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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, February 28, 2011

Letter 13: "Tender"-hearted speculation

After that uncharacteristic outburst of undisguised anger in Letter 12, Jane Austen is back in full ironic, sarcastic, punning mode in Letter 13. It would require the contortions of a Houdini to sanitize and normalize, by reading literally, the endless parade of sarcasms, puns, and absurdisms which fill this letter.

First here we have Le Faye _again_ speculating that there is a letter (later destroyed or missing) written by JA during the 7 days between Letters 12 and 13, and, also as previously, the only apparent reason for her speculation is that JA leads with "I am so good as to write to you again thus speedily".

Reading JA’s words literally and assuming a missing letter is much more palatable to Le Faye than reading the beginning of Letter 13 in the context of the anger which both began and ended Letter 12, anger which was all about (what else?) CEA keeping JA waiting for a letter!

I have tipped my hand that I believe that JA’s lead sentence to be ironic, and that JA has actually followed through on her threat to delay writing again "for many days"—actually an entire week---and perhaps might not have written even then if not for having actually heard from Frank for the first time in months, news which it would have been much more wrong to delay sending along to CEA than CEA’s wrongful delay in writing to JA.

But if JA has to end CEA’s punishment prematurely, she will get in a final dig nonetheless about the relative importance of letters to & from sons vs. letters to& from daughters. JA writes:

“Frank writes in good spirits, but says that our correspondence cannot be so easily carried on in future as it has been, as the communication between Cadiz and Lisbon is less frequent than formerly. You and my mother, therefore, must not alarm yourselves at the long intervals that may divide his letters. I address this advice to you two as being the most tender-hearted of the family.”

Incredibly, Chapman twists himself in a double pretzel to invent a typo of "brother" for "mother" in order to make JA's barb about CEA and Mrs. Austen as "the most tender heartedof the family" not sound like the barb that it is. The word “tender-hearted” already drips with irony, but that irony is doubled when we realize that JA also intends a pun on the word “tender”, one which JA knew well from Shakespeare’s frequent deployment of same, most famously in the words of Polonius to Ophelia:

“Affection! pooh! you speak like a green girl, Unsifted in such perilous circumstance. Do you believe his _tenders_, as you call them?...Marry, I'll teach you: think yourself a baby; That you have ta'en these tenders for true pay, Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly; Or--not to crack the wind of the poor phrase, Running it thus--you'll tender me a fool.”

This punning on “tender” as referring both to emotional warmth and to legal tender, i.e., money, is a pun that JA herself was to revisit a decade later in her poem about playing Brag at Godmersham, which ends with:

Such is the mild ejaculation
Of tender-hearted speculation.

How remarkably strong has been the pressure to conceal the dark side of JA from the world that Chapman would conjure up such a ludicrous suggestion of a typo, but it must have seemed necessary to his post-Victorian sensibility in order to short-circuit that chain of logical inferences that would lead to JA writing something quite sharp-edged about her sister and mother.

And for those who doubt JA was being sarcastic about her mother (and CEA) in that sentence, we need only look to the next sentence for the punch line, where JA takes the veil off and is openly mocking of her mother’s making "her entree into the dressing room through crowds of admiring spectators" following by the first drinking of tea together in 5 weeks.

Is it possible _not_ to be reminded of Mr. Bennet's satire on Mrs. Bennet?:

""This is a parade," cried he, "which does one good; it gives such an _elegance_ to misfortune! Another day I will do the same; I will sit in my library, in my night cap and powdering gown, and give as much trouble as I can, -- or, perhaps, I may defer it till Kitty runs away."

Le Faye's fn referring us to The Family Record gave momentary hope of some further explanation of that sarcasm, but alas, all it led us to is a quotation from the mysterious Lefroy MS—the very one that is being kept from the Janeite world for reasons unknown---in which Anna Austen describes the Dressing Room "as they were pleased to call it" –a name perhaps given to that room by JA because it was where Mrs. Austen “played” Mrs. Bennet nightly for all those "admiring spectators", meaning JA and whoever else was around for the show!

The sarcasm continues apace with Mrs. Austen who "bids fair for a continuance in the same brilliant course of action", and here is precisely where CEA deletes the details of JA's skewering of her mother!

But of course Le Faye makes no effort to connect these dots, even though the deletion from the letter is not total, as we see when JA picks up the same thread again, with “Mr. Lyford…..partook of our elegant entertainment”, that word “elegant”being echoed in the above scene in P&P.

And then we hear that Mr. Lyford “wants my mother to look yellow and to throw out a rash, but she will do neither.”

There is a tragic irony in JA making fun of her mother’s medical complaints---JA could not imagine that less than 20 years later this Mr. Lyford’s nephew, also a Mr. Lyford, would be the physician attending JA herself in _her_ final illness, while her mother would still have another 12 years to play her earthly role.

I conclude my comments on Letter 13 by pointing to another set of absurdisms which JA tosses into the mix, apparently just for the sheer wicked delight of it:

“Who is Miss Maria Montresor going to marry, and what is to become of Miss Mulcaster?”, then some factual details, and then the capper:

“There is no reason to suppose that Miss Morgan is dead after all.”

Is it just a coincidence that these three young women whose initials are all “MM”’s are mentioned in this very peculiar way? Carol Houlihan Flynn, in her chapter entitled "The letters" in the new edition of the Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, has a marvelously apt comment onthat last whopper:

"Samuel Beckett could have written such a line. Or Swift. Or closer to home, Austen's own parasyntactic, always obliging Miss Bates, who sees and reports every thing."

Indeed, Flynn is spot on, this is Theater of the Absurd more a century _before_ its official invention, just one more reason why Tom Orton loved Jane Austen’s writing. Only Le Faye can with a straight face provide a Biographical Index entry for “Miss Morgan” as if she were a real and seriously ill young woman, whose continuing existence on earth JA and CEA would so casually bandy about as if discussing the score at a cricket match.

If these comments were to be read literally, that would indeed be the furthest thing from “tender-hearted”!

Cheers, ARNIE

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The literary critic as clueless poseur

I read Joseph Kestner’s 1978 article “The Letters of Jane Austen: The Writer as Emetteur/Recepteur” (which has been praised recently in Janeites and Austen L) a few years ago, and what struck me most, in addition to the pretension of his title, was his total tone-deafness to JA’s irony.

The best (or worst) moment came when Kestner drew a parallel between JA's famous deprecation of her novelistic scope in her letter to James Stanier Clarke, on the one hand, and Horace's referring to himself as a bee, in relation to Pindar's being a swan, on the other! What was amazing was that he failed to realize that both JA _and_ Horace had written _mock_ panegyrics, not sincere ones!

I knew this because I had only recently before reading his article discovered the 1988 Persuasions article by Mary DeForest...

...(whom I contacted and became friends with), in which Mary had independently also detected the distinct parallel between Horace and Jan Austen, but in which Mary, who was not tone-deaf to irony, understood that JA was very consciously and learnedly emulating Horace’s _satire_ of _his_ emperor “Augustus”.

Here is how Mary put it:

“…Although Horace was not primarily a love-poet, the following poem illustrates the Callimachean recusatio as it was reshaped by the Roman elegists; the same themes permeate the poems of Propertius and Ovid. Here, Horace apologizes for his inability to write epic poetry, whether about Octavian, Achilles, or Ulysses:

“Varius, a bird of Homeric song, will write a poem about you that you are the mighty victor over the enemy, in whatever enterprise the fierce soldier under your command will undertake on horse or on ship. We, Agrippa, neither try to tell these things nor the grave wrath of Achilles who knew not how to yield nor the voyages over the sea of the duplicitous Ulysses, (we are too delicate for such great themes) so long as modesty and the Muse in charge of the peaceful lyre forbid me to mar your praises and those of glorious Caesar with the lack of talent … We sing of dinner parties, we sing of the battles of fierce girls whose nails are cut to scratch young men, whether we are on fire somewhat or whether, as normally, frivolous.” [Horace, Odes 1.6.]

Varius is recommended as the epic poet who could do justice to Octavian’s victories because Horace is too delicate to write of any engagements save amatory ones. But we can discern that Horace is not serious in his self-criticism….The poet who renders the massiveness of epic poetry as fat has the comic spirit, as he says in the last line of the poem. It is tempting to imagine that Jane Austen had this poem in mind when she wrote letters of a similar nature to James Stanier Clarke…Like Horace, she refused on the grounds that her genius was comic. Moreover, she seems to allude to the recusatio directly by saying that she could no more attempt this than she could write an epic poem….” END QUOTE

To which I add that JA’s “default setting” was that of satire, irony and parody, and that this was only one example among hundreds to be found lurking in all her writings, whether fiction or nonfiction, poem or charade, novel or playlet, or letter.

Cheers, ARNIE

Henry Austen's Biographical Notice: Parody, Burlesque, Homage, or all of the above?

[Anielka] "Here's the next phase of my argument. No-one will much like it but myself, as Jane would say.....Now, somebody else is eulogised as a saint by their brother. And the reason that this is funny is because everyone knows, or knew when this was published, that St. Swithin (much against his wishes) is buried in St. Swithin's Cathedral and that on St. Swithin's day (subject of JA's other big poem and near her own death) it will rain for 40 days as a curse."

Last July, I wrote two posts at my blog about JA's St. Swithin's poem as a final veiled expression of her complex, satirical thoughts at the imminent prospect of her being interred in Winchester Cathedral, and of the whitewash of her character that Henry was about to initiate before she was cold in the grave:

As I mentioned in there, JA's poem is itself a burlesque of James Austen's (lame) poetic eulogy to her. And there's much more going on as well, these really are JA's final words to the world.

"So NOW if you agree with my proposition that Jane is parodying Egerton Brydges eulogy of his sister, what will you say to my proposition that Henry Austen repeats this parody in his eulogy to Jane Austen at the beginning of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion?"

