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

Monday, April 26, 2010

When Mr. Darcy Shot Sir Thomas At Jane Fairfax's Direction

My wife and I just saw Polanski's new film The Ghost Writer, and we really enjoyed it. I strongly recommend this film to all lovers of good films, but I particularly recommend it to any Janeite who is interested in JA's shadow stories. I will not spoil the film by telling you anything specific about the story of the film, which is, I understand, closely based on the novel by Robert Harris, which is no surprise, given that he co wrote the screenplay with Polanski.

Just trust me---For reasons which ought to be apparent to anyone has been reading along in this blog during the past year in particular, once you watch the film all the way through, you will know why I immediately detected a strong subliminal aura of Jane Austen behind the film.

I was willing to bet that Harris was a Janeite with a particular affiniity for the shadows of Austen's novels, but even I was surprised at what I found when I Googled. First, Harris's wife is also a writer, her name is Gill Hornby, and if that name sounds familiar, it should-she is the sister of Nick Hornby, author of, inter alia, High Fidelity, which of course was made into a film with Hugh Grant.

Anyway, Gill Hornby, it turns out, is the author of a well-reviewed biography for pre-teens entitled “The Girl with a Magic Pen”--can you guess who is the subject of the biography? I bet you can! I cannot, however, decide whether I think Hornby chose that title for her book WITHOUT having read JHS's Unbecoming Conjunctions regarding Mr. Darcy's writing habits and Anne Elliot's opinions about history-writing, and
WITHOUT thinking about the “broader” implications of the title of Mozart's famous fairytale opera which need not be explicitly named......[edited to add--uh-oh! I just saw in that Hornby wrote a bio of Mozart for young people!!]

And what's more, Gill Hornby is also a regular columnist at the Telegraph website. a 2005 column ABOUT Gill Hornby from The Telegraph Online, Elizabeth Day wrote four things of interest to Janeites.

First, she quoted Hornby as saying that her husband “Robert [Harris] does like Austen and he has read all of her novels". That confirmed my sense of the Austenian sensibility underlying the film. I also learned that Harris wrote the novel Enigma, which was made into a great little film several years ago, starring Kate Winslet and Jeremy Northam, about Alan Turing and the breaking of the Nazi secret code at Blatchley.

In The Ghost Writer, another sort of word game besides enigmas is pivotal in the resolution of the mystery in the story, which has very strong Austenian connotations.

Also Hornby was quoted as saying that "with Jane [Austen] there was a life or death element to marrying", which I think I wrote myself just last week in these groups--I like Hornby's sense of JA as a feminist.

And, speaking of her own domestic life, Hornby said there are "no quadrille dances in the Harris/Hornby household".

If she had only read the thread initiated by Anielka here, and joined by me, earlier this year, on the subject of "quadrilles".

And Hornby also mentioned Hercule Poirot when she wrote a column earlier this year in praise of amateur detectives being deployed by English police to help solve crimes-better she had mentioned Miss Marple, I think.

Oh, and Hornby and Harris live in Kintbury.....

Which all is salient to the Austen aura I perceived so distinctly in The Ghost Writer.

Go see it!


P.S.: The title of this message is a joke that hopefully will make sense if you watch the film all the way through, including paying close attention to the credits showing the names of the actors playing minor roles....

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Meaning of Moral Silence in JA's Novels, and Mona Scheuermann a Modern-day Marilyn Butler

Just today I came across, for the first time, a book entitled _Her Bread to Earn_, from 1993, written by an academic literary scholar, Mona Scheuermann. My attention was drawn to the following excerpt from Scheuermann’s book, at p. 233-4:

“I want to preface my discussion of Jane Fairfax with a look at a short passage that generally goes unremarked in our reading of Emma….: ‘[James will] always like going to Randalls, because of his daughter’s being housemaid there…That, was your doing, papa, You got Hannah that good place. Nobody thought of Hannah till you mentioned her -- James is so obliged to you!" "I am very glad I did think of her. It was very lucky, for I would not have had poor James think himself slighted upon any account; and I am sure she will make a very good servant; she is a civil, pretty-spoken girl; I have a great opinion of her. Whenever I see her, she always curtseys and asks me how I do, in a very pretty manner; and when you have had her here to do needlework, I observe she always turns the lock of the door the right way and never bangs it. I am sure she will be an excellent servant; and it will be a great comfort to poor Miss Taylor to have somebody about her that she is used to see. Whenever James goes over to see his daughter you know, she will be hearing of us. He will be able to tell her how we all are." Emma spared no exertions to maintain this happier flow of ideas, and hoped, by the help of backgammon, to get her father tolerably through the evening, and be attacked by no regrets but her own.’

There is no comment or corrective by Austen on this discussion. Mr. Knightley enters, and the focus of the scene shifts entirely away from this interlude. But the discussion of Hannah the servant maid is, I think, useful for us as a measure of our own perspective on the much more important Jane Fairfax characterization. What is significant in this discussion about Hannah is the unquestioned assumption that some people have servants and that some people are servants. Mr. Woodhouse thinks highly of Hannah: she is ‘a civil, pretty-spoken girl’ who politely asks him how he is and who never bangs the door. That she might have feelings or the desire to do more than be had in to do needlework, or that she might even want to live in the same house with her father, does not enter Mr. Woodhouse’s mind—and we understand his lack of empathy, since already we know that above all he is self-centered. But none of this enters Emma’s mind either, and none of it shows up in a comment by the author. Hannah seems just fine to Mr. Woodhouse and to Emma. She also, I am suggesting, seems fine to Austen. Hannah has a social place and fits into it; we don’t worry about her any farther.” END OF SCHEUERMANN EXCERPT

Scheuermann wrote the above comments in 1993, in a chapter about Jane Austen in a book discussing several authors, but in 2009, I see that she published a book exclusively about Jane Austen, and from my quick browsing in it, it seems to me that the kind of analysis and perspective we see in the above quoted excerpt from 1993 is being continued, and amplified, in her 2009 book. That is consistent with the following positive critical comments at the publishing house’s website:
Re Reading Jane Austen, 2009, by Mona Scheuermann:

“Scheuermann does not have a political agenda; Austen is not, for her, a ‘feminist novelist,’ nor is she a ‘failed feminist novelist.’ By setting Austen’s novels in their own remarkable era, Scheuermann discovers a writer who, far from merely working that small piece of ivory, intimately faces the most profound concerns of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England.”—Maximillian Novak, Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature, UCLA

“Repeatedly hijacked by assorted critics with contradictory agendas, Jane Austen’s writings have long been held hostage to a rag-tag band of ideologies, methodologies, and plain old ambitions. Now, Austen’s novels have been liberated…Scheuermann returns to us a Jane Austen that we all knew (or at least hoped) existed: an Austen with robust conceptions of the good and decent life, a no-nonsense Austen who makes clear judgments about the merit of ideas, people, literature, and the arts. ”—Kevin L. Cope, Professor, Department of English, Louisiana State University

“Scheuermann offers a reading of a conservative Jane Austen that is profound in its simplicity, and sophisticated in its refusal to be taken in by the various jargons of recent criticism…Scheuermann makes a strong argument for acknowledging that Austen’s values are often very different from our own, no matter how violently we twist and torment her texts to make her ‘one of us.’ In doing so, she demonstrates the full clarity of Austen’s ethical vision and the very good reasons why—as a check to our own certainties—it is always timely and instructive to reread her novels.”—Melvyn New, Professor of English, Emeritus, University of Florida

In essence, Scheuermann’s 2009 book, although very curiously she never once mentions Marilyn Butler’s Seventies book Jane Austen and the War of Ideas, which was the seminal text espousing a view of Jane Austen as a Tory conservative for a generation of Austen criticism, seems nevertheless to be an extension of Butler’s arguments for the next generation of Austen critics. I had thought such views to have passed by the wayside in academia, but apparently not.

Needless to say to anyone who follows what I write about JA, my opinion is diametrically opposed to Scheuermann’s, as I believe that JA was, overtly, a careful feminist, and, covertly, a radical feminist.

