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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"a mere joke among ourselves" James Edward Austen-Leigh

I am glad to find a zone of synchronicity and amicability in responding to what Anielka Briggs wrote this morning:

[Anielka] "Christy raises an interesting question: did JEAL undestand JA's double entendres or not?....The question is, does he pick up the balls and run? (Plural joke there.... I think JEAL knew part of the joke. "

I agree, Anielka, last year, I came to exactly the same conclusion about JEAL--and I know that you and I each did this completely independently.

_JEAL himself_, on the other hand, seems to have thought that he was in on the whole joke (every pun intended). A few years back, I even found some sexual punning in _his_ own writing, which is mainly what tells me he enjoyed the part of JA's punning that he saw. But I think that large parts of what JA was up to did ultimately elude him, he did not have a big enough imagination to grasp the enormity and the audacity of JA's, nor did his intellectual pedantry arm him to recognize the incredible depth and breadth of her allusive substructure.

As I posted a few years back when we read the Memoir in Janeites, JEAL was clearly most concerned with sanitizing JA's veiled swipes at his own benefactress, Mrs. Leigh-Perrot. That's where his worst Bowdlerizing was centered, doing his bit to sustain the Big Lie that JA did not write about real people.

[Anielka] "This is the edge of the sword by which we can divide JA's critics from that day to this. All the coded references are there and read double. A good coded subtext will read double so well that both interpretations are valid and run alongside one another in parallel. ....As with all good sexual double entendres, the defence of the author's innocence lies in the plausibility of both readings. The defence of all sexually based double-entendres then, is that it is the "dirty-mind" of the reader that has interpreted it thus."

That is exactly what I have been saying about JA's sexual puns for about 6 years--again, arrived at independently by each of us---but that is a point which at least some sharp elves other than you and me have been making for a very long time, in regard to sexual punning by many authors, most notably Shakespeare. That is why repeating the "non-sexual cover story" does not refute the existence of the double entendre. If anything, the more convincing the non-sexual meaning, the _better_ the double entendre, because it makes it much easier to glide by without noticing the sexual pun, even for those who suspect double entendres at every turn of the road, like you and me. Just as with the best crossword puzzles, the most style points should be given to the deceptions which hidden in the _plainest_ sight.

[Anielka] "I've published a sexual interpretation for Mrs. Goddard's school several times in the past (see below). "

I do not doubt you on that, and I myself was aware of that interpretation since 2006, and I also was aware that Soofi found it independently, and I know that when you and I were in communication in October, 2007, neither of us needed _any_ consciousness raising on the basic validity of such sexual innuendo interpretations of JA's writing, we were both already there. The only disputes between us were, and I suspect, still are, as to the extent and specific meanings we each attribute to them, but that is not a bad thing, once the basic phenomenon is recognized, to have various intelligently argued positions out there for people to choose among, and/or to be inspired to come up with new ones.

I have had since 2006 a particularly nice wrinkle on the Mrs. Goddard's school-as-brothel interpretation, which I will be including in my book, which really does add strongly to the claim that this is entirely intentional on JA's part--because the wrinkle I found makes it so much less likely that this was an accidental or unconscious combination of words.

[Anielka] "Professor Frodsham also contributed the insight that "seminary" was a homophonic joke on semen"

That is a very nice touch indeed, which I had not seen before!

[Anielka] "I'm not so sure some of the later family biographers, especially the female members of the family, understood the joke. The best joke of all is on us. For at least a hundred years JA must have been laughing from the other side of the grave as serious scholars seriously discussed the serious meanings of some of the best Austen sexual double-entendres. This is a classic case of the dirty mind of the author getting the last laugh when scholarly men earnestly refer to JA's homosexual jokes such as " to bend a slave" and apply this homosexual position to themselves or serious feminist intellectuals discuss plain, motherly Mrs. Goddard's liminal existence in Highbury when in fact the author allows us to read her as a successful ex-prostitute acting as the Madam of a brothel."

No question, I completely agree, and not only that, JA must have been laughing till she cried already while she was still alive, at half the opinions she collected about MP and Emma, in terms of family and friends who did not have the foggiest idea of how funny and ironic their answers were, in light of the shadows of those novels which they had inadvertently taken in exactly the _wrong_ way.

Cheers, ARNIE

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