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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, July 24, 2010

P.S. re "detected in the design"

Kristin Whitman responded to my previous post in Austen-L, and I have responded to her response (broken up in quotes) below:

"Very interesting point about the double meaning/wordplay in that NA passage. I was curious so I did a few searches in the Jane Austen Search Engine looking for other instances of "design" in the text of her novels. I thought perhaps the word would pop up in the scene where Emma paints Harriet's portrait, as Emma is not detected in the *design* of trying to bring Harriet and Mr. Elton together even while she attempts, poorly, to capture Harriet with the "design" of her watercolor (unfortunately, the wordplay doesn't really work as well here, I guess you don't "design" a watercolor the same way you sketch a design of your work). "

Kristin, first, thanks for such a detailed and nuanced response to my post! You should come out of lurkdom much more often! ;)

Second, your instincts were spot-on in looking at Emma in particular for echoes of the NA passage I analyzed. Great minds think alike, because I too did word searches on "design" to see how else JA used the word "design" and its variants in her novels, and it turns out that the only two novels which use "design" with that double meaning of "scheming or intention" and "portrayal", either visually or otherwise, are NA and Emma! (Which, by the way fits with OTHER evidence I have found which suggests to me that JA did indeed substantially amend NA in very specific ways around the time she was completing Emma and before she began work on Persuasion.)

Here is the first double usage in Emma, when Emma has just met Harriet, and has already started scheming about her, as well as forming a distorted overly "kind" portrait of Harriet in her own mind:

Chapter 4: "But in every respect, as she saw more of her, she approved her, and was confirmed IN ALL HER KIND DESIGNS.

That distorted portraiture will of course be picked up on a few chapter later when Emma actually does sketch Harriet's portrait. And look how Emma uses that same double meaning again right in talking to Harriet about Harriet's portrait, which Elton has volunteered to get framed in London:

Chapter 7: It OPENS HIS DESIGNS TO HIS FAMILY, it introduces you among them, it diffuses through the party those pleasantest feelings of our nature, eager curiosity and warm prepossession.

I.e., Elton can both tell his family about his INTENTION to marry Harriet, PLUS he can OPEN TO them (and if he has carried the portrait in a protective package of some kind, he will literally OPEN that package to show it to his family!) Emma's DESIGNS, i.e., portrait, of Harriet

In NA, there are no other double meaning usages of "design", but....JA nonetheless uses the word "design" in the sense of "scheming" to compelling thematic purpose nonetheless.

Think about that sentence in Chapter 1 of NA, about Catherine being "detected in the design" of a furtive action (taking a secret portrait) by "her lover", and then think about why the General throws her out of Northanger Abbey twenty chapters later?

Isn't it a wonderful irony that of course, it's because HE (who, as I claimed yesterday, considers himself, in the shadow story of the novel, to be a lover of Catherine) believes, albeit totally mistakenly, that he has detected CATHERINE in the "design" or fraud or false pretense of appearing to bring a large dowry! And we also all know that this is a case of pure projection on the General’s part, because we know very well that HE is the schemer who has been trying to snare what he thinks is a rich heiress! So how equally wonderful that JA slyly tells us not once but TWICE about HIS secret “designs” with respect to Catherine:

After an evening, the little variety and seeming length of which made her peculiarly sensible of Henry's importance among them, she was heartily glad to be dismissed; though it was a look from the general NOT DESIGNED FOR HER OBSERVATION which sent his daughter to the bell.

Under a mistaken persuasion of her possessions and claims, he had courted her acquaintance in Bath, solicited her company at Northanger, and DESIGNED HER FOR HIS DAUGHTER IN LAW.

And....JA milks that word "design" for all it's worth, because we find exactly the same Freudian projection being done by Isabella Thorpe, who first hints that Catherine has been being deceitful, and later Catherine comes to see that it was Isabella who designed in every way.

"Oh! As to that," answered Isabella laughingly, "I do not pretend to determine what YOUR THOUGHTS AND DESIGNS IN TIMES PAST may have been.

I see that SHE [Isabella] HAS DESIGNS on Captain Tilney, which have not succeeded; but I do not understand what Captain Tilney has been about all this time.

"I'm sure this is Emma 101 and not a new idea, but I've been amused by the realization on my part that Emma can't quite "design" Harriet correctly on the page just as she can't accurately sketch characters of her friends and associates in real life."

How can that be Emma 101, when it goes to the heart of the novel??!! It may not be a new idea, but it becomes a BETTER idea when it sits in the additional context I've presented, and you've elaborated! ;)

"The JASE doesn't seem to be searching the text of the novels as well as I would like it to. I couldn't actually find any evidence that it was searching the text of Emma, even though I added many versions of the e-text to the list of sites indexed by the engine. I hope I can tinker with it soon to try to bring the texts up more frequently in the search results."

I like having your search engine, when I want to get a quick read on the significance of a given word or cluster of words in JA's writings, but if I know I am only looking in the novels, I always go to the Republic of Pemberley search engine which searches all the novels at once, without any "hits", obviously, from Austen related sources besides the novel texts themselves.

"Anyhoo, interesting post!"

And anyhoo, interesting reply!!

Cheers, ARNIE

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