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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Writeup of my May 1, 2010 presentation to JASNA NYC

I am very pleased to report that the latest issue of JASNA-NYC's newsletter has now been published online at the above link, and it contains, if you scroll down to Page 4, a very fair, intelligent, and witty review of my talk by JASNA-NYC member, Leslie Arthur. For anyone who is unable to open the link to the newsletter (which of course contains a lot of other news besides that review, and which also has two great photos on P. 4 by Erika Arlanzon Hernandez---one of me and two laughing audience members which I previously posted at my blog, and another that gives only a hint of the sumptuous spread of food that followed my talk--Mr. Woodhouse would NOT have approved!), here is the full unexpurgated text of the review:

"In Arnie Perlstein’s reading of Austen, Freud’s admonition that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” does not signify. We were treated to the possibility that
Jane Fairfax became pregnant by a “mystery man” in Weymouth -- the cause of her illness throughout the overt story. According to Perlstein our attention is diverted from this possibility because we are held captive in Emma’s clueless head. Jane’s diet (including Donwell apples) heralds a season of blooming open windows and references to architecture have sexual overtones: the arrival of the pianoforte is an unexpected gift that can mean whatever you like it to mean. Even the maid Patty’s concern about chimney sweeps takes us on a wild ride of speculation.

There is a cat in every woodpile and a meaning in every action. A sneeze can signify the unwanted epidemic of childbearing. We were invited to speculate that Mr. John Knightly’s impregnating his wife was his desire to kill her (although if it is he who has impregnated Jane, it is for another reason altogether). In the world of subtext, Jane Austen is a feminist, an early champion of a woman’s autonomy, and the shadow story is the evidence. In Perlstein’s view Austen would not have, and could not have, written what she wanted to write, given the time and the society in which she lived. She had to hide her story in plain sight, fulfilling her feminist duty.

At the conclusion of his presentation Mr. Perlstein invited the attendees to read his book when it comes out and reserve judgment for the totality of his argument. There were decidedly conflicting reactions to his precepts, but it was generally agreed that it was great fun to look at Emma in a new way. We adjourned to a delightful tea, where we continued the conversation initiated by this lively talk." END OF REVIEW

As I said, I think it's a lovely review, and I am very appreciative to Leslie Arthur and EVERYONE else at JASNA-NYC for rolling out a red carpet for me in every respect---this review is the icing on the cake (sorry, again, Mr. Woodhouse).

Purely for accuracy, and not to quibble in the slightest, the only parts of my talk that Leslie Arthur did not get 100% accurate (which was really excellent work on her part, considering I was moving quickly from point to point in my argument the entire time I was speaking, and I covered a lot of material in 70 minutes of speaking) were the following two small, but significant, points regarding the shadow story (and NOT the overt story) of Emma:

1. I believe John Knightley and Jane Fairfax have their impregnating tryst in London, not Weymouth, BEFORE Jane goes to Weymouth to find an unwitting SINGLE "father" for her newly conceived illegitimate child.

2. I was deadly serious in suggesting that the marriage of John and Isabella Knightley is a very unhappy one, but I was HALF-joking when I suggested that John's solution to being trapped in a loveless marriage was to get Isabella SERIALLY pregnant in a game of marital Russian Roulette in which he was the gun and she was...well, you get the picture. As anyone who has read all of JA's surviving letters and was paying attention would realize, getting a wife pregnant for a decade straight was not a practice JA approved of, to put it mildly, partly because it wore the wife out, and partly because it carried a much greater risk of mortality for the wife than a one-shot (so to speak) and entirely UNINTENDED impregnation of a mistress. And by the way, this and much more will be the topic of my upcoming presentation at the JASNA AGM to be held in Portland, Oregon about 100 days from now, about Mrs. Tilney's mysterious fatal fever.

I am eager to give this same presentation to several OTHER JASNA Regional Groups during the next twelve months. For those of you who are members of JASNA, if you would like me to give this talk to your regional group, please email me at and we can discuss how we might try to arrange this.

I am afraid I have no helpful advice at all for those of you who are JASNA members who DON'T want me to address your regional group. ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. re the 2010 JASNA AGM in Portland: As of July 17, there are 479 attendees signed up for the AGM, so there is still room for another 121-171 more, so sign up now if you haven't already!.

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