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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, November 14, 2010

There are EVEN MORE secrets in ALL families, you know......

Some more of my ongoing conversation with Christy Somer (her comments in quotes) about Jane Austen's shadow stories:

"I hold, Jane Austen, as a genteel, unmarried Christian daughter, sister, and aunt, accepted her life of enclosure. You hold -she didn't."

Christy, you are correct--everything I have found in the shadow stories of every one of her novels (and a fair amount of what is already overt in the overt stories of her novels), shows to me, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that JA was outraged at the life of enclosure, exploitation, powerlessness, and predation that women of her world were subjected to.

And the clincher for me, the novel which made it clearest, was actually Northanger Abbey, which as I said at the AGM, is generally considered the slightest, least significant, and least mature of her novels. And I say it is the Austen novel which most vividly illustrates how badly she has been misunderstood and underestimated as a social critic.

"The letters also show, that no matter what irritations she may have felt towards her mother, she respected and protected her from unnecessary anxieties and worries -around the sailor broth ers and their wives especially (something Mrs.JA, Mary Floyd had difficulty doing)."

I did not mention the Austen family caricature in JA's NOVELS which was most vivid and powerful, i.e., John and Fanny Dashwood as the vultures who sweep down on the Dashwood women and pick the bones of the still warm corpse of Mr. Dashwood, and leave the women to fend for themselves--here beyond the shadow of a doubt are James and Mary Austen, and also Edward and Elizabeth Knight, from 1805-late 1808. These are indeed the half of the world determined to seize 100% of the wealth from the other half, whom JA very clearly refers to in that famous line from one of her letters.

"Her storytelling has this aliveness, grace, and sparkling truth of giving play to the opposites of that life she breathed and observed. And which for me, does not hide betrayal, self-advancing duplicity, or any real radical resentment or resistance to the communally-enclosed family life that was the life she accepted as a firm and moral Christian."

And I say that her Christianity was not the one you describe--her Christianity was the advocacy for the oppressed, most of all the women in her society who were all victimized. And yet her writing retained its grace and aliveness, just as Jesus's sermon on the mount retained its grace and aliveness, even as he did not flinch from speaking truth to power.

There would have been no reason for her to make her novels, especially her shadow stories, a veritable encyclopedia of the wrongs done to women, if she had simply stoically accepted the injustice of her male dominated society. She did this, I claim, because she felt it was important to write, in a fictional medium, the TRUE HISTORY of women in her world, including most of all her own painful personal history.

" And so now I read.....that you allow Cassandra perhaps being in on some of this shadowy business -in NA, and particularly around the horrors of multiple> childbirths. Hm........."

Christy, you were there at my AGM presentation, I made that point very clearly, because I considered it so important, don't you remember? Jane and Cassandra shared the family memory of ancestor females who died in childbirth, and also of sisters in law who died in childbirth, and also shared concern for Fanny Knight, Anna Austen and younger nieces, that they would find themselves caught in the vortex of marital exploitation in the form of serial pregnancy, inundation by the duty to care for a dozen children, and early death or illness as a result. Even Cassandra, who I think WAS the stoic accepting soul you think JA was, could not shut her eyes to this injustice.

"And as far as I know, only you are the lone finder and interpreter of these shadow stories.And who, by your continued efforts in attempting to build and fit these attaching shadow-alternatives into the novels in a non-fictional way, has given much life to this theory and premise of there being secondary, parallel stories that may also correlate with specific speculations on JA's personal life."

The idea of coherent alternative parallel universe shadow stories is indeed entirely my own. However, my understanding of what they mean has been informed by the work of countless Austen scholars and amateur Janeites, as I have worked very hard to make the most sense of my empirical findings. I.e., I am the first to proclaim the existence of the "proverbial elephant", but many people have seen, without realizing it, "body parts' of that elephant, and so have helped me flesh it out fully.

"The Allusive Echo" perhaps?~~~:-) And we shall all see how many acts you finally gather together in its published finale.I continue to wish you the very best of luck and opportunity for finally publishing your discoveries and interpretations."

Thank you very much for your good-natured spirit and your intellectual integrity. Your reaction to my book will be of particular interest to me.

Cheers, ARNIE

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