(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, February 26, 2010

An allusion to Chapter 10 of the Biblical Book of Proverbs in One of JA's novels

If anyone who is interested in Jane Austen's deployment of her Biblical knowledge in her novels would like to play a little guessing game over the weekend, I just discovered a very cool allusion to Chapter 10 of the Biblical Book of Proverbs in one of JA's novels.

Besides pointing you to Chapter 10 of Proverbs, here are a few further hints that will give you a fair chance of discovering it with a reasonable amount of effort, if you enjoy this sort of sleuthing. The allusion is in two parts--the first part is spoken by a female character in one chapter, and the other part is spoken by a male character in a later chapter. Both parts are spoken in the presence of a heroine, and both of the statements which comprise the allusion ALREADY overtly characterize a third (male) character in an UNflattering light, even if you are entirely unaware of the allusion to the proverb. However, when you see the allusion, you readily perceive that the allusion underscores the negative depiction of that third (male) character, raising the level of criticism of his character and behavior to (literally) Biblical proportions.

If you get the answer, please send it to me by private email at I will give the answer here on Monday at 5 pm EST.

Quick P.S. to the above:

In following up on the above allusion to Chapter 10 of the Biblical Book of Proverbs, I just discovered that the allusion actually is in THREE parts--the part which I just found now is actually the first of the three to appear in the chronology of the chapters in JA's novel. It is very slyly, but extensively, embedded in the narration of an interaction between the heroine and the male character unflatteringly depicted by that very proverb. And....I also discovered during my quick followup that the third part of the allusion is actually more extensive than I at first realized. The allusion is truly hiding in plain sight!

The gestalt is a particularly beautiful and powerful example of how JA spread her allusions across her novels to be perceived in a subliminal way, which was however legitimately accessible, via a variety of clever hints, to a reader who was familiar with the Book of Proverbs, as she so obviously was, and who enjoyed a game of literary sleuthing. Plus, JA, like Agatha Christie, played fair with her readers by giving lots of clues, scattered here and there in an apparently random fashion.

And it is also characteristic of all the other elements of her shadow stories that I have discovered, such that when you assemble all the pieces of the verbal "jigsaw puzzle" and fit them together in their original order and significance before she jumbled them up, just as Frank, Jane, Harriet and Emma do at Box Hill, you find that they "spell" a meaning which is powerful and which flies straight and true to the moral and psychological center and heart of the novel.

JA's writing was truly a treasure beyond rubies.

Cheers, ARNIE

The Gatekeeper in the Jane Austen Duplex

"I'm sorry Arnie, but I cannot follow your reasoning; it's too tenuous and unsupported."

And first I also thank you, David, for your usual courteous (and utterly predictable) disagreement, and second, I add that I am certain that JA would have both expected, and been fascinated by, the utterly different cognitive/perceptual universes in which her current readers live. Truly two different worlds. For you, there is only one door to a one-story "house", for me, a half dozen doors to a two-story "house".

Yes, it is undeniable that you represent the current majority of Janeites, and I represent a significant minority, of those respective groups. However, it is also clear to anyone who has, as I have, read most of the scholarly literature about JA, that the demographics have been slowly but steadily shifting in my group's favor for over half a century. And if we take as our benchmark Janeites who have actually read all of the novels themselves, the demographics are more favorable still to my "family". It is only under the spell of the actual written words of Jane Austen, as opposed to film adaptations, however well done, that some readers find ourselves drawn to the squeaky doors which lead to the second story.

And I hasten to add, the differences between our two opposed camps are NOT a matter of either intelligence, literacy, or passionate engagement with JA's novels. It is clear that both perceptual camps are populated by folks who have an abundance of all these worthy characteristics.

What divides us, I believe, is that some of us are wearing the spectacles that, as in the film National Treasure, make the other story consciously visible, and others, like you, refuse to don the spectacles, claiming that the spectacles are not lenses, but mirrors.

It's no coincidence in this regard that we hear a great deal about Mrs. Bates's spectacles, but also Sir Walter's mirrors--JA was perfectly cognizant that she was confronting all of her readers with this dilemma of choosing between helpful lenses or self-deluding mirrors.

I pointed out the following recent and dramatic illustration of this trend several months ago--when Rozema's Mansfield Park came out a decade ago, it was greeted with widespread dismay and condemnation, among amateur and academic Janeites alike, for its depiction of the slavery subtext of the novel. At the July 2009 conference at Chawton, however, fully ten percent of the 70 presenters had as their topic some aspect of that same slavery subtext. And the 1999 Janeite world's leading denier of the existence of such slavery subtext, John Wiltshire, was there, a decade later, in the audience at several of those sessions at Chawton House, not merely not denying its existence, but actively embracing it in questions and comments posed to the presenters.

Those of you who participated in, or at least observed, the massive 2006 thrash in this our own Janeites group, on the subject of the MP slavery subtext, where widespread denial was the norm, will find this news interesting, I think.

I am a firm believer in Thomas Kuhn's model of paradigm shifts, so I believe this trend will only continue, and I will continue to do my best to help it along. As will, each in our own way, well-known pioneers of Austen scholarship such as Jill Heydt-Stevenson, Brian Southam, Jocelyn Harris, David Nokes, Claudia Johnson, Kathryn Sutherland, and Fiona Stafford, as well as less well known, but equally creative, Janeite scholarly pioneers such as Jim Heldman, John Dussinger, Barbara Thaden, WJ Harvey, and many others---amongst which group I, as well as several other members of our own Janeites group, aspire to belong, each in our own distinctive way.

I believe more firmly than ever before that JA created her parallel fictional universes for reasons which she found (and I find still to be) compelling, and I am doing my best to honor and celebrate her efforts, and to bring those reasons to the attention of the Janeite world.

Until then, I imagine the great Janeite Rudyard Kipling's dichotomy will continue to hold for a good while longer---the only place where the (Mark) Twain between our respective "families" shall meet is is in this group, which is, in a way, very much like the narrow, twisting staircase between the two stories--where we will find Miss Bates as the gatekeeper, garrulously and hospitably keeping us all company! ;)


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Jane Austen Code

In relevant part, Anielka Briggs also posted the following earlier today in Austen L and Janeites:

"....The joke is either (i) that Mrs. Austen assumes every childbirth is attended with trauma and the potential death of the mother. Not particularly funny as Elizabeth Knight nee Bridges did indeed die as a result of childbirth the day after the letter was completed and so the joke prediction was correct and in very poor taste. Rather surprising Cassandra didn't get her scissors to that one....... Unless she thought it was funny...... or (ii) [re: old "Mrs." Elizabeth Knight]....So unless Mrs. Cassandra Austen was blessed with the prescience of her namesake or the letter is a complete forgery or she and her two daughters are plotting murder in code, she couldn't possibly really have being preparing mourning clothes."

The passage she referred to was, again, the following paragraph in Letter 57:

"“My mother is preparing mourning for Mrs. E. K.; she has picked her old silk pelisse to pieces, and means to have it dyed black for a gown -- a very interesting scheme, though just now a little injured by finding that it must be placed in Mr. Wren's hands, for Mr. Chambers is gone. As for Mr. Floor, he is at present rather low in our estimation. How is your blue gown? Mine is all to pieces. I think there must have been something wrong in the dye, for in places it divided with a touch. There was four shillings thrown away, to be added to my subjects of never-failing regret.”

Here is what I just wrote in response:

Anielka, in my considered opinion, you've gotten close with scenario (i), but... you misread the tea leaves at the last minute. It does not require (to use your own mocking phrase, which you unmistakably directed at me) "a brain as large as a planet" to see it--all you need is a familiarity with what I dubbed, in January 2005, the Jane Austen Code.

But, as Lizzy Bennet suggests in P&P, "Do not let us quarrel about the past", so I will now explain what I see on the subject of Mrs. Austen's mysterious mourning clothes.

What I have found repeatedly to be the case is that JA, in her letters, used her mother (or Martha Lloyd or some other close female acquaintance) as a kind of "straw woman" for put-on messages--here are two instances where JA used the phrase "My mother wants to know...." which I find quite suspicious:

P. 31: "My mother wants to know whether Edward has ever made the Hen House which they planned together"

P. 35: "Pray mention the name of Maria Montresor's Lover when you write next, my Mother wants to know it, & I have not courage to look back into your letters to find it out."

I am skeptical that JA's mother really wanted to know either or both of those facts, partly because they seem rather silly, but partly also because JA gave us all a clue to this sort of playful practice, when, in P&P, she put the following words into Darcy's mouth, describing her favorite heroine Elizabeth Bennet's delight in put-ons:

"....I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know, that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own...."

What I am claiming is that JA herself found equal enjoyment in occasionally ATTRIBUTING to others opinions which in fact WERE her own!

So, back to the above passage in Letter 57, I see this reference to her mother's mourning clothes in exactly the same put-on light. I also start from the opinion I have sincerely held for some time, based on all the facts we know about the Austen family history, which is that after the 1805 death of Revd. Austen, the Austen women were condemned to live in a kind of limbo of totally inadequate housing--and the one person who was in the best position to take them from limbo to paradise was Edward Austen Knight-yet he failed to provide them with the keys to Chawton Cottage for FOUR LONG YEARS.

Thnk about it. Edward Austen Knight woke up every day for 1,461 days, and thought, "I am NOT going to provide adequate housing to my mother and sisters today". At least John Dashwood's decision to stiff his mother and sisters out of his father's precatory deathbed request was made during ten minutes of conversation with his wife, and then what was done was done. Edward had to re-make this decision every day for all that long time period. The example of Fanny and John Dashwood's "King Lear" conversation makes you wonder whether JA thought that Edward, perhaps, had not made this decision entirely on his own, and, indeed, did not require repeated reminders from his wife as to why they really could not afford to be too generous to his mother and sisters.

All we know for sure is that when Edward Austen Knight's wife dies, within ELEVEN DAYS thereafter, BOOM!----apparently out of nowhere, EAK makes the decision to provide the Austen women with Chawton Cottage. Look at Letter 60, dated 10/24-25/08, if you don't believe me. It's astoundingly obvious when you connect the dates AND the dots. And that is why I am far, far from being the only scholar to reject the claim of coincidence. I am among the many who believe that it was precisely the death of the sister in law who carried such an animus toward JA which was the salvation of the Austen women.

And it is through the lens of that situation that I view this "mourning" paragraph in Letter 57. It seems totally understandable why JA, writing Letter 57 precisely at the moment when Elizabeth Knight first seemed certain to die in childbirth, but then made an (apparently) miraculous recovery, should indulge in some major humor as black as the dye she suggests her mother wants to apply to her gown.

Talk about a moment of massive moral conflict and turmoil! Here we have JA, being the moral, decent, honorable person she really was, who would not wish for the death of a relative, EVEN a relative who was the sole and inplacable obstacle to the well-being of the Austen women, and, equally important, to JA's own literary aspirations. In that last regard, every Austen scholar has pointed out the undeniable fact that it was only after JA moved to Chawton Cottage that the publications began and then continued in an increasing flow.

