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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, September 24, 2010

Ten thousand-to-one in an unknown tongue

In Janeites, I just responded to Christy Somer's bringing to the group's attention the instances of the term "ten-to-one" and and the one reference to "ten thousand to one", all in JA's novels, as follows:

At my JASNA AGM session in Portland (Saturday, October 30 no longer seems that far away!), I can tell you that it is a 100% certainty that one of the points I will be revealing will be the meaning I ascribe to the three references to "ten-to-one" in Northanger Abbey, which, as I am sure you noted, are three of JA's total of only five usages of that odds-making term throughout the six novels.

All I wish to tell you for now is that I figured that one out about 6 weeks ago, and that, as you so sharply intuited, it definitely DOES have to do with gambling! So I commend you on a VERY fruitful line of inquiry. Yet another example--in my opinion and experience-- that there is no such thing as a "small detail" in JA's novels.

As for John Thorpe's "now it is ten thousand to one but they break down before we are out of the street", I have a different answer which has nothing to do with gambling in the sense I see in those three ten-to-ones, but which I am very confident of nonetheless, for the reasons I WILL tell you now:

First, think about John Thorpe as if he were a high roller in a Las Vegas casino--it actually fits his persona, doesn't it? I can just imagine him driving up to Caesar's Palace in a souped-up sports car with some vulgar vanity license plate, wearing fake gold chains and smoking a foul-smelling cigar, blowing lots of smoke. In short, like a character out of the Sopranos. Now, if John is a gamester, think about what his
game of choice is--it's not poker, it's not speculation, it's a game where he thinks his odds are much better--i.e., snaring an heiress, of course! He's there in Bath to get his hands on a rich girl's money!

And think about it, when heirs and heiresses are gossiped about in JA's novels, it's never about their hair color, or the size of any of their body parts, or even their level of education. There's only ONE attribute that REALLY matters, other than that they be breathing, and it is illustrated in the following assortment of quotes from across the novels, which speak for themselves:

A clear ten thousand per annum.

"No," said her father, "Wickham's a fool, if he takes her with a farthing less than ten thousand pounds.

They will have ten thousand pounds divided amongst them.

"I am afraid not: you know she is an only child, and will have at least ten thousand pounds."

I have heard him speak with great animation of a large family of young ladies that his sisters are intimate with, who have all twenty thousand pounds apiece."

The son had a good estate in Norfolk, the daughter twenty thousand pounds.

I think you get my drift. The calculator is running in Thorpe's mind even more quickly than usual in the rest of the mercenary world of Regency Era courtship, and so THAT is what makes the great ironic joke of his character so karmic----that for all his "calculations" (all puns intended), he is the one character in all of JA's novels whose defining act is that of hoisting himself (and General Tilney) on his own petard, by MISTAKING a girl of reasonably moderate means for a wealthy heiress!

And speaking of that girl--and of course I am referring to Catherine----you tell me if you think it is just a coincidence, in light of what I wrote, above, that Catherine just happens to be the character in NA who makes the following two breathless statements, in different chapters of the novel (again, one might possibly be coincidence, but two??):

"I had rather, ten thousand times rather, get out now, and walk back to them."

But I had ten thousand times rather have been with you; now had not I, Mrs Allen?"

And I leave you with the infinitely more puzzling question as to whether those last two statements by Catherine have anything to do with the following:

"Yet in the Church I HAD RATHER speake five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than TEN THOUSAND words in an unknown tongue."---1 Corinthians 14:19

Yes, I claim that JA often speaketh with forked tongue, but I would claim that she is not lying, she is just telling two different truthful stories at the same time!; and that her purpose in this was indeed that she "might teach others also", speaking "with [her] understanding, in her unique, and until fairly recently, also unknown tongue! ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

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