(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mrs. Stent, Miss Bates……and Sir John Falstaff!

You will recall that we first made the acquaintance of Mrs. Stent (companion to Mrs. Lloyd) in the following immortal lines in JA’s Letter 26 to Martha Lloyd:

"With such a provision on my part, if you will do your's by repeating the French Grammar, & Mrs. Stent will now & then ejaculate some wonder about the Cocks & Hens, what can we want?”

And we will be encountering her twice more in coming months:

In Letter 44 to CEA: "Poor Mrs. Stent! it has been her lot to always be in the way; but we must me merciful, for perhaps in time we may become Mrs. Stents ourselves...

And she makes her curtain call in Letter 77, this one written to Martha Lloyd three weeks before Mrs. Stent died: “Poor Mrs. Stent I hope will not be much longer a distress to anybody.”

It has been obvious to me ever since I first read JA’s letters that Mrs. Stent is an important allusive source for the character of Miss Bates. But only today did I become curious to know who was the first Janeite to detect this allusion, and here’s what I found. WAY back in 1893, Agnes Repplier did everything but take the final step of saying that Jane Austen intentionally alluded in this way when she wrote….

“…If we knew [Austen’s bores], we should probably feel precisely as did Emma Woodhouse and Maria Bertram and Elizabeth Bennet, — vastly weary of their company. In fact, only their brief appearances make the two gentlemen bores so diverting, even in fiction; and Miss Bates, I must confess, taxes my patience sorely. ….Miss Austen was far from enjoying the dull people whom she knew in life. We have the testimony of her letters to this effect. Has not Mrs. Stent, otherwise lost to fame, been crowned with direful immortality as the woman who bored Jane Austen ?" We may come to be Mrs. Stents ourselves," she writes, with facile self - reproach at her impatience, "unequal to anything, and unwelcome to anybody " an apprehension manifestly manufactured out of nothingness to strengthen some wavering purpose of amendment. Stupidity is acknowledged to be the one natural gift which cannot be cultivated, and Miss Austen well knew it lay beyond her grasp. With as much sincerity could Emma Woodhouse have said, "I may come in time to be a second Miss Bates."

But then, less than a decade later, in 1902, Henry Houston Bonnell nailed it:

"Poor Mrs. Stent ! " writes Miss Austen to her sister. "It has been her lot to be always in the way; but we must be merciful, for perhaps in time we may come to be Mrs. Stents ourselves, unequal to anything, and unwelcome to everybody." Here we see Miss Bates in posse….”

I have given the above Brief History of Mrs. Stent because of something _else_ I realized earlier today, as I was rereading another “History”---the History of Henry IV, Part One by Shakespeare--- in eager anticipation of going to the multiplex tomorrow night for a rare treat—watching a filmed performance of a Shakespeare play performed at the Globe!—and by the way, I believe it is playing at select Regal theaters all around the US (and perhaps Canada too?) at the same time, and this will be the case during upcoming months for several other Shakespeare plays—check for local listings where you live if you are interested.

Anyway, what I realized as soon as I read the first scene where Falstaff takes center stage, is that Falstaff reminded me _a lot_ of Miss Bates! And when, in Act 2, I came to the famous scene when Prince Hal humiliates Falstaff with his elaborate, and rather cruel, trick, in robbing the robber at Gad’s Hill, I knew instantly that this was _the_ scene that JA intentionally alluded to when she wrote the Box Hill scene in Emma! There are just too many obvious similarities---it is a public humiliation in front of the victim’s closest companions, it takes place on a “Hill”, and, most telling of all, it is a humiliation in which the victim is allowed to first hang him/her self with his/her own words, before being verbally pounced on by the much younger person who once looked up to that older person. An ultimate betrayal of love and trust.

So I checked to see who else has spotted this parallel before in print, and I found, to my surprise, that no critic (accessible online) has claimed that there was an intentional allusion by JA, although a couple have come very close:

First, John Bayley, in a 1974 article entitled “Character and Consciousness”:

“We must really want to be cruel to Miss Bates, as Jane Austen wants to, before we can see that it will not do; we must be seduced by Falstaff before we can really feel why the Prince has to throw him over…”

Then a few years later, Bayley expanded on that same line of thinking, but again, without speaking in terms of an intentional allusion:

“…one of the secrets of JA’s art is to deprive humor of the superiority of those who are continually aware of it. As with Falstaff, her sense of humor is the reason why the same sense is in others. It makes her modest rather than exclusive….Miss Bates is a famous figure. With educated people, at least, she leads, like Mr. Collins again, a quasi proverbial existence outside the book comparable to that of Falstaff—though not so grand. She is paradigmatic to the novel in being so known as the bore who entertains. “

And in 1979, Julia Prewitt Brown wrote: “There is something particularly moving and frightening about the rejection of the comic figure in art, such as the rejection of Falstaff or of the clown in a Charlie Chaplin film.”

And then skip ahead to 2003 when Bharat Tandon (who by the way also picked up on the Mrs. Stent- Miss Bates parallel) wrote the following:

“The Box Hill incident is just such a moment: “Oh! very well,” exclaimed Miss Bates, “then I need not be uneasy. 'Three things very dull indeed.' That will just do for me, …(looking round with the most good humoured dependence on every body’s assent)…...’You know’, ‘shan’t I’, ‘Do not you all think’; as if these prompts were not enough, Austen inserts the extraordinary bracketed stage direction in the middle of Miss Bates’s speech, one which, given Austen’s relative lack of adverbial qualifications, is all the more prominent. Miss Bates may be no Falstaff ('I am not only witty in my self, but the cause that wit is in other men’) but the stage direction…suggests she is at least partly aware of the ridiculous figure she makes, and that she has, therefore, partly pre-empted Emma’s joke at her expense, which makes it all the more embarrassing that Emma can then so completely misunderstand her cue. “

And now I will tie all of the above together with a neat shiny bow by pointing you to _another_ mention of Mrs. Stent in JA’s letters, Letter 28, which we discussed nearly two months ago, and which I intentionally held back for my finale:

"I have been here ever since a quarter after three on thursday last, by the Shrewsbury Clock, which I am fortunately enabled absolutely to ascertain, because Mrs. Stent once lived at Shrewsbury, or at least at Tewksbury.-"

So here we JA explicitly associating Mrs. Stent with Falstaff! The allusion is to Henry IV, Part One, Act 5, Scene, 4, in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Shrewsbury, when Falstaff boasts to Prince Hal that he has slain Percy, and the Prince then wryly points out to Falstaff that he (the Prince) _himself_ killed Percy. Caught in this barefaced lie, the resourceful Falstaff thinks fast:

"Didst thou? Lord, Lord, how this world is given to lying! I grant you I was down and out of breath; and so was he: but we rose both at an instant and fought a long hour by Shrewsbury clock. If I may be believed, so; if not, let them that should reward valour bear the sin upon their own heads. I'll take it upon my death, I gave him this wound in the thigh: if the man were alive and would deny it, 'zounds, I would make him eat a piece of my sword. "

This scene is the bookend to the scene of humiliation at Gad’s Hill—once again, Falstaff is bragging about heroics he has not actually performed, and has been caught in his lie once more by Hal.

So isn’t it curious to think about JA writing the character of Miss Bates, and the Box Hill scene in particular, with _both of those Falstaffian humiliations in mind, as well as poor Mrs. Stent?

And I then take this one final step by repeating my mantra that Miss Bates is a self-portrait of Jane Austen herself. And that of course fits perfectly with everything I have written, above, including Emma Woodhouse’s fear of becoming a second Miss Bates, just as JA writes to CEA of her fear lest the two impecunious Austen spinsters both eventually become Mrs. Stents themselves!

All of which is, I claim, a remarkable matrix of allusion that demonstrates how JA’s letters echo her novels, and how JA’s own life was mirrored in her novels, and what a liar Henry Austen, JEAL and all the other biographers were who claimed that JA did not write fiction based on real people!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: I hope at least some of you will also go see Henry IV Part One tomorrow evening, and then we can share our reactions!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Jane Austen's Letter 36: Two More Scenes from The Human Comedy

"I then got Mr. Evelyn to talk to, & Miss Twisleton to look at; and I am proud to say that I have a very good eye at an Adultress, for tho' repeatedly assured that another in the same party was the She, I fixed upon the right one from the first.-A resemblance to Mrs. Leigh was my guide. She is not so pretty as I expected; her face has the same defect of baldness as her sister's, & her features not so handsome;-she was highly rouged, & looked rather quietly & contentedly silly than anything else.

-Mrs. Badcock & two young Women were of the same party, except when Mrs. Badcock thought herself obliged to leave them to run round the room after her drunken Husband.-His avoidance, & her pursuit, with the probable intoxication of both, was an amusing scene."

Is there another short passage in one of JA's letters which more conclusively stamps the author of these letters as one of history's most acute _and_ profound observers of the human comedy?

First we have the snapshot of Miss Twisleton, and if we were to guided by conventional Austen biography as to the significance of same, we would think this was proof that JA was an unforgiving sanctimonious prig who was appalled by Miss Twisleton's adulterous sins.

But a fair reading of this passage reveals a much subtler sort of portraiture. JA, it seems to me, is mocking the conventional reaction to Miss Twisleton, seeing an "Adulteress" and nothing more. Whereas JA sees much more. First, she draws an experimentally precise portrait of this woman's appearance, capturing the essence of both her genetic inheritance and also her behavior and mentality. From start to finish, we can savor JA's quintessential, deflating irony., for all the melodramatic anticipation that would for most of JA's female peers accompany seeing (gasp!), in the flesh, a real life Adulteress-- like one of the wild beasts at Exeter Exchange or Astley's---JA notices this rather sad woman's visual flaws, and also the apparently vacuous mind behind the heavily rouged face.

That is, I suggest, the really negative part of JA's judgment of this woman, more significant than her adultery, which I would guess was Lydia Bennet-esque in its thoughtlessness.

And as a bonus, we have the added piquant spice that Miss Twisleton was a Leigh by birth and her sister was married to a Leigh cousin, so there was a double family connection to the Austen family.

And then, with the tale of the Badcocks, we have still more theatre of the absurd to delight the piquant taste of JA, who, like Mr. Bennet, could not fail to enjoy such a spectacle. And yet I get the feeling that JA is not entirely amused, she also is revealing what must be, in the real world, a very sad story of Mrs. Badcock, whose husband is so out of control that she must somehow try to intervene, to prevent even greater public humiliation than has already occurred.

There was enough information there for CEA, the accomplished visual artist, to conjure up a couple of sketches, although they would perhaps not be appropriate for hanging on the walls of a respectable residence, but only for the private enjoyment of JA.

