stakes even higher in terms of that line from Letter 157--it's not only about JA's death, it's about trying to keep the genie in the bottle, the genie being the savage critique of the financial structure of the English gentility, and the particularly bad deal that women got under it.

It does not get any bigger than that in the realm of biography and family history.

Nancy: "He might even have changed legatee to party because he feared the legal term would not be understood by ladies. "

Nancy, tell me you're teasing, please! In the words of the great sage John McEnroe, "You can't be serious!".

But, in case you are's not just one bridge, I am prepared to sell you the entire cache of gold at Fort Knox, at a very very steep discount, if you are still interested. Limited time only, drop me an email---and remember, cash only. I don't take chances, even with good friends! ;)

ARNIE (and I think you might want to consider never serving on a jury in a criminal case, as I believe you would NEVER convict anyone of anything!) ;)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The News that Really Made Jane Austen Sicker LAST INSTALLMENT


“To go back to Henry's bankruptcy, the only ones in the family who were directly affected, at least financially, were Edward Knight and Mr. Leigh Perrot, who each lost £10,000 (hence maybe the latter's testamentary hostility to the Austen brood at large?) Or am I missing something?”

Catherine, according to Honan, Nokes, AND Le Faye, Uncle Leigh Perrot lost L10,000 and EAK lost L20,000, as sureties, and Henry’s servants (such as Mme Bigeon) lost all their savings, and Charles Austen lost “hundreds” , as depositors (in a world without FDIC account insurance). According to Le Faye (quoting Caroline Austen), Frank and James each lost “hundreds” as well. So even though the lion’s share of the losses, in actual amounts, were borne by EAK and Uncle Leigh Perrot, it was also a relatively large debacle for the 4 other Austen brothers, too. And, by (the ceasing of ) trickle down, the three Austen women in turn suffered financially as well.

But what I love about your thinking, Catherine, is the suggestion of “testamentary hostility” as a possible factor for Uncle Leigh Perrot having pulled the testamentary plug on pretty much everyone in the Austen family except, ultimately, JEAL himself. Whether it was true or not in terms of Uncle Leigh Perrot’s actual motivations, which he took to the grave with him, it certainly is something that JEAL was clearly thinking about when he wrote that section of Chapter XI.

Now I see another layer to his Iagoish manipulations of reality. It’s almost as if he was giving the reader a second option for letting Uncle Leigh Perrot off the hook for disinheriting the Austens. If the reader didn’t buy that Henry’s bankruptcy was the DIRECT cause of that disinheritance, JEAL seems to be suggesting that it was an INDIRECT cause, in that it provided some moral justification for that disinheritance.

Someone who seems to taken that interpretation and run with it, bigtime, is Richard A Austen Leigh, JEAL’s son (I am pretty sure he was his son), who wrote the following in JA’s Life and Letters in 1913, having had about 40 years to improve on his father’s ingenious lucubrations:

“About the same time another will was causing great disappointment to the Austen family ; and as Jane was affected by anything that affected her nearest relations,
we must probably attribute to it some share in the rapid decay of her bodily strength. Her uncle, Mr. Leigh Perrot, died at Scarlets on March 28. He was childless,
and left a considerable fortune. As he was also a kind-hearted man and had always shown particular favour to the Austens, it was reasonably expected that they
would reap some immediate benefit under his will. Most of the family were in narrow circumstances, and they had lately been crippled by the failure of Henry's
business and the lawsuit about Edward's Hampshire property; a legacy, therefore, would have been very acceptable. Mr. Leigh Perrot, however, was actuated in
making his will by a stronger motive than love to sister and nephews. [We ought not to forget that he had just lost 10,000 in the bankruptcy of his nephew Henry.]
He was devoted to his wife, and was perhaps anxious to show that his devotion was increased in consequence of the false accusation with which she had been
assailed at Bath in 1799-1800. “

Here have yet another generation of Austen-Leighs making up some high-octane b.s. in order to cover the tracks of ol’ Uncle Leigh Perrot, and having his father’s
penchant for wanting to have his cake and eat it too.

So Column A is that Uncle L-P was a“kind hearted man”—but if you have a little difficulty swallowing the notion that a kind hearted rich man would completely stiff
his widowed aging sister and her two impecunious daughters, one of whom is dying, after leading them all to believe he was going to take care of them one day in his
will, then how about Column B.

