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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, May 20, 2011

Echoes (of a very or totally different nature ) of NA, P&P and Emma in Letter 25

Letter 25, like so many of JA's early letters, is rich, I claim, in echoes of JA's novels.

"Having just finished the first volume of Les Veillees du Chateau, I think it a good opportunity for beginning a letter to you while my mind is stored with Ideas worth transmitting."

Is JA being serious? I think she is, i.e., she _was_ very interested in this particular de Genlis story (as well, of course, as in Adele & Theodore when JA wrote Emma). I believe this to be so because JA alluded to Les Veilles du Chateau in Northanger Abbey, as first noted by Stephen Derry in "The Northanger Hyacinths", Persuasions #11, 1989, p.14*.

*Here is how I picture JA writing this letter. It was Saturday, probably in the morning, JA has just been enjoying a quiet read, getting geared up for a day of writing, and I suspect that she was excited thinking about having a go at tinkering with the manuscript of NA later that day, and was going to get warmed up first by starting this letter to CEA. And, as my following comments will illustrate, I believe JA's authorial mind _was_ indeed "stored with ideas worth transmitting", however obliquely, to CEA, about JA's fiction-writing.

"The Tables are come, & give general contentment. I had not expectcd that they would so perfectly suit the fancy of us all three, or that we should so well agree in the disposition of them; but nothing except their own surface can have been smoother;-The two ends put together form our constant Table for everything, & the centre peice stands exceedingly well under the glass; holds a great deal most commodiously, without looking awkwardly.-They are both covered with green baize & send their best Love.-The Pembroke has got its destination by the sideboard, & my mother has great delight in keeping her money & papers locked up.-The little Table which used to stand there, has most conveniently taken itself off into the best bed-room, & we are now in want only of the chiffoniere, which is neither finished nor come."

But before getting to the echoes of JA's novels in this letter, as I read the above passage, I wonder whether the Austens had recently come into a bit of extra money, to be able to afford CEA's shopping spree on their behalf while passing through London? I don't recall any other passage in the pre-Bath era when several family purchases were described.

"So much for that subject; I now come to another, _of a very different nature_, as other subjects are very apt to be."

And now JA cuts to the chase. This might seem to merely be a bit of droll ironic transition, but I was immediately reminded of the following memorable lines penned by Mr. Darcy in his first missive to Elizabeth in Ch. 35 of P&P:

"Two offenses _of a very different nature_, and by no means of equal magnitude, you last night laid to my charge. The first mentioned was, that, regardless of the sentiments of either, I had detached Mr. Bingley from your sister, and the other, that I had, in defiance of various claims, in defiance of honour and humanity, ruined the immediate prosperity and blasted the prospects of Mr. Wickham."

This parallelism of phrasing tells me that JA has also been tinkering with P&P as well as NA, and was enjoying that very suggestive turn of phrase. It was one that she apparently enjoyed so much that she returned to a variation of it ("of a totally different nature") not once but _twice_ much later, when writing Emma:

[Emma staggers Knightley with this] "There is no admiration between [Jane and Frank], I do assure you; and the appearances which have caught you, have arisen from some peculiar circumstances—feelings rather _of a totally different nature_—it is impossible exactly to explain:—there is a good deal of nonsense in it—but the part which is capable of being communicated, which is sense, is, that they are as far from any attachment or admiration for one another, as any two beings in the world can be."

" A sudden seizure of a different nature from any thing foreboded by her general state, had carried her off after a short struggle. The great Mrs. Churchill was no more."

In both cases, I read this phrase "of a totally different nature" as cryptically suggesting something significant that is known to the speaker but is not made explicit. In the case of Mrs. Churchill's struggle, it suggests to me (as it did to Leland Monk in 1990) that Mrs. Churchill's seizure was at the hands of _another person_ "after a short struggle".

And, apropos JA writing this letter after reading a French novel, did JA get the idea for this turn of phrase from reading a translation of another French novel, the Princess of Cleves, which has the following passage early on:

"[the Dauphiness] must now...entertain you with some anecdotes _of a very different nature_, that have occurred since your absence from court. I must begin with Nemours’s history. Do you know that his conduct is a mystery not to be discovered? It is certain he loves some woman in this kingdom sufficiently to make him neglect the prospect of being wedded to a powerful Princess. No one is his confidant, not even, I am assured, your uncle de Chartres, who was always his most intimate friend."

What a remarkable parallel to the conduct of Darcy, which indeed was a mystery--and a horror---to his aunt and Caroline Bingley, among others, because his feelings for Lizzy are sufficient to make him neglect the prospect of being wedded to either Ann De Bourgh or Caroline Bingley!

"I hope it is true that Edward Taylor is to marry his cousin Charlotte. Those beautiful dark Eyes will then adorn another Generation at least in all their purity."

And is it just a coincidence, in light of what I just suggested about Darcy, that _this_ comment is _also_ echoed by Darcy's fascination with Lizzy's "fine eyes"!

Cheers, ARNIE


[Ellen Moody just wrote the following in Austen L after I wrote the above]:

"Diane R suggests that Austen's obliqueness is to be attributed to rumors that there had been a duel. She's right: Earle was adam[a]nt to say it had not been a duel, people looked at the direction of the bullet, "Such a wound could not have been received in a duel."

I just responded thusly:

Which is precisely why JA introduces that dicey topic with:

""So much for that subject; I now come to another, _of a very different nature_, as other subjects are very apt to be."

A subject "of a very different nature" is, precisely, a subject which must not be spoken of explicitly, but must instead be hinted at obliquely.

Which is precisely why I read those two usages in Emma which I quoted as being written according to the same "law of obliqueness" as the Harwood passage in Letter 25-JA was very consistent over her entire lifetime in her application of these "laws" of coded expression!

If you're going to use a code, which hides your deeper meaning, it is crucial to be consistent in deployment of that code, so as to avoid confusion for the person _de_coding your message!

And, by the way, are we, in this tale of Earle Harwood and his dueling wound, getting a hint of the mystery in S&S about Willoughby's and Brandon's shadowy offstage confrontation?

Cheers, ARNIE

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