I think it's much more complicated with Henry, in my opinion, he was the only one of her brothers who was to some extent in on JA's satire--and he had been the husband of Eliza (represented in MP by Mary Crawford) and so he was definitely one part Henry Crawford. And the "Hancock" charade I have decoded was attributed to _him_--although I think JA herself wrote it, the attribution to him suggests his complicity in his little sister's wicked wordplay.

He knew very well that he was writing total B.S. about Jane, most of all the part about her never writing about real people. But was he simply a crass opportunist and huckster, shrewdly (and perhaps accurately) judging that the way to get NA and Persuasion published in a hurry was to start a marketing campaign based on "St. Jane"? Or did he feel he was in a perverse way honoring Jane's long history of satire and burlesque, by writing nonsense about her that they would both laugh about together if she were still alive? He is, like Henry Crawford, very hard to pin down, and I think that JA knew her brother very well indeed to paint such a perverse literary portrait of him (which makes his well-known comments about the suspense of the romance plot in MP all the more interesting).

And Henry Austen is also one of the sources for Frank Churchill, hence the following:

"It was a child's play, chosen to conceal a deeper game on Frank Churchill's part."

Which leads right into....

[Anielka] ".....the hand which guided that pen is now mouldering in the grave"? Are you serious, Henry? This would be your sister's own real hand, the image of the decay of which you are deliberately conjuring up......?"

The word "mouldering" was one that JA knew well, and used cleverly, from a young age, and, given Janine Barchas's brilliant presentation at the JASNA AGM last November, _very_ appropriate both to the interment of JA in a famous cathedral, _and_ to the publication of Northanger Abbey!

That is all a million miles away from the parodic skewerings of Brydges, Clarke, et al by JA herself--Henry, paradoxically, is simultaneously ripping JA off, and honoring her, at the same time! And I suspect that had she been looking down as her spirit flew away, she'd have shared a final laugh with Henry to contemplate the perverse absurdity of it all!

Cheers, ARNIE

Friday, February 25, 2011

Letter #12 REDUX: Jane Austen's Johnsonian Malevolence

"For all the pleasantries in between, she's jealous (she should come first with Cassandra), she's annoyed, she's hurt. And she wants to end on that note. She wants Cassandra to know....I have to say, I was a bit shocked at that opening to paragraph 2: "Having now relieved my heart of a great deal of malevolence ..." It made me go back and reread the first paragraph in a new light, to really feel her anger. Again, though I think she is making an attempt here to distance herself from herself (discussing her heart in a detached way rather saying "myself"), she's not successful ... the hurt comes through. Cassandra's letters matter. It stings JA, who puts effort into writing amusingly to her sister (and of course is her bf), doesn't get the prompt response she expects: nobody "deserves" the letters as much as JA. "

But even as JA's heart pours out anger and pain, Diane, note how her mind, ever detached and scanning for resonance, notes the parallel of her own experience to that of Johnson's strikingly similar letter to Boswell, which I described in my opening salvo on Letter XII, linked below---or perhaps she had just read that very letter in Boswell and it has kindled her own anger and inspired her to write her own version of it, rather than to keep stuffing her resentment down:

"We see too that books are important and that, as others have pointed out, JA and her father have a warm relationship over books and reading. "

JA not only specifically mentions Boswell's book later in the letter, as a perhaps long overdue addition to the Steventon rectory library, i see in JA's striking use of the unusual word "malevolence" a veiled allusion to Rambler 159, in which Samuel Johnson addressed the very indecision which plagues Hamlet:

"Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them?"

In Johnson's essay, linked below, he discusses the pros and cons of keeping one's mouth shut vs. speaking out strongly and in anger against the wrong being done to oneself:

Johnson goes through a sophisticated bit of argumentation, and I strongly suspect JA of having found that essay by Johnson particularly salient to her own situation during the days prior to her writing Letter 12--maybe perhaps because Cassandra has quoted chapter and verse from Dr. Johnson, in an effort to induce her big-mouthed little sister to zip it up.

Here is the core passage of Johnson's essay, but I recommend reading the fully essay, which is really not very long, for full context:

"It is perhaps kindly provided by nature, that, as the feathers and strength of a bird grow together, and her wings are not completed till she is able to fly, so some proportion should be preserved in the human kind between judgment and courage; the precipitation of inexperience is therefore restrained by shame, and we remain shackled by timidity, till we have learned to speak and act with propriety. I believe few can review the days of their youth, without recollecting temptations, which shame, rather than virtue, enabled them to resist; and opinions which, however erroneous in their principles,and dangerous in their consequences, they have panted to advance at the hazard of contempt and hatred, when they found themselves irresistibly depressed by a languid anxiety, which seized them at the moment of utterance, and still gathered strength from their endeavours to resist it. It generally happens that assurance keeps an even pace with ability, and the fear of miscarriage, which hinders our first attempts, is gradually dissipated as our skill advances towards certainty of success. That bashfulness therefore which prevents disgrace, that short and temporary shame, which secures us from the danger of lasting reproach, cannot be properly counted among our misfortunes. Bashfulness, however it may incommode for a moment, scarcely ever produces evils of long continuance; it may flush the cheek, flutter in the heart, deject the eyes, and enchain the tongue, but its mischiefs soon pass off without remembrance. It may sometimes exclude pleasure, but seldom opens any avenue to sorrow or remorse. It is observed somewhere, that /few have repented of having forborne to speak. /

To excite opposition, and _inflame malevolence_, is the unhappy privilege of courage made arrogant by consciousness of strength. No man finds in himself any inclination to attack or oppose him who confesses his superiority by blushing in his presence. Qualities exerted with apparent fearfulness, receive applause from every voice, and support from every hand. Diffidence may check resolution and obstruct performance, but compensates its embarrassments by more important advantages; it//conciliatesthe proud, and softens the severe, averts envy from excellence, and censure from miscarriage.It may indeed happen that knowledge and virtue remain too long congealed by this frigorific power, as the principles of vegetation are sometimes obstructed by lingering frosts. He that enters late into a public station, though with all the abilities requisite to the discharge of his duty, will find his powers at first impeded by a timidity which he himself knows to be vicious, and must struggle long against dejection and reluctance, before he obtains the full command of his own attention, and adds the gracefulness of ease to the dignity of merit. For this disease of the mind I know not whether any remedies of much efficacy can be found."

I think that JA feels no shame or bashfulness about venting her spleen at Cassandra, she's definitely not in the mood to blushingly defer, and she does not feel that she is being arrogant. Above all, she is pointedly _not_ concerned whether her strong words might excite opposition or inflame malevolence in CEA or anyone else reading Letter 12, and I think that is why JA tosses the word "malevolence" into the mix, to show that she feels righteous anger and is not backing down one inch from it. She has guts.

"I agree that the letters we've been reading lately reveal the humiliations JA has undergone. I do think the women who defied convention and went off and did their own thing must have been the exception, and perhaps in situations much more dire than must have been hard not to have been able to 'make it' in the one career path open to women, marriage, and worse, not to be able to tell people what she truly thought. She had to suck up a lot. The writing, as we see in this letter, be it letters or novels, is a lifeline for her."

And, as I suggest above, a catharsis, a necessary venting of malevolence, so that JA can feel cleansed and ready to move on to face life as it was.

Cheers, ARNIE

The Eulogist who wrote mock eulogies was the Cynic who wrote (mock?) romances

Anielka: "Well, I'd say our arguments...make a very convincing case for a rather revolutionary scenario. Jane Austen didn't like Samuel Egrton Brydges nor his sister Mrs. Lefroy and satirised both....."I agree that Mrs. Lefroy's letters are somewhat trite and average and the Absence of Jane certainly doesn't add to those who wish to remain in the "Jane's best friend" society."

Yes to all of the above, it is always especially satisfying when seemingly unrelated dots turn out to be eminently connectable.

Anielka: "If someone said to you that the dedication to the Prince Regent in Emma was genuine, on what grounds would you prove them wrong? Or is that assertion correct - that Jane Austen thought very highly of the Prince Regent? Here are the two texts in question. "Compare and Contrast" as my literature teacher would have said":

Anielka, you and I are in complete agreement that the principal "tell" of JA's mock praises/eulogies/dedications is their absurdist over-the-top quality, especially coming from the pen of the author whom Auden famously and aptly described as being the very opposite of innocent, and who is universally (and rightly) acknowledged to have been a genius of realism.

Clarke's dedication to the PR and his effusions about Nelson are truly worthy of Mr. Collins, and Fanny Burney's dedication of Camilla to the Queen, over the top as it is, seems almost restrained compared to the Category Five B.S. Quotient of Clarke's effusions. And JA's poem to Mrs. Lefroy is in Category Five as well, and given the way JA, in her Mr. Bennet-like way, winkingly invites Clarke to hoist himself on his own rhetorical petard in their famous correspondence, it is beyond imagining that she could herself have intentionally written such grotesque over-effusions herself only a few years earlier. JA was a mocker from the age of 13 when she wrote those two satirical letters to the Loiterer.

And add to the pile of evidence that the Lefroy poem is a mock eulogy is its close temporal proximity to JA's very famous M.A.D. letter (written only 4 days after April Fool's Day, 1809) written to Crosby, and the Austen women's momentous move to Chawton Cottage in the Spring of 1809. These are all of a piece, a kind of muted rebel yell of mocking defiance, an edgy celebration of being released from 33 years of confinement.

Yes, it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that at times, JA really was mad as hell, and that anger did erupt in all sorts of complicated ways in all her writings, whether letters, private poems, or published novels. When she was mad she was often very unkind, and sometimes that anger came through without any disguise whatsoever--as in the comment about Mrs. Hall's stillborn baby. I am not making her out to be a saint, but I believe her anger was rarely directed at those who did not deserve it.

And yet....this angry, un-innocent, cynical woman who never married undeniably was also the author of six of the greatest, most sophisticated, most modern courtship & marriage romances ever written. How could this happen?

Was JA like Charlotte Lucas ("I'm not romantic, you know. I never was.") or Anne Elliot (waiting forever for the man she never stopped loving), or, impossibly, half Charlotte and half Anne? half Mary C. and half Fanny P.?

To me, I don't see how the novels could work so well as romances if JA had been entirely cynical--but it is that same cynicism that fuels the shadow stories I see. So, in a very profound sense, JA's novels really are her "children" in the sense that they reflect _both_ sides of her Protean personality, the Romantic _and_ the Cynic. Perhaps there is a principle afoot here something like Nixon going to China, or Begin making peace with Sadat--maybe only a profound cynic could write such convincing romances? But only a profound cynic would include the antidote to those romances in the shadows of those same novel pages.

I don't think JA pretended to love Gothic romance like Radcliffe's--I think she saw Radcliffe, Sophia Lee and their lesser peers as creators of a crucial imaginative realm that English gentlewomen, confined by serial pregnancies, confined by the inability to travel on their own, could safely travel to distant worlds which yet were reflections of their own deepest feelings and perceptions. And the following blog post I just found somehow resonates nicely with that very point:

Cheers, ARNIE

Lefroy Brydges shenanigans.... as convergent evidence supporting my prior claim re Jane Austen's Great Chasms and Dirty Bottoms

Anielka Briggs responded to my earlier comments on the above, and I then responded to her response:

Me, before: Anielka's post today claiming that JA's 1808 poem about Madam Lefroy was a parody of an 1806 eulogizing poem by her brother Samuel Egerton Brydges is very interesting.

Anielka: Well, to be honest my post allows one to sit fairly firmly on the fence because I offer you all the option of believing both poems are genuine effusions of sorrow if that suits your world view. I offer this option mainly because the suggestion will be so outrageous that I imagine it would be positively offensive to some JA lovers to think that actually JA could be so rude as to satirise her niece's sainted mother-in-law (albeit a posthumous poem and the posthumous addition of a mother-in-law). Also, because our belief about Mrs. Lefroy as "JA's best friend" is primarily predicated on this poem we would be forced to confront our ideas about JA's relationship with Mrs. Lefroy and feel duped if we accept this poem is satirical.

Me, now: Yes, taken alone, it is possible to see JA's poem as a genuine effusion of sorrow--and indeed that has been the universal reaction ever since JA's poem was first read. That is why my argument based on interpretation of JA's explicit allusive source of all these effusions, i.e., the famous comments about Samuel Johnson's death by _his_ friend, and also other echoing passages in JA's novels, is so significant. I show that JA did something _very_ characteristic of her wicked wit, by turning the sublime into the scatalogical.

And that is why then adding your argument based on the apparent parody of Brydges's poem, makes it exponentially more significant. Some might respond by saying that this is just a satire of SE Brydges alone and not of Madam Lefroy, too, but I think it's a satire of her as
well--if JA's grief for her were really heartfelt, she would never write a mock eulogy of her for any reason.

Me, before: "Anielka was, I believe, not entirely unaware that nearly three months ago, I posted in these groups"

Anielka: Anielka is still entirely unaware as I have not read that posting but I will make an effort to do so if you want me to?.

Me, now: You should do as you like. It is there at my blog post where I spelled it all out, and here is the link, again:

Me, before: "convergent evidence supporting "my prior" claim"

Anielka: How interesting! You mean you believe you thought up this same idea first using totally separate evidence? Well that would mean convergent evidence indeed. If two separate individuals draw the same rather esoteric conclusion from completely different evidence it would suggest that, painful though the thought might be, Samuel Egerton's picture of his sister's perfection made JA so sick and wicked that she wrote a poem to satirise Mrs. Lefroy. (Although I think the original object of the satire was probably Egerton Brydges literary abilities and his famillial pride).

Me, now: I don't believe I thought it up, I did think it up, and I posted those thoughts in these groups and at my blog. Regardless of whether you knew about my prior claim, the very interesting additional evidence you did find _is_ convergent with, and also (as I stated)
directly connected to, my prior evidence---_both_ synergistically pointing toward biting parody as the most likely interpretation of JA's intentions. And yes, as we both have pointed out, a conclusion that requires a radical rethinking of the entire relationship between JA and
Madam Lefroy.

On that last topic, by the way, I did read Madam Lefroy's letters when they were published about 4 years ago, and here are some of my thoughts about them which I wrote down then and still stand by today:

“The Letters of Mrs. Lefroy… span from September 1800 till her sudden death in December 1804…I was really surprised to read Mrs. Lefroy's level of literary expression in her letters (which are all written to her son Edward, who was studying law on the Isle of Wight)--she is actually not a good writer, she uses clich├ęs regularly, and even some apparent grammatical errors. To the extent that anyone has claimed that she was somehow a literary influence on JA...that would not be supported by how she wrote. However, what would be supported would be the idea
that she encouraged the young JA, because these letters are endlessly filled with gentle, sweet, loving encouragement to her not particularly talented son. It's easy to see that she would have been the same with JA….Mrs. Lefroy was really depressed often during the writing of these letters, she was very lonely at times….There are a couple of references to the Miss Austens coming back from Bath to visit Steventon, but nothing special in them. Also there are references to socializing with James Austen several times in Mrs. Lefroy's letters, which is hardly surprising…. There is not a hint of any bad blood between JA and Mrs. Lefroy in any of Mrs. Lefroy's letters…Mrs. Lefroy was intensely religious (like TOM!!!), but without a trace of righteous anger, except.....that she had some not nice things to say about Napoleon and
also about the Irish rebels who rose up in 1803…”

My assessment of Madam Lefroy as a very mediocre writer of English prose and poetry only adds to Anielka's sense of the absurdity of Egerton's using his literary soapbox to include her as a "poetess", let alone as an influence on JA's writing style! Which makes JA's poetic praise of Madam Lefroy's "genius" all the more absurd----read Madam Lefroy's letters yourself if you don't believe me, there's no way that JA was actually impressed with the way Madam Lefroy wrote. It seems to me that being Egerton's sister had the additional unfortunate consequence of making his elder sister want to try to "keep up" with his "genius" by writing her own poems, when she (like him) really should never have tried. But then, she was friends with James Austen, a higher-grade literary poseur, so maybe (shades of Mrs. Elton) they joined with one or two of their Hampshire neighbors and made a little literary society together.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lefroy Brydges convergent evidence supporting my prior claim re Jane Austen's Great Chasms and Dirty Bottoms

Anielka Briggs's post today in Janeites and Austen-L claiming that Jane Austen's 1808 poem about Madam Lefroy was a parody of an 1806 eulogizing poem by her brother Samuel Egerton Brydges is very interesting.

Anielka was, I believe, not entirely unaware that nearly three months ago, I posted in these groups and in my blog a message entitled "Jane Austen's Great Chasms and Dirty Bottoms"... which I addressed several subjects, with the third and final section thereof being my own claim that such 1808 poem written by Jane Austen and dedicated to Madam Lefroy, was a mock elegy, meant to mock, rather than honor, the memory of Madam Lefroy. I did not base my claim on Samuel Egerton Brydges's poem to his sister, because I was entirely unaware of it prior to Anielka's bringing it forward today. Rather, I based my earlier claim on the covert scatalogical subtext contained in the overt allusion in JA's 1808 poem to Hamilton's (then) famous eulogy of the recently deceased Samuel Johnson. My above post gives all the details of my argument.

At the end of that post, after analyzing the evidence, I explained as follows:

"So we see JA, in the aggregate of these two passages [in her 1808 poem], unmistakably winking at Hamilton’s eulogizing of Johnson via great chasms being filled up, you don’t have to be Groucho Marx to realize that there’s a sexual joke going on here. I will leave to each of you the decision of what to make of JA putting such innuendo into a eulogy for a dead friend, and move on to the final stage of my argument, which is that, lurking BEHIND (forgive me, I could not resist) all of the above is, of course the most infamous sexual pun in all of JA’s published novels: “Certainly, my home at my uncle’s brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals. Of Rears and Vices I saw enough. Now do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat.”
That last line takes on startling new significance, when you take into account everything I have written, above, in this message, which established the Johnsonian patina that subliminally rests on the surface of Mansfield Park in particular.

It is precisely as if Jane Austen were speaking _specifically to Dr. Johnson_through the mouth of her own creation, Mary Crawford, and essentially teasing him about his priggish blockheadedness about puns, particularly sexual puns. Which, you will recall from the passages in Johnson’s Preface to Shakespeare, was one of Johnson’s major complaints about Shakespeare’s writing.

So I see all of JA’s playing around with various versions of human hindquarters, as JA’s response to Samuel Johnson—and since Sir Thomas Bertram is, in many ways, a representation of Samuel Johnson,--both of them being, in a way, bona fide jackasses---Mary’s pun, combined with all the “dirty bottoms” in three of her novels, and also with the Johnsonian subtext of JA’s poem eulogizing Madam Lefroy, is the perfect way for JA to get that point across most powerfully."

Needless to say, I am very pleased to see Anielka bring forward this additional evidence of parody in JA's 1808 poem, because now we have the convergence of _two_ strong pieces of evidence _both_ pointing to a covertly mock eulogy.

But it's even more than a mere convergence, because SE Brydges did not merely pen an over the top deification of his sister. As Anielka's link also shows, as a preface to his poem, he also quoted at length from the newspaper notice of Madam Lefroy's death that ran in the Hampshire newspaper right after her death, which included the following tidbit (which surely had been written by him himself at that earlier point):

"But it is not only to near relations and friends, that her loss is irreparable, she has left a chasm in society, which there is no second to fill."

So there you see again the "chasm" in "society" which JA not only winked at in her 1808 poem, but also included in several places in Mansfield Park!

And, as my Dec. 2010 post also detailed, that is the very language about chasms needing filling which Hamilton famously used in his eulogy to Johnson!

Which means--after connecting all the dots---that Brydges, pathetic plagiarist that he was, stole from Hamilton's eulogy to Johnson without acknowledging that he was doing so! And what matters most to Janeites is that JA's _explicit_ reference to Hamilton and Johnson in _her_ poem is her way of pointing out Brydges's plagiarism, and of letting the knowing reader of her poem know that _she_ was well aware of Brydges's literary shenanigans, and also that her parody is therefore a _double_ parody, both exposing Brydges's blundering literary theft, but also making a sophisticated "bottom" joke on the whole shebang.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: I was confident that Anielka was aware of my above-quoted Dec. 2010 post, not only because it would be an odd coincidence for two startling new claims about JA's 1808 poem as a covert parody to appear independently of each other within a matter of months, but also because Anielka also wrote "....whilst I think the criticisms of pomposity levelled at Mary Martha Sherwood's father, The Rev. Butt and James Stanier Clarke are occasionally unmerited, I do think Sir S.E.B. has more than a touch of conceit."

For those who follow my postings, she of course was implicitly referring to my own very recent claims of pomposity and worse on the part of the aptly named Rev. Butt....

..and also to my less recent but repeated claims about James Stanier Clarke... (one of many in which I talk about Clarke)

I think JA saw Butt, Clarke and Brydges as a kind of trilogy of real life pompous literary buffoons, all of them having richly earned the parodies she lavished on them.

But they were lightweights, small fry, not worthy of more than passing attention in JA's novels. Behind them, and beneath it all, was JA's much more complex and thematically significant skewering of the "whale", the much more imposing and complex personality of Samuel Johnson, in all her novels.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

PPS re The King's Speech and Pride and Prejudice

Some final thoughts about The King's Speech in relation to Jane Austen:

First, my friend Catherine Delors has blogged in her usual insightful way about this film:

It occurs to me that Jane Austen would have been like Catherine, suspicious of attempts to cover up inconvenient truths, in this instance King George VI's and Churchill's initially being part of the problem in terms of appeasing Hitler, as opposed to (the leading) part of the solution, which they became.

JA was no toady to the Royals, as is evidenced by her savage satire of the Prince Regent, as I refer to, above, in Colleen Sheehan's identification of the "Prince of Whales" as the secret second answer to the second charade in Emma.

Second, I have been thinking some more about the virtual certainty that Colin Firth will win the Oscar for Best Actor in five days. This means that when he wins, he will become the "King" of actors in the world for the next year, and whatever he says in accepting the Oscar will be "the King's speech"!

And it will also be the official exorcism of the ghost of Mr. Darcy, who has been haunting Colin Firth for 15 years, just as King George VI exorcised the ghost of HIS father in the moment of becoming a true leader of his people.

And yet, even as Firth transcends Darcy, he recreates him in this role. The character of "Bertie", who learns to overcome his own royal pride and prejudice, and Lionel, who learns to overcome HIS own commoner's pride and prejudice, are in a profound sense echoes of Darcy and Lizzy in Pride and Prejudice, and their path of mutual enlightenment.

Cheers, ARNIE

Jane Austen as a literary Archimedes

After posting earlier my metaphor of Jane Austen as a literary Archimedes.....

....I was curious to see if I was the first to think of feminist writing as an attempt to leverage a sexist world in a feminist direction, and I found a very interesting article which I would recommend to anyone interested in this topic, "Archimedes and the Paradox of Feminist Criticism" by Myra Jehlen in Signs, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Summer, 1981), pp. 575-601.

Here is how it begins, and resonates strongly with my conception of JA as a feminist:

"Feminist thinking is really rethinking, an examination of the way certain assumptions about women and the female character enter into the fundamental assumptions that organize all our thinking. For instance, assumptions such as the one that makes intuition and reason opposite terms parallel to female and male may have axiomatic force in our culture, but they are precisely what feminists need to question-or be reduced to checking the arithmetic, when the issue lies in the calculus. Such radical skepticism is an ideal intellectual stance that can generate genuinely new understandings...."

Which leads me into replying to the questions Nancy just posed to me:

"If you are correct about Jane Austen wanting to change her world, I still have to say I think she chose an odd way of going about it. A very subtle, unpredictable, and uncertain way of going about changing the world. Usually the lever is at least apparent. What good is a war which no one sees you waging? What good are warnings to females who do not see them because they are not evident?"

And I answer these reasonable questions by, ironically, throwing back to you what you always say to me--remember that JA was living 200 years ago, her world was different from our world, don't treat her like she was living today.

Well, in the England of 200 years ago, it was a VERY risky business for a woman to be forthright in expressing the radical feminist ideas and sentiments which I find everywhere under the surface in JA's writings. So JA's choices were drastically limited--either find ways of hiding these things in plain sight where they would only be seen by readers who could be trusted not to blow JA's secret, but who would derive sustenance, education, and inspiration from what they read--i.e., intelligent women, women who could keep the secret among a safe audience, OR say nothing, and
fail to document the wrongs done to women in her world.

JA clearly chose Plan A. She chose the option of veiled disclosure, so that she could get this female "Torah" written and out to the female reading public. And that brings us to the next aspect of putting ourselves into JA's shoes in her time. She had no idea till the last year of her life that she was in danger of dying young. The buoyant optimism and joie de vivre that leaps off the page of her Emma-era letters demonstrates a mature genius in the full bloom of her powers, exhilarated at the prospect of taking her place among the famous and esteemed writers
of her generation. And perhaps hoping that after a period of years, she might actually be able to express her ideas more overtly, and to reveal the "code" that would unlock the shadow stories of the many novels she would have hoped to have spread far and wide in the kingdom.

But cruel fate cut her down in her full bloom, and not only stopped her from writing more novels, it prevented her from being around long enough to make that public revelation.

Imagine her excitement if she could have lived another 30 years to read Wuthering Heights! Imagine how her own writing style might have evolved over the decades!

I say that the Brontes themselves were already part of the world that JA tipped with her literary "lever".

Cheers, ARNIE

The Radicalization of a Young Genius

The group reading of Jane Austen's letters that began 3 months ago is proceeding at its deliberately glacial pace, and it is bearing rich rewards, as we are now on Letter #12.

It really is fascinating to read these letters along with those who read them so fundamentally differently than I do, especially Nancy Mayer. We read these letters in opposite ways, just as we read the novels in opposite ways, and feminism is at the center of our mutual opposition.

The more I think about it, the more certain I feel in my original interpretation of Dr. Hall's stillborn child described in Letter #10:

I find it hugely significant as a "crux" for interpretation, as I am the only one talking here who explains the explosion of rage behind it in a way that does _not_ diminish Jane Austen the person. What otherwise must be read like an extremely intemperate, cruel, unChristian, and sneering joke at the expense of a poor mother's suffering--something that probing, insightful Janeites like Elissa can actually feel the need to shut away from sight, is, to me, JA's flaring outrage _on behalf of_ , and firm feminist solidarity with, that victimized woman. This is not something to hide away, it's something to celebrate, this is truly righteous
anger, safely vented in private where it does no personal harm to anyone, but which has the intent to shake CEA out of her zombie-state and join JA in screaming "We're M.A.D. as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!!!!!!!"---except CEA is not willing to go to the
barricades with JA.

Ellen Moody speculates about CEA not merely being deferential to male authority in writing to James first, but actually punishing JA for "malevolence" (like "Mrs. Hall of Sherburne") expressed in recent letters. That is a fascinating speculation on Ellen's part, and I will
keep it in mind, alongside my somewhat more benign interpretation of CEA being servile to male authority without trying to punish JA. Either way, it's a bad deal, and CEA richly deserves the petard-hoisting that JA delivers to her in Letter #12. This game of CEA, whether it is
collusion with the status quo, or active suppression of JA's outrage, is something JA is intent upon putting to an end.

Reading these letters slowly and sequentially like this is almost like reading them in real time, isn't it? And the context of slowly reading these letters has shown me that the late Fall of 1798 was clearly a watershed in JA's evolution as a thinker about the (inferior) place of women in her world. She was going through a painful experience in the very last stages of being jilted in slow motion by Tom Lefroy (and I concur with Ellen's recent comments regarding same), and also observing the endless pregnancies, and deaths associated with same, all around
her, and the casual selfishness and disregard of her brothers in regard to the constriction of women's lives in terms of travel and responsibility for droves of children, etc etc. It is a moment of radicalization, where the free-floating chaotic aggression of the Juvenilia against the absurdities and hypocrisies of the "adult" world around her begin to coalesce around a theory of the world that JA finds herself trapped in. It is an awakening, and she feels a lot of anger, and, with hindsight, we can say that JA has another _decade_ of suffering in front of her before she finally gets that "room of her own", the firm place to plant her feet and then begin to move the world, a female literary Archimedes.

No wonder the first version of the highly feminist Northanger Abbey (called Susan then) appears at this time, but promptly gets put on a shelf by the publisher. No wonder the first versions of the outspoken feminists Elizabeth Bennet and Marianne Dashwood appear at this moment, but also do not get published. This is nothing less than the author finding her voice and her mission, and beginning to realize that she is up against a very big machine. But she is a very stubborn person, she never gives up, even as she lies dying, 20 years later, she keeps working at spreading her gospel.

And these late 1798 letters are an accurate reflection of that metamorphosis going on in the mind of a young genius.

Cheers, ARNIE

Sunday, February 20, 2011

P.S. re The Austenian Shadow Story of The King's Speech

P.S.: And I almost forgot to add---did anyone ever notice the ironic significance of the title of Firth's near miss at an Oscar---"A Single Man"?????

As in.......

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that A SINGLE MAN in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." !!!!

It is impossible that Firth himself could have failed to notice that irony when he took the role, but the more interesting question, which I cannot answer, not having seen A Single Man and not having read the original Isherwood novel of the same title, is whether Isherwood in any way was thinking of that line from P&P when he came up with that title? As in, e.g., that a single man in possession of a good fortune might just be in want of a _husband_!

Cheers, ARNIE

The Austenian shadow story of The King's Speech

I finally got around to seeing The King's Speech today, and found it to be even better than my already high expectations based on the clips, interviews, buzz, etc. I had seen and heard during the past few months.

It is an amazing film, a modern parable about the power of love that also seems (to my American eyes, at least) not to have played too fast and loose with historical fact--and it is completely obvious that Colin Firth deserves all the Oscar buzz, and then some.

Now getting to the Austen part of this post. I have had the impression, even before seeing The King's Speech that this film will finally do the job that 2009's A Single Man began, i.e., of enabling Firth to finally shed the burdensome persona of the two characters named Darcy who have defined his public image for the past decade or more. Henceforth, he won't merely be the man who ignited Austenmania to cosmic proportions, but also the actor who was nominated for one Oscar, and then won another two years later.

And I have been wondering whether in some witty way Colin Firth was, during his Oscar acceptance speech, going to give the devil his due, and bring Mr. Darcy into the mix, as a kind of verbal epitaph.

But I had no idea, until the credits started rolling for The King's Speech, that there was a startlingly clever and touching nod to the BBC/A&E P&P (also commonly referred to as PP2) hiding in plain sight in the film all along, a lovely bit of "shadow story" with a very personal Firthian aspect, which brings the legacy of PP2 to a satisfying resolution.

Now I am _not_ talking about the actor who played Mr. Collins in PP2 also playing the stage director who is less than kind to Geoffrey Rush's character in The King's Speech.

If you haven't seen the film and don't want a spoiler about what I saw, then wait to read the rest of this post till you do.

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What I saw in the credits, but which I had not realized while watching the film, was that the actress playing Mrs. Logue, wife of Geoffrey Rush's character, was none other than Jennifer Ehle! Either she was made up to disguise Ehle's appearance, or else she just looks very different than she did in 1995, because while she seemed vaguely familiar, I had no idea it was her.

But what a whole different meaning this gives to the otherwise peculiar moment near the end of the film when Logue (Rush) is afraid for his wife (Ehle) to learn that the patient "Mr. Johnson" is actually the Duke of York/King George VI (Firth). After a big buildup, Ehle's character meets Firth's, and at that moment, the ghost of Pride and Prejudice, which has
come to haunt Colin Firth's career, is officially exorcised, and Mr. Darcy will no longer overshadow Colin Firth!

When I eventually watch The King's Speech again, that will be a scene I will pay minute attention to, to see the expressions on Firth's and Ehle's faces as they shake hands and speak, and to compare that moment to the one when Darcy and Lizzy first meet in P&P--the arrogant aristocrat has become the suffering royal, but the gist of both scenes is about a man from a much higher social position meeting a woman from a much lower one, and yet---somehow still equals as human beings. So the Austenian subtext is actually thematic and not gratuitous, a cinematic allusion worthy of Jane Austen herself!

I knew it was impossible that this was all accidental, and sure enough here is the send-up described in the following link, which I found with some quick Googling after I got home. Enjoy!

Cheers, ARNIE

And here is the text of the above linked article that explains the rest of the story behind the story)

"The King's Speech" director Tom Hooper admits casting actress Jennifer Ehle in a supporting role opposite star Colin Firth was a wink to fans of their iconic 1995 British miniseries "Pride and Prejudice."

Firth and Ehle played reluctant lovers Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in the wildly popular, small-screen adaptation of the Jane Austen novel. They also enjoyed a brief off-screen romance, as well, but have since gone on to marry other people.

In "Speech," Firth plays Britain's King George VI and Ehle portrays the wife of the speech therapist who helps him overcome a career-crippling stammer.

"We were so lucky to get a double Tony Award-winning actress to play what was pretty much a supporting role and she's wonderful," Hooper told UPI in New York about casting Ehle. "I don't know. Did I think about the 'Pride and Prejudice' thing? There's probably a mischievous part of me that did."

"We had one brief second together," Firth said of working with Ehle again.

"It was lovely to see her," he recalled. "We've always remained amicable and friendly since we last met, but we just lost touch. She's had her family since and so have I, so our lives have gone in completely different directions and I find it extraordinary that we haven't overlapped before, actually.

"But I met her in rehearsals very briefly because we just don't have the scenes together, and she had a lovely little baby with her, and it was very nice. We had five minutes to catch up and that was it; she had to run off and catch a plane. END OF ARTICLE


Letter #12: Bob Brown's Great Coat

Nancy Mayer responded in Janeites to my earlier post about Letter #12 in a way that follows the pattern of so many of our amicable, but very strong, disagreements about the meaning of JA's writings:

[Nancy] "If Jane wasn't half-way teasing her sister than she was behaving like a spoiled brat. Not the outrage at the shabby treatment given a baby sister but a bit of the spoiled brat at not being the only one favored with a letter. It was Cassandra's duty and pleasure to write and congratulate James and Mary on the birth of the child and the survival of the wife. What is Jane all upset about? Did she really expect Cassandra to congratulate her on the birth of a niece? Cassandra servilely writes a note!!! Servilely! Even today it is good manners and a loving kindness to congratulate new parents. Hallmark and American greeting cards have dozens of cards on the subject. "

It seems you and I have diametrically opposed perceptions of the moral significance of what happened that week at Steventon, Deane, and Godmersham----what a big surprise, Nancy! ;)

"I do agree that Jane looked forward to her sister's letters as a break in her routine. I do think that she, with her intelligence , must at times have been bored nearly to tears. She is a people watcher. She might have snide remarks about many of their guests but she loves to have them come so that she can discuss them with Cassandra."

And I see a world of deep feelings that you minimize to the point of triviality. Again, we are so different in our perceptions.

"Feminine outrage against women marrying and having children? Might as well have rage against the sun coming up. Most women entered into marriage willingly. Even those who like Charlotte Lucas who like the house and garden better than the husband, willingly chose to marry. They all knew about little graves in the cemetery. All over the world today, even in places where maternal mortality is high, women want to get married and have children. According to the statistics today, women want children even without being married ."

Please don't run for president of NOW is my career advice to you. Have I not repeatedly emphasized that the outrage I keep referring to is against _serial_ pregnancy, especially in an era, like JA's, of rampant death in childbirth. As far as I can see, JA had nothing at all against the bearing of children per se, under moderate and reasonable circumstances that were not horrific for the mother. And the relevance of this attitude could not be greater for the _billion_ or more women living in the world _today_ who must face something comparable to what JA's "sisters" faced 200 years ago in England.

And by the way, you remind me, I also meant to point to the very last line of the letter, when JA, after venting her (justified) spleen, adds, "Ask little Edward whether Bob Brown wears a great coat this cold weather." I derive from this first, that JA does genuinely feel affection for little nephew Edward, age 5, which again illustrates that JA's persistent rage against serial childbirth was _not_ a reflection of JA's indifference to, or dislike of, children. Quite the contrary, JA consistently showed affection and interest toward her many nieces and nephews, and this farewell comment is a perfect example that the little boy remained in Aunt Jane's heart even from a distance. The irony that JA would have realized all too well, however, was that this sweet boy of 5 would one day grow up, don the mandatory "Blue Beard", and begin the onerous task--but somebody had to do it, for God and country!---of slowly destroying the lives of his two wives, siring a horrific total of SIXTEEN children on them between the ages of 32 and 65. In other words, his father's son to a te--or should I better say, to a K? (as in JA's famous line about brother Edward after he adopted the surname "Knight"--"I must learn to make a better K")

But I also find that sentence interesting in a very different way--it sounds to me like there was no real "Bob Brown" being referred to, despite the tin-ear-for-a-joke of Le Faye in actually listing him in the Index and also referring to him in the Bio Index as "possibly a manservant at Godmersham"! This is a made up (alliterative) name, like Sophia Sentiment and Luke Lickspittle, JA's covert contributions to The Loiterer, and this question must be a Regency Era variant on "why did the chicken cross the road?" joke, suitable for a 5 year old sense of humor! Anyone have a guess as to the punch line of why Bob Brown wears a great coat this cold weather?

"If Jane Austen was outraged about an impecunious English girl being cast aside for an Irish heiress she must have been imbibing her mother's laudanum. There was no feminist issue about that. It was something that happened every day in every country. It happens today. "

That women in JA's day felt enormous pressure, due to the deck being stacked against them in every way, to marry for money instead of for love was as disgusting then as it is still is today when, at least in developed countries, that pressure is much less severe than it was 2 centuries ago-but still exists for all too many women. My point of view, of course, which is hardly original to myself.

Cheers, ARNIE

Jane Austen's Letter #12: "My (not so) dear Sister"

Even before reading a single word of Letter 12.....

[#11 in Brabourne's 1886 edition]

....written exactly one week after Letter 11, I was struck by the oddity of the salutation: "My dear Sister".

I could not recall ever seeing JA use that salutation in writing to CEA, and some quick flipping through Le Faye confirmed that among the first 30 or so letters to CEA, that was the _only_ one with a salutation (a few of them had no salutation at all) that was _not_ "My dear Cassandra"!

Was this indicative of something important, or trivial? I needed to look no further than the first paragraph of the letter for my answer:

"I expected to have heard from you this morning, but no letter is come. I shall not take the trouble of announcing to you any more of Mary's children, if, instead of thanking me for the intelligence, you always sit down and write to James. I am sure nobody can desire your letters so much as I do, and I don't think anybody deserves them so well. Having now relieved my heart of a great deal of malevolence, I will proceed to tell you that Mary continues quite well, and my mother tolerably so. "

Wow! Is there any other passage in all of JA's letters quite like that one? My first impulse was to look for irony and mock-indignation in these words, but even I could not find enough of this to justify an interpretation that JA was "just kidding around". No, this is as close as she ever comes to being very direct in expressing angry hurt at her sister. And now that unusual salutation, which replaces the intimacy of the Christian name with the formality of the familial relationship, makes perfect sense. JA is not feeling close to CEA at this moment, and she is letting big sister know it!

And this is clearly about much more than merely epistolary priority. In ordinary circumstances, I am sure JA would not be so petty as to care about such things. However, these are extraordinary circumstances.

