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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, November 29, 2010

Samuel Johnson and Shakespeare (and Jane Austen)

Elissa Schiff wrote a marvelous reply to my last post over the weekend about Samuel Johnson's attitude toward Shakespeare, to which I reply as follows:

[Elissa] "Well it would seem that the best parallel in Johnson's Prologue to befound [and how ironic a parallel it is] is that of Johnson, the classical scholar, to Marc Antony in Shakespeare's great eulogy to Caesar when Antony proclaims he has come "to bury Caesar" but "not to praise him." Johnson, as you have noted, spends much ink doing quite the reverse for Shakespeare - praising him for 3/4 of the text, but then criticizing mightily."

Indeed, it is an extremely ironic parallel, well done, Elissa, for that sharp insight!

And what makes it even more ironic is that Johnson's capsule reaction to the play Julius Caesar was that it left him cold---but, apparently, not so cold as to prevent his imitating Antony, as you also point out. An interesting question is, did Johnson realize he was imitating Antony, or was it unconscious?

[Elissa] "With the perspective of over 250 years, we can see the absurdity of Johnson lecturing Shakespeare on the art of dramatic writing, the plays' lack of thematic morality, or of stagecraft in general."

Absurdity is the only word that fits Johnson's sneaky trashing of Shakespeare. And what's noteworthy is how, just as the Roman mob is totally taken in by Antony's casuistry, so too have generations of readers of Johnson's Preface been totally taken in by Johnson's casuistry. Or maybe they just skipped over that portion of the Preface. Somehow, they've managed to avoid registering the plain meaning of Johnson's plain words.

And take note again, neither Ellen, nor anyone else who disagrees with the way you and I read that harshly critical portion of Johnson's Preface, has come forward with _any_ quotation from the rest of his Preface which in any way undoes it--because no such passage exists in the rest of the Preface. And indeed it would have been bizarre if Johnson has trashed Shakespeare on one page, and then undid it on the next.

[Elissa] "With respect to prose writing, certainly Johnson was a great rhetorical stylist."

Which does tend to suggest that Johnson knew he was channeling Mark Antony.

[Elissa] "Certainly personally he was a great character - in that sense, we may even say the greatest personage of his age in London. Perhaps the probable Tourette syndrome from which he most likely suffered also affected the censorship regions of his brain, and this is what led to his often outrageous statements. Who can say. But he was definitely a poseur - a great performer."

No question, he was a major figure--and JA was a subtle enough psychologist to recognize Johnson's gifts, without being blinded to his severe faults, especially in his hypocrisies vis a vis women. That made him a very apt allusive source for her--as I said before, she was simultaneously fascinated and appalled by powerful men behaving badly.

[Elissa] "So in the end, it is probably just that he lies interred in Westminster Abbey next to Garrick."

Reviewing my files this past week reminded me of _another_ good reason for Johnson and Garrick to lie side by side--Johnson was Garrick's childhood tutor! Which almost turns Johnson's criticisms of Shakespeare into a very ironic sort of literary family feud, given that Garrick was the person who single handedly raised Shakespeare to the level of national icon.

Another irony that JA, who of course has Mr. Woodhouse quote Garrick's sexually-perverted Riddle, would have been well aware of.

Cheers, ARNIE

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jane Austen’s Great Chasms and Dirty Bottoms

The recent thread about Jane Austen’ attitude toward Samuel Johnson has been fruitful for me in crystallizing and solidifying my thoughts and opinions in various ways on that complex and important subject. One particularly interesting example of the way Jane Austen alluded and made reference to Samuel Johnson, which pulls together several seemingly unrelated tidbits from the writings of and/or about Austen and Johnson, rotates around two very suggestive words—“chasm” and “bottom”. As you will see, these words are, in JA’s adept hands, equally at home in descriptions of both the picturesque AND the sexual.


First, those of you who’ve been reading my blog of late may have recognized from the title of this post that I am in part referring to my blog post of November 3, 2010:

In that post, I claimed that, in the shadow story of S&S, Edward Ferrars and Marianne Dashwood were talking about more than landscapes when they had the following exchange:

[Edward Ferrars] “It is a beautiful country,” he replied; “but THESE BOTTOMS MUST BE DIRTY IN WINTER.
[Marianne Dashwood] “
HOW CAN YOU THINK OF DIRT, with such objects before you?”
[Edward] “Because,” replied he, SMILING, “among the rest of the objects before me, I see A VERY DIRTY LANE.”
said Marianne to herself as she walked on.

And some of you who’ve been following my postings for a longer period, and/or who heard me address the NYC-JASNA regional chapter on May 1, 2010, may have also been reminded of the title of my less recent blog post of May 22, 2010:

In that post, I claimed that in the shadow story of Persuasion, Wentworth (and also Louisa and Admiral Croft, replying to him) were all talking about Anne Elliot as much as Wentworth’s former sea command the Asp, when Wentworth said the following:
“ ……..ANY OLD PELISSE, which you had seen LENT ABOUT AMONG HALF YOUR ACQUAINTANCE ever since you could remember, and which at last, on some VERY WET DAY, is LENT TO YOURSELF. Ah! she was a DEAR OLD ASP to me. SHE DID ALL THAT I WANTED. I KNEW SHE WOULD. I knew that we should either GO TO THE BOTTOM TOGETHER, or that she would be the making of me; and I never had two days of FOUL WEATHER all the time I was at sea in her; and after taking privateers enough to be very entertaining, I had the good luck in my passage home the next autumn, to fall in with THE VERY FRENCH frigate I wanted.”

I think the sexual innuendo I refer to is already obvious from the words I’ve capitalized for emphasis, but there’s more. What I have NOT previously posted about in my blog was a THIRD variation on this same double entendre of “bottom”, three usages contained in one long passage from a THIRD Austen novel, i.e., MP. I refer to the Sotherton “ha-ha” episode, consisting of the following snippets of narration:

“A few steps farther brought them out AT THE BOTTOM of the very walk they had been talking of; and standing back, well shaded and sheltered, and LOOKING OVER A HA-HA into the park, was a comfortable-sized bench, on which they all sat down…..They would go to one end of it, in the line they were then in -- for there was a straight green walk ALONG THE BOTTOM BY THE SIDE OF THE HA-HA- and perhaps turn a little way in some other direction, if it seemed likely to assist them, and be back in a few minutes…..She followed their steps along THE BOTTOM WALK, and had just turned up into another, when the voice AND THE LAUGH OF MARY CRAWFORD once more caught her ear; the sound approached, and A FEW MORE WINDINGS brought them before her….ON REACHING THE BOTTOM of the steps to the terrace, Mrs Rushworth and Mrs Norris presented themselves at the top, just ready for the wilderness, at the end of an hour and a half from their leaving the house.”

So I think it well established by all of the above that JA had a fondness for “bottom” jokes, and, Samuel Johnson’s abhorrence for Shakespeare’s puns notwithstanding, I think there are many who share with me a delight in the likely primary source for JA’s said fondness, i.e., the name of perhaps the most memorable character in one of JA’s favorite Shakespeare comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Of course I refer to Bottom the Weaver (of many wonderful puns and other immortal words), he whose head is magically transformed into that of a jackASS for a brief romantic interlude with Titania.


Now, speaking of Samuel Johnson, those of you familiar with Samuel Johnson may perhaps have guessed how all of the above relates to him. But for those who don’t know Johnson’s life well, here is the connection, courtesy of Boswell:

Johnson, “[t]alking of a very respectable author [Dr. John Campbell], told us a curious circumstance in his life, which was that he had married a printer's devil. _Reynolds_. 'A printer's devil, Sir! why, I thought a printer's devil was a creature with a black face and in rags.' _Johnson_. 'Yes, Sir. But I suppose he had her face washed, and put clean clothes on her.' Then, looking very serious, and very earnest. 'And she did not disgrace him;--THE WOMAN HAD A BOTTOM OF GOOD SENSE.' The word _bottom_ thus introduced was so ludicrous when contrasted with his gravity, that most of us could not forbear tittering and laughing; though I recollect that the Bishop of Killaloe kept his countenance with perfect steadiness, while Miss Hannah More slily hid her face behind a lady's back who sat on the same settee with her. His pride could not bear that any expression of his should excite ridicule, when he did not intend it: he therefore resolved to assume and exercise despotic power, glanced sternly around, and called out in a strong tone, 'Where's the merriment?' Then collecting himself, and looking awful, to make us feel how he could impose restraint, and as it were searching his mind for a still more ludicrous word, he slowly pronounced, 'I say the _woman_ was _fundamentally_ sensible;' as if he had said, Hear this now, and laugh if you dare. We all sat composed as at a funeral."

One fascinating point in regard to the above is that Jill Heydt Stevenson, who so brilliantly analyzed many sexual innuendoes from the MP Sotherton ha-ha scene in her famous 1999 article of that title, and who also specifically quoted (in her 2005 booklength followup, Unbecoming Conjunctions) the above Boswell passage about Johnson’s Freudian slip about “bottom”, somehow failed to connect the dots between the Austenian and the Johnsonian puns, and, in fact, did not even notice any of the above three Austenian “bottom” jokes. But all the same, this does not in any way diminish JHS’s achievement in making it impossible to rationally oppose the notion that JA put numerous, complex sexual innuendoes in her novels.

Anyway…so now we see that the matrix of this riffing on “bottom” connects Shakespeare, Johnson AND Austen. But I am only halfway through the serpentine thread of sexual innuendo that connects Austen and Johnson.


Now I will take us through the second half, via the following two stanzas from the 1808 poem that JA wrote in memory of her dear older friend, Madam Lefroy:

AT JOHNSON’S DEATH by Hamilton ’twas said,
‘Seek we a substitute – Ah! vain the plan,
No second best remains to Johnson dead—
None can remind us even of the Man.’

So we of thee – unequall’d in thy race
Unequall’d thou, as he the first of Men.
Vainly we search around the vacant place,
We ne’er may look upon thy like again. ...

Aside from the interesting allusion in that last line to Hamlet speaking about his dead father the Ghost of King Hamlet, what is noteworthy vis a vis my argument in this post is that JA chooses to allude to Samuel Johnson’s death in order to draw a parallel to describe the magnitude of the sense of loss suffered in Steventon when Madam Lefroy died exactly four years earlier on JA’s 29th birthday.

