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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, July 26, 2010

P.S. re de Genlis & de Jane "detected in the design"


I am pretty sure you will enjoy this followup by me to our discussion of de Genlis and Austen. After I sent my last message, I got the idea to check to see if JA’s “tagging”, in Emma, of de Genlis’s “more perfect” might be an indication that JA had perceived an allusion by de Genlis to an earlier work of fiction which de Genlis intended to allude to. More than half the time, my hunches come up empty, but that was certainly NOT the case this time—read on!

What I found that grabbed me with both hands was the following passage from Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison, from a letter written by Sir Charles Grandison to his sister Charlotte, a passage in which Sir Charles is quoting what he says, himself, to Captain Anderson, the man who wishes to pressure Charlotte into marrying him based on an ill-advised, impetuous promise she made to the Captain some time previously, which, upon cooler reflection, she deeply regretted:

“Charlotte Grandison is a woman of fine sense. She has great qualities. She has insuperable objections to the captain, which are founded on A MORE PERFECT KNOWLEDGE OF the man, and of her own heart, than she could have at first.”

It turns out that the situation in Grandison that is being described by Sir Charles is uncannily parallel to that of the Duchess in the inset tale in Adelaide and Theodore—in BOTH, we have a sheltered young woman of high birth who naively oversteps decorum by entering into a covert (but not even close to sexual) relationship and correspondence with a very attractive young stranger, and then finds herself with a big problem because of it.

And based on this, it is obvious to me that (i) de Genlis, for some reason, was covertly alluding to Richardson, and (ii) JA was aware of de Genlis’s allusion to Richardson, and covertly demonstrated her awareness by alluding to BOTH Richardson AND de Genlis in her own novels, especially NA and Emma!

And I cannot overemphasize—the only reason I discovered this rich vein of layered allusions is because I followed the “bread crumb” left by JA in the words “more perfect” back to its two sources!

And if your ears have been burning from all this, Ellen, there is a reason. When I then searched my own files to see what I had previously taken note of in respect to Charlotte Grandison, sure enough, there YOU were, back in 1998, barking up yet another tree in “the forest” we both enjoy roaming in so much:

“But whether Austen thought Grandison ludicrous and, like Mrs Morland, read it endlessly because it was all she had, or admired it tremendously, she did know it. I have found a couple of small sections which are closely analogous to stories in Austen's books (the story of Mrs Oldham is repeated in the story of Mrs Clay). Tomalin finds a close analogy between Charlotte Grandison and Elizabeth Bennet. I don't see it. Charlotte Grandison's vivacity is cruel; she is hard, often snobbish (she despises Mrs Oldham and openly cuts her), narrow, manipulative and cold (sexually as well as emotionally in some ways). She is also easily deluded by an officer early in the book whom she almost runs away with. Yet she is loyal to her family, especially to her sister, intelligent, perceptive, humane, and she writhes against the demand she marry. In short, Austen's Emma is a type of Charlotte Grandison and vice versa. Knightley himself is a brilliant, tactful and intelligent recreation of Sir Charles (there are many people who have noted this before)”

So you see, there you are, talking about Emma AND Knightley, and closing the loop of allusion.

I have recounted my steps in coming to this discovery because I wanted to illustrate for you that the door to JA’s second stories has always been right in front of you, Ellen. From all your vast readings of just about everything written in the 18^th and early 19^th centuries that JA would have read herself, you have, in your head, all the knowledge you need—you just need to turn the knob, and open the door—it’s not locked!



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