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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Wetness of the Wafer, Bluebeard, and other matters "en mystere"

Letter 22 is short, but it still contains some interesting matters to decipher:

"The children were delighted with your letters, as I fancy they will tell you themselves before this is concluded. Fanny expressed some surprise at the wetness of the wafers, but it did not lead to any suspicion of the truth."

I was bewildered by "the wetness of the wafers", until I learned from Le Faye's _JA: The World of her Novels_ that the "wafer" was not something edible, but the small circle of dried glue which was placed on the letter after it was all folded up, to seal it shut. That leaves open the meaning of JA's clearly playful suggestion that the 6 year old Fanny did not suspect the true explanation for why the wafer was wet. I would guess that saliva was the source of the wetness, which does not seem particularly interesting, even to a 6 year old---or is there a joke there that I am

"John Lyford's history is a melancholy one. I feel for his family, and when I know that his wife was really fond of him, I will feel for her too, but at present I cannot help thinking their loss the greatest."

That sounds like JA channeling her inner Charlotte Lucas, operating on the presumption that a marriage based on genuine love, especially on the part of a wife in desperate search of security, was a rarity.

"Edward has not been well these last two days; his appetite has failed him, and he has complained of sick and uncomfortable feelings, which, with other symptoms, make us think of the gout; perhaps a fit of it might cure him, but I cannot wish it to begin at Bath."

I hear heavy sarcasm in the suggestion that an attack of gout might cure Edward's vague "sick and uncomfortable feelings", the sarcasm reinforced by JA's last comment, i.e., that he should not suffer the gout attack until _after_ JA makes her escape from Bath, where she clearly feels trapped.

"He made an important purchase yesterday: no less so than a pair of coach-horses. His friend Mr. Evelyn found them out and recommended them, and if the judgment of a Yahoo can ever be depended on, I suppose it may now, for I believe Mr. Evelyn has all his life thought more of horses than of anything else."

And here we have a real life model for John Thorpe, plus clear evidence that JA had Gulliver's Travels at the tip of her pen.

"The play on Saturday is, I hope, to conclude our gaieties here, for nothing but a lengthened stay will make it otherwise. "

Le Faye tells us it was Kotzebue's _The Birthday_, but she does not reveal that she bases this i.d. on Margaret Kirkham's elaborate and utterly convincing identification of that play, in her 1982 book, and I believe Le Faye does not mention Kirkham's book because Le Faye does not want anyone to read Kirkham's excellent pioneering book about Jane Austen as a feminist.

Kotzebue's play is undoubtedly a source for _Emma_--an identification that is obvious when you actually read Kotzebue's play (as I have)--it is clearly a very important subtext for Emma, especially, I would suggest, with respect to the backstory of _Emma_.

Le Faye also mentions that on the program was the 'romance' Bluebeard--which fits perfectly with my claim that Perrault's Bluebeard tale was a major covert allusion in Northanger Abbey.

Cheers, ARNIE

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