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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, February 25, 2011

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

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