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

Monday, May 24, 2010

A dear old Asp....go to the bottom together

“ …….any old pelisse, which you had seen lent about among half your acquaintance ever since you could remember, and which at last, on some very wet day, is lent to yourself. Ah! she was a dear old Asp to me. She did all that I wanted. I knew she would. I knew that we should either go to the bottom together….”

Way back in April, 2001, about 16 months before I first detected shadow story elements in JA's novels, I wrote the following comments (in Message 9141) in Janeites about the above passage from Persuasion:

"His account of his deep affection for his first command, the Asp, is, now that I think about it, an obvious parallel image of his feelings for Anne. Anne is indeed "old but unequalled" in his memory and heart! And one can imagine that in those first few years after leaving Anne under such painful circumstances, he'd have thrown all his heart and soul into the Asp, a substitute for the loss of Anne's love."

It took me till the Fall of 2008, however, to take the next step, and realize that this passage contained wordplay which, when Wentworth's comments are read in a different mode, i.e., as sarcastic, bitter, and very vulgar, rather than romantic, wistful, and nostalgic, has a very different meaning. I described that darker and decidely unpleasant meaning in my presentation at Chawton House in July 2009, and I will not specifically describe it here, beyond giving sufficient hints in the subject header for this message, which I think makes that alternate meaning crystal clear for those inclined to look for it.

So, in that context, Anielka's detection of the resonance of this passage in Persuasions to Lamentations is spot-on and very interesting, because it uncovers a whole additional third layer of congruent meaning. Indeed Anne is the "weeping widow" of Persuasion.

The Biblical resonance extends beyond the romantic relationship between Anne and Wentworth, it goes to the profound and traumatic sense of exile that Anne experienced when she had to leave Kellynch, her ancestral home. It is made clear in a hundred ways in the novel that Anne persists in lamenting the loss of the family's "Jerusalem", i.e., the exile of the Elliot family from Kellynch. Just as she has been lamenting the loss of her own personal "Jerusalem" (i.e., Wentworth himself) for so long (the Jews, in exile in Babylonia, lamented the loss of Jerusalem for nearly three centuries before they were allowed (by the Persians) to return to, and rebuild, Jerusalem.

And of course that metaphor turns Sir Walter's obsessive rereading of the Elliot ancestral lineage into a droll send-up of all the ancestral lineages in the Bible itself! He represents the kind of empty, mindless false piety which treats the inheritance of the homeland as a selfish prerogative, rather than as a sacred trust. Jeremiah (whom Richard Elliot Friedman persuasively argued was likely the author of Lamentations) bewailed the sins of the Jewish people which brought down God's wrath, via the destruction of the First Temple and Jerusalem around it.

Here is how Wikipedia describes the five poems (four of which, as Anielka surely also already knew, were acrostics on the Hebrew alphabet) which comprise the Biblical book of Jeremiah: "The book consists of five separate poems. In chapter 1 the prophet dwells on the manifold miseries oppressed by which the city sits as a solitary widow weeping sorely. In chapter 2 these miseries are described in connection with national sins and acts of God. Chapter 3 speaks of hope for the people of God. The chastisement would only be for their good; a better day would dawn for them. Chapter 4 laments the ruin and desolation that had come upon the city and temple, but traces it only to the people's sins. Chapter 5 is a prayer that Zion's reproach may be taken away in the repentance and recovery of the people."

And these two parallel themes of loss of homeland and loss of true love, both find an unexpected further validation in the cancelled chapters of Persuasion, in which (for those of you who have not read them) we read the following words spoken by Wentworth to Anne, on behalf of the Admiral and Mrs. Croft:

"It was very confidently said that Mr Elliot -- that everything was settled in the family for a union between Mr Elliot and yourself. It was added that you were to live at Kellynch -- that Kellynch was to be given up. This the Admiral knew could not be correct. But it occurred to him that it might be the /wish/ of the parties. And my commission from him, Madam, is to say, that if the family wish is such, his lease of Kellynch shall be cancelled, and he and my sister will provide themselves with another home, without imagining themselves to be doing anything which under similar circumstances would not be done for /them/."

