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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, August 23, 2010

Jane Fairfax's Want of Openness

Apropos the passages Christy posted yesterday in Janeites from Flynn's article about JA's letters, in which Flynn made some excellent observations about Jane Fairfax, I took note today for the first time of something significant in the following statement by Mr. Knightley to Emma about Jane:

"Her sensibilities, I suspect, are strong -- and her temper excellent in its power of forbearance, patience, self-controul; but it wants openness."

I detect a subtle authorial irony hiding in plain sight in this statement. When you think about it, there is more than a whiff of male chauvinist cluelessness in that statement by Knightley, in that he praises Jane with three positive sounding words, which all depend on Jane's willingness to keep silent about things SHE may want, or think, or feel, but then does a 180 and criticizes her for a lack of openness. Sounds like a Catch-22 to me!
It shows Knightley's unacknowledged narcissism. He's basically saying, without a shred of self-awareness, that he thinks it's just great when Jane keeps her mouth shut and is not too demanding about things a man does not want to be bothered with, but, on the other hand, when there IS something about her that HE wants to know, well that same silence suddenly is a bad thing, and it irritates him that she keeps silent about IT!

Sorta like saying, about a security system for a house--it's really secure, it has a secondary alarm if the primary alarm fails, and it can distinguish between three kinds of intrusion,'s inconvenient for the owner to have to enter a long security code to get into his house!

A good definition of chutzpah!

And it connects directly to the wisecrack Knightley makes to Mrs. Weston, about her marriage to Mr. Weston:

"Yes," said he, smiling. "You are better placed _here_; very fit for a wife, but not at all for a governess. But you were preparing yourself to be an excellent wife all the time you were at Hartfield. You might not give Emma such a complete education as your powers would seem to promise; but you were receiving a very good education from _her_, on the very material matrimonial point of submitting your own will, and doing as you were bid; and if Weston had asked me to recommend him a wife, I should certainly have named Miss Taylor." "Thank you. There will be very little merit in making a good wife to such a man as Mr. Weston." "Why, to own the truth, I am afraid you are rather thrown away...."

I think this was a case where Mrs. Weston showed great "forbearance, patience, self-controul" in not "openly" smacking Knightley upside the head for being such an MCP, and smiling while he's doing it! He may smile, but it's not funny, because he's really not joking, as is shown by his serious comment about Jane, and other actions he takes and things he says.

And I think JA herself struggled mightily throughout her life, chafing under the constraints that awful Catch 22 placed on her as a female author.

Cheers, ARNIE

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