But counterpoised against all those considerations, we have the natural, human anticipation that if by the omnipotent hand of god Elizabeth Austen Knight were to die, the Austen women's plight would likely be quickly eased.

Is it any wonder, then, that when the word came down to JA (completely wrong, as it turned out) that Elizabeth was NOT going to die after all, there HAD TO be a lot of crazy, mixed-up feelings churning around inside JA, back there in Southampton, far away from Godmersham, listening to her mother's complaining about this and that--like Jane Bennet holding down the fort at Longbourne waiting for Lizzy aka the cavalry, to arrive to provide crucial reinforcement. It must have made JA feel completely crazy.

And so, out of the cauldron of all that emotional turmoil would naturally bubble up a joke about Mrs. Austen preparing for mourning, something that her mother had probably said the week BEFORE---and it would be very funny indeed, to both JA and CEA, in the darkest way--attributing to their mother what must have been a familiar theme, that of "counting your chickens" (which is exactly what Mrs. Austen--and JA-- did in 1816-7 when Uncle Leigh-Perrot died).

And, by the way, don't be so quick to dismiss the notion that CEA held a pillow over Elizabeth Knight's face the night after she received her marching orders from JA via Letter 57, an event that JA memorialized when she wrote the following about the death of the mistress of another great English country estate:

"An express arrived at Randalls to announce the death of Mrs. Churchill! Though her nephew had had no particular reason to hasten back on her account, she had not lived above six-and-thirty hours after his return. A sudden seizure of a different nature from any thing foreboded by her general state, had carried her off after a short struggle. The great Mrs. Churchill was no more. It was felt as such things must be felt. Every body had a degree of gravity and sorrow; tenderness towards the departed, solicitude for the surviving friends; and, in a reasonable time, curiosity to know where she would be buried. Goldsmith tells us, that when lovely woman stoops to folly, she has nothing to do but to die; and when she stoops to be disagreeable, it is equally to be recommended as a clearer of ill-fame. Mrs. Churchill, after being disliked at least twenty-five years, was now spoken of with compassionate allowances."

In regard to "curiosity to know where she would be buried", is it just a coincidence that in Letter 59, dated 10/15-16/08, JA writes, "I suppose you see the Corpse--how does it appear?'

But.....lest anyone take what I just wrote entirely at face value----even I don't really entertain the possibility that CEA actually murdered Elizabeth Knight---but I DO very much believe that JA subliminally DID joke about it, in the most deliciously macabre way, in the subtext of Emma. Let me explain.

I am not the first person to see Frank Churchill as a representation of Edward Austen Knight, but I do believe I am the first to see Mrs. Churchill as a representation of Mrs. Elizabeth Knight--which fits very nicely with my sense of Elizabeth Knight as wearing the "pants" in terms of the decision to deny the Austen women a decent place to live. Viewed in that light, Elizabeth Knight would in that sense be treating EAK AS IF he were a nephew subject to the caprices of a domineering aunt, powerless to object to her demands. But if this was so, there was strange justice in all of this, because while Elizabeth Knight apparently held this power in that domain of withholding largesse from Edward's relations, this may very well have been a quid quo pro for EAK's decision to keep her, his wife, in continuous childbirth from the day they married till the day she died 17 years later!

Cheers, ARNIE
(c) Arnold Perlstein 2010

P.S: I will at the AGM in Portland ALSO explain how all of the above relates to the shadow story of Northanger Abbey!

P.P.S.: I also just did a double-take on what JA wrote on P. 35 about looking back into CEA's letters---it means that at least as late as 1799, JA had retained CEA's letters written to her up till that time. One naturally wonders whether JA maintained that practice till her death, and, if she did, it suggests that the bonfire that CEA started shortly after her sister's death included several hundred letters that CEA had written to JA--what a sad fire that must have been!

(c) Arnold Perlstein 2010

Jane Austen’s Letter 57: the Rosetta Stone of the Sexual Subtext of Northanger Abbey

As promised, the following is the message I have just sent to the online groups:

Jane Austen’s Letter 57: the Rosetta Stone of the Sexual Subtext of Northanger Abbey

Copyright Arnold Perlstein 2010

It was my firm intention yesterday to write up a full-length article on the above subject, pulling together all the findings I have made relevant to this topic, citing extensive passages from the text of both NA and Letter 57, and to then immediately post such article at my blog, and to send messages to all the usual groups directing attention thereto.

But today, after sleeping on that ambitious plan, it seems more than sufficient to instead post a shorter version of same, summarizing my discoveries and analysis of what is a very complex subject, and to include a minimum of textual quotations. This latter strategy had the great advantage of being something I could produce today --so now, a scant few hours later, here it is.

It is my explicit intention in so doing this to publicly stake my claim and all attendant copyright and other legal rights, to the discoveries set forth below, in a way I had not intended to do at present before this thread was initiated, but which I felt it crucial to do once it was. I will be expanding on all of these matters in my book to come.


Before I go any further, however, I wish to take this occasion, in which I will be discussing Northanger Abbey, to announce that I will be one of the breakout session presenters at the upcoming JASNA AGM that will be held over Halloween weekend in Portland, Oregon, the theme of which (if you were not previously aware) is Northanger Abbey:

Letter 57 will be one of the many topics I will be discussing in my presentation, as I will place my above-described discoveries in a much larger context than I will outline below. I had not intended to make this announcement till later, when the title and actual time of my session will be posted online by JASNA along with all the other breakout sessions, but this subject of Letter 57 coming up presented me with the perfect opportunity to let you all know.


But back to the subject at hand. Because I will not be extensively quoting from NA or Letter 57, it will be necessary for those of you who wish to suss out all my claims, to have copies of both Northanger Abbey and Letter 57 at hand. Whether you don’t take my word for it, or whether you do, if you want to know whether I really have the goods I claim to, in terms of the connections between letter and novel which I outline, below, I urge you to go through this exercise. That is the only way you will be able to fully verify to your own satisfaction whether my central argument, below, is a valid one, and also to fully appreciate the context of what I am going to tell you. Had I quoted all the relevant text from Northanger Abbey to make my case and also give you the full context, this message would have been five times as long as it already is.

For those who are unaware, here are searchable online texts for both:

Those of you who wish to do this the old-fashioned way, with the two books in hand to be thumbed through, will, I fear, have a dreadfully difficult time of it—word searches are a beautiful thing and an indispensable took in studying JA’s literary artistry. Otherwise, you will be doing a lot of searching for needles in haystacks.

However you choose to approach it, I can promise you hours of great sleuthing enjoyment, if you enjoy that kind of thing, as I obviously do. And if you do it, I’d really REALLY like to hear, either in one of these groups, or in my blog, what your reactions are! Some people don’t seem to be very shy about pointing out my errors in these posts of mine, and it would mean a lot to me if those of you who actually enjoy what I do would voice your approval publicly more often.


Let me be clear first off about one thing--what I will reveal in this post is not “THE” meaning of the coded jokes contained in JA’s Letter 57 dated 10/7-9/08, but is, rather, ONE significant domain of meaning pertaining to same. By this I mean to emphasize, right off the bat, that with JA, I have found it to be universally the case that it is almost never correct to claim that there is ONLY one definitive meaning of any of her subtextual shadow allusions and references. So even though I am confident that what I am telling you about today is both valid and extremely significant, I do not claim it to be the exclusive meaning—in fact, I myself am aware of other meanings hidden in Letter 57, which I will be disclosing in my book.

As I discovered in November, 2007, when I first sat down and did the same kind of close reading of Letter 57 as all good Janeites strive to bring to bear in reading JA’s novels, Letter 57 is densely packed with jokes and coded references to pseudo-events, to a degree that, to the best of knowledge after careful study, is not the case with any of the other surviving JA letters. Letter 57 is sui generis among her letters. That is why I selected it in particular to urge Anielka, in November, 2007, to read Letter 57 very carefully.

In that sense, Letter 57 therefore is very very analogous to Emma-the-novel, which also has been described by countless Janeites, scholars (like Edmund Wilson) and amateurs alike, as being qualitatively different from the other novels, in this same way. They both can be described as literary La Brea Tar Pits, with hidden meanings buried just under the surface in every direction where you turn your gaze. And in particular, there is a striking resonance of each of the riddling paragraphs in Letter 57 to the “courtship” charade in Chapter 9 of Emma, which itself is, as I have found, and have begun to reveal publicly, a Rosetta Stone for the full interpretation of Emma.


So, why do I claim that Letter 57 is a Rosetta Stone for Northanger Abbey? In a nutshell, because the coded paragraphs of Letter 57 collectively contain a cluster of about twenty words and phrases which are ALL deployed by JA in the text of NA, some of them repeatedly, in passages which I had ALREADY PREVIOUSLY identified as being part of the sexual subtext of the novel, solely from reading the text of the novel itself, without reference to any outside sources such as Letter 57.

So you can imagine my astonishment and joy when I first realized that these dozen keywords were present in both Letter 57 and in NA!

Let me immediately add another caveat—most of these words and phrases also appear in JA’s other novels, and often in a shadowy sexual context, but in no other of JA’s novels do they all appear, and in no other novel do they appear clustered in a handful of key, particularly sexually charged passages. Letter 57 and NA are inseparably joined at the hip.


Let’s start with the “Mr. Floor” passage in Letter 57:

“My mother is preparing mourning for Mrs. E. K.; she has picked her old silk pelisse to pieces, and means to have it dyed black for a gown -- a very interesting scheme, though just now a little injured by finding that it must be placed in Mr. Wren's hands, for Mr. Chambers is gone. As for Mr. Floor, he is at present rather low in our estimation. How is your blue gown? Mine is all to pieces. I think there must have been something wrong in the dye, for in places it divided with a touch. There was four shillings thrown away, to be added to my subjects of never-failing regret.”

Here are the words and phrases in that one paragraph which ALL point to NA’s sexual subtext:

silk, pelisse, “(all) to pieces”, dyed, gown, injured, Wren’s, Chambers, low, “divided with a touch”, and shillings.

If you search in the text of NA, you will find each of these words, or variants on them, and if you look at the passages where they appear, you will find that they almost all carry a sexual charge of some kind, in many cases a dramatic, almost over-the-top sexual charge, when read “against the grain”.

And…. if you now go to the other coded passages in Letter 57 (Anielka identified most of them in her last message), you will also find the following words and phrases which ALL ALSO point to NA’s sexual subtext:

wind, Chimney, (high) drawers, key, keyhole, Wethered, Foote, reins, and velvet


I have not yet counted them up, but I guess there are at least several dozen total usages of these words in a sexually suggestive context in NA, but my personal favorite, I think, is the following, which is John Thorpe deprecating the performance capabilities of James Morland’s “gig” to Catherine:

“Upon my soul, you might shake it to pieces yourself with a touch.”

