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

Monday, June 28, 2010

She's Everywhere: Pretty thin gruel and Mr. Woodhouse's constitutional laws

As I watched President Obama field questions on a variety of subjects yesterday at the press conference which marked the close of the G20 summit in Toronto, my Janeite antennae were triggered into full activation when Obama answered a question about the leadup to the confirmation hearings (which began today) for Elena Kagan, who, as most of you probably know, is his latest nominee to the US Supreme Court:

“As I examine some of the arguments that have been floated against her nomination over the past several weeks, it's PRETTY THIN GRUEL...”

My first reaction was--of COURSE he has read some Jane Austen, and therefore he knows very well that he is making an allusion to Emma!

After all, he's not only a very intelligent guy, he's also a very literate guy with a gift for rhetorical expression who has himself written two best-selling books; he has a strong, independent wife, and two precocious and well loved daughters; and his behavior is unusually gentlemanly for a participant in the political arena, especially the brutal US politics of the past decade. In fact, he catches criticism from some of his supporters for being too much of a gentleman, and yet, he almost always keeps his cool and composure, even when passions are highly elevated all around him--like Mr. Knightley deftly deflecting Mrs. Elton's verbal thrusts, or Colonel Brandon tactfully absorbing Marianne's disdain.

And I also instantly recalled, as I am sure many of you did, too, as you read this message, that only 6 short weeks ago, the factoid that Elena Kagan was a literature lover who reread P&P every year briefly went viral in the Janeite online world.

So, given all of that, is it just a coincidence that Obama happened to use an expression regarding Kagan's confirmation which would automatically trigger a very specific association in the minds of every Janeites (especially the many American female Janeites who would take particular pride and interest in Kagan's nomination) to the following passage in Emma:

"The GRUEL came and supplied a great deal to be said -- much praise and many comments -- undoubting DECISION of its wholesomeness for EVERY CONSTITUTION, and PRETTY severe PHILIPPICS upon THE MANY HOUSES where it was never met with tolerable; -- but, unfortunately, among the failures which the daughter had to instance, the most recent, and therefore most prominent, was in her own cook at South End, a young woman hired for the time, who never had been able to understand what she meant by a basin of nice smooth GRUEL, THIN, BUT NOT TOO THIN."

And isn't it also quite interesting that in that same passage, we read references (which I've shown in ALL CAPS) to Philippics, houses, decisions and constitutions, all of which are terms associated, in JA's Great Britain as surely as in today's U.S.A, with the judicial, legislative AND executive branches of government--branches which just happen to be the three protagonists in the political drama about to unfold in the American Capitol? And recall also that Obama made his reputation as a Constitutional law professor, and that he is most famous as a politician who can deliver a pretty powerful Philippic when he needs to!

Strange business indeed, I think Tom Bertram would have said to Dr. Grant, if they had heard that press conference. But we know what Mr. Woodhouse would have said about Kagan had he been asked his opinion about Kagan's nomination:

"Young ladies are delicate plants."


Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: Google gave me the icing on the cake of this message, when it informed me that the Democratic National Committee's communications chairman is named "Dick Woodhouse"!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

“Had he the motive and the cue for passion That I have?”

The conversation has continued in Janeites regarding Tom Bertram and his father's billiard table, thanks to some excellent comments there by Derrick Leigh, in quotes below:

“Arnie's post seems on cue to me, because as he was writing it, I was watching the actress Jane Horrocks exploring her Lancashire family roots on TV. Among the family mysteries was a great uncle Ernest Cunliffe, who emigrated to Australia. He was stated to be the black sheep of the family, because his occupation was 'billiard marker' a man who arranges matches, refreshments, betting and referees. This would not have gone down well with the strict Methodist and temperance aspirations of the family. "A bit of a cad" was the verdict from an expert on billiards history, and this reflects the long-held image of the game as an amusement to pass the time of idle wastrels.”

Sounds like a bookie to me, and indeed Tom Bertram would have known all about billiard markers in the course of his many escapades with games of chance.

“On the subject of slavery, there were tears on learning of the death of a 3-year old sibling in the Manchester 'cotton famine' of the 1860's. The US civil war ended raw cotton imports to Lancashire for four years, causing mass unemployment, starvation, and a large increase in deaths from disease. The Lancashire workers, however, held mass meetings and voted to continue support for Lincoln's efforts to put an end to slavery. After the civil war Lincoln sent a statue of himself to Manchester, and it still holds pride of place in the city.”

Unsung (at least in the U.S.) heroes of the (American) Civil War, thanks for teaching us some important American history!

“Arnie, I'm actually a little surprised that you didn't mention another symbolic connection between the billiard table and the other theme of MP that has been bandied about. The most important part of the table is the baize cloth that provides its playing surface, green to represent the lawns of other pursuits such as croquet.”

You are so right, Derrick, thanks! Elissa and I bandied about that green baize cloth in passing, without stopping to consider that it was there in the text for much more than just its green color.

Look here at the passages in MP which refer to the green baize. Even before I reread them, I realized that you had led me to the answer to my questions about why Tom speaks so venomously about an inanimate object like the billiard table, and also why Sir Thomas also specifically notes its absence—read on, gentle reader, for that one answer to both of those questions!:

"We must have a curtain," said Tom Bertram; "a few yards of green baize for a curtain, and perhaps that may be enough."….An enormous roll of green baize had arrived from Northampton, and been cut out by Mrs Norris (with a saving by her good management of full three-quarters of a yard), and was actually forming into a curtain by the housemaids, and still the play was wanting; and as two or three days passed away in this manner, Edmund began almost to hope that none might ever be found…..

Note that even after commandeering the enormous roll of green baize which had arrived from Northampton (and I wonder now whether Tom himself had previously and VERY quietly ordered it, as soon as he returned from Antigua, having already formed the plan to propose the theatricals BEFORE he stated it aloud, pretending it was “the thought of the moment”), there was still insufficient green baize to fulfill all theatrical requirements. Hmm….. “Edmund began almost to hope that none might ever be found” Hmm…. As usual, Edmund the wuss just THINKS things, he truly never acts, not out of principle but out of a lack of courage and decisiveness.

That’s when I realized that OF COURSE! The shortfall of green baize is made up out of the green baize cloth ALREADY INSTALLED ON THE BILLIARD TABLE!!!! When Tom says the billiard table is vile and he cannot stand it any longer, he means it—because he completely dismantles it, and turns it into curtains and, for good measure, also cannibalizes the table’s wood structure for scaffolding, props, etc for the show!

And as you say, Derrick, the symbolism of these actions speaks very loudly, once we tune our ears to the proper frequency, so as to hear it---the billiard table symbolizes the status quo of Sir Thomas’s colonial and familial empire (and, as Sales puts in his book, also King George III’s colonial empire), where human beings, whether African slaves or young women, or even male heirs who don’t want to take orders, are bought and sold like commodities. And therefore the DISMANTLING of that billiard table, for use in a play which ITSELF thematically symbolizes the humbling of an arrogant, unrepentant old sinner (Waldenheim), is the ultimate act of rebellion, not merely destroying the status quo, but enacting the reasons WHY that dismantling is a moral imperative.

What a complete reversal of the conventional understanding of the “impropriety” of Lovers Vows (actually based on Kotzebue’s The Natural Son), and its racy sexual subtext. JA is vividly demonstrating that the misdemeanors of romantic flirtation are as nothing next to the gross felonies of powerful men like Baron Wildenhaim (and, by inference, Sir Thomas and King George III)!

The play is INDEED the thing to catch the conscience of “the king”—and so it’s hardly a surprise when the “king” returns, and, like Claudius, puts an immediate stop to the disturbing performance which exposes his longstanding, secret sins under the bright lights of the chandeliers (no electric lighting back then!) of Sir Thomas’s own billiard room, the space which previously had, as JA so acutely observed at Godmersham, been an exclusive bastion of male privilege. Tom Bertram has indeed had his moment of glory in telling truths which had previously been more than a little disguised.

And, as usual, JA cannot resist a couple of ironic, epilogical moments. First we have Mrs. Norris, the “slave designated by the master to lord it over the other slaves”, scavenging the remains of the “carcass” of the billiard table for her own private purposes, like a “capo” at a concentration camp skimming off largesse as “compensation” for “services rendered”:

“The curtain, over which she had presided with such talent and such success, went off with her to her cottage, where she happened to be particularly in want of green baize.”

And then we have the master himself taking some special personal satisfaction in the complete and utter annihilation of all traces of the slave revolt, symbolized by the cannibalization of both the wood and the green baize from his beloved billiard table, which his early arrival had so fortuitously aborted:

“he had also set the carpenter to work in pulling down what had been so lately put up in the billiard-room, and given the scene-painter his dismissal long enough to justify the pleasing belief of his being then at least as far off as Northampton.”

Indeed, the “scenes” from the past and present which Sir Thomas at all costs wished to prevent from being enacted and “seen” had to be exiled far, far, far away from Mansfield Park—if this debris could not be conveniently sent to Antigua, at least as far away as the big town whence came the additional green baize which symbolized the insurrection.

“There is another symbolism of the cloth. By the middle of the eighteenth century it was customary to separate the servants' quarters in a staffed house by means of a door which was lined with green baize to provide some sound insulation. Thus the phrase 'the green baize door' became synonymous for the partition between the servants and their masters. There's even a book titled 'Behind the green baize door'
on the subject.”

YES! And of course, as you obviously were aware in mentioning that wonderful detail, Derrick, we have the EXPLICIT statement by Tom that “my father’s room will be AN EXCELLENT GREENROOM. It seems to join the billiard–room on purpose.” Could there be any greater poetic justice than to turn the master’s most private space into a room, just beyond “the green baize door”, where the “servants” (recall the famous discussion in Hamlet about the low social status of actors, as being worthy of being whipp’d, etc.) will wait for their “cues”!


Friday, June 18, 2010

Almost PURELY governed

In Austen L, Maria wrote the following about Mary Crawford:

“The "...almost purely governed..." feels more general than particular to me as well; and there are instances throughout our acquaintance with her where we do see that there are really good feelings manifesting.”

I responded as follows:

Maria, I did not recall the passage you were quoting in regard to Mary Crawford, and I hadn’t previously ever attended to the exquisite phrase “almost purely governed”. In isolation, it struck me very drolly, acidly funny, a prototypical Austenian irony. It has that perfect pitch of absurd paradox which we see so often in JA’s narration---in particular, when she wants to sound like she is saying one thing, but is actually completely undercutting, with a razor-sharp blade of irony, the superficial meaning.

