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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Our crowd....and a fortunate woman indeed!

Overnight, Diana Birchall wrote a short message in Janeites and Austen L which bore on the Amanda Vickery BBC special that just aired in England, also responded to my comments about Jane Austen's Letters 58 &59, vis a vis the death of her sister in law, Elizabeth Austen Knight in October 1808:

Diana: "Oh, you were in the video, Arnie!"

Yes, as an non-speaking "extra"! ;) Seeing the video reminded me how unhappy I was two minutes later when I did _not_ get to ask my question before the assembled throng---my unhappiness, however, was mostly done away with when I got to ask Andrew Davies a few questions one-on-one during the cocktail hour later on Saturday afternoon (which ended with that "Happy Trails" cowboy serenade that ends the BBC program). He was extremely patient, amiable, and available to everyone who wished to talk to him, I am sure every attendee agreed that it was worth every penny they paid him to be there!

Diana: "It went by too fast for me to be sure, but I do know the lady who is asking the question."

And I, too, recognized a few of the other "extras" who had their two seconds of fame like me, in addition, of course, to the "speaking parts" granted to Cheryl, and also to your old pal Janet.

Diana: "Yes, one of the nicest things for long-time Janeites, was spotting so many familiar friends in the crowd. It really is "our crowd." "

That's absolutely so, but isn't it fascinating that there is _another_ "our crowd", too, which you and I know in a different way--of course I refer to the many Janeites who have participated in these groups over the past decade. What is fascinating--but the BBC program of course did _not_ address this point---is how there is so little overlap between those two "crowds"--I can count on one hand the number of Janeites I know from _both_ the JASNA world and also from the online Janeite/Austen L world.

Diana: "And I couldn't agree with you more about Dr. Cheryl Kinney. She was a breath of fresh air in that video, wasn't she!"

She really could do professional comedy, she is so good! In fact, she really ought to think about developing a stand-up comedy routine about Jane Austen, with a focus on Cheryl's medical specialty, which is so uniquely focused on the same concerns that were central to JA--women's health, particularly sex, pregnancy, and childbirth. As you will verify, she had us all in stitches (ha ha) with her drolly Austenian ironic humor as she whipped through the various medical horrors that women of JA's era endured. I think the Beeb should give Cheryl a chance to strut her stuff, she sure has a great deal more of interest to say about Jane Austen than Amanda Vickery!

But on to your other, equally interesting topic:

Me, before, re Letters 58-59: "There's much more going there just under the surface that you are not taking into account, Diana. I believe JA had extremely mixed feelings about her sister in law Elizabeth Austen Knight."

Diana: "Yes, that's true. Her talking about her great worth has the sound of a person who's said a few uncharitable or spiteful things about the person when they were alive. "

Did you say a few _hundred_? ;) Remember, JA and CEA knew Elizabeth Austen Knight for nearly two decades--these women all progressed through the first 20 years of adult life in tandem---so there must have been countless occasions when Elizabeth in some way asserted her higher rank vis a vis one or more of the Austen women, or asserted her dominion over her husband's behavior vis a vis the Austen women. And CEA was the one, like Elinor, who had to shoosh JA, the Marianne of the story, to keep Marianne from reacting overtly to Elizabeth's slights.

I so often write about Mary Lloyd Austen as the real life source for Fanny Dashwood--- but I believe Elizabeth Austen Knight was almost as much of a source for Fanny as James's wife.

PLUS....I think Elizabeth was the primary real life source for Mrs. Churchill, as I explained about the dramatic consequences of Elizabeth's sudden death a few months ago:

The upwelling of a massive tsunami of pent-up feelings in Letters 58 & 59 is totally understandable when we realize that Elizabeth's sudden death was _the_ turning point of JA's writing career---it was only because of Elizabeth's death that the Austen women got to move to Chawton, and we all know what effect that move had on JA's writing career, don't we? And what probably doubled the emotional turmoil was the roller-coaster aspect of Elizabeth's final month of life--we see from only a few letters earlier that there was fear for Elizabeth's life a few weeks earlier, fear which evaporated when she seemed to suddenly and totally recover, and delivered a healthy baby. This series of reversals of medical fortune must have raised a lot of very complicated feelings in JA over the entire month of October, 1808, which I think accounts for the wild rhetorical and imaginative content of these late 1808 letters--including the Big Bad Wolf and the 3 Pigs fantasy.

Want to get shivers? Really think about what you've just read in Letters 58-59, as you read the following passage in _Emma_ :

"The following day brought news from Richmond to throw every thing else into the background. An express arrived at Randalls to announce the death of Mrs. Churchill! Though her nephew had had no particular reason to hasten back on her account, she had not lived above six-and-thirty hours after his return. A sudden seizure of a different nature from any thing foreboded by her general state, had carried her off after a short struggle. The great Mrs. Churchill was no more. It was felt as such things must be felt. Every body had a degree of gravity and sorrow; tenderness towards the departed, solicitude for the surviving friends; and, in a reasonable time, curiosity to know where she would be buried. Goldsmith tells us, that when lovely woman stoops to folly, she has nothing to do but to die; and when she stoops to be disagreeable, it is equally to be recommended as a clearer of ill-fame. Mrs. Churchill, after being disliked at least twenty-five years, was now spoken of with compassionate allowances. In one point she was fully justified. She had never been admitted before to be seriously ill. The event acquitted her of all the fancifulness, and all the selfishness of imaginary complaints."

What, we wonder, did Edward Austen Knight think about the above passage when he read it in _Emma_ 7 years after his wife's death? I wonder if his famous complaint about the apples blooming out of season was actually a coded reference to the way JA portrayed his wife's final pregnancy in _Emma_?

It was an Austenian irony of tsunamic proportions that Elizabeth's death in the aftermath of her dozenth (that is a word, I just checked!) confinement was the necessary precondition to JA's eventual delivery of her _own_ half dozen "children"! I can readily imagine Edward reading that passage in _Emma_ and then paraphrasing Mr. Knightley thusly:

"Jane Austen is, indeed, the favourite of fortune. Every thing turns out for her good.—She is born into a literary family, with connections to a great family with a great estate in Kent, cannot even weary her indulgent brothers by negligent and even malicious treatment in her spoken and written words—and had she and all her family sought round the world for a perfect place to live for him, they could not have found one superior to Chawton Cottage.—Her sister in law is in the way.—Her sister in law dies.—She has only to speak.—Her brothers are eager to promote her happiness.—She had used every body ill—and they are all delighted to forgive her.—She is a fortunate woman indeed!"

Of course, that is what Edward might have said in early 1816, when JA was on top of the world, with a long illustrious literary career stretching out before her---but JA turned out to be the bastard of fortune--she was tempted with the prospect of glory, but, like Moses, she never did get to cross over into the Promised Land of national fame while she was alive---but, just as Moses's eternal fame was established a millenium after _his_ death, so, too, has JA's eternal fame been established after "only" two centuries! ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

Friday, December 30, 2011

“We neither of us perform to strangers": The Dry Wit of Mr. Darcy Amazes....the Attentive Connoisseur?

In the 1997 Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, Rachel Brownstein, beginning at p. 51, discusses Lizzy's teasing of Darcy:

"When Elizabeth, dancing with the silent, awkward Darcy, teases him in Henry Tilney's engaging, disengaged manner ("It is _your_ turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy.--_I_ talked about the dance, and _you_ ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.'), she jokes that they are both 'unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb.'

Brownstein goes on to point out that "Mr. Bennet and his favorite daughter do not do all the laughing in this comic novel," as Miss Bingley and Lydia Bennet also dearly enjoy a laugh, in ways that are not so different from Lizzy's laughter. However unlike _their unsavory laughter, Elizabeth is not moved to laughter by gross deviations from arbitrary standards or norms."

Later still, Brownstein goes on to note that although Lizzy enjoys laughing at Darcy in the first half of the novel, by the end "she remembered that he had yet to learn to be laught at, and it was rather too early to begin."

That's all fine, no one would dispute any of those points, but what is curious to me is that there is not a single word in Brownstein's entire essay about _Darcy_ laughing or having a sense of humor. And I have found that Brownstein is pretty typical of Austen scholars in this regard, in giving Darcy no credit for having a sense of humor, either on the giving or the receiving end. Even John Wiltshire, who spoke at the Chawton House conference in July 2009 on the subject of "Mr. Darcy's
Smiles" [which he followed up on with an essay of that title in a collection edited by David Monaghan]--a title which gave promise of some insight into Darcy's sense of humor---does _not_ given even a whiff of a suggestion that Darcy's smiles are evidence of his being a funny guy, either on the giving or the receiving end.

How many Janeites share that opinion with Brownstein and Wiltshire? I suspect, most. But I'd like to suggest that any such opinion is deeply misguided, because it fails to account for one of the many consequences of having so much of the narration in P&P filtered through the often clueless mind of Elizabeth Bennet--I will argue, below, that Darcy's sense of humor is actually _too_ subtle for Lizzy to catch when _he_ is laughing at _her_! I.e., while she has correctly described herself as
wishing to amaze the whole room with "eclat", she has entirely missed the thrust of Darcy's very different--indeed, antithetical--kind of sense of humor, which begins and ends with _understatement_.

What prompted me to articulate this argument was rereading the following exchange in Ch. 17 of P&P, which occurs only a half dozen lines after the scene described by Brownstein, above. Lizzy continues to press her teasing, merry attack on what she perceives to be Darcy's Achilles heel-- his sour, humorless egotism:

[Lizzy] "I do not think we were speaking at all. Sir William could not have interrupted two people in the room who had less to say for themselves. We have tried two or three subjects already without success, and what we are to talk of next I cannot imagine."

"What think you of books?" said [Darcy], smiling.

"Books—oh! no. I am sure we never read the same, or not with the same feelings."

"I am sorry you think so; but if that be the case, there can at least be no want of subject. We may compare our different opinions."

"No—I cannot talk of books in a ball-room; my head is always full of something else."

So where is the wit in Darcy's repartee? I claim that the key clue is that word "smiling", which alerts us to ask ourselves the question that it never occurs to Lizzy to ask herself--why does Darcy suddenly launch into an apparent non sequitur about books, and why does he smile as he asks this question?

The answer should be clear if you reflect back on the following famous conversation at Netherfield not so very long before, in Chapter 8:

"On entering the drawing-room [Elizabeth] found the whole party at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high she declined it, and making her sister the excuse, said she would amuse herself for the short time she could stay below, with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment.

"Do you prefer reading to cards?" said he; "that is rather singular."

"Miss Eliza Bennet," said Miss Bingley, "despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else."

"I deserve neither such praise nor such censure," cried Elizabeth; "I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things."

The conversation eventually turns to the topic of female accomplishment, and Darcy's opinion about extensive reading as a crucial component thereof, which leads to this outcome:

[Lizzy] "I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any."

[Darcy] "Are you so severe upon your own sex as to doubt the possibility of all this?"

[Lizzy] "I never saw such a woman. I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe united."

I say that Darcy, very quick on his feet, verbally as well as in dance steps, has decided that one good turn deserves another, and so he turns the teasing tables on Elizabeth, and surprises her with a sudden thrust at _her_ weak point--her discomfort with not being as well read as the truly accomplished woman of Darcy's dreams. In Chapter 8, she said she never saw such a woman, but I think she's been thinking about Darcy's setting the bar so high, and worrying that she does not quite make the cut. After all, she knows she's a country girl, who's never had any formal education, and quick witted and clever as she is, she has never encountered such a formidable sparring partner as Darcy. So, on some level, her attack on Darcy is motivated as much by her own feelings of cultural inferiority, which she keeps trying to stuff down, as by her love of laughing at pretension. The young lady doth protest too much how much fun she's having making fun of Darcy--and I think Darcy's thrust shows that he has grasped this vulnerability on Lizzy's part, and he has
found a way to give as good as he gets.

And so here, seemingly out of the blue, is Darcy laughing at Lizzy---and she doesn't even (consciously) realize it! And, as I suggested above, because she does not realize it, it becomes almost invisible to the reader as well---unless, that is, we pay attention to JA's subtle cues, like that smile of Darcy's that Wiltshire did not decipher.

And in hindsight, this reminds me of one of the many subtle beauties of Colin Firth's portrayal of Darcy---which was largely lacking in David Rintoul's portrayal---i.e., that little twinkle in the eye that tells you that Darcy is not _quite_ as Aspergery as his words might literally suggest. It is not only Caroline Bingley, the desperate flatterer, who finds humor in Darcy's bon mot about Mrs. Bennet as a wit, we do as well.

But Darcy's disingenuous inquiry about Lizzy's attitude toward books shows he is capable of much more subtle, sophisticated understated wit, which is not intended to amaze the room, but achieves its goal if it brings a wry smile to the face of the attentive connoisseur.

In conclusion, then, Elizabeth Bennet is, along with Beatrice, at the top of the comic pantheon of female humor. Darcy, I claim, above, has been vastly underrated for his own subtle sense of humor. And I finish by pointing out the obvious--both Lizzy and Darcy are fictional creatures born out of the imagination of the same awesome comic genius, who could, in this one novel alone, give us three such high-powered examples of wit--Mr. Bennet, Lizzy, and Mr. Darcy, each very different,
but all reflecting the Protean sense of humor of Jane Austen herself.

Cheers, ARNIE

Vickery's The Many Lovers of Jane Austen

Yesterday, Diana Birchall posted the following link for the BBC documentary, The Many Lovers of Jane Austen, which has not been shown in the US, but can be seen here:

I replied thusly:

Thanks, Diana! I watched it with my father (who had great trouble, as usual, with understanding the English accents), and I have the following comments about it:

1. Overall, the program had high entertainment value, but was mixed to unimpressive in terms of the intelligence of the commentary about Jane Austen. For purposes of giving Jane Austen wider exposure in the culture, I would say the program was a great success, it will bring in many new readers for Jane Austen, and that is always a good thing.

2. Vickery's intent clearly was to try to get past "dear sweet Aunt Jane", and that of course is a very good intention, but, not surprising, there was often an uncritical acceptance of the standard orthodoxy about Jane Austen. To give one of several examples, a scholar named Lucasta Miller missed the boat entirely, by voicing the usual platitudes about Charlotte Bronte finding JA passionless---Vickery was not about to interview an iconoclast like Jocelyn Harris (forget about her reading _my_ blog!) to air a contrarian view on that subject.

3. Vickery raised one of the great questions of Austenmania---how is it that JA has managed the incredible double-dip of wide appeal among the culture-friendly general public, and also wide intellectual appeal for the literati--but Vickery hasn't a clue as to the real answer to that question--which is that JA intended to appeal to both, and wrote her novels to work on multiple levels, including (as Harding famously and acidly put it) writing the novels so as to be enjoyed by the very people being satirized and criticized on that deeper, less accessible level.

4. Vickery also read Henry Tilney's rant about England as a Christian country, as evidence that Northanger Abbey was merely a satire of Gothic novels, and thereby revealed that she was utterly ignorant of the large body of work, including mine, that shows that Northanger Abbey is, on a deeper level, an anti-parody critique of male privilege--but Vickery was not going there, not even close, for all her clothing herself in the guise of a debunker.

5. Bravo to Prof. John Mullan for pointing out that JA did not publish anonymously because she was so modest, but instead that JA actually enjoyed the guessing game she generated by publishing as "A Lady"---and I would go further and claim that JA intended to generate that guessing game in the first place!

6. Katherine Sutherland had a lot of screen time, and thankfully she did not repeat any of her absurd claims about JA needing an editor.

7. The history of how Austenmania arose was generally pretty good, but of course Vickery was not going to mention DW Harding and the revolution he engendered in Austen studies in the middle of the 20th century. Instead, Vickery took the standard orthodox line that FR Leavis was the most influential figure in Austen studies in that era.

8. All the film versions of P&P were briefly displayed, including a rare one I had not heard of, a 1967 BBC production.

9. There's an interesting interview with Earl Spencer, of course the brother of the late Princess Di, who shows himself to be quite the intelligent Janeite.

7. Several JASNA friends in the program, including a wonderful brief interview of the amazing Cheryl Kinney, who ad libs the funniest line in the whole program. And I realized one of the many parts I love about Cheryl's public speaking--not only does she know her material cold, and have a wonderfully insightful, witty style of writing and speaking--she also sounds _exactly_ like Roz from Frasier, which is the perfect voice to deliver that excellent content!

8. My friend Joan Reynolds of Vancouver made a few brief dancing cameos, and finally, and most interesting to me, take note of the gentleman who appears for a few seconds at precisely 38 minutes and 39-43 seconds into the video.

For those not technically inclined, I include a still image above.

So despite all my above quibbles, this is a wonderful video to show your non-Janeite friends and family, to try to pique their interest!

Cheers, ARNIE

Jane Austen's Stealth Poem to the 8-year old Anna Austen

Yesterday, Ellen Moody wrote the following in Austen L:

" vigilant eye spotted two poems I'd never read before 'attributed to Jane Austen.' True, the attribution is not firm, but (according to Todd and Bree), the handwriting is like that of Austen's, it is found written in a book by Ann Murry (Mentoria; or, The Young Lady's Home Instructor) which literal book was owned by Austen in the 1790s and given to Anna Lefroy in 1801. How much provenance do we need? Here it is:

Sigh Lady sigh, hide not the tear thats stealing
Down thy young face now so pale& cheerless [now is underlined in ms]
Let not thy heart be blighted by the feeling
That presses on thy soul, of utter loneliness.

In sighs supprest& grief that's [ever?] weeping
Beats slow& mournfully [a mourning?] heart
A heart oer which decay& death are creeping
In which no sunshine can a gleam impart.

Thou art not desolate, tho' left forsaken [not underlined in ms]
By one in whom thy very soul was bound
Let Natures voice thy dreary heart awaken
Oh listen to the melodies around.

For Summer her pure golden tress is flinging
On woods& glades& silent gliding streams
With joy the very air around is ringing
Oh rouse thee from those mournful mournful dreams.

Go forth let not that voice in vain be calling
Join thy hearts voice to that which fills the air
For he who een a sparrow saves from falling
Makes thee an object of peculiar care.[thee underlined in ms]

I replied to Ellen as follows:

It's not unknown, Ellen, but I agree, it has not been publicized, and you are absolutely right, it has been deliberately been given a quiet death by faint praise by the usual suspects, Le Faye amongst them. Indeed, it ought to have been announced with a megaphone.

Ellen also wrote about this poem: "So why did David Selwyn not include this when others are in ms's or places just as scattered? My guesses: it's so sad and doesn't fit a preconception of Austen....She had reason to be sad sometimes in the 1790s until 1801 as we've seen, and we've noticed so many letters destroyed and Cassandra continually trying to repress her sister."

I further replied as follows:

Ellen, you need to put on your deerskin cap to notice the obvious crucial clue to the poem's very sad meaning, which you yourself provided to us! That clue is the date (1801) and the person to whom it was given (Anna Austen). Think about what happened in 1801 and how that event affected the relationship between Jane Austen and Anna Austen (at the very least, her psychological daughter).

Of course you see it now, right? JA was forced to leave Steventon and leave poor sad little Cinderella, Anna age 8, in the care of the evil stepmother, Mary Lloyd Austen, who by then was well into her career of spoiling her own 3 year old darling boy, JEAL, the way Mrs. Middleton spoiled her little darling son (until Lucy Steele "accidentally" poked him with a needle!). And that left poor Anna out in the bitter cold, with her two loving aunts exiled away from her in Bath.

Now the poem makes perfect sense, and it is chilling and awful to contemplate the heartbreak that JA and Anna both endured at that wrenching time. Because you can be damned sure that the profit that James and Mary made at the expense of the Austen women and Revd. Austen was _not_ spent on giving extra TLC to Anna, and JA knew it!

