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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, November 19, 2010

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

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