Here is the passage you were recalling regarding Mary Crawford’s intervention after Mrs. Norris verbally savages Fanny:

“Edmund was too angry to speak; but Miss Crawford, looking for a moment with astonished eyes at Mrs. Norris, and then at Fanny, whose tears were beginning to shew themselves, immediately said, with some keenness, “I do not like my situation: this _place_ is too hot for me,” and moved away her chair to the opposite side of the table, close to Fanny, saying to her, in a kind, low whisper, as she placed herself, “Never mind, my dear Miss Price, this is a cross evening: everybody is cross and teasing, but do not let us mind them”; and with pointed attention continued to talk to her and endeavour to raise her spirits, in spite of being out of spirits herself. By a look at her brother she prevented any farther entreaty from the theatrical board, and the really good feelings by which she was almost purely governed were rapidly restoring her to all the little she had lost in Edmund’s favour. Fanny did not love Miss Crawford; but she felt very much obliged to her for her present kindness; and when, from taking notice of her work, and wishing _she_ could work as well, and begging for the pattern, and supposing Fanny was now preparing for her _appearance_, as of course she would come out when her cousin was married, Miss Crawford proceeded to inquire if she had heard lately from her brother at sea, and said that she had quite a curiosity to see him, and imagined him a very fine young man, and advised Fanny to get his picture drawn before he went to sea again—she could not help admitting it to be very agreeable flattery, or help listening, and answering with more animation than she had intended.”

First, I just have to comment on the beginning of that passage—I also just paid attention for the first time to that line: “Edmund was too angry to speak”—Um, I’d say, rather, “Edmund was too much of a WUSS to speak”—that narration is Fanny’s instantaneous “love is blind” idealization of Edmund, giving him the benefit of the doubt on what an objective observer would characterize as his plain and totally unsatisfactory failure to man up and defend his defenseless cousin from a vicious broadside from Mrs. Norris.

Second, as to Mary’s intervention, that is the one instance in the novel when the narrator seems to be saying that Mary is really a good person after all, because she seems to belt a moral home run right out of the park, by saying precisely the right thing at the right moment after Fanny has been leveled by a vicious jab to the solar plexus by Mrs. Norris. But then, that word “almost”, as the group archive tells me that Edith has pointed out in the past, completely undoes the “purely”!

I think the importance of that word “almost” is magnified by how well it fits with the context of what is happening at that moment in the story, which is Henry’s courtship of Fanny. Seen in that light, we can see that Fanny is the target of a veritable fusillade of “false advertising” worthy of a Super Bowl ad blitz for a particularly toxic product like a Big Mac with supersized fries and soft drink, and Mary’s kind rescue of Fanny is just one part of it..

Look at how Mary quickly follows up with several additional actions which closely resemble the way Henry C. suddenly makes so nice toward Fanny in support of his courtship of her, and then (as I posted the other day) Sir Thomas joins in with a sudden uptick in kindness and attention toward Fanny, what with providing Fanny’s East room with a fire, and not telling Mrs. Norris about Fanny’s initial refusal to consider Henry C’s as a prospective husband.

There is something particularly vile and IMPURE about manipulation and oppression masquerading as generosity and kindness, especially when it is a masquerade which rises to the level of an entire cast of characters in a play, as it were, with all three of these manipulators working in concert with one goal—to make a hole in Fanny’s heart, to push her to marry Henry Crawford against her will, her heart, her conscience, and her desire. Mrs. Norris (the “bad cop”) does not mask her ugliness, but it is necessary to identify everyone in the precinct house, including the cops who have gone “undercover”!

And speaking of “purity”, as in “almost PURELY governed”, that is a word which receives much more attention in MP than in any other JA novel, and surely that is not surprising, given that MP is the novel most explicitly concerned with the moral and the spiritual.

In Chapter 28, we see a second passage where the word “pure” pertains to Mary in an ironic way:

Well, then," replied Miss Crawford, laughing, "I must suppose it*/ /*[i.e., Henry going with William to London] to be PURELY for the pleasure of conveying your brother, and of talking of you by the way."

Mary is laughing, I say, because she knows that Henry has his ulterior motive in mind to force Fanny into feeling gratitude toward him, and that laugh does not say much for Mary’s good intentions toward Fanny. Mary may defend Fanny against Mrs. Norris, but she does everything in her power to render Fanny DEFENSELESS against Henry! And there is NOTHING pure about Henry’s intentions toward Fanny, and Mary is EXPLICITLY aware of this, as it was she he was speaking to about making a hole in Fanny’s heart!

Mary, like Sir Thomas, is a panderer, and it only mitigates Mary’s sin a bit to take note that she has entered into this “career” as a result of herself having been a victim, at a young age, of a similar gambit on the part of an adult she thought she could trust, i.e., the Admiral. So Mary playing the role of “Pandarus” in MP resonates deeply with the parallelism I have mentioned in the past between the character of Mary and the character of Cressida in Shakespeare’s deeply cynical play,where the “commodity” for “sale” at a very low “price” is Cressida.

In Act 2, Scene 2, Troilus asks this pointed question to his fellow Trojans: "Why keep we [Helen]? the Grecians keep our aunt: Is she worth keeping? why, she is a pearl, Whose PRICE hath launch'd above a thousand ships, And turn'd crown'd kings to merchants."

It seems to me that Fanny’s “price” hath launch’d at least several gambits by these cynical manipulators who surround her, and if any fictional character was, metaphorically speaking, a “crown’d king” turned “merchant”, it is Sir Thomas!

And in Chapter 35, we have yet another passage where the word “pure" pertains to Mary, and this one fits with my interpretation of Edmund as a moral coward of great magnitude, as Edmund, speaking to Fanny, puts this truly absurd spin on Henry’s attentions toward Fanny:

“It does him the highest honour; it shews his proper estimation of the blessing of domestic happiness and PURE attachment.”

The only possible reaction to this would be to stick a flaming torch of flame in Edmund’s face, to wake him up, like Indiana Jones, from the deep trance he has fallen into under Mary’s spell because he drank the hot blood, he listened to her siren song. And that is what eventually happens by the end of the novel, Tom’s illness and Mary’s reaction to it function as that flaming torch…..but not till Fanny has served her lengthy “hard labor” sentence at Portsmouth.

So, Maria, with all due respect and with acknowledgment of the varied bits of evidence you adduced in your subsequent message that Mary is not so bad as she seems, I think that she IS as bad as she seems—she’s just not as bad as Henry.

She’s bad the way Sir Thomas is bad—unlike Henry, neither Mary nor Sir Thomas takes a malicious delight in planning to ruin other people’s lives for sport---but I think JA is saying that there is evil which revels unashamedly in itself, and there is evil which rationalizes itself as being moral, and the greatest harm to the innocent occurs when both sorts of evil join forces.

And needless to say, I am no fan of Edmund Bertram, whose culpability is not that far below that of Mary or Sir Thomas, in my eyes—it’s just that Fanny forgives him, and so therefore do most readers of the novel.

Cheers, Arnie

P.S.: Apropos the word “pure”, JA does show Fanny thinking that word a LOT in terms of her own moral deliberations—Fanny is the only one at Mansfield Park who even questions the moral purity of her own actions and feelings, and we hear about it repeatedly:

Chapter 16: It would be so horrible to [Fanny] to act [in Lover's Vows] that she was inclined to suspect the truth and PURITY of her own scruples;*/ /*and as she looked around her, the claims of her cousins to being obliged were strengthened by the sight of present upon present that she had received from them.

Chapter 20: With a PURER spirit [than Julia’s malice] did Fanny rejoice in the intelligence [that Henry C had left MP].

Chapter 32: For the PURITY of her intentions*/ /*[in refusing Henry, Fanny] could answer, and she was willing to hope, secondly, that her uncle's displeasure was abating, and would abate farther as he considered the matter with more impartiality, and felt, as a good man must feel, how wretched, and how unpardonable, how hopeless, and how wicked it was to marry without affection.

Chapter 44: [Fanny] could just find selfishness enough to wonder whether Edmund _had_ written to Miss Crawford before this summons [back to MP] came, but no sentiment dwelt long with her that was not PURELY affectionate and disinterestedly anxious.*//*

Chapter 44: Without any particular affection for her eldest cousin, her tenderness of heart made her feel that she could not spare him, and the PURITY of her principles added yet a keener solicitude, when she considered how little useful, how little self-denying his life had (apparently) been.

Chapter 48: All that followed was the result of [Maria’s] imprudence; and [Henry] went off with her at last, because he could not help it, regretting Fanny even at the moment, but regretting her infinitely more when all the bustle of the intrigue was over, and a very few months had taught [Henry], by the force of contrast, to place a yet higher value on the sweetness of [Fanny’s] temper, the PURITY of her mind, and the excellence of her principles.

Tom Bertram's Dancing and Studying myself to death

The topic of Tom Bertram's possibly being a closeted gay man being discussed in Janeites led me to take a closer look at certain comments Tom makes to Fanny at Mansfield Park during the first ball:

"[Tom] came towards their little circle; but instead of asking her to dance, drew a chair near her, and gave her an account of the present state of a sick horse, and the opinion of the groom, from whom he had just parted."

I think this is meant to suggest that Tom and the groom have been doing a good deal more than exchanging opinions about that sick horse--sounds like a very convenient excuse, in fact.

And we might therefore fairly infer more than a straightforward meaning in Tom's immediately ensuing rant, which somehow seems like an overreaction completely out of proportion to the circumstance of passing time in tedious dancing at a country ball:

"When he had told of his horse, he took a newspaper from the table, and looking over it, said in a languid way, “If you want to dance, Fanny, I will stand up with you.” With more than equal civility the offer was declined; she did not wish to dance. “I am glad of it,” said he, in a much brisker tone, and throwing down the newspaper again, “for I am tired to death. I only wonder how the good people can keep it up so long. They had need be _all_ in love, to find any amusement in such folly; and so they are, I fancy. If you look at them you may see they are so many couple of lovers—all but Yates and Mrs. Grant—and, between ourselves, she, poor woman, must want a lover as much as any one of them. A desperate dull life hers must be with the doctor,” making a sly face as he spoke towards the chair of the latter"

Indeed the mandatory "dance" of the sexes would tire a closeted gay man to death, and would, after a number of years, justifiably feel like complete folly to him. And surely Tom is not merely referring to purely emotional needs not being met when he refers to Mrs. Grant--and so perhaps Tom's suspicion of Dr. Grant's lack of husbandly attention-giving is based on more than Dr. Grant's preoccupation with his next meal of food. And, as I reflect upon it further, I personally would not be completely surprised if Henry Crawford, ever attentive to such things, did not ALSO notice his sad half-sister's woeful lack, and, ever ready to be of service in such matters, to somehow find a remedy for it.