It is my favorite because it points to not one, but TWO of the keywords in the “Mr. Floor” paragraph in Letter 57---“to pieces” (which actually appears TWICE in that paragraph) and “with a touch”—and the sexual connotation is identical in both the novel and the letter!

The odds that this multiply determined identity of words and meaning between novel and letter is a coincidence, or even an unconscious act on JA’s part, is, in my opinion, ZERO. Even standing alone, this is a smoking gun---but it becomes a FUSILLADE of smoking guns when you add in all the other connections between letter and novel which I have outlined above.


I deliberately left one word out of the immediately preceding paragraph, so that I could express a special thanks and commendation to Elissa, who did the heavy lifting in pointing me to a particularly elegant and hilarious addition to the above list.

But before I give the details, I also want to particularly thank Elissa for paying me the high compliment of actually, carefully reading what I write in these groups, even when my posts are long--and being sharp enough not only to pick up on my nuances, but to enrich them with her feedback.

The thing I wrote that Elissa paid attention to was the following, regarding the “Mr. Floor” paragraph:

“In addition to the (to me, obvious) sexual innuendo in this passage which I first noticed two+ years ago, and which is very interesting indeed…”

Elissa contacted me to ask exactly what obvious sexual innuendo she was missing, and I was glad to tell her. As I quickly ran down the above-written list of words and phrases, she, being the very sharp elf she is, came back in very short order with the suggestion that the word “Floor” must somehow also be part of that equation, and the further suggestion that the French word for “floor”, “plancher” might be the ticket. I found her suggestion very intriguing, and quickly found a couple of items via Google which were a little promising, and which seemed like they might lead somewhere good. But…. it was then that Elissa made her truly brilliant connection, suggesting that “plonger” sounds a lot like the English word “plunge”.

I recognized immediately that this was a bull’s-eye, and a quick search of JA’s novels showed that it indeed was, as I was not only led to the notorious passage in MP when Mary Crawford cautions her brother not to “plunge [Fanny] deep”, but to two of the very same passages in NA which I had already identified as having strong sexual innuendo and also containing other of those keywords.

As those who take the trouble to followup by actually scouring the text of NA for these various words will note, these words do not appear scattered randomly throughout the entire novel, like lonely orphans. No, these words are densely clustered in a relatively small handful of passages in the novel, and each word is a brick in the wall that is the gestalt of sexual innuendo with which those parts of NA are saturated.


One other connection in this matrix which I particularly like, and which is easy to explain in a short space, is that it provides an unexpected convergence to something I discovered back in July, 2009, when I went to see Troilus & Cressida at the Globe in London after attending the Chawton House conference.

I had not previously been particularly familiar with T&C, but I really enjoyed that production, including Act IV, scene 2, involving Pandarus, Cressida and Troilus:

Pandarus: man, let it sleep? a bugbear take him!

Cressida: Did not I tell you? Would he were knock'd i' the head!

Who's that at door? good uncle, go and see.

My lord, come you again into my chamber:

You smile and mock me, as if I meant naughtily.

Troilus: Ha, ha!

As the whole audience roared at the bawdy joke, it instantly flashed into my mind that this was the principal source for another notorious half-hearted female attempt at modesty:

“Of Rears and Vices I saw enough. Now do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat.”

I hinted at this discovery in my blog in July, 2009, and it is a world of literary interest in its own right, but I mention it now in passing here, because, among all the keywords and phrases which appear in Letter 57 and also appear in a sexual context in Northanger Abbey, the word “CHAMBER” is, if I am not mistaken, the one which appears the MOST among the twenty. In fact, to illustrate why we should be PARTICULARLY suspecting JA of this sexual pun in NA above all--there are ELEVEN usages of the word “chamber” in NA, and only fifteen altogether in all of JA’s other novels COMBINED! And the connection to Mary Crawford and Cressida’s speaking “naughtily” about her “chamber” is the icing on the cake. Again, the chance of coincidence, or of unconscious expression by JA, is, in my opinion, ZERO.


In case any of you were wondering, Jill Heydt-Stevenson deserves praise for picking up on two important aspects of the above matrix. But first, let me reiterate for the third time--even though she did not connect the dots and realize how they were all related, still, as I stated last week, and will state again and again, JHS was the one who blew the door off the room where JA’s sexual innuendoes were concealed. And her “Ha-Ha” article provided a giant personal inspiration to me early in my research to focus in particular on the sexual innuendoes in JA’s novels, which I had myself already haphazardly begun to explore in 2002-4. After reading her article, my search into this area became extensive and systematic, recognizing the centrality of sexual innuendo in JA’s shadow stories.

Anyway, the two “catches” I give JHS credit for (and no doubt there are others I have as yet overlooked) are the following:


The following passage from a ladies’ magazine which JHS quotes in full in her Introduction:

‘A lady having sent a very costly silk gown to be dyed, the dyer very politely carried it home himself, that he might be certain of its being conveyed with care. It so happened that the lady's husband opened the door to him, and being a very proud man, vexed at having condescended to open the door to a low tradesman, asked very angrily what he had in his hand, and whom it was for. ' Sir,' replied the man, ' it is a parcel for the lady of the house.' ' What, for my wife!' answered the gentleman, ' what can you have for my wife ?' ' Sir, 1 dye for your wife.' ' My wife !' 'Yes, Sir, I dye for your wife and her two sisters.' ' You impudent dog,' exclaimed the gentleman, in a violent passion, ' dare you tell me so to my face. Come, some of you, (calling his servants) and kick this presumptuous and ignorant blockhead out of the house.' They were proceeding to put his commands in execution, when the lady luckily came down stairs, (hearing a noise) and not only rescued her gown from the damage it might have sustained in the scuffle, but also the poor man, who for many years had actually dyed for her whole family.’

JHS cites the above passage as evidence of the kind of reading material that JA could easily have read during the era she was writing her novels. But it should be obvious to anyone who reads the above passage alongside the “Mr. Floor” passage in Letter 57 that there’s a MUCH more significant and very specific connection of that quotation to JA’s own writing. JA clearly had read the former before she wrote the latter. It’s far beyond any possibility of coincidence, and it is my speculation that JHS included that 1806 passage because, on a subconscious level, she did recognize the connections—but she can tell us if that is the case or not. And it was equally obvious to me the minute Anielka posted on Monday about Letter 57 and dyers, that she, too had noticed this same connection, while reading JHS’s introduction.


The second “catch” by JHS which is directly relevant to my claims in this post is her excellent, but brief, discussion of sexual innuendoes in Northanger Abbey, which appears in her chapter regarding same, which we will be discussing later in this group read. Suffice for now to say that when you read that chapter in Unbecoming Conjunctions, you will see that, coming from a completely different perspective in reading the text of the novel, JHS points to some of the very same passages in the novel which contain the cluster of keywords I’ve described above.

This is yet another example of what is called CONVERGENT EVIDENCE, and there is a significant synergy between converging lines of evidence, which makes each of them more powerful, as they bolster each other.

As you may already have begun to realize, there are numerous significant implications of this discovery for Austen scholarship in relation to NA. Here are a couple of highlights:


The two existing film adaptations of NA, both the Wadey/Foster 1986 version, and the Davies/Jones 2007 version, have both been maligned for (allegedly) diverging too widely from the text of the novel itself, and also for the lurid sexuality which they both depicted, Davies more so than Wadey.

The connections of Letter 57 to NA are only the tip of the iceberg comprising all the evidence that JA loaded more sexual innuendo, page for page, into NA than any of her other novels, and in aggregate the evidence I will eventually fully present will 1000% vindicate the brilliant intuitions of both Wadey and Davies, in divining some of the secrets of the text of NA. __

I love both adaptations, by the way.


Perhaps some of you are familiar with the many heated and still unresolved controversies in scholarly Janeite circles regarding the composition and revision of NA by JA. If so, you will, I think, be as struck as I am by the very close proximity of the date JA wrote Letter 57 (10/7-9/08) to the date JA wrote ANOTHER much more famous letter, Letter 68(D) dated April 5, 1809 [or four days after April Fool’s Day!] from “Mrs. Ashton Dennis”, in which JA demanded that Crosby publish NA, and further offered to produce another copy of same if somehow Crosby had mislaid the original submitted in 1798.

It is my speculation that one of the reasons JA may have turned Letter 57 into a Rosetta Stone for Northanger Abbey was that she and Cassandra had been separated for quite a while before then [CEA having surely been dispatched to Godmersham to be of vital assistance as a de facto auxiliary governess to the multitude of children of Edward and Elizabeth Austen, as she lay in the final trimester of (her, alas, final) confinement] and JA was reporting to CEA, in code, about JA’s progress in revising NA along some exciting new lines, in particular in regard to the sexual subtext of the novel.

Surely CEA was in 1808 JA’s most intimate confidante, by a long stretch, about all things relative to JA’s novels, and so CEA and JA would have agreed in advance, before CEA left for her extended visit to Godmersham, on how JA would describe her progress to CEA.

Cheers, ARNIE

The Codes of Jane Austen's Letter 57

Anielka Briggs has just written a post to the various Austen online discussion groups about the coded meanings in JA’s Letter 57 dated Oct. 7-9, 1808, which requires me to clarify some history and context regarding same. Her post began as follows: “The whole letter the quote about dyers is taken from is a series of jokes. What no-one seems to have realise two years ago, more than five years ago, or 140 years ago is that no-one had died so no mourning was really being prepared….” and then went into some specific interpretations of Letter 57.

And here is the message I just sent to those groups in reply to her post:


You are aware that I have been very scrupulous about publicly acknowledging that it was less than 24 hours AFTER I privately revealed to you, on October 26-27, 2007, my long-previous discovery of the main idea of the shadow story of Emma [ i.e., that the secretly pregnant Jane Fairfax secretly gave her baby to Mrs. Weston], that you, in turn, made the brilliant and virtually immediate discovery of the name Anna Weston ==> Ann Awe-ston ==> Anna Austen. For 24 hours, you gave me clues and an opportunity to guess this answer, but I was unable to see the transformation, and you had to tell me.

It is important, therefore, in the same vein, to recall some history HERE in regard to my discovery of coded meanings of JA's Letter 57 dated Oct. 7-9, 1808, and your now disclosing this discovery (of mine) to these various groups.

You will recall, I am sure, that beginning on Nov. 1, 2007--[which, for students of the little ironies of history, was within 11 months of being 200 years after Letter 57 was written, and which also was only 5 days AFTER you saw “Ann Aweston” and brought it to my attention]--and then in a series of four or five emails from me to you running until Nov. 6, 2007, I repeatedly urged you, that you should take a very close look at Letter 57, because it contained some really interesting coded references.

In response to my prompting, that was when you, being, as we all know who read along in these groups, a very clever elf, were finally able to realize that “Mr. JA's estimation” was a pun, which was one of the coded meanings in Letter 57 that I had discovered the previous week.