But what I want to discuss now is the way Scheuermann reads the above quoted passage from Chapter 1 of Emma, and in particular, I want to zero in on the following conclusion by Scheuermann:

“Hannah seems just fine to Mr. Woodhouse and to Emma. She also, I am suggesting, seems fine to Austen. Hannah has a social place and fits into it; we don’t worry about her any farther.”

I am amazed that Scheuermann reads that passage from Emma and concludes from it that Emma’s utter lack of concern for Hannah’s inner life implies a similar lack of concern on JA’s part. Scheuermann apparently considers the point obvious, based on the lack of “comment or corrective”(in the narration of that passage in Chapter 1 of Emma) critical toward Emma or Mr. Woodhouse. And so, the logic goes, if JA had looked askance on Emma or Mr. Woodhouse in this regard, the narration would, and should, have stated, or at least strongly implied, that critical or hostile stance. JA would not, like Fanny Price, Elinor Dashwood, and Anne Elliot so often did, have remained silent.

And I realized that this is a significant point in the interpretation of JA’s writing, because my first thought as I read Scheuermann’s comments was that this must be only one of a number of passages scattered through JA’s novels, where some sort of reprehensible behavior is depicted, but neither any character nor the narrator actually reproaches the behavior, or the characters so behaving.

And yet, upon further reflection, it is hard to produce one from memory. One which occurred to me, is to ask whether, in Persuasion, JA’s narrator, or any character, ever explicitly reproaches the narcissistic, selfish behavior of Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot toward Anne? But then, in that case there is no need for such an explicit reproach, because we as readers are so identified with Anne, that we feel their cruelty toward her without the need for any explicit reproach. That is obviously different than with Hannah Heretofore the Housemaid of Hartfield, where we are not invited to identify with her at all.

I also at first thought of the famous passage in Chapter 2 of S&S, in which Fanny Dashwood leads John Dashwood into temptation to be horridly selfish and insensitive, would fit the bill perfectly, because I recalled (correctly as I verified) that there is nothing in that chapter which expresses even a hint of a reproach by the narrator. However, I also checked, and verified, that near the end of Chapter 1, i.e., immediately preceding that scene, we ARE told by the narrator that Fanny and John are pretty selfish sorts. So for some reason (and I regret to say I think it an authorial misjudgment, because it was so superfluous, given Fanny’s horrid behavior throughout the novel) JA felt the need to spell out a moral judgment in no uncertain terms.

But my gut tells me that there are many such passages nonetheless, hiding in plain sight. Anyone care to help in detecting any other examples? Until then, I will remain up in the air as to my intuitive conviction that JA often resisted the urge to spoonfeed morality to her readers, and that she expected that when she depicted man’s (or woman’s) inhumanity to man (or woman), it was the job of the reader, not the author, to parse out the morality. I think she wanted the reader to deduce what JA’s attitude was toward the bad behavior she depicted, without her having to spell it out, but I will reserve final judgment pending review of all the relevant evidence.

I also just realized that what complicates the above determination is that it’s also my CERTAIN sense that when JA DID allow the narration to express moral judgments on the actions of characters, she often wrote those passage to be read in two ways, i.e, either straight or ironically---as judgment, or as parody of judgment. I can produce a ton of examples of that variety.

The closest model I see in the novels to the elusive persona I think that JA so often adopted in her narration is Frank Churchill toying with Emma during their guessing game about the identity of the donor of the piano. I see JA as, similarly to Frank, yessing the reader to death, leading the reader to make assumptions, and then seeming to ratify those assumptions—but are these ratifications sincere?.
But back to the specific example of Hannah….I quickly checked to see if any scholars or amateur Janeites other than Scheuermann had ever weighed in on the subject of JA’s attitude toward Emma vis a vis Hannah, but I found nothing.

In terms of discussions of servants in Austen’s novels in general, I did find one long article in the 1988 Persuasions, entitled “Seen But Not Heard: Servants in Jane Austen’s England” by Judith Terry. But despite its promising title, this article never mentioned Hannah (even though she is that rare servant in an Austen novel who is actually described in a personal way), and Terry makes the following Scheuermann-like comment: “Throughout the novels, [JA] is consistently of the opinion that too much intimacy with servants is a bad thing.”

Similarly, in a 2001 dissertation, “Literary servants' vanishing act in the eighteenth century”, Tracy Michelle Volz writes: “Austen adopts Richardson's new domestic paradigm, but she moves even further in the direction of servant as paid commodity rather than as protected member of the household. In Mansfield Park, for example, she revisits Pamela in order to show the dangers of blurring class boundaries.” And that same premise is essentially also echoed in Julie Nash’s 2007 book _Servants and Paternalism in the Works of Maria Edgeworth and Elizabeth Gaskell.

On my side of the argument, all I could find is that Julie Wakefield at her austenonly blog, wrote last year:

“Because of Jane Austen’s fleeting references to servants in her works, I have heard people refer to her so-called method of hiding them, as Her Invisible Servants, implying that, as she was mostly silent on their roles and physical presence, they meant nothing to her and she was indifferent to them. This is not correct. From the evidence of her letters she was clearly involved in the detail of her own servants’ lives and of those employed by the various branches of her family. The letter written from Lyme of the 14th september 1804 talks affectionately of James and Jenny , their servants. Jane Austen had a very close and long friendship with Anne Sharpe, the governess to Edward Knight’s children.”
But I go even further than Wakefield. In my opinion, Hannah in Emma is one of the many secondary characters in JA’s novels whose lives JA was focused on, but covertly, in the shadow story. I could not agree more with Anielka, who wrote the following a few months back about the novella by Anna (sounds a lot like Hannah, and who also had a father named James) Austen Lefroy, entitled Mary Hamilton, which has a very voluble house servant named Hannah:

“Emma's secrets are hidden in Miss Bate's speech and here Hannah performs the same function.”

I am of the opinion that Anna Austen Lefroy understood the significance of Hannah Heretofore the Housemaid of Hartfield, and covertly celebrated her untold story in her own novella. Austen’s servants were not merely nobodies to her, they had a rich secret life which she recognized as an echo of her own secret life as a genteel impoverished lady.

And I have one OTHER important reason to believe that Hannah was a significant character for JA, which I will be revealing publicly at my talk to JASNA-NYC in two weeks. It’s really quite amazing, and blew me away when I discovered it six months ago, and it does constitute some very specific evidence in support of my claims.

Cheers, ARNIE

Friday, April 16, 2010

Certainly some

I never before noticed a small but sly touch that JA inserted in Mr. Knightley's speech in which he upbraids Emma for having insulted Miss Bates:

"You, whom she had known from an infant, whom she had seen grow up from a period when her notice was an honour, to have you now, in thoughtless spirits, and the pride of the moment, laugh at her, humble her -- and before her niece, too -- and before others, many of whom (certainly some,) would be entirely guided by your treatment of her. --"

Here we have Knightley reading Emma the Riot Act but good, laying it on extra thick, so as to REALLY reduce her to emotional rubble--almost as if the calendar had been turned back a decade, and Knightley was once again 27 and Emma was 11--an adult pretending to be more upset than he really is, because he is trying to teach the child a lesson she will never forget.

But then, what keeps even this speech in the realm of comedy, is that, in the midst of this eloquent dressing-down, even Knightley cannot keep his stern countenance the whole way through--I can almost see him wink his eye (solely for Mrs. Weston's consumption, of course) when he realizes, even as he is speaking, the utter absurdity (to anyone other than the delusionally narcissistic Emma herself) of suggesting that "many" of the witnesses to Emma's insulting of Miss Bates at Box Hill would be "entirely guided" by Emma in ANY way, shape or form! In fact, it is clear that Knightley is actually thinking at that moment of the ONLY person present who comes close to that description, i.e., Harriet---and, as we discussed a few weeks ago, there is reason to doubt whether even Harriet resembles that "portrait".