I could not find, online, the full text of William Hamilton’s lament for Samuel Johnson after the great man’s death (and if anyone can provide it, I would be grateful), but I did find the following partial quotation in a 19th century book about Johnson:

“ ‘He has MADE A CHASM, which not only NOTHING CAN FILL UP, but which nothing has a tendency to fill up. Johnson is dead—Let us go to the best—there is nobody; no one can be said to put you in mind of Johnson.’ So lamented William (“Single-Speech”) Hamilton to Boswell several years after their friend’s demise in 1784…”

I wonder if any of you were struck as you read Hamilton’s words, above, as I was, by the echoes of same inserted by JA in not one but TWO widely separated passages in Mansfield Park.

Here is the first:

“Mr Bertram set off for ----, and Miss Crawford was prepared to find A GREAT CHASM in their society and to miss him decidedly in the meetings which were now becoming almost daily between the families; and on their all dining together at the Park soon after his going, she retook her chosen place near THE BOTTOM of the table, fully expecting to feel a most melancholy difference in the change of masters. It would be a very flat business, she was sure. In comparison with his brother, Edmund would have nothing to say. The soup would be sent round in a most spiritless manner, wine drank WITHOUT ANY SMILES OR AGREEABLE TRIFLING, and THE VENISON CUT UP WITHOUT SUPPLYING ONE PLEASANT ANECDOTE OF ANY FORMER HAUNCH, or a single entertaining story, about ‘my friend such a one.’ SHE MUST TRY TO FIND AMUSEMENT in what was passing at the upper end of the table…

Note that the capitalized verbiage in the latter part of that passage has been carefully crafted by JA so as to be readable either in an innocent, small-talky way, OR as an extension of the notion of a “bottom” being a subject likely to raise, as it did for Hannah More, “smiles or agreeable trifling” and “amusement”, as well as some playful riffing on “haunch” as a culinary term for an animal’s buttocks.

And here is the second echo in MP:

“[Maria and Julia’s] departure made another material change at Mansfield, A CHASM WHICH REQUIRED SOME TIME TO FILL UP.”

So we see JA, in the aggregate of these two passages, pointing unmistakably winking at Hamilton’s eulogizing of Johnson via great chasms being filled up, you don’t have to be Groucho Marx to realize that there’s a sexual joke going on here. I will leave to each of you the decision of what to make of JA putting such innuendo into a eulogy for a dead friend, and move on to the final stage of my argument, which is that, lurking BEHIND (forgive me, I could not resist) all of the above is, of course the most infamous sexual pun in all of JA’s published novels:

“Certainly, my home at my uncle’s brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals. Of Rears and Vices I saw enough. Now do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat.”

That last line takes on startling new significance, when you take into account everything I have written, above, in this message, which established the Johnsonian patina that subliminally rests on the surface of Mansfield Park in particular.

It is precisely as if Jane Austen were speaking SPECIFICALLY TO DR. JOHNSON through the mouth of her own creation, Mary Crawford, and essentially teasing him about his priggish blockheadedness about puns, particularly sexual puns. Which, you will recall from the passages in Johnson’s Preface to Shakespeare, was one of Johnson’s major complaints about Shakespeare’s writing.

So I see all of JA’s playing around with various versions of human hindquarters, as JA’s response to Samuel Johnson—and since Sir Thomas Bertram is, in many ways, a representation of Samuel Johnson,--both of them being, in a way, bona fide jackasses---Mary’s pun, combined with all the “dirty bottoms” in three of her novels, and also with the Johnsonian subtext of JA’s poem eulogizing Madam Lefroy, is the perfect way for JA to get that point across most powerfully.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. I just checked JHS again before sending this message, and see that while she failed to pick up on the two ‘great chasm’s of MP as sexual innuendo, she did refer to a passage in Persuasion as “humorous parody of erotic sedition” (whatever that means), that includes a reference to “Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest-trees and orchards of luxuriant growth…”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Samuel Johnson MCP and atrocious literary critic

"Over the past several months, we have read quite a bit about crusty, brilliant, influential Samuel Johnson, a wonderful figure of our literary history. However, a simple spot reading of Boswell's Life of Johnson will reveal what is blatant and cannot possibly be denied - Johnson himself was really - and I am most unhappy to have to say this Christy - a rather virulent misogynist. His views about women in general - women from all parts of society - are both harsh and quite easily documented because he, well, "mouthed off" so frequently on this topic and Boswell scrupulously wrote it all down. From social grande dames and patronesses to common streetwalkers (whose services he engaged on an almost daily basis and whom he treated with both brutality and scorn), actually quite frightening."

I have not read Johnson in anywhere close to the depth that you have, Elissa, but from what I have read, it is CLEAR to me that you are correct, and so that makes Henry Austen's claim in the Biographical Notice that JA emulated Johnson all the more suspicious. As I will show in my book, JA reserved some of her sharpest covert satires for Johnson, and at the center of her satire is Johnson's blithe, oblivious cocksureness. He is the LAST man in the world that JA would have looked up to, precisely because he was SO influential in English culture during her lifetime, and there were no public voices (at least that I am aware of) who called him out on his misogyny. His influence was therefore particularly destructive of women's lives, because he was widely (and erroneously) considered to be a friend of womankind.

And just as Johnson was all wrong about women, he was even more wrong about Shakespeare! I quote the following incredible B.S. that Johnson wrote about Shakespeare. What comes through even more clearly than his wrongness was how blithely self assured Johnson was in it! I.e. if he did not "get" Shakespeare, then of course it was Shakespeare's fault, not Johnson's! If you think I am exaggerating, read on, you will be dumbfounded at what Johnson says about Shakespeare, and even the casual Janeite would realize that JA's opinion of Shakespeare was precisely the opposite of Johnson's:

"Shakespeare with his excellencies has likewise faults, and faults sufficient to obscure and overwhelm any other merit. I shall shew them in the proportion in which they appear to me, without envious malignity or superstitious veneration. No question can be more innocently discussed than a dead poet’s pretensions to renown; and little regard is due to that bigotry which sets candour higher than truth....His first defect is that to which may be imputed most of the evil in books or in men. He sacrifices virtue to convenience, and is so much more careful to please than to instruct, that he seems to write without any moral purpose.....This fault the barbarity of his age cannot extenuate; for it is always a writer’s duty to make the world better, and justice is a virtue independant on time or place.

The plots are often so loosely formed, that a very slight consideration may improve them, and so carelessly pursued, that he seems not always fully to comprehend his own design. He omits opportunities of instructing or delighting which the train of his story seems to force upon him, and apparently rejects those exhibitions which would be more affecting, for the sake of those which are more easy....It may be observed, that in many of his plays the latter part is evidently neglected. When he found himself near the end of his work, and, in view of his reward, he shortened the labour, to snatch the profit. He therefore remits his efforts where he should most vigorously exert them, and his catastrophe is improbably produced or imperfectly represented. He had no regard to distinction of time or place, but gives to one age or nation, without scruple, the customs, institutions, and opinions of another, at the expence not only of likelihood, but of possibility. .....

In his comick scenes he is seldom very successful, when he engages his characters in reciprocations of smartness and contest of sarcasm; their jests are commonly gross, and their pleasantry licentious; neither his gentlemen nor his ladies have much delicacy, nor are sufficiently distinguished from his clowns by any appearance of refined manners. ...In tragedy his performance seems constantly to be worse, as his labour is more. The effusions of passion which exigence forces out are for the most part striking and energetick; but whenever he solicits his invention, or strains his faculties, the offspring of his throes is tumour, meanness, tediousness, and obscurity. In narration he affects a disproportionate pomp of diction and a wearisome train of circumlocution, and tells the incident imperfectly in many words, which might have been more plainly delivered in few. ...His declamations or set speeches are commonly cold and weak, for his power was the power of nature; when he endeavoured, like other tragick writers, to catch opportunities of amplification, and instead of inquiring what the occasion demanded, to show how much his stores of knowledge could supply, he seldom escapes without the pity or resentment of his reader....Not that always where the language is intricate the thought is subtle, or the image always great where the line is bulky; the equality of words to things is very often neglected, and trivial sentiments and vulgar ideas disappoint the attention, to which they are recommended by sonorous epithets and swelling figures.

A quibble [pun] is to Shakespeare, what luminous vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all adventures, it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf him in the mire. It has some malignant power over his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever be the dignity or profundity of his disquisition, whether he be enlarging knowledge or exalting affection, whether he be amusing attention with incidents, or enchaining it in suspense, let but a quibble spring up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished. ...It will be thought strange, that, in enumerating the defects of this writer, I have not yet mentioned his neglect of the unities; his violation of those laws which have been instituted and established by the joint authority of poets and of criticks." END OF JOHNSON QUOTE

As I said, wow....and so we are supposed to believe that JA would devote a laudatory footnote in one of her "darling children" to the arrogant fool who wrote such drivel, including in particular his trashing of puns, about her true inspirational role model, Shakespeare?

Cheers, ARNIE

General Tilney, Lady Catherine, and Mrs Ferrars: Gullible Birds of a Feather

In another Janeite online discussion, I made the following comments today:

I claim that Austen's novels are anamorphic--two parallel fictional universes--and so there are TWO Mrs. Allens: one is the fool who is indeed a comic character, in all the ways that you, Ellen, and most everybody else see her. But….I also claim that the OTHER Mrs. Allen, the Mrs. Allen of the shadow story, is only PRETENDING to be a fool—she’s playing a role and is actually a woman who gets what she wants out of a sterile marriage to a much older rich man, the way that many aristocratic women of her day did--following the advice that was given to Lady Caroline Lamb that LCL famously did NOT follow---do what you want….as long as you do it discreetly. THAT is the shadow Mrs. Allen to a tee, I claim.

Which leads to the following narration in NA:

"It is now expedient to give some description of Mrs. Allen, that the reader may be able to judge, in what manner her actions will hereafter tend to promote the general distress of the work, and how she will, probably, contribute to reduce poor Catherine to all the desperate wretchedness of which a last volume is capable-whether by her imprudence, vulgarity, or jealousy-whether by intercepting her letters, ruining her character, or turning her out of doors."

In the overt story, I freely acknowledge that this passage is meant to be taken at face value, meaning that we are NOT to really think that Mrs. Allen is actually going to do any of those stock Gothic-villain actions. HOWEVER, in the shadow story, what I suggest is that the narration about Mrs. Allen is a giant clue that it is MRS. ALLEN who is going to be instrumental in bringing about each of those three "Gothic" intrigues in the alternative shadow story of the novel.