That's the precise context in which I then immediately wrote to you on November 6, 2007, in reply:

"Good for you that you (unlike Le Faye) realized Mr. Floor is not a real person! Is it only a clever joke? I don’t think so. I did take it as a marker that tells the clever reader that this letter is coded in general, and that is when I found the REAL coded messages in the letter. I bet you have not seen them yet…. ;)"

And then our correspondence, for the remainder of its short progression, first focused on one other coded section of Letter 57, which I had identified as particularly significant, and then quickly veered into other topics far afield from Letter 57….

So when you wrote the following today….

“The whole letter the quote about dyers is taken from is a series of jokes. What no-one seems to have realise two years ago, more than five years ago, or 140 years ago is that no-one had died so no mourning was really being prepared.”

…First, it would have been very nice if you had pointed out that it was ME to whom you were so obliquely referring, when you mention the “no-one” who two years ago (when you and I last corresponded) and five years ago (when, as I told you then, and have often stated publicly in these groups, I had my general epiphany about the pervasiveness and coherence of the shadow stories in all of JA’s novels) to as having been the one to pointed out to you that Letter 57 was a kind of epistolary Rosetta Stone.

Now, as to the substance of what you wrote this morning, all I have to say for now is that although my attention was focused on other aspects of Letter 57 back in November, 2007, it is NOT true that I did not also eventually realize, long after you and I were no longer in correspondence, that the mourning references in Letter 57 are not what they seem to be. And I have also been well aware of the (to me, to you, and now also to Diana) obvious joke about “divided with a touch” ever since I discovered, and pointed you to, the coded meanings of Letter 57.

But.....what’s more, I DID figure out nearly a year ago, WHY Letter 57 is written as it is, and, now that this topic has been initiated by you in these discussions, I promise that I will not keep the elves, reading along here who care about this subject, long in waiting for a comprehensive explanation of the mysteries which you pointed out this morning, and others of which I believe you are not aware, and all of which you are currently unable to decipher.

Cheers, ARNIE

Monday, February 22, 2010

More Mr. Floor

The following are a couple of messages I have sent in Janeites and Austen L in response to some responses I received earlier today to my first post about the mysterious Mr. Floor:

MY FIRST FOLLOWUP MESSAGE (in response to the comment in parenthesis which immediately follows):

"I thought that Jane Austen just took the opportunity of Mr. Floor's name to pun on it. That is, she did not make up his name in order to pun-- I find that rather meaningless activity-- but that she saw his name and made a true comment which could also be seen as a pun."

As I said, it could be either way, and frankly, I would argue that it really does not matter whether her pun was opportunistic or generated from thin air. And if it was from thin air, I strenuously object to your finding that a "meaningless activity". Why meaningless?

The funny thing is that the rest of this message, which I composed BEFORE I read your comment, and was just gearing up to hit the "Send" button when your message appeared on my screen, actually functions as a response to your claim of meaninglessness. I would suggest that there was a great deal of very personal and significant meaning in this little pun.

Here goes....

As is almost always the case with one of JA's little gems, I find myself continuing to think about them even after writing a message about them. Here is the further train of thought I just took a quick ride on, and which led, I hope you will agree, to a worthwhile destination.

Let's take one more look at that sentence:

"As for Mr. Floor, he is at present rather low in our estimation."

The pun, once noticed, tends to draw all our attention, and so may tend to discourage further examination of the entire sentence, because we've already "gotten" the joke. But what I just realized when I did revisit that sentence has to do with the TONE in which this sentence would be read aloud. Surely it would be most effectively delivered in a mock-pompous tone, precisely like Mr. Collins or Lady Catherine or one of JA's other phony self-important snobs would say it, trying to elevate themselves at the expense of others. If you think about it, this is NOT something JA herself would say in a serious way. JA was a lot like Holden Caulfield, I think, and had a fully operational pomposity meter going in her head, and so she would be the LAST person to pontificate in such a phony way.

I was instantly reminded of the scene in Davies's P&P, when Lizzy is talking to either Charlotte or Jane about Darcy, and she makes fun of him, as she delivers Darcy's full-of-himself putdown with her nose playfully pointed skyward:

"She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt _me_; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men."

Lizzy repeating Darcy's putdown is not in the novel, but it is, I think, a great example of where Davies was a master of appropriate dramatization of JA's narration.

Anyway, I imagine that CEA would automatically have heard that sentence spoken aloud by JA in exactly that same narcissism-deflating mockery that Jennifer Ehle so perfectly expressed in her amazing performance.

And (here is the punch line), it got me thinking----of course, look at the context of this letter! CEA is at Godmersham, surrounded by rich snobs and phonies, a social world where everybody is a version of Sir Walter Elliot and, with a straight face, routinely says things like "As for Mr. Floor, he is at present rather low in our estimation". And JA, of course, is home in Southampton among the rabble, and is well aware of where her sister has been for some time. Perhaps JA is even specifically reacting to some report from CEA in the immediately preceding letter about some actual examples of such snobbery expressed in her presence.

In such a context, JA writing the above sentence {and yes, even inventing Mr. Floor out of whole cloth--silk cloth, that is) would not be a trivial outburst of silly humor, but would have the very important purpose of providing her sister some desperately needed comic relief, a little mini-theatre where the absurdities of the rich and haughty can be mined for sport, to defuse the pain of having to endure the "condescension" of these high falutin' folks.

And most of all, we should read about Mr. Floor as a sad and scarily accurate premonition of what Fanny Austen Knight Knatchbull notoriously wrote many decades later about her aunts:

"....They were not rich, & the people around with whom they chiefly mixed, were not at all HIGH bred...."

MY SECOND FOLLOWUP MESSAGE (in response to the comment which immediately follows in parenthesis below):

"It just seems pointless to mention a fictional person in a letter when she was very conscious of how much each word cost."

Inadvertently, you've just made my argument for me, Nancy. It is indeed a measure of just how precious her freedom of self expression was to JA that she would spend precious money for the privilege of writing such things to her sister, things that you find meaningless---we may therefore infer that these jokes were EXTREMELY precious to them both, and I argue that it is because these jokes were a lifeline between the sisters when they were separated geographically, as they supported each other in enduring the constricted lives that they, as impecunious unmarried females dependent on monied male relatives, had to endure! Like all human beings enduring oppression, humor is a life-saver, which is why for so long so many American comedians have been Jewish, and then African-American, and why more recently we have seen so many who are female or gay.

"Yet this is how many members of the list have presented the material. That is, the material has been presented as bawdy jokes, locker-room humor, and downright salacious content."

I will freely acknowledge that my own understanding of the significance of JA's sexual innuendoes has grown over the past 5 years since I have been actively researching this very important subject in the realm of JA Studies. Therefore, I now am much more careful than I used to be in, say, 2006, to point to the thematic significance of JA's bawdy, as well as it's being extremely funny, clever and outrageous. It has been some time since I considered the thematic aspects of JA's sexual innuendo to be much more important than its sheer funniness.

Anyway, to me, the thematic meaning and the humor are of a piece, and it all comes down to consideration of the source. The bawdy humor of a vulgar charlatan like, say, Howard Stern is, to me, worthless, and I would not waste five minutes listening to him, because it just isn't funny to me. It's sophomoric, it's chauvinistic, it's leering, it appeals to the lowest common denominator. It does not lead me to the essence of humanity. Whereas the bawdy humor of a Chaucer, a Shakespeare, a Fielding or an Austen, each of them unique, is extremely bawdy, but it's always very funny precisely because it is not "just" salacious, it is so much more, it is integral to the genius of the literature itself, and it is at the center of the human comedy. Again, consider the source.

"This also disagrees strongly with the strong opposition criticism that Mary Crawford would not have mentioned sodomy in a polite conversation brings.
It is hard to see how sexual double entendres can be considered lady-like, proper, or with in the field of propriety."

And I would answer that it is 100% clear that the only use to JA of those in 'high' society in her time who placed a high value on what is "lady-like" and "proper", rather than on what is "artistic" or "true to life", was as objects for her own subtle satire. She did not aspire to be such a person, and that is why, in a way, Fanny Knatchbull, even if she was an awful snob, was correct in her judgment of her aunt in one respect. I suspect that over the decades after JA died, when Fanny had the chance to really read her aunt's fiction, especially the Juvenilia, she realized that Jane's writing did embody a vision of the world that was not kindly disposed toward the world that Fanny lived in. JA wanted no part of that world, and bitterly resented the twist of fate that granted members of high society all the wealth that was required in that era in order to live life unconstricted by want, and to have at their disposal the employment of the likes of JA and CEA as unpaid part time governesses.

"Even today, you will find those who consider sexual double entendres as something men might do more than women and somehow improper for women."

JA's role model for writing sexual innuendo was Cleland--Fanny Hill is nonstop description of sexual acts of every kind, and yet there is not a single word used in it which could not safely be uttered in a sermon in church, not a single four letter word. It is euphemism elevated to a form of high literary art, and JA was a student of his elegant art.

And of ALL the aspects of writing that JA was referring to when she has Anne Elliot refer to men having jealously guarded control of writing, I'd argue that the most important to JA was the right to describe sexuality-she was claiming woman's right to do it her way. Men had it their way in every way, and she thought to herself, well, at least THIS they can't control, because they are not clever enough elves to even realize what I am writing in my subtext. Exhibit A being the "Prince of Whales" charade in Emma.


Mr. low in our Estimation....

I just posted the following in the online Austen-L and Janeites groups, during the group read of Jill Heydt-Stevenson's book Unbecoming Conjunctions, which is an expansion of her original "Ha-Ha" article from 1999 which first blew the roof off the long-standing notion that Jane Austen did not have sexual innuendoes in her novels. I had not intended to mention the following point during that group read, but then a posting there made it suddenly seem like a very good time to point out the following here, which I did also point out at Chawton House in July, receiving a good immediate response at the time, by the way, from those listening.

That passage in Letter 57 that was just mentioned, reads as follows:

“My mother is preparing mourning for Mrs. E. K.; she has picked her old silk pelisse to pieces, and means to have it dyed black for a gown -- a very interesting scheme, though just now a little injured by finding that it must be placed in Mr. Wren's hands, for Mr. Chambers is gone. As for Mr. Floor, he is at present rather low in our estimation. How is your blue gown? Mine is all to pieces. I think there must have been something wrong in the dye, for in places it divided with a touch. There was four shillings thrown away, to be added to my subjects of never-failing regret.”

In addition to the (to me, obvious) sexual innuendo in this passage which I first noticed two+ years ago, and which is very interesting indeed, there is ALSO a remarkably sly pun in that same passage, which is not particularly sexual, but which is very funny.

The way I have carefully edited that sentence in the Subject Line of this message has, I hope, made the pun clear to many of you? Can you see it? If you can't, and don't enjoy struggling to solve a little puzzle, then scroll down a bit and I will give you the answer, and also add one amusing footnote.

(scroll down)

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(scroll down--you're almost there!)