Column B is that the old man REALLY loved his wife SO much, and felt SO bad that she had been unjustly (or was it?) accused of shoplifting 17 years earlier that
he just HAD to stiff his widowed aging sister and her two impecunious daughters, one of whom was dying. That’s Column B.

But…if you have a little difficulty swallowing that whopper, then hell, there’s always Column C, which is that those damned Austens deserved to be stiffed, because
after all, one of them, Henry, had cost Uncle Leigh Perrot L20,000, and so, what’s wrong with a little collective punishment? Teach ‘em a lesson they’ll really understand.

I’d love to see the letter that JA wrote to Martha Lloyd after the disinheritance, the letter that surely got destroyed by somebody, in which JA wrote what she REALLY
thought about the whole situation.

“Arnie, I'm fascinated with your discoveries and amazed that JEAL would change a word in a letter in so blatant a way. I wonder if we have originals of all the letters he
quotes in the Memoir, because it would be interesting to compare them to the texts in the book.”

Diane, I am too lazy to go and check and see which of the letters has as its only source JEAL’s Memoir. We already know he is the only source for several statements
he attributes to JA (such as, e.g., what happens to some of her characters after the end of the novels), and I’d say, given his evident willingness on a number of occasions
in the Memoir to bend truth to his own purposes, that he’s about as reliable a source as a $3 bill. And that is probably only the tip of the iceberg.

I had a low opinion about JEAL as a Memoirist before we started this group read, but now it has sunk further than the Dow sank in October, 2008—I mean, LOW!

Thinking about Iago, what would be the capper would be if someone finds a letter one day written by JEAL to Uncle Leigh Perrot in April, 1816, in which he leads off
by sympathizing with the old man for his grievous financial loss from Henry’s bankruptcy; and moves right along to assuring his uncle that the rumor which surely Uncle
had heard, that Mrs. Norris was really a veiled portrait of Mrs. Leigh Perrot, couldn’t possibly be true; and then hit ‘im right between the eyes with the claim that the
small army of folks who all said that Henry really was at fault for the bankruptcy were just a pack of malicious slanderers; and then finish with the philosophical
observation that it was only human nature, and therefore not anything to get bent about, that the Austens were taking bets among themselves as to how much
Uncle Leigh Perrot was going to leave to each of them, although he, JEAL, being a future man of the cloth, would never in a million years think about inheritance
when there was God’s work to be done in the world, etc etc.

I mean, really, I would not put ANY of that past JEAL. He was, as Mrs. Norris might have said, a real piece of work. (and thanks to Henry Fielding for inspiring me
to this little flight of fantasy).


P.S. And thank you, EB-T, for your positive response to my ideas

The News that Really Made Jane Austen Sicker PART THREE

As soon as I sent my second message on this subject, I started to wonder if it was possible that I was the first person to catch James Edward Austen Leigh (JEAL) red-handed, and, if so, how that could be, given that Jane Austen's (JA’s) April 1817 letter to Charles Austen was first published in toto as early as Chapman’s first edition of JA’s letters, which was a VERY long time ago! Well, it turns out that I am not the first, D.W. Harding spotted the issue in 1965, as I just found out via Google Books. But...the story of the trajectory of this meme is, as with everything else about JEAL's deceptions, very interesting to trace and analyze, as I have so enjoyed doing the past hour:

So, Ron, when you wrote, in Austen L, "Arnie, to my mind this reasoning is a stroke of genius. ", you are very very kind, and I deeply appreciate your praise, but as this message will demonstrate, I cannot claim priority on this point. But, as must be evident from my messages today, I LOVE this stuff, and I am glad you enjoyed reading the fruits of my labors! ;)

Anyway, back to business. First, here is what D.W. Harding wrote as a footnote in his 1965 edition of Persuasion and The Memoir:

“Henry’s bankruptcy occurred in March 1816, but the letters that Austen-Leigh goes on to quote date from 1817 and refer to the disappointment the family felt at the will of James Leigh Perrot, Mrs. Austen’s brother. Although he made large bequests to members of the family, all were subject to his widow’s life interest. They were none of them well off, except Edward [Austen Knight], and had hoped for immediate benefit. Where Austen-Leigh quotes her as saying ‘I am the only one of the party who has been so silly’, she actually wrote ‘I am the only one of the legatees who…’

Note that Harding (who of course is famous for coining the term “regulated hatred” to describe JA’s literary state of mind), zeroed in on the same two key points that I did, being the change of “legatees” to “party” and the conflation of letters from 1816 with the April 1817 letter to Charles Austen. But Harding, after deploying the key evidence of JEAL’s guilt, abruptly stops and leaves the unseemly conclusion about JEAL's shenanigans COMPLETELY unspoken! Wuzzup with that????