We are being prompted by JA to read between the lines in the rest of the novel, and to try to spot the moment when Mr. Allen DOES intercept one of Catherine's letters, and exactly how Mrs. Allen DOES try to ruin Catherine's character, and, in so doing, when she DOES cause Catherine to be turned out of doors. I.e., I am suggesting that this passage is a hint from JA that it is Mrs. Allen who is the "voluntary spy" who takes steps offstage in deliberately provoking the gullible, quick-tempered General Tilney into throwing Catherine out of the Abbey. Now, what Mrs. Allen's motivation might be in taking such actions is a matter of interpretation of the shadow story beyond the scope of this post.

Much the same kind of argument was made in regard to Pride and Prejudice over ten years ago by a Norwegian biologist named Kim Damstra (Kim’s idea was then spread widely by John Sutherland who put it front and center in his book “Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet?”). Damstra claimed that Charlotte Lucas plays the same trick I attribute to Mrs. Allen, in provoking Lady Catherine into high dudgeon, which boomerangs on Lady C, when her interventions with Darcy and Lizzy paradoxically push Darcy and Lizzy together.

And…I claim that Lucy Steele does exactly the same thing in S&S, "innocently" provoking Mrs. Ferrars into high dudgeon, which leads Mrs. F to disinherit Edward and vest Robert’s inheritance---which is EXACTLY what Lucy wanted in the first place, because Lucy ALREADY had Robert wrapped around her finger!

I claim JA loved to repeat these motifs of seemingly powerless women working behind the scenes in her shadow stories, to deploy Iago-like manipulative skills to induce the powerful to perform like inadvertent puppets.


Aunt Leigh Perrot as Mrs. Allen, Mrs. Tilney AND General Tilney

As I was just delving deeper into Mrs. Allen as a representation of Aunt Leigh Perrot in NA, I realized that Aunt Leigh Perrot was actually a kind of allusive "ghost" who "haunts" not only Mrs. Allen, but also BOTH General and Mrs. Tilney, as well as the Wife of Bath!

I've already pointed out that:

Mrs. Allen is obsessed with clothing, and dearly loves a bargain; Aunt LP is obsessed with clothing in a different way--as a kleptomaniac.

Mrs. Allen and Aunt are both rich and childless, and people expect each of them to bequeath wealth to the "heroine" (i.e., Catherine in the novel, the Austen family in real life)

Mrs. Allen chaperones Catherine in Bath; I think I am correct in recalling that it is widely believed that Aunt LP chaperoned JA around Bath when JA was about 23.

But now read Henry Tilney's famous speech as a farcical sendup of the trial of Aunt Leigh Perrot!:

‘“If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to — Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?”’ They had reached the end of the gallery, and with tears of shame she ran off to her own room.”

I was ROFL reading that passage in this way, it is something straight out of the Daily Show or Colbert, comic exaggeration. And I think that JA was not only mocking her Aunt, she was simultaneously mocking the absurdity of a legal system that could hang someone for petty theft like this, or deport someone to Australia for 14 years. In effect, theft was treated as if it were murder!

There are other clever wrinkles in this same vein:

Catherine imagines Mrs. Tilney imprisoned by her husband somewhere in the Abbey; Aunt LP WAS forcibly "confined" to live with the gaoler for an extended period, until her acquittal at the trial.

Catherine imagines General Tilney guilty of a serious crime, and is castigated by Henry, who asks Catherine to imagine if such a thing is "probable"
in England; the authorities imagined Aunt LP guilty of a serious (at least in terms of punishment) crime, and she is acquitted after the Judge asks the Jury to imagine if it is "probable" that such a rich woman would shoplift a petty item.

Henry tells Catherine that General Tilney grieved for his wife; Uncle Leigh Perrot lived with his wife in the gaoler's house!

Henry refers to supposedly trustworthy figures as "voluntary spies"--Uncle Leigh Perrot hired a small army of character witnesses to defend his wife's character, and it worked.

Catherine is obsessed with Udolpho, and in particular with the "black veil"; Aunt LP was accused of stealing "black lace".

How clever of JA, to layer in these veiled allusions to Aunt LP--and no wonder Henry AUSTEN took such pains to prevent anybody from noticing these veiled allusions. The subtitle of Northanger Abbey could very justly have been "The Shadow story of Jane Leigh-Perrot"!

Cheers, ARNIE

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

P.P.S. re The Mysterious Footnote in Northanger Abbey

Haste makes for inadvertent misstatements, and I now wish to rectify an important misstatement from my previous posts. It does not change my ultimate conclusion, but obviously i want to be accurate in my description of how I get there.

Here is the relevant text in Chapter 3 of NA:

"Whether [Catherine] thought of him so much, while she drank her warm wine and water, and prepared herself for bed, as to dream of him when there, cannot be ascertained; but I hope it was not more than in a slight slumber, or a morning doze at most; for if it be true, as a celebrated writer has maintained, that no young lady can be justified in falling in love before the gentleman`s love is declared, it must very improper that a young lady should dream of a gentleman before the gentleman is first known to have dreamt of her.”

And here is the relevant text in Johnson's Rambler:

"That a young lady should be in love, and the love of the young gentleman undeclared, is an heterodoxy which prudence, and even policy, must not allow. "

It is not that the footnote in NA pointing to Johnson's Rambler is incorrect--as you can see from the two excerpts quoted above, there is indeed an unmistakable allusion. It is clear that "the celebrated writer" referred to by the NA narrator IS Samuel Johnson. But what IS misleading is that the footnote is INCOMPLETE in a material way, because it does not alert the reader to the SECOND allusion in that same sentence, which is an extremely important one, i.e., the dreams of a virginal girl on the Eve of St. Agnes.

So think about it--if JA was going to insert a footnote (when she could just as easily have written "Dr. Johnson" instead of "a celebrated writer") to alert the reader to the first allusion, why in the world would she then NOT ALSO alert the reader to the SECOND allusion, one which is, as I have demonstrated, important in THREE (or maybe four) of her novels, and which in many ways overshadows the first allusion!??

No, that makes no sense at all. What makes much more sense is to say that Henry Austen was in a tight spot in 1818--perhaps the manuscript had already been given to the publisher, and had come back to him for proofreading--or maybe some comment from the editor or publisher raised the question of the identity of "the celebrated writer" and brought it to Henry's attention for the first time. And maybe it was only then that he, being a sharp elf and no doubt privy to many of JA's literary adventures, realized that Jane had alluded to the Eve of St. Agnes and Gay's Wife of Bath, and thereby indirectly to Aunt Leigh Perrot. Naughty Jane! What WAS a brother to do in such a case?

He couldn't very well tell the publisher to just delete that marvelously entertaining sentence. So he had to find a way to deflect the reader's attention from the SECOND allusion, by making the FIRST one explicit, and thereby make it sound like there was a mystery, but the mystery was already explained.

Henry Austen learned this technique from Jane, actually. I.e., that the best way to hide a secret is to mask that secret with ANOTHER secret, and then reveal the answer to that masking secret! Just as JA found the perfect way to mask the shadow story of Emma, which revolves around Jane F's concealed pregnancy, by telling the reader quite openly that there is a mystery surrounding Jane, and then "revealing the truth" at the end, i.e., that Jane and Frank had been engaged. What reader would THEN be so stubborn as to not accept that explanation?, for one, but it took 190 years for a reader to pull aside that curtain and reveal the Wizardess sitting at the control panel.


P.S. re The Mysterious Footnote in Northanger Abbey

As soon as I hit the Send button on my last message, I did a Google Desktop search of "Rosings Scarlets" to see what it was I had previously read or written on the subject of the former being a fictional representation of the latter, and among the files that came up was the text of a message that Ron Dunning (who is a descendant of Frank Austen) had written nearly four years ago in Austen L, which I now reproduce, for the VERY interesting light it sheds on my suggestion that Henry Austen was maneuvering to inherits Scarlets from Aunt Leigh Perrot when (I claim) he inserted that mysterious footnote in Northanger Abbey in order to deflect attention AWAY from his Aunt:

"Back to my 4X-gt-grandfather, Sir Francis William Austen, and a story that I hadn't taken in until I chanced on it last night in Maggie Lane's "Jane Austen's Family Through Five Generations". As so frequently happened back then (back almost any time before modern medicine), Frank's wife Mary Gibson died on the 14th of July 1823, just 7 days after the birth of their son Cholmeley (her 11th, in 16 years). Frank didn't remarry until 1828 - and chose as his second wife Martha Lloyd, the sister of his brother James's wife Mary, and from a family long-acquainted with the Austens.

At this point I'm going to take several long steps back to give some context. Jane and Frank's mother Cassandra Leigh was descended, in her grand-maternal line, from the Perrots of Northleigh in Oxfordshire. One of them, Thomas Perrot (the brother of Cassandra's grandmother Jane Perrot), produced no male heirs, and left his estate to his great nephew James Leigh - Cassandra's brother. I hope that's clear. Anyway, all that James had to do was assume the name and arms of Perrot, so he styled himself Leigh-Perrot. James married Jane Cholmeley, whose surname was taken as the given name for Frank's above-named last-born son. There may have been a motive for this, as you will see... Jane Leigh-Perrot, who many of you will recognise as the lady who was sent to trial for allegedly stealing some lace, outlived her husband, so his property, Scarlets, was hers to dispose of in her will, and according to Maggie Lane (on page 208 in my copy) Frank was the designated beneficiary. Jane, descried by M L as a thorough-going snob, took great exception to Frank's choice of wife and rewrote her will, settling Scarlets on Frank's nephew (James) Edward (who, ironically, was the son of Martha's sister Mary!!!)...We'll leave the convolutions aside - including the fact that, as I have read Thomas Perrot's will, I had understood Scarlets always to have been promised to Edward's [i.e., James Edward Austen's] side of the family. Whatever, Jane L-P was an inveterate schemer and may have been dangling Scarlets in Frank's face..." END OF EXCERPT FROM RON'S 2007 POST

So, thanking Ron for that very interesting insight, I take from what he wrote the fresh additional insight that, in the aftermath of the death of James Leigh-Perrot which occurred in 1816, there may well have been a kind of eerily gender-reversed King Lear-like "inheritance scrum" among THREE different fraternal lines of Jane Austen's nuclear family--brother James's son, James Edward; brother Frank Austen; and (per my suspicions about the NA footnote) brother Henry Austen.

