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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Jane Austen Code

[In Janeites and Austen-L, Anielka Briggs wrote, inter alia, the following] " So here we have General Tilney and Henry VIII vying for Catherine Morland's affections and General Tilney having already "murdered" his wife through childbirth. We then have General Tilney somehow unable to look upon the portrait of his dead wife. Lashings of Shakespearean guilt fits rather nicely ."

I would like to briefly clarify who the originators are of _four_ points mentioned recently by Anielka:


First go to the following link:

If you scroll down to the blurb for Breakout Session C2, you will see that I am the sole originator of the interpretation of Northanger Abbey that she has mentioned above, i.e., Mrs. Tilney dying in childbirth. I first came up with this interpretation two years ago, and submitted it to Mary Margaret Benson of the Portland JASNA chapter about a year and half ago. From all the research I have done, I have never seen any sign in the critical literature of anyone else ever positing this interpretation prior to my doing so.

And of course I have been writing about this same theme for over a year now in these groups and in my blog. This is not some incidental detail, it goes to the heart of the novel.

At the JASNA AGM, I also spoke about JA intentionally depicting General Tilney as a "Bluebeard" character who "murders" his wife through childbirth, showing that JA saw Perrault's Bluebeard story as a fractured feminist fairy tale, depicting the true "horrors" of life in England. I still hold strongly to that strong interpretation, and consider it to be the central theme of the anti-parody that sits right beneath the Gothic parody that is the conventional reading of Northanger Abbey.


I also spoke at the AGM about General Tilney courting Catherine for himself, and not on behalf of his son Henry--but I also stated that idea was _not_ original to me, even though it did occur to me on my own in 2009--when I first researched that point after thinking of it, I saw that it was first argued in print, as best I can determine, in an excellent 1998 article by my friend John Dussinger:

“Parents against Children: General Tilney as Gothic Monster”, Persuasions 1998, #20, 165-177

But even John, writing in 1998, did not realize that earlier credit is due to Maggie Wadey, the screenwriter of NA1, back in the late 80's. When I re-watched NA1 after getting this idea, I saw that there is one moment in that adaptation (when the house maid at the Abbey comes in to wake Catherine up) when the General's amorous interest in Catherine is implied by what the house maid says to Catherine, even though Catherine (and, I would guess, probably 99% of those who watched that adaptation) does not (consciously) register the implication.


I also spoke (briefly) at the AGM about Henry and Catherine as representations of Henry VIII and Catherine,--again, giving credit to an earlier originator of that interpretation---and here are the exact words I spoke in Portland, which tie in directly with the Bluebeard theme I argued for, as mentioned above:

"From English history, Terry Robinson ["A mere skeleton of history’: Reading Relics in JA’s /Northanger Abbey./” /European Romantic Review/, 17:2 (Apr 2006) 215-227]draws an intriguing parallel between our Henry and Catherine and another even more famous Henry and Catherine—of course, Henry VIII and his Catherines!Henry Tudor dissolved monasteries like Northanger Abbey, and was the prototypical husband from hell. Austen's /The History of England/ shows she knew all about him. She doesn’t mention Henry’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr, who died after childbirth, but Austen was aware that Henry was unique--a literal andmetaphorical Bluebeard. As Austen’s nephew noted, she called Henry an “embodied Blue Beard”. “Embodied” as in /women’s /bodies?"


And finally, this is to confirm _again_ that I was the first person to use the phrase "The Jane Austen Code" in connection with subtext in Jane Austen's novels. I first sent that name to a literary agent in 2005, and I specifically mentioned it to Anielka on several occasions in late 2007.

Cheers, ARNIE

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