In effect, the Admiral (who, as Jim Heldman first pointed out 22 years ago in an article in Persuasions, is playing matchmaker for Anne and Wentworth even more heavy handedly than Emma ever did with Harriet and Mr. Elton) is telling Anne, in so many words, that SHE can have "Jerusalem", i.e., Kellynch, back, if she wants it. But of course the Admiral (and of course Mrs. Croft, who is probably the driving force behind her husband's matchmaking efforts) really does know that Anne is not at all interested in Mr. Elliot. The Admiral and his wife are acutely aware that in giving Wentworth this errand, they are setting the stage for Anne and Wentworth to instead recognize that they still love each other, and will both choose to return to their own private "Jerusalem", i.e., their own rekindled love for each other, which is not about a physical place at all, but a spiritual and romantic one.

And...I also point out that Mrs. Bennet is described as pouring forth lamentations on more than one occasion, which of course fits perfectly with her own cause celebre, which is the permanent exile from Longbourne which the Bennet women will suffer when Mr. Bennet dies.

And of course, the deepest layer of this onion is Jane Austen herself, who must have experienced the family's move from Steventon to Bath as an exile of Biblical proportions, but who, in reverse, must have experienced the move to Chawton Cottage as a return to "Jerusalem", one which gave her the strength of purpose and renewed vitality to complete 6 novels, and then either publish, or get ready to publish, those 6 novels, in a mere 7 years. Just as the Hebrew Bible was redacted and codified into its existing final form by Ezra and Nehemiah shortly after the return to Jerusalem in the third century BCE.

So, well done, Anielka, this adds to my previous conviction that JA knew her Bible really really well, but chose to make all her allusions to her subtle and covert, to be visible only to those who read its words very carefully.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: I realized there was a bit more to the metaphor of the Biblical Jerusalem echoing through Persuasion.

To wit---it's not just Kellynch which represents Jerusalem, it's also Bath--in a way, they both represents the sinful PRE-destruction Jerusalem. The spiritually empty social rituals of Sir Walter and the Dalrymples, the false tongues of Cousin Elliot and Mrs. Clay, these are all part of the moral decay which JA saw all around her, and which she saw as a cancer eroding the spirit and soul of the English nation. Just as Mansfield Park is a stinging condemnation of the hypocrisy of all the powerful men who ran England, both those from the big city and those from the countryside, Persuasion can also be seen in a similar light. Who is worse, Sir Walter (the sinful past) or Cousin Elliot (the sinful future)? --Jane Austen is a kind of latter-day female Jeremiah, covertly bewailing these events, fearful of "progress" which did not address the needs of the poor, sick, and weak, but which (as in the Who song, We Don't Get Fooled Again) will merely be a repetition of domination by powerful, rich men over everybody else, albeit with a different "face"---Sir Walter spends all his time looking in mirrors, and yet he never sees his own true ugliness--a harbinger of Dorian Gray.

And, in reverse, we see Anne's authentically Christian sympathy with the poor and the sick, as symbolized by her defiant insistence on maintaining her friendship with Mrs. Smith, culminating in Wentworth's assisting Mrs. Smith to reclaim her inheritance from her deceased husband.

Maybe that's why, in the end of the day, Anne rejects both Kellynch AND Bath, and goes off to sea with Wentworth, like a female Jonah (and here we have the whale or leviathan appearing again in JA's imaginative cosmos), who, like Jeremiah, preaches, unheeded, to the sinful folk of another large city, Nineveh.

JA did not need to quote the Bible, her novels themselves are a kind of female-centered Bible, one which provides desperately needed moral guidance and sustenance to its readers, especially its 19th century English female readers.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Steps or the Stinks

The following are the first twelve lines of Jane Austen's short poem which was dated right before Sense and Sensibility marked her publication debut in 1811.

When stretch'd out on one's bed
With a fierce-throbbing head
Which precludes alike Thought or Repose,
How little one cares
For the grandest affairs
That may busy the world as it goes! ---
How little one feels
For the Waltzes & reels
Of our dance-loving friends at a Ball!
How slight one's concern
To conjecture or learn
What their flounces or hearts may befall

I reproduce it above because I just read BC Southam's annotations for same, and learned for the first time that the last three of these twelve lines were a replacement for the following three lines, which were heavily x-ed out:

How little one thinks
Of the Steps or the Stinks
Which pervade the Assemblies all

This is, of course, not the only place in her writings where bad smells are mentioned, but I would like to have been a fly on the wall at the moment she was making this alteration, to see if it really resulted from her second thoughts, or whether someone in the family had strongly suggested an alteration.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lines under the words as writing between the lines in Pride and Prejudice

In my post in Austen L and Janeites yesterday responding to Diane Reynolds's question about the meaning of the narration in Ch. 42 of P&P describing Lydia's letters as being "much too full of lines under the words to be made public" , I suggested that the "lines" referred to were not underlines actually physically written in ink beneath words in Lydia's letters, but rather that this was a metaphor,
and the "lines" were themselves WORDS written in ink on lines in Lydia's letters.