But the worst irony is that, also flipping gender, it was the wife and the 2 daughters of the Austen family who suffered the Lear-like reduction by halves of their financial well-being and living conditions that JA parodied in Chapter 2 of S&S with Fanny Dashwood screwing over the 3 Dashwood women.

Mr. Weston is so right--every family does have its secrets, you know....but fortunately one rather talented member of the Austen family was a whistleblower, who knew how to preserve the truth in the shadows, despite the best efforts of one rather heavy handed footnoter/biographer.....

Cheers, ARNIE

The Mysterious Footnote in Northanger Abbey (and its connection to my Freudian slip of several days ago)

This post is apropos my discussion earlier today with Christy about whether the footnote in Northanger Abbey---the ONE AND ONLY footnote in ALL of JA's six published novels (at least as far as I can recollect at this moment)---was (as Christy argued) inserted by JA into her own manuscript, or whether (as I claimed) Henry Austen put inserted it after her death, when she was no longer around to object.

An ADDITIONAL explanation just occurred to me for why Henry Austen might not merely have been trying to put the kibosh GENERALLY on any embarrassing roman a clef aspects of JA's novels, but might have had very SPECIFIC and POWERFUL motivation for adding THAT footnote to THAT particular passage in NA. I.e., I believe that Henry Austen wanted to stay on the good side of the wealthy widow his Aunt Leigh-Perrot, who was still very much alive and kicking in 1818 when NA was published, two years after her husband's death--a wealthy widow who had lots of largesse to bestow, including the estate at Scarlets (which sounds, semantically, suspiciously like Rosings).

I've just made a case, over the last week, that the connection of Mrs. Allen with the Wife of Bath, is itself connected to the real life Aunt Leigh Perrot. And even though Mr. Bennet advises Mr. Collins near the end of P&P NOT to count on Lady Catherine (the owner of Rosings, whop has been seen by some Janeites in addition to myself as a representation of Aunt Leigh-Perrot) being generous to him, perhaps Henry Austen decided to count on his real life "Lady Catherine" nonetheless.

The Henry Austen of 1818, who had become a clergyman a few years earlier, to my mind bears an eerily disturbing resemblance to Mr. Collins, in the way that Henry Austen, in the most obsequious and dishonest way, sucked up to the relevant powers that be in 1819, maneuvering to glom the Cubbington living after (if memory serves me right) the death of brother James, holder of that living for 27 years. So I see Henry Austen as being the kind of guy who would be very concerned that someone might tell his rich Aunt that she was being lampooned in NA, which Jane wrote but WHICH HENRY WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR GETTING PUBLISHED!!! The buck would stop with him, and he was not going to allow THAT to happen!

So I now see Henry's repeated claims in the Biographical Notice that Jane never wrote about REAL people, no, no, no...and also that footnote pointing to a specific Rambler issue written by Samuel Johnson which does not in any way connect that passage in any way to Mrs. Allen or Aunt Leigh Perrot....and finally also Henry's taking pains to mention specifically how much Jane LOVED Samuel Johnson (although I think JA covertly lampooned Samuel Johnson, too, as I will explain in my book!), all as a coordinated and desperate attempt to prevent the publication of NA from tanking his (and perhaps also his surviving siblings') chances to inherit one day from Aunt Leigh Perrot (who in 1818 was already 74, and could be expected to be not long for this world). How could Henry have foreseen that she would live eighteen more years, till the ridiculously old age of 92! As Fanny Dashwood suggests to her husband, some people are just so greedy that they will refuse to die when they're supposed to!

So maybe, Christy, apropos your sense of CEA as not ever being willing to be part of a decision against Jane, perhaps CEA was able to rationalize not objecting to Henry's inserting that "harmless" little footnote, because she believed it was for the greater good of the Austen family, and what did it matter, because almost no reader would be clever enough to spot the allusion to their Aunt anyway!

And of course, ironically, it was all for naught, because the ultimate winner of the Leigh-Perrot inheritance jackpot was not one of the surviving Austen siblings, but was James Edward Austen Leigh---who returned the favor to his aunt by EXPANDING on Henry's claims, four decades earlier, that JA did not allude to real people, no, no, no, and also sucking up to his great-aunt's grandeur in the most smarmy way in the Memoir.

And I finish by pointing out that this all connects to my Freudian slip several days ago, when I meant to write Henry Austen but wrote Henry Tilney instead--what perhaps was lurking in the back of my mind was the disturbing sense that perhaps the interaction between Henry Tilney and Mrs. Allen in NA was in some way a depiction of real life interaction at some point along the way between Henry AUSTEN and Aunt Leigh Perrot! That would be one final reason for Henry to want to prevent anyone from ever looking beneath the surface at the character of Mrs. Allen--so he, like his namesake Henry Tilney at the Abbey, protests way too much, thereby inadvertently revealing the truth of the Austen family secrets he seeks to deny.......

Cheers, ARNIE

THE ANSWERS to my little quiz about Northanger Abbey, Mrs. Allen and The Wife of Bath

Here are some summary answers to the clues to the allusion to the Wife of Bath in Northanger Abbey which I discovered.

Later on, when I have a chance, I will provide some more details, IF people respond and ask questions, etc.---otherwise I will just provide a full explanation in my book, exploring all the ins and outs of a very rich matrix of layered allusions, which will require about 20 pages to do it justice.

So here goes:

“a literary work published LATE in the 18th century (i.e., during JA's youth), fairly well known then but unknown even to literary scholars today”:

ANSWER: John Gay’s 1710’s play, The Wife of Bath, is alluded to by John Thorpe’s quoting the proverb about one wedding bringing on another. Gay (who also wrote the fable The Hare and Many Friends which Mrs. Elton quotes), in his early career a literary protégé of Pope, wrote this comedy of marital intrigue which has as its central conceit the mythology of the Eve of St. Agnes.

Per Wikipedia, “Saint Agnes is the patron saint of young girls; folk custom called for them to practice rituals on Saint Agnes' Eve (20–21 January) with a view to discovering their future husbands.” These rituals include getting into bed naked and dreaming about their future husbands.

I don’t think I need to tell any Janeites who know Northanger Abbey that on the night after Catherine meets Henry, she drinks wine and dreams about her future husband. What you don’t know is that JA cleverly set up the calendar of NA so that Catherine does this dreaming ON THE EVE OF ST. AGNES (Ellen Moody was therefore about 11 days off in her calendar, which is understandable, because she did not recognize the allusion to the Eve of St. Agnes!).

This also, by the way, is strong evidence that the calendar for NA is not set in 1798, as Ellen speculated, but in either 1797 or 1809, the two years during that period of JA’s life when the Eve of St. Agnes fell on a FRIDAY, which is the night that Catherine meets Henry.

AND…I then did some further legwork and saw that (at least) TWO OTHER Austen novels ALSO have this secret Eve of St. Agnes motif going under the surface:

First, Marianne Dashwood in London gets her really good night’s sleep on the Eve of St. Agnes, even though Elinor drinks the wine that Mrs. Jennings brought for Marianne—because, you see, Mrs. Jennings wants Marianne to dream about a future husband to REPLACE Willoughby! And that’s why she sounds a LOT like John Thorpe the wooer when she invokes another proverb: “One shoulder of mutton drives down another”, although, when you think about that proverb as a metaphor for “Marianne will find another man to marry”, it’s a pretty darned vulgar turn of phrase-but that’s ol’ Mrs. Jennings for ya!

And second, in MP, the Eve of St. Agnes falls during the 3-4 days after Henry Crawford leaves Mansfield Park, and Edmund is surprised that Sir Thomas expects Fanny to miss Henry. It’s because Sir Thomas knows it is the Eve of St. Agnes, and he was hoping for a prophetic marriage dream to bring Fanny around!

Ellen’s calendars for S&S and MP are just a little off, again, because she does not realize the Eve of St. Agnes connection.

And finally, in Persuasion, it just so happens that Benwick proposes to Louisa during a brief period of time that includes the Eve of St. Agnes, and you will recall that I mentioned the other day that Louisa’s head injury is in a metaphorical sense similar to a dream, and when she wakes up and sees Benwick, she is, like the heroine of Gay’s Wife of Bath, convinced he is her dream lover!

And speaking of Benwick, Anne’s morose poetry-addict, that leads me to the next clue I gave, which some of you have no doubt already guessed, based on the foregoing:

“a VERY well known literary work (when first published and continuously since then) published AFTER Northanger Abbey, written by a VERY famous Romantic poet!”

ANSWER: That would be John Keats’s very famous poem The Eve of St. Agnes, written very shortly AFTER Northanger Abbey was published! And I can tell you that Keats’ poem not only resonates strongly to Gay’s play, it also has been linked thematically by several scholars to Northanger Abbey, PLUS it also turns out that Keats famously was very focused at that time on The Mysteries of Udolpho (in which the most tragic character, Laurentini, goes by the name Sister AGNES!).

I therefore make the additional claim that Keats very slyly but pervasively was alluding to Northanger Abbey and Udolpho (as to which Keats obviously understood the symbiotic connection created by JA) in this very famous poem of his, which, like Northanger Abbey, oscillates on the knife’s edge between the Gothic and the parody of the Gothic, exploiting that ambiguity exactly the way JA does in her novel.

So I am the first to now prove that KEATS WAS CLEARLY A JANEITE!

And, as I suggested at the top of this post, there are numerous other textual nuances and goodies which flesh out the skeleton of the above outline in the most remarkable ways which I will address in my book.

So it turns out that the shadow Mrs. Allen is, to paraphrase the Osmonds, a little bit John Gay’s Wife of Bath, a little bit Chaucer’s--she really is intended by JA to partake of both. Both of her literary ancestors are game-players, women who use disguise and chicanery to further their goals in the realm of courtship and marriage for both themselves and for the younger women they take under their wing, and BOTH of them find younger men very attractive, and are not too shy to play the “cougar” as well! That is, precisely, the shadow Mrs Allen I see in the shadow story of NA!

