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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Radical Ostrichism

“JA is quite specific here about where the party is when they turn around, (seven miles from Pulteney Street). Blaize Castle is about 15 miles to the northwest of Bath……But you could equally look for another abbey or castle and point out how many miles they are from Blaise in a road going in the same (or opposite if you like) direction. The configuration is in the author's mind, not the text.”

Ellen, returning to what Barchas actually said at her presentation, instead of your distorted, truncated version of same, the “distance game” is only ONE of the approximately 25 separate pieces of evidence Barchas gave linking Hungerford to Blaize. Even if the distance game were not included in NA, the allusion to Hungerford would still be indisputable. The distance game is NOT a necessary link in the chain of evidence, it is icing on the allusive cake, an extra “wink” by JA, that wittily confirms to the sharp reader that the allusive echo is real and intentional.

“But there is another school of criticism which has become fashionable of late: it comes out of book history studies. For lack of a better term, I'll call it radical scepticism. “

And, as you have defined it, I’ll call it “radical ostrichism”, because it means deliberately ignoring obvious clues left by JA that there are other texts or historical sources to be considered in reading her novels. I.e., if you close your eyes REALLY tightly, and put your hands in your ears and hum loudly, you can pretend that you did not see or hear the obvious echo.

And while you’re at it, why not extend this radical ostrichism to interpretation of the novel text itself? Why not make another rule that if a character or the narrator does not EXPLICITLY say something, then we cannot INFER anything about what that character thinks or feels? If we work at it hard, we really can excise the whole world that JA actually included in the subtext of her novels, and narrow it to two inches of very sterile ivory.

“Radical scepticism is salutary; it makes us see what we know and how much is speculation.”

And I say that radical ostrichism, if taken to its extreme form as you do, is a guarantee of missing many of the best aspects of what JA wrote.

“It teaches us that for NA all we can say for sure about sources are the titles _she_ cites _in the text…. I am bothered about the one source I suggested in my paper: for why does Austen not cite Genlis's Adelaide and Theodore or duchess of C***** somewhere. Gillian Dow said it would not be realistic for Catherine and Isabella to cite it. But that won't do. The narrator could have in some way at some point.”

And here you actually take it to such an absurd length that I would almost guess you are joking, but I know you are not. You are saying, in effect, that if JA did not meet the standards of citation called for in academic journal articles, then it does not exist for you! And you worry why JA did not find a way to put in an explicit (i.e., heavy handed) quotation. As John McEnroe said, you can’t be serious—but you are.

“Another thought: if Austen wanted us to think Blaise castle was standing in for Hungerford, why not mention or say Hungerford?”

Perhaps because the greatest writers prefer to use subtlety and artistry in the way they weave their allusions into their novels? Because writing a novel is different from writing a scholarly article?

And by the way, after I heard Barchas’s talk, I knew there would be some verbal tags or puns in the text of NA itself which would point to Hungerford, and I found them within 5 minutes of searching for them. If you were so inclined, you could find them yourself—but I suspect you will not take me up on that suggestion, so you will have to wait for my book to read what I found, and tell me it’s not real.

And… note that even YOU want to selectively let in some material that does not meet your absurd standard of proof. Your candid expression of your own occasional “lapses” from total exclusion is an example of the same phenomenon I’ve seen hundreds of times in the responses of both academic and non-academic skeptical Janeites to JA’s novels—apparently, when it is YOU who hears the echo on your own, as with de Genlis’s Duchess---which of course IS an obvious source for NA---you want to give it some special exemption from your otherwise Draconian exclusionary principle, even though there is absolutely no rational basis for giving that exemption to some isolated examples, but not the rest. As if you have some objective way of operationalizing your standard mentioned in your previous message about an example being “particularly persuasive”.

This is Pandora’s Box or Aladdin’s Lamp--you can’t open it for a few examples and try to keep all the rest of them from bursting out of your artificial container. I would say, “Try it, you’ll like it!”, but I know you are determined to remain abstinent in this matter, so I won’t.

“So sources for NA are Blaise, Radcliffe, the novels named by Austen and her characters and anything specifically quoted (Chapter 1 for example). No more.”

Wow. Wow. Wow.

So, where in your scheme of radical exclusion do the following examples in JA’s fiction of veiled allusions to Shakespeare and Milton fit?

From Emma: [allusion to As You Like It]
“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.”

From S&S: [allusion to “Lucifer” in Paradise Lost]
“Your sincere well-wisher, friend, and sister, LUCY FERrars. “

From Emma: [Colleen Sheehan’s demonstration of “Prince of Whales” as a second answer to the “courtship” charade in Chapter 9 of Emma]

From MP: [allusion to both Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing]

From Catharine or the Bower [allusion to Hamlet]
“WHAT A silly Thing IS WOMAN! HOW vain, HOW unreasonable!”

From NA: [an example I used in my JASNA AGM talk, as one of many textual clues in NA pointing to Hamlet, whose hair stands on end twice when he sees the Ghost of his father]

“The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days — MY HAIR STANDING ON END the whole time.”

And I have discovered MANY HUNDREDS more of these veiled allusions in JA’s fiction, by the way, in addition to the MANY HUNDREDS of OTHER veiled allusions previously discovered by many hundreds of other scholars—altogether, the total number in all her novels and Juvenilia exceeds ONE THOUSAND, but those I state above are among the most vivid, obvious, and dramatic examples of JA’s allusions hiding in plain sight. PLUS….I deliberately chose several Shakespearean allusions, particularly to Hamlet, to illustrate that this sort of evidence is CONVERGENT. Her veiled allusions to Shakespeare, to Milton, to contemporary politics, etc., were inserted by JA in ALL her fiction (including her Juvenilia which she never intended to publish).

Of course…… it is ALSO possible that JA hired several hundred monkeys to each sit with two inches of ivory in front of them writing text for her, which would account for some random process where every so often Shakespeare—which was in an English monkey’s constitution, too---would pop up by accident.

I personally prefer to think that JA sipped small beer and recited Shakespeare to the monkeys while they wrote. But the “small beer” part is of course speculative….

Cheers, ARNIE

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