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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Charlotte Bronte slipping a Ha-Ha past Henry Lewes

(c) Arnie Perlstein 2010

The question has been raised in Janeites and Austen-L as to whether JA's ribald sense of humor would have been accessible to the ordinary reader of her day.

On the subject of the sense of humor of JA, and of her readers, I give you, as Exhibit "A", the following paragraph from George Henry Lewes's famous 1859 essay about Jane Austen:

"We have known very remarkable people who cared little for [JA's] pictures of every-day life; and indeed it may be anticipated that those who have little sense of humor, or whose passionate and insurgent activities demand in art a reflection of their own emotions and struggles, will find little pleasure in such homely comedies. Currer Bell may be taken as a type of these. SHE WAS UTTERLY WITHOUT A SENSE OF HUMOR, and was by nature fervid and impetuous. In a letter published in her memoirs she writes,—"Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. . . . I had not read /Pride and Prejudice/ till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully-fenced, highly-cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her elegant ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses." The critical reader will not fail to remark the almost contemptuous indifference to the art of truthful portrait-painting which this passage indicates; and he will understand, perhaps, how the writer of such a passage was herself incapable of drawing more than characteristics, even in her most successful efforts."

For those few of you who don't know, Currer Bell was the pen name of Charlotte Bronte, and George Henry Lewes was the significant other of George Eliot. So Lewes probably rates as the most interestingly situated Englishman of the 19th century in terms of his (very different) connections to three of the greatest female authors of the 19th century.

Generally speaking, I believe Lewes was spot-on in his diagnosis of a case of lack of full appreciation for JA's writing as being due, at least in part, to an utter lack of sense of humor. However, it's my personal opinion that Charlotte Bronte's sense of humor was too subtle and wicked for the earnest, straightforward Lewes to detect it, just as JA's ribald humor is too subtle and wicked for many of her readers to see it, or even believe it could be there. .

And as Exhibit "B" in regard to Bronte's sense of humor, I give you the very same passage that Lewes pointed to as evidence of Bronte's humorlessness:

"....a carefully-fenced, highly-cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers..."

I would suggest to you that Charlotte Bronte chose those words VERY carefully, and that the gardens she refer to are the devil-infested, ha-ha'ed, fenced and gated garden of Eden at Sotherton, and the beehive kitchen garden of General Tilney, and the delicate flowers Bronte refers to include the flowers that the delicate Fanny suffers heat-stroke in the gathering thereof, and also the erotically supercharged hyacinth and rose of Henry Tilney's purple prosings.

So the last ha-ha seems to me to belong to Currer Bell aka Charlotte Bronte, and what a fitting tribute that oh-so-casual "garden" and "flowers" formulation was, a shadow tip of the hat by a great mistress of overt Romanticism to THE great mistress of shadow story Romanticism.

But, unlike JA's put-on of the toady James Stanier Clarke, my enjoyment in this joke does not include laughter at Lewes's expense, because it was he who, after all, stood tall and proud in defense of Jane Austen as the Queen of Literature, in 1859, when virtually the rest of literary England still believed JA to be the Princess of Ivory Inches. And anyway, I don't think Bronte was laughing at Lewes either, so much as that Bronte was not going to tell Lewes about the shadows Bronte had seen in Austen's writing, if he could not see them himself. He hadn't earned the truth from her.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: As a reminder to the serious literary scholar that you have to go to original sources whenever possible, one thing I find astounding is that while I have read various articles and book chapters where Bronte's famous reference to JA's "carefully-fenced, highly-cultivated garden" has been quoted or paraphrased, I can't recall ANY of those articles or chapters also alerting me to Lewes's claim that Bronte was "utterly without a sense of humor". There is a kind of over-scrupulousness in a lot of academic writing, where a kind of Bowdlerization seems the norm, as if it were unseemly for literary scholars to talk about Lewes taking a pointed potshot like that at Bronte. Such overscrupulousness impedes the path to insight and truth.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Emma's Secret Satisfaction

Ch. 52, Emma:

"She soon resolved, equally as a duty and a pleasure, to employ half an hour of this holiday of spirits in calling on Miss Fairfax. She ought to go -- and she was longing to see her; the resemblance of their present situations increasing every other motive of good will. It would be a _secret_ satisfaction; but the consciousness of a similarity of prospect would certainly add to the interest with which she should attend to any thing Jane might communicate."

I never consciously registered the exquisite (and, to me, obviously completely intentional, on JA's part) ambiguity and depth of meaning in this innocuous little passage before, and I suspect that I am not alone in having failed to give this passage its due, so I hope that the following will be of interest to many of you, and I am curious to hear if anyone sees any other wrinkles I have failed to detect.

BUT PLEASE NOTE--I give you the following solemn vow--everything I say in this message is in relation to the OVERT story of Emma--no shadow story in this analysis today. ;)

I begin by posing the question which brings out the ambiguity I now perceive: What does "similarity of prospect" mean to Emma in relation to Jane? Is it merely that both she and Jane are engaged, and so Emma sees that as experience both she and Jane share? Or is there a further wrinkle in Emma's mind, i.e., not only that they are both engaged, but that now, as a result of Jane's engagement to a wealthy heir of a great estate, they are now, for the first time in their lives, equal in social status and wealth as well? I.e., is Emma feeling genuine camaraderie with Jane as women in love, or is this just another example of Emma's narcissistic snobbery? The former appears a benign judgment on Emma, the latter an uncharitable one.

Or, is it possible that BOTH apply? I.e., are we meant to infer that Emma consciously sees the similarity as merely being engaged, but unconsciously sees the similarity as both being of high status? You decide after you read the following, and tell me what you think.


The "both engaged" interpretation of Emma's feelings and thoughts is, on its face, plausible, but, as I will now argue, when you examine it more closely, it is NOT a very flattering one to Emma. First, right off the bat, the camaraderie is undermined, because this is to be a SECRET satisfaction for Emma, i.e., her own little private joke, one she is pointedly enjoying NOT letting Jane in on. It sounds to me like passive aggression--Jane kept her engagement secret from Emma all those months, so now Emma can have the satisfaction of a little karmic, and catty, revenge.

It's a private joke, of course, because, at that moment in time (although the narrator, with her typical discretion, fails to remind the reader) Jane does not know Emma is engaged--so if we look at this scene from Jane's point of view, at that precise moment, what is her likely opinion about the status of Emma's romantic affections, after observing Frank flirting with Emma all those months? Of course, it's that Emma still has a "thing" for Frank, and so Emma must, as the Westons fear, be broken-hearted at the news that Frank is engaged to Jane. That is exactly what the Westons feared.

And so surely Jane, at this first occasion when she is speaking with Emma after Jane's engagement has been revealed to Emma, is concerned that Emma might be quite upset at Jane. Jane alludes to this obliquely when she finally grabs a moment alone with Emma (away from the hovering Mrs. Elton, that is), but then Emma, equally obliquely, assures Jane there are no hard feelings. Does Jane read Emma correctly at that point, or are Emma's comments perplexing to Jane, the way Emma's comments "stagger" Mr. Knightley ten chapters earlier? We have no idea, because we are in Emma's head, not Jane's. But I'd say Emma's behavior demonstrates there definitely ARE some hard feelings, because (as much as Emma would not like to admit it), it must be apparent to Emma that Frank preferred Jane to Emma, and Emma surely must feel about that the same way she felt about the invitation from the Coles--she thought she didn't care, till she was put in doubt of it, and then she cared....A LOT!

But I must go on. Even if Emma perceives herself and Jane to be similarly situated as engaged women, they are nonetheless still DISsimilar in their knowledge of each other's romantic status. A flipflop has occurred, just like in Midsummer Night's Dream, but no "heart's ease" was required to cause this. It is simply that it is now Emma, and not Jane, who is (for the duration of 3 chapters) SECRETLY engaged, just as Jane was secretly engaged for 47 long chapters. Emma learns of Jane's secret engagement in Chapter 46, and Emma becomes secretly engaged to Knightley in Chapter 49, so the flipflop of circumstances is rapid.

And it's not just that they have each been, in sequence, secretly engaged---there's ANOTHER striking parallel, because-----sound familiar?------Emma and Knightley are keeping their engagement secret for EXACTLY the same reason that Jane and Frank did, i.e., the perceived necessity of concealment of the engagement from an older "tyrant" who would never consent to the marriage!

There is a complex dance going on here, then, where first it is Jane's turn to deceive Emma in this complicated way, and then it is Emma's turn to return the favor.

But all this leads to a THIRD, further parallel, also never flagged explicitly by the ever-coy narrator, which ALSO does not reflect well on Emma, to wit: in the aftermath of the public revelation of Jane and Frank's engagement, we hear all sorts of judgmental comments about their duplicity, the unfairness to others, especially to Emma, who appeared to love Frank. And yet, Emma, exactly like Jane, ALSO deceives a woman who appears to love EMMA's fiance, i.e., Harriet! Now it's Emma's turn to deceive Harriet, by not telling Harriet about Emma's secret engagement to Knightley, just as Jane deceived Emma.

What goes through Emma's head about Harriet? Read Chapter 50 carefully--it is there that we, the readers, are privy to Emma's thought process in the immediate aftermath of Knightley's proposal to her--and look at what Emma does--she avoids a face to face meeting with Harriet, and writes Harriet a letter instead--does the letter reveal the engagement to Harriet? I think the narrator leaves that ambiguous too: the letter will "communicate all that need be told", whatever that means!

It makes Emma sad to write the letter, so that could mean that Emma DOES give Harriet the bad news in that letter. On the other hand, it would also be quite natural for Emma to be feeling more than a little insecure about Knightley, after she has been shellshocked by the emotional rollercoaster ride she has just been on--hearing of Jane and Frank's engagement, then almost immediately hearing that Harriet loves Knightley, then almost immediately hearing that Knightley loves her (Emma), all in a very short time. So, Emma might plausibly worry that if she tells Harriet about the engagement, it is possible that Harriet, in her sudden disturbing assertiveness, might seize that moment to act like Lucy Steele or Mrs. Clay and throw herself at Knightley, and possibly prevail in inducing him to switch horses (so to speak) from Emma to Harriet?

After all, Harriet was very emphatic and very detailed in her explanation in Ch. 47 about all the reasons why she felt Knightley was interested in her. Upon such a line of reasoning, sending Harriet off to London would have the very desirable effect of removing Harriet from alarming proximity to Knightley!

So I see that as yet another deliberate ambiguity, and nothing i can find in the remainder of the novel removes that ambiguity--so it is very possible that Emma leaves Harriet hanging about Knightley until Robert Martin seizes the moment in London. And if Emma does that, note that Emma gets off scotfree from aspersions on HER character after she and Knightley announce their engagement. Why? How does Emma escape the judgments of the Highbury gossips on her and Knightley's character which are rendered on Frank and Jane? Because Emma makes very sure that nobody but Emma ever has all the information! SHE never tells anybody that Harriet had her sights on Knightley, and, as far as we know, when Emma and Knightley DO put the word out that they are engaged, there is nothing in the text to suggest that they felt it necessary to mention the detail that there was ever a secret engagement! So there is no one else in a position to put two and two together!

But there is that other interpretation of "similarity of prospect" still to consider.


I will not say too much in terms of this interpretation, beyond the obvious, which is that Emma comes off even more unsavorily if we view her sense of "similarity of prospect" as arising from Emma's snobbery. Standing alone, it is already unpleasant, to consider how Emma spends the entire novel avoiding being friendly to Jane, beyond her own nosy and jealous attempt to find out some dirty on Jane to bring her down a notch, suddenly warms up to Jane and the FIRST thing she thinks is, now Jane is no longer low-class, so now I can deign to be her friend.

But it's trebly bad, when we consider the role of Harriet in this equation. I.e., it makes Emma's abandonment of her friendship with Harriet (and as much as she sugar coats it in her own mind, repeatedly, that is what she does) even more blameful, because now Emma can rationalize that abandonment in the most expedient way, i.e., now that Jane will be a real lady, like myself, Emma can replace Harriet (who by the way, made the mistake of being interested in the same man Emma has now suddenly decided she loves), because Jane's no longer beneath Emma, and also because Emma's no longer interested in Frank, so Jane is no longer felt as a rival.

And finally, wen Harriet miraculously has her "stain" bleached out at the end of the novel, and winds up with Robert Martin, then Emma's feeble conscience is entirely extinguished.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: Even if not for all of the above, this passage would STILL be worth the price of close attention, for one of the hundreds of little poetic phrases which are everywhere in Emma--"holiday of spirits". I think Sheila Kaye-Smith paid that line its sincerest flattery by imitating it with great style and graciousness, as follows:

"I read Jane Austen for a holiday--a 'holiday of spirits'--and her main enchantment (for me) is the world, the life, she offers me--like enough to my own to be real, unlike enough to be stimulating--rather than the people she invites me to meet."

P.P.S. (added upon rereading of the above)

"So, Emma might plausibly worry that if she tells Harriet about the engagement, it is possible that Harriet, in her sudden disturbing assertiveness, might seize that moment to act like Lucy Steele or Mrs. Clay and throw herself at Knightley, and possibly prevail in inducing him to switch horses (so to speak) from Emma to Harriet? After all, Harriet was very emphatic and very detailed in her explanation in Ch. 47 about all the reasons why she felt Knightley was interested in her. Upon such a line of reasoning, sending Harriet off to London would have the very desirable effect of removing Harriet from alarming proximity to Knightley!"

The unconscious works in mysterious ways. When I was first typing the above section of my message just sent, I at first wrote "Charlotte Lucas" as an example of a single woman taking the action that Emma feared Harriet might take, to try to lure a man away from the woman he really loved. But then Charlotte did not seem to be a very good example of what Emma may have feared from Harriet, even if she was luring Mr. Collins away from Mary Bennet, because we know she was a good wife to Collins, and did not take advantage of him--that's when Lucy Steele and Penelope Clay came to mind instead as predominantly self-interested fortune-hunters.

But then as I just reread my message, I realized why Charlotte had come to my mind in the first place, and why she was actually the BEST example of all of what Emma feared from Harriet.

To wit, I recalled that in my message written only last week about Mr. Collins and Harris Bigg-Withers, I had pointed out that Charlotte had pulled off two brilliant stratagems in order to land, and then "secure" Mr. Collins. First, Charlotte put herself in his path right after Lizzy had rejected his addresses, and second (and relevant to the "secret satisfaction" passage in Emma), Charlotte then consolidated her fragile victory, by making Collins promise to immediately leave Longbourn WITHOUT telling the Bennets that he was engaged to Charlotte, so that he would not be subject to any sort of pressure from Mrs. Bennet to revoke his engagement to Charlotte. (which all actually does remind me of Lucy Steele, who probably swore Edward to secrecy after they got engaged, knowing it would give her "command of the board", so to speak)

So I am suggesting that Emma rationalizes her desire to get Harriet far away from Knightley (to make sure he does not change his mind about Emma!) by telling herself that Harriet needed a change of scenery, etc etc. Whereas Charlotte, clear-sighted self-aware pragmatist that she is, surely was fully conscious of her own motivations, and would, if asked (by a person who could keep a secret) have freely acknowledged her own stratagem---after all, it was only a perfect illustration of Charlotte's credo of courtship as expressed to Lizzy about the need for strategic action by Jane in order to land Bingley:

"When she is secure of him, there will be leisure for falling in love as much as she chuses."

Indeed Charlotte does not rest until she is secure of Collins, and it is that same resolution and fortitude which Emma, unconsciously, fears from Harriet vis a vis Knightley.

Which is why I am now convinced that Emma does NOT, in the letter she writes to Harriet, inform her little friend of her engagement to Knightley. The narration ""communicate all that need be told" now sounds like just one MORE of Emma's rationalizations--not only does Emma not need to see Harriet in person, Harriet also does not "need to be told" about the engagement either---at least, not just yet!!!

Cheers, ARNIE

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fw: JASNA - NY Metro Region Event - May Regional Meeting Invitation

Sent: Monday, March 15, 2010 3:40 PM
Subject: JASNA - NY Metro Region Event - May Regional Meeting Invitation

JASNA - NY Metro Region May Regional Meeting

Registration is now Open for the Spring JASNA-NY Regional Meeting

Saturday, May 1st at 2:00 p.m.

Come hear our guest speaker, Arnie Perlstein, talk about "The Shadow Story of Emma: Jane Austen, the Secret Feminist"

For more information and registration:
Go to and click on this event.

If you have any problem accessing the registration form, please email us at and we will send it to you as an attachment. Hope to see you there.

Nili Olay & Jerry Vetowich
JASNA - NY Metro Region

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sometimes strange rumours point to the truth

"There was a strange rumour in Highbury of all the little Perrys being seen with a slice of Mrs. Weston's wedding-cake in their hands: but Mr. Woodhouse would never believe it."

I guessed back in December, 2008 WHICH CHARACTER(S) IN THE NOVEL give(s) the Perry children all the wedding cake, but it was only an hour ago that I chanced to discover that my guess was not only correct, but also very significant for understanding the shadow story of the novel.

The answer is beautiful, because it is hiding in plain sight, and yet it subtly ties together many strands of the shadow story. If anyone does guess the correct answer, together with giving some reasonably satisfactory explanation for same, I promise I will verify it. Please note that I am deliberately NOT revealing at this point whether there is only one donor, or more than one.