Cheers, ARNIE

Jane Austen's Letter 36: "...I am more anxious to know the amount of my books..."

"...James I dare say has been over to Ibthrop by this time to enquire particularly after Mrs. Lloyd's health, & forestall whatever intelligence of the sale I might attempt to give.-Sixty-one guineas & a half for the three cows gives one some support under the blow of only Eleven Guineas for the Tables. Eight for my Pianoforte, is about what I really expected to get; I am more anxious to know the amount of my books, especially as they are said to have sold well...."

Last week, I included the beginning of the above excerpt in a gathering together of disparate digs that JA sends in the direction of brother James, especially during and in the aftermath of JA's exile to Bath. However, I did not take note till this morning of the full import of the _end_ of this excerpt, "I am more anxious to know the amount of my books..."

The way I see it, what is unspoken but strongly implied is the awfulness of the sale of JA's books as a traumatic event in JA's life. Did she have a _large_ collection of books? If so, then what a devastation to her as a writer, to be suddenly torn away from a large collection of books which she has collected over more than a decade! Or did she have a _small_ collection of books? If so, then why did any of them have to be sold at all, for whatever pitifully small proceeds as could be garnered for them?

Large or small, therefore, such collection must have been lovingly assembled by JA over that long period of time. And if anyone reading this has any doubt about my claim, looking solely at her letters, look at how JA correctively rewrites this particularly ugly part of Austen family history in S&S, in the description of the dislocation of the Dashwood women to Devonshire:

"The furniture was all sent around by water. It chiefly consisted of household linen, plate, china, AND BOOKS, with A HANDSOME PIANOFORTE of Marianne's. Mrs. John Dashwood saw the packages depart with a sigh: she could not help feeling it hard that as Mrs. Dashwood's income would be so trifling in comparison with their own, she should have any handsome article of furniture."

So, even though the Dashwood women get screwed, inheritance-wise, nonetheless Marianne (JA's alter ego) gets to keep her books and her pianoforte, a luxury that JA herself did _not_ enjoy!

And look at how the importance of art-related possessions is emphasized and reinforced when they move into Barton Cottage:

"...each of them was busy in arranging their particular concerns, and endeavoring, by placing around them BOOKS and other possessions, to form
themselves a home. Marianne's PIANOFORTE was unpacked and properly disposed of; and Elinor's DRAWINGS were affixed to the walls of their sitting room."

And finally the following paean to books not long afterwards in S&S:

"I wish," said Margaret, striking out a novel thought, "that somebody would give us all a large fortune apiece!"

"Oh that they would!" cried Marianne, her eyes sparkling with animation, and her cheeks glowing with the delight of such imaginary happiness.

"We are all unanimous in that wish, I suppose," said Elinor, "in spite of the insufficiency of wealth."

"Oh dear!" cried Margaret, "how happy I should be! I wonder what I should do with it!"

Marianne looked as if she had no doubt on that point.

"I should be puzzled to spend so large a fortune myself," said Mrs. Dashwood, "if my children were all to be rich my help."

"You must begin your improvements on this house," observed Elinor, "and your difficulties will soon vanish."

"What magnificent orders would travel from this family to London," said Edward, "in such an event! What a happy day for BOOKsellers, music-sellers, and print-shops! You, Miss Dashwood, would give a general commission for every new print of merit to be sent you—and as for Marianne, I know her greatness of soul, there would not be music enough in London to content her. And BOOKS!—Thomson, Cowper, Scott—she would buy them all over and over again: she would buy up every copy, I believe, to prevent their falling into unworthy hands; and she would have every book that tells her how to admire an old twisted tree. Should not you, Marianne? Forgive me, if I am very saucy. But I was willing to shew you that I had not forgot our old disputes."

"I love to be reminded of the past, Edward—whether it be melancholy or gay, I love to recall it—and you will never offend me by talking of former times. You are very right in supposing how my money would be spent—some of it, at least—my loose cash would certainly be employed in improving my collection of music and BOOKS."

I think JA has made it clear in her first published novel what importance she ascribes to the necessity of a home to contain many books, in order for it to be a proper home to an intelligent young woman like Marianne Dashwood....or Jane Austen!

So, whether she had a large or a small collection of books at Steventon,
either way, their being sold was a reflection of how little JA's writing really meant in the Austen family, when push came to shove. James Austen's
being set up in as advantageous a position as possible---VERY important.
Jane Austen's writing--of no importance whatsoever.

Money talks, as JA understood very well. Regardless of whatever may have been expressed verbally to JA encouraging her writing, these were empty words, because when it came down to shillings and pence, no real value was ascribed to JA's writing, and her need for a library of books to support her writing.

And now we see, in fuller context, why JA would make that crack about "the
other Mary" and her lack of interesting in reading books.

No wonder she was so resentful of James and Mary Austen--wouldn't anybody be under such circumstances?

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: A final thought occurred to me as I was posting this: the one member of the Austen family who could not possibly please ignorance of the importance of books to JA would have to be James--the literary brother, the one who was the moving force behind the Loiterer, the one who wrote plaintive poetry all his life.

What a particularly awful betrayal it would have been in JA's eyes for _him_ of all the members of her family to benefit, even if indirectly, from the sale of JA's book collection!

Jane Austen's Pickled Cucumbers: "Tell him what you will"

In my previous message, I connected three "dots"---JA's mentionings of "cucumbers" in Love and Freindship, Letter 35, and Pride and Prejudice, respectively. However, I deliberately held back connecting those three dots to one additional one, because I wanted to give special emphasis to what I deem to be the supreme importance of the _fourth_ additional reference to cucumbers in JA's writings, which appears in Letter 146 written to JEAL in late 1816, and which goes as follows:

"Tell your father, with aunt Cass’s love and mine, that the pickled cucumbers are extremely good, and tell him also—‘tell him what you will.’ No, don’t tell him what you will, but tell him that grandmamma begs him to make Joseph Hall pay his rent, if he can.”

Le Faye's footnote claims that the quotation "tell him what you will" is an allusion to Hannah Cowley's 1783 comedy of manners, _Which is the Man?_, which apparently was one of the pieces performed during the era of the Steventon amateur theatricals.

I would like, however, to suggest an alternative allusive source, one which holds a much darker meaning, one which Le Faye, if she was aware of it, was not about to point her readers to, for the reasons I will unfold below.

It can be found in the letter written by Robert Lovelace to his confidant Belford in Samuel Richardson's _Clarissa_, after Lovelace has tried to pass himself and Clarissa as already being husband and wife, even though they are not yet married:

[Lovelace] What, my dear, would you have me to say to the captain tomorrow morning?--I have given him room to think--

[Clarissa] Then put him right, Mr Lovelace. Tell the truth. Tell him what you please of your relations' favour to me: TELL HIM WHAT YOU WILL about the settlements: and if when drawn, you will submit them to his perusal and approbation, it will show him how much you are in earnest."

And what is most disturbing is what happens shortly _after_ that moment in Richardson's dark novel. I.e., Clarissa, unknowingly lured to a brothel in Covent Garden run by the infamous Mrs. Sinclair, is raped by Lovelace after being drugged. In the immediate aftermath of this traumatic event, Clarissa raves semi-coherently in a series of delirious, guilt-ridden scribbled notes to Lovelace and various members of her family.

And those ravings sound _very_ much like the ravings in Love and Freindship in which the histrionic heroine, who has also suffered a traumatic shock, refers, inter alia, to her recently deceased beloved Edward as a "cucumber". And those ravings also include a surreal reference to a "present" which is strikingly reminiscent of the otherwise mysterious reference to a "present" in Letter 35, as follows:

Letter 35: "The cucumber will, I believe, be a very acceptable _present_, as my uncle talks of having inquired the price of one lately, when he was told a shilling."

Clarissa'smad talk about a baby wild animal, which changes from a lion to a bear to a tiger within two sentences: "It was made her a present of when a whelp..."

Now, why, I ask, would the 41 year old (and very ill) JA make a veiled but pointed allusion to the mad Clarissa, revisiting a veiled allusion to the mad Clarissa which JA made in her 16-year old fiction _Love and Freindship_? And why would JA go further and veiledly cast her brother James as Lovelace in Letter 146, written to, of all people, James's own son?! And that is, by the way, the same Letter 146 in which JA wrote her famous--and I claim completely insincere--self-deprecation about writing her novels on "two inches of ivory"?

I suggest that JA's veiled potshots at James Austen in Letter 146 are of a piece with JA's report, in Letter 157 to brother Charles, written only 4 months after Letter 146, of JA's relapse into serious illness due to another traumatically shocking event---the same relapse which JEAL deceitfully tried to reframe in his Memoir as having been triggered by Henry Austen's bankruptcy, but which Letter 157 clearly lays at the door of the Leigh-Perrot disinheritance of the Austen women, a disinheritance which would ultimately redound to the exclusive benefit of JEAL himself!

In effect, I suggest, JA is saying in so many words that James Austen is the equivalent of a pickled cucumber, in the Freudian sense---a man who has taken extreme and dastardly advantage of a woman of whom he ought to have taken extreme care--and this event has been so shocking to JA as to hasten her death --which is precisely what happened to Clarissa in the aftermath of Lovelace's abominable act!

I find this all extremely chilling and disturbing.

Cheers, ARNIE

Jane Austen's Cucumbers

On 7/29/2011 10:30 AM, Diane Reynolds wrote:
> I keep pondering the shilling for a cucumber in Letter 35. I want to think that's about $10 in today's money. Can that be? That seems impossible. But perhaps it's a commentary on how much fresh produce will be in the city, that the Austens grew for virtually nothing in the country. Or perhaps a cucumber was an exotic item?


You are spot-on in identifying this passage about a one-shilling cucumber as significant. It is indeed absurd---but the answer to your good question does not lie in eliminating the absurdity, and finding some rational analysis of the actual cost of actual edible cucumbers in Bath in 1801, or in anything else from the real world of food commerce. Instead, the answer must be sought in the _mind_ of the author who wrote the following suggestive and absurdist passages in her fiction, pointing to a very different sort of commerce, and a very different sort of "cucumber" than you've been thinking of:

Love & Freindship:

"Talk not to me of Phaetons (said I, raving in a frantic, incoherent manner) -- Give me a violin. -- I'll play to him and sooth him in his melancholy Hours -- Beware ye gentle Nymphs of Cupid's Thunderbolts, avoid the piercing Shafts of Jupiter -- Look at that Grove of Firs -- I see a Leg of Mutton -- They told me Edward was not Dead; but they deceived me -- they took him for a CUCUMBER --" Thus I continued wildly exclaiming on my Edward's Death."