And now you know why I am so certain that the footnote to the scene in NA when Catherine dreams of her future husband is NOT JA’s but her brother Henry’s doing—I bet that Henry knew about the Eve of St. Agnes in JA’s novels, and did NOT want that Pandora’s Box to be opened by any clever reader, so he made a point of providing a plausible, if lame, alternative allusive source for Catherine dreaming romantically, so that people who knew about St. Agnes would be thrown OFF the scent. Samuel Johson's Rambler is NOT the passage JA was alluding to, it is Gay's play! you also know why both NA film adaptations were SPOT ON in their depiction of Catherine’s sexual dreams, because the legend requires that the young virgin be nude in bed while she dreams about a man. This is coming straight from Jane Austen!

AND….there’s ONE MORE allusive source on the periphery of the above—Samuel Foote’s very popular play written during JA’s youth, The MAID of Bath, the title of which is a tip of the literary hat to Gay’s play, and which, while it did not take place on the Eve of St. Agnes, was a thinly veiled "comedy a clef" about Richard Brinsley Sheridan and his tragic wife, Miss Linley, which is ALSO alluded to in a host of complex ways in Northanger Abbey.

You see how complicated it all is, but also how marvelous it is--JA hid this "elephant" in plain sight in NA!

I think that’s enough for now. I will be guided by the reactions I receive, in terms of what I say further on this subject.

Cheers, ARNIE

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jane Austen's Emma as you like it

The following is my response in the Janeites group to an interesting post by Diana Birchall (in quotes), which gave me the opportunity to expand on why I think Jane Austen's wordplay is so important:

[Diana] "We're on the same page with Mrs. Allen, really, Elissa, as we don't see anything between her and Henry, and I do agree that the "rent" dress does mean something hilarious when it comes to Lydia. But I don't think every single time Jane Austen talks about a torn dress she means rape. Nope, I don't!"

Diana, I DON'T think the references to torn dresses, in either NA or in P&P, is supposed to conjure up rape---but they are, in my opinion, most definitely supposed to conjure up SEX--consensual sex. I think if a man had tried to rape Lydia, she'd have slugged him and knocked him out--remember, she was a big robust girl, and, whatever else we might not like about her, we can say she is fearless! And as for Mrs. Allen, I think she knew how to deploy the sharp end of an umbrella when the need
arose. ;)

"Where I most strongly part company from you and Arnie, is in word play and anagrams."

Diana, you are mushing together too many things here, which I would like to make clear.

First, Elissa's "must sin" anagram is in the category of "playful", meaning that it does not prove anything. Neither she nor I is pushing that as more than a provocative possibility, that needs much more backup in order to be considered a serious allusion.

My serious claim of resonance between "Alisoun" with "Mrs. Allen" is in the category of "promising", because of the closeness of the words, but, more important, because it fits with OTHER thematic similarity between the Wife of Bath and Mrs. Allen which already suggests a connection--without that other evidence, some of which I will be
disclosing in the morning, the "Alisoun"-"Mrs Allen" resonance would be far too thin to support any meaningful interpretation.

But now you move into another realm entirely when you write, however teasingly:

To me, a great many of this sort of thing sounds like (and I frankly tease a bit here, I'm not quoting literally) "Jane Austen refers to the plot of As You Like It because she uses the phrase "As you...wish, and I am sure I it" somewhere or other."

The actual example I have provided in the past is this:

""That's quite unnecessary; I see Jane every day: -- but AS YOU LIKE. IT is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite a simple thing."

Unless you believe that JA had 1,001 turkies sitting at typewriters generating random text for her, this is clearly an intentional allusion to Shakespeare's play, on its face. So for you to suggest that this sort of wordplay analysis is a style of inquiry that is not really worthwhile is surprising, and I (obviously) strongly disagree with you. Why? Because there's much more backing up the wordplay analysis. E.g., literary critics have known, at least since 1986 when Jocelyn Harris did her
masterful demonstration of all the allusions to Midsummer Night's Dream in Emma, that Shakespearean plays are integral to the metaphorical allusive structure of Emma. We even have Emma herself promulgating Shakespearean (mis)quotations, i.e., re the course of true love (MND), and Jane Fairfax vis a vis Romeo ranting at the apothecary about the world's law, etc etc.

And the comedy As You Like It itself has also been suggested by at least a few other Austen scholars as being alluded to in JA's novels (not just in Emma)--scholars who had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA about my discovery of that hidden wordplay!

And if you think about it, Mr. Elton's charades are VERY resonant with the hero Orlando leaving lovesick poems on trees in the Forest of Arden for Rosalind to find; PLUS Mr. Elton's lover, Miss Hawkins (to whom he surely sent his charades as well, right?) repeatedly shows us that she just loves to affect the false persona of the simple rustic girl, even though she is a hard-edged girl from that bustling slaving town, Bristol. What better way for JA to spoof Mrs. Elton's disingenuousness than by a covert reference to exactly the role she is playing in the story!

So IN ALL THAT CONTEXT, I claim my wordplay discovery is significant. I cannot see any rational argument to support the notion that JA did such elaborate and meaningful wordplay, especially wordplay pointing to Shakespeare, for no reason. I think she was letting us know that yes, that subliminal suggestion of Shakespearean comedy in general, and As You Like It in particular, is intentional. No turkies wrote those lines. ;)

And, speaking of anagrams, when we reach the level of ingenuity that generated the complex wordplay of the two charades in Chapter 9 of Emma, which Colleen Sheehan has so brilliantly decoded in her Persuasions and Persuasions Online articles, including the DOUBLE anagram of the name "Lamb" in the second charade, which I claim points to both Charles & Mary Lamb, on the one hand, AND to Lady Caroline Lamb, on the other
hand, we are into an even deeper level of allusion that goes to the heart of the mysteries of Emma. And then you have Anielka's and my own additional delvings into other solutions to the charade (and recently another Janeite friend gave me yet ANOTHER solution, which is just spectacular!) Surely you don't consider all that a mere pleasure?

And I conclude by pointing out that I like to take a further leap, and suggest that "As You Like It' could be considered a nice way of talking about my claim that Jane Austen wrote double stories. What she is saying, ventriloquistically, through the mouth of Mrs. Elton, is that you can either read Emma's overt story, or you can read Emma's shadow story, depending on your mood that day--AS YOU LIKE IT! (and by the way, I also claim that Shakespeare himself wrote double stories, and that his titles "As you like it" and the alternative title of Twelfth Night-- What you will--have that same double meaning!)

Cheers, ARNIE

Mrs. Allen, Aunt Leigh-Perrot, and the Wife of Bath

I promise to reveal, by early tomorrow morning (EST), a summary of the evidence I collected over the weekend which links Mrs. Allen specifically, and Northanger Abbey generally, to one of the most famous and influential female characters in all of English literature, the Wife of Bath (hereinafter the WOB), who of course made her "debut" as the "star" of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. This is an allusion which, to the best of my knowledge after diligent search online, has never been discovered before by any Austen scholar. At the end of this message, below, I will give a few hints as to the central motif of the allusion, which is a seemingly trite comment by John Thorpe to Catherine, but which takes on gigantic significance as pointing to the Wife of Bath, only for those who understand the specific literary allusions pointed to INTENTIONALLY by JA.

You've already heard, from me and also Elissa, about some obvious resemblances between Mrs. Allen and the WOB, such as the (apparent) lack of children despite not being young and having been married for a while (and in the WOB's case, many times).

Did you know that they also share clothing sense (recall all the description in the Canterbury Tales of the WOB's brightly colored wardrobe)?

And even though what they say sounds very different on the surface, notice that they are both women who are no longer young and who, perhaps because of that, have the self-assurance to say whatever they feel like saying, without apparent concern that people listening might not approve of they're saying.

And in light of what I wrote a few months ago about JA giving hints that Mr. Allen might just be a secret lush, spiking his Bath water with an alcoholic kicker, it is interesting that the WOB refers (if memory serves me right) to her first husband's tendency to indulge in alcohol.

It also now occurs to me to also point out that (as what must be the nine-hundredth proof I've found that Henry Tilney was lying through his teeth when he wrote, in his Biographical Notice, that his sister Jane did not write about real people) there are two remarkably droll skewerings of Jane's own Aunt Leigh Perrot in the character of Mrs. Allen. I ask those familiar with the Austen family history whether Jane could have found two more telling and sharp-edged ways of satirizing her Aunt than by the following two excerpts in the novel:


"Mrs Allen had no similar information to give, no similar triumphs to press on the unwilling and unbelieving ear of her friend, and was forced to sit and appear to listen to all these maternal effusions, consoling herself, however, with THE DISCOVERY, WHICH HER KEEN EYE SOON MADE, THAT THE LACE on Mrs Thorpe's pelisse was not half so handsome as that on her own."

You can find what I believe is the first published claim of a connection between Mrs. Allen's interest in lace and Aunt Leigh-Perrot's arrest for shoplifting lace in a shop in Bath, in an essay written some years ago by Albert Borowitz which has been most recently published in Legal Studies Forum, Volume 29, Number 2 (2005), as "Crimes Gone By".


Of course we all know that thanks to the rumor-spreading John Thorpe, General Tilney becomes very interested in Catherine Morland as a young woman worthy to marry a Tilney (of course, another question is, which Tilney, his son Henry or the General himself!), because Thorpe leads the General to believe that Catherine is going to inherit vast sums of money from the rich Mr. and Mrs. Allen.

But, as I last discussed in these groups several months ago.....

...this is a SECOND (and, from JA's point of view, devastating) parallel to the real life relationship between Aunt Leigh Perrot and JA's family, because Jane and her family all had every expectation (in the personal and legal sense) of receiving substantial bequests from UNCLE Leigh Perrot upon his death. However, as we all know, when he did die in 1817, the Austen women got stiffed in favor of JA's nephew JEAL.

Which also makes me wonder about whether JA, by her portrait of Mr. Allen, was suggesting that Uncle Leigh Perrot also indulged in some secret tippling while taking his Bath waters..

But that is enough background, here are the clues to the allusion to the Wife of Bath:

The allusion hidden in the text of Northanger Abbey is connected not only to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, but also to all of the following:

a literary work (well known in JA's time but only known to literary scholars today) by a well known (then and today) English author, published early in the 18th century (i.e., in the early 1700's);

a literary work published LATE in the 18th century (i.e., during JA's youth), fairly well known then but unknown even to literary scholars today; and ALSO

a VERY well known literary work (when first published and continuously since then) published AFTER Northanger Abbey, written by a VERY famous Romantic poet!

PLUS....the hidden allusion relates (i) in one ADDITIONAL way to the drinking of alcohol, AND (ii) to something very specific that John Thorpe says to Catherine.