And I also wonder if the resonance to the following passage from another fictional universe holds anything like the same veiled significance THERE that I am suggesting Tom's rant does in MP:

""Very well. If the Westons think it worth while to be at all this trouble for a few hours of noisy entertainment, I have nothing to say against it, but that they shall not choose pleasures for me. Oh! yes, I must be there; I could not refuse; and I will keep as much awake as I can; but I would rather be at home, looking over William Larkins's week's account; much rather, I confess. Pleasure in seeing dancing! not I, indeed -- I never look at it -- I do not know who does. Fine dancing, I believe, like virtue, must be its own reward. Those who are standing by are usually thinking of something very different."

William Larkins's week's account....the sick horse and the groom.......hmmm......

And which all combine to make the following suggestion by Mrs. Norris sound like "strange business" indeed:

“My dear Tom,” cried his aunt soon afterwards, “as you are not dancing, I dare say you will have no objection to join us in a rubber; shall you?”

The last thing on the planet that Tom wants to do is join Aunt Norris in a "rubber"--as he demonstrates, he'd even rather go through the motions of 'dancing' with poor neglected Fanny than do that!

And isn't there an interesting resonance in Tom's asking Fanny to dance, to a later moment, also involving dancing, in that same other fictional universe:

"In another moment a happier sight caught her -- Mr. Knightley leading Harriet to the set! Never had she been more surprised, seldom more delighted, than at that instant. She was all pleasure and gratitude, both for Harriet and herself, and longed to be thanking him; and though too distant for speech, her countenance said much, as soon as she could catch his eye again."

And that resonance is only expanded when we consider all the speculation that has been generated in the past in JA-related discussions about Mr. Elton's "end of an old pencil, the part without any lead."

JA sure did a whole lot of dancing around some things..................

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: Just for fun, after thinking about Tom Bertram whining about being "tired to death" of dancing, dancing, dancing, I did a word search in JA's novels of the phrase "to death", just to see what came up, and here are the results, for the amusement of those who, like me, like to see the way JA played with certain phrases throughout her novels, especially those involving breathlessness, exaggeration and hyperbole, which lend themselves so readily to irony, such as "to death":

EMMA TO HARRIET, Chapter 10: "I wish Jane Fairfax very well; but she tires me TO DEATH."

FRANK TO MRS. WESTON, Chapter 27: "[My aunt] says I fidget her TO DEATH; and Miss Woodhouse looks as if she could almost say the same.

Apropos the recent thread about Reginald Hill's "Poor Emma", I must say that I never noticed before that this seemingly throwaway comment by Frank has a distinctly strong resonance to Hill's story (where Frank "assists" Knightley in choking on food, a la Dr. Grant), and also to Lelank Monk's 1990 article which was the first explicit suggestion in print that Frank did more than fidget his aunt to death at Windsor!

SOME BODY participating in the Donwell Abbey strawberry scene, Chapter 42: Morning decidedly the best time -- never tired -- every sort good -- hautboy infinitely superior -- no comparison -- the others hardly eatable -- hautboys very scarce -- Chili preferred -- white wood finest flavour of all -- price of strawberries in London -- abundance about Bristol -- Maple Grove -- cultivation -- beds when to be renewed -- gardeners thinking exactly different -- no general rule -- gardeners never to be put out of their way -- delicious fruit -- only too rich to be eaten much of -- inferior to cherries -- currants more refreshing -- only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping -- glaring sun -- tired TO DEATH -- could bear it no longer -- must go and sit in the shade."

My personal vote is that it is Jane F. who, due to her "interesting condition", is forced to gasp out those last four phrases....

TOM TO FANNY, Chapter 12: "I am glad of it," said he, in a much brisker tone, and throwing down the newspaper again, "for I am tired TO DEATH.

CATHERINE TO HENRY, Chapter 3: We are sadly off in the country; not but what we have very good shops in Salisbury, but it is so far to go -- eight miles is a long way; Mr Allen says it is nine, measured nine; but I am sure it cannot be more than eight; and it is such a fag -- I come back tired TO DEATH.

ISABELLA TO CATHERINE, Chapter 16: Charles Hodges will plague me TO DEATH, I dare say; but I shall cut him very short.....The friends were not able to get together for any confidential discourse till all the dancing was over; but then, as they walked about the room arm in arm, Isabella thus explained herself: "I do not wonder at your surprise; and I am really fatigued TO DEATH.

NARRATOR, Chapter 10: [Charles Hayter] had even refused one regular invitation to dinner; and having been found on the occasion by Mr Musgrove with some large books before him, Mr and Mrs Musgrove were sure all could not be right, and talked, with grave faces, of his studying himself TO DEATH.

I think that last sentence is my personal favorite of the bunch, maybe because I am myself often accused of STUDYING JA's novels and letters TO DEATH, and also of my alleged breathlessness, hyperbole, and exaggeration, and also because my writing about JA seems to tire a number of Janeites TO DEATH!

But, as Diana often quotes Emma, and as, I believe, JA herself anticipated reactions to her writing by her readers:

"One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other."

This is, I think, true of the Janeite world, in a hundred ways, even more so than in the rest of the world at large. ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mary, Sir Thomas, and Jane Austen, all forestalling

I am not quite done yet with JA’s braiding of metaphors relating to horseback riding, taking orders, and spiritual journeys in MP. But I think I have now reached the “punch line”, let’s see what you think. ;)

Recall that I had previously quoted Mary, in Ch. 7, tempting Edmund to give up his plans to take clerical orders, and enter MY wilderness, i.e., become a lawyer instead:

"Now you are going to say something about LAW BEING THE WORST WILDERNESS of the two, but I FORESTALL you; REMEMBER, I have FORESTALLED you."

I was rereading that quotation, when I noticed Mary’s repetition, and wondered what the heck Mary meant by that strange comment. It took me a few minutes with Google to learn that the meaning of the verb “to forestall” as JA was using it is one which has fallen by the linguistic wayside over the past 200 years. I.e., Mary means “to anticipate”, whereas today, the only meaning in use is “to delay or to obstruct”. Basketball fans know what a “stall” is, and everyone has heard and used the expression “stalling for time”.

Anyway, having equestrian puns in my mind, I wondered whether JA might also have intended the reader to think in terms of horses as well—horses do, after all, spend a lot of time in “stalls”, which sounds to me like a shortening of the original word “stables”-- and so I wondered whether JA has Mary repeat that verb, even prefacing it with the admonition “Remember”, in part because JA wants the reader to pause and take a second look at that word, and think about it. And, perhaps much more important, because JA wanted the reader to remember the word “forestall” when it is used later in the novel---which, by some strange coincidence, turns out to be in the final chapter, precisely at the moment when the outcome of the battle for Edmund’s heart, mind, and soul is finally decided, and the winner is Fanny, not Mary. It turns out that JA the author has, in those equestrian passages way back in Ch. 7, indeed “forestalled”, or anticipated, her ending!

I will now turn to the two relevant passages in Chapter 48:

First, in the description of how the Grants come to leave Mansfield Park for greener pastures, so to speak (was English currency, like American dollars, green in color?), we hear:

“Dr Grant, through an interest on which he had almost ceased to form hopes, SUCCEEDED TO A STALL in Westminster, which, as affording an occasion for leaving Mansfield, an excuse for residence in London, and an increase of income to answer the expenses of the change, was highly acceptable to those who went and those who staid.”

Isn’t it curious that the word “stall” has the same meaning in both the clerical and the equestrian context? I think it’s more than curious, I claim that the description of horseback riding in Chapter 7, and specifically Mary’s “forestalling”, are being deliberated echoed by JA 41 chapters later, by the use of that single innocuous- sounding word—“stall”.

Dr. Grant, gluttonous and avaricious, is the epitome of the morally corrupted English clergyman, successfully led (by the nose) to a new “stall” by the “aroma” of an increased income. And so it is entirely fitting karma that in the very next paragraph we hear that this increase in income has apparently accelerated the date of his own final meeting with HIS Maker (and order-giver) “brought on apoplexy and death, by three great institutionary dinners in one week.” It turns out that it was a good thing that Dr. Grant was occasionally driven out by a green goose, because the message seems to be that gluttony plus an UNlimited culinary expense account => a “stroke” of (bad) luck!—and perhaps we are also being slyly shown that Dr. Grant is the kind of creature who resembles Dr. Swift’s Yahoos, i.e., the land where the horses are the evolved species and the humans are lower on the evolutionary scale, may be Jolly Olde England itself!

But the braiding of the equestrian, order-giving, and Paradise-Lost motifs in MP reaches its glorious climax, and zenith---amid a crescendo of faintly audible angelic horns--when we read what amounts to Edmund’s arrival at the Celestial City (and I do believe JA meant to invoke Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress as well as Paradise Lost)—I have put in ALL CAPS the words which all contribute to the metaphor of a journey on horseback over a long distance to reach a holy destination:

“Having once SET OUT, and felt that he had done so ON THIS ROAD TO HAPPINESS, there was nothing on the side of prudence TO STOP HIM OR MAKE HIS PROGRESS SLOW; no doubts of her deserving, no fears of opposition of taste, no need of drawing new hopes of happiness from dissimilarity of temper. Her mind, disposition, opinions, and habits wanted no half–concealment, no self–deception on the present, no reliance on future improvement. Even in the midst of his late infatuation, he had acknowledged Fanny’s mental superiority. What must be his sense of it now, therefore? She was of course only too good for him; but as nobody minds having what is too good for them, HE WAS VERY STEADILY EARNEST IN THE PURSUIT OF THE BLESSING, and it was not possible that ENCOURAGEMENT FROM HER should be long wanting. TIMID, ANXIOUS, DOUBTING AS SHE WAS, it was still impossible that such tenderness as hers should not, at times, hold out the strongest hope of success, though it remained for a later period to tell him the whole delightful and astonishing truth. His happiness in knowing himself to have been so long the beloved of such a heart, must have been great enough to warrant any strength of language in which he could clothe it to her or to himself; it must have been a delightful happiness. But there was happiness elsewhere which no description can reach. Let no one presume to give the feelings of a young woman on receiving the assurance of that affection of which she has scarcely allowed herself to entertain a hope.

