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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Austen, Shakespeare and my presentation THIS SATURDAY on Mrs. Tilney at the JASNA AGM

[Elissa] "Well, Arnie, I do believe you have made a very cogent argument for connecting the play scene in Mansfield Park (MP) with the play in Hamlet. It really is not refutable - the words are almost the same - a complete echoing of the Shakespeare. It seems to me the significance of this simply cannot be swept under the carpet."

Obviously, I am gratified by your endorsement, Elissa, and I do also sincerely believe there is no rational opposition possible to my claim of the Hamlet in MP.

"It is not at all speculative or fanciful - it is simply, quite plainly, *there* for all to see."

Agreed. It's not a ghost, it's real--actually, it's a "real ghost" in the sense that the shadows of MP are "ghostly" in being difficult to perceive!

"And of course Hamlet would be a play JA was familiar with, unlike, perhaps Two Gentlemen of Verona or Love's Labour's Lost that were always more obscure."

You'd be surprised, Elissa, I have evidence that she was familiar with pretty much all of his comedies and tragedies, and at least some of the histories. She was amazing, I find the 'bread crumbs' leading to all of them.

"As You Like It is another play JA would be very likely to have known well. It was far, far more performed, well known, and well read throughout the
18th century than it is now and as popular as Julius Caesar and the Scottish play."

She was not typical, she was Mary Bennet-JA was an obsessive scholar, I am certain of it.

"With specific respect to those wonderful lines of philosophical poetry, "What a piece of work is man...", they did have me thinking of the mundane corollary, "what piecework for women." And so Mrs. Norris and Maria will pass their days doing embroidery or needlepoint piecework of similar kind to the piecework the Dashwood daughters and the Ferrars women all engage in, as do Emma and Miss Taylor...."

You have a very finely attuned ear for JA's puns, Elissa, that is a direct hit-I have previously found some remarkably cool stuff about women's handiwork that fits perfectly with JA's overarching feminist themes.

I did some final tweaks the past few days to my JASNA AGM talk on Mrs. Tilney's mysterious illness which I will deliver Saturday morning in Portland. When you know the content of it, you will see how it is entirely of a piece with what we've just been discussing regarding the Shakespearean subtext of Mansfield Park.

I am really very happy with how my thinking about NA has jelled, it has all come together in the most gorgeous way, to the point where even I am a little stunned at the elegantly simple lines of the literary structure of this widely considered least substantial of JA's novels.

That's the pattern that my research has followed for 6 years now. As certain as I always am that I have gathered all relevant material on a given shadow story topic and have argued it well enough, it's only in the final stage, of writing for publication, the part that is most tortuous (at least for me, because I have to give up the adventures of cruising for fresh stuff for a while) that everything seems to crystallize into a beautiful diamond. Two days ago, one part of my talk was still not feeling quite right, but I woke up yesterday knowing EXACTLY how to fix it, and how to pull several seemingly separate strands of argument together, because they were really the same point in different "clothes", and I only saw that after struggling to get it all right. I did not change much content, but put what I had already written in the proper unifying context. Which makes all the difference in the world, because it makes it all so much easier to explain to other Janeites.

Sometimes obsessively leads to special rewards which are not otherwise accessible. ;)

Anyway, I know now more than ever before that Northanger Abbey richly deserves a FULL seat at the table with the other five novels. And I don't believe there can be any rational opposition to the conclusions I draw about Mrs. Tilney and her role in the novel.

And JA really WAS "everywhere' in the sense that her erudition was nearly boundless, I have found her footprints almost everywhere I've looked, in terms of the literature that came before her, as well as her contemporaries.

I guess that is enough obsessing over JA for today. ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

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