And there in that last stanza, by the way, is a perfect example of JA's truly compassionate Christianity, one which cared most for the weak and the powerless.

We can see the seeds of Fanny Price in this poem, can we not?

And how clever JA had to be, in order to leave this message to Anna where it would be safe from detection, and possible destruction, by Mary Lloyd Austen--what better place to hide a poem like this than in a conduct book that would have warmed Mary Lloyd Austen's hard heart, thinking that it was going to teach little Anna to show more respect to her stepmother and her other elders, and not to fall into dejection at the loss of her aunts, and ingratitude toward her "wonderful" stepmother, etc etc.

JA knew that Mary actually had no pleasure in a book--even a book like this one--and so little Anna need not be afraid to keep this book close to her at all times, so she could read her Aunt Jane's loving poem whenever she felt lonely and abused.

And finally, we know JA's satirical stance toward the Murry Mentoria book in which JA hid this poem to her dear Anna, because it was also pointed out 13 years ago in this list by Ursula Rempel and Eugene McDonnell that the Mentoria book contains the following "tactful" suggestion to young ladies...

Murry: "Knowledge ought not wholly to be concealed; yet like beauty, it appears most amiable seen through the veil of diffidence and modesty."

...which JA famously and deliciously mocked with this translation in Northanger Abbey:

"[Catherine] was heartily ashamed of her ignorance. A misplaced shame. Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can."

THAT's why JA could feel safe in Mary Lloyd Austen not being too quick to detect and destroy JA's poem to Anna, as Mary apparently took Murry' advice very seriously, and that is why she read as little as possible!

Cheers, ARNIE

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Quick Answers to my Post-Christmas Quiz

"I just sleuthed out something interesting yesterday about the literary lineage leading to, and the literary lineage leading away from, Jane Austen---connections that, in hindsight, it amazes me that I seem to be the first to notice, because this one has really been hiding in plain sight for over a century and a half!

I will reveal exactly what I found by tomorrow morning 10 am EST, but as this find seems to be particularly suited to a quiz for those so inclined, I will give five hints which, for a Janeite reasonably knowledgeable in Austen studies, should make this quiz quite solvable in an enjoyable way:

Hint #1: There is a work published during JA's lifetime but prior to JA's reaching adulthood, written by a person who was fairly famous then, but who rapidly faded to obscurity during JA's adulthood, and is only known today to academic scholars of a particular ideological slant (which I share).


Hint#2: There is a work published within a half century _after_ JA's death, written by a person who was very famous, and who has remained well known, and who was famously very positive toward JA's writing, in a way that is known to a fair # of Janeites today.


Hint#3: There is a work written by JA herself which has virtually the same title, and the same general subject matter, as those other two works.


Hint #4: The author of the work from JA's youth, and the author of the work published long after JA's death, both have _exactly_ the same last name.


Hint #5: That shared last name of those other two authors is not a coincidence, but reflects that they were--apparently unknown to scholars working in regard to either of them--related by marriage!


I have no time right now, but will suggest those intriguing implications later.

Cheers, ARNIE

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Post Christmas Quiz

I just sleuthed out something interesting yesterday about the literary lineage leading to, and the literary lineage leading away from, Jane Austen---connections that, in hindsight, it amazes me that I seem to be the first to notice, because this one has really been hiding in plain sight for over a century and a half!

I will reveal exactly what I found by tomorrow morning 10 am EST, but as this find seems to be particularly suited to a quiz for those so inclined, I will give five hints which, for a Janeite reasonably knowledgeable in Austen studies, should make this quiz quite solvable in an enjoyable way:

Hint #1: There is a work published during JA's lifetime but prior to JA's reaching adulthood, written by a person who was fairly famous then, but who rapidly faded to obscurity during JA's adulthood, and is only known today to academic scholars of a particular ideological slant (which I share).

Hint #2: There is a work published within a half century _after_ JA's death, written by a person who was very famous, and who has remained well known, and who was famously very positive toward JA's writing, in a way that is known to a fair # of Janeites today.

Hint #3: There is a work written by JA herself which has virtually the same title, and the same general subject matter, as those other two works.

Hint #4: The author of the work from JA's youth, and the author of the work published long after JA's death, both have _exactly_ the same last name.

Hint #5: That shared last name of those other two authors is not a coincidence, but reflects that they were--apparently unknown to scholars working in regard to either of them--related by marriage!

OK, that's a lot of hints, I bet it won't take someone long to figure out the identity of the other two writers, and the shared title of the three works. Please bring forward your answers today!

Then I will explain why I find it amazing that I seem to be the first person to notice pretty much all of these connections, and I will also suggest some intriguing implications for further investigation that arise out of the answers to this little quiz.

Cheers, ARNIE

Cinderellas Presuming to Wear The Magical White Gown of Privilege in Letter 29, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey

Six months ago, I had a brief exchange with Diane Reynolds about the following passage in Jane Austen's Letter 31:

"...soon afterwards a party of fine ladies issuing from a well-known commodious green vehicle, their heads full of Bantam cocks and Galinies, entered the house -- Mrs. Heathcote, Mrs. Harwood, Mrs. James Austen, Miss Bigg, Miss Jane Blachford."

At that time, Diane asked: "Is the "fine ladies" phrase ironic? Why would their heads be full of "Bantam cocks" (outside of phallic reasons)? " and I replied: "Diane, as with Letter 24 written only 10 weeks earlier, with its memorable turn of phrase "Mrs. Stent will now & then _ejaculate_ some wonder about the _Cocks_ & Hens, what can we want?", I think that the phallic reason is pretty clearly the principal reason for JA's above quoted poultry fantasy--I think the existence of two such usages so close in time, so close in verbiage, so blatant, makes it doubly unlikely that either was an accidental or innocent reference. It sounds like JA's typical ironic raillery, with a ribald edge, JA's exuberant imagination swept up by the bustle and energy of five women bursting out of a large carriage, descending on the Steventon Rectory, and surely this burst of visiting from friends that JA notes in the ensuing sentences is the result of the impending big move to Bath. Now, whether JA perceived each of these visitors as indulging in some covert Schadenfreude, or were genuinely coming to say goodbye, who knows..... Aside from the ribaldry and the explosion of visitors, one more point occurs to me. That phraseology "heads full of" sounded awfully familiar, so I searched, and found that the phrase "head full of" was a favorite of JA's, always in a satirical way, with characters obsessed with something trivial, dangerous, or scandalous..." END QUOTE

Today, I have sleuthed out an expansion on that dark image I drew then of five fine ladies descending on the Steventon Rectory in Mrs. Eltonesque gaiety, enjoying Schadenfreude at the helpless sadness of JA and CEA in being exiled from the Eden of Steventon, pretty much with only the clothes they were wearing. The key to my expansion is the image of a "white gown" as used by Jane Austen as a metaphor for presumption vs. denial of female privilege, in not one, but _three_ other places in her writing.

First, I was reminded of another exchange I had had, about _seven_ months ago, with Diane, regarding another passage, i.e., the first sentence in Letter 29:

"As you have by this time received my last letter, it is fit that I should begin another; & I begin with the hope, which is at present uppermost in my mind, that you often wore a white gown in the morning, at the time of all the gay party's being with you....".

At the time, Diane commented: "I read too much forced jocularity to interpret her as genuinely happy about the move. She begins with a joke about C's wearing a white gown in the morning as what is uppermost in her mind, when, of course, what is uppermost is the move" and I replied: "I wouldn't call it forced jocularity, I'd call it thinly veiled sarcasm." Diane also commented: "How distressing this must have been is hinted at for me in her line: "the prospect of spending future summers by the Sea or in Wales is very delightful." " and I responded to that comment as follows: "You just made me realize something very very peculiar (and very very funny!) about that comment---- think about the second charade in Emma, which refers to the "Monarch of the SEA"---what are two of the secret answers to that charade? Colleen Sheehan's (the "Prince of Whales") and Anielka's ("Leviathan"). Do you get the joke? "in Wales" === > "in Whales"! As in the kind of "delight" that Jonah experienced during his Biblical sea excursion!But what does this wordplay mean in the context of Letter 29? I would say that it fits perfectly with your notion of JA feeling powerless, swept along by "waves" stronger than she can resist, which leave her no choice but to hope that the whale/Leviathan spits the Austens out into a comfortable "Bath"(tub)!...."

What I did not realize as I wrote the above seven months ago, is that the seemingly typical jokingly histrionic hope "uppermost in [JA's] mind" that CEA "often wore a white gown in the morning, at the time of all the gay party's being with" CEA, was actually highly symbolic and deadly serious wordplay by JA---what JA is saying in code, as I will momentarily show, is that JA, writing from Steventon to CEA at Godmersham, hopes that CEA is not being demeaned by treatment as a poor, dependent female relation, who is not allowed to wear the "white gown" of privilege, like the other fine ladies!

Exhibit A of that coded meaning of a "white gown" is found in Mansfield Park, where Mrs. Norris makes a sadistic career out of tormenting Fanny, including in this instance her subtle reminder of Fanny's inferior status during the ride to Sotherton: "That Mrs. Whitaker is a treasure! She was quite shocked when I asked her whether wine was allowed at the second table, and she has turned away two housemaids for wearing white gowns. Take care of the cheese, Fanny. Now I can manage the other parcel and the basket very well."