In Letter 11, JA has just demonstrated how hurt she is feeling at having been snubbed by her former suitor, Tom Lefroy. Surely a hurt arising out of the shattering of a dream that had lasted at least 2 1/2 years would not have dissipated only a week later, the wound would still be very fresh.

In Letter 10, written only 4 weeks earlier, we have heard about serious medical complaints of Mrs. Austen which clearly are preoccupying JA. And in Letters 10 and 11, we hear about Mary Lloyd Austen's labor, and James Austen's finding ways of not having to tend to what is surely great discomfort being experienced by his wife, and JA does not have CEA there with her to deal with either of these burdens. Why? Because CEA is at Godmersham for an extended haul to be present for sister in law Elizabeth Knight's fifth delivery in six years of "wedded bliss", helping to tend to the litter of small children who now swarm all over Godmersham.

And so is it surprising that JA should be hugely ticked off that CEA, instead of demonstrating a little female solidarity, servilely writes to _James_ and leaves JA, who is desperately missing her sister at this moment, and in need of some TLC and some company in misery, out in the epistolary cold for several days? I can think of no better illustration of the difference between CEA and JA--in crunch time, CEA was about stoic acceptance of the status quo--whereas JA was precisely the opposite. No wonder the few surviving letters from JA to Martha Lloyd (obviously a fellow feminist) are so different in tone than those to CEA. With Martha, JA could really let her hair down. But in this Letter 12, for a rare instance, JA fires a short broadside at her sister, unable to contain her pain and outrage.

JA not a feminist, Nancy? This letter is a microcosm of JA's feminist outrage at the casual sexism of the ordinary English family---the shabby treatment given to unmarried sisters as glorified unpaid servants, the cold shoulder given to impecunious young English gentlewomen in favor of the rich young Irish heiress, who will soon marry and become a baby-making machine, joining the ranks with the already married English gentlewoman who is already firmly in the clutches of permanent serial pregnancy, not to escape except by her death a decade later. It's all there! And it comes only four weeks after JA's shattering "witticism" about Mrs. Hale. This is, as Gregory Bateson put it, the pattern that connects, "il filo" as Mozart put it--the common thread--JA's feminist outrage.

And look at how JA ends the letter, clearly still very upset:

"...altogether I am tolerably tired of letter-writing, and, unless I have anything new to tell you of my mother or Mary, I shall not write again for many days; perhaps a little repose may restore my regard for a pen."

Ouch! And, what's also unusual, at the very end, no closing salutation at all, no "Affectionately, Jane", no nothing.

Le Faye rightly perceives that this requires some explanation, and, typically for Le Faye, her footnote is an attempt at cover-up, to discourage close examination and analysis:

"The complimentary close and signature may have been removed before the letter came into Lord B's possession."

Yeah, right!

No, JA is still M.A.D. at big sister, and if CEA is going to keep JA hanging waiting for letters, well, she did not have to wait long for some real consequences. As she is busy with helping care for all of Edward's little kids, she is going to get exactly the same treatment from JA that she gave, so that she will see how it feels on her own skin, and will never repeat this epistolary sin again!

And by the way, I do _strongly_ suspect JA of a pun in those last words " regard for a pen", as this letter is being written more or less contemporaneously with the first version of P&P, which contains infamous puns on that very word in not one but three separate places in the novel, so it clearly was a favorite joke of JA's at that time in her life:

"I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well." "Thank you -- but I always mend my own." "How can you contrive to write so even?" He was silent.

"...Kitty and me were to spend the day there, and Mrs Forster promised to have a little dance in the evening (by the bye, Mrs Forster and me are _such_ friends!); and so she asked the two Harringtons to come, but Harriet was ill, and so Pen was forced to come by herself; and then, what do you think we did?"

"I take up my pen again to do what I have just told you I would not, but circumstances are such, that I cannot help earnestly begging you all to come here as soon as possible."


P.S.: By serendipity, Google led me to read a letter which, I think it highly probable, could very well have been present in JA's memory, as she thought about setting pen to paper in writing Letter #12:


"What can possibly have happened that keeps /as /two such strangers to each other? I expected to have heard from you when you came home; I expected afterwards. I went into the country and returned, and yet there is no letter from Mr. Boswell. No ill I hope has happened; and if ill should happen, why should it be concealed from him who loves you? Is it a tit of humour that has disposed you to try who can hold out longest without writing? If it be, you have the victory. But I am afraid of something bad; set me free from my suspicions. My thoughts are at present employed in guessing the reason of your silence: you must not expect that I should tell you any thing, if I had any thing to tell. Write, pray write to me, and let me know what is, or what has been, the cause of this long interruption."

Of course this letter was from Samuel Johnson and was one of his letters which were read by every literate person in England.

Some of you will now say, there Arnie goes again, finding literary allusions where none is actually intended. Well, I can only tell you that when I checked to see where exactly it was in JA's letters that she referred to Samuel Johnson, would you believe that it was in.....Letter 12 itself!:

"We have got Boswell's "Tour to the Hebrides", and are to have his "Life of Johnson"; and, as some money will yet remain in Burdon's hands, it is to be laid out in the purchase of Cowper's works."

Even though Revd. Austen and Jane do not yet have Boswell's Life of Johnson in hand, there is no doubt that JA, at 23, has already read it, and now is to have a precious copy of it in the Steventon home library, for ready reference.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mansfield Park: Jane Austen's Problem Novel

It has become a cliche of Austen scholarship to refer to Mansfield Park in particular as Jane Austen's "problem novel", echoing the term "problem play" which first entered scholarly discourse in the 1890's, and which has in modern times been used a thousand times to refer to the Shakespearean comedies (as categorized in the 1623 First Folio) which do not fit comfortably within the definition of comedy---Measure for Measure (MFM), All's Well That Ends Well (AWTEW), and Troilus and Cressida (T&C).

Curiously, all three of those plays are seen as having been written after all the other Shakespearean comedies and more or less around the same time as Hamlet, which to many is the ultimate "problem play". And I suspect that the roots of the modern colloquial meaning of a "problem" as a bad thing to be fixed in some way arose out of a mathematical analogy, in the sense of something which is puzzling or mysterious in some way which must be "solved" in order to understand its meaning.

Anyway, back to Mansfield Park as JA's problem novel, a small handful of Austen scholars, such as Sarah Emsley and Marcia Folsom, have noted certain parallels between the very unsatisfying ending of Mansfield Park, which is about as unromantic as you can get, and the equally unsatisfying endings of MFM (with the famous out-of-nowhere "proposal" by the Duke to Isabella which has generated a dozen different stage interpretations of how to present Isabella's silent response) and AWTEW (which of course has a "hero" named Bertram who bears in various ways a disturbing resemblance to Edmund Bertram).

What I wish to add to the mix is merely to pull that scholarship together, and now add to it other additional layers I have been talking about in recent blog posts, such as the striking parallelism between MFM for Measure and Mansfield Park in alluding to Matthew 7's first verse about the karma of judgments and measures of justice, and Mary Crawford's "rears and vices" pun as an allusion to Cressida's "come into my chamber" unintentional pun, and other parallels, and to conclude from this what I think is obvious, which is that Jane Austen was very consciously pointing toward Shakespeare's problem plays when she was very consciously writing her own problem novel!

And to me the greatest significance of this insight is what it tells us about the allusive sources for the characters in Mansfield Park, including:

MFM's Machiavellian Duke Vincentio as a source for Sir Thomas Bertram;

MFM's Isabella, AWTEW's Helena and T&C's Cressida ALL as sources for Fanny Price;

T&C's Helen as a source for Mary Crawford;

Angelo and Bertram as sources for Edmund Bertram;

MFM's Lucio as a source for Henry Crawford;

among others.

And most of all, what is to many the most disturbing part of MFM and AWTEW, i.e., the so called "bed tricks" wherein the extremely flawed "heroes" are tricked into having sex with a different woman than they intend to, a trick which results in the "hero" being corralled into marriage most unwillingly! What in the world might this mean in the context of Mansfield Park? (or perhaps, JA's other novels as well?) I think, a great deal.

I claim that the reader who is sensitive to this matrix of Shakespearean allusion receives an enormous helping hand from JA in "solving" the "problem" that is Mansfield Park, these allusions are like "assumed postulates" in a logic problem, which assist the solver in his or her task.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. re: Catherine's (perhaps not so) Excessive Solicitude and Lady Catherine's Universal Contradiction

In quick followup to my post earlier this morning, I have found the "bookend" to the line in NA which inspired my earlier post....

"Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim." the following line much later in the novel, in one of the climactic scenes at the Abbey:

"The kindness, the earnestness of Eleanor's manner in pressing her to stay, and Henry's gratified look on being told that her stay was determined, were such sweet proofs of her importance with them, as left her only just so much SOLICITUDE as the human mind can never comfortably do without."

Both of these passages are connected, not merely by the use of the word "solicitude" per se--the word "solicitude" actually means something slightly different in these two contexts (the earlier one refers to Catherine's attention to one aspect of herself, i.e., her dress, whereas the latter refers to Catherine's experience of Eleanor's and Henry's attentions to her)---but by a common preoccupation with the _degree_ or intensity of attention, which is exactly what Aquinas was dealing with throughout whole sections of his enormous treatise--the topic of when is there too much of a good thing, and when is there too little?

These two widely separated passages in NA are JA's commentary on Aquinas. The first is about the so-called dangers of too much attention to dress, which, as I argued in my previous post, JA seems to me to be skeptical about Aquinas's conclusions. The latter takes the former statement into account in a very witty way, and is a counterpoint, suggesting that too _little_ attention to certain things--such as Catherine's feelings---can be destructive, too--as evidenced by the General's throwing Catherine out of the Abbey a chapter later!

And when viewed as a pair, it provides a further insight, which is that whatever harm might arise from a small excess of personal vanity about appearance is small potatoes indeed compared to the harm that arises from too little attention to what matters most, i.e., how we treat each other!