The great Sigmund himself could not have invented a more Freudian passage if he had tried--and recall that JA wrote this passage as a 16 year old!

Pride & Prejudice:

"It was the second week in May, in which the three young ladies set out together from Gracechurch Street for the town of ——, in Hertfordshire; and, as they drew near the appointed inn where Mr. Bennet's carriage was to meet them, they quickly perceived, in token of the coachman's punctuality, both Kitty and Lydia looking out of a dining-room upstairs. These two girls had been above an hour in the place, happily employed in visiting an opposite milliner, watching the sentinel on guard, and dressing a salad and cucumber. "

Isn't it interesting that the above passage in P&P pertains to a long trip from one place in England to another, just as is the case in JA's May 1801 letter? And we know from so many of the previous letters we've discussed this year that JA embedded many echoes of her novels (especially P&P and NA) in these letters.

And then remember what a "milliner" was slang for in JA's time:

And then imagine what sort of "salad and cucumber", the "dressing" of which would have kept a young lady like Lydia Bennet "happily employed" "above an hour" in a "milliner's" shop near a much-trafficked inn.

And there's a lot more where that came from.....

Cheers, ARNIE

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Little Quiz

I just realized something this morning, which I thought might be a good subject for a little quiz, which is:

Which 2 out of the 6 Austen novels have the greatest frequency of the word "real" (or a variant of the word such as, e.g., "really")?

Hint--the 2 novels with the greatest frequency consist of one of the three shorter novels (NA, P&P, and Persuasion), and one of the three longer novels (S&S, MP, and Emma).

Hint #2: The difference in frequency is very dramatic between these 2 novels and the other 4, i.e., pretty much twice as frequently.

Any guesses? If you do guess, it would also be fun if you speculate as to WHY those 2 novels would have double the frequency of that word as the other 4.

I will give the answer tomorrow morning EST, unless someone guesses both correct answers sooner, and I will also give my own speculation as to why those 2 novels were given this special treatment by JA.

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"The other Mary" in Letters 49 & 50....even though Lord Brabourne and Deirdre Le Faye would not want you to connect those two dots

Not to go out of order in our group read of JA's letters, but I happened to come across two passages in Letters 49 & 50 today, which fits perfectly with the notion that JA did not think very highly of Mary Lloyd Austen....and how!

First here is the relevant passage in Letter 49:

"Alphonsine" did not do. We were disgusted in twenty pages, as, independent of a bad translation, it has indelicacies which disgrace a pen hitherto so pure; and we changed it for the "Female Quixotte," which now makes our evening amusement; to me a very high one, as I find the work quite equal to what I remembered it. Mrs. F. A., to whom it is new, enjoys it as one could wish; the other Mary, I believe, has little pleasure from that or any other book."

The standard interpretation of the first part of that quotation is that JA and the other two ladies in her ad hoc reading group, her sisters in law Mrs. Frank Austen and Mrs. James Austen, were all disgusted at the theme of adultery depicted in de Genlis's Alphonsine, and that is why the book was put aside for another. I have never found that argument convincing, and have always believed that JA here is doing what she does so often in her letters, i.e., assuming the voice of another person for purposes of satire and irony--and in this instance, I believe that other person is none other than Mary Lloyd Austen!

Why would JA do this in this case? Because we can see the reason in what JA writes at the end of that same paragraph---"the other Mary, I believe, has little pleasure from that or any other book."

It seems clear to me that Frank's wife Mary is not the problem here, it is James's wife Mary, a prig, who puts the kibosh on reading any further in de Genlis. Here's how i reconstruct the background on this---first, I believe it was JA who brought Alphonsine forward in the first place--after all, it is well known that JA was very interested in de Genlis's fiction. And it could not have been Frank's wife Mary who brought it forward, she was all of _seventeen_ in 1807 (she married Frank at age 16 a year earlier!), and she was hardly going to be bringing forward risque literature for her two much older and more mature sisters in law to read.

So...the barely concealed subtext of this passage is a little power struggle between Jane Austen and James's wife Mary, and the "turf" being contested between them is JA's "home field", i.e., literature.

When Alphonsine is tossed aside at Mary Lloyd Austen's insistence, I see JA as the one who then comes forward with _another_ subversive feminist-tinged text, The Female Quixote, by Charlotte Lennox. And of course Mary Lloyd Austen has little pleasure in it either, which is what prompts JA's openly derisive barb at her Bowdlerizing sister in law.

And which also, I believe, finds its way into Pride and Prejudice, in the mouth of the equally unpleasant Caroline Bingley:

"Miss Eliza Bennet," said Miss Bingley, "despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else."

"I deserve neither such praise nor such censure," cried Elizabeth; "I am NOT a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things."

Now _that_ is a sweet revenge on JA's part, to paint Mary Lloyd Austen as Caroline Bingley, getting her comeuppance from JA's most attractive and witty heroine, Lizzy Bennet!

And...what seals the deal on this interpretation, I claim, is the following passage in Letter 50, written exactly one month after Letter 49:

"I should not be surprised if we were to be visited by James again this week; he gave us reason to expect him soon, and if they go to Eversley he cannot come next week. I am sorry & angry that his Visits should not give us more pleasure; the company of so good & so clever a Man ought to be gratifying in itself; – but his Chat seems all forced, his Opinions on many points too much copied from his Wife’s, & his time here is spent I think in walking about the House & banging the doors, or ringing the Bell for a glass of Water."

First, what is noteworthy is that Lord Brabourne, that unashamed Bowlderizer, in his 1884 edition of the letters, deleted everything in that paragraph after the words "he cannot come next week." Of course he does this, because this is an additional unmasked attack by JA on James Austen, and that just won't do to let Janeites see JA being so severe in her judgment on both her elder brother James and his wife.

But note in particular the reference to "his Opinions on many points too much copied from his Wife's", and think about it in connection with JA's assuming the voice of Mary Lloyd Austen in rendering a harsh judgment on de Genlis's Alphonsine. That is surely one of the opinions which James has been forced to mouth in support of his wife!

And finally, why do I suggest in my Subject Line that Deirdre Le Faye does not want us to connect these passages in Letters 49 & 50? After all, she never connects the dots between passages in different letters, whether or not they are controversial passages or not. And she does not delete any of the text of the letters as Brabourne did.

No, what she did was much sneakier, and really is her M.O., always doing her censorious work in the shadows---very simply, Le Faye fails to include a reference to the above passage in Letter 49 in Mary Lloyd Austen's index entry! Therefore, a reader who was not able to deduce who the "other Mary" was, would not be able to connect these passages in these two letters, and realize their full mutual implications when read together!

As they might have said regarding the recently concluded British Open, "Par for the course".

Cheers, ARNIE

Barbara Karolina Seeber's article "Nature, Animals, and Gender in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park & Emma"

After rereading (yesterday) Barbara Karolina Seeber's pioneering analysis of the relationship between Sir Thomas and Fanny in her 2000 book _General Consent in JA: A Study in Dialogism_, I became curious to know what else Seeber might have written about JA, and I quickly found another article which is very similar in its intelligent use of textual examples to illustrate her arguments:

"Nature, Animals, and Gender in JA's MP and Emma" in Literature, Interpretation, Theory, 13, 269-285 (2002).

Here is an abbreviated version of Seeber's introductory paragraph:

"The late 18th and early 19th century saw an increase in moral concern for animals and advocacy of vegetarianism. This intertwined with the radical politics of the period. The debate over 'rights'...explored connections among gender, class, race, and species...[Various contemporary books] all argue for vegetarianism. In the light of these texts and ecofeminist theories, representations of nature and animals in JA's MP (1814) and Emma (1816) invite investigation...MP draws structural parallels between patriarchy, imperialism, and the domination of nature: tree-cutting, hunting, and the domesticating and eating of animals. In Emma, food consumption demarcates class and gender lines."

In case any of you are worried about the "jargon" factor--and I am always jargon-averse---less than 10% of the article is theoretical, it consists almost entirely of textual examples and clearly argued analysis of same. And in several instances Seeber specifically (and to my mind persuasively) rebuts Maggie Lane's rose-colored interpretations of food in Austen novels.

My personal favorite from among Seeber's examples is the following:

"Jane Fairfax 'had yet her bread to earn' (165). Comparing the governess trade to the 'sale [...] of human flesh' (300), she demonstrates an astute awareness of the political ramifications of food. Throughout, her consumption of food is minimal: she 'really eats nothing.' (237). Emma is 'tire[d]" of listening to Miss Bates's description of 'exactly how little bread and butter [...] [Jane] ate for breakfast, and how small a slice of mutton for dinner' (168). While Emma is the 'complete picture of grown-up health' (39), Jane's poor health, like Fanny Price's, reflects her marginal social position....."

I love the subtle echo of "bread to earn" in "how little bread and butter", which is classic Austen subliminal textual connectivity. I had noticed that latter quoted passage before, in terms of Jane's not getting enough to eat, but I had not taken full note of Emma's incredibly clueless disregard for Jane's health. Here is the fuller excerpt:

"Jane had spent an evening at Hartfield with her grandmother and aunt, and every thing was relapsing much into its usual state. Former provocations reappeared. The aunt was as tiresome as ever; more tiresome, because anxiety for her health was now added to admiration of her powers; and they had to listen to the description of exactly how little bread and butter she ate for breakfast, and how small a slice of mutton for dinner...."

Emma experiences Miss Bates's anxiety for Jane's health as a "provocation", because, I would suggest, Emma is _not_ entirely callous and lacking in empathy, as might at first be inferred from the above passage. Rather, JA masterfully shows us that on a subconscious level, Emma _does_ have a conscience and _does_ hear what Miss Bates is saying--and Emma s genuinely upset by it. But Emma tries to stuff down this very uncomfortable and destabilizing empathy, and instead her mind turns right back to Emma's multiple jealousies of Jane's accomplishments, and Jane's frustrating unwillingness to satisfy Emma's intrusive nosiness.

In any event, I strongly recommend Seeber's article, it is filled with similar insights and fresh perspectives on JA.

Cheers, ARNIE

[Amended to add the following exchange between me and Diane Reynolds]

"Thanks for the heads up on the Seeber article. I will take a look at that."

You are welcome, Diane, I am sure you will find it as interesting and enlightening as I did.

"To switch gears, I have been thinking about your comments about Sir Thomas and Fanny. I have long found Sir Thomas a mystery, largely because the terror and dread Fanny and the Bertram children seem to experience toward Sir Thomas is not born out by action by him that we see in the text. "

Read the chapter in Seeber's book about this very subject, and then add my gloss from yesterday vis a vis that specific line in MP that I focused on yesterday, and you will have a very good start, but of course, go ahead and reread the rest of the novel in that light as well!