I checked further, and, as far as I can tell from the Internet, Harding's footnote about this has only been noticed once, by Kathryn Sutherland, at P. 251 of HER 2002 edition of the Memoir. But...I cannot read that whole page 251 on Google Books, and I don't have the print copy of her edition in my house, and so if anyone reading here DOES have that edition, PLEASE post any comments that Sutherland may have made, beyond what I know she did, which was to point out JEAL's change of "legatees' to "party". It seems as though Sutherland did not make any comment beyond that, or even make any comment about Harding's footnote, so perhaps Sutherland independently rediscovered the change on her own, as I did, but, unlike myself, did not realize the significance?

But back to Harding for now, pending more info about Sutherland's take on this question.

As I said, above, I wondered why Harding would have failed to explicitly state such an explosive and important conclusion? First, Harding was not exactly shy or avoidant of controversy in the world of Janeites, and, even in other footnotes to the Memoir, he did not hesitate to point out a couple of other distortions and bowdlerizations by JEAL. So, why did he fail to explicitly “land the plane” in this most egregious instance of all? After all, this deception by JEAL goes to the heart of the Memoir as a reliable source of information about JA. JEAL's willingness to go to such lengths to obfuscate this point dramatically illustrates what an unreliable memoirist he really was. Not only was he prepared to keep general Austen family secrets, he was prepared to keep secrets that mattered only to him personally!

So why would Harding drop the ball in this way, and, by not giving prominence to his discovery, give aid and comfort in the perpetuation of such a serious lie in the Memoir? One possibility is that Harding did not know about JEAL inheriting Scarlets from the Leigh Perrots, and so did not realize that JEAL had a very personal motive for twisting the reality of the effect of the disinheritance on JA’s health. If Harding was not aware of that crucial fact, then he might plausibly have interpreted JEAL’s outrageous deception of his readers as just another Austen family attempt to keep unseemly family skeletons in the closet, and therefore not really worthy of explicit exposure. But, had Harding realized that JEAL not only had committed this literary “crime”, but also had personal motivation that was not shared by all the Austen descendants, but was uniquely JEAL’s, then perhaps Harding would have wished to more aggressively and prominently present his point.

My guess is that Harding, being a very sharp and a very skeptical guy, wondered why JEAL would make up this lie and go to the trouble of carefully concealing it, And then Harding would have readily learned that JEAL inheriting Scarlets.

So…I think the culprit behind Harding’s partial abetting of JEAL’s deception was not Harding, but Harding’s publisher, which, in 1965, in what seems to me to be an excess of editorial squeamishness (and perhaps a desire not to offend the many living descendants of JEAL), did not permit Harding to explicitly draw the obvious conclusion, but compromised by letting him put out the evidence standing alone.

Supporting this inference by me is the very curious fact that Harding’s discovery of JEAL’s deception is relegated to a footnote at the very end of the volume (P. 399 out of 399!), instead of being mentioned in his Introduction to the Memoir in that same edition. Obviously a whole lot more people were going to read the Introduction than were ever going to read the buried footnote!

And what makes that omission of same from the Introduction even more curious is that Harding Introduction DID echo another one of his footnotes, the one about JEAL referring to Edward Austen Knight as the second eldest brother with the following comment regarding same in his Introduction: “[JEAL] followed the family practice of completely ignoring the existence of her defective or handicapped brother…”

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Harding, writing in 1965, and NOT being the one “breaking the story” about the collective Austen family attempt to hide the existence of JA’s brother George Austen, explicitly mentions the hiding of George Austen the younger in both his Introduction and a footnote. But Harding’s detection of JEAL’s outright lying, being a genuine news story in the burgeoning world of modern Austen studies, is relegated to a footnote only, and one that only implies, but does not make explicit, JEAL’s wrongdoing.

“Very interesting….”, as Arte Johnson used to say, “…but deceitful!”