Their own inclinations ascertained, there were no difficulties behind, NO DRAWBACK of poverty or parent. It was a match WHICH SIR THOMAS’S WISHES HAD EVEN FORESTALLED. Sick of ambitious and mercenary connexions, prizing more and more the sterling good of principle and temper, and chiefly ANXIOUS TO BIND BY THE STRONGEST SECURITIES all that remained to him of domestic felicity, he had pondered with genuine satisfaction on the more than possibility of the two young friends finding their natural consolation in each other for all that had occurred of disappointment to either; and the joyful consent which met Edmund’s application, the high sense of having realised a great acquisition in the promise of Fanny for a daughter, formed just such a contrast with his early opinion on the subject when the poor little girl’s coming had been first agitated, as time is for ever producing between the plans and decisions of mortals, for their own instruction, and their neighbours’ entertainment.”

I feel like I am watching the finale of The Magic Flute when Tamino and Pamina are united, which is a long long way from Don Giovanni going down in flames for his refusal to take orders.

And note, JA sneaks that word“forestalled” in there again for good measure, this time in Sir Thomas's thoughts, to “bind” the whole metaphorical matrix together.

What we have then, in Chapter 48, is the climax of a Tale of Two Clergymen—Dr. Grant, who takes the wrong road, and strokes out. Edmund, who turns back from the road to hell, and winds up with “heaven’s best gift”.

The only proper reaction to such a metaphorical edifice like this as JA created is, I suggest, AWE.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: I have received several private responses from friends who are knowledgeable about horseback riding (I know nothing about it), who tell me that the progression Mary makes so quickly in her riding is NOT surprising to them, and therefore it is not, in and of itself, definitive proof that Mary is lying. But I nonetheless still agree with Anielka that Mary was lying, mainly because it’s the oldest trick in the courtship manual; it is, in fact, precisely the advice given by the caustically sarcastic narrator in Ch. 14 of NA: “A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.”

PPS: As icing on the metaphorical layer cake, I had dared to hope to find out that "forestalling" (and also, when I thought about it, “drawback” might turn out to be equestrian terms, perhaps describing complicated maneuvers involving stopping the horse suddenly, or drawing back on the reins. But I must report the truth, and the truth is that I found no evidence of same.

What I did find might, however, be of interest to those who enjoy hearing about the lost meanings of words. The Domestic Encyclopedia of 1804 stated that forestalling was, in JA’s day, actually the name of a CRIME: "the buying of, or bargaining for, corn, cattle, or other merchandize, in its passage to fairs, or markets, for sale, with an intent to dispose of them again at an advanced price", a crime punishable by imprisonments of increasing lengths for repeated offense, ultimately leading to forfeiture of all property and standing in the pillory to boot!

This criminal statute existed despite the words of the great Adam Smith, who, writing in the year JA was born, described forestalling in The Wealth of Nations as a form of wholesaling which was actually all to the good of the larger economy, as it would enable farmers to remain fully capitalized, by the introduction of the middleman, or wholesaler, who would then make his profit by selling to retailers.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. re Taking Orders

As a followup to my last message, I did a quick word search on "orders" to flesh out my sense that JA intended a complex pun in regard to that word, and sure enough, I found a mountain of evidence showing that my intuition was on beam.

MP is indeed the JA novel with the most, and also the most varied, references to the word "orders", and they fall into four categories of relationship, each of which carries an interesting resonance for each of the others:

1. The church-clergyman relationship, which of course is the central usage of that word in the novel. I think the pun between the clerical meaning and the everyday idiomatic meaning is most elegantly and brilliantly brought forward in the following exchange:

[Mary]: "It will be the forerunner also of other interesting events: your sister's marriage, and your taking orders."

[Edmund]: "My taking orders, I assure you, is quite as voluntary as Maria's marrying."
While on the surface, this is a perfectly logical and straightforward conversation, there is a simultaneous subliminal undermining of that surface meaning, which turns the straightforward into the serpentine, as we we enter a world of Alice in Wonderland paradox where the "taking of orders" is "voluntary", which seems to me almost to be a parody of the ancient Greek liar's paradox: "This statement is a lie."

And it's not just a clever pun--as always with JA, her puns are thematic. Mary is indirectly, but incisively, questioning whether Edmund, had he been a first born son, would have freely chosen to take clerical orders nonetheless. And Mary bolsters her argument by aligning Edmund's "free choice" alongside Maria's "free choice", and alluding to the pressure that even Maria, the eldest daughter of a baronet, feels to marry a wealthy man.

But there's much more to the taking of orders in MP than just that:

2. The master-servant relationship:

The business of finding a play that would suit everybody proved to be no trifle; and THE CARPENTER HAD RECEIVED HIS ORDERS and taken his measurements, had suggested and removed at least two sets of difficulties, and having made the necessity of an enlargement of plan and expense fully evident, was already at work, while a play was still to seek.

She had some extra visits from the housekeeper, and HER MAID was rather hurried in MAKING UP A NEW DRESS for her: SIR THOMAS GAVE ORDERS, and Mrs Norris ran about; but all this gave _her_ no trouble, and as she had foreseen, "there was, in fact, no trouble in the business."

She was struck, quite struck, when, on returning from her walk and going into the East room again, the first thing which caught her eye was A FIRE LIGHTED AND BURNING. A fire! it seemed too much; just at that time to be giving her such an indulgence was exciting even painful gratitude. She wondered that Sir Thomas could have leisure to think of such a trifle again; but she soon found, from the voluntary information of the housemaid, who came in to attend it, that so it was to be every day. SIR THOMAS HAD GIVEN ORDERS FOR IT.

"If I had known you were going out, I should have got you just to go as far as my house WITH SOME ORDERS FOR NANNY," said she, "which I have since, to my very great inconvenience, been obliged to go and carry myself.

These four usages of the word "orders" in a master-servant situation, scattered across MP, with no apparent connection, are actually intimately connected. MP is the ONLY JA novel with such usages in relations to servants, and they all serve to subliminally echo Mary's persistent attempts to dissuade Edmund from taking clerical orders--in effect, Mary is saying to him, there's nothing masculine or romantic about a clergyman, all you are is a kind of glorified servant, taking orders from a hypocritical church elite, which is rife with corruption from the sins of greed and concupiscence. Mary is, in effect, telling Edmund to "man up", and thereby win the heart of a "real woman".

It begins to explain the power of Mary's siren song, because it is a subtler argument than is often realized--Edmund has felt his pulse race while riding horses with Mary, he has felt his passions stirred as he has listened to her harp---her siren song is the siren song of secular culture, and that secular culture has many genuine allures, not so easily dismissed. A REAL temptation. Mary never makes her own case by attempting to shoot Fanny down--it would never work with Edmund anyway, and it would also be a much inferior case in any event. Much better to acknowledge the positives about Fanny, but, even in doing so, to force Edmund to realize that the heart is a mysterious master, a master whose "orders" are often cryptic, conflicted, and confusing. Love is a great mystery, and Mary is exploiting the mystery for all it's worth.

3. The parent-child relationship:

When her two dances with him were over, her inclination and strength for more were pretty well at an end; and SIR THOMAS, having seen her walk rather than dance down the shortening set, breathless, and with her hand at her side, GAVE HIS ORDERS FOR HER SITTING DOWN entirely.
And of course, one of the other central themes of the novel is the authority of the parent, most dramatically crystallized in the great scene when it is FANNY who defies authority, and refuses to marry Henry Crawford--so JA is again challenging us to refine our moral judgments, and to realize that sometimes it IS the right thing to defy authority.

4. The Admiralty-HMS relationship:

And they think SHE WILL HAVE HER ORDERS in a day or two.

She is gone out of harbour already; three days before we had any thought of it; and I do not know what I am to do about Sam's things, they will never be ready in time; for SHE MAY HAVE HER ORDERS TOMORROW, perhaps.

I should not wonder IF YOU HAD YOUR ORDERS TO-MORROW; but you cannot sail with this wind, if you are to cruise to the westward; and Captain Walsh thinks you will certainly have a cruise to the westward, with the Elephant.

THE THRUSH HAD HAD HER ORDERS, the wind had changed, and he was sailed within four days from their reaching Portsmouth; and during those days she had seen him only twice, in a short and hurried way, when he had come ashore on duty.

In this regard, note the customary reference to ships as "shes", and also that the name of the vessel that will carry William off to sea is the THRUSH, a bird which has poetic connotations of the female, a bird which delights its "masters" with its "song".

Looking at these 4 categories of usage as a totality, I am strongly reminded of Rozema's brilliant point a decade ago, i.e., that MP was an extended meditation on ALL aspects, including most of all the MORAL aspects, of SERVITUDE, and this pun's role in this excerpt crystallizes that theme in a particularly elegant way.

But it's not only MP. I also see this same pun as having previously ALSO been significant in P&P, where the action can be viewed, as in MP, through the lens of Paradise Lost, i.e., as being a struggle between The Son (Darcy) and Satan (Wickham), whom Lydia refers to as "an angel", and of course we all know that Milton's Satan is so interesting a character precisely because he refuses, to the bitter end, to TAKE ORDERS!:

[Darcy writing to Lizzy] My excellent father died about five years ago; and his attachment to Mr Wickham was to the last so steady, that in his will he particularly recommended it to me to promote his advancement in the best manner that his profession might allow, and, IF HE TOOK ORDERS, desired that a valuable family living might be his as soon as it became vacant.....His own father did not long survive mine, and within half a year from these events Mr Wickham wrote to inform me that, HAVING FINALLY RESOLVED AGAINST TAKING ORDERS, he hoped I should not think it unreasonable for him to expect some more immediate pecuniary advantage, in lieu of the preferment by which he could not be benefited."

[Lizzy echoing Darcy, speaking to Wickham]: "I _did_ hear, too, that there was a time, when sermon-making was not so palatable to you as it seems to be at present; that you actually declared YOUR RESOLUTION OF NEVER TAKING ORDERS, and that the business had been compromised accordingly."
If, for a moment, we read the pun in the idiomatic, rather than the clerical sense, we are strongly reminded of what JA wrote about the character of Don Juan in her 9/15/13 letter to CEA, barely eight months after P&P was published:

"Fanny [Knight] and the two little girls... revelled last night in Don Juan, whom we left in hell at half-past eleven. ... The girls... still prefer Don Juan, and I must say that I have seen nobody on the stage who has been a more interesting character than that compound of cruelty and lust."

I think that Lizzy Bennet for a while also found Wickham an "interesting character", and part of the attraction, surely, was the apparent defiance of the arrogant and imperious exercise of power and authority.


P.P.S.: As a final wink to the reader, there is actually a FIFTH category of usage of the word "orders" in MP, which points to JA's lifelong (and Fanny's novel-long) interest in botany, and in particular, Linnaean classification--it is the only time when this category appears, and it is when Edmund is explaining to Fanny why he would not miss the Miss Owenses, with whom he had spent time while away from Mansfield Park:

“Yes, very well. Pleasant, good–humoured, unaffected girls. But I am spoilt, Fanny, for common female society. Good–humoured, unaffected girls will not do for a man who has been used to sensible women. THEY ARE TWO DISTINCT ORDERS OF BEING. You and Miss Crawford have made me too nice.”

Edmund Taking Orders and Mary Taking him for a Ride

In Janeites, several folks have responded to Anielka's thread about Mary Crawford's extensive knowledge of horseback riding, despite her presenting herself as a novice equestrian. One comment was by Diane, who in part wrote the following, which I wish to respond to here as well as in Janeites and Austen L:

"I don't think JA made a mistake in having Mary go from a walk to a canter but assuming she did, that, to my mind, makes two mistakes in JA, both around Mary. The other mistake I find, a mistake I find quite glaring, is that at the time of the trip to Sotherton, Mary doesn't know that Edmund means to be a clergyman."

Diane, indeed it would be a glaring mistake, if it were a mistake. But it will come as no shock to anyone that I claim neither of these authorial actions on JA's part is a mistake. Quite the contrary, together they represent one of JA's many inspired and very "becoming conjunctions" Anielka's analysis re Mary's horsemanship is spot on in all respects, as several others participating here, have agreed, and Diane, you did very well indeed, and have gotten to the heart of the matter, in connecting the dots to Mary's apparent astonishment at hearing that Edmund plans to take orders. Of course it is ludicrous to imagine that Mary did not already know Edmund was planning to take holy orders, or that somehow JA overlooked this point, or, even more unlikely, JA did notice the point but made an expedient authorial decision to ignore it, because she would not take the time to make things fit together better.

Remember, this is the same author who made sure she would not place hedgerows in a non-hedgerow county.

And so I claim it is no accident that these "mistakes" both relate to Mary (and let's add to the mix, the most famous question of all relating to Mary, which is "do not be suspecting me of a pun")--in each case, JA has chosen Mary as the vehicle to challenge the reader to ask, "Is it possible that JA REALLY meant Mary to say, and seem to mean, what she said?"

Today was also the first time I can recall catching the very clever and apt pun in the expression "taking orders"--indeed, we can see Mary exerting strenuous, and not even subtle, efforts, to cause Edmund to "take orders" (i.e., commands) from a LOWER power, not the higher one he aspires to serve.

An authorial error in regard to Mary's awareness of Edmund's planning to take orders would have been grievous indeed, because it is one of the major motifs of the novel, one that is revisited in FOUR chapters, 9, 11, 23, and 34. In each of those passages, some important aspect of the career path of clergyman is addressed with great esprit, nuance, and depth, and Mary is there every time, pushing the edges of the envelope, challenging Edmund with some troubling aspect of the English clergy. All the more reason why Mary's (faux) astonishment is no error at all.

Note in particular the unmistakable and enormous irony of the initial discussion in Ch. 9, when Mary's "astonishment" at hearing of Edmund's future ordination, which just happens to occur at Sotherton (i.e., Hell, which is due "South"), is almost immediately followed by Mary issuing the following subtle "order" to the "horse" she has "borrowed" from Fanny:

Mary: “I do not think you ever will,” said she, with an arch smile; “I am just as much surprised now as I was at first that you should intend to take orders. You really are fit for something better. Come, do change your mind. It is not too late. Go into the law.”

Edmund: “Go into the law! With as much ease as I was told to go into this wilderness.”

Mary: “Now you are going to say something about law being the worst wilderness of the two, but I forestall you; remember, I have forestalled you.”

Could the symbolism be more obvious? Indeed, this is the beginning of Satan's temptation of "the Son", in earnest. Sotherton as the Garden of Eden has been the subject of a hundred scholarly discussions of Mansfield Park.

And if there were ANY doubt at all about Mary's willingness to dissemble in order to take command of Edmund, I give you not one, but two additional evidentiary points.

First, my fellow Janeites, let us turn to Ch. 5 and read the "catechism" of the "Hill Street school for matrimony", which is expressed by Mary during her playful repartee about Henry C. with her sister Mrs. Grant (which is highly reminiscent of Lizzy and Miss Bingley's playful chat about Darcy), after Henry C. spontaneously assumes the role of the naive, gullible suitor vis a vis Julia and Maria:

“Mary, how shall we manage him?”

“We must leave him to himself, I believe. Talking does no good. He will be taken in at last.”

“But I would not have him _taken_ _in_; I would not have him duped; I would have it all fair and honourable.”

“Oh dear! let him stand his chance and be taken in. It will do just as well. Everybody is taken in at some period or other.”

“Not always in marriage, dear Mary.”

“In marriage especially. With all due respect to such of the present company as chance to be married, my dear Mrs. Grant, there is not one in a hundred of either sex who is not taken in when they marry. Look where I will, I see that it _is_ so; and I feel that it _must_ be so, when I consider that it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect most from others, and are least honest themselves.”

“Ah! You have been in a bad school for matrimony, in Hill Street.”

“My poor aunt had certainly little cause to love the state; but, however, speaking from my own observation, it is a manoeuvring business. I know so many who have married in the full expectation and confidence of some one particular advantage in the connexion, or accomplishment, or good quality in the person, who have found themselves entirely deceived, and been obliged to put up with exactly the reverse. What is this but a take in?” END OF EXCERPT

They are having a grand time pretending that a cobra could be eaten by two garden snakes, but surely we are meant to experience a "ping" of recall four chapters later when Mary begins, in earnest, her campaign to take Edmund in.

Second, as evidence that Mary has, right from the getgo, been an ACUTE observer of all nuances of the Bertram family, I give you the following passage, also from Ch. 5:

“I begin now to understand you all, except Miss Price,” said Miss Crawford, as she was walking with the Mr. Bertrams. “Pray, is she out, or is she not? I am puzzled. She dined at the Parsonage, with the rest of you, which seemed like being _out_; and yet she says so little, that I can hardly suppose she _is_.”

And Mary then steers the conversation over to Tom Bertram, to interrogate him about his behavior vis a vis the Anderson sisters.

Whatever time has elapsed between the departure of Tom Bertram from Mansfield Park, and the outing to Sotherton has been spent by Mary in softening up her prey, i.e., Edmund, primarily via their equestrian adventures. That is the origin of Mary's concealment of her riding skill--she needs an excuse to have Edmund out there with her all the time. Plus, can there be a more romantic (and erotic, in a veiled) way for a young man and woman to fall in love than while riding the English countryside together on horses?

And any resonance that some might detect in my comment between the horseback riding motif and JHS's excellent discussions of all things equestrian and equine in NA in Unbecoming Conjunctions is ALSO not accidental, and fits even better with this discussion in MP.

So Mary's turning out to have concealed her being an accomplished horsewoman is part and parcel with her very open attempts to divert Edmund from his chosen path in life. The entire novel is really a battle for Edmund's soul, and so MP is really is all about "ordination" after all. JA does not lie, nor does she make mistakes, nor are there any throwaway details in any of her novels.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Dashwood Family Jewels

A question was recently raised in Janeites as to the interpretation of the following passage in Ch. 33 of S&S:

"After some opposition, Marianne yielded to her sister's entreaties, and consented to go out with her and Mrs. Jennings one morning for half an hour. She expressly conditioned, however, for paying no visits, and would do no more than accompany them to Gray's in Sackvill Street, where Elinor was carrying on a negociation for the exchange of a few old-fashioned jewels of her mother."

The question raised was whether Elinor was going to sell the old family jewels to raise cash, or (as D.A. Miller suggested in The Secret of Style) to exchange them for more fashionable ones. Here is how I replied:

I [agree] on the jewels being sold (or pawned, as was later suggested), in either case in order to raise some cash. I am firmly against Miller's creative but strained interpretation, and my main reasons are (1) the strong textual evidence right there in that same Chapter 33 which underscores the theme of gentlewomen often getting the shaft under the English property law system, and (2) the unmistakable allusion to the Austen family history. As I will outline below, this was far too an important point to Jane Austen, on multiple levels, for her to leave this interpretation open to doubt:

(1) Chapters 2 and 33 of S&S as Bookends:

First, Chapter 33, when considered in its entirety, is surely an intentional bookend to, and a direct echo of, the "King Lear" scene which comprises most of Chapter 2. That of course is the often-discussed scene in which we observe Fanny effortlessly manipulating John into assuring that there would be no additional cash (or other income producing assets, such as bonds or timber rights) distributed to the Dashwood women from the estate of the recently deceased Mr. Dashwood. Their sole inheritance would be the 7,000 pounds of cash held by Mr. Dashwood, plus the "household tangible assets", i.e., the china, linens, etc., none of which is an income-producing asset.
By the time the action has reached Ch. 33, even with the careful retrenching urged on Mrs. Dashwood by Elinor, I claim we are meant to infer from Elinor’s visit to Gray’s with old family jewels that even with the generosity of Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, there just ain’t enough cash around anymore to pay all the bills at Barton Cottage. And Edward has vanished, with no resumption of his courting of Elinor on the horizon, and similarly with Marianne and Willoughby, who has now made it
official by marrying Miss Grey. So no knight in shining armor (other than Brandon, whom Marianne has no interest in) waits in the wings to rescue the Dashwood women from their financial straits.

We are meant to realize, despite the narrator’s (and Elinor’s) delicacy and discretion, that the situation has become totally desperate, and that the Dashwood women are far too proud to want to beg for money from their already generous benefactors (Mrs. Jennings, Sir John). And so the obvious and only, if also surely painful, choice, is to generate some immediate cash by selling or pawning some of the precious family jewels, which Mrs. Dashwood probably inherited from her own mother long before. It has taken a period of months, but finally the Dashwood women are feeling the full and inevitable brunt of their expulsion from "Eden" (i.e., Norland), which began when Mr. Dashwood died, and was compounded when John Dashwood, a kind of financial “angel of death”, has delivered this one-two punch combination to their already strapped finances.

So look at what happens in the rest of Chapter 33. Even if you think it’s just a coincidence that John Dashwood just happens to pop in on them while they are there (and I DON’T think it is a coincidence, and in reference thereto, I suggest that Robert Ferrars, in insisting on looking at every single tooth-pick case in the place, was only playing the fop, but was actually stalling to make sure that Elinor would be there long enough for John to pop in and deliver his “friendly” advice to her, at the precise moment when it would be felt most powerfully), look at what topic of conversation John turns to almost immediately—money, money, money, all about money.

