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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Dribbling Dart of Love: Redux

Nine months ago, I wrote a message in this blog in which I collected, and analyzed, several passages from JA's novels which involved the image of a "dart" shooting through the heroine's mind, as being a Cupid-shot dart bearing a sudden certainty (which might or might not be justified by the facts) of true love, of course the most famous one being Emma realizing she loves Knightley.

One of the passages I looked at was in Ch. 28 of NA, and I will repeat it for you all now, before telling you about the certainty (which I claim is justified by the facts) I NOW have as to what the "new idea" was that darted into Catherine's mind:

“My dear Catherine, you must not — you must not indeed — “ were Eleanor’s first connected words. “I am quite well. This kindness distracts me — I cannot bear it — I come to you on such an errand!”

“Errand! To me!”

“How shall I tell you! Oh! How shall I tell you!”

A new idea now DARTED into Catherine’s mind, and turning as pale as her friend, she exclaimed, “’Tis a messenger from Woodston!”

“You are mistaken, indeed,” returned Eleanor, looking at her most compassionately; “it is no one from Woodston. It is my father himself.”

Here's what I wrote last November:

"At that very moment that Catherine imagines that Eleanor is bringing the news that Henry is proposing marriage to Catherine, it turns out that Eleanor is bringing the news that General Tilney is throwing Catherine out of Northanger Abbey! The very opposite of a "proposal"!

In response to my comment, Kathy Elder suggested instead that Catherine had a sudden intuition that something bad had happened to Henry.

What "darted" into MY mind today, as I was rereading Chapter 28 for another purpose, was that BOTH of us were each wrong in a very interesting way, being each half correct, and that the best answer to the question of what Catherine's "new idea" was much funnier, and Austenian, than either of our previous answers! Tell me what you think about my rethinking of this little puzzle, which goes as follows:

The key to my new answer is two chapters earlier, in Chapter 26, where Catherine is obsessing about making sure that Captain Tilney does not propose to Isabella, as Catherine wishes to keep Isabella free to marry James. Eleanor and Henry are too kind to disabuse Catherine of her naive notions about Isabella, and instead seek to reassure her with a good explanation as to why Isabella will never marry Captain Tilney, which is that the General would never give his consent to his heir marrying a portionless girl. It is that "white lie" which has the unintended effect of causing Catherine, who is no dummy, to start worrying that if that is so vis a vis the heir's son, then surely it would be an even bigger obstacle to Henry, the second poorer son, proposing to Catherine herself!!

That is a very disturbing thought indeed, but Catherine tries to bravely carry on at Northanger nonetheless, hoping that the General's partiality toward HERSELF might mitigate her portionlessness. But I now see clearly that JA shows us this train of thought of Catherine, to lay the groundwork for the scene in Ch. 28 which I re-presented above.

When Eleanor comes to Catherine looking very pale and agitated, Catherine's thoughts immediately turn to Captain Tilney and Isabella. But then Eleanor speaks with dread about being sent on "such an errand", and THAT'S when Catherine has her "new idea" about a message from Woodston. What is that idea?

Surely what happens is that, JUST AS SHE DID IN CHAPTER 26, Catherine leaps in her mind from Isabella's portionlessness to her own, and what suddenly terrifies Catherine ten times worse than the fear that James will "lose" Isabella is that she, Catherine, will lose HENRY!

Catherine is attacked by a "poison dart" of Cupid, which is that Henry has designated Eleanor as the deliverer of bad news which he lacks the courage to express to Catherine face to face, which is that he has asked his father for permission to propose to Catherine and has been refused!

So, I was half correct in my November 2009 guess that Henry was using Eleanor as his messenger to propose to Catherine. Indeed, given how we know by Chapter 28 that Catherine is very consciously head over heels in love with Henry by that point, it would be odd for Eleanor OR Catherine to turn pale thinking about such a nice thing!

And Cathy Elder's suggestion, while not incorrect in discerning that it must be something bad that happened to Henry, left out the most important part, which is that the bad thing was (as Catherine imagined it) that the General had nixed Henry's proposal to Catherine!

This would certainly explain Eleanor's paleness and upset, because Eleanor and Catherine had, during the absence of the General, become SO close to each other, to the extent that Eleanor practically begged Catherine to extend her visit at the Abbey.

What do you all think?


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