P.S.: By the way, it just occurs to me that the principal reason why Letter 157 survived to be read by the world is precisely that it was written to Charles Austen, not to Cassandra, who surely would have reduced it to ashes as being far too revealing of dirty Austen family secrets of a particularly explosive kind. But I suspect CEA did not even know of the letter’s existence, and fortunately it passed down to Charles’s granddaughters who eventually sold it during the 1920s to Chapmans, who published it.

And….taking this line of thinking one step further, now I understand better why JEAL quoted from Charles’s letter, and chose to grapple with this issue head on, as opposed to simply ignoring it. It was precisely because he became aware at some point of its existence and the explosive material it contained (perhaps from correspondence between him and Charles’s daughter, Cassandra-Esten, JEAL’s first cousin), and he was attempting a preemptive strike to neutralize it if Letter 157 were to be published, which it eventually was. By just changing a single word, “party”, etc., his clever stratagem did apparently work for nearly a century, and even after that, has remained universally unnoticed until 01/20/2010.

Why I love this stuff so much is that the world of Jane Austen is such a seamless web of biography, reading of fiction, and literary criticism, and questions like Diane's can lead those so inclined, like myself, on an endless ride, to and fro, along the various strands of that web. I feel a little like Jake in Avatar, flying around Pandora, soaking up its endless wonders! ;)

The News that Really Made Jane Austen Sicker

The following is a sequence of two messages that I sent this afternoon to the Janeites and Austen groups, responding to one comment made by Diane Reynolds, who has ably been leading a group discussion there on the subject of James Edward Austen Leigh’s 1870 Memoir of Jane Austen. My second message is a correction of part of my first message, and I have copied them both here, because I think the sequence is interesting.

Diane actually began as follows, in relevant part:

“In Chapter 11 of The Memoir, James Edward Austen-Leigh describes the decline and death of JA….. The chapter opens with ‘Early in the year 1816 some family troubles disturbed the usually tranquil course of Jane Austen’s life; and it is probable that the inward malady, which was to prove ultimately fatal, was already felt by her ..’ We don't learn what those "family troubles" are, though I have a dim recollection of her brother's bank failure, and there is no explanation for what appears an implicit linking of these outer troubles with JA's "inward malady.' "

That sets the stage for my two responses, as follows:


Diane, you have zeroed in on a very interesting question here. In my considered opinion, the passage you questioned may be the single most disingenuous, self-serving and even despicable passage written by JEAL in the entire Memoir, and I will try to explain why I feel so strongly about this.

Indeed, it does appear from the passage you point to that JEAL is subtly laying some blame for JA's ill health at the door of Henry's bankruptcy, which, as far as we know, was THE major bad news in the Austen family in the first months of 1816 (it occurred in March 1816). Superficially, it seems like a very plausible suggestion on JEAL's part, and if we didn't have any other background, we would have no reason to look behind his comments. However, I believe this innuendo about Henry does not stand up to closer scrutiny, and actually smacks of something out of Iago's playbook--the "inadvertent" slander.

So let's look at the other evidence. As I read the letters from late 1815 and the first half of 1816, what I see is that they are all overflowing with JA's elation over her completion of Emma, and its publication. Unless I have overlooked something, there is not a word in any of them about JA herself feeling ill, let alone about her feeling ill because of Henry's troubles. JA is on a massive high, she has reached the heights, people are beginning to know who she is and she is horsing around with new friends like the Countess Morley.

That of course does not negate the possibility that the stress from Henry's travails did make JA sicker--and if it had happened, JA was highly unlikely to complain about such a thing to her nieces and nephews (who were her sole familial correspondents during that time). But the high she was on from the giddiness of the encounters with Haden the apothecary, the whole charade she carried on with Stanier Clarke, etc etc, is not pretended, this is real, and I believe it muted the negative effects of whatever illness she was suffering then, and overpowered even the distress of Henry's bankruptcy.
But far more important in this analysis is what we DO know about extrinsic events having an adverse effect on JA's health during the last years of her life. JEAL makes sure to include this innuendo pointing the finger at Henry for making JA sicker, but JEAL utterly ignores the one AND ONLY extrinsic event that occurred during the last two years of JA's life which she herself EXPLICITLY referred to as having a drastically bad effect on her health! To wit: check out the following passage from Letter 157, Sunday April 6, 1817 {when was Easter Sunday that year?], to Charles Austen (who was then staying in London):

"A few days ago my complaint appeared removed, but I am ashamed to say that the shock of my Uncle's Will brought on a relapse, & I was so ill on friday & thought myself so likely to be worse that i could not but press for Cassandra's returning with Frank after the Funeral last night...I am the only one of the Legatees who has been so silly, but a weak Body must excuse weak Nerves. My mother has borne the forgetfulness of HER extremely well....."