And what is the gist of it all? In his “benevolent” way, John, who is the very person in the entire world who has reduced the Dashwood women to this precarious financial condition, and who has the power, even in that moment, to rectify it, but makes it clear he will never do so, is shedding crocodile tears for the Dashwood women’s impecuniousness, and then makes the following speech which belongs right alongside Chapter 2 in the list of best literary examples of sheer chutzpah, in describing the generosity shown to them by Mrs. Jennings and Sir John:

"I am extremely glad to hear it, upon my word; extremely glad indeed. But so it ought to be; they are people of large fortune, they are related to you, and every civility, and accommodation that can serve to make your situation pleasant, might be reasonably expected. And so you are most comfortably settled in your little cottage and want for nothing! Edward brought us a most charming account of the place; the most complete thing of its kind, he said, that ever was, and you all seemed to enjoy it beyond anything. It was a great satisfaction to us to hear it, I assure you."

It is surely one of the most ironic understatements of the literary 19th century when we read that “Elinor did feel a little ashamed of her brother”! And it ranks right up there, for me, with Fanny Price’s comments to Edmund about Henry Crawford’s sordid machinations vis a vis Maria and Julia:

“What a favourite he is with my cousins!"

But back to S&S. Then John caps off his performance with several verbal shoves intended to push Elinor into Colonel Brandon’s arms, which would have the double effect of relieving John’s microscopically small conscience (and yes, that is also an accurate description of a part of his physical person as well, vis a vis his wife), plus getting Elinor out of the Edward sweepstakes, clearing the way (so Fanny D. was perhaps thinking when she sent John over there to Gray’s in the first place) for Edward to be pressured into marrying Miss Morton. It all fits, and, horrible as this scheme is, it seems to have a very good chance of succeeding.

But….unlike King Lear, S&S is ultimately NOT a tragedy, and the reason is that Fanny didn’t reckon on the formidable adversary who lurked quietly in the shadows, waiting patiently for her OWN schemes to unfold ……the inimitable (bad grammar and all) LUCY (eventually to be “FERrars”) Steele!

(2) Austen Family Echoes:

And, why I believe this was all of great personal importance to Jane Austen, was that all that I have described above is also unmistakably a portrait of the lives of the Austen women between 1805 and 1809. Think about James Austen and his wife Mary swooping down like vultures to grab all the tangible assets at Steventon (including, if memory serves me right, Jane’s piano) for a song (so to speak), and think about the fire sale of the other tangibles (including the home library of her father’s books which perhaps were dearest to Jane). And think about Edward Austen Knight, like John Dashwood so preoccupied with preserving and enhancing his Godmersham empire, and strangely not providing his sisters and mother with a decent place to live for 4 years, waiting, it seems, for his version of “Fanny Dashwood” to die, so that he would have the spine to do the right thing.

Indeed John and Fanny are barely disguised composite caricatures of the half of the Austen family which, as JA put it so bitingly, was so determined to enrich itself at the expense of the other half. Surely, in 1811, a scant two years later, it gave JA some measure of psychic relief to be able to put this horror show on discreet public display, for the comprehension of those who knew the backstory. But, as always, with deniability, if challenged.

And the capper, which I will address in my book, is that, surprisingly, there was ALSO a contemporary fellow author who, I have determined, DID come to some of the same conclusions I just did about Chapter 33, and embedded them as an allusion in the subtext of a contemporary work of literature which sold a good deal more copies in that day than S&S—an allusion which was spotted much later, by a discerning critic, which is what brought it to my own attention yesterday, but that critic did not realize the significance of that allusion.

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Must not compliment...that would be rude

In _Those Elegant Decorums: the Concept of Propriety in Jane Austen's Novels_, Jane Nardin writes the following at P. 113:

“Emma dislikes Miss Bates and the whole reason for this cannot be found in Miss Bates’s tediousness, for Emma’s beloved father and sister are at least equally vapid, if not quite so verbose. Miss Bates admires Emma greatly, but it is always clear to Emma that Jane Fairfax, whom she regards as a threatening rival, holds the first place in Miss Bates’s affection and esteem. The sort of admiration Miss Bates bestow on Emma—for example, at the Crown ball, ‘Upon my word Miss Woodhouse, you do look—how do you like Jane’s hair?...She did it all herself. Quite wonderful how she does her hair’ “—is neither focused enough, nor, more important, exclusive enough, to
please one who is always so eager to be first. But Emma’s interaction with Miss Bates is unsatisfactory primarily because it focuses so exclusively on Jane. Every time Emma sees Miss Bates, some ego-deflating reminder of Jane’s superior virtues and accomplishments is ‘forced on her against her will’—and probably it is doubly
humiliating to Emma that anyone so dull as Miss Bates should possess this power to unsettle her.”

I think Nardin is onto something very important, which fits very nicely with my recent posts about Miss Bates’s covert revenge in thrice denying Emma entrance to see Jane. The above-quoted passage seems to me to suggest that Miss Bates’s listing, for Emma's benefit, the three women whom she DID allow to see Jane, is not merely revenge on Emma for her attack on Miss Bates at Box Hill---the above passage occurs PRIOR to Box Hill.

Mainly, I find there is pointed, and piquant, irony in Nardin’s notion that Emma, for all her professed boredom at Miss Bates’s long speeches, might in spite of herself be wanting, even yearning, to be complimented by her—that in some way the praise Emma gets from her father feels to her as thin as the gruel he eats, and Mr. Knightley rarely bestows unadulterated praise on Emma, whereas Miss Bates’s praise of Jane is always rich and satisfying, her cup truly runs over while doting on Jane. Perhaps at these moments, Emma , unconsciously, feels her lack of a mother most acutely?

Anyway, here is everything Miss Bates says to Emma at that moment, it’s interesting to see the full context:

“Ah! here's Miss Woodhouse. Dear Miss Woodhouse, how do you do? Very well I thank you, quite well. This is meeting quite in fairy-land! Such a transformation! Must not compliment, I know -- (eyeing Emma most complacently) -- that would be rude -- but upon my word, Miss Woodhouse, you do look -- how do you like Jane's hair? You are a judge. She did it all herself. Quite wonderful how she does her hair! No hairdresser from London I think could.”

So we see Miss Bates start to give Emma a compliment but then she stops. And what does she mean by “must not compliment…that would be rude”? Must not compliment Emma? That would be rude to whom, Emma? Perhaps the idea is that it’s vulgar to be too complimentary? But certainly, Emma must be disconcerted by Miss Bates first starting to compliment her, then dropping it completely and abruptly in favor of a compliment to Jane, even asking Emma to join in the compliment to Jane, and then talking to a few other people, never returning to Emma.. This seems to me to be another example of Miss Bates taking Emma down a peg.

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Why was that day different from all other days?

"Oh! papa, we have missed seeing them but one entire day since they married. Either in the morning or evening of every day, excepting one, have we seen either Mr Weston or Mrs Weston, and generally both, either at Randalls or here -- and as you may suppose, Isabella, most frequently here."

The above is what Emma says to her father in Chapter 11, on the first day of Isabella's and John's Christmas visit to Highbury, which Ellen dates with precision in her chronology for the novel as December 18. My eye was drawn today for the first time by Emma's subtle emphasis, TWICE alluding to there having been one, and ONLY one, day when neither Mr. nor Mrs. Weston visited Hartfield since their marriage, which was in late September or early October, 2 1/2 to 3 months previously.

Of course, on the surface, JA's emphasis of this plot detail can be plausibly explained as a poignant example of how much Emma AND her father BOTH miss Mrs. Weston--that is why Emma so distinctly recalls the one day, out of perhaps 80 or 90, when the Westons were NOT there, because the day they DIDN'T come, was evidently a very very sad day for Emma and her father, a painful memory which could not be erased even by the pleasure of all those other days!

And of course, Mrs. Weston must have been perfectly aware of this all along, which is precisely why she so evidently has arranged things for such a long time period, so that if for some reason she could not go to Hartfield, she has made sure in every instance, save one, that her husband (who would have been a poor substitute in Emma's eyes, surely) would at least show up. Except that one day.

But....all my Austen intuition is telling me that there’s a reason why that day was different from all the other days, and why Hartfield was “passed over” by both Mr. and Mrs. Weston on that day in particular. Somewhere in the rest of the novel (not necessarily prior to Chapter 11, because JA often gave information in later chapters which was relevant to the chronology of events described in an earlier chapter), there must be some subtle indication of what might have been the circumstances which caused the Westons to vary from their otherwise rigidly invariant custom of visiting Hartfield every single day. Like Chekhov's gun hanging on the wall, I know this must be there for more of a reason than to alert us to how much Mrs. Weston is missed at Highbury, good reason though that may be.

My initial guess is that it was the day of that tete a tete between Mr. Knightley and Mrs. Weston at Randalls, reproduced in Chapter 5, when Knightley drops in while Mr. Weston is elsewhere. To me it's clear that Mr. Weston has gone off somewhere other than a local stroll----- perhaps to London on business or maybe to see Frank (who might have been passing through there). And it’s also clear to me that Knightley has seized that moment—or, now that I think about it, maybe he even CREATED that moment, by entrusting Mr. Weston with an errand to London---precisely so that he could discreetly drop in on Mrs. Weston and have this top secret strategy parley with Mrs. Weston about Emma.

Note that Knightley either knows where Mr. Weston is, or he has seen Mr. Weston leave Randalls in such a manner as to indicate that he would be gone a while. Otherwise, why would Knightley say to Mrs. Weston: “"Perhaps you think I am come on purpose to quarrel with you, knowing Weston to be out, and that you must still fight your own battle." And we can also infer that the tete a tete is a morning event, and that Mr. Weston has left not long before, because Knightley ends the discussion with “What does Weston think of the weather; shall we have rain?"—unless he was ascribing to Mr. Weston prognosticatory powers exceeding one day, we may safely assume, I think, that Mr. Weston would have made a prediction about THAT DAY’s weather for the eminently sensible reason that he would be traveling that day, and his travels would be affected by rain.

Note also that the Randalls tete a tete is the ONLY scene in the entire novel where Emma is not present at all---and so, how fitting it would be if, while Knightley and Mrs. Weston were there conferring about Emma, we could picture Emma and Mr. Woodhouse having their own involuntary tete a tete, playing word games, looking out the window, and waiting, waiting, waiting for company to arrive, but which never came. Emma’s ears would have been on fire, tingling from the way her life was being examined under a microscope by Knightley and Mrs. Weston.

And that is also why I suspect that the day in question must have been one when Harriet did not visit Highbury either—somehow I bet that had Harriet been there, Emma and Mr. Woodhouse would not have been quite so miserable. Perhaps Harriet had snuck off in search of Robert Martin…..

And I finish by pointing to the following passage in Ch. 11 of Emma, immediately before the passage which I quoted at the start of this message, and which, knowing JA’s penchant for wordplay, gives me serious pause in light of the title I have given to this message:

“Perhaps [Emma] might have PASSED OVER more had [John’s] manners been flattering to Isabella's sister, but they were only those of a calmly kind brother and friend, without praise and without blindness; but hardly any degree of personal compliment could have made her regardless of that greatest fault of all in her eyes which he sometimes fell into, the want of respectful forbearance towards her father.”

It’s almost as though the above passage is a subliminal hint to the reader, to provoke the asking of the question about why that day was different from all the other days. And to make me ask one final, playful question---what food did Emm and her father eat that day? Did the menu by any chance include boiled eggs, lamb shank, with dessert being a mixture of apples and walnuts? ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Parallelism of Mr. Collins, Lizzy, Charlotte, Lady C and Mr. Bennet, to Frank, Emma, Jane, Mrs. Churchill and Miss Bates

I begin by quoting from the message I wrote 2 years ago in Janeites, when I first focused on Andrew Davies's decision to dramatize Lizzy's "mock solicitude" to Mr. Collins--I am reposting it now to correct the error I just made in my previous message entitled "Only three SHARP things at once", which is exactly the same error that I made 2 years ago, i.e, in not realizing that Davies had been inspired to dramatize Collins's awful "condolence" with the Bennet, by an earlier, parallel, dramatized passage in Ch. 22 of P&P::


"Davies did something a bit less clever and original---what he did was to take what Mr. Bennet says to Mr. Collins in Ch. 22 (when Collins, getting ready to return to Hunsford, suggests that he might be coming back to Longbourn soon), and puts into Lizzy's mouth in that later, more dramatic scene.

Here is the relevant scene in Ch. 22:

They were all astonished; and Mr. Bennet, who could by no means wish for so speedy a return, immediately said --

"But is there not danger of Lady Catherine's disapprobation here, my good sir? You had better neglect your relations than run the risk of offending your patroness."

"My dear sir," replied Mr. Collins, "I am particularly obliged to you for this friendly caution, and you may depend upon my not taking so material a step without her ladyship's concurrence."

"You cannot be too much on your guard. Risk anything rather than her displeasure; and if you find it likely to be raised by your coming to us again, which I should think exceedingly probable, stay quietly at home, and be satisfied that /we/ shall take no offence."
"Believe me, my dear sir, my gratitude is warmly excited by such affectionate attention; and depend upon it, you will speedily receive from me a letter of thanks for this, as well as for every other mark of your regard during my stay in Hertfordshire. END OF CH. 22 QUOTE

It's easy to see why Davies would do this in adapting the novel to the screen. In the novel, the "crime" Mr. Collins would be committing by returning too soon to Longbourn would be a "misdemeanor", i.e., giving too much attention to his relations in precedence to his attentions to Lady C. But Davies raised the stakes by putting the same words into Lizzy's mouth in that later scene, where the "crime" would be giving too much attention to his relations when his relations were tainted by the Lydia-Wickham scandal--that would constitute a "felony".

END OF MY 2008 MESSAGE I reread that passage from Ch. 22 with fresh eyes, I was struck by something ELSE for the FIRST time, which relates directly to the parallel drawn by my friend between Miss Bates's acting as "gatekeeper" keeping Emma away from Jane, and the two widely separated passages in P&P which relate to Mr. Collins staying away from Longbourn .

To wit, there are several other STRONG parallels between characters in P&P and in Emma, respectively, all rotating around the courtship of the heroine by a less than ideal suitor. Look at these parallels (each of which has a vivid contrast within the parallelism):

1. There is a secret engagement in both cases--but the secrecy of the engagement of Collins and Charlotte lasts for one day, whereas the secrecy of the engagement of Jane and Frank lasts for nine months.

2. Collins courts Lizzy to the point of making a proposal, and Frank seems to be courting Emma almost to the point of proposing, but of course does not. But Collins engages in heavy handed grotesque courtship which miserably fails to charm the heroine, whereas Frank's is as smooth as silk, and does succeed in charming the heroine.

3. Lizzy is shocked when Charlotte reveals her engagement to Lizzy, and Emma is stunned when Mrs.Weston reveals Jane's engagement to Emma. But Lizzy's shock is in relation to Charlotte's decision to marry a man like Collins, whereas Emma's shock is that she was deceived for nine months even as Frank seemed to court her.

4. Collins's actions utterly depend on the whims of a capricious dictatorial great lady who lives at a good distance from the heroine's home, and so do Frank's actions vis a vis his aunt who lives far from Highbury. Lady C has directed Collins to marry as soon as possible, whereas we don't really know what Mrs. Churchill has been saying to Frank about getting married--upon reflection, it seems quite likely to me that Mrs. Churchill has also been pushing Frank to settle down, marry an heiress, and reside with his bride with her at Enscombe. And perhaps Emma is that heiress? It's interesting, seeing Emma through the other end of the telescope, thinking of her as we are wont to think of Miss Grey in S&S, or Anne de Bourgh in P&P.

5. (As Ellen pointed out in a post a few months ago) Ivor Morris has written about how Collins's poor dancing was a symbolic marker of how he would be a poor sexual partner to Charlotte, just as Frank's inattention to Jane's health marks him as a future husband who will destroy Jane's fragile health with pregnancies.

In general, it seems ridiculous to think of Frank as a parallel character to Mr. Collins, it is interesting to think of Charlotte as a parallel character to Jane Fairfax, but the big payoff, I think, is to examine the completely unexpected and seemingly off the wall parallel between Mr. Bennet and Miss Bates.

The above five parallels (and perhaps there are others I have missed?) seem, to me, in aggregate, to suggest that the parallelism noted by my friend between Miss Bates keeping Emma away from Jane, and Mr. Bennet keeping Mr. Collins away from Longbourn, is not accidental at all, but is actually #6 in this list of parallels knowingly created by JA.

Miss Bates, in part, is appealing to Emma's snobbery, in inducing her to leave Jane alone, so as not to be like the vulgar, pushy, lower-status women who did push their way in. And, similarly, Mr. Bennet is clearly appealing to Collins's solicitude for Lady Catherine's snobbery, by reminding Collins not to neglect his "duty", as her toady, to be at her beck and call, and not to appear to be giving more attention to the Bennets than to Lady C.

And given that it is obvious to all of us that Mr. Bennet is completely conscious and aware of what he is doing when he expresses this "mock solicitude" for Collins, it seems to me to strongly support the notion that Miss Bates is also completely conscious and aware of what SHE is doing when she, in a much more subtle and veiled way, accomplishes the same goal. In each case, the behavior of a snobbery-driven young person is manipulated by a covert appeal to snobbery.


P.S.: And, as some might have guessed, there are other, more shadowy, parallels, which I will leave unstated.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

P.S. re Miss Bates's Revenge

A very good and very smart friend of mine to whom I forwarded my message posted earlier entitled "Miss Bates's Revenge", wrote me back something extraordinarily interesting today, which casts Miss Bate's three SHARP things spoken to Emma in an even deeper and more complex light than I had first argued. Here's what she wrote to me:

"Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Cole and Mrs. Perry are all rude enough to barge in and force Miss Bates hand. Miss Bates knows that Emma could not possibly act as they do or she would be seen as equally barbaric, wanting to get in on the Jane Fairfax Cause Celebre."

That comment immediately made me think of Mr. Collins and his Schadenfreude Moment in P&P, when Collins, in his letter, "condoles' with Mr. Bennet about Lydia.

But, it turned out that my friend was WAY ahead of me, and already had had exactly that same idea:

"The desire to be left alone after some public trauma runs through Austen, think of Elizabeth's disgust at Mr. Collins wanting to condole with them after the Lydia debacle. Sometimes the best thing you can do as a friend is to let someone alone. "

I then responded to my friend that she had in her first sentence already made me realize that Miss Bates was covertly appealing to Emma to overcome her own inner Mr. Collins, exemplified by what he wrote to Mr. Bennet after Lydia's elopement became known:

".... you are grievously to be pitied; in which opinion I am not only joined by Mrs. Collins, but likewise by Lady Catherine and her daughter, to whom I have related the affair. They agree with me in apprehending that this false step in one daughter will be injurious to the fortunes of all the others; for who, as Lady Catherine herself condescendingly says, will connect themselves with such a family? And this consideration leads me moreover to reflect, with augmented satisfaction, on a certain event of last November; for had it been otherwise, I must have been
involved in all your sorrow and disgrace...."

But my friend had gotten the novel confused with Davies's film adaptation---unless I am mistaken, I don't believe that Collins actually comes to Longbourne in the novel. Rather it was Andrew Davies [perhaps having been indirectly or subconsciously inspired by Miss Bates's speech to Emma?---he did, after all, adapt Emma next, but I don't believe he presented a knowing Miss Bates], who saw the dramatic potential of Mr. Collins's "self protection" b.s. in his letter, and chose to have him
actually show up in person at Longbourne, so that he could give Lizzy powerfully ironic lines related, but different from, those that Miss Bates speaks to Emma, i.e., warning Collins, in effect, that he had better get out of Longbourne quick, before some of the skunk smell got in his clothes, so to speak.

All the same, my friend's drawing that parallel between P&P and Emma is, I think, an inspired insight.

So, what to make of the uncomfortable echo of Mr. Collins in Emma's visit to Jane? Does her motivation consist solely of genuine contrition and compassion for Jane, or is there a whiff of unconscious Collinsian schadenfreude in her head? Arguments can be made both ways on that point, I think.

But what I really I love is the added depth this veiled allusion to Mr. Collins brings to my interpretation of the shadow Miss Bates as being fully aware of the effect on Emma of her words. As my friend so aptly put it, this can be construed as a moral test being administered to Emma by Miss Bates--by mentioning the three women in Highbury whom Emma would LEAST like to resemble--in fact, whom it would horrify her to resemble---Miss Bates gives Emma the chance to understand that it's the
thought that counts, and that by NOT pushing herself in, she is being a better person, than if she does push her way in.

So, in addition to taking Emma's ego down three pegs, Miss Bates simultaneously gives Emma a complex moral lesson. Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Perry and Mrs. Cole are , at least in Emma's mind, Emma's social inferiors AND ALSO pushy rude women. So even as Emma's sense of her own STATUS takes three hits in a row, she also learns that she is capable of being superior to those three women in BEHAVIOR. She begins to learn that the only status worth having is the one that is based on the respect earned by doing the right thing.