Therefore this was a slightly cryptic equivalent to what we today would refer to as "writing between the lines", i.e., implications and veiled allusions communicated discreetly by Lydia to her confidante, Kitty, which were not understood by other members of the family, but which could be READ between the lines. Which is, by the way, what was a frequent occurrence in real life, in JA's surviving letters to CEA.

Anyway, I reflected further on this, feeling there must be more in the text of the novel related to this, and so I did some further searching, and, sure enough, I found the "bread crumbs" five chapters later, in Chapter 47, which, I think, pretty strongly corroborate my TEXTUAL interpretation in Chapter 42. Here in Ch. 47 we have Lizzy questioning Jane to find out what was known at Longbourne about Lydia's shenanigans:

"And till Colonel Forster came himself, not one of you entertained a doubt, I suppose, of their being really married?"

"How was it possible that such an idea should enter our brains! I felt a little uneasy -- a little fearful of my sister's happiness with him in marriage, because I knew that his conduct had not been always quite right. My father and mother knew nothing of that; they only felt how imprudent a match it must be. KITTY THEN OWNED, with a very natural triumph on knowing more than the rest of us, that IN LYDIA'S LAST
LETTER she had prepared her for such a step. She had known, it seems, of THEIR BEING IN LOVE with each other, many weeks."

"But not before they went to Brighton?"

"No, I believe not." END OF QUOTED EXCERPT

So, knowing JA's penchant for making subliminal connections spanning many chapters in her novel texts, it seems clear to me that Lydia's being in love with Wickham was one of the main "lines under the words" hinted at in Ch. 42, which Kitty was not about to "make public", i.e., "decode" for the benefit of her other sisters and her parents.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Emma Watson Tells It Like It Was

For anyone who thinks that JA was content with, or in any way resigned to, the way women were treated in her world, I give you the following exchange between Emma Watson (who is a prototype, I and many other Janeites think, for Jane Fairfax) and Emma's brother Robert (who is a prototype, I think, for John Dashwood, and also a Mr. Elton in training). I had never really slowed myself down and read this passage carefully before, and it surprised me.

I had realized already that Emma Watson was not afraid to speak her mind, but I am hard pressed to think of another passage in all of JA's fiction in which JA's bitter anger at the sexism of her world is not in any way concealed--think in contrast, about the presentation of John and Fanny Dashwood in S&S--Elinor never challenges John's fantasy of his own great generosity toward, and love for, herself and her sisters--the moral critique is only implied.

This is the same voice as that in which JA allowed Princess Caroline mitigation for her sexual indiscretions, but frankly spoke her hatred for the Prince. And it also tells me that, as with her never resubmitting Northanger Abbey for publication after her editing of same, the principal reason JA stopped writing The Watsons was because its feminism was too open and unconcealed, and she knew there'd be hell to pay on multiple levels if she even tried to finish and publish it:

Emma was the first of the females in the parlour again; on entering it she found her brother alone.' So Emma,' said he, ' you are quite a stranger at home. It must seem odd enough for you to be here. A pretty piece of work your Aunt Turner has made of it! By heaven! A woman should never be trusted with money. I always said she ought to have settled something on you, as soon as her husband died.'

' But that would have been trusting /me /with money,' replied Emma,' and I am a woman too.'

'It might have been secured to your future use, without your having any power over it now. What a blow it must have been upon you ! To find yourself, instead of heiress of 8,000/. or 9,000/., sent back a weight upon your family, without a sixpence. I hope the old woman will smart for it'

' Do not speak disrespectfully of her; she was very good to me, and if she has made an imprudent choice, she will suffer more from it herself than I can possibly do.'

'I do not mean to distress you, but you know everybody must think her an old fool. I thought Turner had been reckoned an extraordinarily sensible, clever man. How the devil came he to make such a will?'

'My uncle's sense is not at all impeached in my opinion by his attachment to my aunt. She had been an excellent wife to him. The most liberal and enlightened minds are always the most confiding. The event has been unfortunate, but my uncle's memory is, if possible, endeared to me by such a proof of tender respect for my aunt' /

'/That's odd sort of talking. He might have provided decently for his widow, without leaving everything that he had to dispose of, or any part of it, at her mercy.'

'My aunt may have erred,' said Emma, warmly; ' she /has /erred, but my uncle's conduct was faultless; I was her own niece, and he left to her the power of providing for me.'

'But unluckily she has left the pleasure of providing for you to your father, and without the power. That's the long and short of the business. After keeping you at a distance from your family for such a length of time as must do away all natural affection among us, and breeding you up (I suppose) in a superior style, you are returned upon their hands without a sixpence.'

'You know,' replied Emma, struggling with her tears, ' my uncle's melancholy state of health. He was a greater invalid than my father. He could not leave home.'

'I do not mean to make you cry,' said Robert, rather softened—and after a short silence, by way of changing the subject, he added:' I am just come from my father's room; he seems very indifferent It will be a sad break up when he dies. Pity you can none of you get married! You must come to Croydon as well as the rest, and see what you can do there. I believe if Margaret had had a thousand or fifteen hundred pounds, there was a young man who would have thought of her.'

Emma was glad when they were joined by the others; it was better to look at her sister in law's finery than to listen to Robert, who had equally irritated and grieved her.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Can Jane Austen forgive Marianne?

The following is my latest response in an interesting thread in Austen-L which arose out of discussion of the following passage in Sense and Sensibility describing, of course, Marianne and Willoughby:

"Why they should not openly acknowledge to her mother and herself, what their constant behavior to each other declared to have taken place, Elinor could not imagine"

Ellen speculated as to whether this passage suggests that the "what" is that Marianne has had sex with Willoughby, and not merely an engagement between them. The discussion then turned to speculation about Jane Austen's moral judgments vis a vis Marianne's behavior.

Diana: "Of course [Jane Austen] is not a mouthpiece of the ugliness of which you speak; she clearly condemns people who think and act like Maria or Lydia. And although not a reformer, there are covert moments (like the one where she judges Henry Crawford and wishes society did not penalize women) where she makes her opinions evident."

You are pointing in the right direction, Diana, but, in my opinion, you only go part of the way. I think JA's very ambitious, but also very covert, goal was to depict a dreadful social structure which was grotesquely unfair to, and dangerous for, women. And so while JA would have little use for the Marias or Lydias of her world, she would have saved her strongest anger and her most scathing satire for the powerful men who created and maintained that structure, almost entirely for their own benefit, enforcing it especially harshly against those women who transgressed, who sought to cheat a rigged house, and to emulate the men who routinely cheated and behaved abominably and got away with it.

Who exactly is the victim of Maria's "crime"? Sure, Mr. Rushworth, who is a stupid man, has felt the sting of a marriage in which his wife has had utterly no regard for his feelings, and married him solely for the opulence of the life she could lead as his wife. But you know how his story goes in the aftermath of MP:

"Mr Rushworth had no difficulty in procuring a divorce; and so ended a marriage contracted under such circumstances as to make any better end the effect of good luck not to be reckoned on."

What happened to him, surely, was what happened to Harris Bigg-Wither after JA revoked her acceptance of HIS proposal, i.e., he married another woman--this time one who had been vetted to make sure she was compliant and submissive--made her pregnant at least ten times, lived a long life himself, and died a rich rich man. He is a perfect example of the distinction I am making, because I am certain that JA would have found Maria's adultery worthy, at most, of some wicked gossip, whereas JA HATED the childbirth-tyranny of everyday English marriage.

JA understood the difference between that sort of outcome, and the terrible fate which befell the elder Eliza Williams in S&S.

I mentioned One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest last month, and I think it's a good touchstone for JA's covert agenda as a writer. On the surface, she seemed to be an unequivocal supporter of the passive strategies for adaptation to a system of total male privilege, which are exemplified by Elinor Dashwood, Fanny Price and Anne Elliot. But under the surface, I will show that where her deepest sympathies lay was with the female rebels, those who did not accept the status quo, but who, either overtly or covertly, fought back, and especially, who followed Lizzy's advice to Caroline Bingley, for how to punish a man who asserted unfair power over women:

"Teaze him -- laugh at him."

