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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, July 26, 2010

de Genlis and de Jane both "detected in the design"

The following is my response to some interesting comments by Ellen Moody (which I show in quotes) in Austen L and Janeites:

"At the same time I don't discount sources. It's plain to me that Genlis's Adele et Theodore is a central influential source/paradigm in _Emma_, though when I come to try to work out what Austen's stance was towards this work, how Emma is a surrogate say for Madame D'Ostalis and Mrs WestON for Baroness d'Almane, I'm all at sea. One of the particular attributes of those allusions and references we find in Austen when they are explicit is how unexplained they often remain, suggestive that's all."

Ellen, you've gotten to the heart of the difference in our approach. Those explicit allusions do not remain merely unexplained and suggestive for me, my approach has empowered me to make informed speculations and interpretations of why they are there, which, in aggregate, I claim to be compelling. My book is filled with such examples. And yes, as I posted earlier today, the allusion to Adele and Theodore is there in Emma for profoundly important reasons, and I believe I know what they are.

"If you patiently read the reviews of Jocelyn Harris's latest book, you will find for all the praise for her readings of the novels, except when the reviewer is an acolyte, the last paragraphs express scepticism that the particular source she has used is a source."'

One person's uncritical acolyte is another person's perceptive listener. Just as one person's skeptic is another person's blind man. Again, you go to the heart of things, because Jocelyn Harris is far and away the most perceptive reader of JA's allusions through the years, who was only held back from seeing what I have seen in her novels by her not realizing that there WERE shadow stories which would make many of Harris's discoveries take on startling new meaning!

"I may have found one such source: in NA Catherine imagines that General Tilney actaully faked Mrs Tilney's death before secreting her away in a dungeon. He just didn't shove her there. Now in the famous Duchess de C************ in Adele et Theodore there's a strikingly long and memorable scene of the Duke faking his wife's death -- how he lures her into the room, makes her take a drug, brings people in to say goodbye, and then when she awakens, secrets her away .. &c&c. I can't find any such scene of faking someone's death in this way in _The Monk_ and now must look at Radcliffe's Sicilian Romance and also Smith's Montalbert, all novels with the motif of the wife shoved in the dungeon or secreted away, brought food too for years etc. If this particular scene doesn't exist elsewhere, well,maybe I've found the source for this specific idea of Catherine's."

Ellen, that is exactly what I have been referring to, above, I was reading that very scene on the treadmill yesterday--the allusion is so obvious a Janeite would have to be asleep not to see it!

The inset story about the Duchess (which by the way is not that long at all, it is barely TWO PERCENT of the totality of Adelaide and Theodore) is the mother lode, in terms of the allusions that JA makes to de Genlis, in both Emma AND in Northanger Abbey. And it's not just the faked death, there are a half dozen OTHER subliminal parallels, beginning with the one you mentioned yesterday, the obvious allusion to the description of the young Duchess to the first line of Emma itself.

But note also, when the Baroness writes in her journal: "We shall stay till we have been able to obtain a MORE PERFECT*/ /*knowledge of the history of the most interesting person I ever saw..." and JA very slyly alludes to this turn of phrase by writing "we shall now see her own little Adelaide educated on a MORE PERFECT plan."

Alone that would seem to be nothing more than a completely random coincidence. But in the context of the other allusions, it is another brick in a large wall.

Which is why I have been telling you repeatedly---JA "tagged" her allusions with particular keywords, so that the sensitive reader (like yourself) familiar with both works would "hear" the allusion, and then, hopefully, stop and ask, WHY do I hear an echo of that other novel? That is the beginning of the process, not the end!

"But then how are we to take it? how far is this parodic? how far are we to sympathize with Catherine's taking gothics seriously, for Mrs Tilney had a bad time with her husband. And it's not the only detail in Catherine's nightmare. Another appears to come from Sophia Lee's Recess; though it is one found elsewhere, the names are striking, and another clearly from Radcliffe's Romance of the Forest."

You're barking up ALL the right trees, Ellen, but you don't understand the geography of the "grove", so you feel lost. But asking the right questions is nonetheless the only way to eventually find the right answers. And to find one's way out of "the forest", one needs to follow the "bread crumbs"!

Remember what I told you in my previous message--for JA, literature was a layer cake of allusions, and that these motifs appear in these various works is not a coincidence, these are ALL allusions---and JA was intimately acquainted with de Genlis, Radcliffe AND Lee! JA understood that the female Gothic was a sophisticated artform, with a special language meant to preserve forbidden meaning.

Come hear me speak in Portland about the Gothic ANTI-parody related to Mrs. Tilney's illness, and you will hear much more about this very subject. ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

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