PLUS....if you get the answer, you will see that it has a potentially significant effect on the calendar for the action of Northanger Abbey prepared some years ago by Ellen Moody, i.e., it points toward 1797 and 1809 as the two primary candidates for year in which the action took place, plus it suggests that Ellen's calendar might be about 11 days off!

Till tomorrow morning, then, unless someone comes forward with a successful answer today!

Cheers, ARNIE

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mrs. Allen as the Wife of Bath: A Prime Example of the Jane Austen Code

" Although we tend to agree on most matters literary, Diana, on this matter of rent cloth, I must disagree, although I certainly do agree that JA was treating the subject with a "light" comic touch. "Rent cloth" has millennia-old societal and literary references that are mundane, sacred, and very, very profane. In Western literature these certainly date from Homeric times..."

Although your sense of Jane Austen's allusions as being part of an ancient metaphorical stream is accurate, there is no need to roam so far afield, Elissa. The complex allusion to the Wife of Bath in Northanger Abbey, which I have been excavating today, is so beautiful and so comprehensive, and also in such complete harmony with my overall strong feminist intepretation of NA, that there's no need to go beyond that into the allusory penumbra. Those penumbra won't convince any skeptic, but what I will bring forward will convince reasonable skeptics that JA was up to very deep tricks with this allusion. Without ANY question, Mrs. Allen, in the shadow story, is a very sly representation of the Wife of Bath.

I will be bringing this material forward in the next day, as dramatic validation of my approach to "the Jane Austen Code"---because it works.

Cheers, ARNIE

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mrs. Allen's Sexual Innuendo and also as the Wife of Bath

Responding to three different posts by Nancy Mayer about my claims yesterday about Mrs. Allen in Northanger Abbey:


"Far from engaging in scintillating or otherwise repartee and sexual innuendo, Mrs. Allen has always been presented as a a comic character whose interest in clothes makes her a poor chaperone."

Mrs. Allen is a character very much in the same vein as Harriet Smith and Miss Bates--they can be read in two opposite ways-either as fools, or as women pretending to be fools. I know you (and most other Janeites, at present) don't hear the latter, but I do, and so does Elissa, and note also that Jill Heydt Stevenson circles around that muslin passage a couple of times in her book as well.

And as I advised Elissa yesterday, if you read everything in the novel that has to do with Mrs. Allen, this sexual innuendo based on muslin, especially torn muslin, as code for the female body is a recurrent one. In particular, I refer you all to the following comments by Mrs. Allen to Catherine in Chapter 30 of NA, entirely at the other end of the novel from the scene when Catherine meets Henry for the first time:

“Only think, my dear, of my having got THAT FRIGHTFUL GREAT RENT in my best Mechlin so charmingly mended, before I left Bath, that one can hardly see where it was. I must show it you some day or other. Bath is a nice place, Catherine, after all. I assure you I did not above half like coming away. Mrs. Thorpe’s being there was such a comfort to us, was not it? You know, you and I were quite forlorn at first.”

And I say, only think, my fellow Janeites, of Lydia Bennet having got that frightful great slit in her gown, and think also about Mr. Darcy insisting on MENDING his own pens....

And then take note of the following even more curious passage that follows shortly thereafter in Chapter 30 of NA:

*/"/*A VERY SHORT VISIT TO MRS. ALLEN, IN WHICH HENRY TALKED AT RANDOM, WITHOUT SENSE OR CONNECTION, and Catherine, rapt in the contemplation of her own unutterable happiness, scarcely opened her lips, dismissed them to the ecstasies of another tete–a–tete..."

Even though Henry seemed, TO CATHERINE, to talk to Mrs. Allen at random without sense or connection, I claim that another "strange" conversation occurred at that time, which was in exactly the same vein as their initial conversation.


"Mrs. Allen is as far from the wife of Bath as Mrs. Morland."

Actually, last night, I reviewed my files, and saw that in 2009 I had come across an EXPLICIT allusion to the Wife of Bath in Northanger Abbey, identified by a very mainstream literary critic, Barbara Benedict, in her edition of NA. She pointed out that John Thorpe's citing the proverb about one wedding bringing another appears to be a veiled allusion to Gay's play.

It is too complicated to explain here, but suffice to say that, upon examination, this allusion to Gay's play is neither accidental nor trivial, and my intuitive sense of Mrs. Allen as a veiled representation of the Wife of Bath is spot-on. Those who are interested can readily pursue this line of inquiry, you will find it worthwhile, I promise. Those who wish to wait can read my own analysis in my book.

This also illustrates the non-linear trajectory that my research has taken during the past 6 years. I knew about the allusion to Gay's play last year, but because I did not at that time have a sense of Mrs. Allen as a representation of the Wife of Bath, I did not pay particular attention to this allusion at the time. It was only after I got the idea of her as the Wife of Bath and then searched my files and saw the Gay play that the light bulb went on in my head, and I then found Gay's play
and read it, and saw even more.

As is stated in S&S in the scene about the color of the hair in the cameo that Edward is wearing, the setting casts a different shade on what is presented. It was only when I had Mrs. Allen in mind as the Wife of Bath that the significance of the allusion to Gay's play became clear. This research requires a great deal of patience!

And by the way, for those who might recognize the name, JA was apparently very interested in John Gay, because she ALSO alludes to his fable about The Hare in BOTH Northanger Abbey AND then again in Emma--and this is also not accidental or trivial.

"Considering the feats of memory and allusion and intricate and complex plotting some attribute to Austen's novels it is miraculous that she was able to finish six books."

She was a genius who took her work seriously. I never underestimate such creative persons, the history of the arts is filled with similarly miraculous achievements. Jane Austen was one of them. If I, who do not claim to be more than clever, can see all this stuff, it should not be surprising that a genius can create it.

"One who reworks other's writing can be a clever person but is rarely called a genius."

That is a common fallacy, to consider allusions to be merely clever and a marker of a lack of creativity. That kind of reaction always amazes me. How do you account, then, for the incontestable FACT that the annotations of allusions in the works of Shakespeare and James Joyce fill greater volumes than the texts of their writings themselves? I hope you are not going to say that Shakespeare and Joyce were merely clever, or were not creative enough to find inspiration for their own stories in
their own imagination? You might want to rethink your own estimation of what allusion is all about.

"There is just something so off about the descriptions. I don't say that no new interpretation is possible, just that I'd like the interpretation to be within the text of the novel and the character of the characters."

Again, I claim the shadow story is supposed to be 180 degrees opposite from the overt story, that is the marker of the shadow story. JA's shadow stories are deliberately topsy turvy from her overt stories, that is one thing that is so wonderful about them.

"Henry's discussion about muslins is "strange" as Catherine recognizes. there is nothing sexual about the talk."

Au contraire! Catherine, who has a great intuitive mind which merely lacked formal education, very accurately picks up on the strangeness of tone, even though she lacks the tools to properly analyze what she senses.

"I am a rather literal person as far as interpretations go."

Yes, I gathered that some time ago.

"There is no need to drag in Falstaff."

But what if JA "dragged in" Falstaff herself, because it enriches her story? I find it enriches my understanding and appreciation of literature such as JA's novels when I discover or learn of an allusion in them. It's not my goal to keep it simple, and to turn a blind eye to allusions when they present themselves, and when I can see that the author wishes to make it pleasingly complex.

Cheers, ARNIE

Friday, November 19, 2010

Jane Austen's matrix

"Arnie - the puns in these passages are thickly layered upon each other. If you refer to an annotated edition of the plays, you will find themultilayered meaning and contemporary references that the modern reader couldn't possibly be familiar with: e.g., just the word "toast" "

There needs no annotator, my dear Mrs. Schiff, come from the university, to tell us that "toast" refers to drinking--although you did not say it explicitly, I believe you are confirming that there IS resonance between Mr. Allen and Falstaff in regard to their drinking. ;)

"Still, it seems that the contemporary horrid novels - both English and French - had more influence on Northanger Abbey."

Well, I think you're right and you're wrong. Nothing I have been saying about Shakespeare (or Chaucer, as to whom you are probably reading my message now) as allusive sources for NA in any way is meant to suggest that the contemporary horrid novels of JA's day were not crucial for understanding the subtext of the novel.

What you don't realize is that 90% of those late 18th century horrid novels--including most of all Udolpho, Otranto,--but also Tom Jones, Richardson's novels, and Sheridan's plays--are themselves DRENCHED in Hamlet! In particular, Radcliffe had more epigraphs taken from Shakespeare in general, and Hamlet in particular, than.....we have had Presidents of the United States!

What you are missing is that JA's art of allusive memory was not linear, it was a MATRIX of thematically related sources. The allusion to Hamlet in NA is inextricably bound up with the allusions in NA to a half dozen other, later literary sources, and several historical sources as well.

It's a beautiful thing.

Cheers, ARNIE

But back to Mrs. Allen and her own shadowy fictional doppelganger...


This has been great fun today, sitting on a "see-saw" (as in "You see, I see, we saw") with you in the Northanger Abbey-Shakespeare playground....

I was just rereading our posts today about the Allens, and it occurred to me that it is not only Mr. Allen who has roots deep in English literature, Mrs. Allen does too, and it's not just in Shakespeare where we find her doppelgangers!

We've been talking about Mr. Allen as an Austenian Falstaff, but there is one FEMALE character from the dawn of English literature who is often compared to Falstaff in terms of a lusty sexualized bravado, and who is also known in particular for an eye for a comely shape in the opposite sex, who might have been just the person to engage in the sort of sexual repartee that Elissa and I both detect in Mrs. Allen, and who would share one OTHER characteristic with Mrs. Allen, that of being known to the literary world as a married woman.

Of course I am referring to none other than Chaucer's Wife of Bath!

Jocelyn Harris was the first to detect echoes of the Wife of Bath in an Austen novel, when, in her 1986 Jane Austen's Art of Memory, she suggested that Louisa Musgrove's loss of consciousness from a head injury at Lyme is an allusion to the Wife of Bath's FEIGNED loss of consciousness when conked on the head by Jankyn. Harris also detailed other aspects of the allusion to the Wife of Bath in Persuasion, but Harris, because she never made the leap to the shadow stories, never, in my view, made the most of her wonderfully insightful and pioneering
intuitions about JA's allusive artistry.