The pun: Whether or not there actually was an actual Mr. Floor who did a bad job as a dyer (my personal guess is that there never was, and that he was an utterly fictional creation, brought into being by JA on the spur of the moment, solely to delight her sister).....what should be obvious from my Subject Line is that the sentence "Mr. low in our Estimation" is a pun, because the FLOOR in a room is obviously LOW!

The pun would have been immediately obvious to everyone if it had read "Mr. high in our Estimation"--but what this little example illustrates, and which is very significant in terms of our discussion of what is real and what is Memorex in JA's writing---is that JA NEVER wrote puns that were obvious, because that would be as boring as the clues in the Monday crossword puzzle in the New York Times. JA only ever created Saturday puzzles (i.e., with the hardest-to-decode, slyest clueing) in her writing. So to set a standard for detection and confirmation of the existence of sexual innuendoes which is so restrictive that it only allows in the obvious, is a guarantee of only detecting the "Monday puzzle" stuff, which is boring, boring, boring, as opposed to the "Saturday puzzle" stuff, which is where all the action is!

That's precisely why there is the endless argument as to whether the innuendoes, hidden meanings, etc are "really there"--because she was too adept and meticulous a puzzle constructor to make it easy for the reader--as she told us, she did not write for the dull elves........

One final funny footnote---it may have occurred to some of you (as it did to me, when I first detected this pun) to check Le Faye's footnotes and biographical index, to see whether she attempted to identify the mysterious Mr. Floor. Here is what she has in her Biographical Index:

"Floor, Mr.?: Tradesman in Southampton--perhaps a dyer?"

I do not mention this to criticize Le Faye--after all, this pun has been undetected (as far as I can tell, and I have searched everywhere I could, over the past few years, to verify that no one has previously published this point] for the entire 125 years since Lord Brabourne first published this letter, until I spotted it--she is not the only reader of that passage in Letter 57 to be utterly taken in.

And why me? Only because I recognized over 5 years ago that JA was playing this sort of word game in everything she wrote, and I took that VERY seriously, and devoted a huge amount of time and effort into discovering, and understanding, the significance of these word games. It turns out that they lead to the very center of her authorial artistry.


P.S.: When I first learned about the (then) upcoming exhibition of JA's letters at the Morgan, I immediately wrote to the curator of the exhibit, to point out this pun, as well as some other curious passages in JA's letters, but while he found my discoveries interesting, it was, alas, too late to include them in the exhibit itself.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Playtime in Highbury: Beware of Geeky Vicars Bearing Gifts

This is a bit of a longish story, but I promise you, it leads somewhere significant, so I ask your indulgence to stick with it to the very end.....

I woke up today recollecting that in Chapter 40 of Emma, Mr. Elton's leadless pencil (actually, Harriet refers to it as being "good for nothing") is NOT the only precious treasure that Harriet has been harboring in her Tunbridge-ware box. I just now have had the chance to sit down at my computer, and to verify my recollection that, immediately before Harriet tells Emma what I would call the Tale of Mr. Elton's Good-for-Nothing Pencil, Harriet tells Emma what I would call the Fable of Mr. Elton's Court Plaister---the COURT plaister being the other precious treasure Harriet fondly retained from the days of Mr. Elton's "COURTship". And, by the analysis set forth below, I will show that, as with everything else in this novel, nothing is random, nothing is "trivial" or "filler", everything is connected to everything else, in the most interesting ways.

Here is the relevant portion of Chapter 40:

"....Cannot you guess what this parcel holds?" said [Harriet], with a conscious look.

"Not the least in the world. Did he ever give you any thing?"

"No -- I cannot call them gifts; but they are things that I have valued very much."

She held the parcel towards her, and Emma read the words Most precious treasures on the top. Her curiosity was greatly excited. Harriet unfolded the parcel, and she looked on with impatience. Within abundance of silver paper was a pretty little Tunbridge-ware box, which Harriet opened: it was well lined with the softest cotton; but, excepting the cotton, Emma saw only a small piece of court plaister.

"Now," said Harriet, "you must recollect,"

"No, indeed I do not."

"Dear me! I should not have thought it possible you could forget what passed in this very room about court plaister, one of the very last times we ever met in it! It was but a very few days before I had my sore throat -- just before Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley came; I think the very evening. Do not you remember his cutting his finger with your new penknife, and your recommending court plaister? But as you had none about you, and knew I had, you desired me to supply him; and so I took mine out and cut him a piece; but it was a great deal too large, and he cut it smaller, and kept playing some time with what was left, before he gave it back to me. And so then, in my nonsense, I could not help making a treasure of it; so I put it by never to be used, and looked at it now and then as a great treat."

"My dearest Harriet!" cried Emma, putting her hand before her face, and jumping up, "you make me more ashamed of myself than I can bear. Remember it? Aye, I remember it all now; all, except your saving this relick: I knew nothing of that till this moment -- but the cutting the finger, and my recommending court plaister, and saying I had none about me! Oh! my sins, my sins! And I had plenty all the while in my pocket! One of my senseless tricks! I deserve to be under a continual blush all the rest of my life. Well" (sitting down again) "go on: what else?"

"And had you really some at hand yourself? I am sure I never suspected it, you did it so naturally."

"And so you actually put this piece of court plaister by for his sake!" said Emma, recovering from her state of shame and feeling divided between wonder and amusement. And secretly she added to herself, "Lord bless me! when should I ever have thought of putting by in cotton a piece of court plaister that Frank Churchill had been pulling about! I never was equal to this." END OF EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 40

Of course we all (think we) know exactly what this is about--it is clear from this excerpt that Emma's breaking her shoelace strolling in Highbury with Harriet and Mr. Elton was not an isolated instance, but was part of a concerted campaign, waged by Emma over a period of time, to try to get Harriet and Mr. Elton alone together, to guide Cupid's dart toward its target, so to speak.

But what is cleverly left unstated, but instead is left for the proactive reader's inference, is that, unlike that day on Vicarage Lane, Emma's goal of leaving Harriet and Mr. Elton entirely alone that fateful evening at Hartfield has finally been achieved! We may plausibly infer that Emma does not immediately return to the room after she elvishly slips out pretending to go searching for some court plaister in Mr. Woodhouse's (no doubt amply stocked!) medicine cabinet. And so Harriet and Mr. Elton have been entirely alone together, in a room at Hartfield (where Hannah, the nosy maid, is no longer around, by the way, to eavesdrop and then quietly close the door) for some unknown, but surely not very short, period. Emma, like Mrs. Bennet hustling everyone out of the room at Longbourne so that Mr. Bingley will have his chance with Jane, would have made certain to stay away a "good deal" of time.

Where does that inference take us, you ask? I would like to suggest that the Fable of Mr. Elton's Court Plaister is really, in a theatrical sense, Act Two, immediately following Act One of an amateur theatrical for which Emma, so to speak, wrote the script, but Harriet wrote the subtext (and if you're reminded of MacEwan's Atonement, that is not accidental, I believe MacEwan understood a great deal about the shadows of Emma!)--Harriet herself very helpfully reports that there was a lapse of a day or two between the two encounters--Act One being the Tale of Mr. Elton's Good-For-Nothing Pencil. And I would further suggest that both acts of this short "play" relate DIRECTLY to the quadrille aka charade on the theme of "COURTship" which we read in Chapter 9 of Emma, and which has been a recent topic of intense conversation here.

To wit, I will now pull out from the above excerpt from Chapter 40, the key utterance by Harriet, which will make my point for me---I have deliberately edited out a few choice words, in order to allow the remaining words written by JA to speak for themselves in bringing into stark relief what I consider to be the "punch line" of this bit of theatrical legerdemain on JA's part:

"But, as you had none about you, and knew I had, you desired me to supply him; and so I TOOK MINE OUT....but IT WAS A GREAT DEAL TOO LARGE, and HE...KEPT PLAYING SOME TIME WITH WHAT WAS LEFT, BEFORE HE GAVE IT BACK TO ME."

As I believe is unavoidable from reading the above with an open mind, the "plump" Mr. Elton and the "plump" Harriet, quite unknown to Emma, apparently enjoyed some pleasant playtime with her "court" plaister---a very becoming conjunction, as the narrator might have added. And Harriet's coming to Hartfield in the first place, on her own impetus, expressly to make a "confession" to Emma, while throwing Emma a "conscious look" or two, makes you wonder how clueless Emma really could be....

And I immediately emphasize that this particular instance of sexual innuendo written by JA is entirely IN context, it is not forced on the scene in any way, it takes a romantic situation and makes it, well, a good deal more romantic--and it is thus a particularly fine (but not in any way atypical) example of the way JA layered in her fully furnished shadow story just beneath the floor of her fully furnished overt story. A two story WoodHOUSE.

And speaking of "becoming conjunctions", some of you may also be wondering at this point whether Jill Heydt-Stevenson picked up on this elegant bit of sexual innuendo in Emma. The answer is, she DID definitely spot the issue--in her Introduction, at page 4, she quotes David Lodge's immortal character Professor Morris Zapp opining that "Mr. Elton was obviously implied to be impotent because there was no lead in the pencil that Harriet Smith took from him..." However, neither JHS nor Lodge went any further with this "lead" (in the sense of a clue).

This is a great example of the "nose" for significant sexual innuendo that I claim JHS demonstrated in her book. She did the first stage of the heavy lifting by identifying a lot of material that really matters, and I have been privileged to have begun my own research at precisely the time when I could follow in her footsteps, and extend her insights deep into the shadow stories of JA's writings.

Anyway, apropos my discussion with Diana about the power of the unconscious, my retrieval of this citation from Unbecoming Conjunctions makes me realize that my waking up today thinking about Chapter 40 of Emma was no accident, but was the result of my having read the above passage in JHS's Introduction yesterday in preparation for writing the post I wrote about same, and clearly my unconscious was jogged to connect all of the above dots while I lay sleeping.

And I also now notice that JHS's quotation from Lodge was immediately preceded by her discussion of Garrick's Riddle, and that FORTUITOUS conjunction makes me realize, in light of Heydt-Stevenson's explanation of the concealed "syphilis subtext" of Garrick's Charade, whether Harriet's sore throat itself was the inevitable and highly unfortunate outcome of the events described in the Tale and/or the Fable described above--in which event, we may perhaps feel some compassion even for Mrs. Elton, when we speculate as to what "gift" Mr. Elton may have given to HER, when she donned, to use her phrase, 'Hymen's saffron robe" after their solemn nuptials---probably something that would require a special trip to Bath to deal with.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: I forgot to ask my final question, to wit: what is the moral of Harriet's story-telling? After all, Aesop's and Perrault's fables all have morals. I would argue that Harriet's moral would be the same as the moral of another story, written long long ago, but with a little modern twist for the fun of it:

Beware of Geeky Vicars Bearing Gifts.