However, if no correct, well-justified answer is given, I WILL nonetheless reveal the identity of the secret benefactor(s) when I give my talk about the shadow story of Emma to the JASNA regional chapter in NYC in May.

It was Anielka's claim that David Garrick is the METAPHORICAL donor of the wedding cake, which she posted to the groups a few months ago, which first led me to guess the identity of the donor(s). However, her answer was only one "door", among several, that lead to the answer I have found, and now have verified by another "door" to that answer, which is highly probative. As interesting as it was to know that JA had Garrick in the back of her mind when she wrote about that strange rumour, I believe it will be more interesting to most Janeites, to know who JA had in the FRONT of her mind. All the same, thanks to Anielka for the jog to find what I have found.

"There was a strange rumour in Highbury of all the little Perrys being seen with a slice of Mrs. Weston's wedding-cake in their hands: but Mr. Woodhouse would never believe it."

On the surface, it seems like an utterly trivial, silly, random detail, thrown in by Jane Austen for no special reason. except maybe to make us smile about Mr. Woodhouse's food obsessions. And yet, as I will show, it goes to the heart of the shadow story of the novel.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. Speaking of cake, I am strangely reminded of the punch line of the very funny t-shirt my wife bought many years ago, on the subject of the communication gap between male and female, which I posted in these groups about 16 months ago:

Two women talking in the bathroom (in two frames):

Frame 1, entitled "What Men Think Women Talk About"

First woman: "My boyfriend is the best lover in the whole world"
Second woman: "No, MY boyfriend is the best lover in the whole world."

Frame 2, entitled "What Women Really Talk About"

First woman: "Do you think sex is better than cake?"
Second woman: "What kind of cake?"

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Brief History of "dieing" and "fainting" in JA's Fiction

Apropos all the discussion last week regarding the dye-ing of Letter 57 (not to be confused with The Crying of Lot 49), I invite you to consider the following brief (and, to many of you, highly prejudiced) history of "dieing" and "fainting" in JA's fiction, which, in my opinion, bolsters, in a variety of ways, the sexual interpretation of that paragraph in Letter 57:


First consider the following from the very early juvenilia scrap, "A Beautiful Description of the Different Effects of Sensibility on Different Minds":

"In these situations we were this morning surprised by receiving a visit from Dr. Dowkins; "I am come to see Melissa," said he. "How is She?" "Very weak indeed," said the fainting Melissa -- "Very weak," replied the punning Doctor, "aye indeed it is more than a very /week/ since you have taken to your bed -- How is your appetite?" "Bad, very bad," said Julia. "That /is/ very bad" -- replied he; "Are her spirits good, Madam?" "So poorly, Sir, that we are obliged to strengthen her with cordials every Minute." -- "Well then she receives /Spirits/ from your being with her. Does she sleep?" "Scarcely ever." -- "And Ever Scarcely, I suppose, when she does. Poor thing! DOES SHE THINK OF DIEING?" "She has not strength to think at all." "Nay, then she cannot think to have Strength." "

I find it interesting that Dr. Dowkins is referred to as "the PUNNING Doctor"--and I think the hidden point is that the reader might wish to discern all the puns, not only the three obvious ones involving word reversals, but also the one that does not--the one about "dieing"

Second, consider the following from "Frederic and Elfrida":

"This answer distressed her too much for her delicate Constitution. She accordingly fainted & was in such a hurry to have a succession of fainting fits, that she had scarcely patience enough to recover from one before she fell into another."

It is difficult to escape the inference that "fainting" is a pun which is a "cousin" of the pun of "dieing" in the previous example, both of them pointing toward the kind of "dieing" or "fainting" which, as this passage humorously depicts, a person might wish to experience again and again and again.

But while it is interesting to take note of such precocious punning by the young teenaged Jane Austen, in stories which are completely absurdist, what I find of even greater interest are two examples of how she referred to "dying" and "fainting" in the realistic context of the novels, which actually provide windows into the shadows of those novels, and, in the case of Fanny in MP, not funny at all.


First, in Emma, all the usages of "faint" or its variants pertain to the meaning of the word as "barely discernible" EXCEPT the following two passages, both of which are associated with Harriet, and both of which are striking, particularly the second, which keeps spinning the sexual punning out during three successive additional sentences.

{Harriet breathlessly speaking] "....who should come in, but Elizabeth Martin and her brother! Dear Miss Woodhouse! only think. I thought I should have fainted. I did not know what to do...."

[After the "gypsies" episode] The iron gates and the front-door were not twenty yards asunder; -- they were all three soon in the hall, and Harriet immediately sinking into a chair fainted away. A young lady who faints, must be recovered; questions must be answered, and surprises be explained. Such events are very interesting, but the suspense of them cannot last long. A few minutes made Emma acquainted with the whole.

Indeed, as to the last word of that last sentence, which just happens to be the third word of the third line of the short charade of Emma:

My first doth affliction denote,
Which my second is destin'd to feel
And my whole is the best antidote
That affliction to soften and heal.

And also indeed, as to the last sentence of that same racy vignette that Jill H-S quoted in her introduction:

"...and not only rescued....the poor man, who for many years had actually dyed for her" (......... added by me)


And next, consider the following two wicked puns by the ever-resourceful Mary Crawford, which, I think, require no further explanation, in the context set by all of the above comments so far:

"I have three very particular friends who have been all DYING for him in their turn; and the pains which they, their mothers (very clever women), as well as my dear aunt and myself, have taken to reason, coax, or trick him into marrying, is inconceivable!"

Telling as that passage is, the following is far more significant, because of the segue from the other women Henry keeps on a string, to Fanny herself:

"By the bye, Flora Ross was DYING for Henry the first winter she came out. But were I to attempt to tell you of all the women whom I have known to be in love with him, I should never have done. It is you, only you, insensible Fanny, who can think of him with anything like indifference. But are you so insensible as you profess yourself? No, no, I see you are not.” There was, indeed, so deep a blush over Fanny’s face at that moment as might warrant strong suspicion in a predisposed mind.

And what is really remarkable, I think, is that it turns out that Fanny's blushing lack of indifference toward (i.e., an involuntary sort of "dying" for) Henry is directly connected to Fanny's "fainting"!:

In about a quarter of an hour her uncle returned; she was almost ready to faint at the sight of him.......She was nearly fainting: all her former habitual dread of her uncle was returning, and with it compassion for him and for almost every one of the party on the development before him, with solicitude on Edmund's account indescribable.......Having introduced him, however, and being all reseated, the terrors that occurred of what this visit might lead to were overpowering, and she fancied herself on the point of fainting away.

These are all narrations describing Fanny's reactions to being confronted in sexually charged situations involving her uncle (twice) and then Henry Crawford. Normally we would not associate Fanny with a heroine of sensibility, and yet here we have her three times, none of them in the same chapter, each time thinking she is going to faint because of an interaction with a sexually intrusive powerful man.

My sense of what JA is about with this, is to suggest that Fanny struggles to restrain her physical reactions to men who are forcing a sexual vibe in her direction, which, in her mind and spirit, she most emphatically, on every level, does NOT want to give in to. And of course the more disturbing of the two is Uncle Sir Thomas, who infamously does an inventory of Fanny's body, triggering Edmund's unbelievably grotesque rationalization, maybe the most egregious one in all the novels:

"“Your uncle thinks you very pretty, dear Fanny— and that is the long and the short of the matter. Anybody but myself would have made something more of it, and anybody but you would resent that you had not been thought very pretty before; but the truth is, that your uncle never did admire you till now—and now he does. Your complexion is so improved!—and you have gained so much countenance!—and your figure—nay, Fanny, do not turn away about it—it is but an uncle. If you cannot bear an uncle’s admiration, what is to become of you? You must really begin to harden yourself to the idea of being worth looking at. You must try not to mind growing up into a pretty woman.”

Why she marries this clown is a mystery to many.

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Perfect Analogue of JA's literary puzzles [and MASSIVE SPOILER as to today's (Thursday's) NY Times crossword puzzle]

One of the most common reactions I have received from Janeites to whom I have revealed one or more of my discoveries vis a vis shadow stories is that it was somehow beneath Jane Austen, as an author of serious literature, to fill her novels with silly or trivial puzzles for the reader to solve, and, what's more, puzzles which she does not even identify as puzzles to her readers, so that you have to first realize there is a puzzle, before you can go about solving it. And even if such puzzles are there in the novels, some others respond, surely I am not serious in suggesting that the answers to these puzzles could in any way enhance the reader's understanding, emotional experience of, or enjoyment of, JA's novels.

