(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Last Refuge of an Abominable Scoundrel Who Kant be serious

As a totally accidental byproduct of the research I have done over the past 24 hours about the allusions to Hamlet in Mansfield Park, a little gem fell into my lap, which I will pass along:

In "Jane Austen's Englishness: Emma as national tale", Persuasions (2008), the late Brian Southam acutely picked up on the applicability of Johnson's (perhaps) most famous line to _Emma_ thusly:

"The ghost of Johnson is glimpsed once more in the scene--in technique, a travesty--in which Churchill sets out to establish his credentials as "'a true citizen of Highbury'" with a "'burst,'" as he puts it, "'of my amor patriae,'" purchasing gloves at the village shop. Emma responds half jokingly, expressing her admiration for Iris show of "'patriotism'" (200). But the joke is more than double-edged. As Boswell reminds us, Johnson dismissed "Patriotism" as "the last refuge of a scoundrel" (2.348), a sentiment much repeated and fresh in the mind of Regency England. As for amor patriae, resisting Churchill's suave plausibility, readers of Jane Austen would feel perfectly at home with Hazlitt's recently-delivered formulation, Johnsonian in tone, "the love of liberty, of independence, of peace, of "social happiness."

The little gem that fell into my lap was I thereby realized that there is one beautiful additional textual wink by Jane Austen, which Southam did _not_ notice, but which seals the deal in terms of confirming that JA indeed was intentionally alluding to that very famous Johnsonian dictum. Here it is:

In Chapter 49, Knightley, speaking to Emma right after she is surprised to learn that he already knows about Jane and Frank's engagement, but right before Knightley proposes to Emma, says something curious to Emma:

"Her arm was pressed again, as he added, in a more broken and subdued accent,'The feelings of the warmest friendship--Indignation-Abominable scoundrel!"

The normative interpretation of Knightley's statement is that he is thinking about Frank having broken Emma's heart. And I suggest that knowing that the word "scoundrel" is connected to Frank in that other Johnsonian way adds extra power to Knightley's mutterings, as of course Johnson, of whom Knightley indisputably is a representation, would, if he had overheard Frank's false bravado about "amor patriae", would instantly have categorized Frank as one of those scoundrels taking refuge in false patriotism!

Now, however, what is _most_ curious to me about Knightley's saying these particular words is that (as I pointed out during a Q&A at one of the plenary addresses at the JASNA AGM about Emma in Vancouver in 2007) they are all words which appear in very similar form in Frank's letter to Mrs. Weston. And why is that curious? Because it is a letter which Knightley will not (we are told) read it until Chapter 50, when he debriefs that letter with Emma as if he has never read a word of it before!

For my (complicated) explanation, I refer you to my book....

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: This gem fell into my lap because I had been searching for the words "ghost" and "Austen" in the same document, and Southam's article popped up because of his colorful phrasing, "The ghost of Johnson is glimpsed once more in the scene"!

P.P.S. to Mark only:

Mark, I just wanted you to know that, in researching the writing of the above message, I just stumbled upon a very tasty "bread crumb" in the text of that English edition of some of Kant's writings which I mentioned in one of my last Kant-related posts. This bread crumb is strong, indeed extraordinary, evidence that JA read it--it turns out to be something I have had in my files for several years, but completely forgot about, because it did not seem to connect to anything else.....until I found it by accident while putting together the above post --and then it hit me right between the eyes!

(and those, by the way, are the only hints I will give, for now, as to the quote itself--but it is enough for you to find it if you know your Kant really well, and want to spot it)

And while It also happens to dramatically support one of my interpretations of the shadow story of Emma as well, it opens a very interesting door into normative readings of Emma as well. It is not esoterica, this goes to the heart of the story of Emma, which turns out to be quite Kantian. But, notwithstanding what I have gathered so far from your 250-page unpublished manuscript, it is _not_ about Emma herself at all! It is about a part of the story that she _thinks_ she understands, but really has no clue about. It is about other characters int the novel, engaged in actions she is not involved with.

So thanks again for sensitizing me to be serious in my lookout for some Kant (but never "cant") in JA's writings! ;)

No comments: