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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More about that pesky footnote in Northanger Abbey

The following excerpt is from Susan Allen Ford's article in the new Persuasions Online, in which she discusses the footnote in Northanger Abbey to Johnson's Rambler issue #97, which footnote I claimed was inserted _after_ Jane Austen's death:

"Austen’s undermining of Richardson’s orthodoxies is evident even in her sportive narrative introduction of the essay. “Whether she thought of him so much, while she drank her warm wine and water, and prepared herself for bed, as to dream of him when there, cannot be ascertained; but I hope it was not more than in a slight slumber, or a morning doze at most” (22).
The physicality of this speculative train of thought is startling. Warm wine and water and preparations for bed set up the more problematic issue of her likelihood to “dream of him when there.” And then the narrator disclaims authority, or at least certainty. Did Catherine dream of him when in bed? It “cannot be ascertained.” But the possibility is quickly, comically, followed by a voice conscious of Richardson’s reproofs: “I hope it was no more than in a slight slumber, or a morning doze at most”. The tentative verb, from this previously self-assured narrator, and the return to her heroine’s sleeping body—the physical detail here conscientiously lightened—undercut her allegiance to the authority she’s about to cite. Following these playfully ironic speculations, the chapter ends on a practical note. After paraphrasing Richardson’s rule, the narrator shifts attention from the possibly dreaming and strongly inclining Catherine to “[h]ow proper Mr. Tilney might be as a dreamer or a lover”—and then summarily disposes of the question. Two facts, however, have been established by Mr. Allen: Henry Tilney is “a clergyman, and of a very respectable family in Gloucestershire” (22). We can feel authorized to think—or dream—of Mr. Tilney as we choose."

Ford was unaware of the Eve of St. Agnes allusion underlying the passage in NA which she quoted, which I explained in the following post at my blog, and then elaborated on in the three posts succeeding it:

Cheers, ARNIE

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