In a 1988 Persuasions article, Judith Terry explains Mrs. Norris's meaning: "The admonitions on female servants’ attire are numerous, Dr. Trusler’s remarks being typical: “being gaily drest, in gauze and ribbands, is always a blemish on her character, she will be thought to dress for the men more than for a place.”When Mrs. Musgrove refers to Jemima as “fine-dressing” it is no term of approval.Mrs. Norris is delighted to find that the housekeeper at Sotherton had “turned away two housemaids for wearing white gowns.”This again is a question of “fine dressing”; the accessibility of washable cotton was still so recent that the white gowns it made possible were reserved to the upper classes.Ladies’ maids were criticized most often.Traditionally, mistress handed down cast-offs to maid, but the practice was deplored in all books of instruction, since it encouraged servants to ape their betters.Jonas Hanway advised selling the cast-offs rather than wearing them.__"

So Mrs. Norris, by juxtaposing that news item about the dismissed servants at Sotherton with orders to Fanny to perform menial services not asked of Maria or Julia, is warning Fanny, without having to be explicit, that Fanny must not presume herself rising in status because she has been allowed to be of the party to Sotherton--in the end of the day, the wicked "stepmother" is making clear, Fanny is just another version of a servant, who must take care of the cheese.

And we know that the acutely sensitive Fanny hears Mrs. Norris's symbolic warning, and the CInderella symbolism is brought to the fore, when later on, Fanny is given a white gown to wear to the Mansfield ball, but she worries about the implications:

"Now I must look at you, Fanny," said Edmund, with the kind smile of an affectionate brother, "and tell you how I like you; and as well as I can judge by this light, you look very nicely indeed. What have you got on?"

"The new dress that my uncle was so good as to give me on my cousin's marriage. I hope it is not too fine; but I thought I ought to wear it as soon as I could, and that I might not have such another opportunity all the winter. I hope you do not think me too fine."

"A woman can never be too fine while she is all in white. No, I see no finery about you; nothing but what is perfectly proper. Your gown seems very pretty. I like these glossy spots. Has not Miss Crawford a gown something the same?"

Fanny expresses her worries (twice) that it is too fine, but Edmund gives his blessing to Fanny wearing the white gown of privilege, and so Fanny, like Cinderella at the ball, is permitted to be happy, if only for one magical evening.

And it is not just in JA's Letter 29 and in MP that we see this coded usage of "white gown", the third instance is in Northanger Abbey, and it is very droll:

"Mrs. Allen," said Catherine the next morning, "will there be any harm in my calling on Miss Tilney today? I shall not be easy till I have explained everything."

"Go, by all means, my dear; only put on a white gown; Miss Tilney always wears white."

Translation: For all that Mrs. Allen seems to many to be an empty headed fashionista, what she is saying to Catherine, in shrewd code, is that Catherine should be sure to assert her own equal status with Eleanor Tilney, by wearing the same white gown of privilege that Eleanor, the de facto mistress of the great Northanger Abbey, _always_ wears.

In addition to the pleasure of seeing this poignant message in these three heretofore never connected passages in JA's writing---two from novels and one from a letter---I assert that this is a quintessential example of the Jane Austen Code---how JA was consistent over a long period of time (Letter 29 being written in early 1801, Mansfield Park in 1814, and Northanger Abbey, begun around the same time as Letter 29 was written, but last revised as late as 1816) in her usage of coded symbolism--and always, always, about the plight, vulnerability, and forced helplessness of the English gentlewoman lacking financial resources, whether it be Fanny Price as the niece/servant of Mansfield Park, or CEA & JA, as the aunts/servants of Godmersham Park, or as the evictees from Steventon like the Dashwood sisters, who must endure the gloating of the privileged vultures who swoop in for some easy pickins' from the "carcass" of the Austen family at Steventon.

Oh, if only JA and CEA could have avoided turning into permanent pumpkins at the end of the "ball", unlike Fanny and Catherine, who each endure a brief banishment before being magically restored to their white gownishness.

Cheers, ARNIE

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Protesting Too Much in Pride & Prejudice

Yesterday, it occurred to me to follow up on my earlier post about Lizzy’s and Darcy’s unconscious attraction in P&P... seeing what came up if I looked at P&P through the lens of “protesting too much”. That is, of course, the very famous line spoken by Queen Gertrude about the Player Queen in the Mousetrap scene in Hamlet, which has come to be the universal idiom to express the idea of a person working extra hard to repress and in effect shout down an idea he or she finds too disturbing. And one brilliant way that Jane Austen shows Lizzy and Darcy being unconsciously attracted to each other is how much they each protest how much they hate the other, over a long stretch of the novel!
As I Googled, I was led to an article I had read a long while ago, Nora Stovel’s “Famous Last Words: Elizabeth Bennet PROTESTS too Much.” The Talk in Jane Austen. Ed. Bruce Stovel and Lynn Weinglass Gregg. Edmonton: U Alberta P, 2002.

Most of this chapter can be read at Google Books, and I urge anyone who is interested in this topic to read the accessible pages, as Stovel beautifully lays out the case, even without recourse to the way JA used wordplay to enhance this theme.

What I will do for the remainder of this post is to focus on JA’s brilliant wordplay in P&P on the word “protest” and its variants, which all supports that overarching motif in the novel:

First, in the following passage in Chapter 14, I think the whole world would agree that Mr. Collins PROTESTS way too much about how wonderful Lady Catherine is—is it possible that he could actually believe a quarter of it, or has this poor man convinced himself of all this in a desperate attempt to avoid consciously acknowledging what a horror she really is?:

“During dinner, Mr. Bennet scarcely spoke at all; but when the servants were withdrawn, he thought it time to have some conversation with his guest, and therefore started a subject in which he expected him to shine, by observing that he seemed very fortunate in his patroness. Lady Catherine de Bourgh's attention to his wishes, and consideration for his comfort, appeared very remarkable. Mr. Bennet could not have chosen better. Mr. Collins was eloquent in her praise. The subject elevated him to more than usual solemnity of manner, and with a most important aspect he PROTESTED that "he had never in his life witnessed such behaviour in a person of rank—such affability and condescension, as he had himself experienced from Lady Catherine. She had been graciously pleased to approve of both of the discourses which he had already had the honour of preaching before her. She had also asked him twice to dine at Rosings, and had sent for him only the Saturday before, to make up her pool of quadrille in the evening. Lady Catherine was reckoned proud by many people he knew, but he had never seen anything but affability in her. She had always spoken to him as she would to any other gentleman; she made not the smallest objection to his joining in the society of the neighbourhood nor to his leaving the parish occasionally for a week or two, to visit his relations. She had even condescended to advise him to marry as soon as he could, provided he chose with discretion; and had once paid him a visit in his humble parsonage, where she had perfectly approved all the alterations he had been making, and had even vouchsafed to suggest some herself—some shelves in the closet up stairs."

And a short time after that, Mr. Collins takes his aversion to novels beyond all reasonable bounds:

"...Mr. Bennet's expectations were fully answered. His cousin was as absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and, except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure. By tea-time, however, the dose had been enough, and Mr. Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing- room again, and, when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies. Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but, on beholding it (for everything announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, PROTESTED that he never read novels."

So far so good, but now we come to the most peculiar of the usages of “protest” in P&P, three of them in a short space in Chapters 15 & 16, which relate to the otherwise nearly invisible Mrs. Philips (of course the sister of Mrs. Bennet, married to a lawyer). For some reason never explained in the text, Mrs. Philips and Mr. Collins take _quite _ a shine to each other, as you will note. I get the strongest feeling that both Mrs. Philips are protesting way too much about how wonderful they each are, and also how they did not know each other before. Makes me wonder, especially given that Mr. Collins’s mammoth importance in the lives of the Bennets hinges on a point of _law_ that Lady Catherine herself decries, i.e., the entail away from the female line. As I said, it makes me wonder, what sort of communication has there been between Mr. Collins and _Mr._ Philips???

“Mrs. Phillips was always glad to see her nieces; and the two eldest, from their recent absence, were particularly welcome, and she was eagerly expressing her surprise at their sudden return home, which, as their own carriage had not fetched them, she should have known nothing about, if she had not happened to see Mr. Jones's shop-boy in the street, who had told her that they were not to send any more draughts to Netherfield because the Miss Bennets were come away, when her civility was claimed towards Mr. Collins by Jane's introduction of him. She received him with her very best politeness, which he returned with as much more, apologising for his intrusion, without any previous acquaintance with her, which he could not help flattering himself, however, might be justified by his relationship to the young ladies who introduced him to her notice. Mrs. Phillips was quite awed by such an excess of good breeding; but her contemplation of one stranger was soon put to an end by exclamations and inquiries about the other; of whom, however, she could only tell her nieces what they already knew, that Mr. Denny had brought him from London, and that he was to have a lieutenant's commission in the —shire. She had been watching him the last hour, she said, as he walked up and down the street, and had Mr. Wickham appeared, Kitty and Lydia would certainly have continued the occupation, but unluckily no one passed windows now except a few of the officers, who, in comparison with the stranger, were become "stupid, disagreeable fellows." Some of them were to dine with the Phillipses the next day, and their aunt promised to make her husband call on Mr. Wickham, and give him an invitation also, if the family from Longbourn would come in the evening. This was agreed to, and Mrs. Phillips PROTESTED that they would have a nice comfortable noisy game of lottery tickets, and a little bit of hot supper afterwards. The prospect of such delights was very cheering, and they parted in mutual good spirits. Mr. Collins repeated his apologies in quitting the room, and was assured with unwearying civility that they were perfectly needless. As they walked home, Elizabeth related to Jane what she had seen pass between the two gentlemen; but though Jane would have defended either or both, had they appeared to be in the wrong, she could no more explain such behaviour than her sister. Mr. Collins on his return highly gratified Mrs. Bennet by admiring Mrs. Phillips's manners and politeness. He PROTESTED that, except Lady Catherine and her daughter, he had never seen a more elegant woman; for she had not only received him with the utmost civility, but even pointedly included him in her invitation for the next evening, although utterly unknown to her before. Something, he supposed, might be attributed to his connection with them, but yet he had never met with so much attention in the whole course of his life.”