I have responded first by pointing out that if this sort of puzzlishness is beneath Jane Austen, it must also be beneath the Yahwist (author of the "seeds" from which the rest of the Bible grew), and also of the likes of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, James, Joyce, and many many other universally esteemed authors, as to each of whom there is SUBSTANTIAL literary critical scholarship published over a very long period of time, which identifies, and attempts to explain, the presence in such great literature of puzzles which somehow seem out of place.

I know this, because my research on Jane Austen's shadow stories has led me to ALL those other authors, and therefore I have come to expect, as inevitable, as to any author to whom I see a connection with JA, there must be some recognized puzzlishness going on with that author, puzzlishness which is (or at least seems to be) entirely unrelated to Jane Austen.

And that does not include the long list of modern writers like Borges, Eco, who have made this sort of riddling puzzlishness very overt in their fictions.

And I have, in response to skeptical reactions, also put forward several types of arguments to explain WHY an author like JA might have embedded secret puzzles in her novels, arguments which I will not repeat now. I am 100% convinced that JA had several powerful, indeed compelling reasons, for all of this, and I will be explaining all of that in print. I have another fish to fry today.

But first I will include a tip of the hat here first to my good friend Colleen Sheehan, whose work I praised in one of my messages yesterday; and second to Anielka, who is the only other member of these groups besides myself who has engaged in a serious AND successful way with specific puzzles and riddles embedded in JA's writings. While Anielka allows several more degrees of freedom than I do in the kind of wordplay which, for her, constitutes a valid decoding of a JA puzzle, she has nonetheless made some remarkable discoveries (each of which I have praised very shortly after she has presented them to these groups). In particular, first I, but then also Anielka, each on our separate path, have both followed fruitfully in Colleen Sheehan's trailblazing footsteps in engaging with the hidden meanings of the second charade ("courtship", "Prince of Whales" and other secret answers) in Chapter 9 of Emma.

This is all introduction, however, to a particularly apt analogy to the way JA played games with her readers, which was just dropt into my lap by a fairy this morning, in the form of the Thursday crossword puzzle in the NY Times. This puzzle was edited, as all NY Times puzzles since around 1992 have been edited, by the famous puzzlemaster, Will Shortz, who I believe continues to appear weekly on Weekend Edition on NPR.

This particular Thursday puzzle was constructed by David J. Kahn, and I am now going to explain the "punch line" of this puzzle, which will constitute a MASSIVE SPOILER for anyone reading along here is someone who actually does the NY Times puzzle. Therefore, this is the moment for any such puzzle solver to STOP reading this message until you have done the puzzle (and by the way, for those of you who would like to do the puzzle, you either have to buy today's print NY Times, or else subscribe (as my wife and I do) to the online NY Times service here:,4Q26kQ3Am3kkbQ514o3Q5E5ph54Q2FQ7Ek3Q264ohccVQ5EmiQ27b5V

Anyway, for those who are prepared to read spoilers for today's puzzle, I will now explain the relevance of same for understanding JA's literary puzzles. Today's NY Times puzzle is a "theme" puzzle, as many of the harder puzzles are, which means that there is a theme which helps the reader get the answers to certain designated clues (in this particular puzzle, there are 123 clues in total, and six of them are covered by the theme), over and above the language of those designated clues themselves. An extra "lifeline", if you will.

The theme of this puzzle is given in clue 14-down, and the clue for 14-down reads as follows: "Answer to each of the six starred clues, literally".

It turns out that the answer to 14-down is "mixed metaphor", but....the answers to the six starred clues, when I solved all six of them, were not mixed metaphors at all, not even one of them. A simple example of a mixed metaphor, for those who may be unclear about what it means, is ""Can't you hear that? Are you blind?" The modality of hearing has been mixed with the modality of sight.

In today's puzzle, in contrast, there were answers like "Top Maher" to the starred clue "Be funnier than comedian Bill?"; and "Rome path" as the answer to the starred clue "Via Veneto?". Even though I had finished the puzzle quickly (it was otherwise not a particularly difficult Thursday puzzle), without needing an assist from the theme, it bothered me that I could not figure out where the mixed metaphors were in those answers to the six starred clues. Something was rotten in the state of this puzzle, and I wanted to know what it was!

That was when I called my father, because he and I have long been "crossword puzzle buddies", where we talk to each other about the hard puzzles we both do, and I relentlessly tease him about taking much longer to do the puzzles than it takes me. He knows my teasing is all in fun, and conceals my admiration for his abilities, because I am 57 and he is 91, and it's amazing that he even does any crossword puzzles at all, let alone the most difficult ones in the American style (which, as puzzle buffs among you will know, are very different from English cryptic crossword puzzles, which I, for one, find EXTREMELY difficult, and do not enjoy even attempting them).

Anyway, I called him, and he, too, had completed the puzzle, but he also was deeply puzzled by the absence of any apparent mixed metaphors in those six answers. However, this was the moment when he and I diverged in our reaction to our shared puzzlement, in a way that goes to the heart of why I am telling this little vignette in a Jane Austen discussion venue. His first reaction was that there must be some mistake in puzzle construction by Mssrs. Kahn and Shortz. He was like Darcy initially trying to squirm away from Lizzy's cross-examination with the lame excuse of some congenital disability for ungentlemanly behavior at the Meryton assembly.

Whereas I, like Darcy AFTER Lizzy calls him out on his lame excuse, and he 'fesses up, had as my first reaction that the error must be MINE, not the puzzle creators; and further, that my error must be in some assumption I was acting on, which was erroneous, which was blinding me to what I was sure would turn out to be a Homer Simpson "Doh!" moment, when I'd realize that the trick had been hiding in plain sight all along.

I reacted this way without having to have a Lizzy Bennet to goad me, because I recalled, and had long since taken to heart, that every so often, Will Shortz & Company was going to play a game like this, by embedding an added twist in a puzzle, WITHOUT EXPLICITLY telling the solver, but instead winking it at very slyly, and letting the solver's puzzlement over some apparent error be the motor to lead the solver, sooner or later, to seek out the hidden puzzle that will show the apparent error to actually be a very clever final twist.

And the analogy to reading Jane Austen's novels may at this point perhaps leap out at some sharp elves reading this, because that is EXACTLY how I explain why I (and Colleen Sheehan and Anielka) are the ones who have solved JA's literary puzzles, whereas many other extremely intelligent Janeites, with equally extensive knowledge of JA's fiction as ours, do not solve those puzzles, or even realize that there ARE puzzles there to solve. To spot, and then solve, JA's puzzles, you have to be perpetually suspecting JA of a puzzle (thanks once again, Mary Crawford!), EVERY time you come across something in her novels which somehow clangs awkwardly, or seems not to fit with the context in some jarring way.

But back to today's NY Times Thursday puzzle. The REALLY sharp elves out there will have already been suspicious enough of ME to take a second look at the two answers to starred clues which I gave you, above, with such apparent casualness. If you have, you could have, judging by those two answers alone, figured out the mixed metaphor that was in each of them.....LITERALLY.

But for everyone else, I will now make it a whole lot easier to figure that out, by giving you, below, ALL SIX of the answers to the starred clues, one atop the next, which is exactly the procedure I myself started to go through as I tried to figure it out, when I realized the "trick" while I was writing the third answer.

other map
Rome path
Top Maher
Map hater
home part
more phat

Do you see the "mixed metaphors"? I deliberately placed the answers one atop the next, so that certain structural parallelism between these six answers, so utterly unrelated in content, will be more prominent, visually . you now get a subliminal sense of some other, even more powerful parallelism between these six answers?

Such as that they each consist of a total of eight letters?

And those letters are not entirely random, are they? ;)

Are you perhaps at this moment reminded of the following?

My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
Another view of man, my second brings,
Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!

But, ah! united, what reverse we have!
Man's boasted power and freedom, all are flown;
Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,
And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.

Remember what Colleen Sheehan told us about this charade --each stanza is an acrostic anagram, where the first letter of each line gives us "mlab" and then "bmla", which are both anagrams of "lamb".

Now everyone still reading along must surely realize that the above answers to the six starred clues are all ANAGRAMS of each other! Each consists of the same 8 letters, but in different orders entirely!

Very clever of Mssrs. Shortz and Kahn, right? of you with a good memory may think to ask--yes, that's very clever indeed, but still, where's the mixed metaphor in each of them? And what do Shortz and Kahn mean by that last word "literally"?

And (if I may be permitted one frivolous intentional mixed metaphor myself) it is those questions which inject the icing on the cake of this ultraclever puzzle, which is that each of those six words are ALSO anagrams of the word "METAPHOR", which ALSO contains those same eight letters!

And that, my friends, is the "punch line" I was leading up to in my deciding to present this little tale to groups of Janeites--because that last step is a perfect analogue for JA's shadow stories. The "theme" clue led us down a garden path of looking for mixed metaphors as we ordinarily use that term, BUT.... playing fair with the puzzle solver, it ALSO contained a CODED instruction to look for the word "metaphor" LITERALLY (or concretely) in each of the answers to the six starred clues. THAT is the "shadow story" of this NY Times puzzle!

But, clever as this NY Times puzzle is, as I have now explained it, it should also be apparent that JA's puzzles, which lead into the shadows of six of the greatest works of fiction ever written, are a gazillion times more significant, and meaningful, than mere word games which do not lead anywhere beyond the page where that puzzle is printed. Why? Because JA's puzzles vastly deepen and expand the scope and significance of the METAPHORS which are the nuts and bolts of her fiction.

And so, I end this message clangingly echoing Obe Wan Kenobi (or, for the well-heeled New Zealanders amongst you, One Kiwi Nabob), and saying, to those of you brave enough to begin on the journey into JA's shadows stories alongside me, "May the METAphors be with you". ;)


P.S.: Just as my father has never, during my entire life, missed any opportunity to kvell, to friends, family and strangers alike, about my achievements, whether they be my SAT or LSAT score, or my TV game show or Spelling Bee triumphs, I will myself NOT now miss the opportunity to kvell about my ninety-one year old father's far more remarkable and ongoing achievements in being able to complete the most difficult American-style crossword puzzles, both the 3 weekly hard NY Times puzzles, and also Stanley Newman's weekly "Saturday Stumper", putting him, I think, in a league of his own among nonagenarians.

So I now proclaim across the ether: WELL DONE, DAD!!!!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Real Thief

(c) Arnold Perlstein 2010

I have on dozens of occasions taken every opportunity to tout Colleen Sheehan’s tour de force in discovering the secret “Prince of Whales” solution to the second charade in Chapter 9 of Emma (Emma’s answer for which being “courtship”), as she detailed her discovery in the following 2006 Persuasions Online tandem articles:

What I have cited only occasionally is another Persuasions article that Colleen published in the 2000 print version of Persuasions, a reference to which is shown at the following URL, but not the text of the article itself:

As you can discern, the title of Colleen’s earlier article was “The Riddles of Emma”, and in it, among other discoveries, she gives the rationale for her discovery of a second, secret answer to the FIRST charade in Chapter 9 of Emma (the one to which the standard answer, although, curiously, never actually given in the novel, is “woe” + “man” รจ “woman”).

Colleen claims that the secret second answer to that first charade is “heartfiel”, and she goes through a wonderful chain of inferences to reach that outcome, as she weaves in the Shakespearean subtext of Emma which Jocelyn Harris first brilliantly wrote about in 1986 in her pioneering Art of Memory book. Among Colleen’s observations is the following:

“Just as an answer to the first charade is "heartfiel" or the heart's ease, "heart's-ease" is also the name of the hypnotic flower in Shakespeare's play Another name for this magical flower is "love-in-idleness."

In my mind, up till today, I have always ranked Colleen’s achievement in decoding the “Prince of Whales” solution to be a quantum level more amazing than her “heartfiel” solution---that was, until an hour ago, when I was reviewing my last message titled “The Ingenuity of Man….and Jane Austen” to see if I made any blunders.

Instead, my memory was jogged back by something I had written in my message to something related which Colleen wrote in her 2000 article, and which, as I recall, she had also mentioned to me, with justified pride, during one of our many delightful telephone brainstorming sessions during 2005 when she made her “Prince of Whales” discovery.

Here’s what I recalled from Colleen’s article:

“If we are willing to play along with Austen, and continue the game of anagrams played in Volume Three, applying it to the charade we have unlocked, we discover the core of the danger lurking at Hartfield. The anagram of "Heartfiel" is "Real Thief."

Colleen then went on to give an ingenious and witty rationale for suggesting that JA was depicting Emma’s imagination as the “real thief” :

“Emma's imagination, fanned and fueled by an intemperate and fiery spiritedness, made her vain, unjust, and incapable of forming genuine friendships or a true or lasting love. More than any of Austen's other heroes or heroines, Emma was in need of a degree of humbling which would temper her vanity and transform it into proper pride. Ultimately, this is accomplished in Volume Three, chapter seven of the novel, at Box Hill, a location seven miles from Highbury where, excluding the obstreperous Emma and Frank, a party of seven silent people (we are twice told) spent the afternoon picknicking. Box Hill, the author reveals, is a location within shouting distance of Dorking on the one side and Mickleham on the other (369). Ironically under the cooler shades of this hill, (4) where Emma's vanity receives its ultimate and conclusive blow or boxing, is still today nestled a little village by the name of "West Humble." (5)

Even though I did not find this part of Colleen’s argument as convincing as the others, I found it so clever and witty that I gave Colleen the benefit of the doubt, because the JA I know was indeed a lover of clever wit of exactly that kind.

But it was earlier this afternoon, as I was rereading my message, which is all about Knightley as the “thief” who “steals” Emma, when it shot like an arrow through my brain, and lit up Colleen’s “real thief” discovery in bright neon lights—of course! JA is telling us, with that first charade’s secret answer, “heartfiel”, that Knightley is the “REAL thief”!!!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: Another tidbit from Colleen’s article might just be relevant to my discussion yesterday of Henry Crawford’s (and Lovelace’s) sacrilegious quotation of the Biblical Proverb about the “bread of idleness”. I have a hunch that Shakespeare and JA (and who knows, maybe Richardson as well, since he knew his Shakespeare pretty well, too) each was thinking, in part, of that Proverb when they were writing Midsummer Night’s Dream and Emma, respectively.

The Ingenuity of Man...and also of Jane Austen (JA)

The following is a response by me to another comment made by Jill Heydt-Stevenson (quoted by me, immediately below) in the Janeites and Austen-L groups:

“I've come to learn a *little* -- truly a little--about the tradition of women and keeping chickens, etc. I've discovered that it has quite a history. But this is pure conjecture: I'm not sure what I would find when I looked closely."

Jill, I have found that most conjectures regarding aspects of daily life hinted at in passing in JA’s novels, particularly those relating to life in a country village (as opposed to the big city), usually turn out to be very fruitful avenues of inquiry, on multiple levels, so thanks for inducing me to stroll down this one.
It turned out to be a fairly short stroll for me, because the “shadow” of your question that interests me most is the metaphorical one, as opposed to the actual poultry-keeping practices of real women in JA’s world. But as your book illustrates, the metaphorical and the sociohistorical are NEVER separate questions, and I would bet a good amount that once I throw out this, my own metaphorical response to your conjecture,, my interpretation will rapidly be deepened in a variety of interesting and unexpected ways, once others come forward, as I am sure that Nancy and others will, with details about real world Regency Era hens and chickens, of which I am currently quite ignorant.

And, as I just browsed in your chapter on S&S in Unbecoming Conjuinctions, at ppg. 65-66, I see that you have already set the stage for my own comments with your own wonderful and spot-on metaphorical analysis of Willoughby as the "fox" who raids the Dashwood "hen house" (i..e, cottage) in S&S. What I wish to suggest is that your brilliant take on the Dashwood henhouse is a direct precursor to what I believe is the most memorable event associated with poultry in all of JA’s novels, which is described in the penultimate paragraphs of Emma:

“In this state of suspense they were befriended, not by any sudden illumination of Mr. Woodhouse's mind, or any wonderful change of his nervous system, but by the operation of the same system in another way. Mrs. Weston's poultry-house was robbed one night of all her turkies -- evidently by the ingenuity of man. Other poultry-yards in the neighbourhood also suffered. Pilfering was housebreaking to Mr. Woodhouse's fears. He was very uneasy; and but for the sense of his son-in-law's protection, would have been under wretched alarm every night of his life. The strength, resolution, and presence of mind of the Mr. Knightleys, commanded his fullest dependance. While either of them protected him and his, Hartfield was safe. But Mr. John Knightley must be in London again by the end of the first week in November. The result of this distress was, that, with a much more voluntary, cheerful consent than his daughter had ever presumed to hope for at the moment, she was able to fix her wedding-day…”

I claim that JA’s narrator is winkingly whispering in our ear that what has happened here, metaphorically, (but only in the shadow story, I immediately add!), right under Mr. Woodhouse’s (and the unwary reader’s) nose, is that (whether or not Mrs. Weston’s poultry-house was actually raided or not--and I think not) Mr. Woodhouse’s “henhouse” (i.e., Hartfield, which is the residence of the solitary hen of Highbury who bears “golden” eggs—i.e., Emma) is the one which has been "raided"!

And, if Emma is the golden "hen", then the “fox” must be none other than Mr. Knightley himself, who has, with a little help from his friend Mrs. Weston, so effortlessly deployed his “ingenuity” in order to work such a “wonderful change” in Mr. Woodhouse! And what an ironic Chinese-Box sort of tour de force this really is on JA's part, to deploy this device of a theft to covertly illustrate the very act of "matrimonial larceny" which , on the surface, is what that theft triggers! And all of it hiding in plain sight!

