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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, February 25, 2011

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.


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