“Elizabeth allowed that he had given a very rational account of it, and they continued talking together, with mutual satisfaction till supper put an end to cards, and gave the rest of the ladies their share of Mr. Wickham's attentions. There could be no conversation in the noise of Mrs. Phillips's supper party, but his manners recommended him to everybody. Whatever he said, was said well; and whatever he did, done gracefully. Elizabeth went away with her head full of him. She could think of nothing but of Mr. Wickham, and of what he had told her, all the way home; but there was not time for her even to mention his name as they went, for neither Lydia nor Mr. Collins were once silent. Lydia talked incessantly of lottery tickets, of the fish she had lost and the fish she had won; and Mr. Collins in describing the civility of Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, PROTESTING that he did not in the least regard his losses at whist, enumerating all the dishes at supper, and repeatedly fearing that he crowded his cousins, had more to say than he could well manage before the carriage stopped at Longbourn House.”

Then in Chapter 20 we have the droll humor of Mrs. Bennet imagining that Elizabeth was protesting too much against Collins’s proposals, as evidence in Mrs. Bennet’s mind that Elizabeth really was attracted to Mr. Collins and that was why she was being so negative on the surface.

“This information, however, startled Mrs. Bennet; she would have been glad to be equally satisfied that her daughter had meant to encourage him by PROTESTING against his proposals, but she dared not believe it, and could not help saying so.”

And next in Chapter 23, we have Mrs. Bennet protesting too much against the assertion that Mr. Collins had just turned around and gotten engaged to Charlotte:
“Elizabeth was sitting with her mother and sisters, reflecting on what she had heard, and doubting whether she was authorised to mention it, when Sir William Lucas himself appeared, sent by his daughter, to announce her engagement to the family. With many compliments to them, and much self-gratulation on the prospect of a connection between the houses, he unfolded the matter—to an audience not merely wondering, but incredulous; for Mrs. Bennet, with more perseverance than politeness, PROTESTED he must be entirely mistaken; and Lydia, always unguarded and often uncivil, boisterously exclaimed: "Good Lord! Sir William, how can you tell such a story? Do not you know that Mr. Collins wants to marry Lizzy?"

But my most favorite of all the usages of “protest” in P&P, the quintessential example, is the following, when Lizzy has finished her first reading of Darcy’s letter, in Chapter 36:

“But when this subject was succeeded by his account of Mr. Wickham—when she read with somewhat clearer attention a relation of events which, if true, must overthrow every cherished opinion of his worth, and which bore so alarming an affinity to his own history of himself—her feelings were yet more acutely painful and more difficult of definition. Astonishment, apprehension, and even horror, oppressed her. She wished to discredit it entirely, repeatedly exclaiming, "This must be false! This cannot be! This must be the grossest falsehood!"—and when she had gone through the whole letter, though scarcely knowing anything of the last page or two, put it hastily away, PROTESTING that she would not regard it, that she would never look in it again.”

There we have Lizzy protesting, in extreme terms, that she would never look at Darcy’s letter again. But how long does “never” last? Only till the next _sentence!:
“In this perturbed state of mind, with thoughts that could rest on nothing, she walked on; but it would not do; in half a minute the letter was unfolded again, and collecting herself as well as she could, she again began the mortifying perusal of all that related to Wickham, and commanded herself so far as to examine the meaning of every sentence. “

There could not be a better example of protesting too much what is already subconsciously known!

And then in Chapter 50, we have Mr. Bennet protesting he will not pay for Lydia’s wedding clothes, but I feel safe in claiming that pretty much all Janeites expect that before the matter is resolved, Mrs. Bennet will prevail on this point, and Mr. Bennet truly will have been protesting too much in the most futile way.

“A long dispute followed this declaration; but Mr. Bennet was firm. It soon led to another; and Mrs. Bennet found, with amazement and horror, that her husband would not advance a guinea to buy clothes for his daughter. He PROTESTED that she should receive from him no mark of affection whatever on the occasion. Mrs. Bennet could hardly comprehend it.”

And finally in Chapter 54, we have the inverse of Lizzy’s short lived protest against rereading and accepting Darcy’s letter, and also of Mr. Collins’s misunderstanding Lizzy’s protests against his proposal, when Lizzy, now desperate for Darcy’s attentions, worries that Darcy would protest against making a second proposal to her.

“Darcy had walked away to another part of the room. She followed him with her eyes, envied everyone to whom he spoke, had scarcely patience enough to help anybody to coffee; and then was enraged against herself for being so silly! "A man who has once been refused! How could I ever be foolish enough to expect a renewal of his love? Is there one among the sex, who would not PROTEST against such a weakness as a second proposal to the same woman? There is no indignity so abhorrent to their feelings!" “
So, I assert that all of the above are a far flung matrix of subliminal textual support for the theme of Lizzy and Darcy protesting too much in their negative responses to each other during the first half of the novel, as Stovel so thoroughly argued in her article, and as I have bolstered with my analysis of how “unconscious” Lizzy is about her own feelings for Darcy.

Cheers, ARNIE

Tittuppy Catherine Morland

Christy Somer wrote the following earlier today in Janeites and Austen L, in response to my having previously quoted a speech by John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey in which he calls James Morland's gig "tittuppy":

"And the earliest ‘tittup’ reference is to David Garrick’s Miss Tittup in “Bon Ton, or High Life Above Stairs” -1781. It does seem to be the first noted online, at least. And yes, I also remember this being one of the early plays at Steventon. A play in which Eliza may have actually played the character of ‘Miss Tittup’. "

To which I replied thusly:

Bravo, Christy on some first rate sleuthing! You opened the door wide to a significant allusion in JA's writing, and your only error was in not stepping through the door you had just opened yourself! ;)

To be more specific, as soon as I read what you wrote, quoted above, I had a very strong hunch that the usage of "tittuppy" in Northanger Abbey had to be connected to Garrick's play, just based on the word alone, but the Austen theatricals connection made that hunch a virtual certainty in my mind.

And sure enough, I had a chance to read through all of Garrick's play today, and there are _numerous_ significant parallels, both thematically and also via wordplay, between it and Northanger Abbey, which verified to my full satisfaction that this allusion was entirely conscious, informed, and intentional on JA's part.

To very briefly outline the most important of those parallels:

1. Miss Tittup is a young single woman who is being courted by a fortune hunter, Colonel Tivy, who believes that Miss Tittup is going to inherit a large estate from her uncle, Sir John Trotley, but at the end of the play, Sir John announces to the assembled group that she is not assured of inheriting anything from him, at which point Tivy loses all interest in Miss Tittup. There we have, to a tee, John Thorpe and Mr. Allen vis a vis Catherine!

2. Miss Tittup is in London under the protection of her cousins, Lady Minikin, and her husband, Lord Minikin. However, Miss Tittup is having a secret romance with Lord Minikin, even though the Lord tells Miss Tittup's uncle that Lord Minikin has set Miss Tittup up with Tivy. This fits like a glove with General Tilney courting Catherine for himself, while appearing to be courting on his son Henry's behalf!

3. The words "stairs" appears in one variant or another 24 times in the very short NA, as opposed to only 10 times in S&S and 17 times in Emma, both of them twice as long as NA, and also only 11 times in Persuasion. So the word "stairs" is used so much in NA in part because the subtitle of Garrick's play is "High Life Above Stairs". Not only that, there are several moments in Garrick's play where someone is coming up or going down stairs as part of an intrigue, just as Henry Tilney starts grilling Catherine about why she is so surprised that he takes his usual staircase to go to his room at the Abbey.

4. Sir John Trotley obsessively reads pamphlets and laments the radical changes occurring in English society, reminding us of General Tilney (whose name sounds a lot like Trotley), with his jingoistic searching for spies. Plus, the word "trot" or its variant appears only twice in the entire six novels of JA, and both are in the same chapter of NA, spoken by John Thorpe (who of course is the Colonel Tivy representation).

5. In the end, Miss Tittup is taken back to the country away from big city corruption.

6. At the beginning of the play, Lady Minikin refers to "Love and Friendship" in a cynical way, reminding us of JA's juvenilia of that title.

7. At the end of the play, Lady Minikin refers to being restored to her "natural English constitution", which is echoed by NA's reference to Mrs. Morland's good constitution (which keeps her alive through 10 pregnancies), and Mrs. Tilney's bilious fever, which is called "constitutional".

8. "tittupy" actually was a word in use in England by around 1753 or so, and it is still in the dictionary today, meaning "To move in a lively, capering manner; prance. n. A lively, capering manner of moving or walking..." And that reminds us of Catherine Morland basking in the glow of General Tilney's admiring gaze at the "elasticity" of her walk:

"The general attended her himself to the street-door, saying everything gallant as they went downSTAIRS, admiring the elasticity of her walk, which corresponded exactly with the spirit of her dancing, and making her one of the most graceful bows she had ever beheld, when they parted. Catherine, delighted by all that had passed, proceeded gaily to Pulteney Street, walking, as she concluded, with great elasticity, though she had never thought of it before. She reached home without seeing anything more of the offended party; and now that she had been triumphant throughout, had carried her point, and was secure of her walk, she began (as the flutter of her spirits subsided) to doubt whether she had been perfectly right.”

Catherine therefore is "Tittuppy" in both her walk, and also in many aspects of her situation in the big city which resemble those of the feisty Miss Tittup!

So, for these and other reasons, I assert that JA chose to allude in this veiled way to David Garrick's play!

Cheers, ARNIE

Friday, December 23, 2011

Robert Ferrars's Real Life Cottage

Diane Reynolds wrote the following in Austen L today, in response to Ellen Moody posting the text of an article about the extraordinary cottage built by the Ladies of Llangollen, whom I claimed were Jane Austen's covert source for Charlotte Lucas of Pride & Prejudice as a lesbian:

[Diane] "Thanks for the cottage article, Ellen. Cottage still capture our fancy:"

In the spirit of the season, I just responded as follows:

Diane, that article you linked to is simply astounding, thanks for posting it. It's almost too good to be true, that a guy with no background could build such a home in that fashion.