And I believe John is, in a different way, saying something in the ballpark of what I am saying, when he writes:

John: "Whatever Marianne has done -- and not just in the trip to Allenham -- she feels confident that she has behaved not only morally but with propriety. She believes that those who might think her behavior violates propriety do not understand what "real impropriety" is. When Marianne writes to Willoughby in vol II, ch 6, asking if he has been deceived in her, she is wondering whether others might have lied about her; she says, "I shall be satisfied, in being able to satisfy you."
That is, she is confident that her own behavior has been moral and proper."

I agree. Marianne, and by extension, JA herself, I argue, does not believe that a single woman claiming the power that single men of her world routinely claimed, i.e., to have consensual sex prior to marriage, is behaving improperly, in a deeper moral sense, the one that starts not from convention or dogma, but from the Golden Rule, i.e., asking who is actually harmed by a given behavior, and asking how severe that harm to others really is.

Marianne, in the shadow story of the novel, chose to have sex with a person, Willoughby, for whom true affection WAS felt, and who had NOT been trapped or pressured into behavior he did not want to engage in, and who she was NOT planning to jilt as soon as they had sex--I do not believe JA would have thought Marianne was behaving in an "ugly" way--she would merely have said to Marianne--be much smarter, be much more careful with your body, for your OWN sake, you are entering a minefield.

And I do not need to rely solely on shadows and subtext to make the above argument. As Diana implies, look at what JA wrote in an UNRESERVED way to the almost-another-sister with whom she did not have to pull punches in private, i.e., Martha Lloyd, about the Prince Regent and Princess Caroline. It conclusively demonstrates that JA was capable of a subtle, hierarchical moral calculus, recognizing that the deeper evil in male-female relationships often sprang from the actions of men given too much power over women, and that women had in a way been driven crazy by having to live in such an unfair world:

“I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales's Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband -- but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself `attached & affectionate' to a Man whom she must detest -- & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad -- I do not know what to do about it; but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first."

What was really ugly to JA was behavior which was cruel to others, which was selfish while pretending to be kind (i.e., hypocritical), which was exploitative in an unacknowledged way, and which REALLY injured other people--e.g., John and Fanny Dashwood reducing the Dashwood women's inheritance to nothing; Mrs. Ferrars cutting Edward off without a dime as punishment for wishing to marry a portionless girl; Willoughby abandoning a pregnant single girl, etc. On the moral scale, these crimes were a hundred times more severe than sexual promiscuity with men who had in NO way been tricked into it.

And we can use, as a measuring stick, our world today. Marianne's behavior, today, would not even be noticed, it would be considered normal, it is at worst a victimless "crime" against propriety. Whereas today, the really ugly behavior I have described above is still every bit as ugly as it was 200 years ago. It is a timeless ugliness, the one that really matters. And JA recognized the difference.

Diana: "That's interesting. Can you be more specific? I'm not sure I've seen a writer arguing in favor of Lydia's materialism anywhere; who does that?"

When a system is deeply corrupt, and destructive of personal autonomy, any revolt against that system, even if on a personal level it is stupid or reckless or selfish or crass, can still, on a deeper level, have the redeeming value that at least one slave has revolted against the tyranny which the other slaves meekly accept and bow down to. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

"Mrs. Elton does not talk to Miss Fairfax as she speaks of her. We all know the difference between the pronouns he or she and thou, the plainest-spoken amongst us; we all feel the influence of a something beyond common civility in our personal intercourse with each other -- a something more early implanted. We cannot give any body the disagreeable hints that we may have been very full of the hour before. We feel things differently."

Diana: "In other words, you can simultaneously hold an earnest wish that the world was more fairly organized for women, and still comment snidely on an individual woman's manners or morals. That's just human, which we have to acknowledge that Jane Austen was."

And that just happens to be a passage which I quoted in my address to JASNA-NYC, not for the surface meaning you so aptly summarize, but for the subliminal meanings which saturate those few sentences, i.e., this is a thinly veiled allusion to Jane Fairfax's concealed pregnancy. In that subliminal sense, this passage covertly speaks to ANOTHER way in which JA's world was unfairly organized against the interests of women, when women's transgressive sexual behavior has been subjected to a harsh and unforgiving moral judgment, by giving such women choices between abortion, prostitution, or, at best, governessing.