And so, Knightley breaks countenance from being Mr. Stern-Face for a second, interjects "certainly some", and then reverts to stern form and quickly lands the plane. And of course it all works, Emma is on the first step to being herself leveled, a job which will require two more jolts--the news of Jane and Frank's engagement, and then the news of Harriet's aspirations to marry Knightley--to come to fruition---at least, long enough for Knightley to secure her "yes" to his proposal.

Those words "certainly some" in parenthesis, are evidence of the workmanship of Emma down to the individual word. Upon every rereading of any passage anywhere in JA's fiction, but most of all Emma, there is always the possibility of seeing for the first time such a wormhole leading to a micro-world of meaning. And that passage will thereafter never be the same again. And there are hundreds of such touches in Emma alone. A gift that keeps on giving forever.

Just a miracle.


Most Ready Interposition by the shadow Knightley

The following are comments I made today in Janeites in response to a speculative thread about the "provenance" of Donwell Abbey and Hartfield in Emma:

"Thinking about this a little further, it's possible that there were manorial rights attached to Hartfield that prevented the Knightleys from doing exactly what they wanted to do in the district."

Spot on, as you Brits say! ;)

"I'm speculating that Hartfield was the remnants of an original manorial estate. In the medieval period it was common for lords of a manor to grant rights to a priory or Abbey, and it often then led to later conflicts of interest."

Derrick, you and anyone else who is interested in seeing what might have been motivating what I call the SHADOW story Knightley (as opposed to the Knightley in the overt story) in his actions as owner of Donwell Abbey ought to read the article by Helena Kelly in the latest edition of Persuasions Online:

It's an amazing article, and a sign of the "new direction" in which JASNA has been slowly moving over the past 5 years or so, in providing more of an outlet, at least occasionally, for some pretty radical views about JA's writing. When Helena gave her talk at Chawton House, I did not attend, because enclosure was not on my radar screen at the time--to be honest, I had simply never previously taken the time to understand what enclosure was, assuming it was not worth the effort in terms of
understanding JA's allusions to her real world. How wrong I was! And so I missed what must have been a fantastic presentation, alas!

But I did subsequently, on my own, about 6 months ago, while looking at another great encloser of JA's, General Tilney, come to pretty much all the same conclusions as she (Helena Kelly) did about Knightley--and, what's more, I found a few OTHER smoking guns which are quite extraordinary, which make the same case even more strongly that she did.

And, Ellen, if you get a hold of Southam's 1971 article from the journal Ariel which I quoted from yesterday, you will see that Kelly's work owes a debt of gratitude to Southam's prescience in citing the necessity for understanding the larger-real-world significance of many of the seemingly "throwaway details" in JA's novels. Her article is a culmination of Southam's far-sighted vision four long decades ago.

"I'm thinking of one notorious case in 1330 when Adam de Banastre kidnapped and tortured the local Prior in a dispute over right of access by the Priory to collect tithes from the tithe barn on his land. Bad man! He was fined one mark and made to agree two roads across his property for the Priory to use."

Derrick, I am guessing that you are being charmingly discreet at this point in not mentioning the relevance of the above to the following comments by Mr. Knightley to his brother:

"But John, as to what I was telling you of my idea of moving the path to Langham, of turning it more to the right that it may not cut through the home meadows, I cannot conceive any difficulty. I should not attempt it, if it were to be the means of inconvenience to the Highbury people, but if you call to mind exactly the present line of the path -- The only way of proving it, however, will be to turn to our maps. I shall see you at the Abbey to-morrow morning I hope, and then we will look them over, and you shall give me your opinion."

"My point is that a division of the manor between the heiresses may still have left the Knightleys without the uncontested control that they sought. Why risk this, when another opportunity may not occur for generations?"

Perzackly. Well done, sir!


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Prominent Members

Apropos the current thread in Janeites and Austen L re Brian Southam's article re rears and vices, earlier today I was, for another reason entirely, browsing in Fanny Burney's early journals (edited in 1988 by Lars Troide), when I stumbled across the following amazing passage in the earliest surviving letter (circa 1768, when FB was 16), written to the young Fanny Burney by her stepsister Maria Allen (I don't know how old she was, but I will guess from the tone of the letter, perhaps a bit younger than FB).

Troide discreetly refers to the letter as "slightly indecent", and I'd say he is putting it a little mildly, perhaps you'll agree when you read it.

I added punctuation, to make it easier to follow the almost Joycean flow, but kept all the Creative Capitalization and Bad Spelling, because it is charming, even as it is, in a way, a much less clever and much less creative "sibling" of JA's juvenilia, written only 2 decades later:

"Come Fan, Psa'w, your a good Girl and Ill write to you first,Thats what I will, & I'll say all my clever things to you Miss--and Hetty shant hear One...Ah-ah Well I do Love you dearly for Loving me well Enough to write to me: but I always said Fanny was a very fine Girl indeed and she has proved it. I really Pity your distress, but think the stile you purpose figuring in is great. I have no doubt of your Letters being so Much above our Comprehension, that we shall adore you for A Divinity; for you know People always have a much greater opinion of a thing they dont understand that [sic] what is as plain and as simple as the nose in their faces. Now hetty's Letters and your Papa's--Lord, why they are common, Entertaining, Lively, witty Letters such as dr. Swift might write, or People who prefer the beautiful to the sublime. but you now! Why I dare say will talk of CORPOREAL MACHINES; NEGATION FLUID, MATTER and MOTION and all those pretty things. Well, well, fanny's Letters for my Money--I like your Plan immensely of Extirpating that vile race of beings called man, but I (who you know am clever (VERREE) clever) have thought of an improvement in the sistim. Suppose we were to CUT OF [sic] THEIR PROMINENT MEMBERS and by that means render them Harmless innofencive Little Creatures; We might have such charming VOCAL Music. Every house might be Qualified to get up an opera and Piccini's Music would be still more in vogue than it is & we might make such usefull Animals of them in other Respects. Consider Well this scheme. Liddy raves about Mr Gresham and your silence, but desires her Love to you &c &c &c. I tell you no News. I refer you to my very Entertaining Little history of anecdotes which will arrive in Poland in a short time. You will be amazed at the Brilliancy of Sentment [sic] Elegance of Expression, Depth of thought and reasoning containd in the hole [sic--that I believe is not a 'sic' at all!]. I prepare you lest the surprise should be too great for one of your delicasy of constitution."

I thought about the lewd joke on "their prominent members", and of course my first impulse was to do some quick word searches in JA's novels and letters to see what I might find. Nothing in her letters at all, and as for the novels, no "prominent members" there either. But I did find the following four passages (ALL in MP, not coincidentally, I would argue)--each one more striking (and ominously disturbing, as is so much in MP) than the next. I don't need, I think, to add emphasis to the words of innuendo, of which there are many densely clustered together, for you to follow why I identified them as such:

"Fanny's last feeling in the visit was disappointment: for the shawl which Edmund was quietly taking from the servant to bring and put round her shoulders was seized by Mr Crawford's quicker hand, and she was obliged to be indebted to his more prominent attention."

I forget the rhetorical term for "his more prominent attention", when read metaphorically, but it's a great example of it!

"The intercourse of the two families was at this period more nearly restored to what it had been in the autumn, than any member of the old intimacy had thought ever likely to be again."

That of course refers to the Bertrams and the Crawfords, and is one I had noticed before, for obvious reasons, but I had not previously identified the word "member" as having its own charge in that regard.

The following one is positively creepy.

"Excepting the moments of peculiar delight, which any marked or unlooked-for instance of Edmund's consideration of her in the last few months had excited, Fanny had never known so much felicity in her life, as in this unchecked, equal, fearless intercourse with the brother and friend who was opening all his heart to her, telling her all his hopes and fears, plans, and solicitudes respecting that long thought of, dearly earned, and justly valued blessing of promotion; who could give her direct and minute information of the father and mother, brothers and sisters, of whom she very seldom heard; who was interested in all the comforts and all the little hardships of her home at Mansfield; ready to think of every member of that home as she directed, or differing only by a less scrupulous opinion, and more noisy abuse of their aunt Norris, and with whom (perhaps the dearest indulgence of the whole) all the evil and good of their earliest years could be gone over again, and every former united pain and pleasure retraced with the fondest recollection."