As far as I am aware, no one has ever suggested an allusion to the Wife of Bath in Northanger Abbey until myself.

And, last but not least, this ties in with the shadowy suggestion of Mr. Allen as a boozehound, since it is undeniable that in the Prologue to the Wife’s of Bath's Tale, she accuses her rich husband of coming ‘hoom as drunken as a Mous.’

Cheers, ARNIE

Henry Tilney as Henry V and Hamlet REDUX

"Henry Tilney as a Hamlet figure , no - not for me. Ghosts and hauntings in the novel NA - maybe - Mrs. Tilney comes to mind for me."

Elissa, I have 15 pages of material about the Hamlet allusion in Northanger Abbey--when I bring you one or two examples, that does not mean I don't have 30 others! Henry is not the only Hamlet figure, Catherine is like Hamlet as well. And that is correct, Mrs. Tilney is the Ghost, and THAT is the connection between the Hamlet allusion and my claim that NA at its heart is about death in childbirth--that is the point, that there has been a "murder" at the Abbey, and that is the murder of the ordinary English wife by her husband! And Catherine and Henry, like Hamlet, are both detectives trying to catch the conscience of the king!!!!

I spoke about it for about 5 minutes at the AGM (as always, pressed for time, trying to get as much evidence in as possible), but you will have to wait for my Persuasions article for some of it, and for my book for the rest (actually, there won't even be room in the book for all of it). But trust me, I have a ton of great stuff that makes it clear beyond any reasonable doubt that Hamlet is a key allusive subtext in Northanger Abbey. And the thing is, when you see the whole argument, you will love it, too, because you have shown a hundred times over that you have both
a wide and deep knowledge of both Shakespeare and Austen, and also a keen appreciation for exactly this sort of metaphorical allusion that JA was the mistress of. You just need to let this one in, and then you will be wondering how you did not see it before yourself.

"Next -this is important - to clarify: Do you actually find evidence of Henry Tilney and Mrs. Allen having a personal, intimate relationship in Northanger Abbey?"

I was saying that if you read the rest of the novel with that idea in mind, you will find some interesting things. If you're curious, you will delve into that yourself. Otherwise, it will be in my book. You should try looking for this stuff, it's fun---I am addicted to it---Try it, you'll like it!

"Finally, that passage you quote from Hamlet expresses sentiments used many times by Shakespeare with small variations. I would certainly look both to The Tempest (Prospero) and to Richard II for similar lines."

Elissa, I already did all that searching before, so I know whereof I speak. My essential point is that there is an unmistakable allusion between that passage in Henry IV Part 2 and that passage in Hamlet, whichever was written first, I don't know. I feel pretty confident in telling you that there are no other passages in any other Shakespeare play which are anywhere in the ballpark as close in language and meaning as those two passages, which are "twins". This is not the common turn of
poetic phrase that you think it is--and when it appears in The TELLTALE Heart, it means that Poe knew what he was doing.

I've done my homework, that is why this project has taken me so long, I do check everything out to the end, so I don't often miss important stuff like that.

Cheers, ARNIE

Mr. Allen's Water and Falstaff's Water

My ongoing discussion today in Janeites with Elissa Schiff led me to the following additional thoughts about the Shakespearean allusions in Northanger Abbey:

Everything we've been discussing about Mrs. Allen relates back directly to the thread I started three months ago about Mr. Allen and HIS drinking of Bath water....

...and in particular to what I wrote at the very end of that post, long before I had any idea about YOUR reasons for connecting Mr. Allen to Henry IV Part 2:

"And so if Mr. Allen were a closet alcoholic, he'd be very much concerned with impression management, especially with Catherine--he would not want her to get the idea, and he sees how naive and trusting she is--so what better "cover story" than to say he is drinking "water"! Suddenly, the darkly comic potential of Mr. Allen's personality come into focus--is he enough of a self-deluding rationalizer to lace his

And then I had a hunch that perhaps there might be something in Shakespeare's Falstaff that might have been on JA's radar screen when she seemed to suggest that Mr. Allen might be lacing his Bath water with booze, while taking baths in Bath. What I found might fit, see what you think.

First, in Henry IV, Part 2, Act 1, Scene 2, we have a passage that is very famous for what Falstaff says about his own wit, but which also is quite funny for the punning on "water" as Falstaff's urinary production:

Falstaff: Sirrah, you giant, what says the doctor to MY WATER?

Page: He said, sir, the water itself was a good healthy water; but, for the party that owed it, he might have more diseases than he knew for.

Falstaff: Men of all sorts take a pride to gird at me: The brain of this foolish-compounded clay, man, is not able to invent any thing that tends to laughter, more than I invent, or is invented on me: I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men.....

The association of water with health is of course very resonant with Mr. Allen's going to Bath for its waters--with an added piquant suggestion that perhaps Mr. Allen is there not only for gout, but also for the reason many other men went to Bath for centuries, as suggested in the Kitty riddle in Emma, i.e., for venereal disease.

Anyway, I love the added resonance of suggesting that what Mr. Allen's imbibing might somehow be part of a closed circuit of liquid, where he drinks what he pees, etc..

The other connection of Falstaff to water is not in the Henriad at all, but rather in the play that Shakespeare wrote at Queen Elizabeth's request, in order to revive the character of Falstaff, The Merry Wives of Windsor. In Act 3, Scene 3, we have a comic scene in which Falstaff winds up hiding in a basket of dirty laundry to avoid detection by the jealous Mr. Ford. Here is the watery jesting that Mistress Ford shares with Mistress Page about Falstaff:

"Go to, then: we'll use this unwholesome humidity, this gross watery PUMPion; we'll teach him to know turtles from jays."

And then, after Falstaff has been dumped into the Thames with the dirty laundry, Mistress Ford continues her private raillery on Sir John:

"I am half afraid he will have need of washing; so throwing him into the water will do him a benefit."

Later Falstaff reflects on this experience in the following memorable speech in Act 3, Scene 5, which again delves deeply into watery and bathing imagery:

"Go fetch me a quart of sack; put a toast in't. Have I lived to be carried in a basket, like a barrow of butcher's offal, and to be thrown in the Thames? Well, if I be served such another trick, I'll have my brains ta'en out and buttered, and give them to a dog for a new-year's gift. The rogues slighted me into the river with as little remorse as they would have drowned a blind bitch's puppies, fifteen i' the litter: and you may know by my size that I have a kind of alacrity in sinking; if the bottom were as deep as hell, I should down. I had been drowned, but that the shore was shelvy and shallow,--a death that I abhor; for the water swells a man; and what a thing should I have been when I had been swelled! I should have been a mountain of mummy."

A "mountain of mummy" is, it occurs to me, Shakespeare's wonderful grotesquely comic transformation of the Ghost of King Hamlet, which is startlingly apt, because Falstaff really was, in The Merry Wives, a "ghost" who "walked again" in the world of the stage, in a performance commanded by the Queen!

And finally, Falstaff speaks specifically about combining water with booze:

"Let me pour in some sack to the Thames water; for my belly's as cold as if I had swallowed snowballs for pills to cool the reins. Call her in."

So, all in all, I'd say that it is pretty likely that JA had Falstaff very explicitly in mind when she wrote about Mr. Allen and his drinking of Bath water, and this only further bolsters the rest of the Shakespearean allusions in NA which I have been discussing with Elissa.

Cheers, ARNIE

Henry Tilney as Henry V and as Hamlet

Elissa Schiff just wrote the following very interesting exegesis (which I heartily endorse) of a veiled allusion to Henry IV Part 2 in the veiled sexual banter of Henry Tilney and Mrs. Allen:

[Elissa]: "Well, it is most obvious that Henry, who knows Bath and the Pump House rules, is aware that he is breaking with propriety by engaging Mrs. Allen in extended conversation. She knows this as well, but by responding to him, she knowingly extends that conversation and even introduces Catherine to a man to who she has not been formally "introduced." That the conversation involves materials used to clothe a woman's person further hints at the impropriety. That Henry (Tilney) has caused a rent in Mrs. Allen's dress is suggestive of the "rent" in moral code (even if it is a ridiculous moral code to us) and connects to the "Tearsheet" - descriptive of a woman who engages in "immoral" behavior. That Mrs. Allen continues this bantering conversation long after she need seems apparent. But, she is happy to be out and flirting with a handsome young man rather than at home with her gouty husband.

In Henry IV, Part 2, we find the former gad-about Prince Hal settling into his rightful position as more sober heir to the throne and Falstaff in decline. Henry will now be separating himself from Falstaff and his ways. He attaches a servant/page to "watch out" for the increasingly gouty Falstaff, which Falstaff resents mightily and vows to attire in a uniform of "vile apparel"; Falstaff then heads off to the "stews" to visit Mistress Doll Tearsheet." END OF ELISSA'S POST

By happy serendipity, I know that JA was thinking of Henry IV Part 2 when she wrote the character of Henry Tilney, because it was only last month that I addressed a local library group about the allusion to Hamlet which I have discovered in Edgar Alan Poe's The Tell Tale Heart, and I had also discovered that an integral part of Poe's allusion to Hamlet pertains to Henry IV Part 2!

Here is what I wrote about the Poe allusion in the Shaksper group a few weeks ago:

"Poe's title [The Telltale Heart] hints toward the answer. The word "tell-tale" points to the following line spoken by Scroop, the Archbishop of York, about the dying King Henry IV in Part 2 of Henry IV (the play):

“For he hath found to end one doubt by death Revives two greater in the heirs of life, And therefore will he WIPE his TABLES clean And keep no TELL-TALE to his MEMORY That may repeat and history his loss To new remembrance…”

This allusion to Part 2 of Henry IV, while I believe it to have been intentional on Poe's part, is not, I assert, the end point of Poe' Shakespearean allusion in The Tell-Tale Heart. Yes, there are parallels between the King's paranoia about Prince Hal being eager for him to die so that he might replace his father on the throne, on the one hand, and Poe's narrator who murdered the old man who might be his father, on the other.

But otherwise, I do not particularly perceive any strong parallels between the two stories. Rather, I claim that Poe's allusion to that passage in Part 2 of Henry IV is primarily a literary way station, the first stop in a two-stage allusive "flight" to Poe's ultimate Shakespearean destination.

Because although most Bardolaters would not, I think, recognize the above passage I just quoted from Part 2 of Henry IV, they WOULD recognize the FOLLOWING very famous passage in ANOTHER one of Shakespeare's plays:

“Remember thee! Yea, from the TABLE of my MEMORY I'll WIPE away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, That youth and observation copied there..."

