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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Rain of Jane falls mainly on (a neighboring) Plain

After writing my previous message about JA’s last poem, the words “Oh Venta depraved” stuck in my mind, and I felt oddly compelled to revisit the entire poem, forgetting for the moment that it was JA who wrote it, and just trying to get a better sense of the metaphors deployed in the poem.

Those words stuck in my mind, I think, because “Depraved” is a pretty strong word for horse racing. And somehow my Jane Austen was not someone who would use such a strong word to describe low level vices like horse racing and the garish display of wealth and finery. She would, like Lizzy Bennet, laugh at such silliness, and skewer it satirically—no question!—but she would save her serious condemnations for serious crimes.

Then I thought about the upping of the ante of the hyperbolic rhetoric with “By vice you’re enslaved, You have sinned and must suffer”—this is nothing other than the meat and potatoes of an over the top fire-breathing sermon--- again, not the way I see my Jane Austen.

That’s when I stopped, and thought, not “fire-breathing” but “fire and brimstone” is the proper cliché for such a sermon—and of course, whence does that cliché derive? From the Biblical story of Abraham and Lot, fleeing from Sodom and Gomorrah!

And what were S&G known for? Well, “dissolute measures” is actually a mild description of the way Lot’s neighbors persist in wanting to get better acquainted with Lot’s house guests.

And where were S&G? Of course, from Abraham and Lot’s perspective (not to forget the over-curious wife of Lot!), after they hightail it out of town, on “a neighboring Plain”—Bingo!

So, we are talking the ultimate fire and brimstone story, satirically transformed through the dying brain of JA into pure gold of the darkest variety! And that means, of course, that the “rain” which St. Swithin threatens Winchester with is not the wet kind that just ruins hats and stoles, it’s the kind that makes global warming seem like an Ice Age, the kind that tends to rather permanently destroy all that it falls on. It’s a really big “Finis”!

And so, if St. Swithin is in any sense a stand-in for JA herself, I’d say that Nokes’s choice of the word “malediction” is actually rather tame—this is a full blown Biblical cataclysm that JA is calling down on those who would seek to mess with her “children”, i.e. her novels—and one that has no expiration date, because she is, as she points out rather melodramatically, “immortal” and “it shall NEVER be dry”!

Cheers, Arnie

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