Is it just a coincidence that we have this passage in a letter written by JA in April 1817, which harps on that exact theme of extrinsic stress exacerbating JA's illness? The next question is, did JEAL have any idea about what a shock JA suffered when she, her sister and her mother heard that Uncle Leigh Perrot had [quoting Le Faye] "left everything to his wife for her lifetime, with the reversion of a large sum to James Austen and his heirs, and of L1,000 each to those of Mrs. Austen's younger children who should survive Mrs. LP." ? You might wonder, perhaps he did not know of the existence of Letter 157, and did not know about that.

Well, that doesn't stand up, because something else JEAL wrote in the Memoir shows that he was aware of the family dynamics which made that testamentary omission of JA, CEA and Mrs. Austen so shocking and upsetting. Look at this other bit of memoiristic doubletalk on this very subject:

"I do not know how early the alarming symptoms of her malady came on. It was in the following March [i.e., 1817] that I had the first idea of her being seriously ill. It had been settled that about the end of that month, or the beginning of April, I should spend a few days at Chawton, in the absence of my father and mother, who were just then engaged with Mrs Leigh Perrot in arranging her late husband's affairs; but Aunt Jane became too ill to have me in the house, and so I went instead to my sister Mrs Lefroy at Wyards'."

So JEAL zeroes in on precisely that moment when JA wrote that letter to Charles, but taking subtle pains to make it sound like he has given the reader the lowdown on the Leigh Perrot inheritance, while remaining utterly silent about the reason WHY JA becoming too ill for him to visit the house!

But why would JEAL go to such lengths to create the false appearance of Henry's bankruptcy having been a contributing factor to JA's decline, instead of the shock of the disinheritance by Uncle Leigh Perrot? That one is easy, and it's the same answer I gave a few weeks ago for why JEAL never mentions Aunt Leigh Perrot's famous trial for shoplifting. To wit, when Mrs. Leigh Perrot died in 1836, JEAL became the squire of the Leigh Perrot estate, Scarlets. So, if JEAL was aware of how devastating an effect that disinheritance had upon JA's health, he had every self-serving reason NOT to mention it! Ultimately, he was the primary beneficiary of that disinheritance of the Austen women!!!

What I find not merely self serving, but despicable, is that JEAL protests too much. He could have just left the subject of extrinsic events triggering health declines for JA silent, but he has a further agenda. He knows about JA having been devastated by the disinheritance, and so he wants to put the kibosh on that meme. And his method was to go to the trouble of implying very strongly that it must have been some event OTHER than the disinheritance which so adversely affected JA's health, and then mentioning the Leigh Perrot inheritance and NOT connecting it to JA's health.

It's all too pat, it sounds like "spin" that is specifically designed to address the question of JA's health as impacted by family news, but then point to a superficially plausible cause that preserves the reputation of the Leigh Perrots, JEAL's benefactors.


As I was preparing to post that same message on my blog, I went back to the text of Chapter XI of the Memoir to quote the actual passage originally quoted by Diane, and only then realized that the case for JEAL's disingenuousness, self-interest and despicacity (I know it's not a word, but it sounds good!) is much stronger than I had realized. In light of what I will show you, below, the evidence of JEAL's intentional duplicity is overwhelming and 100% conclusive.