In a nutshell, Davies's Lizzy Bennet deliberately brings out Mr. Collins's worst, in order to get his odious presence out of Longboure ASAP, whereas the shadow Miss Bates administers to Emma a much-needed ego deflation, but at the same time, having, FOR ONCE, gotten Emma's undivided attention, is appealing to Emma's truly condoling spirit. And she does not waste the opportunity.

A very powerful moment, when viewed in this complex light, which I see as the exact counterpoise of the very powerful moment at Box Hill, when Emma humiliates Miss Bates, and its immediate aftermath, i.e., Knightley's reprimand. It's as though these two scenes are two halves of a large arch, but half the arch is in the light, and half is in the shadow---but when you shine a bright light on the half formerly in the shadow, you suddenly see a full and majestic arch, in all its glory--the
two scenes being, in a real sense, dependent on each other to bear the full "weight" of each of them. The moral education of Emma Woodhouse in two parts.

So Edmund Wilson's reference to Emma as the "Parthenon of Fiction" is an even apter metaphor than I ever previously realized, although perhaps he might better have called Emma the "Chartres Cathedral of Fiction" in order to take into account both the idea of a Gothic arch and also of Gothic fiction.

Cheers, ARNIE

Miss Bates's Revenge

In Chapter 45 [of Emma], I never really noticed before how many times, and in how many ways, in the space of a few short paragraphs, Jane (via Miss Bates) rejects Emma's repeated attempts to make up for 6 months of ignoring Jane, and suddenly starts trying to show Jane some major "condescension"--only to be rebuffed and rebuffed, etc etc. But as is so often the case, once I looked closely at this passage, I felt like Alice falling down a deep wormhole into a parallel universe:

[And, by the way, my purpose in citing this passage is NOT to point to the many clues in Chapter 45 which point to Jane's concealed pregnancy--I note this merely in passing, and then leave it to those so inclined to take note of them, and to everyone else to ignore them.]

This rat-a-tat of rapid-fire repeated rejections by Jane of Emma's friendly overtures is so delicately handled by JA that the tone never crosses the line into absurdist humor--instead, at this point in the novel, as at so many others, the tone sits exquisitely poised on a razor's edge between poignancy and burlesque. But some of it is just flat-out comical--and the part that strikes me particularly funny---and very significant thematically-- is the following:

"Emma wished she could have seen [Jane], and tried her own powers; but, almost before she could hint the wish, Miss Bates made it appear that she had promised her niece on no account to let Miss Woodhouse in. "Indeed, the truth was, that poor dear Jane could not bear to see anybody -- anybody at all -- Mrs. Elton, indeed, could not be denied -- and Mrs. Cole had made such a point -- and Mrs. Perry had said so much -- but, except them, Jane would really see nobody."

Think about what that narration is actually saying--Emma, for just a second, flirts with the unthinkable thought that Jane has instructed Miss Bates to keep away Emma AND EMMA ALONE! And look at how Miss Bates conveys that message, unmistakably, while taking great pains to seem to be apologetic every step of the way--it's a cavalcade of indirect humiliation for Emma, as Miss Bates, with the delicate touch of a brain surgeon, takes Emma down one peg at a time--first Mrs. Elton, then Mrs. Cole, THEN Mrs. Perry. Each of these women has at one or more points in the novel been, in the theater of Emma's mind, at the butt-end of Emma's snobbish, elitist sense of social superiority. Now suddenly ALL three of these "social climbers" have easy entree to Jane's inner sanctum, but Emma, only Emma, apparently does not. Like a foursome of twentysomethings trying to crash a trendy, in-crowd dance club, and the three nerds get in, but, inexplicably, the uber-snob, the one who thought she'd be the one to help her "loser" friends get in, winds up alone on the sidewalk cooling her high heels, whining to the bouncer, who politely makes it clear, in a kind of Kafkaesque nightmare, that she's NEVER getting in!

And for all these reasons, it is difficult for me to escape the amazing possibility that this is actually Miss Bates's intentional revenge on Emma, but one which is delivered with infinitely more subtle wit than Emma's heavy joke at Miss Bates's expense up on Box Hill. Look at Emma's "bon mot" which she thinks is so clever and funny:

"Ah! ma'am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me, but you will be limited as to number -- only THREE [dull things] at once."

Ha ha ha. Not very funny, and not very nice. And here, two chapters later, is it just a coincidence that we have Miss Bates delivering not one, not two, but THREE very clever rapier thrusts (Mrs. Elton---Mrs. Cole---Mrs. Perry) deep into Emma's snobbish heart? And Emma never even knows that it's intentional. Talk about ultimate karmic payback.....

And in that light, think of the tremendous irony of that last clause: "...Jane would really see nobody"--

In this case, Jane literally would really see ALL the 'nobodies', but pointedly will NOT see the only female "somebody" in Highbury!

And where else have we heard "nobody" personified?

How about when Emma herself, in Chapter 8, attempts to rationalize to Knightley that it is Harriet who would be marrying a social inferior in Mr. Martin, but then her own unconscious snobbery gets the better of her, and undercuts her own argument:
"As to the circumstances of her birth, THOUGH IN A LEGAL SENSE SHE MAY BE CALLED NOBODY, it will not hold in common sense."

And in another JA novel, of course, we have Sir Walter, the king of social put-downs, who himself is forced by circumstances beyond his control to refine his earlier relegation of Wentworth to the land of Nobodies:

"Captain Wentworth, with five-and-twenty thousand pounds, and as high in his profession as merit and activity could place him, WAS NO LONGER NOBODY."

And so JA has put into the mouth of Miss Bates the veiled statement that at this moment at least, Jane has the power to see all the "nobodies" she wants, and to refuse to see the one "somebody" who is so doggedly insistent on her right to "pay attention" to Jane. Like Anne Elliot taking a stand and going to see "a Mrs. Smith" instead of the great Dalrymples. In that sense, Emma is like Persuasion, if it had been told from the point of view of Elizabeth Elliot.

And, to cap all of this off, lest we be tempted to feel too sorry for Emma, because perhaps Miss Bates has actually drawn too much blood with her sharp-edged wit, JA turns the screw one additional turn, when she even invites us to question the genuineness of Emma's contrition, when we read her reactions to all of the above in the last paragraph of that Chapter 45:

"When Emma afterwards heard that Jane Fairfax had been seen wandering about the meadows, at some distance from Highbury, on the afternoon of the very day on which she had, under the plea of being unequal to any exercise, so peremptorily refused to go out with her in the carriage, she could have no doubt -- PUTTING EVERY THING TOGETHER -- that Jane was resolved to receive no kindness from _her_. She was sorry, very sorry. Her heart was grieved for a state which seemed but the more pitiable from this sort of irritation of spirits, inconsistency of action, and inequality of powers; and it mortified her that she was given so little credit for proper feeling, or esteemed so little worthy as a friend: but SHE HAD THE CONSOLATION of knowing that her intentions were good, and of being able to say to herself, that COULD MR. KNIGHTLEY HAVE BEEN PRIVY to all her attempts of assisting Jane Fairfax, could he even have seen into her heart, he would not, on this occasion, have found any thing to reprove."

First, there is the humor of Emma thinking she is some Regency Era Miss Marple, "putting every thing together"--this shows how dull Emma really can be when her narcissism is activated, that she has somehow not realized long before Jane's final refusal "that Jane was resolved to receive no kindness from her." In the words of Homer Simpson--DOH!!!!!!!!! Talk about a narcissistic injury of Brobdingnagian proportions! But in the end of the day, Emma winds up feeling sorry for herself, her sympathy with Jane has evaporated, and all that is left is the sad little girl who wants Mr. Knightley to pat her on the head and say "Well done."

The genius of JA has never been more omnipresent than in this passage which is so easy to flip past in order to get to the "real action".

Emma is indeed the Parthenon (indeed, the Colossus) of fiction.
As a quick p.s. to my previous message which, in part, was about Miss Bates's comment about Jane and "nobody", I just checked, and found that the word "nobody" appears 73 times in Emma, 54 times in MP, but not more than 20 times in any of the other four novels.

Food for thought, in terms of why Emma, but also MP, would stand out in that curious way, given that you'd ordinarily expect a very common generic word like "nobody" to appear with equal frequency throughout all her fiction.

The short answer is, I think, that even a word like "nobody" could take on special meaning for JA in a given novel or two.

JD Salinger and Jane Austen

[In Janeites and Austen L, Diane Reynolds wrote:

"From "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut," in Nine Stories: "Well, wudja marry him for, then? ...
"He told me he loved Jane Austen. He told me her books meant a great deal to him. That's exactly what he said. I found out after we were married that he hadn't even read one of her books."

[I replied thusly]

Diane, thanks for that catch! I was a fan of Salinger long before I ever read a word of Jane Austen. It's well known to Salinger scholars that Salinger included Austen among his literary influences, and that influence is hardly surprising, as was pointed out by Kenneth Hamilton in 1967:

"But Jane Austen/ /also has a front place [in Salinger's list of favorites], presumably because she has the sharpest of eyes for phonies..."

They are indeed two of the greatest satirists of falseness in the history of our language. And that allusion you found is pitch perfect in that regard, and shows that Salinger understood Austen very well. The ultimate phony, from the point of view of a woman, would be a man who tells a clever lie like that, in order to make her think they were kindred spirits.

Which remind me of (and surely Salinger was slyly alluding to) the following passage from S&S:

"Encouraged by this to a further examination of his opinions, she proceeded to question him on the subject of books; her favourite authors were brought forward and dwelt upon with so rapturous a delight, that any young man of five-and-twenty must have been insensible indeed, not to become an immediate convert to the excellence of such works, however disregarded before. Their taste was strikingly alike. THE SAME BOOKS, THE SAME PASSAGES WERE IDOLIZED BY EACH -- or, if any difference appeared, any objection arose, it lasted no longer than till the force of her arguments and the brightness of her eyes could be displayed."

But on an even deeper level, I see a strong influence of Salinger on JA in regard to subjectivity and strong central point of view. In my opinion, the following critic got it all wrong when he wrote:

"Like Twain before him, Salinger/ /chose a limited, and in some senses limiting, point of view, quite different, for example, from that common in Jane Austen//, Melville, or James."

I think that is not a contrast, but a striking similarity between JA and Salinger, i.e., the use of a limited point of view. Catcher in the Rye, very much like Emma, looks to Hamlet as an important touchstone and spiritual ancestor.

And finally, picking up on what I mentioned to Ellen last week in passing, while discussing the Barbery novel....there is a STRONG connection among Holden Caulfield, the young girl in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and JA's Juvenilia. A dark absurdist vision of mankind expressed through a child prodigy's voice.