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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, November 19, 2010

We're Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto

" Arnie, I don't know why you have to look for a "shadow story/novel"
to explain this: It is right there in the text."

The above comment by Elissa Schiff, responding to my claim that the covert sexual repartee between Henry Tilney and Mrs. Allen in Northanger Abbey is part of a coherent overall shadow story, gives me a perfect opportunity to explain another aspect of Jane Austen's shadow stories, as follows:

Elissa, if that one bit of shadowy repartee between Henry and Mrs. Allen were all I had, then you'd be right, it would be possible--albeit with effort--to integrate into the overt story of the novel the meme that Henry and Mrs. Allen have a knowing relationship with each other that Catherine is unaware of. But don't underestimate the effort of trying to integrate even that one motif into the overt story---what you don't realize is that, if you are going to do it right, it means you have to
ALSO look at all later interactions between Henry and Mrs. Allen, direct and indirect---and if you do, you will see more that process will complicate your sense of who each of these characters are, what they know and don't know, and what they conceal from Catherine. It already alters the overt story significantly.

But then consider that I have, very painstakingly, over a period of years, arrived at a reasonably complete account of the shadow story of NA, based on a LARGE NUMBER of such shadowy insights or nuggets drawn from the shadow story. When I then apply Occam's Razor, and make a few basic hypotheses of what is happening "offstage", I am able to smoothly unite all of such "tidbits" in a coherent and compelling account of what happens in the shadow story of the novel. Trust me, it's a very different story, even though it involves all the same characters, and even though Catherine has no clue as to what is happening offstage!

I promise you you would not be able to integrate all of these nuggets into the overt story without shattering the overt story altogether. And you can't cop out and just pick and choose which of these shadow story elements you want to accept as valid--- as I argued last week, if you accept any of them based on a certain reasonable standard of provability, you then have to accept ALL of them that meet that same
level of provability---it's Pandora's Box, and once you go with the logical implications of all the nuggets, you have the shadow story!

Here's another example, this one from Emma. Edith Lank of Austen L and JASNA was very proud of having been the first Janeite, twenty years ago, to suggest that Miss Bates might be Harriet's mother. She was not happy when, 6 years ago, I started suggesting that this was probably true in the shadow story, but was only the tip of a very large iceberg.

And what's more, I eventually gained enough knowledge of the shadow story of Emma to realize that Jane Fairfax's pregnancy (as to which there are a few HUNDRED hints in the novel) is NOT an isolated thread in the overt story of Emma, it is actually the SPINE of the shadow story, upon which the entire rest of the shadow story---its "human flesh" if you will---hangs.

Emma is by far the most elaborate, the most perfect, of JA's shadow stories, as it involves ALL the characters of the novel, and it ALL relates in some important way to Jane's pregnancy--that's why I call it the spine. Emma's shadow story is therefore, in my opinion, AS dramatic and powerful as its overt story. And that's saying a lot, because the overt story is already rightly considered one of the greatest novels in English literary history. I say that the shadow story is of equal quality.

And the same is true, in a less perfect way, in all the other Austen novels.

Even though I keep saying it, I think you don't register---I have NEVER publicly disclosed more than a fraction of all the shadow story elements I have found in any of the six novels, but you should not thereby infer that the ones I have disclosed, some of which are pretty significant, are all that I have in hand. I am just giving out bits and pieces, in order to make smaller points. But the true test of my interpretation of the shadow stories will come when I disclose them in full, and the time is not at hand for that.

The ghostly "elephant" of each shadow story materializes in view only when one synthesizes all the body parts (and it helps to click your heels twice and say "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto."). ;)

Cheers, ARNIE


Anonymous said...

When will you be revealing your findings on not just bits and pieces of a shadow story, but the whole shadow story? I'm so intrigued! Will it all be in your book?

Arnie Perlstein said...

Well, my first book will have at least some of them, but it will take several books to do justice to all that I have found in this regard.

But thanks for your interest! Are you a member of Janeites or AustenL?

Cheers, ARNIE