P.P.S: To paraphrase Richard Nixon, I am not a geek. ;)

P.P.S.: BRAVO BRAVO BRAVO to you, Elissa, for detecting, and then explicating, the maritime significance of the quadrille, which is just FANTASTIC, and 1000% spot-on, on multiple levels!. What is most astounding is that each of the secret "quadrillic" levels of the "courtship" charade is an intricate, meaning-laden world of its own, and each such "shadow world" is a veiled commentary on each of the others. And the synergy of them all is nothing short of dazzling and overwhelming!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Unbecoming Conjunctions

As we begin to read Unbecoming Conjunctions this week, I think it’s worthwhile to take stock of the importance of Jill Heydt-Stevenson’s [I will refer to her as JHS to save a lot of typing!] work for Jane Austen studies, during the decade since she first exploded onto the scene with her long article “Slipping into the
Ha-Ha”, which JHS vastly expanded and extended into what eventually became the book Unbecoming Conjunctions.
Although most Janeites who know about JHS’s theories and discoveries think she was the first Austen scholar to talk about JA’s sexual subtext, that is
actually not the case, as I found out as I conducted more and more research into the corners of the literature about JA’s writing. There were a handful of prescient outliers and dissidents who, even as early as the 70’s, were noticing that there was more sexual suggestion in JA’s writing than just Mary Crawford’s very broad wink at the admiralty.

However, those articles surfaced briefly, and then vanished without a trace, leaving no lasting impact on Austen studies. Therefore, that she was not the
first in no way diminishes the huge (and from my point of view 100% positive impact) that JHS’s article and book have had on the direction of Austen studies.
Although I personally did not hear about her “Ha-Ha” article till early 2005 when I started reading the critical literature as part of my intensive research on
JA’s subtexts, I quickly realized that her article, published 4-5 years earlier, had the potential to blow the door that led to JA’s sexual innuendoes clear off
its hinges, particularly with her description of the tertiary syphilis subtext of Garrick's riddle, which Mr. Woodhouse partially remembers.
Looking in the archives of Janeites, I see that the ever vigilant Nancy was the first to alert the group to JHS’s article in 2001:

Believe it or not, at that time, JHS herself was a member of this Janeites group, because her one and only post to the group occurred in March 2001, not long after Nancy’s:

However, her article did not get mentioned again for 4 years, till I took note of it in Feb. 2005:

By the time I read her article, I had recently realized that the shadow stories fragments I had been detecting in various of JA’s novels since July 2002 were all
of a piece, and were reflective of a pervasive strategy on JA’s part, and JHS’s article was like a shot of adrenalin for me on two key points. First, it completely validated my perception of numerous sexual innuendoes that I had spotted haphazardly throughout JA’s novels, but expanded my awareness much further.
JHS’s Garrick Riddle analysis made me realize that JA was also a serious literary scholar in her own right, a writer capable of extraordinary depth of allusion and erudition, all masked by JA’s typical satirical ironic gloss. Around that same time, I happened upon Jocelyn Harris’s incredible groundbreaking work, Jane Austen’s Art of Memory, written in 1986, which opened my eyes to the full depth and breadth of JA’s allusions.

But JHS’s analysis of Garrick’s Riddle (combined with Colleen Sheehan’s 2000 article persuasively arguing for a second secret answer to the “woman” charade
in Chapter 9 of Emma) was also the catalyst to my realization that the overt puzzles and riddles of Emma were “Rosetta Stones” that were meant to be decoded,
as they would lead to the center of JA’s mysteries and shadow stories. JHS and Sheehan’s work jointly propelled me into an extensive study of all those puzzles, and that study in turn has led me directly to the center of the shadow story not only of Emma, but of each of JA’s other novels as well. I therefore cannot exaggerate
the debt I owe to JHS’s work for the inspiration it gave me at a crucial early point in my research.
Turning to JHS’s introduction, which has already begun to be discussed, I have a couple of specific comments. JHS's opinions regarding Boswell's anecdote about Samuel Johnson are, to my mind, spot-on, most of all because in a book about Jane Austen, the guiding principle as to the appropriate critical point of view as to the
material covered should be JA's own attitude toward the subject matter. In regard to the Boswell anecdote that JHS describes on P. 12, and the discussion that follows regarding the Lady’s Monthly Museum, I am 100% certain that JA herself would have shared JHS's restrained, intelligent, yet quietly courageously irreverent,
perspective, on notions of contemporary propriety in JA’s era.
I am sure that JA was polite and self-controlled enough to have kept her countenance in the presence of all manner of foolishness (just read her letters!), but, had she
been present in that room with Boswell, Johnson and their gang listening to Johnson hold court, I am certain she'd have been stifling gales of laughter from witnessing
the piquant blend of priggishness, hypocrisy, narcissism and self-importance exhibited by Johnson, as reported by Boswell, when he became flustered when people
tittered at his unconscious sexual pun. Johnson, instead of just joining in the harmless laughter of his audience, failed to recognize they were all laughing with him, and so, by his clumsy defensive reaction, actually caused everyone to laugh AT him. Truly a Mr. Collinsworthy performance.

So for JHS to politely join in a bit of that ego-deflating laughter, and to encourage her readers to, so to speak, chill out and enjoy JA’s wicked wit for the next 400 pages,
is, I think, 1000% in the spirit of JA herself. If anything, I think JA would have been appalled had someone come along and written a book about JA’s sexual innuendoes
without coming to the work with a lively and playful sense of humor. Luckily for all of us, JHS knows how to laugh and think clearly at the same time.
Actually, the principal complaint I have about Unbecoming Conjunctions is not that it goes too far in its claims, but that it is actually too cautious in its claims. I would be
willing to bet that there were several points at which JHS would have gone further in her claims, but she was restrained, either by her editor/publisher, or by considerations
of the likely reactions to her book from the academic literary critical community, but she will obviously speak for herself in that regard. And I don’t blame her if that was
so, as the message that JA’s novels are filled from one end to the other with sexual innuendoes of great variety and sophistication, which are not there for prurient l
aughter, but are thematic in many important ways, is one that will take a long time to filter down and come to be accepted.
But the saving grace of JHS’s caution, even where she did not, in my opinion, go far enough in her explicit claims, is that JHS has demonstrated, to me, an excellent nose
for the kind of allusion that JA herself would deploy in writing her sexual innuendoes. The Johnson anecdote recalled by Boswell, and the playful 1806 magazine piece
described on ppg 13-14, are prototypical, they are two out of dozens of examples throughout JHS’s book, where she has zeroed in on precisely the sorts of contemporary
sources which my own research has shown to have been front and center on JA’s radar screen as she composed her novels. They provided the grist for JA’s wicked satirical mill, as she ground them up and sprinkled them, like fairy dust, on her novels.

Mr. Elton's Friend in Fairy-Land

In Austen L and Janeites, Anielka Briggs posted this followup question to the "quadrille" discussion she initiated yesterday:

"What is the name of the fairy who dropt a piece of paper?"

I just gave the following reply:

When I was one of the many speakers at the Chawton House Jane Austen conference last July, I disclosed my opinion, among many others I put forward, that in the shadow story (but NOT the overt story) of the novel, the AUTHOR of the "courtship" charade was FRANK CHURCHILL, who was the "friend" referred to by Mr. Elton earlier in Chapter 9:

"He called for a few moments, just to leave a piece of paper on the table containing, as he said, a charade, which A FRIEND OF HIS had addressed to a young lady, the object of his admiration, but which, from his manner, Emma was immediately convinced must be his own."

In real life, of course, the author of the "courtship" charade was Jane Austen herself, and there is a story in that regard as well. As I revealed when I spoke at Oxford in July, 2007, in 1993, Margaret Doody, an excellent literary scholar, inadvertently created confusion about the real life authorship of that charade, when, in a book discussing Jane Austen, Doody claimed that JA had not written the "courtship" charade herself, but had found it in a popular charade book from 1790, long before JA wrote Emma. I first read about Doody's attribution in early 2006, when I already knew of Colleen Sheehan's discovery of the "Prince of Whales" solution to that charade, so I thought Doody's attribution had to be a mistake, because it seemed clear to me that JA had written that charade right around the time she wrote Emma, in 1814-5, and with Emma very specifically in mind. It is in so many ways tailor-made to (or to use a mathematical term as befits this recent discussion, congruent with) the novel itself.

I was therefore very happy when I obtained a copy of, and thumbed through, the actual charade book, and saw that there was ANOTHER charade with the solution "courtship", which was completely different from the one we all know from Chapter 9 of Emma! Perhaps that earlier one gave JA the original idea to write hers, but she herself undoubtedly crafted her own "courtship" charade herself to meet her own very special purposes for the interpretation of Emma.

Anyway, back to Emma's reference to a "fairy" for one additional wrinkle----I also disclosed at Chawton House that while Emma may have intended a clever allusion to A Midsummer Night's Dream, her unintended meanings throughout the novel are almost always quite significant and quite funny, in a way Emma would, however, definitely NOT enjoy. As we were told earlier in that same Chapter 9 that Mr. Elton was the person who physically handed the "courtship" charade to Emma and Harriet, he is, in that sense, the "fairy" whom Emma refers to. But as always with JA, there are other clues elsewhere in the novel which connect to each other across chapters and volumes. And in this instance, JA gives us a further clue in that regard via the "foolish" comments of Miss Bates in Chapter 38 when Miss Bates says:

"This is meeting quite in fairy-land! Such a transformation! Must not compliment, I know -- (eyeing Emma most complacently) -- that would be rude -"

I also disclosed at Chawton House last July that my "shadow" interpretation of Miss Bates's reference to "fairy land" was that, among the multiple plausible interpretations of the innuendoes being raised by Miss Bates at that moment, one of them is the doubt Miss Bates raises as to the firmness of Mr. Elton's commitment to heterosexuality, in marrying his new bride--hence "SUCH a transformation!" Miss Bates perhaps is also aware of the lack of fruition of Mr. Elton's "shadow" liaisons with Harriet, which are emblematized in Harriet's initially treasuring, but eventual jettisoning, poor Mr. Elton's leadless "pencil"!


Friday, February 12, 2010

More on Quadrilles

I could not resist going back and doing a second round of Googling, to seek out a few “quadrillion” more connections between JA and quadrilles.


The Sociable; or One Thousand and One Amusements Containing Acting Proverbs; Dramatic Charades; Acting Charades, or Drawing Room Pantomimes; Musical Burlesques; Tableaux Vivants; Parlor Games…., 1858, by George Arnold: “The Blind Quadrille. This is performed when a great number of forfeits are to be disposed of. A quadrille is danced by eight of the company with their eyes blindfolded, and as they are certain to become completely bewildered during the figures, it always affords infinite amusement to the spectators.”