Specifically, I had not reread the ENTIRE opening paragraph of Chapter XI, which reads as follows [I put certain excerpts in all caps for emphasis]:

"Early in the year 1816 some family troubles disturbed the usually tranquil course of Jane Austen's life; and it is probable that the inward malady, which was to prove ultimately fatal, was already felt by her; for some distant friends whom she visited in the spring of that year, thought that her health was somewhat impaired, and observed that she went about her old haunts, and recalled old recollections connected with them in a particular manner, as if she did not expect ever to see them again. It is not surprising that, UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES, some of her letters were of A GRAVER TONE than had been customary with her, and expressed resignation rather than cheerfulness. In reference to these troubles IN A LETTER TO HER BROTHER CHARLES, after mentioning that she had been laid up with an attack of bilious fever, she says: 'I live upstairs for the present and am coddled. I am the only one of the PARTY who has been so silly, but a weak body must excuse weak nerves.' "

JEAL's audacious lying is positively breathtaking! It is now clear that JEAL DID read Letter 157 (that JA wrote to brother Charles), and it is especially clear because JEAL quotes from it! And not just quotes from it, but quotes from the most important line in that letter! Or should I say, MISquotes from that line in Letter 157. The smoking gun of JEAL's culpability is the word "party" in that last sentence. In the original letter, that word was "legatees", and of course it is apparent why JEAL made this change. He correctly judged that by changing that single word, and also using the phrase "under these circumstances" in his own sentence introducing that quotation, he could completely alter the context of that sentence. JA's bilious attack is presented as the ultimate effect of Henry Austen's bankruptcy (with the intervening passage of 13 months cleverly obscured). And, what's more, the exhilaration of JA's Spring 1816 letters is actively denied by referring to letters of "a graver tone". Really, this is the kind of lying you expect in modern political campaigns!

So it turns out that what could at least theoretically have been a coincidence is not a coincidence at all, it was a completely intentional deception, where JEAL's agenda of whitewashing the devastating effect of the Leigh Perrot disinheritance was accomplished by smearing the memory of Henry Austen.

And it now is also clear that my analogy of JEAL to Iago turns out to be incredibly apt, because Iago's technique was exactly the same, not merely misleading, but turning truth COMPLETELY upside down, by deploying the damning evidence against Leigh Perrot as evidence against Henry Austen, and leaving it to the reader (i.e., Othello) to connect the dots. JEAL may as well have purloined one of Henry Austen's handkerchiefs and dropped it in JA's sickroom!

What incredible chutzpah---you almost, as with Iago, have to admire the technique, even as you deplore the horrible immorality!

And don't forget what is perhaps the sharpest irony of all. JEAL was a CLERGYMAN, and, compared to this sort of wicked deception perpetrated on the world by a clergyman, Mr. Collins and James Stanier Clarke seem like holy saints. JEAL claimed that JA never represented real people in her novels, but he neglected to point out that HE did not always represent real people in his Memoir!


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jane Austen and Miss Bates the great talkers on little matters

The following is what I wrote nearly two years ago in Janeites, in response to someone's comment about Jane Austen (JA) not writing about happy spinsters, and I believe what I wrote even more strongly today than I did when I wrote it then. It's no coincidence that Henry Austen, James Edward Austen Leigh and so many others (especially the male critics) tried to minimize JA's literary achievements, constantly paying her the backhanded compliment of saying, yes, she created perfection, but on a tiny stage. JA was well aware that her writing would seem like it was concerned with "small potatoes" to readers without deep insight, and what better way to covertly laugh at those minimizers than by covertly depicting herself as Miss Bates, literature's most famous talker on little matters, and inviting those same readers to minimize Miss Bates? JA (and Miss Bates, in the novel) had the last laugh, albeit a very private one.


My Feb. 2008 message (my comments are not in quotes):

"Austen did not write a story about a happy spinster because stories about Happy spinsters did not sell very well then and don't sell well now, unless the woman is of a certain age."

Uh.....Miss Bates? I think Miss Bates is JA's most beautiful and delicate self portrait. It is only because we see Miss Bates through Emma's eyes that she seems to be a motormouth ditz..Just ask Agatha Christie----Miss Marple is one part Miss Bates, one part Miss Austen.

"They do not want to see her a a woman who looked about her with clear eyes eyes, who saw things as they were but was not a bitter, biting, nasty old woman.
How can people find solace and comfort in a bitter, hatefilled, frustrated old maid?"

I for one don't believe JA was a bitter hate-filled frustrated old maid. But I DO believe she often, and very cleverly, expressed a great deal of bitter, sarcastic, ironic feelings and perceptions in her letters and novels. Much of it veiled.

She was like most people, with a great deal of anger and bitterness, but also with an even greater deal of love and empathy. The balance with her was definitely positive. But make no mistake, Miss Mitford was entirely correct when she characterized JA as a local terror, someone who was feared by all local hypocrites and snobs for what she might say to them.