So Nancy, when you wrote yesterday, on the subject of Mary Wollstonecraft's condemnation of the inequality of male and female power in England two centuries ago, that the great Vindicatrix had cast her net too wide, I beg to differ--JA is, to my mind, was very much of Wollstonecraft's mind on this subject, and was just begging the sharp reader to infer that it's not just the Willoughbys who were the foxes of JA's world, but also, potentially, the likes of George Knightley as well.


And I would be remiss if I did not also quote the one sentence in JA’s letters that belonged in Unbecoming Conjunctions, but which somehow slipped through your wide-flung net, Jill--- the one which relates directly to all of the above allegorizing about animals and ingenious men. It is also the one that I discussed in Janeites several years ago, an excerpt from the 11/13/1800 Letter 26 which JA wrote to Martha Lloyd:

"Mrs. Stent will now & then ejaculate some wonder about the Cocks & Hens, what can we want?"

I believe that my interpretations of this line from Letter 26 as a sexual innuendo (and, as I recall, I am not the first to suggest this, by the way) and the above passage from Emma bolster each other, in that the "theft" of Emma by Knightley is one with a distinctly sexual aspect which would not, I would imagine, be the case with a fox and a hen---the most important act which the "hen" Emma will perform on behalf of the "fox" Knightley will be to give birth to an heir to both Hartfield and Donwell Abbey--and that led me to a thought which I just double checked, and found JA herself winking at me, as I finally paid attention to the meaning of a passage from the novel itself, as Emma contemplates her future with Knightley:

"It is remarkable, that Emma, in the many, very many, points of view in which she was now beginning to consider Donwell Abbey, was never struck with any sense of injury to her nephew Henry, whose rights as heir expectant had formerly been so tenaciously regarded. Think she must of the possible difference to the poor little boy; and yet she only gave herself a saucy conscious smile about it, and found amusement in detecting the real cause of that violent dislike of Mr. Knightley's marrying Jane Fairfax, or any body else, which at the time she had wholly imputed to the amiable solicitude of the sister and the aunt." (Chapter 51, Emma)
What I wonder is, when Emma and Knightley marry, and then Knightley moves into Hartfield, while he still retains ownership of Donwell Abbey, does this not mean that Knightley has become owner of BOTH Donwell Abbey AND Hartfield? It seems to me that it leaves Emma's two nephews even FURTHER out in the testamentary cold!

Cheers, Arnie

P.S.: By the way, the quotation from Letter 26, above, is another example, like the passage about Princess Caroline and the Prince Regent which I quoted the other day from another of JA’s letters to Martha, Letter 82, of how the precious tiny handful of surviving letters that JA wrote to Martha (I think there are three?) are the very ones which are most likely to contain the most overt innuendoes, because they did not have to run the gauntlet of the censorious flames of CEA’s chimney in order to survive.

But as the recent discussion of Letter 57 to CEA reveals, even JA’s letters to CEA contained coded messages of real significance, and in that regard, and in relation to the above-quoted passage from Chapter 55 of Emma, I give you one of the three or four most famous lines from all of JA’s letters, in Letter 79 to CEA dated 01/29/1813 (not long before JA began the final composition of Emma), but with a little discreet addition of ALL CAPS:

“I do not write for such dull Elves As have not a great of INGENUITY themselves”
Mr. Woodhouse, who could be victimized by the “ingenuity of man”, was one of those dull Elves….

P.P.S: And Elissa, this is your cue to somehow tie in any or all of the above to Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules! ;)

Thirty two short words about Mansfield Park (and a children's story)

The following is my response to Jill Heydt-Stevenson's posting a brilliant logline (in quotes, immediately below) for Mansfield Park:

"...Fanny is acting all the time, and doing a brilliant job at it, for she cannot let others see her love for Edmund, or she knows that punishment and banishment will follow."

Jill, I think you've set a record---you've managed to distill the essence of (the overt story of) Mansfield Park down to thirty two short words--reminding me of one of those encapsulations of famous stories I've seen, like the following famous gag logline (which is Hollywood's term of art, so Google just informed me, for such an encapsulation):

""Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets, then teams up with three complete strangers to do it again."

Can you guess which famous story that is a famous gag logline for? (If you can't, just Google that logline, and you will see the answer.)

Jill, I will be thinking about your logline for MP for a while to come, because a really good logline is not merely a stunt, it can, as yours does, shed "dramatic" (ha ha) new light on a familiar story---bravo and thank you!

There was also a serendipitous bonus for me this morning courtesy of Jill's logline, and Google. Before I sharpened my search terms and found the proper logline Wikipedia page, my first search led me to something even more interesting, when my subconconscious drew my eyes to this title among several listed there:

Who is King of the Forest? (A Tale from India)

When Tiger jumped on Fox, Fox cried out, "How dare you attack the King of the Jungle!"

Tiger looked at him in amazement, "Nonsense! You are not King!"

"Certainly I am," replied Fox, "All the animals run from me in terror! If you want proof, come with me." Fox went into the forest with Tiger at his heels. When they came to a herd of deer, the deer saw Tiger behind Fox and ran in all directions.

They came to a group of monkeys. The monkeys saw Tiger behind Fox and they fled. Fox turned to Tiger and said, "Do you need more proof than that? See how the animals flee at the very sight me?!"

"I'm surprised, but I've seen it with my own eyes. Forgive me for attacking you, Great King." Tiger bowed low and with great ceremony he let Fox go.

There, my friends, you have a capsule version of everything (and I mean, EVERYTHING) that is going on in Emma, the whole shebang....if you really think about it...... ;)

For starters, now that I myself think about it a bit more, I realize, e.g., that it's NOT a coincidence with Who Is The King, that Mrs. Elton recites a line from The Hare and his Many Friends......

With a tip of the hat to perhaps the best movie title ever, Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould----thanks again, Jill, for starting my day so delightfully!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Bread of Idleness....and Indifference

The following is my response to comments by Derrick Leigh (in quotes) in the Janeites group:

"This is well detected."

Thank you very much, Derrick! ;)

"Austen's use of the "bread of idleness" phrase is probably not just an allusion to Clarissa. I feel sure she was aware of its origins in the King James translation of Proverbs, and her own use of it is just as ironic as Richardson's."

Derrick, I see now that I inadvertently was ambiguous---let me now clarify. I was well aware that JA intended BOTH the Biblical AND the Richardsonian allusion! And that JA was as entirely ironic as Richardson was! The only point I was speculating about was whether there might be a SECOND Biblical Proverb allusion in MP in ADDITION to the Crawford heresy. --so, you see, you and I entirely agree on this point. ;)

As for the allusion to Richardson, there are a number of scholarly commentators who have commented before on the many striking parallels between the character and actions of Henry Crawford and Lovelace, and it has been obvious to many that this is one of JA's most complex, multifaceted, and thematically significant literary allusions. It is in that context that this double allusion by JA, that includes both Lovelace AND the Proverb, is (forgive my punning tic) the icing on that particular literary layer cake!

And for those who might argue, as I have seen, that JA was "unconscious" of alluding in this sophisticated covert way to the likes of Richardson and the Bible, but somehow inhaled the "trope", like a spore, as it wafted past, and then inavertently wrote the allusion while in some zombie-like trance---well, this Proverb allusion is Exhibit 1,000 in the daily growing mass of evidence that pretty much all such allusions were entirely conscious and elaborately orchestrated by JA. Yes, out of such a large number, surely a small minority of them could have been inadvertent....but not such a large army of allusions. As I have opined earlier, JA's imagination surely generated all these allusions, but her very solid faculty of reason and reflection then shaped the products of her imagination in a highly conscious way, as she dovetailed all her allusions together in a complex, gorgeous web.


"It is infused with a sense of Fanny as the female embodiment of Holy Wisdom. Ishru bederekh binah, Go in the way of understanding, Derrick "

And you too, my friend, and keep in mind, in regard to what you just said, and also in regard to Henry Crawford's planned assault on Fanny's virtue, that Proverbs 31:10 reads as follows in the King James Bible:

"Who can find a virtuous woman? for her [Fanny] PRICE is far above rubies." ;)

But putting aside the allusion to Lovelace for the moment, which does tentatively appear to be my own original discovery, I was just checking around to see which scholars have even noticed the Proverbs allusion in Henry Crawford's "bread of idleness'--very very few as it turns out.

As far as I can tell, it was first noticed by Wendy Craik in 1965, but with almost no discussion of same. Since then, almost NONE of the editions of MP with footnotes have a footnote for that allusion. Astounding.