Given the often-noted saturation of Emma with words pertaining to blindness, which we find in no other Austen novel in anywhere close to that density, AND given the centrality of the significance of the “courtship” charade for the whole novel, I find the metaphor of a blind quadrille, where the participants are blindfolded (or to borrow another term from Garrick’s Riddle recalled by Mr. Woodhouse, ‘hood-wink’d’) and find themselves bewildered as they struggle to find their “proper” partners, to be uncannily descriptive of the action not only in Emma, but also in one of its most important literary ancestors (as so brilliantly described by Jocelyn Harris 24 years ago), A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I already hear Nancy asking whether the “blind quadrille” was thought of during JA’s time? The earliest reference to blind quadrilles is from 1846, in a memoir of a young woman (who I believe, based on the snippets I could read, died as a young adult) named Ellen Parry, where we read the following:
“We had a dance in the evening. The harper played to us, and we danced a blind quadrille. Those who danced were blindfolded, and it was very funny to see them all knocking each other…”

But as I was searching around in that same 1846 Memoir, I came across the following curiosities:

“Mrs. Jowett, the Rector’s wife, at Hartfield…” and also references to Ellen Parry visiting a “valued friend” named “Mrs. Bertie” at Weymouth… And, by the way, the memoirist, Charles Henry Parry, whom I suspect was also the father of Ellen Parry, happened to be a physician (and the son of another famous physician whose medical discoveries included significant ones relating to the digestive system of the body, and the grandson of the Revd. Joshua Parry, a famous nonconformist minister)…and CHP also wrote a memoir of a guy named Peregrine Bertie, who just happens to be someone JA was connected to and about whom she wrote in her letters!

Make of all that what you will…..I am eager to move on to the next area of interest, to wit:


I was VERY intrigued to find the following:

The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, Vol. VII. (1823):
“[Letter from a bashful bachelor]: I would….read a library of romances at her desire, and spend hours in writing out quadrilles, charades, or sonnets, to please her…”

It seems crystal clear from the above, written only 7 years after the publication of Emma, that quardrille was the name not only of a form of dance and a card game, it was also apparently the name of a form of short verse—but was it akin to a riddling charade or a poetic sonnet? My vote is the former, because that would make the “courtship” charade itself literally also a quadrille, and would fit like a glove with all that has been presented so far re quadrilles.

But there’s more….


The following delightful dramatization of a game of quadrille strikes me as almost supplying the dialog we might have heard if we’d had a secret microphone at Hartfield to listen in on the conversation amongst Mr. Woodhouse and his three lady-friends. My guess is that this is yet another one of the jokes of Emma’s cluelessness, that she perceives Mrs. Bates and Miss Bates as being out to lunch, mentally, and yet they are able to play this game that, per Wikipedia, went out of fashion and was supplanted by whist precisely because it was so complicated.

Read, and enjoy. I would like to think that JA at some point actually read this delightful mini-play, which also stars a man and three ladies! And it provides a lot of incidental detail as to how the game itself was played, which clearly was a betting game related to whist or bridge (because of having trump suits being declared for each hand). From the Wikipedia description of the complex rules of the game, I discern that ‘mattadores’ were what we would today call, in poker, “wild cards”, and a “vole” seems to be an early ancestor of what we would today call, in bridge, a “slam”.

Poems, &c. &c By Mary Alcock, 1799 “A Party At Quadrille”, p. 139 et seq:
Lady P.: Ladies, your servant. This indeed is kind to come to one so much distress'd in mind; since Friday last, the day poor Pompey died, no soul I've seen, nor left my fire-side.
Lady W.: Well, dearest Madam, talk no more of that. Nothing is like a game at cards, and chat, to ease the mind. I'm sure I found it so when poor Sir Simon died; you all well know how very much reliev'd I was by play; when morn was over I began the day.
Mr. C.: Come ladies, then 'tis best to lose no time, to dwell on griefs I always deem a crime.
Lady P.: Pray, ladies, take your places as you chuse; In every seat I know I'm sure to lose.
Mrs. F.: To lose! dear Ma'am, I think to leave off play, such cards I sat with all the other day, when in this very house your La'ship won; 'tis what I never do, I've such a run. Boasted such hands! I lost on Tuesday night three double mattadores, they broke me quite.
Lady P.: Ladies, your stakes. We play our usual rate.
Mrs. F.: Here, Madam's, mine; 'tis gone as sure as fate.
Lady P.: Sir, you have pass'd, I now may shew my cards; six mattadores; four fifths are my reward.
Lady W.: Indeed! this way the cards are sure to go, whatever game I play, or high or low. The other night I lost at Lady Vole's my twenty shillings, now at Lady Poole’s this night I'm like to lose three times that sum; I swear I'll keep from Mrs. Fuzz's drum.,
Mrs. F.: I take a king if no one plays alone.

Lady W.: Madam, I do; I'll not sit like a drone with mattadores, six trumps; 'tis monstrous hard to have a vole within one single card. Might I have took a king I'd had it clear, but some folks cards will always play severe.
Mrs. F.: Severe indeed! Sure mine the hardest cafe is, to sit thus long, and never see the aces. And now, the first time I could take a king, I'm superseded, that's the very thing. I sometimes get a hand, but never play; I owe your La'ship four, I've none to pay.
Lady P.: I'll mark you up, dear Ma'am, the usual way.
Mrs. F.: Well, now by chance at last I've got a game, and if you all give leave, my trump I'll name; hearts then it is; spadille I lead, oh fie! One hand without a trump! how hard they lie.
Lady P.: Madam, you have your game, no trump is in.
Mrs. F.: Yes, Ma'am, because this hand of course must win.
Lady P.: Upon my honour, now, I've never play'd but one poor hand, and now six fish have paid. I vow next time I deal I'll make a fuz.
Mrs. F.: I wonder how your next door neighbour does. I heard last week he lost his only son.
Lady P. : Yes, and his wife is dying. What is done? I think your La'ship ask'd? I pass of course; upon my life my cards get worse and worse.
Mrs. F.: I'm quite supriz'd, I'm really call'd this time. It is your La'ship's trick, 'tis none of mine; for if not call'd I'd been a bitter foe. Let's see those cards, I know not how they go.
Mr. C.: Ladies, I think the vole's at your command, at least I can't prevent it by my hand.
Lady W.: Ma'am, you're to speak; pray search the tricks again.
Mrs. F.: My dearest Ma'am, I fear 'tis all in vain, one fatal chance would overset the whole; and yet 'twould make us both to win a vole. Can you forgive me ? May I now declare.
Lady P. : Madam, proceed; this is not quite so fair.
Lady W.: Oh, Mrs. Frett, you've ruin'd me indeed; how could it e'er be won, and you to lead? My Lady Poole did well to bid us play when she'd that knave; we've all the world to pay.
Mrs. F.: Indeed, I think so too; she drew me in; yet sure the chance was great that we should win.
Lady W.: By no means, Ma'am; your play I can't excuse; I'm sadly wrong'd, for I could not refuse.
Lady P. : Well, Ladies, please to lay your money down, the pool's my constant care, 'tis always known; I'm sure you'd mattadores, so give us five; now this may turn my luck, and I may thrive. Poor Mr. Carder was without a fish, but now he's rich, and just as he could wish.
Lady W.: I know not who is rich, I'm sure I'm poor, and lay my ruin at that Lady's door.
Mrs. F.: Indeed, dear Ma'am, you see I'm quite undone; ‘tis very hard to twit, when if we'd won, you'd been the first to justify my play; but let it pass your Ladyship's own way; this fine lone hand some of my debts will fettle; 'tis but my due to ride on my own cattle.
Lady W. : 'Tis very lucky, Mrs. Fret, for you, but with these losses what am I to do? I wish with all my heart the pool was out, for I'm engag'd to Lady Racket's rout.
Lady P. : That's quite distressing, Ma'am, but I submit; 'twill break our set; but just as you think fit. The pool is out, upon my word I win.
Lady W.: Indeed, I thought your La'ship's pawn was in.
Lady P.: Oh no, I took that oat an hour ago;.I'm sure, Sir, you will witness it was so.
Mr. C: Madam, I always think your La'ship right; I just have lost three guineas by the night.
Lady P.: O lack-a-day ! 'twas unpolite to beat our only man—'twas an unlucky feat. We've won an even share, or very nigh. The cards to-night have not run very high. Ladies, your humble servant, Sir, good bye.


"O ! then," exclaimed the sister, " do indulge us with a country dance, that we may get an appetite for our dinner."—It was no sooner said than done; and the ladies having arranged their dress for the purpose, danced a quadrille, with all the grace of a court ball, and all the glee of holiday folks at a fair.”


Nancy: “There is debate about the date of Quadrilles in England. I wonder if Jane Austen knew the dance. However that can be researched. “
Nancy, are you suggesting that JA, by the many connections she had with French culture, most importantly cousin/sister-in-law Eliza, would have been unaware of the dance that was the rage of France before becoming the rage of England within a year after Emma was published?

And take a look at the following comment from an 1885 book: “In those days the contre-danse had not hardened itself into the quadrille. It was danced, not in fours, but in sets of varying numbers, and of characters and figures mostly undefined.”

I don’t have to tell you the significance of country dancing in JA’s novels, and the above quote shows that country dance and quadrille were intimately related.
And speaking of the metaphor of dance for courtship, I also don’t need to remind you of the following immortal words spoken by Henry Tilney to Catherine: “I consider a country–dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not choose to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours.”
Indeed, one could call JA’s charade (aka quadrille) an ‘emblem of marriage”!

Nancy: “The Lady Jersey who is said to have brought the Quadrille to England and the Ton was Darah not her mother in law Frances. Frances was the one who was the mistress of the Prince of Wales.”

It’s every bit as telling, and far beyond the realm of coincidence, if the “courtship” charade which conforms so extensively to the structure of the dance famously associated with the daughter in law, just happens to also be a covert and extensive skewering of the famous man who was notoriously associated with the mother in law. Especially when you then add in all the other connections I outlined in my previous post, as well as this one.

But if you remain in doubt, then I have ANOTHER bridge to sell you if you think these are all coincidences. ;)


Games (like Quadrille) that People Play

In response to a post in Austen L and Janeites, I wrote the following today:

Anielka’s analysis of the mathematics of the acrostics in the “courtship” charade in Chapter 9 of Emma is both first-rate and spot-on. Indeed, the probability that such an elaborate structure could have arisen by chance is (less than) zero. But, in my opinion, that certainty was already previously established, given the already understood complexity and aptness of all the hidden meanings of that charade, as they pertain to the novel as a whole. But it is very tasty icing on the cake nonetheless!

As cool as the mathematical aspects of the charade are, the significance of the concept of “quadrille” for our understanding of the shadows of Emma is much greater still. There is a great deal more going on than acrosticking.