We have the same sort of question here in MP as in Hamlet--the _degree_ of the emotion of the character (Fanny in MP, Hamlet in Hamlet) seems extreme and out of proportion in response to the (apparent) cause----Eliot's famous "objective correlative".

Are we dealing with an oversensitive character, or a normal character responding to an extreme cause? _That_ is the question (or, at least, one of the important questions) in _both_ of those great works of literature. Speaking of "terror" and "horror", words which describe Fanny's feelings at several points in MP, think about Hamlet and his hair standing on end!

And there's another character in MP whose emotion seems extreme and out of proportion in response to the (apparent) cause--Sir Thomas himself, in his book-burning, razed-earth response to the production of Lovers Vows---are we dealing with an overreactive character, a character with a strong moral aversion to licentious drama.....or a character feeling guilty about wrongs _he_ has committed previously?

Ay, there's the rub--a connection between Hamlet and Mansfield Park which I have previously written about:

P.S. re Sir Thomas and DSK

For those who might be interested and have not already taken the trouble to browse the Net on this subject, the following is just a sampler of responsible journalists and intelligent bloggers who have all written about Strauss-Kahn's pattern of behavior toward women over many years, and who have also written about the political, legal and journalistic culture of France which has shaped a very different response to same than would ever have occurred in the United States:

The part that I believe would have been of greatest interest to Jane Austen is the hypocrisy, the accommodation to the exertion of male power over women.

Cheers, ARNIE

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Edmund, Edward & Mr. Elton: The Three Oxfordians

You know the way Alfred Hitchcock always worked himself into a little cameo in every one of his films? And even though I can't recall at the moment, I am sure there are a number of novels and plays in which the author embedded an in-joke, by having characters from one of their novels slip into the background of another of their novels in which they do not belong, like actors inadvertently stumbling into the wrong play.

These thoughts all arose in my mind as I was reading the following passage in Ch. 46 of MP:

"Just before their setting out from Oxford, while Susan was stationed at a window, in eager observation of the departure of a large family from the inn, the other two [Fanny and Edmund] were standing by the fire..."

Today, I noticed that large family for the first time, and I wondered if there might be any way of knowing _which_ large family that might have been that Susan observed departing from the inn where Fanny, Susan and Edmund spent the evening en route back to Mansfield Park from Portsmouth? I then took that wild thought one giant step further, and wondered if there might there be some sly connection to a large family that we already know from one of JA's _other_ novels? Or was it just, as that passage has always been read when it has been noticed at all, just background detail?

Given JA's precise hidden calendars for all her novels, and putting aside for the moment the question of particular years, I made the assumption that if JA _were_ to play a trick like this, she would make sure that there was a close alignment of both date _and_ location, between two different novels.

So, in MP, I quickly verified that Edmund and the two Price sisters spent that evening at the inn in early May. Then I turned to the other novels to see if any _other_ characters were in Oxford in early May. And it turns out there is one other character--Edward Ferrars, who spends several weeks in Oxford during the spring, and then leaves Oxford in early May, on pretty much the same date when Edmund et al pass through Oxford! So I realized I had enough smoke here to justify some more digging to see if there really might be fire.....

I then noted another parallelism, in terms of the action that occurs at that moment in both MP and S&S. In S&S, Edward leaves Oxford in early May because he has just received Lucy's letter informing him of her marriage to Robert, and then, being free of Lucy, he immediately goes to Devonshire to propose to Elinor. And is it then just a coincidence that it is more or less the same date that Edmund leaves Oxford to take Fanny to Northamptonshire, and then not long afterwards proposes to Fanny?!

And there's more to the parallels, of course. Edmund and Edward are, as I have noted in several messages over the past few years, very similar characters in the Austen oeuvre: they are far and away the two _least_ romantic heroes of the six: they are both phlegmatic, not very romantic, not-very-dashing country clergymen who both wind up with Austen's most serious-minded heroines!

And so I it possible that the large family that departs from the inn in Oxford might have been.....Lucy Steele's Holborn cousins and/or the Richardsons mentioned in Ch. 38 of S&S?:

Perhaps their travel through Oxford was for the purpose of attending Lucy's wedding with Robert, prior to the happy couple's decampment to their Dawlish cottage? Perhaps Lucy used some of the money she borrowed from sister Ann to pay for a few frills at her wedding to Robert, to compensate for not having the large wedding that she would have had, had Mrs. Ferrars known and approved of the match.

Yes, it's very speculative, but I find this a very intriguing.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. : I almost forgot to mention the following question posed by Harriet to Emma:

"Will Mr. Frank Churchill pass through Bath as well as Oxford?"—was a question, however, which did not augur much."

It may not have augured much to the clueless Emma, but might this comment by Harriet have anything to do with the likelihood that not long before then _Mr. Elton_--like Edmund and Edward, also a country clergyman--would have passed through Oxford on _his_ way to get married to Miss Hawkins in Bath after a _very_ short engagement?

Jane Austen had Strauss-Kahn’s Number 200 Years Ago

In hindsight, I am disappointed in myself that it took me over two months to realize that there are numerous disturbing parallels between the real-life Strauss-Kahn rape allegations in NYC and also in France, and the strong hints (in the subtext of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel, Mansfield Park) that Sir Thomas Bertram has sexually abused his powerless little niece Fanny Price during her childhood.

In both instances, we have a very powerful man-- a “Master of the Universe” in Tom Wolfe’s terms---who clearly feels he has the “droit du seigneur”, the privilege of free access to the bodies of powerless women in his vicinity—a vicious, appalling combination of unfettered narcissism and primitive misogyny, which bursts out with impunity when opportunity arises.

But there are more specific, coincidental parallels which make the linkage almost uncanny (although even I, in singing Jane Austen’s praises, do not claim she had precognition in addition to literary genius!):

Strauss-Kahn is of course French, and so there is an eerie resonance of his nationality to the following line from Mansfield Park, in which the narration describes Fanny Price’s feelings as she hears the heavy footstep of her uncle approaching the door to her refuge, the East Room:

“The terror of his former occasional visits to that room seemed all renewed, and she felt as if he were going to examine her again IN FRENCH and English. “

In the normative reading of this passage, Fanny, who is then 18, is having a flashback to her earlier teen years, when Sir Thomas would visit her room and quiz her on her knowledge of French language, which she was being taught by the family governess, Miss Lee. And she is also trembling with fear that Sir Thomas will summon her to face Henry Crawford, at which point she will have to endure the necessity of turning down his marriage proposal, even though strong punishment will likely rain down on her head as a result.

But when you look at this line of narration from slightly off-center, you realize with a sickening jolt that there is a horrible alternative interpretation, in which the “examination” is physical, not academic, and in which “in French” refers not to the French tongue as a language (the French word for language being the same as the French word for a person’s actual tongue) but to an actual tongue---more horribly still, Sir Thomas’s tongue---and you realize further that in 1814, and still even today, the sexual slang meaning, for Brits, of anything sexual that is “in French” is unmistakable—e.g., “the French way”.

Jane Austen was an inveterate punster, as I have demonstrated a thousand times in this blog, and almost always her puns are NOT gratuitous or merely salacious, but conceal substantive moral content. I am inclined to think this pun among her very best, in the savage anger concealed in her wit in this instance. The phrase “in French and English” carries with it the idea that Sir Thomas’s abuse of Fanny will not cease with one form of physical violation, but will also include an additional one for good measure.

No wonder that Patricia Rozema, in her 1999 film adaptation of Mansfield Park, and Barbara Karolina Seeber, in her 2000 book, have depicted Sir Thomas Bertram as a depraved sexually abusive monster!

And the uncanniness of the parallel to Strauss-Kahn’s case goes even further. His accuser, an African immigrant working in the US, is a maid in a luxury hotel, a modern version of the servants in Jane Austen’s era. Like some of those servants, she is black, which of course also corresponds to the slavery subtext of Mansfield Park, in which Sir Thomas ogles Fanny upon his return from an extended trip to his slave plantation in Antigua. That is why Rozema’s Tom Bertram has been driven to alcoholism and dissolution by the trauma of having witnessed his father’s raping African slaves.

And finally, and perhaps most disgusting, we have the predictable massive attack—even from Strauss-Kahn’s own wife, who must know what sort of man he is--on the character and credibility of the victim, Strauss-Kahn’s accuser. We can only imagine the even more vicious and perhaps even violent consequences which would have fallen on Fanny Price’s head had she dared to break the silence and expose Sir Thomas’s sexual abuses of her to the rest of the Bertram family.

Jane Austen knew what that reaction would be too, and she shows it to us in the following scene:

[Cousin Edmund Bertram speaking to Fanny Price] “… (smiling). "Do you want to be told that you are only unlike other people in being more wise and discreet? But when did you, or anybody, ever get a compliment from me, Fanny? Go to my father if you want to be complimented. He will satisfy you. Ask your uncle what he thinks, and you will hear compliments enough: and though they may be chiefly on your person, you must put up with it, and trust to his seeing as much beauty of mind in time."

Such language was so new to Fanny that it quite embarrassed her.

"Your uncle thinks you very pretty, dear Fanny—and that is the long and the short of the matter. Anybody but myself would have made something more of it, and anybody but you would resent that you had not been thought very pretty before; but the truth is, that your uncle never did admire you till now—and now he does. Your complexion is so improved!—and you have gained so much countenance!—and your figure—nay, Fanny, do not turn away about it—it is but an uncle. If you cannot bear an uncle's admiration, what is to become of you? You must really begin to harden yourself to the idea of being worth looking at. You must try not to mind growing up into a pretty woman."

"Oh! don't talk so, don't talk so," cried Fanny, distressed by more feelings than he was aware of; but seeing that she was distressed, he had done with the subject….” END OF QUOTED EXCERPT

Let’s take a quick tally: “He will satisfy you….they may be chiefly on your person, you must put up with it…the long and the short of the matter…your figure---nay, Fanny, do not turn away about it…harden yourself…”

Is it any wonder that Fanny is “quite embarrassed” and was “distressed by more feelings than he was aware of”? This scene is one of many which long ago soured me on Edmund Bertram, who, despite his good intentions, always wusses out in the moment of truth—and this is the ultimate moment of truth, when Fanny is most in need of his protection, and he—the definitive representation of the Anglican clergy in Jane Austen’s novels-- just goes AWOL, morally speaking.

So, as I said, Jane Austen had Strauss-Kahn’s number 200 years ago, because this is the oldest story in the world, going back to the Stone Age—where it ought to have been left!---the sexual abuse of powerless women by powerful men. Somewhere Jane Austen is watching Strauss-Kahn’s case, and is hoping that times have changed just enough so that at least one Master of the Universe will be properly punished, and the silence of the Bertrams will no longer be perpetuated.