And, taking one step back further, isn't this just like what JA did--albeit in a very different context--with the "universally acknowledged" aphorism that begins P&P and the "universally contradicted" line that anchors P&P's dramatic climax, the confrontation between Lady Catherine and Elizabeth? That bookend is very similar, as the idea of universal acknowledgment of truths is presented to set the tone of the entire novel as an examination of such apparent truisms, but then we see that aphorism turned on its head in a scene where we see the way that misunderstandings can sometimes change the course of human relationships, in this case, helping to bring Darcy and Lizzy together.

I suspect there must be several more sets of "bookends" like this strewn across all the novels, it must have given JA great pleasure to create them, in addition to their great value in giving a subliminal hint to her readers to connect the dots between widely separated passages.

I did not discover the pairing in P&P via a word search, by the way, I discovered it because I was thinking about the phrase "universally acknowledged" and suddenly "universally contradicted" popped into my head because it was such a memorable line, seared into my brain from multiple hearings of that line as delivered by Barbara Leigh-Hunt in the Ehle/Firth film adaptation.

For those who hear my frequent citations of this sort of wordplay in JA's novels as a celebration of a sterile, puzzle-intensive aspect of JA's writing, I hope this example demonstrates to you that JA's wordplay, while indeed reveling in its wit and cleverness, is also _always_ thematic and in service of a deeper understanding of the story itself.

Cheers, ARNIE

Catherine's (perhaps not so) Excessive Solicitude

[Nancy Mayer] "It said so in the quotes Christy gave us. "It polarised the critics. On one side was the Harding camp, embracing the new, caustic Jane Austen; on the other, those who remained faithful to the 'gentle-Janeism;" There was another recently, in which Janeites are accused of wanting only a sweet Victorian lady-- or words to that effect."

Well, in 1940 (and for many years afterward), "gentle-Janeism" camp _was_ a "truth universally acknowledged", was it not? I note the resistance I encounter in making my claims in the 21st century, generations after the rise of feminism. I can't even imagine the firestorm that Harding encountered in 1940 when he challenged the near universal orthodoxy.

As for "gentle-Janeism", even today my impression is that it is still a commonly help stance, but...with all that has been written about JA in the past 20 years, it is now only part of a wide spectrum of opinion about the "real JA".

"They had been wearing dresses with long sleeves ( and short gloves) during the day, and gowns with short sleeves ( but looonng gloves in the evening) This information is important to the social historian. I am more interested in social history than literary theory."

And I, too, could care less about literary theory--my interest in shadow stories and allusions arose, and continues to be based on, what I actually read in the text of her novels and letters. When I read scholarly jargon about literature, I run for the hills faster than anybody, mainly because my sense is that these literary theories are like the art criticism Tom Wolfe satirized in _Believing is Seeing_, where the work of art itself is now a footnote to the analysis. I am and will always be text-driven and text-intensive in my analysis.

But.....I am extremely interested in _history_, most of all in Jane Austen's opinions, beliefs, and aspirations regarding the full scope of the lives of women, and that includes fashion, because, first, there are a number of instances where she wrote about fashion in her letters, and second because fashion, like a hundred other aspects of ordinary life, was a theme in her novels as well, one that she subordinated to her primary task of exposing to the reader the full, complex personalities of her varied characters.

Speaking of which---Nancy, I think you will be extremely surprised at the perfect example of this which I found this morning, as a result of my thinking about the very fortuitous conjunction you made, however inadvertently, between fashion and JA's covert scholarly accomplishments. Read on.....

First, there is a brief, but excellent overview of the subject of fashion and JA by Penelope Byrde entitled "Dress and Fashion" in _The Jane Austen Companion_ at ppg. 131-4, which cites Byrde's 1979 book _A Frivolous Distinction: Fashion and Needlework in the Works of JA_, which I have not read, but which was reviewed by Marsha Huff of JASNA in 2003 here:

But, as with everything else in her novels, there's much more than meets the eye in what might appear to some to be JA's ordinary, commonplace (mostly) female interest in the details of fashion.

The clue comes in the one memorable moment in her novel where the subject of fashion takes center stage for an entire paragraph, and that is in Northanger Abbey:

"[Catherine] went home very happy. The morning had answered all her hopes, and the evening of the following day was now the object of expectation, the future good. What gown and what head–dress she should wear on the occasion became her chief concern. She cannot be justified in it. Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim. Catherine knew all this very well; her great aunt had read her a lecture on the subject only the Christmas before; and yet she lay awake ten minutes on Wednesday night debating between her spotted and her tamboured muslin, and nothing but the shortness of the time prevented her buying a new one for the evening. This would have been an error in judgment, great though not uncommon, from which one of the other sex rather than her own, a brother rather than a great aunt, might have warned her, for man only can be aware of the insensibility of man towards a new gown. It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull, or the jackonet. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and a something of shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter. But not one of these grave reflections troubled the tranquillity of Catherine."

I never before noticed that bit about the lecture that Catherine's great aunt reads her. However, as soon as I did notice it, I knew it was going to turn out to be another in the very long list of covert allusions that you think are mostly a figment of my imagination, my fantasies about JA as having an encyclopedic knowledge about everything. If Catherine's great aunt read her a lecture on the subject, then I knew that the lecture really existed, and was not a phantom made up by JA for expediency as a trivial throwaway bit of background. I just had to find it.

I knew from all my prior experience that, like any great mystery writer, JA plays fair with her readers, and so I knew there was some real-life lecture somewhere that a real-life bluestocking like Catherine's great aunt would have actually read to her grand-nice, and that JA would have given a significant clue--a Hansel/Gretelian "bread crumb"--to identify that lecture right there in the text of that long paragraph. Can you spot the clue? I found it on my second guess.

(scroll down) ......



First, I tried "frivolous distinction", but while it was a phrase used a number of times in print prior to 1818, none of them had anything to do with fashion. But second, I Googled "excessive solicitude" and look where that took me immediately:

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2^nd part of the 2^nd Part, Treatise on Fortitude and Temperance, Question 169, Article 1: "Whether there can be virtue and vice in connection with outward apparel?"

While I recommend you read the whole passage, here is the relevant excerpt that proves this was the very lecture that Catherine's great aunt read to her the previous Christmas:

".....the lack of moderation in the use of these things may arise from the inordinate attachment of the user, the result being that a man sometimes takes too much pleasure in using them, either in accordance with the custom of those among whom he dwells or contrary to such custom. Hence Augustine says: "We must avoid EXCESSIVE pleasure in the use of things, for it leads not only wickedly to abuse the customs of those among whom we dwell, but frequently to exceed their bounds, so that, whereas it lay hidden, while under the restraint of established morality, it displays its deformity in a most lawless outbreak."

In point of excess, this inordinate attachment occurs in three ways. First when a man seeks glory from EXCESSIVE attention to dress; in so far as dress and such like things are a kind of ornament. Hence Gregory says: "There are some who think that attention to finery and costly dress is no sin. Surely, if this were no fault, the word of God would not say so expressly that the rich man who was tortured in hell had been clothed in purple and fine linen. No one, forsooth, seeks costly apparel" (such, namely, as exceeds his estate) "save for vainglory." Secondly, when a man seeks sensuous pleasure from EXCESSIVE attention to dress, in so far as dress is directed to the body's comfort. Thirdly, when a man is too solicitous in his attention to outward apparel.

Accordingly Andronicus reckons three virtues in connection with outward attire; namely "humility," which excludes the seeking of glory, wherefore he says that humility is "the habit of avoiding EXCESSSIVE expenditure and parade"; "contentment", which excludes the seeking of sensuous pleasure, wherefore he says that "contentedness is the habit that makes a man satisfied with what is suitable, and enables him to determine what is becoming in his manner of life" (according to the saying of the Apostle, 1 Tim. 6:8): "Having food and wherewith to be covered, with these let us be content;"---and "simplicity," which excludes EXCESSIVE SOLICITUDE about such things, wherefore he says that "simplicity is a habit that makes a man contented with what he has."

And now i get back to my reply to Deb yesterday. Sure, Northanger Abbey can be appreciated without being aware of this covert allusion to St. Thomas Aquinas--but what an increase in depth and meaning is provided by becoming aware of this hidden treasure buried just beneath the surface of the novel text! On one level, the covert allusion provides a commentary on that moment in the action, and gives the aware reader the benefit of Aquinas's opinions on this point, and helps to sharpen our evaluation of Catherine's thoughts at that moment--is she being excessively attentive to dress, in a way that is harmful to her because she does not think enough about important things? Or, is JA perhaps alluding to Aquinas _ironically_, i.e., questioning whether Aquinas is right--perhaps a very intelligent young woman _can_ at appropriate times be very solicitous about matters of fashion, while exhilarated by romantic feelings, but still be properly attentive to the serious matters of life at other appropriate times?

I.e., Aquinas is another one of those men who have held the pen for millenia, telling women how be behave, and perhaps JA is suggesting that a wise woman needs to read Aquinas through a female lens, and decide for herself how to balance the great aesthetic pleasure and stimulation that can be derived from close attention to fashion, as long as it does not spiral out of control and cause loss of perspective. And maybe JA sees Aquinas as being inconsistent, even hypocritical, in blithely rationalizing the high fashion of some men of the cloth, instead of questioning the role of finery in inculcating obedience to religious dogma.

And all of this bears on what I claim is the central question of the novel, which is whether Catherine is really the overimaginative, poorly educated, gullible girl that so many Janeites take her to be, or whether she is actually appropriately imaginative, well educated, and perceptive in ways that Henry only eventually learns to appreciate and respect. To know that Catherine had a great aunt who read her St. Thomas Aquinas, and that this actually comes to Catherine's mind as she is worrying about what to wear, suggests to me that her aunt was also the one who made sure that Catherine read Shakespeare and a wide range of significant nonfiction learning, and who taught Catherine to think for herself.

And good thing that Catherine remembered her great aunt's lessons, because she surely was not going to receive validation for her brains from Mrs. Morland, who saw the young Catherine as an airhead who was too busy playing baseball to learn to spell, and who, vis a vis the 18 year old Catherine, freshly victimized by the reckless cruelty of General Tilney, was only too ready, in her insensitive way, to echo Aquinas's "simplicity is a habit that makes a man contented with what he has" with "Wherever you are you should always be contented, but especially at home, because there you must spend the most of your time". But the reader who spots and understands these covert allusions knows better than that, and will applaud when Catherine aspires to more than docile domestic contentment, and ignores Mrs. Morland's further advice: "“There is a very clever essay in one of the books upstairs upon much such a subject, about young girls that have been spoilt for home by great acquaintance — The Mirror, I think." (an essay that _also_ actually existed....

...and was part of the propaganda that, along with conduct books, helped to keep women in their place).

And where do you think JA came out on this question? I think the answer is clear from all of the above that JA was with the great aunt who taught Catherine to read and become familiar with, but then to mistrust male authority!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: Of course, when i read the phrase "excessive parade", I could not help but think of Mrs. Elton, who is the poster child (in a negative sense) of Aquinas's passage.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sir Thomas’s Desperate (and Despotic) “Panderous” Measures

Continuing my examination of the multiple allusions to Matthew Chapter 7 in Mansfield Park, in this message I will zero in on the first and very famous verse:

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. “

I will lay out how the word “measure” is deployed with great subtlety by JA to carry a very specific message about the application of the above-quoted verse to the actions of Sir Thomas (and Henry) vis a vis Fanny (and Maria) in MP. Does JA depiction of the relations between male and female in her world agree, or disagree, with Jesus’s warning that (basically) what goes around comes around? Read on for my answer.

Sir Thomas spends a lot of time in the novel being judgmental of others, laying down lots of rules and restrictions on his children and niece, and in general being the ultimate wet blanket, which they all find oppressive in various ways. I have often commented on the profound hypocrisy of Sir Thomas, and will not repeat all the examples of same, but will focus primarily on his pandering campaign first to tempt, and then to coerce, Fanny to marry Henry Crawford, with a secondary parallel focus on Sir Thomas and Henry vis a vis Maria.

I see Sir Thomas pandering Fanny to Henry as JA’s intentional analogy to the way Pandarus panders _his_ niece Cressida to the very eligible and attractive royal bachelor Troilus in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida (which is itself an adaptation of Chaucer’s original, which in turn obviously derives from ancient tales of what Mary Crawford--not coincidentally--refers to as “heathen heroes”). This fits with my earlier assertion that Mary Crawford’s infamous pun on “rears and vices” is actually a veiled allusion to a similar infamous pun in Shakespeare’s play:

Of course Pandarus’s pandering is about as subtle as a jackhammer, whereas JA’s razor sharp irony is at its very best in depicting Sir Thomas’s ponderous euphemistic rationalizations as he deludes himself in a dozen ways into deciding he is doing right by Fanny, even after she gives him her desperate refusal. Never does JA’s narrator come right out and say it, but it is implied in every possible masterful way available in JA’s authorial toolbox that Sir Thomas is a despot who runs roughshod over Fanny’s interests, while patting himself on the back every step of the way that he is taking care of her.

And, by the way, I claim there is also an intentional analogy between Sir Thomas’s measures taken to obtain husbands for his daughter and niece, respectively, and the way Duke Vincentio, for his own inscrutable Machiavellian purposes, subtly panders Isabella to Angelo in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, and I therefore also claim it is no accident that the word “measure” is used repeatedly in MP in this very specific context, as a bland euphemism for the ugly behaviors deployed in the service of greed-based paterfamilial pandering:

Here are the relevant examples, with my comments interspersed:

Ch. 3: “The necessity of the _measure_ [to go to Antigua] in a pecuniary light, and the hope of its utility to his son, reconciled Sir Thomas to the effort of quitting the rest of his family, and of leaving his daughters to the direction of others at their present most interesting time of life.”

This is the first usage of the word “measure” in the sense of a scheme of action adopted by Sir Thomas with a particular goal in mind.

Ch. 16: “…Can you mention any other _measure_ by which I have a chance of doing equal good?"
And here is a usage by Edmund, ever his father’s son, engaged in his own form of self-deluding rationalization, as he decides to participate in Lover’s Vows despite Fanny’s desire that he not.

Ch. 28: “After a short consideration, Sir Thomas asked Crawford to join the early breakfast party in that house instead of eating alone: he should himself be of it; and the readiness with which his invitation was accepted convinced him that the suspicions whence, he must confess to himself, this very ball had in great _measure_ sprung, were well founded.”
And here it is revealed that his purpose in arranging the Mansfield ball was to pander Fanny to Henry.

Ch. 33: “In spite of his intended silence [about Henry having been rejected by Fanny], Sir Thomas found himself once more obliged to mention the subject to his niece, to prepare her briefly for its being imparted to her aunts; a _measure_ which he would still have avoided, if possible, but which became necessary from the totally opposite feelings of Mr Crawford as to any secrecy of proceeding.”

And here things turn even darker, as the “measure” which Sir Thomas rationalizes here is to give his active cooperation and blessing to Henry’s desire to let the whole house know that he wants to marry Fanny, so that the full force of communal pressure—from Edmund’s servile co-pandering (see the next example, below), to Mrs. Norris’s vicious glares, to Lady Bertram’s self-absorbed raptures--can be brought to bear on and to subtly torture poor Fanny.

Ch. 36: It had been, as he before presumed, too hasty a _measure_ on Crawford's side, and time must be given to make the idea first familiar, and then agreeable to her.

And there is that word again, as Edmund reflects on how to back up his father’s campaign. But then Fanny stands firm against this coordinated assault, and that leads Sir Thomas to more desperate (and despotic) measures—and that word is used twice more, as follows:

Ch. 37: “This scheme was that she should accompany her brother back to Portsmouth, and spend a little time with her own family. It had occurred to Sir Thomas, in one of his dignified musings, as a right and desirable _measure_; but before he absolutely made up his mind, he consulted his son….When he had really resolved on any _measure_, he could always carry it through; and now by dint of long talking on the subject, explaining and dwelling on the duty of Fanny's sometimes seeing her family, he did induce his wife to let her go; obtaining it rather from submission, however, than conviction, for Lady Bertram was convinced of very little more than that Sir Thomas thought Fanny ought to go, and therefore that she must.”

And all of the above is prelude to the spectacular finale of this subliminal playlet on the motif of “measure”, when the narrator, whose voice is coated so thickly with irony that it practically drags on the ground from the weight of it:

Ch 48 (the final chapter). “That punishment, the public punishment of disgrace, should in a _just measure_ attend his share of the offence is, we know, not one of the barriers which society gives to virtue. In this world the penalty is less equal than could be wished; but without presuming to look forward to a juster appointment hereafter, we may fairly consider a man of sense, like Henry Crawford, to be providing for himself no small portion of vexation and regret: vexation that must rise sometimes to self–reproach, and regret to wretchedness, in having so requited hospitality, so injured family peace, so forfeited his best, most estimable, and endeared acquaintance, and so lost the woman whom he had rationally as well as passionately loved.”

It requires some work to comprehend exactly what is being said here, but the bottom line is that men who participated in adultery were _not_ held accountable by social, legal, and cultural institutions.

Here is what Jennifer Kelsey, author of a very interesting book about the covert feminism of a great deal of 18th century women’s writing which I just discovered entitled _ A Voice of Discontent: A Woman’s Journey Through the Long Eighteenth Century_ (2009)—and which includes a fantastic chapter on the subject of fallen women and the way numerous women writers of the day, from Mary Hays to Mary Wollstonecraft, decried the double standard which this passage in MP addresses--- had to say after quoting the above passage from MP:

“In other words, in the world, at that time, one had to rely on man being punished by his conscience alone, and of course privately hoping that he would receive his just deserts in the after life!”

Indeed, then, JA’s narrator, in her incredibly elliptical way, was saying that the first verse of Matthew 7, the aura of which subliminally blankets that entire passage, was _not_ in force in JA’s England, at least when it came to the horrible mistreatment of women by men—both the fathers and the suitor--in regard to courtship, marriage, and sexuality!

But, was JA satisfied with this status quo? I say, “Absolutely not!”, not only based on the veiled allusion to Matthew 7, but also based on Mary Crawford’s prescient take on all of this, way back in Chapter 11. Mary, who as I have often written in this blog, despite her own real failings, nonetheless has the saving grace of repeatedly exposing the ugly truths that everyone else at Mansfield Park is at great pains to be silent about, and/or to rationalize, speaks the truth on behalf of her creator quite openly about self-interested hypocritical parental tyranny:

[Mary to Edmund] “Your father’s return will be a very interesting event.”

“It will, indeed, after such an absence; an absence not only long, but including so many dangers.”

“It will be the forerunner also of other interesting events: your sister’s marriage, and your taking orders.”


“Don’t be affronted,” said she, laughing, “but it does put me in mind of some of the old heathen heroes, who, after performing great exploits in a foreign land, offered sacrifices to the gods on their safe return.”

“There is no sacrifice in the case,” replied Edmund, with a serious smile, and glancing at the pianoforte again; “it is entirely her own doing.”

“Oh yes I know it is. I was merely joking. She has done no more than what every young woman would do; and I have no doubt of her being extremely happy. My other sacrifice, of course, you do not understand.”

“My taking orders, I assure you, is quite as voluntary as Maria’s marrying.”

“It is fortunate that your inclination and your father’s convenience should accord so well. There is a very good living kept for you, I understand, hereabouts.”

Amen, Mary. Mary sees through all the pretense, and tells it like it is, both as to Sir Thomas’s “sale” of Maria to the Rushworths, and also as to Edmund’s far more benign compliance with his father’s wishes. And I claim that this is the true unmasked opinion of Jane Austen about this awful iniquity, she was indeed a devout Christian who believed that what Jesus said in Matthew 7 was the way things _should_ be in this world, and not only in the next one.

Cheers, ARNIE