The next, and last, one, is, in my subjective opinion, the only one of the four that is, out of local context, genuinely LOL funny, when you think about it with a certain mindset, as I am certain JA herself did when she wrote it:

"But though she had _seen_ all the members of the family, she had not yet _heard_ all the noise they could make."

I could readily imagine that line, in a different context, being uttered by a 21st century standup comedian, as part of a well-constructed joke, and with telling effect. However, when you DO look at the context where it occurs in the novel, and see that this is a description of the Price household, in particular the very ominous Mr. Price, then it immediately ceases to be funny, and it, along with the previous one, are the most disturbing of them all.

I am pointing these out because, as with Mary Crawford's "rears and vices", even though these are all sexual puns, I believe they are meant to be disturbing--Mary says what she says because she means to disturb the false tranquility and morality of Mansfield Park---for all her many flaws, Mary, having been schooled chez the Admiral, has learned to recognize sexual hypocrisy when she sees it, and she is not afraid to point it out, in her inimitable way.

In the same way, I would argue that many of JA's sexual innuendoes are JA's own voice, the disguised voice of the canary in the coal mine, alerting the readers of her novels that the society of which Mansfield Park was symbolic, was a sick and hypocritical society, where the ugly truth was seldom acknowledged--a society in which Sir Thomas Bertram was, as Walter Herries Pollock put it in 1899, little suspecting that I would be quoting him in this message today, a "PROMINENT MEMBER".

Cheers, ARNIE

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"his expectation of a young olive-branch"

I just wrote the following response to an interesting comment by Ellen Moody in the Austen L and Janeites groups:

(Ellen): "Ruth Perry claims that we don't hear this [frankness about sex--in the case of Mr. Collins, sexual disgust] from Charlotte Collins in P&P because in Austen's novel she is a character who doesn't think it -- nor Austen. I'd say not so. It's just not allowed for women to write that directly."

I just reread Perry's 2000 Persuasions article to which I am pretty sure you are alluding, Ellen. While Perry has done some wonderful feminist-tinged analysis of Austen's writing, particularly in that article about interrupted friendships in Emma, in my opinion Perry erred in a couple of ways in that article.

First I claim she is offbase when she writes, regarding Scott's Millenium Hall, and Wollstonecraft's Maria, or the Wrongs of Women that "[t]here is no reason to believe that JA knew either of these books, although they certainly were in circulation in her lifetime." What Perry did not anticipate in 2000, was that Jocelyn Harris would take a close look at Millenium Hall and then make a brilliant case in her 2008 A Revolution Beyond Expression that JA DID allude to Millenium Hall. And, as I have commented in the past, when I looked at Millenium Hall myself after reading Harris's book, I found that JA's allusions to Millenium Hall are even more extensive than Harris outlines in her book.

As for Maria, or the Wrongs of Women, I also am certain that JA had it on her radar screen as she wrote her novels, both for my sense of the resonance of that novel to what I see in the shadow stories of Austen's novels, and also because several scholars including Harris have shown that JA alluded extensively to Wollstonecraft's Vindication as well, so it is no great stretch to suggest that JA would have read WSC's novel, too.

That first point colors my comments on the second point. I believe you are correct that Perry is saying that Charlotte can feel comfortable in her marriage to Collins (and that JA can feel comfortable with Charlotte feeling comfortable) because, Perry argues, Charlotte (and, by implication, JA, too) is a throwback to an earlier era when sexual disgust was simply not in the equation for a married woman. And I agree strongly with you that JA DID feel strong revulsion, and righteous anger, at the thought of any woman having sex with a man who disgusted her.

Where you and I part ways, though---but in a friendly way---is that my interpretation of the shadow story of P&P shows that even the character of Charlotte is consistent with JA's strong feelings on the subject of sexual disgust--to wit, I assert that the following bit of dialog spoken by Mr. Bennet to Lizzy and Jane is ambiguous, and deliberately so on JA's part, and that it admits to TWO alternative interpretations:

"....his expectation of a young olive-branch."

The obvious interpretation is that Charlotte is pregnant. But n my alternative or shadow-story reading of that phrase, Charlotte is not pregnant, and has NEVER had to have sex with Mr. Collins, and never will.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Jane Austen's Reformations

The word “reformation” is not infrequently used in discussions of JA’s novels, in regard to the sometimes remarkable transformations of character that we witness, most memorably, perhaps, when Darcy and Lizzy debrief at the end of P&P regarding the amazing alteration in feelings and self-awareness they have mutually undergone. However, JA being the inveterate punster and prejudiced historian that she was, if you thought about it for a moment, you’d probably guess that if she ever used the word “reformation” in one of her novels, it just might have something to do with that rather dramatic event which occurred in England nearly three centuries before JA was first published. Sorta like when she used the word “ordination” to describe the subject matter of MP, and Janeites have been debating ever since exactly what she meant by that!
Anyway, I stumbled across this point as I was reading in NA, and came to the description of how Northanger Abbey came to be owned by General Tilney—in that description the Reformation (with a capital R) was indeed mentioned explicitly, organically, and literally.
But I wondered whether JA might have used the term anywhere else in her novels, and sure enough, she did use it, but only twice, and both usages occur in the same passage in Chapter 2 of Persuasion:
“They must retrench; that did not admit of a doubt. But she was very anxious to have it done with the least possible pain to him and Elizabeth. She drew up plans of economy, she made exact calculations, and she did what nobody else thought of doing: she consulted Anne, who never seemed considered by the others as having any interest in the question. She consulted, and in a degree was influenced by her, in marking out the scheme of retrenchment which was at last submitted to Sir Walter. Every emendation of Anne's had been on the side of honesty against importance. She wanted more vigorous measures, A MORE COMPLETE REFORMATION, a quicker release from debt, a much higher tone of indifference for every thing but justice and equity.
"If we can persuade your father to all this," said Lady Russell, looking over her paper, "much may be done. If he will adopt these regulations, in seven years he will be clear; and I hope we may be able to convince him and Elizabeth that Kellynch-hall has a respectability in itself, which cannot be affected by these reductions; and that the true dignity of Sir Walter Elliot will be very far from lessened in the eyes of sensible people, by his acting like a man of principle. What will he be doing, in fact, but what very many of our first families have done, or ought to do? There will be nothing singular in his case; and it is singularity which often makes the worst part of our suffering, as it always does of our conduct. I have great hope of our prevailing. We must be serious and decided; for after all, the person who has contracted debts must pay them; and though a great deal is due to the feelings of the gentleman, and the head of a house, like your father, there is still more due to the character of an honest man."
This was the principle on which Anne wanted her father to be proceeding, his friends to be urging him. She considered it as an act of indispensable duty to clear away the claims of creditors with all the expedition which the most comprehensive retrenchments could secure, and saw no dignity in any thing short of it. She wanted it to be prescribed, and felt as a duty. She rated Lady Russell's influence highly; and as to the severe degree of self-denial which her own conscience prompted, she believed there might be little more difficulty in persuading them to a complete, than to HALF A REFORMATION. Her knowledge of her father and Elizabeth inclined her to think that the sacrifice of one pair of horses would be hardly less painful than of both, and so on, through the whole list of Lady Russell's too gentle reductions.” END OF EXCERPT FROM CH. 2 OF PERSUASION
Everyone remembers the term “retrench”, which occurs four times in that same passage, but I suspect that few Janeites have ever focused on the use of the word “reformation” there. Of course, the heated topic of discussion is the dire state of the finances of the Elliots and the drastic measures called for in order to alleviate same. But I claim that JA took this opportunity to briefly conjure up the ghosts of Wolsey, Henry VIII and the Catholic Church, in order to provide a little subliminal historical resonance. And, given Sir Walter’s mania for aristocratic ancestry, he’d surely have enjoyed the joke, had he been smart enough to catch it. And it’s a pretty funny joke when you think about it---after all, the Reformation, in England, might well have been subtitled “The Great Monastery/Abbey Robbery”, because it was a huge grab by the King of a gigantic amount of property in England, to be distributed to the King’s many loyal and avaricious minions as largesse. And that is EXACTLY how Sir Walter is taking the whole thing—Kellynch Hall, which has belonged to the Elliots from time immemorial, is being wrenched out of his hands as a kind of monstrous and unjust offense against God, England, and What is Right.
And, as usual, there is one additional touch, which JA inserts, which is the unmistakably fingerprint, and wink of the eye, which tells the reader who suspects this interpretation that, yes, you’re right, it really was JA’s conscious intention to make this allusion, and was not an unconscious incidentalism. Can you see what it is?
Here’s a hint—the clue I am referring to occurs in the passage quoted above, and it has to do with the Reformation Parliament, which was the instrumentality by means of which Henry VIII accomplished his great robbery. ;)
Cheers, ARNIE
P.S.: In case you were wondering, here’s what JA had to say about Henry VIII and the Reformation (without naming it explicitly) in her History of England:
“It would be an affront to my Readers were I to suppose that they were not as well acquainted with the particulars of this King's reign as I am myself. It will therefore be saving them the task of reading again what they have read before, & myself the trouble of writing what I do not perfectly recollect, by giving only a slight sketch of the principal Events which marked his reign. Among these may be ranked Cardinal Wolsey's telling the father Abbot of Leicester Abbey that "he was come to lay his bones among them," the REFORMATION in Religion, & the King's riding through the streets of London with Anna Bullen.The Crimes & Cruelties of this Prince, were too numerous to be mentioned, (as this history I trust has fully shewn;) & nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses & leaving them to the ruinous depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general, which probably was a principal motive for his doing it, since otherwise why should a Man who was of no Religion himself be at so much trouble to abolish one which had for ages been established in the Kingdom.”
Sir Walter would probably have added that the King, in his later years, ought to have paid more attention to his physical fitness, so as to cut a more dashing figure while riding through town with his lady love.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What Mrs. Barbauld wrote and Jane Austen Knew

