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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jane Austen’s Letter 29: “…by the Sea or in Wales…”

Diane Reynolds wrote the following in Janeites and Austen L: "How distressing this must have been is hinted at for me in her line: "the prospect of spending future summers by the Sea or in Wales is very delightful."

I replied as follows:

Diane, you just made me realize something very very peculiar (and very very funny!) about that comment----think about the second charade in Emma, which refers to the "Monarch of the SEA"---what are two of the secret answers to that charade? Colleen Sheehan's (the "Prince of Whales") and Anielka's ("Leviathan").

Do you get the joke? "in Wales" === > "in Whales"! As in the kind of "delight" that Jonah experienced during his Biblical sea excursion!

But what does this wordplay mean in the context of Letter 29? I would say that it fits perfectly with your notion of JA feeling powerless, swept along by "waves" stronger than she can resist, which leave her no choice but to hope that the whale/Leviathan spits the Austens out into a comfortable "Bath"(tub)!

Diane then responded to my above comment: "Arnie, The sea and wales, sea and whales possible pun is very interesting--I would dismiss it if this weren't Jane Austen. In fact, as I was reading it, I was thinking, "I knew she liked the seashore, but I didn't know she liked Wales." But if it's a pun on whales ... that would be entirely consistent with her love of wordplay. I find it difficult to imagine the family uprooting itself simply to get JA away from a suitor. I too have to think there were financial issues and that Persuasion does echo real life for her. "

Glad you agree, Diane, on both counts ("Whales" and "retrenching"), which really are two sides of the same coin, i.e., the affliction of Biblical proportions suffered by the Austen women by virtue of being suddenly uprooted. And, in addition to Ann Elliot's feelings upon being forced to leave Kellynch Hall, don't forget the reaction of the Dashwood women after they are unceremoniously shouldered out of Norland, and have their bequest from Mr. Dashwood reduced to practically nothing, both courtesy of Fanny Dashwood.

Based on all that resonating "smoke", I cannot fathom how anyone could imagine that JA was happy to leave Steventon!

And it also occurred to me since I sent my previous message to look at "by the Sea or in Wales" in context. Here is the full passage:

"My Mother bargains for having no trouble at all in furnishing our house in Bath-& I have engaged for your willingly undertaking to do it all....."


"...I get more & more reconciled to the idea of our removal...."

Translation: I get more and more angry about our being forced to leave...

"...We have lived long enough in this Neighbourhood,.."

That is exactly like the poignant lyrics of the song _Anatevka_ at the end of Fiddler on the Roof, in which the Jews of Anatevka (who have themselves been suddenly and ruthlessly uprooted from their country village for no reason other than religious hatred) start saying dismissive things about Anatevka (such as how insignificantly small it is), so as to blunt the acute pain they feel at losing their lifelong home.

"...the Basingstoke Balls are certanly on the decline,...."

Which is surely not the case at all, we all know from so many of JA's letters that she loved Balls, and made the best of them even when there weren't enough men to go around.

"...there is something interesting in the bustle of going away,..."

Which is complete nonsense, when actually we know how JA, like Fanny Price, was not a big fan of such "bustle", from various comments throughout this series of letters from 1801 from Letter 29 onward, including most famously Letter 37's "The whole world is in a conspiracy to enrich one part of our family at the expense of another."

"... & the prospect of spending future summers by the Sea or in Wales is very delightful...."

So why would JA drop in here a truthful accurate statement, when all the statements leading up to it have been topsy-turvy absurdism, and so are, as you will see in a second, also the sentences following it?"

"...For a time we shall now possess many of the advantages which I have often thought of with Envy in the wives of Sailors or Soldiers...."

The "advantages" of mourning, worry, loneliness, privation, predation, etc etc?

"...It must not be generally known however that I am not sacrificing a great deal in quitting the Country-or I can expect to inspire no tenderness, no interest in those we leave behind."

Which means that there will be many people whom JA and CEA will sorely miss, especially including 7 year old Anna Austen, with whom JA and CEA have been very close.

"...-The threatened Act of Parliament does not seem to give any alarm. ..."

Which is also why I have always read this as a final absurdity, as if Parliament enacted a special law specifically covering the move of the Austen family from Steventon to Bath.

And, last but not least, apropos the pun I claim JA made on Wales/whales, please note that in Letter 31, written only 9 _days_ after Letter 29, JA writes the following (the only other place besides Letter 29 in _all_ of JA's surviving letters to include a mention of Wales):

"Mrs. Welby has been singing Duetts with the Prince of Wales."

Is this factual? Le Faye quotes Chapman for evidence that the Prince was in Hampshire around that time, but as to Mrs. Welby, the best Chapman can come up with is the following: "Sir Alfred Welby tells me that he has a recollection of hearing that his ancestress was musical."

To which I say, "Yeah, right!" Given that the second charade of Chapter 9 of Emma indisputably makes a secret pun on the "Prince of Whales" with an "h", I find this mention of the Prince of Wales quite compelling additional evidence that the "Wales" in Letter 29 were indeed "whales". And it is even more so when we consider what a big deal Mrs. Elton and Mrs. Cole make about Jane Fairfax's being "mistress of music", etc etc, when what they are actually saying in code is that Jane is "mistress" of the kind of "music" that brought an _ill_ repute upon a woman in Jane Austen's world.
Cheers, ARNIE

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