In that same vein (well, sort of), here's an image of the very house that I am convinced Robert Ferrars built with his bare hands, in the English countryside, beginning shortly after he left Gray's on Sackville Street in Chapter 33 of S&S:

If you don't believe me, just look at that image while reading aloud the following passage in S&S Ch. 36 (only three chapters later, when he had completed construction), and see if you don't see the obvious parallels:

"For my own part," said [Robert], "I am excessively fond of a cottage; there is always so much comfort, so much elegance about them. And I protest, if I had any money to spare, I should buy a little land and build one myself, within a short distance of London, where I might drive myself down at any time, and collect a few friends about me, and be happy. I advise every body who is going to build, to build a cottage. My friend Lord Courtland came to me the other day on purpose to ask my advice, and laid before me three different plans of Bonomi's. I was to decide on the best of them. 'My dear Courtland,' said I, immediately throwing them all into the fire, 'do not adopt either of them, but by all means build a cottage.' And that I fancy, will be the end of it. Some people imagine that there can be no accommodations, no space in a cottage; but this is all a mistake. I was last month at my friend Elliott's, near Dartford. Lady Elliott wished to give a dance. 'But how can it be done?' said she; 'my dear Ferrars, do tell me how it is to be managed. There is not a room in this cottage that will hold ten couple, and where can the supper be?' I immediately saw that there could be no difficulty in it, so I said, 'My dear Lady Elliott, do not be uneasy. The dining parlour will admit eighteen couple with ease; card-tables may be placed in the drawing-room; the library may be open for tea and other refreshments; and let the supper be set out in the saloon.' Lady Elliott was delighted with the thought. We measured the dining-room, and found it would hold exactly eighteen couple, and the affair was arranged precisely after my plan. So that, in fact, you see, if people do but know how to set about it, every comfort may be as well enjoyed in a cottage as in the most spacious dwelling."

I mean, isn't it obvious from looking at that image that his cottage easily exceeded the capacities Robert describes?

But of course the best clue, the one that makes us certain that it is _that_ cottage in particular, is when Robert is being _very_ particular about the _materials_ he is going to use to construct his snug little "castle":

"He was giving orders for a toothpick-case for himself, and till its size, shape, and ornaments were determined, all of which, after examining and debating for a quarter of an hour over every toothpick-case in the shop, were finally arranged by his own inventive fancy, he had no leisure to bestow any other attention on the two ladies, than what was comprised in three or four very broad stares; a kind of notice which served to imprint on Elinor the remembrance of a person and face, of strong, natural, sterling insignificance, though adorned in the first style of fashion. Marianne was spared from the troublesome feelings of contempt and resentment, on this impertinent examination of their features, and on the puppyism of his manner in deciding on all the different horrors of the different toothpick-cases presented to his inspection, by remaining unconscious of it all; for she was as well able to collect her thoughts within herself, and be as ignorant of what was passing around her, in Mr. Gray's shop, as in her own bedroom."

Marianne and Elinor think Robert is being a puppy, but I say, here is a man with a sure sense of his craft, who simply will not compromise when it comes to quality. And I don't care _what_ the fairy tale authors say, no Big Bad Wolf is going to blow _that_ impregnable cottage down, no matter how hard he blows!

Cheers, and have a happy Apri-----er, I mean---happy Holidays! ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Brief Meditations on A Pair of Fine I's (for "Ironies")

During the past month, I have had some fascinating exchanges offlist with a variety of very bright Janeites in regard to my post.....

.... about Jane Austen's virtuosic wordplay around the word "unconscious" in regard to Lizzy's thoughts and feelings vis a vis Darcy of course in P&P.

And, not surprisingly in discussions regarding Jane Austen, but particularly on a slippery topic like this, it seems like irony just sorta naturally pops up!

So, tonight, I leave you with my brief meditations on a _pair_ of fine i's (for "ironies") that I have observed during my exchanges about the above topic:

The first fine irony is that there are many Janeites of long standing who think that it's obvious from the plain meaning of the text that Lizzy is _not_ unconsciously attracted to Darcy, yet...there are many _other_ Janeites also of long standing who think that it's obvious from reading against the grain, as they believe the text begs for, that Lizzy _is_ unconsciously attracted to Darcy!

Whereas I am like Tevya in the great opening number of Fiddler on the Roof, "Tradition", in which he agrees with two neighbors who dispute the identity of an animal in a sale transaction, and then we hear:

Avram: He's right, and he's right? They can't both be right.

Tevye: You are also right.

Avram is not correct in the dispute about P&P, because in the case of a Jane Austen novel, they _can_ both be right, because JA deliberately wrote the text of each of her novels to be ambiguous in a variety of important ways, such that _two_ entirely plausible alternative interpretations would be supported by insightful readings of the same novel text.

So that's Fine Irony #1.

The _second_ fine irony I have found is related, although it is not limited to the above dispute about P&P, but also applies, I find, a thousand times over, during every imaginable sort of Austen-related discussion. To wit: I have so often seen Janeites who would argue to the death that Jane Austen did _not_ covertly depict Freudian-style unconscious motivations and attractions in her novels, and yet, once
they are grudgingly convinced to accept an against-the-grain interpretation, their fallback position seems to be that Jane Austen _must_ have done it _UN_consciously! So they're Freudians about Jane Austen's creative process, while simultaneously denying Jane Austen the creativity and insight to have _consciously_ depicted Freudian-style _UN_conscious feelings in her characters.

And that is Fine Irony #2.

So there's my pair of fine ironies, and I for one also find it ironic that I derive pleasure from meditating on them. ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

Some scholarly views on the Beechen Cliff portrait

I did a little checking online and found a couple of interesting descriptions and analyses of the "backfacing" portrait by Cassandra

First this one by Margaret Kirkham:

"The 1804 sketch: This is a watercolour drawing, signed C.E.A (Cassandra Elizabeth Austen) and dated 1804 (see frontispiece). Identification of the sitter as Jane Austen is confirmed in a letter by her niece, Anna Lefroy, to JEAL in 1862, in which 'a sketch which Aunt Cassandra made of her on one of their expeditions--sitting down out of doors on a hot day, with her bonnet strings untied' is mentioned. It is also probably referred to in a letter of Henry Austen to Richard Bentley in 1832...It is still owned in the Austen family. RW Chapman did his best for this portrait, saying: 'it shows the graceful outline of a seated lady, and has nothing inconsistent with what is known of JA's figure'....Not everyone agrees; David Nokes says it offers 'a rear view of a plump, dumpy woman seated on a tuft or stool, gazing away from us into a white blankness'. Claudia Johnson has suggested this faceless sketch has a wry appropriateness; it 'reaches us in much the same way as the celebrated irony of her writing does, only by turning away'..."

And I also found the following written by David Nokes, from which Kirkham had quoted only a small portion, above:

"..the Austens spent part of the summer [of 1802] with Charles in Devonshire...and the rest of it in Wales, travelling as far west as Tenby and as far north as Barmouth. Somewhere on this trip, Cassandra made a watercolour sketch of her sister...'I would give a good deal, that is, as much as I could afford,' Anna Lefroy later commented, 'for a sketch [see quote, above]'. Yet this curious, unprepossessing sketch only reinforces the strange, enigmatic image of her sister which Cassandra seems determined to present. The sketch offers a rear view of a plump, dumpy woman seated on a tuft or stool, gazing away from us into a white vacant blankness. The woman's face and expression are completely hidden, for not only is the head turned away, but even the back of the head is concealed by a large blue bonnet which, though its strings are untied, remains very firmly in place. All that we can glimpse is the merest hint of a plump, pink child like curve of cheek. The woman's body is enveloped in a long blue gown whose generous folds unflatteringly suggest a somewhat ample figure beneath. Although in some ways charmingly informal, what this sketch does is to depersonalize Jane Austen, rendering her not as as a character, but as a shape. Seated beneath a tree, it is a shape which suggests nursery associations; this blue bonneted female hardly seems adult at all; she is an innocent childlike Miss Muffet sitting on her tuffet. By destroying her sister's letters, and refusing to draw her adult facial expression, it is Cassandra who most contrived to make a mystery of Jane Austen."

I have the following reactions to the above:

1. Kirkham refers to a date of 1804 on the frontispiece. That would seem to settle the confusion as to the date of composition, if accurate. And 1804 is exactly when we know that Jane and Cassandra were still living in Bath, and so that would add force to my argument that the portrait was done in Bath, and Beechen Cliff would be exactly the place near Bath where Jane and CEA would have gone on an "expedition".

However, to give an alternative its due, we also have Letter 39 that JA wrote from Lyme in mid-September 1804 to CEA in Ibthorp, in which we learn that CEA had, earlier that week, been in Weymouth (only a short distance east of Lyme Regis along the English southern coast). So it is possible that CEA was with JA and the other Austens in Lyme Regis _before_ leaving for Weymouth, and it is therefore also possible that the portrait might have been done by CEA at some scenic spot outside of Lyme Regis. I still lean toward Beechen Cliff, though, because the Austens lived there during most of 1804, whereas I would imagine JA was only in Lyme Regis that one trip.

2. Nokes gets the date wrong, and therefore his speculation as to its being painted in Wales would also appear to be wrong. However, I find Nokes's comments about the portrait very interesting, he clearly has given it a lot of thought and careful examination. I agree that the figure of the woman is not slim, as JA appears in other descriptions. Nokes somehow sees that as a girl's body ("nursery associations"). I see "nursery" associations in a very different way---when, after all, is a normally thin woman much heavier? and when does a woman ever assume the particular pose that is shown in the portrait? The only answer that fits both of those criteria is "while in childbirth"! An association which just happens to fit with my notion that this portrait is in some way also a portrait of Mrs. Tilney, the symbol of English wives dying in childbirth.

3. I like that both Nokes and Johnson pick up on the concealment in the picture, both of the features of the woman, and also of what she is looking at! It's pretty obvious that there is some reason why Kirkham, Nokes, and Johnson, as well as Linda Walker, Diane and I, all find something very mysterious and curious in this picture, and I remain convinced that Northanger Abbey is the ultimate key to its deepest meanings.

