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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, August 16, 2010

Jane Austen's Christianity

This post is apropos of the discussion today in the Janeites group of how JA, in a letter written Sept. 2, 1814 to her almost-another-sister, Martha Lloyd, expressed passionate admiration for Benjamin West's painting "Christ Rejected", in particular the way Jesus was represented in the painting. JA did not specify what exactly it was that struck her so positively in that depiction, and I suggested earlier today that it was that Jesus was neither glamorized nor deified, but rather was shown in a human (and as Nancy Mayer suggested, almost a feminized) aspect, suffering not only the physical pain of a crown of thorns, but also the emotional suffering caused by the rejection of his message. I argued that JA identified with West's Jesus, and that JA would also have strongly approved of the depiction by West of a number of grieving, sympathetic women in the foreground of that painting, who feel for Jesus's suffering.

I am writing this message now, because I was just reminded, while looking at West's Jesus wearing that crown of thorns, of my discovery last September, that "crown of thorns" was a FOURTH answer to Mr. Elton's second charade in Chapter 9 of Emma. Here is my explication of that fourth answer:

That answer stands alongside three other answers given to date:

the official answer "courtship" given to Harriet by Emma in the novel;

the secret "Prince of Whales" answer discovered by Colleen Sheehan in February 2006, published in 2007, as to which the knowing Harriet actually gives Emma hints about in Harriet's "wrong" guesses; and

the secret "Leviathan" answer discovered by Anielka Briggs in Sept. 2009, which she gave hints about for a couple of days in these online groups, before I guessed the answer:

I was prompted by answering Anielka's puzzle, to go forward and discover the "crown of thorns" answer on the same day that Anielka revealed her discovery of the "Leviathan" answer.

I point all this out now because I think this is all directly connected to JA's being so positively struck by West's depiction of Jesus in that painting, because, among other reasons, it fit so uncannily with the shadow story of Emma, as reflected in all of of those four answers to Mr. Elton's second charade, taken as a group.Here is how they fit together.

LEVIATHAN is a character famously named in the Book of Job, and the characterization of the suffering Job in the Hebrew Bible is one of the key sources for the characterization of the suffering Jesus in the Christian Bible. And Jesus wears a CROWN OF THORNS, a symbol of suffering. Taken together, those two answers tell the reader who knows those answers to the "charade" in Chapter 9, that the "answer" or meaning of Emma (the novel) itself is about suffering.

That's where the other two answers come into play. The "PRINCE OF WHALES" refers of course to the Prince Regent, and we know very well about how JA felt about his notions of "COURTSHIP" (meaning both "wooing" and also "handling affairs of the royal court") vis a vis his unfortunate wife, Princess Caroline. We know very well that she hated the way he treated his wife, in his persistence in humiliating and debasing her publicly, abetted by his many toadies in the British government. We know this for certain because JA, in ANOTHER letter to Martha Lloyd, famously wrote some very caustic comments about the most powerful "gentleman" in England, which she then echoed unmistakably in the text of Emma itself: "I cannot forgive her".

And I see the suffering of both Jane Fairfax and Miss Bates in the shadow story of Emma as being part and parcel of all of the above.

And in that regard, it surely is also no coincidence then, that, per CEA, JA began writing Emma in January, 1814, and did not complete it until sometime in 1815---so the Sept. 2, 1814 letter to Martha Lloyd would have been written smack dab in the middle of JA's writing Emma!


Cheers, ARNIE

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