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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Dribbling Dart of Love: Redux: Less is not enough

[my response to Nancy Mayer and Cathy Elder's responses to my last previous post on this subject]

I find it fascinating that you prefer an explanation for Catherine's "new idea" [that Catherine fears that Henry has suffered some sort of injury at Woodston] which is not in any way (that I can detect, at least) prepared for by the context of Chapters 26 through 31, over my new explanation, which is extensively prepared for, beginning two chapters earlier in Chapter 26, and which also fits perfectly with the culmination of Henry and Catherine's love, when the General's consent IS finally obtained.

Here are the relevant bits of narration in the paragraphs immediately preceding the exchange between Catherine and Eleanor, which reveal very explicitly and unambiguously what is front and center in Catherine's mind at that very moment, and how urgent and persistent is Catherine's worry that she might not be as beloved of Henry as she loves him:

"Such ease and such delights made her love the place and the people more and more every day; and HAD IT NOT BEEN FOR A DREAD OF ITS SOON BECOMING EXPEDIENT TO LEAVE THE ONE, AND AN APPREHENSION OF NOT BEING EQUALLY BELOVED BY THE OTHER, she would at each moment of each day have been perfectly happy; but she was now in the fourth week of her visit; before the general came home, the fourth week would be turned, and perhaps it might seem an intrusion if she stayed much longer. This was a painful
consideration whenever it occurred; and EAGER TO GET RID OF SUCH A WEIGHT ON HER MIND, she very soon resolved to speak to Eleanor about it at once, propose going away, and be guided in her conduct by the manner in which her proposal might be taken.

Aware that if she gave herself much time, she might feel it difficult to bring forward so unpleasant a subject, SHE TOOK THE FIRST OPPORTUNITY of being suddenly alone with Eleanor, and of Eleanor’s being in the middle of a speech about something very different, to start forth her obligation of going away very soon. Eleanor looked and declared herself much concerned.

She had “hoped for the pleasure of her company for a much longer time — had been misled (perhaps by her wishes) to suppose that a much longer visit had been promised — and could not but think that if Mr. and Mrs. Morland were aware of the pleasure it was to her to have her there, they would be too generous to hasten her return.” Catherine explained: “Oh! As to that, Papa and Mamma were in no hurry at all. As long as she was happy, they would always be satisfied.”

“Then why, might she ask, in such a hurry herself to leave them?”

“Oh! Because she had been there so long.”

“Nay, if you can use such a word, I can urge you no farther. If you think it long — ”

“Oh! No, I do not indeed. For my own pleasure, I could stay with you as long again.”

And it was directly settled that, till she had, her leaving them was not even to be thought of. In having this cause of uneasiness so pleasantly removed, the force of the other was likewise weakened. The kindness, the earnestness of Eleanor’s manner in pressing her to stay, and Henry’s gratified look on being told that her stay was determined, were such sweet proofs of her importance with them, AS LEFT HER ONLY JUST SO MUCH SOLICITUDE AS THE HUMAN MIND CAN NEVER DO COMFORTABLY WITHOUT. She
did — ALMOST ALWAYS — believe that HENRY LOVED HER, and quite always that his father and sister loved and even wished her to belong to them; and believing so far, HER DOUBTS AND ANXIETIES WERE MERELY SPORTIVE IRRITATIONS."

My interpretation (which by the way does NOT in any way refer to the shadow story of the novel) takes JA seriously as an author, in that I ascribe to the above all-caps passages a significance, they are not just filler and mood setting passages, but are telling us significant information about Catherine's state of mind at that point in the story.

And the above is IN ADDITION TO the passages in Chapter 26 which I included in my previous message, which similarly show us another aspect of Catherine's "sportive" "doubts and anxieties" about Henry's loving her, and being in a position to obtain his father's consent to his proposing to her. And are in addition to the passages in Chapter 31 where the obtaining of that consent is described.

Whereas....there is absolutely nothing in any of these chapters that I can detect to indicate that Catherine has any worries about Henry being at risk of being physically injured, or of any sort of danger to his body--e.g., there is no indication in the text of the novel that Henry might (as Mrs. Bennet worries about Mr. Bennet) be engaging in a duel with his father or his elder brother. final point I did not mention previously--JA clearly takes pains in this novel to create situations in which one character is caught by surprise by something that another characters says, and then misinterprets the meaning of what was said. E.g., it happens at Beechen Cliff when Eleanor thinks Catherine is referring to something else when Catherine refers to something horrid coming out in London soon.

If you read the critical literature about NA, as I have, you will see that several commentators have demonstrated in very persuasive ways that one major theme of NA is precisely this "gap" between intended meaning, and understood meaning, how "first impressions" can be erroneous, how we take each other by surprise by what we say to each other, etc.

So it is clear to me that JA deliberately omits any EXPLICIT explanation of what Catherine's "new idea" is which darts into her mind, so as to put the reader to the test of figuring out what it is. And I believe JA expects her reader to be "experimental" in approach to such questions, i.e., to look at the evidence IN THE TEXT, in order to arrive at a reasoned interpretation, rather than seizing upon an explanation that may have the merit of being simple, but which is pulled out of thin air.

So, what I have engaged in is not over-thinking the novel, it is close reading of the novel.


P.S.: I had never noticed before that JA wrote the following line near the very beginning of Chapter 28 of NA:

"[The General's] departure [from the Abbey] gave Catherine the first experimental conviction that A LOSS MAY BE SOMETIMES A GAIN."

Of course today this idea is often expressed in the phrase "Less is more".

This happens to bear ironically on our little disagreement about the meaning of Catherine's "new idea", in that you two seem to be suggesting that in this interpretation, "less is more" and that I am complicating things unnecessarily and erroneously. Whereas I would suggest that "Less is more" is not a mandatory rule of interpretation, but instead is a goal to be aspired to when it fits the context of the interpretation. And I claim that in this instance, "Less is not enough."

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