(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, December 9, 2010

...and still more about Philadelphia Austen, Fanny Hill, Miss Wynne, Misella and Jane Austen

And my conversation in Austen L with Christy Somer continues, very fruitfully and respectfully:

"When you post something such as this, I also partake of the freedom to express my sometimes- reactive dissidence."

Christy, I don't think you were overly reactive, I presented a potentially very significant argument, with major implications about how we see both Jane Austen and her family, and her sense of her place and role in that family, and your reaction was temperate and I took nothing personally--we just disagree very passionately about this matter, but I find our discussion valuable. It is important that such a discussion take place, that we challenge each other respectfully and then each take away what we think in the aftermath.

"Jesus himself was very clear about casting the first stone at women who have sinned, and so that is why I am certain that JA, who without question followed the precepts of the Jesus who showed such compassion for the fallen, and also warned the hypocrites not to cast stones."

"Jane Austen, would not have vainly placed herself in a Jesus/saint position."

Well, we disagree very strongly about that, my sense is that JA was first and foremost an author of fictions and that was her most sacred duty, in her eyes--because she saw herself as having a great gift from God, which it was her duty to share with the world.

It was not vanity for a very great genius to see herself as playing a special role in the world, it was pragmatic reality. She understood from a very young age that she was different, special, "chosen", and she struggled to come to terms with what to do with her gift. She chose a path that I celebrate, honor, enjoy and learn from every single day. She has been a great teacher for me in so many profound ways.

I think she resolved that struggle on how to reconcile her role in the family with her role as an author in 1809, and decided that this was her destiny, to bring these stories to the world, including the shadow stories of women in her time. From that point forward, she was resolute in executing her plan.

I have emphasized several times that JA made use of her aunt's painful early life as grist for her literary mill, not in a cynical, selfish, judgmental way, but with a combination of compassion and worldly wisdom which put her aunt's early life choices in perspective, and found useful life lessons in life. Her aunt did not live and die in vain. Her story was preserved by her loving niece.

Read what Anne Elliot says in Persuasion. Read what the narrator says in Northanger Abbey. JA saw herself as telling the history of women--the HERstory of women, from a woman's perspective, something that she saw a desperate need for, a need that trumped all other considerations.

You and I and others were in great dispute about Samuel Johnson recently. It is not accidental that JA alluded to Johnson's Misella, the prostitute, in her novels. Emma (with Jane Fairfax) and Mansfield Park (with Fanny Price) both have the painful shadow story of prostitutes hanging over them, that is why Fanny Hill is such an important subtext of both of those novels, and that is why Phila Hancock is there too. Despite my other complaints about Johnson, he did not write about Misella in a prurient or evil way, he was telling that untold story. And JA saw her aunt as a real life Misella.

I am not saying that Phila Austen was the real life model for Fanny Hill, or the real life model for Misella, but she may as well have been, from JA's creative perspective, as she wove those fictional sources together with her own aunt's life to create her own suffering heroines.

"And if I were an editor of a non-fiction about Jane Austen, I would want to see diaries, letters, or familial oral tradition showing that this was most likely the case....otherwise I would consider it crossing a line, and most likely a mistake to publish."

You've begged the question. I will be very careful to present my evidence and to say that it is a plausible inference from that textual evidence that JA was pointing toward her aunt in connection with Fanny Hill and Misella. I think it would be a mistake to keep this plausible inference from other Janeites---let each one make his or her own judgment as to what it means-but to keep it in Pandora's Box, to keep this hiding that has been going on for 200 years, I will do my best to end that awful silencing.

And note that there is already a well established thread in modern Austen criticism about Philadelphia Hancock as having conceived Eliza out of wedlock with Warren Hastings. So I am bringing valuable new information that sets that existing thread of scholarship in a fresh context, we can see that the young Philadelphia Austen, like the Miss Wynne of Catherine or the Bower who is a representation of her, was in a desperate Catch 22. My interpretation explains what could drive a young woman to such actions as to be a prostitute, and/or to marry a much older man where there was no genuine mutual affection and attraction. I know that Le Faye would like to silence the whole thread, but Pandora's Box is wide open already.

I really truly believe that Jane Austen loved, and sympathized with, her aunt Philadelphia. That says good things about Philadelphia, and about Jane Austen. She lived by Jesus's precepts, as well as by the best moral teachings of the Hebrew Bible, as well as the best morality that secular learning could offer. There can be nothing offensive in making that argument in this context.

"If Phila had truly been in this "profession", the giving of sex for money between her and her customers might be seen as the *only place* where any semblance of honesty would exist....Most everywhere else this type of life would involve continual lying, artificiality, and familial deception which would be the greater destroyer of integrity and ones soul...and I do not see this as being acceptable to Jane Austen, her family or anyone who would wish to live an openly honest Christian life. That is what is most offensive to me...accusing her of this type of insidiously-deceiving betrayal."

I have no idea what you are driving at. I believe that Phila came to terms with what she did to survive as a desperate teenaged orphan girl in an oppressively male dominated society, I think she felt at peace with what she did, and I believe she told her daughter and JA, because they loved her and did not judge her, but had compassion for what she had suffered through. I don't think there was any dishonesty in those relationships.

Remember, Mary Crawford is Eliza Hancock de Feuillide Austen.

"The love that existed between Eliza and her mother(and there are letters and oral tradition about this great love they had for each other), imho, would not have been born and nurtured from such double standards of hypocrisy and pretense. For now, I cannot psychologically accept this."

And I don't think it was hypocrisy, it was nobody's business what Phila had done, other than those precious few whom she trusted and confided in. And then Phila died when JA was 16 and was just beginning to go through her own major life changes and crises, and that is why, I think, the 16 year old JA wrote about her aunt, to mourn her passing, to remember her life.

Cheers, ARNIE

No comments: