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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

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

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