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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, January 7, 2011

Witty Ticcy Jane

In Janeites earlier this week, discussing Letter #4 among Jane Austen's surviving letters, which is short but packed with puns and ironies, I repeated an old claim of mine, to wit, that Jane Austen had a kind of a "tic" for punning and wordplay, which prompted a very interesting (and, for me, fruitful) response from Victoria Lansburgh, which I responded to as follows in a series of three posts which I've consolidated, below:

[Victoria] "It appears that Arnie has now turned JA into "Witty Ticcy Jane," modelled on the character "Witty Ticcy Ray," a man with severe Tourette's syndrome whom Oliver Sacks wrote about in his book, _The Man Who Mistook His Wife for His Hat_."

Victoria, I was not actually suggesting that Jane had Tourette's Syndrome, but was using the word "tic" metaphorically to describe JA as the kind of person who puns compulsively. I am such a person, and I have known other such people, and I don't believe any of us have Tourette's. ;)

I see Jane Austen as having learned to sublimate this natural tendency, and, in writing her novels, to channel it through her incredible genius, making it the servant, rather than the master, of her literary vision. But in her letters, she did not exercise that sort of self-discipline, and often just let it rip, hence the succession of little ironies in these early letters.

I love all of Oliver Sacks's books, as I suspect you do, too, as you so readily heard and correctly identified the echo of the interface of creativity and neurology in my post of sacks's vivid portrait of Ray the weekend jazz drummer.

But, on further reflection, I want to thank you for helping me connect some important dots in my mind for the first time. Let me explain.

As i have expressed before, I have for several years been of the opinion that Miss Bates is in several important ways a self-portrait by Jane Austen, for example in the following blogpost from nearly a year ago:

I have also been of the opinion for quite a while that, as I wrote in my previous post, Jane was a great ticcer of puns, ironies, and jokes.

However I don't believe I ever previously put those two pieces together, and realized how nicely they resonate each with the other.

My sense is that Jane Austen (like Samuel Johnson) struggled all her life with this same sort of tendency, but look at how gender made a huge difference. Johnson had a "special license" which was granted to him by virtue of being a man, to give vent to many of his verbal impulses, and to be celebrated for it. Whereas Jane Austen as a woman was under perpetual restraint in that regard.

It's no surprise to me, therefore that, as I wrote last month, Jane Austen created her great risqué ticcer Mary Crawford, who simply cannot resist a salacious pun, and put in her mouth a pun that indirectly but unmistakably alludes to Samuel Johnson's famous inadvertent "bottom" double entendre.

And I claim that the character if Miss Bates is in many ways the pinnacle of JA's literary artistic achievement, this woman who would seem to all Emmas to be merely an irritating motormouth to be ignored, but who upon closer examination would be seen as a deep complex character pouring out a flood of amazing poetry and commentary of an extraordinary and rare kind.


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