What is genuinely funny is that in Jane Austen and Food, Maggie Lane refers to "bread" TWENTY THREE times, but here is all she has to say about Henry's "bread of idleness" at P. 149:

"In Mansfield Park, the characters even occasionally employ food metaphors themselves.....When [Henry] concocts his plan to make 'a small hole in Fanny Price's heart', he again uses metaphors of consumption. 'I do not like to eat the bread of idleness,' he tells Mary."

And Irene Collins, in Jane Austen and the Clergy, a 230-page book, never mentions Henry's line, and in fact never so much as suggests that JA might in any way have ever alluded to ANYTHING in the Bible in her writings!

Howard Babb quotes Henry, but does not realize it is a Biblical allusion, and merely refers to it as Henry putting his wit on parade.

In the same volume of essays in which Joseph Wiesenfarth describes Henry's reference to "bread in idleness" as a gallant wooer, Alistair Duckworth goes into detail about how the vulgar characters of JA's novels use proverbs as a crutch to conceal their ignorance. But nobody connects the dots.

David Holbrook quotes Henry, but purely in terms of Henry's moving fast to woo Fanny.

And similarly Reeta Sahney quotes Henry, but with no awareness of an allusion.

And Deborah Klenck notes the allusion in passing, as a satirical embellishment, in the most recent Persuasions Online, before moving on immediately to other matters.

There is one other published commentator I can find online, who may just have gotten close. Penny Gay, in her Jane Austen and the Theatre, footnotes Henry's "bread in idleness" ---but I can't access the footnote--does anyone have a copy of Gay's book? If so, it would be fn 4 to her quotation of Henry's line on p. 99. Why I suspect that Gay's footnote is a good one is that, on p. 101, she goes into a wonderful discussion of the parallels between Henry Crawford and Lovelace-what I wonder is whether it is possible that she could have seen those parallels and yet not have seen the allusion to Lovelace? When I see the footnote, I will know the answer to that mystery!

Aside from Gay, is it any wonder that so many of JA's secrets have remained secret for 200 years, when something as obviously significant as Henry Crawford talking about "the bread of idleness" has drawn so little attention, and, when it does, it is not given any indepth consideration?

Ironically, the best analysis of the allusion I have found prior to my own current one is not even in a book or an article--it's what the late June Shaw wrote in this Janeites group 10 years ago: "When he shifts his interest to Fanny he tells Mary he must not "eat the bread of idleness (MP 229). "He phrase is taken from Proverbs (31:27) where it is said of a virtuous woman, the good wife, "She looketh well to the ways of her household and eateth not the bread of idleness." The comic misapplication of scripture is clever, as he intend it, though our amusement is no doubt qualified by the kind of idle indulgence he is planning; it is more than a folly, as Mary calls it here, the same word she uses for his later sin." Mary and Henry cannot share our amusement because that virtuous woman of his proverb is going to become his desired good wife. As Tave says when Henry finds that the hole is in his heart, there is a twist upon twist here, because being caught in this way is the best thing that has ever happened to Henry. Caught himself, he will not catch her because she knows him too well."

Nancy, you and Anne can be genuinely proud that you have provided a venue where some of the most original and creative thinking about Jane Austen has occurred during the relatively short space of a decade.


And, as further evidence of JA's interest in that particular Biblical occurred to me as I was responding to you, above, Derrick, that JA must have also played ironically with that same Proverbial "bread of idleness", but from an entirely different angle, in yet another of her novels---EMMA!

In Emma, the bread is in a different oven, so to speak, because the allusion involves not a privileged man, but an unprivileged WOMAN--Jane Fairfax--and the irony turns on the muted, but unceasing and distinct, drumbeat of Miss Bates making sure that Highbury is aware (even if Emma is NOT listening) that Jane, as a woman without a fortune, did NOT have the luxury of idleness if she wished to avoid.........literal starvation!

"...Miss Campbell....was eligibly and happily settled, while Jane Fairfax had yet her BREAD to earn...........The aunt was as tiresome as ever...they had to listen to the description of exactly how little BREAD and butter she ate for breakfast, and how small a slice of mutton for dinner.........And it cannot be for the value of our custom now, for what is our consumption of BREAD, you know?"

Those with ears and minds wide open will hear what Miss Bates is really saying. But how many readers of the novel are swept up in the seductive wave of Emma's grotesque indifference to what is "tiresome" and fail to hear? The problem is not the trivial equivalent of the narcissistic injury Emma sustains while waiting for the Coles to invite her to the party she does not want to attend----Jane is not sitting around Miss Bates's walkup, waiting for a visit from a friend to gossip with---it's a matter of literal bread to eat---from a feminist point of view, Emma (and readers who identify closely with Emma) spends the entire novel merrily fiddling while Jane burns!

It is instructive sometimes to read along in a group read at a fansite like Republic of Pemberley, to see the reactions of first time readers of Emma--and not just the young naive readers, but also older ones who should know better--and to see how readily the readers embrace the narcissistic prejudices of Emma. And that is JA's main point--injustice persists in society in a pyramidal fashion, with a handful of genuine conscious tyrants running the show, and a mass of naive, inattentive beneficiaries of privilege who never notice the injustice to others, and therefore never remedy the injustice, because, for all they can see, everything is just fine as it is.

But JA, via Miss Bates, is echoing Hillel: "If not now, when?" Perhaps if Emma is not careful, she will wake up one day and find herself buried under a pile of young children, and with a husband who has taken all her money to pay for the improvement of his estate.

And, speaking of a pile of young children, the poignancy of Miss Bates's cryptic koans about Janes' bread is DOUBLED when you realize that in the shadow story, Miss Bates is also trying to tell us that there are TWO human beings (one born, one as yet unborn) who will starve if Jane does not eat enough bread during her (last) two trimesters in Highbury----or will she be confined to a diet of leftover wedding cake?

Anyway, thanks again, Derrick, for your interesting response!


Monday, March 1, 2010

BREAD GOTTEN SECRETLY IS PLEASING (edited to correct two errors in earlier posting)

© Arnold Perlstein 2010

As promised, albeit a few hours late--- here is an explanation of what I hope you’ll agree is the very cool allusion to Chapter 10 of the Biblical Book of Proverbs that I stumbled across on Friday in one of JA's novels—more specifically, Persuasion—while I was looking for something else entirely.

But before I unpack this Biblical allusion in Persuasion, to provide a little context for same, I want to first say a few words about an already previously discovered allusion to a Biblical Proverb which occurs in the novel most Janeites would have guessed most likely, all things being equal, to contain such a Biblical allusion if I hadn’t given any other clues---of course I am referring to Mansfield Park.

The Known Proverb Allusion in MP:

MP is, far and away, the work of fiction by JA which is most preoccupied with religion, including several scenes with intense discussions of religious practice and thought. It is also, of course, the one with a hero who is a clergyman, AND….with the heroine who was most preoccupied of all with matters of the soul, and with the sorts of moral questions that have historically been in the purview of religion.

And so no one can be surprised that MP has already been known for at least a few decades to contain a very obvious allusion to a Biblical proverb, although it is not an allusion that would warm the heart of a believer.

In Ch. 24 of MP, Henry has a very disturbing tete a tete with sister Mary, in which he tells her of his plans to occupy his downtime chez les Grants in between hunts with his canine hunters, besides walking and riding with Mary:

“….I shall be happy to do both, but THAT would be exercise only to my body, and I must take care of my mind. Besides, THAT would be all recreation and indulgence, without the wholesome alloy of labour, and I do not like to eat the bread of idleness. No, my plan is to make Fanny Price in love with me.”

This is, of course, a most disturbing and sacrilegious quotation of Scripture by the Satanic Henry Crawford---specifically the description of the good wife in Proverbs 31:27 “She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.”

It immediately gets worse when Henry comes out and frankly reveals that his school for matrimony will be a harsh one indeed for Fanny:

““But I cannot be satisfied without Fanny Price, without making a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart.”

Perhaps as he said this, Henry recalled the line from The Merchant of Venice (curiously, not one of the plays he suggests for performance in the Mansfield theatricals) where Antonio opined to Bassanio about Shylock: “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose”.

But for sure Henry, being the well read gentleman he was, knew very well that he was channeling the character from literature whom he most closely resembles, Richardson’s Lovelace, who describes to HIS confidant, Belford, what he had in store for Clarissa:

'Nobody can say, that I eat the bread of idleness. I take true pains for all the pleasure I enjoy.”

(and by the way, I am not sure if I am the first to spot this striking and significant allusion to Clarissa in MP)

So Henry is well aware that his purpose is as vile as that of his “role model” Lovelace, i.e., the desire to defile a pure heart in order to satisfy his sick heart. The irony of his quoting the proverb about the good wife is exquisite. He wants to subjugate Fanny in accordance with his own modern perverse conception of how that subjugation might be effected upon the wife of a jaded husband, who cannot be satisfied with humdrum obeisance.