To begin…there are those who say that Wikipedia is an unreliable resource, but I think Jane Austen, and one of her alter egos, Mrs. Bates, would have violently disagreed, if they could have read the following, as I did, this morning:


Wikipedia first tells us that this word, in Jane Austen's time, not only referred to a card game, it also referred to a dance. And it should be no surprise that the description of that dance provided at Wikipedia (no citation is given, but I would imagine the description is accurate) corresponds uncannily closely to the poetic structure that Anielka so precisely outlined:

“Thus the quadrille was a very intricate dance. The standard form contained five different parts, and the Viennese lengthened it to six different parts. The following table shows what the different parts look like, musically speaking:
• part 1: Pantalon (written in 2/4 or 6/8)
theme A – theme B – theme A – theme C – theme A
• part 2: Été (always written in 2/4)
theme A – theme B – theme B – theme A
• part 3: Poule (always written in 6/8)
theme A – theme B – theme A – theme C – theme A – theme B – theme A
Part 3 always begins with a two-measure-introduction
• part 4: Trénis (always written in 2/4)
theme A – theme B – theme B – theme A
• part 5: Pastourelle (always written in 2/4)
theme A – theme B – theme C – theme B – theme A
• part 6: Finale (always written in 2/4)
theme A – theme A – theme B – theme B – theme A – theme A
Part 6 always begins with a two-measure-introduction
All the themes are 8 measures long.” END OF WIKIPEDIA SECTION RE DANCE

Which means, I would think, unless I am missing something, that JA’s charade, if it were set to music, would function nicely as the LYRICS to a quadrille that could be danced to it! Anyone with a musical bent want to compose the tune of a quadrille? ;)
But what could this mean for understanding the action in the novel itself? The safe and standard interpretation, that would fit beautifully, would be that the novel is a representation of a courtship “dance” in which four couples (the Eltons, Emma and K, Harriet and Robt Martin, and Jane and Frank) go through the motions of courtship and wind up wedded. Mr. Elton’s charade would thus be a diabolically clever representation of that overarching structure of the novel.

A more alarming interpretation I choose to make, however (which relates to what our soon-to-be guest Jill Heydt Stevenson discusses in her chapter on the “Felicities of Rapid Motion”, although, as far as I can see, she did not connect the dots to the “quadrille”), is that the “quadrille” described in the charade is a dance around the maypole, i.e., the “steps” taken by all eight of those participants, as they changed partners repeatedly, were, shall we say, less than chaste.

Still more alarming, though, is the oblique suggestion I perceive, which is that the evenings of ‘tea and quadrille” at Hartfield were perhaps a “whole” lot more lively among Mr. Woodhouse and his three “come-atable” female friends, than might at first have been suspected. In that regard, Diana, as for your lovely fantasy about that redoubtable quartet of worthies, I would not be so wicked as to suspect you of two VERY arch puns when you referred to “sweetbreads” and to things “slipping out” without the awareness of the participants! ;)

Now, if some hardened skeptic raises a demand for evidence that JA was aware of the quadrille as a dance, the Jane Austen Centre website tells us the following:
“First imported from France by Lady Jersey in 1815, the Quadrille was a shorter version of the earlier cotillions. Figures from individual cotillions were assembled into sets of five or six figures, and the changes were left out, producing much shorter dances. By the late 1810's, it was not uncommon to dance a series of quadrilles during the evening, generally consisting of the same first three figures combined with a variety of different fourth and fifth figures. Jane Austen's niece Fanny danced quadrilles and in their correspondence Jane mentions that she finds them much inferior to the cotillions of her own youth. By the late 1810's, under siege from the Quadrille, dancing masters began to invent "new" forms of country dance…”

So the quadrille was imported to England (by Lady Jersey, who was, by the way, as Nancy and some others of you will already have noticed, one of the Prince Regent’s most notorious mistresses!) precisely at the moment when JA was editing Emma! As Arte Johnson would say, VERRRRRRY interesting!

I just checked Le Faye’s edition of the letters, and found a reference to a card game of quadrille in Letter 57 to CEA dated 10/7-9/08 (“We found ourselves tricked into a thorough party at Mrs. Maitlands, a quadrille & a Commerce Table, & Music in the other room”) but the reference to the quadrille dance that the Jane Austen Centre alluded to was in Letter 151 to Fanny dated 2/20-1/17 (“Much obliged for the Quadrilles, which I am grown to think pretty enough, though of course they are very inferior to the Cotillions of my own day.”)

The above is a cornucopia of hidden meanings embedded in the “courtship” charade---but wait, it’s only half of the story that Wikipedia has to tell us!


As I suggested above, Wikipedia can be a wickedly useful tool, because look at what else that entry had to say, under the title “Stately Quadrille”:

“The mechanics of the dance, that of constantly shifting partners, led it to be compared to the European political system in the eighteenth century. What became known as the Stately quadrille saw the forming of fresh alliances with different partners in order to maintain the balance of power in Europe.”

A click of the mouse led me to the Wikipedia entry for “Stately Quadrille” which began with the following elaboration of that definition:

“The Stately Quadrille is a term popularly used to describe the constant shifting alliances between the Great Powers of Europe during the 18th century. The ultimate objective was to maintain the Balance of Power in Europe, and to stop any one alliance or country becoming too strong. It takes its name from the Quadrille, a dance where the participants constantly swap partners.”

As some of you already know, there have been numerous scholars (but most notably and expansively, Roger Sales) who have made the argument, in one way or another, that “Highbury” is a representation of the English nation as a whole, an argument that took on even greater force when Colleen Sheehan demonstrated the savage satire on the Prince Regent concealed in the “courtship” charade. I believe the above definition perfectly describes the cat and mouse games of courtship “diplomacy”, “espionage” and “intrigue” that are played by all the characters in the novel. So I would argue, therefore, that Jane Austen was well aware of this latter definition of “quadrille”.

But for those same hardened skeptics who do not find that argument persuasive, I refer you to a poem I discovered this morning, written by John Gay. It appeared in Samuel Johnson’s Works of the English Poets (in the 1810 edition at p. 489), but that identical poem was published as early as 1742 in a collection of writings by Gay, Pope, Swift and Arbuthnot. Some of you may recall that Gay also just happens to be the author of ANOTHER poem, which Mrs. Elton just happens to quote from late in the novel. Here is Gay’s magnum opus:


When as corruption hence did go, And left the nation free; When Ay said ay, and No said no, Without or place or fee; Then Satan, thinking things went ill, Sent forth his spirit, call'd Quadrille. Quadrille, quadrille, &c.
Kings, queens, and knaves, made up his pack, And four fair suits he wore; His troops they were with red and black All blotch’d and spotted o'er; And every house, go where you will, Is haunted by this imp Quadrille, &c.
Sure cards he has for every thing, Which well court-cards they name, And, statesman-like, calls in the king, To help out a bad game; But, if the parties manage ill, The king is forc'd to lose codille, &c.
When two and two were met of old, Though they ne'er meant to marry, They were in Cupid's books enroll'd, And call'd a partie quarree, But now, meet when and where you will, A partie quarree is quadrille, &c.
The commoner, and knight, and peer, Men of all ranks and fame, Leave to their wives the only care To propagate their name; And well that duty they fulfil, When the good husband's at quadrille, &c
When patients lie In piteous case, In comes the apothecary; And to the doctor cries, " Alas! Non debes quadrillare:" The patient dies without a pill: For why ?—The doctor's at quadrille, &c.
Should France and Spain again grow loud, The Muscovite grow louder; Britain, to curb her neighbours proud, Would want both ball and powder; Must want both sword and gun to kill: For why ?—The general's at quadrille, &c.
The king of late drew forth his sword, (Thank God, 'twas not in wrath !) And made, of many a 'squire and lord, An unwash'd knight of Bath: What are their feats of arms and skill? They're but nine parties at quadrille, &c.
A party late at Cambray met, Which drew all Europe's eyes; 'Twas call'd in Post-boy and Gazette The Quadruple Allies; But somebody took something ill, So broke this party at quadrille, &c.
And now God save this noble realm, And God save eke Hanover; And God save those who hold the helm, When as the king goes over; But let the king go where he will. His subjects must play at quadrille, Quadrille, quadrille, &c. END OF GAY’S BALLAD

Here are my observations:

The second and third stanzas illustrate that in a deck of cards, the honors, i.e., the king, queen, and jack, are all members of a “court”.

In the third from last stanza, we have a reference to the Order of Bath. The parenthetical (“Thank God, ‘twas not in wrath”) suggests, to me at least, a lewd connotation of what the King might have done with his sword to the anatomy of those ‘squires and lords had he acted in anger. I am distinctly reminded of the modern reference to certain parts of the anatomy that become more interesting when “angry”! That suggests to me that Gay, like JA, saw the possibilities of sexual innuendo in the metaphor of “dance”.

In the penultimate stanza, we have an explicit reference to the political situation described in Wikipedia, which prompted the term “Stately Quadrille”—I wonder whether Gay’s poem was itself the originator of the term, or was his poem a reaction to a term already widely in usage? Either way, it was quite satirical toward George the Second, just as Colleen Sheehan showed that the Chapter 9 charade in Emma is quite satirical toward the Prince Regent, the future George IV.

The phrase “when Ay said ay” in the second stanza reminds me of all of Miss Bates’s archaic “ayes”!

The fourth and fifth stanzas allude pretty broadly to courtship and marital hanky-panky, and there is Cupid, who, as Jill Heydt Stevenson pointed out, makes his appearance in the unquoted portion of Garrick Charade that Mr. Woodhouse has forgotten.

The sixth stanza ‘s references to an apothecary and to a patient dying without a pill—might this connect to Mr. Perry and to the death of Mrs. Churchill?
And finally, and most relevant to the “courtship” charade in Emma, note that the last stanza, which contains an explicit naval motif. It refers to Hanover (the”monarch” of English, who was, in 1742, George the Second, the grandfather of George the Third, who of course was king during JA’s entire lifetime) holding the helm (i.e., the “monarch of the seas” holds the helm of a “ship”), but it is rather caustic, suggesting that George II would go overboard (like Jane Fairfax rescued by Frank), leaving the English people to play quadrille.

I think, all in all, that there is little doubt that JA had Gay’s wickedly clever and complex ballad in front of her, alongside Charles Lamb’s “Triumph of the Whale” (which Colleen identified) and Cruikshank’s caricature “The Prince of Whales or the Fisherman at Anchor” (which I myself identified), and, no doubt, a few more texts as yet unidentified, as she composed the “courtship” charade.

Now, does anyone want to take a crack at the meanings which have been dissolved into Mrs. Bates’s “tea”? ;)


P.S.: Circling all the way around back to the mathematics of the “courtship” charade, I thought some more about its mathematical structure, and how I was reminded of game theory in general, and a quick bit of Googling led me to Volume 2 of the Second Edition of a recent book entitled “Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays”, by Elwyn R. Berlekamp, John H. Conway, and Richard K. Guy.

In it we find Chapter 12 entitled “Games Eternal-Games Entailed” with the lead epigraph being, very curiously, Mrs. Bennet’s “If it was not for the entail, I should not mind it”. If you don’t recognize the name, Conway famously invented the cellular automaton for the Game of Life, which is the most famous of the mathematical games in the field of what is commonly called “artificial life”, where seemingly lifelike patterns are created from the repetitive application of purely mathematical formulae.

I mention all this because I would argue that JA, in her own unfathomably brilliant way, created, in Emma, a literary equivalent of artificial life, an imaginary world which yet has a perpetual life of its own, realer than real to those of us who love that world.