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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I am a Jane-o-holic

Diane Reynolds joined the conversation in Janeites and Austen-L for the first time in a long while, with some very interesting comments about Letter #6 and its resonance to the writing style of Jane Austen's novels, to which I responded thusly:

[Diane] "As early as 20, JA has mastered the art of savage wit and shows an amazing control, starting the letter with a sentence that sets the tone for everything to follow by juxtaposing being "very gay" with "Mr. Claringbould's funeral" without a stopping for a breath. She was
already a master of irony. I see this a huge continuity between this and the novels. She is laughing her way through this letter while at the same time communicating a certain despair and knowing Cassandra will pick up on all the nuances."

In this, you and I have been in total agreement for a very long time, Diane, glad to have you back in the mix.

"My strong hunch is that JA is parodying a vacuous upper class voice in these letters. This is not her voice, but the voice of the village chorus, just as the narrative voice in her novels, I argue, is not a reliable narrative voice but the deliberately misleading din of the village chorus, a compendium of inaccurate gossip and half-fabricated chatter meant to deceive the reader."

What I've been saying for 6 years is that the voice, in the novels, is completely ambiguous--if read as a reasonably objective, forthcoming narrator, you get the revealed (or overt) story; if read as you just described, and/or as being filtered through the subjective consciousness of the heroine, then you get the shadow story. The rest, as they say, is commentary, and I have spent the last 6 years commenting. ;)

"Heaven help me, I've tried so hard, but I can't shake the JA bug. It's like shooting up opium, I imagine, only better. :)"

Repeat after me---My name is Diane and I am a Janeoholic. That's the first step--and then the next _eleven_ steps are to keep reading the next 11 letters with us! After that, you're on your own! ;

I have been a hopeless addict since 2000---it took me 5 years from the moment I entered the scene of dissipation and vice when my wife, a secret Janeite, tricked me into taking my first drink, when we went to see S&S in the movie theater in 1995-6. And then I found out about this group, and Nancy, a hardened ruthless dealer, and I was headed down the serpentine garden path toward self-immolation.

(Can you hand me the pipe, please, it's my turn for a smoke....)

And now a quick word relating DianA's felicitous choice of quotation for her own gracious acknowledgment to Ellen and myself---a quotation which happens to be extremely relevant to DianE's comments about ironic narration:

"With such a confederacy against her -- with a knowledge so intimate of his goodness -- with a conviction of his fond attachment to herself, which at last, though long after it was observable to everybody else, burst on her -- what could she do? "

Of course this is the narration a few paragraphs before the very end of S&S, describing Marianne's relenting and consenting to marry Brandon. I suggest that this sentence is amenable to two diametrically opposed readings--the usual reading, of course, is that the word "confederacy" is being used with perfumed irony, to suggest the friendliest and most well-meaning band of true friends of Marianne, guiding her to make the wisest decision in marriage (and my veiled allusion to the end of _Emma_ is entirely intentional).

However, the ironic reading is (ironically!) to take the words "such a confederacy against her...what could she do?" _literally_, as if there really _had_ been a group of other characters in the novel working covertly toward this ending from Day One----which leads to a very different reading of the novel, one that would be pleasing to those more-than-a-few Janeites who---Alan Rickman and David Morrissey notwithstanding---simply _cannot_ abide Marianne's decision to marry Brandon.

Ah, sweet addiction! ;)


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