Cheers, ARNIE

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"....they are very far from being what I know English gentlemen often are….."

Christy Somer wrote in Janeites: "There is a recollection from a Mrs. Ann Barrett (who lived at Alton during 1813-1816) this is what she records about JA's thoughts on two of her heroes:

"...To the question `which of your characters do you like best?' she once answered, "Edmund Bertram and Mr. Knightley; but they are very far from being what I know English gentlemen often are….."

I replied as follows:

That quotation comes from the same portion of JEAL's Memoir in which he also wrote the following whopper:

"Her own relations never recognised any individual in her characters..."

Which, in my opinion, is the most extreme example of protesting too much (and too falsely) in the history of biographies.

But putting that aside, I am willing to assume for argument's sake that _ JEAL has accurately quoted Mrs. Barrett _and_ that Mrs. Barrett has accurately quoted JA, but let's take a closer look at the above quotation as to the characters whom JA liked best:

"Edmund Bertram and Mr. Knightley; but they are very far from being what I know English gentlemen often are….."

That sentence can plausibly be construed in two completely _opposite_ ways, i.e., as their being very far _above_ the typical English gentleman, or very far _below_ the typical English gentleman. And the word "but" is part of that ambiguity---it could mean "I like them _but_ men of that high quality are rare", or it could mean "I like them _but_ they are not really the best of gentlemen."

And Kishor Kale, if he is out there reading along at this moment, would chime in that the above sentence is in exactly the same ambiguous vein as the following sentences he discussed in his excellent paper about ambiguous sentences in P&P:

Mrs. Bennet: "My dear Mr. Bennet, you must not expect such girls to have the sense of their father and mother" (29).

Mr. Collins: "She is the sort of woman whom one cannot regard with too much deference" (157).

Wickham: "Exceedingly well. I should have considered [making sermons] part of my duty, and the exertion would soon have been nothing "(328).

Mr Bennet: "If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to any one less worthy" (377).

Perhaps JA was treating Mrs. Barrett the same way she treated James Stanier Clarke, turning her into an unwitting conveyor of a veiled negative judgment on two of her literary creations.

Cheers, ARNIE

Letter 33: Where have you gone, Jane Austen?

The usual potpourri of concealed meanings in one of Jane Austen's letters, touching on many of her usual concerns and pet peeves:


"I shall want two new coloured gowns for the summer, for my pink one will not do more than clear me from Steventon."

Is "clear me from Steventon" an archaic idiom, meaning, in the above context, "suffice as my gown wardrobe until I leave Steventon" ? I do not see that she ever used this particular expression in any of her novels or other letters.


"How do you like this cold weather? I hope you have all been earnestly praying for it as a salutary relief from the dreadfully mild and unhealthy season preceding it, fancying yourself half putrified from the want of it, and that now you all draw into the fire, complain that you never felt such bitterness of cold before, that you are half starved, quite frozen, and wish the mild weather back again with all your hearts. "

This seems to me a rather morbid and intense meditation on the perverseness of human nature, a variant on "the grass is always greener"---in this case, "the weather before was always nicer than it is now". I am reminded of the line from Paul Simon's "Mrs. Robinson", which made a strong impression on me 40 years ago: "Laugh about it, shout about it, when you've got to choose, every way you look at it, you lose"


"Your unfortunate sister was betrayed last Thursday into a situation of the utmost cruelty.I arrived at Ashe Park before the Party from Deane, and was shut up in the drawing-room with Mr. Holder alone for ten minutes. I had some thoughts of insisting on the housekeeper or Mary Corbett being sent for, and nothing could prevail on me to move two steps from the door, on the lock of which I kept one hand constantly fixed. "

Gee, JA must have woken up in a very dark mood that day! I don't believe that JA was really concerned about old family friend Mr. Holder (the great purveyor of infamous puns, age 54 in 1801) attempting a Mr. Eltonesque date rape on JA while they were alone, but perhaps there must have been a slight "creep" factor with him which JA and CEA concurred about, and which would have spurred this bit of black humor on JA's part.


"On Friday I wound up my four days of dissipation by meeting William Digweed at Deane, and am pretty well, I thank you, after it. While I was there a sudden fall of snow rendered the roads impassable, and made my journey home in the little carriage much more easy and agreeable than my journey down. "

And is it just a coincidence that this little vignette _also_ reminds us of that Christmas Eve dinner at Randalls? "am pretty well, I thank you, after it" strikes me as reflecting that JA did enjoy a bit of "medicinal" alcoholic intake during the long, lost weekend of dissipation, and did not regret it.


"You will be glad to hear that Mary is going to keep another maid. I fancy Sally is too much of a servant to find time for everything..."

Perhaps we should not be surprised that things were going better financially for James and Mary at that precise moment, enabling them to hire another maid, after their bargain basement acquisition of the Steventon furnishings from Jane's parents!


"I would not give much for Mr. Rice's chance of living at Deane; he builds his hope, I find, not upon anything that his mother has written, but upon the effect of what he has written himself. He must write a great deal better than those eyes indicate if he can persuade a perverse and narrow-minded woman to oblige those whom she does not love. "

In Letter 30, JA first discussed where Henry Rice would find a living. Now he is again a topic, and here it is clear that JA is _not_ a big fan of Henry Rice's mother, to put it mildly. But first, I love the phrase"than those eyes indicate"--JA shrewdly judged people, the way an experienced farmer shrewdly judged animals---looking into their eyes, directly sensing who they were as people. For all her enormous erudition and intellect, ultimately JA went on what her gut told her about people.

Interestingly, Le Faye, in her bio index entry for the Rice family, breathes nary a word about JA's siding with Mr. Rice in his family squabbles. Instead she writes "Henry Rice was cheerful and amusing but a hopeless spendthrift and gambler, forever expecting his widowed mother to pay the debts he constantly incurred." This is _exactly_ like Le Faye writing her hatchet jobs on Nokes, Halperin and other scholars who dared to put forward interpretations of JA's writing and/or biography that Le Faye did not agree with. But here, Le Faye is not going to come out and say directly that she thinks JA was completely taken in by Mr. Rice (the way, e.g., that Lizzy is initially taken in by Wickham), but you know that is exactly what Le Faye thinks, and so she obliquely implies that conclusion in every way possible short of saying what she really means!

Assuming for the moment that JA was accurate in her damning portrait of Mrs. Rice, and also assumig that Le Faye was correct that Henry Rice was a longtime spendthrift, we today might, as I believe JA did, infer a strong causal connection, which Le Faye ignored. I.e., it is often the case that irresponsible acting out in the form of gambling and overspending can be significantly traced to a profound lack of maternal love during childhood, and that sure is what it sounds like here.

By the way, Henry Rice married Jemima -Lucy Lefroy (elder sister of Anna Austen's future husband, Ben Lefroy) a few months after JA wrote Letter 33, and it seems that Henry Rice _was_ successful in obtaining his mother's financial assistance after all, because Le Faye shows him as being the curate at Ashe _and_ Deane from 1801-1805. And to his credit, he only sired three children on his wife, and both of them wound up living _very_ long, i.e., 59 (married) years together! So in the end of the day, I think JA saw things as they were when she looked into Henry Rice's eyes!


"Edward Cooper is so kind as to want us all to come to Hamstall this summer, instead of going to the sea, but we are not so kind as to mean to do it. The summer after, if you please, Mr. Cooper, but for the present we greatly prefer the sea to all our relations. "

As I have said before, JA did _not_ like cousin Edward Cooper, not one little bit--Miss Jane Austen definitely does _not_ regret the lack of his company!


"I dare say you will spend a very pleasant three weeks in town. I hope you will see everything worthy notice, from the Opera House to Henry's office in Cleveland Court; and I shall expect you to lay in a stock of intelligence that may procure me amusement for a twelvemonth to come."

And there again JA returns to the Opera House--as she also mentioned it vis a vis the great Mrs. Jordan in Letter 30.

Cheers, ARNIE

Monday, July 25, 2011

On rare occasions there is something almost as important as Jane Austen....

The 23rd Charm

Barack is our President; we shall not whine.
He restoreth his poll numbers.
He leadeth us in the paths of righteousness for Our party's sake.
Yea, though we walk through the Party of the flavor of Tea,
We will fear no Kantor: For thou art with us;
Thy Biden and thy staff, they comfort us.
Thou preparest a timetable before us in the presence of our enemies;
Thou anointest their heads with facts; Thy airtime runneth over.
Surely higher employment and even higher taxes on the rich shall follow thee in the later days of your term,
and thou will dwell in the House of White forever (or at least till 2016).

Robert Southey's Letters from England: "....these lords of the sea....being the...slaves of the rest of the world..." AND the enclosure subtext

Ellen Moody wrote the following in Austen L earlier today: "I've bought myself an inexpensive copy of Southey's Letters from England."

Here is an online version:

[Ellen] "Southey imagines himself a Spaniard visiting England and writing letters back to a periodical."

Even though Southey adopted the pose of (anonymous) translator--complete with ersatz translator's notes--it was apparently well known pretty quickly that he was the author, and JA's comment about "the foreigner he assumes" shows _she_ is fully aware that he is the writer.

I found a long and mostly favorable 1808 review of the book here:

And JA would have had a very personal reason to know Southey was the author--indeed, to know about the book as soon as anyone would have--which is that earlier in that same Letter 56 in which JA writes about the Espriella book, she advises CEA that their friendthe 33-year old Catherine Bigg was about to marry the 59 year old Revd. Herbert Hill, who just happens to be Robert Southey’s uncle: “[Mary Lloyd Austen] hears that Miss Bigg is to be married in a fortnight. I wish it may be so.”

It can't be a coincidence that JA lays her hands on the second volume of Southey's book at the very instant when her good friend was about to marry Southey's uncle!--Perhaps she got to borrow a copy from Catherine Bigg?

[Ellen] "By remaining more realistic than most of these...he can really describe customs realistically from the vantage point of Spain (where I believe he went) and both satirize and comment on humanity and its social customs. Southey is very readable. "

I browsed through several sections of the second volume of Espriella, and I think that Southey in general does an excellent job in skewering the inhumanity of several aspects of the English economic system and in particular its brutal exploitation of the poor. However, Southey does lapse now and again into little unconscious misogynies presented as little witticisms, which JA would have noted (and I can imagine how she'd have camped them up as she read aloud, presumably to Mrs. Austen, by candlelight) and JA would _not_ have been amused by them.