How utterly brilliant of JA to speak on two levels about the same subject, unfairness to women. Few passages more beautifully exemplify that brilliance of dual construction.

Cheers, ARNIE

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Jane Austen's not so happy mothers' day

Some of those who've ever wondered how so many of JA's fictional mothers died prematurely might be interested to attend my breakout session at the upcoming JASNA AGM to be held over Halloween weekend in Portland, Oregon, where my topic will be " 'Remember the country and age in which we live": The Covert Death-in-Childbirth Anti-parody in Northanger Abbey".

If anyone would like to discuss this particular subject further with me before then, fire away!


Monday, May 3, 2010

P.S. re my May 1 presentation

The following is a lovely account of my presentation, sent to me in the Janeites group by Linda Ribas, a member of the group who honored me by making a big effort to come and hear me speak, and who, prior to hearing me speak, while curious, was by no means an enthusiast for my "shadow story" theory.

Linda Ribas's Summary:

I was able to take the train down from Connecticut with two friends to attend Arnie's presentation on Saturday. Traveling with portable oxygen is a bit of an
effort, but the event was well worth it.

The site chosen for the occasion, the Columbia Faculty House, was, as Arnie said, quite elegant--a beautiful room with large windows and light. The arrangement of chairs was quite unique. Instead of lines of chairs arranged in auditorium style,
there were circles of 8 or 9 chairs in clusters throughout the room. It was a much more intimate arrangement--very delightful--and I don't know why it isn't done more
often this way. Before the talk, we chatted with our circlemates, and as the talk
proceeded, we continued with our connection to each other.

Arnie gave a fine talk on the shadow stories in Emma--his specialty. He was poised and enthusiastic and engaged with the audience--a very good speaker. He was very
well received by the audience who were sometimes startled, sometimes amused and
sometimes dismayed by his insights. I believe many were willing to consider the
possibility that he might be onto something. Some were definitely more open-minded
than others.

I asked my companion, Olive, what she thought of it, and she replied that she had
always thought there was something strange and suspicious about Jane Fairfax's illness. She planned to reread Emma with a new critical eye.

Arnie's advice to us was good--to reread the last 10 chapters first and then proceed
to reread Emma again. I have always thought Frank's long letter at the end didn't
really make sense and fit in. I'm interested in rereading with Arnie's theories in

After the talk, there were delicious refreshments and socializing. I think many
would have loved to just continue listening to Arnie.

In summary, it was a very upbeat event--a memorable occasion.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Power of Love

"With the power of love, anything is possible"--Jimi Hendrix

I posted yesterday about there being numerous passages scattered through JA's fiction, where the notion of one character having power over another is articulated. John O'Neill then responded with his acute insight that Charlotte Lucas's ruminations about Lizzy in Chapter 34 must, at least in part, be referring to the power of love which the beloved holds over the heart of the lover. I agree, as long as that interpret is not exclusive of others, but today I will focus on John's view, and, I think, decisively validate it.

I will do that by showing how that passage reflecting Charlotte Lucas's thoughts, is "pinged" by two echoes of it which occur 10 and 12 chapters later, respectively, in P&P, which prove John's insight to have been entirely justified --one more of the hundreds of examples of subliminal echoes between passages separated by at least a chapter, which JA embedded in her novels, which are only accessible via word search engines, or if you happen to have a very good memory for words and phrases!

Here are the relevant passages:

In Chapter 34, here is Charlotte thinking about Lizzy and Darcy:

“She had once or twice suggested to Elizabeth the possibility of his being partial to her, but Elizabeth always laughed at the idea; and Mrs Collins did not think it right to press the subject, from the danger of raising expectations which might only end in disappointment; for in her opinion it admitted not of a doubt, that all her friend's dislike would vanish, if she could suppose him to be IN HER POWER. “

The word “disappointment” modifies the remainder of that sentence, the implication being that if Lizzy could suppose Darcy in her power, then any expectations Lizzy might have would NOT end in disappointment, and then Lizzy's dislike would vanish. So this is Charlotte's clear-eyed realism, as she cynically muses that the only thing holding Lizzy back from loving Darcy is Lizzy's UNACKNOWLEDGED fear that if she does let feelings of love bubble up and be expressed in some way, then Darcy will shoot her down, and she will be crushed.

Now, the question is, is Charlotte's cynicism justified? I think so!

