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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, February 4, 2011

Jane Austen's "Wife (and Daughter & Spinster) Abuse in England"

No, that is not the title of Jane Austen's just-discovered seventh novel....but it is the title I give to the shadow stories of all six of her published novels! (think of them as Parts One through Six of one VERY long saga)

That is what I have been saying for several years, i.e., that while the revealed (or overt) stories of Austen's novels seem to offer comfort and solace to women for what they had to endure in their various relationships with men, the shadow stories of Austen's novels are a full catalogue of all the abuses--more even than a catalogue, they are at the CENTER of those shadow stories--their "raison d'etre" (a tip of the hat to the important role played by French Gothic writers).

At the JASNA AGM in Portland 3 months ago, I specifically detailed the most extraordinary of those shadow stories, that of Northanger Abbey, with Mrs. Tilney as the representative of the ordinary married English gentlewoman--an English "Everywife" if you will--and General Tilney of course as the English "Everyhusband".

Jane Austen was, I believe, aware that many of the Gothic novels she read were "fractured women's fairy tales", detailing actual abuses committed against women all across Europe. However, in her shadow stories, but especially in Northanger Abbey, she created a devastating ironic structure that never occurred to even the great Radcliffe:

i.e., to have a revealed story that seems to mock the Gothic novel, masking a shadow story that celebrates, and, in fact, elevates to a theretofore never imagined level of brilliance and significance, the female Gothic story.

What was Austen's astounding insight was that, horrible as the cases of extreme abuse of women by men (which made it into the newspapers and other published accounts) were, what was ten times--no, ten thousand times worse (to borrow a repeated phrase in Northanger Abbey) was the ORDINARY abuse of women by men, which never raised a single eyebrow among the (mostly male) moral arbiters of her world.

It is my opinion that Northanger Abbey gaathered dust for 20 years not because it was considered too slight and frothy, but because its strident feminism was too uncomfortably close to the surface.

Just sayin'.......

Cheers, ARNIE

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