But otherwise I think it a creditable performance by Southey, and I believe JA would also have overall approved of Southey's ideas---our first clue is that JA is reading the _second_ volume-if she had found the first volume unacceptable, why in the world would she go on and read the second one? Shades of Mark Twain here with his faux criticism of P&P which _he_ has read repeatedly--and I think Twain might well have taken note of JA's faux critique of Southey's book!

[Ellen] "I like travel books but am drawn to this because Austen (we know) read it. As is so common with her, she comments caustically and adversarially. She was one jealous author :) She also shows an unfortunate narrow-minded and chauvinism: how dare he comment adversely on England! "

I completely disagree with Ellen. As usual, I claim she is missing that JA is being ironic, and she is _not_ writing in her own voice, when she writes "The horribly anti-english. He deserves to be the foreigner he assumes."

That is, I would imagine, _Mrs. Austen's_ view of Southey's blistering critique of the English economic system, not JA, so she is mocking her mother's xenophobic chauvinism!

There is an enormous amount of evidence in JA's letters and novels to show that she would have felt exactly the same as "Espriella" did about exploitation of the poor and the working class, even though JA's focus was, for good reason, on injustices toward the _rural_, rather than the urban, laborer. JA was the antithesis of a narrow minded chauvinist--indeed Northanger Abbey in particular is, from start to finish, a wide ranging critique of English patriarchalism.

I bet JA took particular note (and so did Southey's friend Charles Lamb) of the following line written by "Espriella" in his 49th letter:

"Let us leave to England the BOAST of supplying all Europe with her wares; let us leave to these LORDS OF THE SEA the distinction of which they are so tenacious, that of being the white SLAVES of the rest of the world, and doing for it all its dirty work."

Compare the above, written in 1808, with its topsy-turvy irony of the lords being slaves to the following, published by JA in 1816 in some political tract--I think the title is something like _Emma_?: ;)

"My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings, LORDS of the earth! their luxury and ease. Another view of man, my second brings, Behold him there, the MONARCH OF THE SEAS! But ah! united, what reverse we have! Man's BOASTED power and freedom, all are flown; LORD of the earth and SEA, he bends a SLAVE, And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone."

And here is my followup post to the above:

When I wrote the above earlier today, I had not:

1. Read all of Southey's Espriella letters, I only skimmed Vol. 2, and

2. Did not stop to follow up on the word I had in my mind when I wrote the following:

"There is an enormous amount of evidence in JA's letters and novels to show that she would have felt exactly the same as "Espriella" did about
exploitation of the poor and the working class, even though JA's focus was, for good reason, on injustices toward the_rural_, rather than the urban, laborer. "

The word I was thinking was "enclosure" and it turns out that I had completely forgotten that Helena Kelly, in her excellent excellent article....

..._begins_ that article about the enclosure subtext of JA's novels by quoting that very line from JA's Letter 56, and then taking it straight to the topic of enclosure!:

Robert Southey’s 1807/Letters from England/—the text Austen refers to in this letter to Cassandra—takes the form of correspondence purporting
to be from a Spanish traveler, Don Espriella. The/Letters/ describes a landscape in a state of alteration. Indeed at times it seems that
Espriella can discern little or nothing from his carriage that is not connected to a discussion of the enclosure or lack of enclosure in the
surrounding countryside. The commentary begins in the second letter, where Espriella shares his opinion that “the beauty of the country is
much injured by enclosures” (7). In the next letter, the traveler begins to see the potential aesthetic attractions of an enclosed countryside: “the Vale of Honiton, which we overlooked on the way, is considered as one of the richest landscapes in the kingdom: it is indeed a prodigious extent of highly cultivated country, set thickly with hedges and hedgerow trees” (8). The open field system of unenclosed Dorsetshire appears to him by contrast, “dreary. . . . I had been disposed to think that the English enclosures rather deformed than beautified the landscape, but I now perceived how cheerless and naked the cultivated country appears without them” (9). Espriella’s description of Salisbury Plain in Letter Five makes brief reference to Stonehenge, “the famous druidical monument,” but only after describing how “Salisbury plain stretches to the North, but little of it is visible from the road which we were travelling; much of this wide waste has recently been enclosed and cultivated” (12). Almost everywhere Espriella travels subsequently—Basingstoke (12), the outskirts of London (13, 61), Blenheim (66), the Midlands—enclosure rears its head. The/Letters/ describes a countryside that looks both unreal—“lines of enclosure lay below us like a map” (89)—and rawly new: “an open country of broken ground with hills at a little distance enclosed in square patches and newly as it appeared brought into cultivation. There was not a single tree rising in the hedgerows” (89). Southey’s 1805 poem
/Madoc/ touches on the emotional and philosophical implications of enclosure, but the picture of England that the/Letters/ offers is, as Austen appears to acknowledge, grounded firmly in reality. Enclosure occurred from the Tudor period into the twentieth century, but traditional accounts fail to make clear the sheer scale—and speed—of agricultural change during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Around half of all the Enclosure Acts passed between 1727 and 1845 were enacted during one twenty-year period between 1795 and 1815 (Mingay 20) when more than three million acres of wastes, commons, and heaths were enclosed (John 30). This figure equates to just under five thousand square miles, an area about one tenth the size of England. Simon Winchester calculates that during this time parliament must have been passing enclosure acts at “the rate of one a week” (23)."

In my overlooking Vol. 1 of Espriella, I missed Southey's focus on enclosure --now that i know about it, however, that only solidifies my certainty that JA was only joking about disapproving of Southey's radical social critique---JA must have been thrilled and even electrified at reading Southey's biting, comprehensive, brilliant, outside the box gonzo journalism--JA surely took inspiration from Southey's courageous stand for the little guy.

Diane Reynolds then wrote: "Henry Tilney's comment, in the middle of the speech about how rational and non-Gothic Britain is, noting that every man spies on his neighbors. Harding uses that as evidence of JA's "regulated hatred." It's not flattering."

Diane, you are correct in that interpretation, but that is only the tip of a huge ironic iceberg "floating" beneath the surface of Henry's rant--that rant is like the charade in Emma, wheels within wheels within wheels.... world without end.

Cheers, ARNIE

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Letter 34 & NA: " would rather accept the attentions of John.."

I just found another "bread crumb" that shows yet another significant echo of JA's fiction in her letters. First, here is the real life end of the equation, in Letter 34:

"She meditates your returning into Hampshire together, & if the Time should accord, it would not be undesirable. She talks of staying only a fortnight, & as that will bring your stay in Berkeley Street to three weeks, I suppose you would not wish to make it longer.-Do not let this however retard your coming down, if you had intended a much earlier return.-I suppose whenever you come, Henry would send you in his carriage a stage or two, where you might be met by John, whose protection you would
we imagine think sufficient for the rest of your Journey. He might ride on the Bar, or might even sometimes meet with the accomodation of a sunday-chaise.-James has offered to meet you anywhere, but as that would be to give him trouble without any COUNTERPOISE of CONVENIENCE, as he has no intention of going to London at present on his own account, we suppose that you would rather accept the attentions of John.-"

In the latter half of this passage, as I noted a week ago, JA paints an unforgiving portrait of brother James as a man who, like John Dashwood, has reduced life in general, and moral judgment in particular, to an endless series of calculations of costs and benefits. If the cost of his interrupting his plans (of, e.g., going hunting with one of his rich friends who are the objects of his persistent Collinsesque toadying) were, heavens forbid, to exceed the benefit of meeting CEA (e.g., if by doing so he might also be able to accomplish some other selfish goal), then the self-centered "clockwork orange" which is James Austen would fall out of
balance, the finely calibrated mechanism would be disrupted, and that cannot be allowed.

Which goes a long way toward explaining why Fanny Dashwood, and also Mary Lloyd Austen, have such an easy time manipulating their respective husbands to do banal evil---the clever wife need only speak in her husband's own language, the language of tit for tat, the diametric opposite of the Christian charity one might have hoped to receive from a Christian clergyman.

And note that JA plants a subtle mnemonic device in this passage, the turn of phrase "counterpoise of convenience", both to make it more noticeable and also to make it more memorable. "Counterpoise" is actually a word that was almost exclusively used in JA's time in a physics or chemistry context, i.e., a hard science term. JA adapts it metaphorically to a moral context, and uses it ironically. CEA cannot count on receiving the "time of day", so to speak, from brother James.

I then wondered whether JA ever used the word "counterpoise" in any other instance, and look what I found when I searched for it, in Chapter 11 of Northanger Abbey:

"She could not think the Tilneys had acted quite well by her, in so readily giving up their engagement, without sending her any message of excuse. It was now but an hour later than the time fixed on for the beginning of their walk; and, in spite of what she had heard of the prodigious accumulation of dirt in the course of that hour, she could not from her own observation help thinking that they might have gone with very little INCONVENIENCE. On the other hand, the delight of exploring an
edifice like Udolpho, as her fancy represented Blaize Castle to be, was such a COUNTERPOISE of good as might console her for almost anything. "

Is it just a coincidence that in Letter 34, the words "counterpoise" _and_ "(in)convenience" are used in the context of the pros and cons of how a young woman, CEA, is to be transported by others from Point A to Point B, and that in the above passage from NA, these 2 words are _also_ used in the context of a young woman, Catherine Morland, being tempted to accept the rude, obnoxious invitation of John Thorpe to drive her to a desirable destination, in reaction to a perceived slight in regard by supposedly generous friends to another desired conveyance of a female body? it also just a coincidence that in the cast of players in NA we have a John (Thorpe), a Catherine (Morland), a Henry (Tilney) and a James (Morland), and in the cast of real life players we _also_ have a John (Lyford?), a Catherine (Bigg), a Henry (Austen) and a James (Austen)--the last being an older brother in both cases? And, even more specific, in both cases the attentions of "John" are deemed preferable!

And note the crucial linkage of real life to fiction via a stick with the same unusual words attached to each end of that stick! Or, perhaps a better metaphor, drawn from the world of science, as suggested by that word "counterpoise", would be of a chemical bond between two "molecules"-- uniting the pathetic tales of the "heroine" CEA and the "heroine" Catherine Morland, respectively.

How could this linkage be more intentional and significant? And the capper is that the above passage in Letter 34 comes immediately _after_ the passage containing "while Steventon is still ours", which I also highlighted a week ago-a "story" in which the heroine goes to Bath from her home in the English countryside.

In short, then, I give you the Revd. James Austen, the ANTI-hero of the story of the dispossession of the Austen women from Steventon to Bath.

And that CEA did _not_ destroy Letter 34, and did _not_ excise this long paragraph about that dispossession, knowing full well exactly what it signified, and how it connected to NA, speaks volumes about CEA's agreement with JA on this judgment of brother James, and of CEA's honoring her dead sister by not silencing her after death had taken her body.

