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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Perspectives and Shades; AND Sex

And the following is the best thing yet to emerge from the thread today about Beechen Cliff scene in Northanger Abbey, thanks to Elissa Schiff's brilliant comments quoted below, with my exclamatory praise following it:

"So now, I do fear I am going to place myself into a mire of controversy by this writing - and lucky for me, I am off for several days once I press "send." "

Apropos mire, Elissa, take the advice of a sage prophet who was himself known for transgressing boundaries of a sexual kind: "The time for hesitation's through, no time to wallow in the mire" ;)

Elissa: "Here goes - First, I excerpt from the NA passage that Arnie quoted":

"He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances — side–screens and perspectives — lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape. Delighted with her progress, and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline, and by an easy transition from a piece of rocky fragment and the withered oak which he had placed near its summit, to oaks in general, to forests, the enclosure of them, waste lands, crown lands and government, he shortly found himself arrived at politics; and from politics, it was an easy step to silence."

Elissa: "Now, I fear I must say that I certainly do read this (in a most Freudian way) as a description of the act of sexual intercourse from the foreplay to entry [by Henry] of the subject [Catherine] to the rhythm of progression and regression until "Henry suffered the subject to decline...near its summit ... it was an easy step to silence." I cannot see how the author would mean it otherwise. The end of passage from "to oaks .... to silence" mimics in its cadence more of the female experience than the rhythm of the male experience of the first part of the passage. This all fits in nicely to the thematic ideas of male dominance and its consequences that we have been discussing with respect to the novel as a whole."

Raise high the rooftops, carpenter--I now dub thee, officially, a prophet of Jane Austen sexual subtext, Elissa!! I can't begin to express how well your brilliant insight fits with the sexual innuendo I have found in JA's novels, including (especially) Northanger Abbey, which I am writing about in my book. AMAZING! You will help me "light the fire" of imaginative reading in Janeites everywhere! ;)

"Now, very clearly, I do NOT mean that Henry and Catherine engaged in sexual activity on that drawing expedition - merely that the author presents the passage in language and verbal cadence that alludes to the sexual act as an intentional method of reminding her reader of the true, larger theme of her novel."

I agree with you that JA did not intend for us to see Henry and Catherine engaged in sex atop Beechen Cliff, AND....I also agree that part of JA's purpose in this sexual innuendo was to reinforce the theme of non-sexual male domination of women in the novel, BUT.....I ALSO believe that your interpretation of this passage gives the reader the sense of what is bubbling (and slowly beginning to come to a boil) in the subconscious of both Catherine AND Henry--and in this instance it is indeed the sexual attraction that Henry is beginning to feel toward Catherine. That is clearly what is going on here, in addition to all the rest.

With JA, it's never "either", it's always "BOTH"! Your sexual interpretation does not negate my metafictional one, they reinforce each other!

So, again, I say BRAVO ELISSA! You have outdone yourself, and made my day!

(there cannot be too many exclamation points in this message)

Cheers, ARNIE

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