And so much for those romantics who still think Fanny made a big mistake in not marrying Henry!

And by the way, I consider it very possible that there is another covert allusion to a Biblical proverb in MP, which neither I, nor any other reader of the novel, has ever discovered. It seems so likely to me that it would be there, and so likely also that it would be very very difficult to detect.

I find such is the pleasure of literary sleuthing in JA’s novels—there always seems to be more to find.


Let me recap the additional hints I gave you on Friday, besides pointing you to Chapter 10 of Proverbs, but this time with Anne’s name shown instead of merely “the heroine”.

I told you that the allusion was in three parts, which appear in the novel in the following order, in chapters separated by at least two intervening chapters, and therefore the connections between the parts were very unlikely to be noticed due to proximity.

The first part is very slyly, but also very extensively, embedded in the narration of an interaction between Anne and the male character who is the secret “cad” (“villain” is perhaps too strong a word for him) of the proverb.

The second part is spoken by a female character, and the third part is spoken by a male character. Both of these latter parts are spoken in the presence of Anne, and both of the statements which she hears which are part of the allusion ALREADY overtly characterize the “cad” in an UNflattering light, even if you are entirely unaware of the allusion to the proverb. However, when you see and understand the allusion to the proverb, you readily perceive that the allusion underscores the negative depiction of the “cad”, raising the level of criticism of his character and behavior to (literally) Biblical proportions.

The third part of the allusion is actually extensive, and at that late stage of the novel, it truly hides in plain sight.

OK, last chance to solve it on your own, with these extra clues……but those who don’t want to try, just scroll down…..
…… (scroll down)
…… (scroll down)

Did you guess Cousin Elliot? If so, that was an eminently plausible and logical guess--- but it happens NOT to be the correct one! JA has crossed us up once again in our expectations, after first leading us down the garden path….

And now it is time to tell you which proverb in Chapter 10 was covertly alluded to by JA, followed immediately by the three parts of the allusion in the text of the novel itself

THE PROVERB ITSELF (with the relevant part in ALL CAPS):

Proverbs 10:20: The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; THE HEART OF THE WICKED IS OF LITTLE WORTH.

[At the end of Chapter 11, Anne and Benwick have a literary discussion. However, it has never occurred to any previous reader of Persuasion that the Bible might just be one of the works of literature on Anne’s mind]:

“His looks shewing him not pained, but pleased with this allusion to his situation, she was emboldened to go on; and feeling in herself the right of seniority of mind, she ventured to recommend a larger allowance of prose in his daily study; and on being requested to particularize, mentioned such works of our best moralists, such collections of the finest letters, such memoirs of characters of worth and suffering, as occurred to her at the moment as calculated to rouse and fortify the mind by the highest precepts, and the strongest examples of moral and religious endurances. Captain Benwick listened attentively, and seemed grateful for the interest implied; and though with a shake of the head, and sighs which declared his little faith in the efficacy of any books on grief like his, noted down the names of those she recommended, and promised to procure and read them. When the evening was over, Anne could not but be amused at the idea of her coming to Lyme to preach patience and resignation to a young man whom she had never seen before; nor could she help fearing, on more serious reflection, that, like many other great moralists and preachers, she had been eloquent on a point in which her own conduct would ill bear examination.


[Near the beginning of Chapter 14, a conversation at the Lodge amongst Anne, Charles and Mary, shortly after the latter two returned from Lyme with news]:

“ But Mary did not give into it very graciously, whether from not considering Captain Benwick entitled by birth and situation to be in love with an Elliot, or from not wanting to believe Anne a greater attraction to Uppercross than herself, must be left to be guessed. Anne's goodwill, however, was not to be lessened by what she heard. She boldly acknowledged herself flattered, and continued her enquiries.
"Oh! he talks of you," cried Charles, "in such terms -- " Mary interrupted him. "I declare, Charles, I never heard him mention Anne twice all the time I was there. I declare, Anne, he never talks of you at all."

"No," admitted Charles, "I do not know that he ever does, in a general way; but, however, it is a very clear thing that he admires you exceedingly. His head is full of some books that he is reading upon your recommendation, and he wants to talk to you about them; he has found out something or other in one of them which he thinks -- oh! I cannot pretend to remember it, but it was something very fine -- I overheard him telling Henrietta all about it; and then "Miss Elliot" was spoken of in the highest terms! Now Mary, I declare it was so, I heard it myself, and you were in the other room. 'Elegance, sweetness, beauty.' Oh! there was no end of Miss Elliot's charms."

"And I am sure," cried Mary warmly, "it was very little to his credit if he did. Miss Harville only died last June. Such a HEART is very LITTLE WORTH having, is it, Lady Russell? I am sure you will agree with me."

"I must see Captain Benwick before I decide," said Lady Russell, smiling. “


[And finally, in the immortal climactic love scene in Chapter 23, the scene at the White Hart Inn that JA added when she rewrote the ending of the novel, we have the famous discussion of the comparative constancy of the two sexes]:

"True," said Anne, "very true; I did not recollect; but what shall we say now, Captain Harville? If the change be not from outward circumstances, it must be from within; it must be nature, man's nature, which has done the business for Captain Benwick."


“But let me observe that all histories are against you, all stories, prose and verse. If I had such a memory as Benwick, I could bring you fifty quotations in a moment on my side of the argument, and I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness.”


She could not immediately have uttered another sentence: her heart was too full, her breath too much oppressed.

"You are a good soul," cried Captain Harville, putting his hand on her arm, quite affectionately. "There is no quarrelling with you. And when I think of Benwick, my tongue is tied."


I have not flagged the key words relating to the Biblical Proverb which pop up in the cleverest ways in all these three parts, because it will be more fun, I think, for you to spot them yourselves. The bottom line is that BENWICK is the “wicked” man whose “heart is of little worth”, who is described in Proverb 10:20. Enjoy!

It is also relevant that Chapter 9 (which of course immediately precedes Chapter 10) of Proverbs sets up the extended allegorical conceit of wisdom and folly as two women who invite travelers into their homes, who at first may seem the same, but who then become known in their true colors to their guests, by the very different effects of their “hospitality”! Here is the end of Ch. 9, describing Folly’s hospitality:

"Let whoever is simple turn in here, or who lacks understanding; for to him I say, Stolen water is sweet, and bread gotten secretly is pleasing!" Little he knows that the shades are there, that in the depths of the nether world are her guests!”
I find that literary sleuthing in JA’s novels is truly “bread gotten secretly” and is truly “pleasing”!

And, conversely, here is the end of the description of Wisdom’s invitation:
“He who corrects an arrogant man earns insult; and he who reproves a wicked man incurs opprobrium. Reprove not an arrogant man, lest he hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Instruct a wise man, and he becomes still wiser; teach a just man, and he advances in learning. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the LORD, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. If you are wise, it is to your own advantage; and if you are arrogant, you alone shall bear it.”


The gestalt of the above allusion 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

P.S.: There is, by the way, one other allusion to an ancient proverb in Persuasion, which I just found while I was writing up this explanation…..but I am not quite sure how to interpret it. In Chapter 10, we read the following conversation between Wentworth and Louisa, about Charles Musgrove’s proposal to Anne, which was rejected:

After a moment's pause, Captain Wentworth said -- "Do you mean that she refused him?"

"Oh! yes; certainly."

"When did that happen?"

"I do not exactly know, for Henrietta and I were at school at the time; but I believe about a year before he married Mary. I wish she had accepted him. We should all have liked her a great deal better; and papa and mamma always think it was her great friend Lady Russell's doing, that she did not. They think Charles might not be learned and bookish enough to please Lady Russell, and that, therefore, she persuaded Anne to refuse him."

The sounds were retreating, and Anne distinguished no more. Her own emotions still kept her fixed. She had much to recover from before she could move. The listener's proverbial fate was not absolutely hers: she had heard no evil of herself, but she had heard a great deal of very painful import. She saw how her own character was considered by Captain Wentworth, and there had been just that degree of feeling and curiosity about her in his manner which must give her extreme agitation. “

One might at first assume that the proverb Anne thinks of is the famous Chinese or Japanese proverb “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”—except that I cannot find anything that suggests that a person who disobeys this proverb by eavesdropping will as a result hear nothing bad about him or herself.

I cannot find any of the Biblical proverbs which fits this description, but it is possible, although a stretch, that Anne has in mind the following line from Isaiah, 33:15:

“he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil;”

In any event, it could just be there because JA had proverbs on the brain as she wrote Persuasion, and this was simply a playful bonus for the literary sleuth that she tossed in for the sheer fun of it, and perhaps, as a sly clue that those of her readers who neither see nor hear all the evil which lurks in the shadow of her novels are perhaps missing out on half the fun and meaning!