Cheers, ARNIE

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The 194th anniversary of Jane Austen's premature death

I just reread my blog post of a year ago on the occasion of the anniversary of Jane Austen's premature death:

What strikes me today, as we are now about 7 months into our marathon group reading of Jane Austen's letters, one per week, in Janeites and Austen-L, is how crucial--and how badly understood by most Janeite scholars--was the relationship between Jane Austen and her eldest brother James, who also died young, but not quite as young--in 1819.

Before she is cold in her crypt at Winchester Cathedral, James writes a poem about "Venta" which is a whitewash of JA's witheringly sarcastic poem about St. Swithin which I discuss in my above post from last year.

In late 1800 and early 1801, we have the series of letters from JA which show her rage and sarcasm at James and his wife evicting the Austen family from Steventon, and James's wife Mary trying to whitewash this by pretending that this eviction is not really happening.

And my various previous posts about the Loiterer, most recently.... how crucial James was in JA's meteoric rise as a writer at age 13 in 1789, as I have shown repeatedly that JA covertly satirizes the literary poseur and wannabe James.

Much food for thought on this anniversary of JA's death...

Cheers, ARNIE

Letter 34: "....while Steventon is still ours...."

"He received my letter, communicating our plans, before he left England, was much surprised of course, but is quite reconciled to them, & means to come to Steventon once more while Steventon is ours.-"

In case there was any doubt as to how the less influential members of the Austen family felt about the move to Bath, the above very clear statement must remove a great deal of that doubt. And the unstated but clear implication is that James Austen and his wife are not part of that "ours", they are dispossessors, evictors.

I cannot help but be reminded of the scene at the end of Fiddler on the Roof (which I will check tomorrow to see if it is a modern invention or was part of Sholom Aleichem's original stories), when the Tsar's local boss, who has known Tevye all their lives, gives Tevye and his fellow Jewish villagers the notice to get out of Anatevka forever within a couple of days. Tevye finds one shred of dignity he can still preserve in the face of this horrible act of injustice, when he tells his "old friend" the\ boss to get off of Tevye's land, while it is still Tevye's for those few

As far as I can tell from a quick check online, the only Austen biographer who makes a specific comment about the plain meaning of this passage is Tomalin. Nokes quotes the passage, but does not otherwise take special note,and the few other biographers who even touch on this passage at all merely include it within a quotation of the entire paragraph and otherwise treat this passage as if it were no different from other routine gossip and family news.

I love, and totally agree with, Tomalin's very frank and straightforward discussion of JA's anger over being evicted from Steventon by brother James and his wife Mary. I was particularly pleased to see Tomalin connecting the dots back to the following passage in Letter 30, written less than a month before Letter 33, which I had overlooked a few weeks ago, because I did not realize exactly what was being described:

"The wedding-day is to be celebrated on the 16th because the 17th falls on Saturday -& a day or two before the 16th Mary will drive her sister to Ibthrop to find all the festivity she can in contriving for everybody's comfort, & being thwarted or teized by almost everybody's temper.-Fulwar, Eliza, & Tom Chute are to be of the party;-I know of nobody else.-I was asked, but declined it."

What this means, Tomalin has noticed, is that James and Mary were celebrating their 6th wedding anniversary, and it is hard to avoid the feeling that Mary is a kind of Mrs. Norris, a busybody who intrudes and oppresses family while claiming to be concerned about everyone else's comfort. And Tomalin sees meaning, and I agree with her, in JA's very matter of fact report of her refusal of this invitation--"I declined it"--nothing else need be said, CEA understands all the reasons why JA
declined it.

When you look at this series of letters from late 1800 through Feb. 1801, the theme of anger over being dispossessed is everywhere, but also the surreal and grotesque added layer of being forced into frequent contact with the dispossessors, who are celebrating this moment in Austen family history. No wonder the sarcasm drips from so many places in these letters, it was the hypocrisy about the injustice, the final indignity of being expected to grin and bear it, while being treated so abominably, that JA hated the most.

And isn't that the essence of the first half dozen chapters of S&S, the way that the three Dashwood women must endure Fanny's triumphal hypocrisy? Marianne can barely stifle her anger, and expressing it against Fanny.

Sound familiar? I can just imagine the lost epistolary version of Elinor and Marianne, with letters being written from Norland by Marianne which sound exactly like this series of letters written by JA from Steventon to CEA at Godmersham.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Emma Watson and Emma Woodhouse the "little" heroines of Jane Austen

In honor of the auctioning off of 2/3 of the existing manuscript pages (showing Jane Austen's own editing interlineations and deletions) of her novel fragment, The Watsons, at Sotheby's for nearly a million pounds, here are a couple of Watsonian tidbits about the heroine of The Watsons, Emma Watson, who of course shares her first name with Jane Austen's second most famous heroine (with Elizabeth Bennet her most famous heroine, of course), Emma Woodhouse.

First, I bet you did not know that Sir Francis Darwin, Charles’s son and editor of his father’s letters, in 1917, in a book entitled _Rustic Sounds and Other Studies in Literature and Natural History_, wrote at P. 74, in his essay about Jane Austen, the following comments about Emma Watson, the heroine of The Watsons:

“The heroine, Emma Watson, has no resemblance to Emma Woodhouse…in character she seems to me to have none of the charm which has given Fanny Price …various admirers. It is perhaps characteristic of her creator’s truth, that her heroine who is made known to us just as she arrives at her new home in uncomfortable surroundings and among unknown sisters, should be reserved and a little prim, and that we should be made to feel that this was not her complete character….”

Second, James Edward Austen-Leigh, in his 1870 Memoir of his famous aunt, expressed the following opinion about Emma Watson, and why Jane Austen discontinued writing The Watsons:

“My own idea is, but it is only a guess, that the author became aware of the evil of having placed her heroine too low, in such a position of poverty and obscurity as, though not necessarily connected with vulgarity, has a sad tendency to degenerate into it; and therefore, like a singer who has begun on too low a note, she discontinued the strain.”

And third and last, JEAL's comments are highly ironic when read alongside the comments of the Victorian novelist (and huge Janeite) Anthony Trollope about that other Austenian Emma, Miss Woodhouse:

"Emma, the heroine, is treated almost mercilessly. In every passage of the book, she is in fault for some folly, some vanity, some ignorance—or indeed for some meanness …Nowadays we dare not make our heroines so little.”

So raise a million-pound toast to the forgotten _and_ the famous Emma, who were both too "little", in ways that were perhaps not so different after all!

Cheers, ARNIE

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mrs. Oliphant and her "modern" take in 1870 on Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen

One comment that is often made to me when I make one of my subversive interpretations of a Jane Austen irony, is that I am imposing a 21st century sensibility on a late 18th century writer.

The following is a strong example to the contrary. Margaret Oliphant, a critic, write a famous article in March, 1870, in response to publication of James Edward Austen Leigh's Memoir about Jane Austen, and Oliphant had the following interesting comments.

First, she quoted JA's famous comments in Letter 79 about Elizabeth Bennet being "as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print", and then herself (Oliphant) referring to Mr. Collins as follows: "Whether it is not too cruel to make the wife of this delightful Mr. Collins share so completely in his creator's estimate of him is a different matter."

Oliphant then went on to rain on the romantic parade of Pride & Prejudice:

It was not so much that she thought Darcy deserved better than Lizzy, so much as it is of Oliphant thinking neither is special, they both deserve each other. Here are her exact words:

"....Elizabeth and Darcy, the one a young woman very much addicted to making speeches, very pert often, fond of having the last word, and prone to hasty judgments, with really nothing but her prettiness and a certain sharp smartness of talk to recommend her; and the other a very ordinary young man, quite like hosts of other young men, with that appearance of outward pride and /hauteur /which is so captivating to the youthful feminine imagination, though it must be admitted that he possesses an extraordinary amount of candour and real humility of mind under this exterior. It is curious to realise what a shock it must have given to the feelings of the young novelist when she found how little her favourite pair had to do with the success of their own story, and how entirely her secondary characters, in their various and vivid
originality, carried the day over her first."

That was a bit harsh on Lizzy, and yet it reflected an ability to read against the grain, and see Lizzy in a more objective way than is typical.

But then Oliphant was completely spot-on in what she says about James Stanier Clarke, the Prince Regent's librarian who corresponds with Jane Austen about _Emma_ and also makes suggestions for her next book's plot and characters.---Oliphant was way ahead of the curve way back in 1870 pointing out how Jane Austen dealt with the Mr. Collins-like Jame Stanier Clarke, I will let Oliphant say the rest herself:

"There is, however, one quaint instance of appreciation, recorded in the Memoir, which took place in her lifetime. The Prince-Regent admired Miss
Austen's novels much, and sent her word through her doctor that she might go and see Carlton House with all its riches—a permission which we cannot but think must have been more honourable than delightful. She took the trouble to do it, however, and there met a Mr. Clarke, librarian to his Royal Highness, who forthwith took her in hand. This gentleman, so far as can be judged by his letters, was a personage altogether after Miss Austen's heart, and who might have stepped out of one of her own books. He gives her permission unasked to dedicate one of her books to the Regent—a permission, by the way, which we do not clearly understand if she ever availed herself of; and, in addition, he
proposes to her a subject for a book. "I also, dear madam," writes this ingenious gentleman, "wished to be allowed to ask you to delineate in some future work the habits of life and character and enthusiasm of a clergyman who should pass his time between the metropolis and the country, who should be something like Beattie's minstrel—'Silent when glad, affectionate though shy. And in bis looks was most demurely sad; And now he laughed aloud, though none knew why.'

Neither Goldsmith, nor La Fontaine in his 'Tableau de Famille,' have, in my mind, quite delineated an English clergyman, at least of the present day — fond of and entirely engaged in literature, no man's enemy but his own. Pray, dear madam, think of these things."

This tempting, not to say solemn' suggestion did not move the novelist, which must have seemed a strange fact to Mr. Clarke. She answers him with admirable gravity, demurely setting herself forth as "the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress," and consequently quite incapable of "drawing such a clergyman as you gave the sketch of. . . . Such a man's conversation," she adds, "must at times be on subjects of science and philosophy, of which I know nothing, or at least be occasionally abundant in quotations and allusions which a woman who, like me, knows only her own mother tongue, and has read little in that, would be totally without the power of giving.''......

