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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Hare and Many Friends...of Henry Tilney's Solitude

Jane Rubino wrote: "I always found it interesting that Henry's dogs were referred to as the "friends of his solitude" (I think that's the phrase), because in Austen men usually own dogs for hunting. "

I gather from Wikipedia that neither terriers nor Newfoundland dogs were hunting dogs, which would tend to support Jane's suggestion that Henry Tilney did _not_ engage in hunting or shooting.

However, I am nonetheless very glad Jane brought that quotation forward, for another reason, which I will now explain--and as to which, by the end of this post, I will also come full circle back to Jane's comment about hunting.

First, here is the full quote from NA, Ch. 26:

"At the further end of the village, and tolerably disengaged from the rest of it, stood the parsonage, a new–built substantial stone house, with its semicircular sweep and green gates; and, as they drove up to the door, Henry, with the friends of his solitude, a large Newfoundland puppy and two or three terriers, was ready to receive and make much of them."

I assert that this bit of narration is _Catherine's_ perception of the role these dogs play in Henry's life while he is at the parsonage, and is _not_ an objective description of the use that Henry Tilney actually put these dogs to. And I see evidence in the novel to support this interpretation, as follows.

The word "solitude" appears three other times in NA, and it is the usage in Ch. 19, the only one of the three that precedes the above passage, which provides a strong clue as to why we hear about Henry's solitude in Ch. 26:

“My dear Miss Morland,” said Henry, “in this amiable solicitude for your brother’s comfort, may you not be a little mistaken? Are you not carried a little too far? Would he thank you, either on his own account or Miss Thorpe’s, for supposing that her affection, or at least her good behaviour, is only to be secured by her seeing nothing of Captain Tilney? Is he safe only in _solitude?_ Or is her heart constant to him only when unsolicited by anyone else? He cannot think this — and you may be sure that he would not have you think it.

Catherine, I claim, thinks of the phrase "friends of his solitude", because Catherine's has _not_ been convinced by Henry's argument in Ch. 19 that solitude was a poor basis for constancy. We know from thoughts like "Now, there was nothing so charming to her imagination as the unpretending comfort of a well–connected parsonage, something like Fullerton, but better: Fullerton had its faults, but Woodston probably had none. If Wednesday should ever come!" that Catherine is already fantasizing about being married to Henry and living with him at the Woodston parsonage. So it is a brilliant bit of psychological realism on JA's part, that Catherine's feverish anticipation should, at the moment when Wednesday does arrive and she first catches sight Henry at Woodston with the dogs, be threatened with alloy by a subconscious fear that wells up in her mind, which is that Henry, like his brother Frederick, might have a roving eye for all the local and eligible single young ladies at Woodston! After all, Henry would have plenty of opportunity to meet those girls, what with having all _their_ eyeballs focused on him every Sunday delivering his sermons! He would be known locally, of course, as the son of General Tilney, the master of the great estate, Northanger Abbey, and therefore a very desirable catch indeed.

And then Catherine's concerns would have been sharpened by Henry's abrupt announcement of a trip to Woodston, which causes Catherine's "very long face":

"Because I am to hope for the satisfaction of seeing you at Woodston on Wednesday, which bad weather, or twenty other causes, may prevent, I must go away directly, two days before I intended it.”

So it is only natural that Catherine would, upon arriving at Woodston, feel that fear, but it is also a brilliant stroke on JA's part _not_ to tell the reader all of this explicitly, but instead to subtly hint, by circumstantial implication, that Catherine has stuffed that horrid thought right down, and instead has imagined, as a defense, that even if Henry has been out at Woodston a great deal, and has suddenly gone to Woodston early for a not very convincing reason, it is okay because surely Henry spends a lot of time _alone_ with his dogs while at the Parsonage , far, far away from those other girls!

So, in short, I claim that this whole scenario takes place in Catherine's head, and _that_ is why we hear about the friends of Henry's solitude!

And it only just now occurred to me that I am revisiting old ground, and that this fits perfectly with my post of some months back, in which I claimed that the "new idea" which darted into Catherine's mind in Ch. 28, when the messenger arrived from Woodston in the middle of the night, was the related, horrid fear that Henry had dumped Catherine:

Catherine may have given up her Gothic fantasies about murdered or imprisoned wives, but she has now seen enough of the real world to know that avowals of eternal love and solemn engagements are not always honestly made or performed, and so she is not irrational to fear the worst, i.e., that Henry, despite having given every sign of being ready to propose to Catherine, might, following in Isabella Thorpe's footsteps, actually become engaged to a Woodston girl instead!


And I suggest there is even more to "friends of his solitude" than the above. Once Jane flagged that phrase, I recognized it as being just the sort of expression that was likely a veiled literary allusion by the hyper-allusive JA, and Google Books quickly produced a candidate, a 1753 poem by Samuel Shepherd, rector of Celbridge, dedicated to the Duke of Dorset, with the title "Horace Epode II, Imitated", in which Shepherd lobbies the Duke to give him the idyllic living he describes in his poem!:

The poem has about 15 stanzas, too long to quote in full. The speaker is a country parson with a living clearing 500 a year, "snug in his parsonage at ease". He owes no rent, and does not have to do any farming, so he has plenty of time for bucolic frolics, drinking of home made wine---and then the following stanza where we read of a different "friend of his solitude" from the animal world--a dove:

Beneath an oak what need he spread
His limbs, or make the grass his bed?
Won't cushions in his arbor plac'd
Invite to study, or to rest?
_Friend of his solitude_, the dove
Cooes from the depth of yonder grove:
His noisy shores if Liffey beats.
Echo the soften'd sound repeats;
And penn'd, as gentle murmurs creep,
His sermons must invite to sleep.

But then, apropos Jane's question, we hear that this parson of Shepherd loves to hunt:

When frost the struggling earth enchains,
And snows white mantle spreads the plains;
The leaden death he points aright,
Short'ning the giddy woodcock's flight.
The wily fox if hounds pursue,
Or keep the trembling puss in view;

He mounts his grey/, /in sober sort,
And free from falls enjoys the sport.
Safe on some spot of rising ground,
His eye surveys the country round;
Catches each double of the chase;
Sees, when her pantings thick encrease;
Then spurs his willing steed to share
The glory—and secure the hare.

Thus easy, need his passions rove?
Or what has he to do with love? .....

And what then ensues are several stanzas describing our parson's connubial bliss with "a chaste and tender wife".

So is it possible that JA has read the above poem and pointed to it in NA? Part of what makes me think so is that the poem is an imitation of an Epode by Horace, and two months ago, I wrote about Jane Austen emulating the great Roman poet Horace's skill at mock-panegyrics of a powerful patron:

Plus, there was a presentation at the last JASNA AGM by Jackie Fressette Johnson about Henry Tilney as a "Horatian Hero", which I did not attend because of a schedule conflict, but which further suggests that JA had the great Roman satirist in mind when she created Henry Tilney and therefore her eye might have been caught by a poem in imitation of Horace about a country parson.

But the other part that makes me believe this was an intentional allusion by JA to this poem, is apropos "the hare" who is "secured" in the poem after a lengthy chase. I suggest that this is another reason why we read the following early in NA:

"she learnt the fable of “The Hare and Many Friends” as quickly as any girl in England..."

I claim that Catherine is the "hare" of this novel, a vulnerable creature being pursued by several hunters, before she is "secured" by the one "friend" by whom she yearns to be "secured"---not Henry's dogs, but Henry himself!

Cheers, ARNIE

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