Finding that quotation by Wollstonecraft of those few lines from Barbauld's song prompted me to take a fresh look at the material I have collected to date regarding JA's interest in Barbauld, and it was well worth the fresh look, because now I see it in a dramatic new light, as you will see, below.

First I noted that Kim Damstra, in his prescient 1999 article about Charlotte Lucas as a covert mover behind the scenes in P&P (which I have cited with high praise in the past) also, in that same article, quoted Isobel Armstrong in regard to Barbauld:

"Isobel Armstrong outlines the link between P&P and Anna Laetitia Barbauld's contemporary philosophical essay, 'On Prejudice':*//* “[Austen’s] discussion throws light on one aspect of prejudice: it arises when you either cannot see or do not know something, and no two people can ever know or see the same thing”.

So that already suggests that JA was attentive to Barbauld's ideas prior to the publication of P&P in 1813, and therefore prior to writing Emma.

But the other item I had collected some time ago, but now see in a dramatic new light, is the following piece written by Barbauld:

Remarks on Riddles by Mrs. Barbauld

Finding out riddles is the same kind of exercise of the mind which running, and leaping, and wrestling, in sport, are to the body. They are of no use in themselves, they are not work, but play; but they prepare the body, and make it alert and active for any thing it may be called to perform in labour or war. So does the finding out of riddles, if they are good especially, give quickness of thought, and a facility of turning about a problem every way, and receiving it in any possible light.When Archimedes, coming out of the bath, cried in transport, " Eureka!" (I have found it,) he had been exercising his mind precisely in the same manner as you will do when you are searching about for the solution of a riddle. Riddles are of high antiquity, and were the employment of grave men, formerly. The first riddle that we have on record was proposed by Sampson, at a wedding feast to the young men of the Philistines, who were invited on the occasion. The feast lasted seven days; and if they found it out in seven days, Sampson was to give them thirty suits of clothes and thirty sheets; and if they could not guess it, they wore to forfeit the same to him. The riddle was, "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness." He had killed a lion, and left its carcass: on returning soon after, he found a swarm of bees had made use of the skeleton as a hive, and it was full of honeycomb,- Struck with the oddness of the circumstance, he made a riddle of it. They puzzled about it the whole seven days, and would not have found it out at last, if his wife had not told them. The Sphinx was a great riddle maker. According to the fable, she was half a woman and half a lion. She lived near Thebes, and to every body that came she proposed a riddle; and if they did not find it out, she devoured them. At length Oedipus came, and she asked him," What is the animal which walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three at night?" Oedipus answered Man:—in childhood, which is the morning of life, he crawls on his hands and feet; in middle age, which is noon, he walks erect on two; in old age he leans upon a crutch, which serves as a supplementary third foot. The famous wise men of Greece did not disdain to send puzzles to each other. They are also fond of puzzles in the East. There is a pretty one in one of their tales.—" What is that tree which has twelve branches, and each branch thirty leaves, which are all black on one side and white on the other?" The tree is the year; the branches the months; the leaves black on one side and white on the other, signify day and night. Our Anglo-Saxon ancestors also had riddles, some of which are also preserved in a very ancient manuscript. A riddle is a description of a thing without a name; but as it is meant to puzzle, it appears to belong to something else than what it really does, and often seems contradictory; but when you have guessed it, it appears quite clear. It is a bad riddle if you are at all in doubt when you have found it out, whether you are /right /or not. A riddle is not verbal, as charades, conundrums, and rebusses are: it may be translated into any languages which the others cannot. Addison would put them all in the class of false wit; but Swift, who was as great a genius, amused himself with making all sorts of puzzles; and, therefore, I think, you need not be ashamed of reading them. END OF BARBAULD ARTICLE

I think it must be clear from the above that my (and, implicitly, I think, Knox-Shaw's) claim that there is a deliberate echo by JA of the Barbauld song in the second charade of Chapter 9 of Emma is immeasurably bolstered by Barbauld's above article, as it strongly suggests that JA read BOTH Barbauld's article AND Barbauld's song--the former being the "theory", the latter being an application of that theory, i.e., a kind of quasi-riddle in its examination of an apparent paradox--apparent paradoxes being the bread and butter of most riddles!

And by the way, I have repeatedly expressed similar sentiments as Barbauld did, about doing puzzles as a kind of mental yoga. I am 100% sincere when I give my lifelong practice of doing hard crossword puzzles (and, more recently and to a lesser extent, diabolical sudokus) major credit for sharpening my acuity for peering into the shadows of JA"s novels and letters. The ability to spot patterns based on fragmentary information is the essence of the skill it takes to "decode" JA's shadow stories, and, by the way, I also firmly believe that JA believed that such an ability was a vital part of the toolkit that every woman needed to survive in Regency Era England.

So when you read about JA's love of charades, recognize that this was not just play for her, but also very serious business.

Cheers, ARNIE

Mary Wollstonecraft vis a vis Lewis XIV and Woman Lovely Woman in the Second Charade

The following is a p.p.p.s. I would like to add to my claim yesterday that JA alluded to Louis XIV and Mme. de Maintenon both in Persuasion (in Charles Musgrove's feisty little speech) and in Emma (in the second charade). Apropos the line "woman
lovely woman reigns alone" in that second charade, my Googling to find Jocelyn Harris had also noted Charles's speech in regard to the Prince Regent as the "rising sun", reminded me of Harris's 2007 Persuasions article where Harris so persuasively (ha ha) argued for the pervasive subliminal allusion to Wollstonecraft's Vindication in Austen's Emma.

And that gave me a crazy idea that turned out not to be so crazy after
all (and, as you will note at the end of this message, it turns out I am
not the first Austen scholar to have it), i.e., to take Harris one step
further, and see if Wollstonecraft's Vindication might not only be a
subliminal part of the feminist subtext of Emma, but might actually be
an almost explicit allusive source for the second charade itself ("Woman
lovely woman reigns alone") in Emma.

In that vein, take a look at these excerpts from Chapter 4 of AVOTROW,
which is entitled: "Observations on the State of Degradation to which
WOMAN is Reduced by Various Causes." (I've put the words I wish you to
take special note of in ALL CAPS, as being echoed in JA's second charade)

".....Women, I argue from analogy, are degraded by the same propensity
[as men] to enjoy the present moment; and, at last, despise the freedom
which they have not sufficient virtue to struggle to attain. But I must
be more explicit. With respect to the culture of the heart, it is
unanimously allowed that sex is out of the question; but the line of
subordination in the mental powers is never to be passed over. Only
"ABSOLUTE IN LOVELINESS*/,"/* the portion of rationality granted to
woman is, indeed, very scanty; for, denying her genius and judgment, it
is scarcely possible to divine what remains to characterize intellect......

"....I shall not go back to the remote annals of antiquity to trace the
history of woman, it is sufficient to allow, that SHE HAS ALWAYS BEEN
EITHER A SLAVE OR A DESPOT/*, */and to remark, that each of these
situations equally retards the progress of reason...."

they constantly demand HOMAGE AS WOMEN, though experience should teach
them that the men who pride themselves upon paying this arbitrary
insolent respect to the sex, with the most scrupulous exactness, are
MOST INCLINED TO TYRANNIZE OVER, and despise the very weakness they

"...Often do they repeat Mr. Hume's sentiments; when comparing the
French and Athenian character, he alludes to women. "But what is more
singular in this whimsical
nation, say I to the Athenians, is, that a frolic of yours during the
continued by them through the whole year, and through the whole course
of their lives; accompanied too with some circumstances, which still
further augment the absurdity and
ridicule. Your sport only elevates for a few days, those whom fortune
has thrown down, and whom she too, in sport, may really elevate forever
above you. But this nation gravely exalts those, whom nature has
subjected to them, and whose inferiority and infirmities are absolutely

And here's where Wollstonecraft finally finds her winding way to

till mankind become more reasonable, it is to be feared that women will
avail themselves of the power which they attain with the least exertion,
and which is the most indisputable. They will smile, yes, they will
smile, though told that--
But the adoration comes first, and the scorn is not anticipated.
LEWIS THE XIVTH, IN PARTICULAR, spread factitious manners, and caught in
a specious way, the whole nation in his toils; for establishing an
artful chain of despotism, he made it the interest of the people at
large, individually to respect his station, and support his power. AND
and virtue.A king is always a king, and A WOMAN IS ALWAYS A WOMAN (AND A
WIT ALWAYS A WIT, might be added; for the vain fooleries of wits and
beauties to obtain attention, and make conquests, are much upon a par.)
his authority and her sex, ever stand between them and rational

....and need I point out how JA has echoed the excerpt from Anna
Laetitia Barbauld's (nee Aikin) song that Wollstonecraft quoted, and
need I also point out that the words "SO FATAL to reason and virtue"
also reminds us of the very excerpt from Garrick's Riddle that is quoted
by Mr. Woodhouse in that same Chapter 9:

Kitty, a fair but frozen maid,
Kindled a flame I yet deplore,
The hood-wink'd boy I called to aid,
Though of his near approach afraid,
SO FATAL to my suit before.

.....and Wollstonecraft clearly is obsessed with Louis (or Lewis) XIV,
as she revisits him one more time, at length, later in that same Chapter

"....Lewis XIV, during the greater part of his REIGN, was regarded, not
only in France, but over all Europe, as THE MOST PERFECT MODEL OF A
GREAT PRINCE. But what were the talents and virtues, by which he
acquired this great reputation? Was it by the scrupulous and inflexible
justice of all his undertakings, by the immense dangers and difficulties
with which they were attended, or by the unwearied and unrelenting
application with which he pursued them? Was it by his extensive
knowledge, by his exquisite judgment, or by his heroic valour? It was by
none of these qualities. But he was, first of all, the most powerful
prince in Europe, and consequently held the highest rank among kings;
and then, says his historian, 'he surpassed all his courtiers in the
gracefulness of his shape, and the majestic beauty of his features. The
sound of his voice noble and affecting, gained those hearts which his
presence intimidated. He had a step and a deportment, which could suit
only him and his rank, and which would have been ridiculous in any other
person. The embarrassment which he occasioned to those who spoke to him,
flattered that secret satisfaction with which he felt his own
superiority.' These frivolous accomplishments, supported by his rank,
and, no doubt, too, by a degree of other talents and virtues, which
seems, however, not to have been much above mediocrity, established this
prince in the esteem of his own age, and have drawn even from posterity,
a good deal of respect for his memory. Compared with these, in his own
times, and in his own presence, no other virtue, it seems, appeared to
have any merit. Knowledge, industry, valour, and beneficence, trembling,
were abashed, and lost all dignity before them."

Are we not reading here a description of Emma herself? And also of the
"aimable" Frank Churchill, who, it has been well established, is also a
representation of the other royal "rising sun", i.e., the Prince of Whales?

And I just did some more Googling and now see that Peter Knox-Shaw, in
his excellent 2004 book JA and the Enlightenment, citing Claudia Johnson
and others as background, actually preceded Harris on making an explicit
connection of Wollstonecraft to Emma in general and also preceded me in
connecting Wollstonecraft to the second charade in particular. I direct
your attention to his excellent discussion of this topic at ppg 204 et
seq, including the following particularly interesting comments:

"The charade on court-ship that Mr. Elton writes [as I noted last week,
it is my opinion that in the shadow story of the novel, Frank writes the
charade, not Mr. Elton] for Harriet's riddle-book but intends for Emma,
pictures exactly the sort of courtship that Wollstonecraft has in mind,
only from a masculine viewpoint. Each of the two syllables is encoded in
a way that underlines the sovereignty of men....In paying court,
however, all is turned topsy-turvy--men now play the part of slaves,
women become queens...It is altogether apt that JA should introduce this
brand of courtship in the context of a game and under the title CHARADE,
for though the pattern of conduct to which Mr. Elton subscribes is so
entrenched as to count as a cultural form, we are constantly reminded of
its artificiality. What begins as fiction, ends as fiction too.....

So, I claim that "Lewis XIV" is the icing on the cake "baked" by
Knox-Shaw, Harris and myself, consisting of all these wonderful and
telling connections of Wollstonecraft to JA's Emma, and I think it fair
to say, Q.E.D., and, notwithstanding Mr. Woodhouse's trepidations, I
believe that a few slices of this caek would be "exceedingly wholesome". ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Raining Power and the Rising Son

© Arnie Perlstein 2010

I have just spent an enjoyable two hours following a lead that popped up as I was just finishing up looking at something else in one of JA’s novels (which is the way most of my best leads present themselves to me, by the way), and I have decided to share it now in these groups. Why? Because I claim it is a particularly good example of the value of the approach that I take to Jane Austen, sleuthing around in the shadows of her novels and letters. It illustrates how it is only in the shadows of her writing that one can find something approaching proof of the intuitions and imaginative insights of a perceptive reader of Jane Austen—insights that are not merely answer to gratuitous puzzles, but which actually inform and deepen our understanding of JA’s stories, which are what matter most to all Janeites.

As a bonus, some regular members of these groups may be surprised to seewhich particular perceptive reader of Jane Austen I am referring to in this particular instance—but you have to keep reading to find out! ;)

The “something else” I was just finishing up researching was an analysis of the homophonic relationship of the word “reigns” (“Woman Lovely Woman Reigns Alone” from the second charade in Chapter 9 of Emma) and the word “rain” asused in all of JA’s novels, especially in Emma. By the way, I can tell you that homophonic relationship is quite significant for an understanding of JA’s shadow stories, but that is a topic for another time.

I outlined the above bit of sequence in my research, because the last thing I did as part of that analysis was to search the word “reign” and its variants in all of JA’s novels, just to see if and how it was used in the novels other than Emma. That is how, quite by serendipity, I came to focus, for the first time, on the following comment made by Charles Musgrove to Anne and Mary in Persuasion:

“I am not one of those who neglect the reigning power to bow to the rising sun….”