Of course that is HAMLET speaking to the Ghost of his dead father, and isn't it obvious that these two passages in two separate plays of Shakespeare are so closely connected?--so obvious, that the connection was seen and footnoted hundreds of years ago by Shakespearean editors. "

What the above illustrates, Elissa, that is relevant to your discovery of Henry IV Part 2 lurking in the subtext of Northanger Abbey is that the characters of Prince Hal and Hamlet were VERY STRONGLY connected in Shakespeare's imagination (you could almost say that Hamlet is a combination of Prince Hal and Falstaff!), and so it seems to me that JA (who was, in my opinion, one of the greatest Shakespearean critics of all time, even though she never wrote a word of formal literary criticism, but in terms of what her shadow stories show that she understood from Shakespeare's plays) showed she understood this connection by giving Henry Tilney strong characteristics of both Hamlet AND Prince Hal.

And note what happens at the end of Northanger Abbey---"Prince Hal" aka Henry Tilney in a metaphorical sense vanquishes his paranoid, dictatorial father General Tilney, just as in the Henriad, Prince Hal sobers up and takes over as King Henry V--and the final delicious irony is that one day the greatgrandson of Henry V's wife Catherine---aka Henry VIII---would be the person who seized Northanger Abbey from the Catholic Church and gave it to General Tilney's ancestor!

Cheers, ARNIE

We're Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto

" Arnie, I don't know why you have to look for a "shadow story/novel"
to explain this: It is right there in the text."

The above comment by Elissa Schiff, responding to my claim that the covert sexual repartee between Henry Tilney and Mrs. Allen in Northanger Abbey is part of a coherent overall shadow story, gives me a perfect opportunity to explain another aspect of Jane Austen's shadow stories, as follows:

Elissa, if that one bit of shadowy repartee between Henry and Mrs. Allen were all I had, then you'd be right, it would be possible--albeit with effort--to integrate into the overt story of the novel the meme that Henry and Mrs. Allen have a knowing relationship with each other that Catherine is unaware of. But don't underestimate the effort of trying to integrate even that one motif into the overt story---what you don't realize is that, if you are going to do it right, it means you have to
ALSO look at all later interactions between Henry and Mrs. Allen, direct and indirect---and if you do, you will see more that process will complicate your sense of who each of these characters are, what they know and don't know, and what they conceal from Catherine. It already alters the overt story significantly.

But then consider that I have, very painstakingly, over a period of years, arrived at a reasonably complete account of the shadow story of NA, based on a LARGE NUMBER of such shadowy insights or nuggets drawn from the shadow story. When I then apply Occam's Razor, and make a few basic hypotheses of what is happening "offstage", I am able to smoothly unite all of such "tidbits" in a coherent and compelling account of what happens in the shadow story of the novel. Trust me, it's a very different story, even though it involves all the same characters, and even though Catherine has no clue as to what is happening offstage!

I promise you you would not be able to integrate all of these nuggets into the overt story without shattering the overt story altogether. And you can't cop out and just pick and choose which of these shadow story elements you want to accept as valid--- as I argued last week, if you accept any of them based on a certain reasonable standard of provability, you then have to accept ALL of them that meet that same
level of provability---it's Pandora's Box, and once you go with the logical implications of all the nuggets, you have the shadow story!

Here's another example, this one from Emma. Edith Lank of Austen L and JASNA was very proud of having been the first Janeite, twenty years ago, to suggest that Miss Bates might be Harriet's mother. She was not happy when, 6 years ago, I started suggesting that this was probably true in the shadow story, but was only the tip of a very large iceberg.

And what's more, I eventually gained enough knowledge of the shadow story of Emma to realize that Jane Fairfax's pregnancy (as to which there are a few HUNDRED hints in the novel) is NOT an isolated thread in the overt story of Emma, it is actually the SPINE of the shadow story, upon which the entire rest of the shadow story---its "human flesh" if you will---hangs.

Emma is by far the most elaborate, the most perfect, of JA's shadow stories, as it involves ALL the characters of the novel, and it ALL relates in some important way to Jane's pregnancy--that's why I call it the spine. Emma's shadow story is therefore, in my opinion, AS dramatic and powerful as its overt story. And that's saying a lot, because the overt story is already rightly considered one of the greatest novels in English literary history. I say that the shadow story is of equal quality.

And the same is true, in a less perfect way, in all the other Austen novels.

Even though I keep saying it, I think you don't register---I have NEVER publicly disclosed more than a fraction of all the shadow story elements I have found in any of the six novels, but you should not thereby infer that the ones I have disclosed, some of which are pretty significant, are all that I have in hand. I am just giving out bits and pieces, in order to make smaller points. But the true test of my interpretation of the shadow stories will come when I disclose them in full, and the time is not at hand for that.

The ghostly "elephant" of each shadow story materializes in view only when one synthesizes all the body parts (and it helps to click your heels twice and say "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto."). ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

Henry will be a "special" not a "general" Tilney

Elissa Schiff wrote some of her thoughts about Henry Tilney in Janeites earlier this week (in quotes) and here is my reply:

[Elissa] " seems to me as well that Henry Tilney is a rather glib-tongued young man who first makes his appearance in a scene of heavily sexually suggestive banter with an older (i.e., "experienced") woman - Mrs. Allen - about a torn dress in the throes of a noisy, hot, and congested ballroom where he displays great ease with these verbal skills of teasing around a subject to almost make it seem as though he might be speaking of sexual matters - but "of course" not really. "

Well, in the shadow story, I claim he is doing exactly what you say, which is having a coded flirtatious conversation with Mrs. Allen which flies right over the head of the naive Catherine.

[Elissa] "In this next big scene with Catherine, who has just been caught near his late mother's bedroom, Henry is far, far too smooth-tongued for my taste about denying that his father might have done anything terrible to cause or to hasten his mother's demise. Henry would have made a magnificent criminal defense lawyer I think. And I do think you may agree with me that what he has to say to Catherine sounds so incredibly "polished" that it leaves the reader wondering just *what* the author was up to here."

Well, that was one of the two principal topics I discussed in my presentation at the JASNA AGM, and I have a great deal to say about that very topic in both the article I hope will be published in Persuasions, and also in my book. JA is up to an ENORMOUS amount in that very crucial and famous scene in which Henry berates Catherine, including but by no means limited to the covert Hamlet allusion that pervades the entire novel.

For now, I will say that my opinion is that Henry is not being intentionally deceptive in that speech, but rather he is "protesting too much", i.e., that rant against Catherine is the last stage of his denial of angry feelings toward, and doubts about, about his father, which he himself has been tortured with for 9 years since his mother died so suddenly and mysteriously. The enormous irony is that it is not Henry who has awakened Catherine, it is Catherine who has (inadvertently) awakened Henry!

[Elissa] "Henry's words when he reappears at the Moreland home are significantly toned down and much less "polished." But still, I do not believe him. I fear he has both the genetic makings and the temperament to become another General Tilney given another twenty years. Catherine will regret this marriage I fear. Unlike Henry's sister Eleanor who is marrying *out* of that crazy family, Catherine is marrying *into* it. Then, I fear, the gothic horrors will start for real."

That was what I thought till a few months ago, now I believe instead that Henry really experiences a profound epiphany (just as I claim Hamlet experiences a profound epiphany after HIS powerful confrontation with Gertrude in his mother's private room), and so he IS a changed man after Chapter 24, and that is what makes me optimistic that he will not be another "General" ("general" as in "non-specific") Tilney, he will be that sort of "special" Regency Era husband who will not abuse the powers vested in him when he becomes Catherine's husband! ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Latest News about the Sutherland Fracas from one of my voluntary spies

I got a call from one of my good non-Janeite friends, a true voluntary spy serving beyond the call of duty, saying that she heard something on Fresh Air today about Jane Austen and grammar, and I wondered whether NPR had decided to re-air the Sutherland interview from two weeks ago. That sounded bad, given that the interview had left the non Janeite listeners with all sorts of misinformation, worst of all the implication that Sutherland deliberately created, that Gifford had been messing with ALL of Jane Austen's novels, even though we know for certain (from Gifford's own letters to Murray, the publisher of Emma) that Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, AND Mansfield Park had ALL been published already before Gifford had even been contacted about playing some sort of editing role.

However, this time NPR hits a home run, and mitigates the damage done in the interview, because Nunberg mostly gets it right, even if he also seems unaware of Gifford coming late to the Austen party. And he also gets the link for Jane Austen's manuscripts out there to a bunch of different NPR listeners, which is also a good thing.

Here is the link at NPR, for those who want to listen to Nunberg's commentary, or read the transcript of his sensible, unsensationalized remarks.

And to answer Nunberg's question, the punctuation does NOT matter, but people not hearing misinformation about Jane Austen DOES matter, very much, to Janeites, so it's good to get some public clarity here!

Cheers, ARNIE

Digital Keys for Unlocking the Humanities’ Riches

The following is a link to an article that appeared on Monday in the online NY Times:

As those who follow in this blog might guess, I found that article intriguing, and have now posted two comments on same, the first responding to the article itself...

"The Internet has made it possible for me to do the literary sleuthing I have done over the past 6 years, and to make the rather large discovery that Jane Austen and Shakespeare both wrote what I call "shadow stories"."

...and then responding to another commenter, John McCumber, who wrote "This is all very nice, but it's not about the humanities; it's about tools for the humanities. Scalpels and MRI's are not medicine, and digitizers and computers are not critical reflection."

I responded to Mr. McCumber as follows:

What you say is true, but what is ALSO true is that these tools, in the hands of deeply reflective critics, can revolutionize the humanities in exactly the same way as modern tools in the hands of gifted and well trained doctors HAS revolutionized medicine!

My own longterm literary research project (see Highlighted Comment #9, above) is a perfect example. I have made a thousand significant discoveries in the writings of the greatest authors in the English language--Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, the Brontes, Poe, Twain, James, Joyce, etc.--which could NEVER have been made without my having at my disposal the tools of computers and the Internet, most of all word searches, as well as the modern Inter Library Loan System. I have found a thousand \"needles in a haystack\", but I did not go about this in a mindless, robotic way, I informed my use of these tools with a strong and frequent orientation toward SYNTHESIS of my discoveries and developing theories to account for what I found.