So there.

Cheers, ARNIE

Cassandra Austen's Portrait of Mrs. Tilney

During the past day, in several different ways, I have made the argument that the backfacing watercolour portrait by Cassandra Austen [presumably of Jane Austen, created sometime between 1800 and 1810] was not only an in-joke between CEA and JA (as Linda Walker & Diane Reynolds have both suggested), but was _also_ particularly and significantly connected to Northanger Abbey—and I took that argument to its logical endpoint, and suggested that the portrait might just be that of a woman gazing down at Bath from the top of Beechen Cliff:

In support of such claims, I have pointed in particular to the passage in Northanger Abbey that describes the outing to Beechen Cliff, and have shown the uncanny parallelism between several details in that passage and the details of CEA’s watercolour portrait.

Now I wish to add one _more_ layer to my interpretation, focusing on the theme of female portraiture, which----aside from the scenes relating to Emma’s “too tall” sketch of Harriet----only (to the best of my recollection) appears in one other Austen published novel----what a big surprise, Northanger Abbey!

The scene at Beechen Cliff, in which Henry Tilney makes Catherine’s mind reel with his erudite disquisitions on pictorial art, is _not_ the only place in Northanger Abbey in which pictorial art is raised as a theme. I will now quote you three _other_ passages in NA where that occurs, and where the focus soon turns to female portraiture, in a crucial thematic way.

First, this one, from when Catherine has just arrived at Northanger Abbey, afire with curiosity to see the place:

“She was all impatience to see the house, and had scarcely any curiosity about the grounds. If Henry had been with them indeed! But now she should not know what was picturesque when she saw it. Such were her thoughts, but she kept them to herself, and put on her bonnet in patient discontent.”

Clearly, Catherine’s head is still buzzing, many chapters later, with Henry’s lessons in the techniques of pictorial art at Beechen Cliff, and so now her expectations of what she would see at the Abbey have been tempered by what he said to her.

Look at that sentence: “But now she should not know what was picturesque when she saw it.” There is a pun lurking in that enigmatic sentence on the word “picturesque”. On the surface “picturesque” means “visually striking and beautiful”. But on another level it refers to whatever is worth making a “picture” of—as in a portrait of some person or event worth depicting and preserving, whether within a picture frame or within one’s mind. So “picturesque” means, in that alternative mental sense, “intelligible” and “memorable”, having nothing necessarily to do with an actual physical landscape.

And so, I claim, it is no coincidence that not long after this scene, we read the following emotionally climactic scene as Catherine and Eleanor discuss the mysterious deceased Mrs. Tilney:

“Miss Tilney continuing silent, [Catherine] ventured to say, "Her death must have been a great affliction!"
"A great and increasing one," replied the other, in a low voice. "I was only thirteen when it happened; and though I felt my loss perhaps as strongly as one so young could feel it, I did not, I could not, then know what a loss it was." She stopped for a moment, and then added, with great firmness, "I have no sister, you know—and though Henry—though my brothers are very affectionate, and Henry is a great deal here, which I am most thankful for, it is impossible for me not to be often solitary."
"To be sure you must miss him very much."
"A mother would have been always present. A mother would have been a constant friend; her influence would have been beyond all other."
"Was she a very charming woman? Was she handsome? Was there any picture of her in the abbey? And why had she been so partial to that grove? Was it from dejection of spirits?"—were questions now eagerly poured forth; the first three received a ready affirmative, the two others were passed by; and Catherine's interest in the deceased Mrs. Tilney augmented with every question, whether answered or not. Of her unhappiness in marriage, she felt persuaded. The general certainly had been an unkind husband. He did not love her walk: could he therefore have loved her? And besides, handsome as he was, there was a something in the turn of his features which spoke his not having behaved well to her.
"Her picture, I suppose," blushing at the consummate art of her own question, "hangs in your father's room?"
"No; it was intended for the drawing-room; but my father was dissatisfied with the painting, and for some time it had no place. Soon after her death I obtained it for my own, and hung it in my bed-chamber—where I shall be happy to show it you; it is very like." Here was another proof. A portrait—very like—of a departed wife, not valued by the husband! He must have been dreadfully cruel to her!” END QUOTE

The portrait of Mrs. Tilney is no sooner mentioned, than it immediately becomes the center of our attention, and arguably, the emotional, thematic center of the entire novel!

There is so much going on in that passage, it would take pages to unpack it all, but I am focused for now only on how clever, resourceful and empathic Catherine’s thinking is, to correctly guess that there must have been a portrait of Mrs. Tilney, and moreover, to recognize how important such a portrait would have been for Eleanor. Catherine has uncannily shot straight to the heart of the matter, and to the heart of Eleanor (and Jane Austen), for that matter.

And is the presence of this passage about a portrait of a lady, in the same novel with the Beechen Cliff episode, and then Catherine’s reaction to same as she arrives at the Abbey, a coincidence? Surely not!

And here is the last passage, when Eleanor fulfills her promise to Catherine, and shows her the portrait of Mrs. Tilney:

“Eleanor was ready to oblige her; and Catherine reminding her as they went of another promise, their first visit in consequence was to the portrait in her bed-chamber. It represented a very lovely woman, with a mild and pensive countenance, justifying, so far, the expectations of its new observer; but they were not in every respect answered, for Catherine had depended upon meeting with features, hair, complexion, that should be the very counterpart, the very image, if not of Henry's, of Eleanor's—the only portraits of which she had been in the habit of thinking, bearing always an equal resemblance of mother and child. A face once taken was taken for generations. But here she was obliged to look and consider and study for a likeness. She contemplated it, however, in spite of this drawback, with much emotion, and, but for a yet stronger interest, would have left it unwillingly.”

Jane Austen has made a very big deal about this portrait, and I say this is for a special reason. I think Jane Austen left the enigmatic image of Mrs. Tilney—her portrait of all the English wives who died in childbirth over several centuries--most unwillingly. Northanger Abbey itself can be seen as a “backfacing” portrait of Mrs. Tilney and all her sisters in conjugal suffering and death—we never see Mrs. Tilney’s face in the novel, and yet it is there lovingly preserved in the attic by her daughter. Just as Jane Austen, writing her own version of female history—HERstory—to preserve the “portrait” of all those “faceless” English wives who died so anonymously and pointlessly.

And that is yet another reason why the woman in Cassandra’s portrait is seen only from behind, and with no part of her face visible—because she has been obliterated from the histories of England written by men, she is “faceless”. And that is also why she is shown gazing out at a landscape with nothing in it—a perfect metaphor for an empty life with no future, no _prospects_!

For those in sympathy with my interpretation, I hope the above will add to your pleasure in savoring Jane Austen’s virtuosity, and the added significance of Cassandra’s portrait. For the rest of you, I can only echo the inimitably witty exchange about mental portraiture in P&P between Darcy and Elizabeth:

"May I ask to what these questions tend?"
"Merely to the illustration of YOUR character," said she, endeavouring to shake off her gravity. "I am trying to make it out."
"And what is your success?"
She shook her head. "I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly."
"I can readily believe," answered he gravely, "that reports may vary greatly with respect to me; and I could wish, Miss Bennet, that you were not to sketch my character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either."
"But if I do not take your likeness now, I may never have another opportunity."
"I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours," he coldly replied.

I would by no means suspend any pleasure of _yours_ in Jane Austen’s writing which differs from my own pleasure in same.

Cheers, ARNIE

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The "Disconcerting" of Mary Bennet, Georgiana Darcy, and....Marianne Dashwood!

One of the most powerful scenes in Andrew Davies's P&P2 occurs at Pemberley, when Georgiana is playing the pianoforte for the assembled party. Miss Bingley just can't help herself, and tosses out a malicious reference to Wickham, the very sound of whose name so disconcerts Georgiana that she abruptly stops playing. Then Lizzy saves the day by racing to Georgiana's side and restoring the poor girl to calmness, enabling her to resume playing and causing Darcy to give Elizabeth "that look" that could melt ice at the North Pole. Yeah, even guys are touched by that one! ;)

Anyway, I realized a while ago, during a reread of that scene as written in the novel, that we actually have no idea what Georgiana is doing at the moment that Miss Bingley's hurtful verbalization is uttered--certainly there is no mention of her playing piano for the group--- nor does Elizabeth do anything specifically directed toward making _Georgiana_ feel better--all Elizabeth does is to keep her cool and not get upset or "discomposed" when Miss Bingley tosses her zinger at her:

"Miss Darcy, on her brother's entrance, exerted herself much more to talk, and Elizabeth saw that he was anxious for his sister and herself to get acquainted, and forwarded as much as possible, every attempt at conversation on either side. Miss Bingley saw all this likewise; and, in the imprudence of anger, took the first opportunity of saying, with sneering civility: "Pray, Miss Eliza, are not the ——shire Militia removed from Meryton? They must be a great loss to /your/ family."
In Darcy's presence she dared not mention Wickham's name; but Elizabeth instantly comprehended that he was uppermost in her thoughts; and the various recollections connected with him gave her a moment's distress; but exerting herself vigorously to repel the ill-natured attack, she presently answered the question in a tolerably detached tone. While she spoke, an involuntary glance showed her Darcy, with a heightened complexion, earnestly looking at her, and his sister overcome with confusion, and unable to lift up her eyes...Elizabeth's collected behaviour, however, soon quieted his emotion; and as Miss Bingley, vexed and disappointed, dared not approach nearer to Wickham, Georgiana also recovered in time, though not enough to be able to speak any more."

So, I have thought for a while now that this was another example of subtly great screenwriting by Andrew Davies, actually finding a way to improve on JA's own staging of the Pemberley salon scene, in a way that felt completely consistent with the characterizations from the novel, and doing so in a way that also tied back in to the much earlier scene in the novel, when Mr. Bennet literally and figuratively "disconcerts" Mary by interrupting her mid-concerto:

Well...purely by serendipity, some recent discussion elsewhere in Austen cyberspace about the tsunami of references to "beaux" (especially by Nancy Steele) in S&S has led me to an even _greater_ respect for Andrew Davies's knowledge of Austen's texts, and even of subtle thematic and wordplay connections _between_ JA' s novels, as I now see that he not only drew upon that earlier scene in P&P with Mary and Mr. Bennet, he _also_ drew upon an amazingly parallel scene in_ S&S_!