First, see, in Chapter 44, when Darcy has shown up unexpectedly at Pemberley and has astonished Lizzy with his warmth and geniality-,these are Lizzy's thoughts and feelings:

“He who, she had been persuaded, would avoid her as his greatest enemy, seemed, on this accidental meeting, most eager to preserve the acquaintance, and without any indelicate display of regard, or any peculiarity of manner, where their two selves only were concerned, was soliciting the good opinion of her friends, and bent on making her known to his sister. Such a change in a man of so much pride, excited not only astonishment but gratitude – FOR TO LOVE, ARDENT LOVE, IT MUST BE ATTRIBUTED; and as such, its impression on her was of a sort to be encouraged, as by no means unpleasing, though it could not be exactly defined. She respected, she esteemed, she was grateful to him, she felt a real interest in his welfare; and she only wanted to know how far she wished that welfare to depend upon herself, and how far it would be for the happiness of both that SHE SHOULD EMPLOY THE POWER, WHICH HER FANCY TOLD HER SHE STILL POSSESSED, of bringing on the renewal of his addresses. “

These seem a dramatic validation of Charlotte's prescient analysis, i.e., Lizzy for the first time feels herself to have power over Darcy's heart, and so she asks herself the question, does she want to exercise that power to snag him as a husband! i.e., Lizzy only feels safe entertaining these thoughts and feelings, because Darcy has given her hope that they won't be disappointed!

But then, of course, in Chapter 46, when Lizzy suddenly finds herself in as much of a nightmare as her experience the day before seemed a dream, finding herself in shock in Darcy's presence after just getting the news of Lydia's elopement with Wickham, these are Lizzy's thoughts and feelings:

“Darcy made no answer. He seemed scarcely to hear her, and was walking up and down the room in earnest meditation, his brow contracted, his air gloomy. Elizabeth soon observed, and instantly understood it. HER POWER WAS SINKING; everything must sink under such a proof of family weakness, such an assurance of the deepest disgrace. She could neither wonder nor condemn, but the belief of his self-conquest brought nothing consolatory to her bosom, afforded no palliation of her distress. It was, on the contrary, exactly calculated to make her understand her own wishes; and NEVER BEFORE HAD SHE SO HONESTLY FELT THAT SHE COULD HAVE LOVED HIM, AS NOW, WHEN ALL LOVE MUST BE VAIN. “

The power that Lizzy felt herself to have only the day before she now feels to have sunk or so decreased that she no longer has to power to hold onto him, he will vanish and never talk to her again. But of course, in the end, when Lizzy learns that Darcy has acted covertly in such a way as to restore her sense of her own power over his heart, even deeper than she imagined in Chapter 44, Charlotte is again vindicated as a prophet, because Lizzy's heart melts, she is totally utterly head over heels in love with Darcy.

The Power of “Love” in Lady Susan:

And, as a bookend to the above analysis, I give you the following four disconnected excerpts from Lady Susan, which collectively cast a faintly psychopathological shadow over the way we see Charlotte Lucas. To me, they suggest that Charlotte Lucas bears a faint, but unmistakable, kinship to Lady Susan herself. But...Charlotte is only like Lady Susan in her cold unflinching perception of human weakness---UNLIKE Lady Susan, who exploits the weaknesses of others, both male and female, for antisocial ends, Charlotte is, in my view, a benevolent female Machiavelli, who uses her deep understanding for good, even if she does not feel safe trusting the objects of her benevolence (whether it be Mr. Collins, or Lizzy) with an explanation of her covert actions on their behalf.

Which all shows that JA believed that knowledge, especially knowledge of human nature, was a major source of interpersonal power, which could be exercised for good OR evil. The following excerpts show Lady Susan to be in the latter camp:

"I have made him sensible of MY POWER, and can now enjoy the pleasure of triumphing over a Mind prepared to dislike me, and prejudiced against all my past actions.....HER POWER OVER HIM must now be boundless, as she has entirely effaced all his former ill-opinion, and persuaded him not merely to forget but to justify her conduct.....When my own will is effected contrary to his, I shall have some credit in being on good terms with Reginald, which at present, in fact, I have not; for tho' HE IS STILL IN MY POWER, I have given up the very article by which our quarrel was produced, and at best the honour of victory is doubtful...... Do not think me unkind for such an exercise of my power, nor accuse me of Instability without first hearing my reasons. "

Note in particular the topsy turvy relationship of Charlotte's analysis—Charlotte sees Lizzy's resistance to Darcy melting away when Lizzy feels she has power over Darcy—to the analysis of Mrs. Vernon, the sister of Sir Reginald, who sees Lady Susan's power over Sir Reginald as having become unchecked, because Sir Reginald's former ill opinion of Lady Susan has been abolished by the latter's effortless manipulations.

Mrs. Vernon's analysis is straightforward, linear and noncontroversial, whereas Charlotte shows herself to be an even subtler student of human nature, in that Charlotte sees that Lizzy's narcissism in believing she has power over Darcy, whether she actually does or not, will end her resistance to falling in love with him. Subtle paradoxical stuff!

Cheers, ARNIE


In light of the above analysis, does that give us any better clue as to the meaning of the language of power in JA's letter excerpt re Anne Sharpe and JA's Charlotte-Lucas-like benevolent wishes for her governess-friend to conquer the heart of HER rich potential suitor?

Letter 102 6/23/14:

“This post has brought me a letter from Miss Sharpe. Poor thing! she has been suffering indeed, but is now in a comparative state of comfort. She is at Sir W. P.'s, in Yorkshire, with the children, and there is no appearance of her quitting them. Of course we lose the pleasure of seeing her here. She writes highly of Sir Wm. I do so want him to marry her. There is a Dow. Lady P. presiding there to make it all right. The Man is the same; but she does not mention what he is by profession or trade. She does not think Lady P. was privy to his scheme on her, but, on being in his power, yielded. Oh, Sir Wm.! Sir Wm.! how I will love you if you will love Miss Sharpe!”

My presentation to JASNA-NYC yesterday

Yesterday afternoon, I gave my presentation to JASNA-NYC on various aspects of the shadow story of Emma, primarily Jane Fairfax's concealed pregnancy, and I was very happy with every aspect of it.

Nili, Jerry, Joyce, Kerri and the rest of the JASNA-NYC team did such an excellent job in arranging everything, from the elegant venue at the Columbia Alumni House on Morningside Drive, to working with me in sending out, in advance, not one but TWO flyers of my own creation to the members (which advance publicity accounted for the turnout of 94 attendees!), to giving me a very flattering introduction. A true red carpet--I was so well taken care of.

Despite the concerns of some that I might be engulfed in a vast wave of indignation once people heard what I was actually claiming, the group showed itself to be extremely open minded and curious to hear my heresies, and the ingenuity and playful wit that many of the attendees showed in their responses to the various challenges I presented to them, to induce them to think outside the box about Emma, was fantastic! The consensus seemed to be that I had successfully passed the "grand jury" and had earned their curiosity to see my full argument in book form. That was all I sought.

It is a cliche that performing live for a receptive audience can energize you, but I certainly felt that way--I came up with some ad libs that surprised even me, and felt inspired to read a number of passages from Emma and others of JA's writing with particular animation, and it was really nice to hear the room laugh in response, as they heard, with fresh ears, the long-hidden humor of some of JA's most wicked and witty lines.

I had to cut out some of my planned presentation because (as in any meeting) there were unexpected delays, etc., but still and all, I finally had the time, without being under enormous time pressure, to make a case, and it was really gratifying to see all these intelligent folks really pay attention, and give me a fair shake.

At Chawton House last July, where I only had 20 minutes, the response was generally good, but it just wasn't enough time to work the room properly, to get people comfortable with a radical new paradigm. Having about 70 minutes to talk about the broader significance of JA's" charades" (both the ones in stanzas, and the novels themselves), and to provide some real context for Jane's concealed pregnancy, in terms of JA's covert feminism, was such a luxury!

There was, alas, no time for a formal q&a afterwards, but as people ate the ample spread of food for 40 minutes thereafter, there was plenty of time for shmoozing and followup questions and comments on an individual level, and I believe everyone who had a question got an answer, and everyone went away satisfied. I can't wait to hear from some of the attendees, who said they would take my suggestion that they reread Emma in light of my ideas, and see what THEY see, and then contact me.

Anyway, many thanks to those of you who gave me great encouragement, and also to Nancy, Anne, and Lisa for giving me the latitude in Janeites to express my ideas over the past years, and to gradually learn what worked and what didn't in terms of making my case.