Have any of you ever taken note of that line of dialog before? Probably not, because there is no mystery about the surface meaning of Charles’s comment. He is defiantly explaining to Mary, in a faintly macho way, why he is not aboutto show up at Sir Walter’s digs to meet the great Dalrymples, no way no how. Not to please his wife’s desire to ape her father and get close to “important people”, not to please Sir Walter (“the reigning power”) himself, and certainly not to please Sir Walter’s “heir presumptive”, i.e. Cousin Elliot (“the rising sun”)-- Charles will be damned if he will kowtow to any of those damned proud Elliots!

But that is only the first layer of the onion.

Next, I noted, with delight, the two homophonic puns in Charles’s little speech (“reigning” = “raining”, which, in terms of weather, is the opposite of “sun”; and also "sun” = “son”—think about Hamlet--- because Cousin Elliot, as an heir presumptive, is the equivalent of a rising “son” vis a vis a “reigning power”). This is very much of a poetic effect, with condensation of multiple meanings in a single line, and Persuasion would be the very JA novel you’d expect to have more of that sort of poetic effect per page than any of the others.

So far, so good, but that is still only the second layer of the onion. Ihad also recognized immediately that there just had to be a third layer as well, i.e., that this statement by Charles was an allusion of some kind. It seemed a prototypical example of the category of “very unusual turn of phrase” which I have learned from my experience in sleuthing into JA’s writing, is invariably a marker of a covert pointer to some other work of literature or history.

That was the moment of delicious anticipation in my research, to be savored, because at that moment I had absolutely no idea what the allusion would be. So as I entered “bow to the rising sun” in Google Books, I felt like a contestant on Wheel of Fortune when Pat Sajak opens the envelope to reveal exactly how large the prize the contestant has just won. That’s what keeps me doing this research even now.

And my prize was being led to the following book published in 1819, which was the first book written in English, currently searchable on Google Books, which used that phrase “bow to the rising sun”:

Memoirs of the court of Louis XIV.: Comprising biography and anecdotes of the most celebrated characters of that period. by Thomas Pike Lathy.

On P. 423, Lathy wrote the following:

“The courtiers, ever prone, like the simple Persian, TO BOW TO THE RISING SUN, became more attentive to Mme. de Maintenon, They took more notice of the Duke of Maine, and, under the pretext of visiting him, they paid their court to the governess. Mme. de Maintenon, totally unambitious, paid as little attention to all this, as she had done to the neglect they had before shown her, while Mme. Scarron, to please the favourite…..”

Now, I know, as some of you are ready to point out, that JA finished writing Persuasion in July 1816, and died in August 1817, so how could JA have been alluding to a book which was not published till 2 years after her death? And my answer is, I don’t claim she did. I attribute great genius to her, and evena sometimes uncanny ability to foresee the future in her own family (as I posted a few weeks ago about Fanny Knight’s marriage to Baronet Knatchbull), but I don’tthink she had the kind of ESP required in order to allude to Lathy’s book.

But…I realized quickly that Google Books had nonetheless been a usefulguide. The passage in Lathy’s book was an account of the relationship of Mme. Scarron (later Mme. de Maintenon) with Louis XIV, aka “The Sun King”. In the end of a long history together, she became his mistress and morganatic wife. As I read the entire passage, I was strongly struck by several parallels between the character of Mme. de Maintenon and the character of Anne Elliot!

In those few short pages:

I read about Mme. Scarron having had a great bloom but having become pale due to her extreme solicitude and worry for the Duke of Maine, the sickly young son of Louis XIV;

I read about the King’s attention being actively sought by a young beauty, Mme. de Montespan, who was extremely jealous of the favorable attention that the King began bestowing on the older Mme. Scarron; and

I read about Mme. Scarron having great intellectual accomplishment but no desire to show off.

So I wondered, could that alignment of traits be a complete coincidence?No, I was pretty clear that this was intentional. But how could it be? There had to be OTHER books published prior to 1816 which would have provided JA with the information about Mme. de Maintenon that she alluded to. I speculated that even though Lathy’s book postdated Persuasion’s publication, perhaps the reference to “rising sun” was one that dated back to the time of Louis XIV, who, we all know, called himself “The Sun King”, and famously opinedthat “L’etat, c’est moi”, in very Sir Walteresque fashion. It would not be beyond such a narcissist to refer to himself as “the rising sun” as well, right?

And I was right, it turns out that “the rising sun” was the MOTTO ofLouis XIV. And I know this because Google Books led me to the following book published in 1809: The setting sun: or, Devil amongst the placemen by Eaton Stannard Barrett, 1809 (aka Cervantes Hogg, who also wrote in1807, The Rising Sun):

Many of you will recognize that Barrett was the same author who wrote a Gothic burlesque called The Heroine which JA explicitly refers to in one of her Emma-era letters, in a positive light. In that book Hogg aka Barrett recounted ananecdote from the era of Louis XIV as follows:

“When the Earl of Stair was ambassador in Holland, he made frequent entertainments, to which the foreign ministers were invited, not excepting even that of France, though hostilities were then commencing between the two countries. In return, the French resident as constantly invited the English and Austrian ambassadors upon the like occasions. The French minister was a man of considerable wit and vivacity. One day, he proposed a health in these terms: " The Rising Sun," (alluding to the motto of his master, Louis XIV) which was pledged by the whole company. It then came to the Baron de Hicsbach's turn to give a health, and he, in the same humour, gave " The Moon and Fixed Stars," in compliment to the Empress Queen. When itcame to the English ambassador's turn, all the eyes of the company were fixed upon him; but he, no way daunted, drank to his master by the name of Joshua, the Son of Nun, who made both the Sun and Moon stand still."

And I could not fail to note the striking similarity of the prototypically English defiant mockery of power of the Earl’s bon mot, to the tone of Charles Musgrove’s bon mot about Sir Walter and Cousin Elliot.

But there was more. My memory was also tickled by the name “Maintenon”, and I wondered if I had perhaps read it in one of our lists, and I suspected that if I had, it was probably because Ellen, who often posts about the connections between English and French literature and culture during JA’s era, had posted something about her. Sure enough, I quickly found the following in the archives of these lists, from not that long ago, the following comment by Ellen:

“At the same time I'm reading a riveting (wonderful) modern historical novel based on Maintenons's 24 volumes of letters by Francoise Chandernagor. Like Chantal Thomas's _Adieux a la Reine_ published in English translation as _Farewell, my Queen_, so Chandernagor's book has been published in English (a number of years back) as _The King's Way_ (alas abridged and without annotations and quotations in the back). Charlotte Lennox later in the 18th century published a 5 volume set of Maintenon's letters and Genlis wrote a biographical novel in the firstperson (as in Chandernagor, using Maintenon as first person narrator). Iam persuaded that it's just this sort of book Austen read and refers to in Persuasion.”

So here I have finally presented to you, as promised, the intuitive insight by a perceptive reader of Jane Austen, expressed in that final sentence—for reasons having nothing to do with Charles Musgrove’s little aphorism, Ellen had a strong hunch that JA would have had Mme. de Maintenon on her radar screen asshe was writing Persuasion. Intuition is a great thing, but how often do such insights get ignored, because no “proof” has been provided to back up the intuition? So how cool is it when that sort of intuition can be proven by digging around in the shadows ofAusten’s novels, and finding the very words JA deployed as a kind of “bread crumb”, to lead all of us Hansels and Gretels to the proof that yes, JA really really did mean to allude to Louis XIV and Mme. de Maintenon?

And that is what then opens the door to examining the details JA would have known about Mme. de Maintenon, from her own extensive reading in both English and French. Indeed, Mme. de Genlis did write a historical novel about Mme. de Maintenon, and we already know for certain that JA was very interested in de Genlis’s fiction, from the explicit allusion to Adele and Theodore in Emma. I could go into a lot of detail about de Genlis’s historical novel about Maintenon, but that would wear you all out, so I will leave that for another time.

I wish to finish with the final bit of evidence for this being an intentional allusion by JA to Louis XIV and Mme. de Maintenon, which is my personal favorite--it is the icing on the allusive layer cake so lovingly and wittily constructed by Jane Austen solely out of words, words, and nothing but words---but what words!

I did one more Google search to see what might have ever been written about any connection between JA and Mme. de Maintenon, and you’re gonna think I made this up, it’s so good, but it’s really real. Who could possibly believe that I would be led to a footnote in an edition of Persuasion edited by Janet Todd and Antje Blank? That footnote is an explanatory gloss about, of all things, Mrs. Clay’s freckles, in which Todd and Blank mention something called “Unction de Maintenon”. Needless to say, it was with great excitement that I did a search on that very interesting product name, and I found the following Regency Era description of same:

To Remove Freckles.—The most celebrated compound ever used for the removal of freckles was called Unction de Maintenon, after the celebrated Madame de Maintenon, mistress and wife of Louis XIV. It is made as follows:—"Venice soap 1 oz. Lemon-juice 1 oz. Oil of bitter almonds 1/ /oz. Deliquidated oil of tartar. /I /oz. Oil of rhodium 3 drops. First dissolve the soap in the lemon-juice, then add the two oils, and place the whole in the sun till it acquires the consistence of ointment, and then add the oil of rhodium. Anoint the freckly face at night with this unction, and wash in the morning with pure water, or, if convenient, with a mixture of elder-flower and rosewater.

If you think that is a coincidence, and if you think JA was unaware of what was a famous connection in her time of Mme. de Maintenon to freckles, as JA was writing a novel in which another cure for freckles, Gowland’s Lotion, is givensuch prominence, then….well, you should probably never read anything Iwrite, because this is as good as it gets!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: Knowing JA’s love of puns and wordplay, I did one more word search in JA’s novels, wondering if it might just provide the final wink ofJA’s eye about all of the above—I searched the word “maintaining”, which is the closest homophone in English to the French name “Maintenon”. Is it not strange that this exact word “maintaining” is used exactly 8 times in all of JA’s novels combined…..and five of them occur in Persuasion!!!

And, what’s more, one of those five usages in Persuasion is the following

“Charles and Mary still talked on in the same style; he, half serious and half jesting, maintaining the scheme for the play, and she, invariably serious, most warmly opposing it, and not omitting to make it known that, however determined to go to Camden Place herself, she should not think herself very well used, if they went to the play without her."

Which just happens to be the very next paragraph AFTER Charles’s littlespeech about (allow me one final joke) , “The Raining Power and the Rising Son”


P.P.S.: One other scholar has taken notice of Charles Musgrove's speech, and it nicely connects the dots back to Emma's charade, and provides a fourth layer of the onion. Of course it had to be Jocelyn Harris, in A Revolution Beyond Expression, who at p. 133 quotes Charles, and then writes: 'Since the 'rising sun/son' was a common jest about the Prince Regent and his toadies, Austen criticizes here those who follow the Regent rather than remaining loyal to the ailing King George III...". So in one sentence, JA manages to connect the courts of the two greatest reigns of 19th century Europe, those of George III and Louis XIV, to the "courtship" at Sir Walter's apartments in Bath. Two inches of ivory indeed!

P.P.P.S.: Walpole would appear to have written these lines in the papers in 1782, when the Prince of Whales was in his early prime of utter dissoluteness :

Drink like a Lord, and with him, if you will.
Deep be the bumper: let no liquor spill;
No daylight in the glass, though through the night
You soak your senses till the morning light;
Then stupid rise, and with the rising sun
Drive the high car, a second Phaeton.
Let these exploits your fertile wit evince;
Drunk as a lord and happy as a prince.

Jane Austen, it seems to me, may be referring to "your fertile wit" in that same second charade in Chapter 9 of Emma when she writes the following:

Thy ready wit the word will soon supply,
May its approval beam in that soft eye!

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Rosetta Stone of Jane Austen

I am very thankful to Nili Olay and Claire Bellanti for the following link to my upcoming May 1 talk in NYC, giving me the opportunity to post a photo of myself standing next to a famous object at the British Museum that I never thought I would have a special use for:

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Jane Austen knew how to celebrate April Fool's Day in style

Jane Austen wrote the following letter to the eminently foolish James Stanier Clarke on April 1, 1816, and I think that every single word in it should be taken in that satirical light. That is especially the case now that we are well aware (thanks to Colleen Sheehan's discovery of the "Prince of Whales" solution to the second charade in Chapter 9 of Emma, and also JA's letter to Martha Lloyd in which she candidly writes of her hatred for the Prince Regent) that the approbation of the Prince Regent was something that JA hardly considered to be an honor.

And the biggest joke of all is the outrageously false modesty in the second paragraph, because JA was writing this letter at the precise moment, after 30 years as a writer, when she knew she had published her greatest masterpiece, one which, among other things, was a covert historical (and very dark) romance, with a whole world of human life teeming beneath the masking surface of a small country village, and she also knew that Clarke had not the slightest clue that he was being "quizzed" in the most merciless manner possible.

MY DEAR SIR, -- I am honoured by the Prince's thanks and very much obliged to yourself for the kind manner in which you mention the work. I have also to acknowledge a former letter forwarded to me from Hans Place. I assure you I felt very grateful for the friendly tenor of it, and hope my silence will have been considered, as it was truly meant, to proceed only from an unwillingness to tax your time with idle thanks. Under every interesting circumstance which your own talents and literary labours have placed you in, or the favour of the Regent bestowed, you have my best wishes. Your recent appointments I hope are a step to something still better. In my opinion, the service of a court can hardly be too well paid, for immense must be the sacrifice of time and feeling required by it.

You are very kind in your hints as to the sort of composition which might recommend me at present, and I am fully sensible that an historical romance, founded on the House of Saxe-Cobourg, might be much more to the purpose of profit or popularity than such pictures of domestic life in country villages as I deal in. But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or at other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.

I remain, my dear Sir, Your very much obliged, and sincere friend, J. AUSTEN.

Breakout sessions at Portland Oregon JASNA AGM Halloween weekend 2010

The breakout session schedule for the upcoming AGM has just been posted at the JASNA website:

I hope those of you who choose to attend the AGM in Portland over Halloween weekend will also choose to attend my talk, which will take place during Session C (which I believe will be the first of the sessions that will occur on Saturday). Here is the description of my talk at the AGM website:

*//*"Remember the country and age in which we live": The Covert Death-in-childbirth Anti-parody in Northanger Abbey": Perlstein makes the case that death in childbirth was the real horror behind General Tilney and all the husbands of England whom he represents. While Perlstein is noted for “reading against the grain” to discover the “shadow” stories in Austen’s novels, this is sure to be a participatory session suited to the lively wit of our members."

I will do my best to fulfill that buildup--if you are skeptical about my claims that there are shadow stories in JA's novels, I urge you to come hear my talk, because this particular presentation will be one of my strongest cases for one of my shadow story interpretations, and I will be able to make the case convincingly in the time allotted, because, unlike many other examples from Austen's shadow stories, this one is not that complicated to explain and prove---which lack of complication does not make it any less important, however, in terms of understanding why Jane Austen wrote shadow stories in the first place. Quite the contrary, it goes to the heart of her motivations, I will show.

I also note that the active participants in Janeites and Austen-L will be well represented, with not only myself, but also Ellen Moody and Elvira Casals, as breakout presenters.

From my quick scan of all the other presenters's topics, it seems to me that there will be a strong overall awareness at the AGM that things are not at all as they seem in Northanger Abbey, especially in relation to the Gothic subtext. It is my guess that a simplistic "NA as Gothic parody" interpretation, which is standard fare at sites like the Republic of Pemberley, will seldom be heard at the AGM.

It turns out that Northanger Abbey, despite its junior status in the minds of most Janeites, in part encouraged by the self-deprecating tone of the novel itself, is in every way is worthy of a seat at the table of genius alongside all the other five novels.

So the AGM should be both great fun and also very enlightening for all who attend and participate.

Cheers, ARNIE