And, without further ado, here it is, it's one of those in which Nancy Steele refers to "beaux":

Lucy looked at Elinor again, and was silent.
"Do you know Mr. Robert Ferrars?" asked Elinor.
"Not at all—I never saw him; but I fancy he is very unlike his brother—silly and a great coxcomb."
"A great coxcomb!" repeated Miss Steele, whose ear had caught those words by a sudden pause in Marianne's music.— "Oh, they are talking of their favourite beaux, I dare say."
"No sister," cried Lucy, "you are mistaken there, our favourite beaux are NOT great coxcombs."
"I can answer for it that Miss Dashwood's is not," said Mrs. Jennings, laughing heartily; "for he is one of the modestest, prettiest behaved young men I ever saw; but as for Lucy, she is such a sly little creature, there is no finding out who SHE likes."
"Oh," cried Miss Steele, looking significantly round at them, "I dare say Lucy's beau is quite as modest and pretty behaved as Miss Dashwood's."
Elinor blushed in spite of herself. Lucy bit her lip, and looked angrily at her sister. A mutual silence took place for some time. Lucy first put an end to it by saying in a lower tone, though Marianne was then giving them the powerful protection of a very magnificent concerto...." END QUOTE

It seems clear that there are subtle undercurrents in this scene, where Lucy seems to be upset at her sister saying something aloud that Lucy wished to remain unspoken—perhaps about Robert Ferrars. What I now see for the first time, however, is that _Marianne_ is _also_ "disconcerted" by what Nancy Steele says! So much so that, exactly the way Georgiana reacts with upset to Caroline Bingley's snark in Davies's rewrite of the Pemberley salon scene, so too Marianne's music "suddenly pause[s]" when we hear Nancy spouting off. What's up with _that_? What is Marianne hearing in Nancy Steele's chatter that upsets her too, even though Elinor clearly hasn't a clue about any of it? And then, what enables Marianne to quickly _re_ compose herself and launch into "a very magnificent concerto", one, perhaps, that even Mary Bennet would be proud of? Many interesting and intriguing questions!

But what is for sure is that Davies understood the connection between these scenes in S&S and in P&P, scenes which I feel safe in saying have not been connected in the minds of any other Janeites prior to my pointing this out.

And I have a final question in regard to this whole thing, which I am too lazy to check the answer to myself-- i.e., in Davies's adaptation of S&S, does he include the scene with the Steele girls and Marianne playing piano, and, if so, how do they play it? Does Marianne pause abruptly and get "disconcerted"?

Cheers, ARNIE

The Beechen Cliff Portrait

In another online venue, among the reactions to my posting earlier today…

…it was suggested that this watercolour portrait by Cassandra would have been typical ofa strong and widespread artistic tradition, particularly in illustrations for picturesque books and romances.

I at first responded by pointing out that Cassandra’s portrait was different from pictures painted in that tradition, because Cassandra’s portrait had virtually nothing at all eye-catching in it _except_ the woman portrayed from behind. Now I realize that I failed to grasp the full significance of that tradition, in terms of how it makes the in-joke between Cassandra and JA that much wittier and more profound.

To wit: the large blank space of canvas that take up almost exactly half of the space within the frame is precisely where there _should_ have been a picturesque view! Everything that we see in the picture points this way: the woman seated between two rocks, some shrubbery to her right, but in front of her, absolutely nothing!

I.e., this set-up announces to the viewer that it is a _parody_ of all those paintings in that hoary artistic tradition, it’s a send up that says, in so many words, that the picturesque depictions in all those paintings might be a tad overrated and overdone!

And that further interpretation aligns the passage in NA at Beechen Cliff that much more closely with Cassandra’s portrait:

“…Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape. Delighted with her progress, and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline, and by an easy transition from a piece of rocky fragment and the withered oak which he had placed near its summit…”

What better way to illustrate Catherine’s rejection of "the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape", than to delete the landscape entirely from the painting—but the humor comes from leaving in the observer next to “a piece of rocky fragment and the withered oak which he had placed near its summit.” It’s the very essence of theater of the absurd, the deletion of an essential element from a picture, instead of simply tossing the entire thing in the circular file!

And i was about to conclude by pointing out that I am certain that this painting, whatever the year of its composition (I have seen guesses for 1802, 1804 and 1810, respectively, in my quick search a few minutes ago), is inextricably linked to that very same passage in Northanger Abbey, and so, by being the first to connect them, I dub this portrait the Beechen Cliff Portrait. But then it occurred to me as I was about to post this, that if it was actually painted by Cassandra _at_ Beechen Cliff, then that would suggest that it was painted during the Bath years, i.e, 1801-1805---as Bart Simpson would say, DOH!!

Cheers, ARNIE

The "view" from Beechen Cliff

Yesterday, I was chatting with my friend Linda Walker (she who has written interesting Persuasions Online articles about why JA was sent away at seven, about JA and Tom Lefroy, and most recently about a possible non-murderous cause of JA's death, all of which I've cited from time to time). Linda often thinks outside the box about Jane Austen in very interesting ways, and as our chat ranged over all things Austen, we eventually reached one of the hot Austen topics du jour---the portrait that Paula Byrne (unconvincingly) claims to have been an imaginary portrait of JA.

That's when Linda blew my mind, by commenting that she _loves_ Cassandra's well known portrait of Jane Austen viewed from behind, which I have inserted, above. And the out of the box part in her comment which so amazed me, was that the thing Linda loves about that portrait is that it is from behind and therefore you don't see JA's face--and so it is, in a sense, a little joke collaborated on by CEA and JA--a portrait that is a non-portrait! That thought had never occurred to me, nor can I recall ever reading such an interpretation by any other Janeite, scholarly or amateur!

Now...that led me to an important question, which I ask because I never studied art history closely enough to have any good idea of the answer----are such portraits of one person drawn from behind, with no face shown whatsoever, very rare? Or was that some sort of pictorial convention of the day two centuries ago in England? But when answering my question, please factor in another crucial and curious feature of this portrait, which is that there really is nothing else there in the picture besides the anonymous woman!

I could imagine there being a fair number of pictures of a person depicted from behind sitting in an elevated spot, looking down on a landscape or cityscape panorama depicted below. You see many such photographs today, where the real subject of the picture is the panorama, not the person, other than giving "proof" that the person was there looking at the same scene. But here, aside from the female, a fragment of a hedge or large bush, and a small bit of dark, uneven featureless ground, there is.....absolutely _nothing_ else inside the picture frame! Half the picture---the "view" that the faceless woman is observing---is blank white space! The entire picture, then, is a depiction of the "frame" of a panorama that has been left out entirely!

Linda's outside-the-box idea of this portrait is rich in implications. It makes this seemingly prosaic, bland portrait into something completely different--in many ways, something surprisingly akin to 20th century abstract art where the ideas generated by looking at the picture are much more interesting than the picture itself! Or, as Tom Wolfe brilliantly and satirically suggested, it is like a tiny picture hanging in a museum, dwarfed by the large and elaborate curatorial explanation hanging next to it!

And that also fits perfectly with my sense of many of JA's juvenilia pieces as being startlingly akin to 20th century theater of the absurd--which is one reason--in addition to JA's sexual innuendoes--why the modern absurdist playwright, Joe Orton, was a _huge_ Janeite.

So in CEA's portrait of JA from behind, we have, at a minimum, the following ideas hovering over it, when we think about it:

that JA has no face.....because her novels published during her lifetime gave no name of the author other than "A Lady"--so this is a commentary on the suppression of female creative identity and fame.

that JA is gazing out at blank space, because Jane Austen saw, and depicted, extraordinarily subtle events that occurred in the world below, which she saw clearly, but which were invisible to many other people in her world.

You get the picture (ha ha), and I am sure you can, if so inclined, generate other ideas that this picture leads you to. But that's not the best part of this, which only occurred to me as I was getting ready to wind up this post---what popped into my head was a quotation from Northanger Abbey, which shows that JA was well aware of the parallels between pictorial and literary art, and was particularly sensitive to metapictorial and metafictional considerations, such as how one's perception of a scene changes, sometimes dramatically so, depending on changes in one's point of view:

"In the present instance, she confessed and lamented her want of knowledge, declared that she would give anything in the world to be able to draw; and a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed, in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in everything admired by him, and her attention was so earnest that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste. He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances — side–screens and perspectives — lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape. Delighted with her progress, and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline, and by an easy transition from a piece of rocky fragment and the withered oak which he had placed near its summit, to oaks in general, to forests, the enclosure of them, WASTE LANDS, crown lands and government, he shortly found himself arrived at politics; and from politics, it was an easy step to silence.”

I've previously discussed the above quote in two posts:

But now I read that excerpt with fresh eyes, because it suddenly dawned on me, as I reread it with CEA's portrait in mind, that this portrait was the _ultimate_ injoke between JA and CEA. Why? Because this portrait from behind by CEA works perfectly as a portrait of Catherine Morland herself sitting atop Beechen Cliff looking down on Bath and deciding, under Henry's mischievous tutelage, that Bath was unworthy to make a part of a landscape! So we can almost imagine Catherine, if her pictorial skills had been up to it, sitting in Mrs. Allen's lodgings in Bath shortly after that excursion to Beechen Cliff, sketching a portrait of Eleanor Tilney from behind, and deciding not to include Bath in the picture! Wouldn't CEA's portrait therefore make a _perfect_ illustration for the above quoted scene in NA--and perhaps, that excerpt in NA really was _the_ specific inspiration for CEA to paint this portrait!

Cheers, ARNIE