[And here's the best part]

...How Miss Austen must have chuckled secretly over this wonderful suggestion! how deeply tempted she must have been to transfer the librarian himself, if not his "enthusiastic clergyman," to her canvas! But even this answer does not discourage Mr. Clarke. Some time after he was appointed English secretary to Prince Leopold, who was then about to be married to the Princess Charlotte; and he does not lose a moment apparently in venturing a new suggestion, which was that "an historical romance illustrative of the august house of Cobourg would just now be very interesting." Mr. Collins himself could not have done better. His clever correspondent exults over him; she gives him the gravest answers, and draws her victim out . She is quite inferior to the undertaking, she tells him with comic composure. Mr. Austen Leigh, however, does not seem
to see the fun, but gravely comments upon it, observing that Mr. Clarke should have recollected the warning of the wise man, "Force not the current of the river," a conclusion scarcely less amusing than the preceding narrative. It appears, however, that this was by no means a singular occurrence...."

So even though Oliphant deserves a small black star for her failure to see any
immortality of the battle of the sexes between Lizzy and Darcy, I think she is at least partially redeemed by so beautifully skewering the completely cluelessness of both James Stanier Clarke _and_ JEAL--and perhaps that is not surprising, given how well Oliphant "got" Mr. Collins!

But...what never occurred to Oliphant is the possibility that Mr. Clarke _did_ make an unheralded appearance in JA's novels after all.

Cheers, ARNIE

The "real truth" in Pride and Prejudice

As part of my recent meanderings through Pride and Prejudice, locating passages which are ambiguous in interesting ways, I just stumbled across the _mother_ (or perhaps I should say rather, the _aunt_) of all ambiguous passages in the novel, this one being in Chapter 46. It is directly connected to the others I have been discussing, all having to do, in some way or another, with Mrs. Gardiner's perceptions and conjectures regarding Lizzy and Darcy.

Here it is, it is very short, it occurs right after the Gardiners have been hastily recalled to the Lambton Inn where Lizzy has been reduced to emotional rubble by the one-two punch of reading Jane's letters, and then being unable to avoid blurting out the whole Lydia nightmare to Darcy. Aunt Gardiner is also shocked, and then we read:

"But what is to be done about Pemberley?" cried Mrs. Gardiner. "John told us Mr. Darcy was here when you sent for us; was it so?"

"Yes; and I told him we should not be able to keep our engagement. /That/ is all settled."

"What is all settled?" repeated the other, as she ran into her room to prepare. "And are they upon such terms as for her to disclose the real truth? Oh, that I knew how it was!"

But wishes were vain, or at least could only serve to amuse her in the hurry and confusion of the following hour."

Can you see the humongous, stupefyingly gargantuan ambiguity in this passage?

Hint--think about what Mrs. Gardiner means about Lizzy disclosing "the real truth"? And why does she ask what is "all settled"? Once you come up with _one_ answer, keep thinking about it till you come up with a _second_ answer!

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I believe that almost all Janeites who have read this passage and thought about what Mrs. Gardiner means, have concluded that Mrs. Gardiner is wondering whether Lizzy has disclosed _to Darcy_ the real truth about Lydia's elopement with Wickham, and they are not incorrect, as that is an eminently plausible, indeed compelling interpretation---there would seem to be no reason to look beyond it.

Except....that another interpretation invaded my brain as I reread that passage earlier this evening, while sitting in a medical waiting room killing time on my IPhone, and it was even more compelling--which is that Mrs. Gardiner can, with equal if not greater plausibility, also be read as wondering whether Lizzy is upon such terms with Darcy as to disclose the real truth _to Mrs. Gardiner_, which is the "real truth" of Lizzy and Darcy's (conjectured by Mrs. Gardiner, but not real) _engagement_ be married!

I urge you to go back now and reread the passage a few times, and while doing so keep in mind that both before and after that passage, Mrs. Gardiner explicitly wonders about the nature of Lizzy and Darcy's relationship. In particular, think about Mrs. Gardiner's letter to Lizzy written a few chapters later, in which she quite explicitly expresses her puzzlement to Lizzy as to Lizzy's being in the dark about the resolution of the Lydia-Wickham fracas. And most of all keep in mind the climactic scene of the novel, the confrontation between Lizzy and Lady Catherine, which arises precisely because Lady Catherine believes (as Mrs. Gardiner also believes) that Lizzy and Darcy are........ _engaged_!

Jane Austen is such a mistress of hiding things in plain sight, that she herself, as an author, can get away with "disclosing" the word "engagement" in a sentence concerning Lizzy and Darcy, with all that context, and yet have practically no Janeites for 200 years ever notice the double meaning of "engagement" in regard to them!

By the way, I wrote "practically no Janeites' because, after a diligent search in all my usual nooks and crannies on the Internet, I found no scholarly interpretations to the effect of what I came up with, above, but I did manage to find _one_ non-scholarly but very sharp Janeite who saw the double meaning of "engagement" in Lizzy's words, just as I did, in another discussion group several years ago, so she has priority and I have duly noted this.

So, what do you think?

Cheers, ARNIE


There is one last wonderful irony in the alternative interpretation I have presented, which is that we can upon next _rereading_ of P&P now see a whole new significance in the following passage from Chapter 26:

"In short, my dear aunt, I should be very sorry to be the means of making any of you unhappy; but since we see every day that where there is affection, young people are seldom withheld by immediate want of fortune from entering into _engagements_ with each other, how can I promise to be wiser than so many of my fellow-creatures if I am tempted, or how am I even to know that it would be wisdom to resist? All that I can promise you, therefore, is not to be in a hurry. I will not be in a hurry to believe myself his first object. When I am in company with him, I will not be wishing. In short, I will do my best."

Lizzy was talking about Wickham in Chapter 26, but Aunt Gardiner thought Lizzy was talking about _Darcy_ in Chapter 46!

Another passage in P&P with ambiguous "she's"

I just found another "pronomially" ambiguous passage in P&P which I believe JA had in mind when she wrote her famous "I do not write for such..." line in her letter to Cassandra in January 1813.

In Chapter 25, Lizzy and aunt Gardiner discuss the latter's plan to invite Jane to visit her in London, to help Jane get over Bingley, leading to this exchange:

"I hope," added Mrs. Gardiner, "that no consideration with regard to this young man will influence her. We live in so different a part of town, all our connexions are so different, and, as you well know, we go out so little, that it is very improbable they should meet at all, unless he really comes to see her."

"And that is quite impossible; for he is now in the custody of his friend, and Mr. Darcy would no more suffer him to call on Jane in such a part of London! My dear aunt, how could you think of it? Mr. Darcy may, perhaps, have heard of such a place as Gracechurch Street, but he would hardly think a month's ablution enough to cleanse him from its impurities, were he once to enter it; and, depend upon it, Mr. Bingley never stirs without him."

"So much the better. I hope they will not meet at all. But does not Jane correspond with the sister? She will not be able to help calling."

"She will drop the acquaintance entirely."

[And that's when we come to the ambiguous passage]:

But in spite of the certainty in which Elizabeth affected to place this point, as well as the still more interesting one of Bingley's being withheld from seeing Jane, SHE felt a solicitude on the subject which convinced HER, on examination, that SHE did not consider it entirely hopeless. It was possible, and sometimes SHE thought it probable, that his affection might be reanimated, and the influence of his friends successfully combated by the more natural influence of Jane's attractions.


So, the question is, is Elizabeth or Mrs. Gardiner the "she" who felt a solicitude, and who did not consider it entirely hopeless, and thought it
probable, that Bingley and Jane might be "reactivated" as a romantic couple?

If it Elizabeth, then it means that she was talking a hard line, but inside she was very uncertain. If is Mrs. Gardiner, then it means that despite hearing Elizabeth's hard line, Mrs. Gardiner remains hopeful.

My personal opinion is that it is _both_, which are not inconsistent, but
instead are _complementary_ interpretations. If it is both of them, then it means that they are both hopeful for Jane.



Judith Learmann then responded in Austen L, and here is our exchange:

[Judith] "But in spite of the certainty in which Elizabeth affected to place this point, as well as the still more interesting one of Bingley's being withheld from seeing Jane, SHE felt a solicitude on the subject which convinced HER, on examination, that SHE did not consider it entirely hopeless. It was possible, and sometimes SHE thought it probable, that his affection might be reanimated, and the influence of his friends successfully combated by the more natural influence of Jane's attractions. "END OF EXCERPT

(Arnie) So, the question is, is Elizabeth or Mrs. Gardiner the "she" who felt a solicitude, and who did not consider it entirely hopeless, and thought it probable, that Bingley and Jane might be "reactivated" as a romantic couple?

(Judith) I would read this as Elizabeth's thoughts. She is the one privy to Jane's feelings about Bingley and her hurt over Caroline's letter. Elizabeth still holds out hope that if Bingley could see Jane before too much time passes, that would be enough to end his friends' influence over him.

(Arnie again)

No question, Judith, that Elizabeth is the primary candidate to be "she", but there is a good alternative case for Mrs. Gardiner, too:

1. We know, in various ways, that Aunt Gardiner is as close to Jane as she is to Elizabeth, and cares about her elder niece as much as she cares for Lizzy.

2. At several other points in the novel, we are inside Aunt Gardiner's head. In fact, I think that we are in Aunt Gardiner's head more than we are in Charlotte Lucas's and Darcy's heads put together (and I believe the three of them are the only characters _other than_ Lizzy to whose _thoughts_ we are unambiguously made privy by the narrator). So it would fit to have the above excerpt as _another_ bit of narration which can be plausibly attributed to Aunt Gardiner.

3. We are not told whether Aunt Gardiner and Jane have had any tetes a tetes prior to the one between Lizzy and her aunt, but I think it is very plausible that they have, and that Aunt Gardiner is keeping from Lizzy whatever confidences Jane has shared with he aunt. Lizzy keeps secrets from Jane, right? So why would we be surprised if Jane kept secrets from Lizzy? Jane might have wished to keep up a brave face for Lizzy, but might have confided worries to her aunt that she would not confide to Lizzy. Also very plausible, I think.

4. Aunt Gardiner knows Jane well enough to correctly predict that Jane will call on Caroline Bingley in London--that is exactly what Jane does once she is in London, and I can even imagine Aunt Gardiner encouraging her to do this, hoping that this will somehow throw Jane into Bingley's path.

And, perhaps most important, I think reading the above excerpt as referring to both Lizzy and Aunt Gardiner makes it a more complex, interesting little scene. It suddenly takes on a whole new layer of ironic complexity, if we see _both_ Lizzy and Aunt Gardiner as not wanting to risk appearing _foolishly_ hopeful for Jane's prospects with Bingley, and so both speak pessimistically, while inside both are romantics who continue to hold out hope despite all evidence to the contrary. That is a classic Austenian irony, don't you think?

Plus, it would be a tiny narrative tour de force, a description that conveys the inner state of two characters in two ways. And I think that the novel is filled with these tiny tours de force!

Anyway, thanks for responding on this point, perhaps your answer will cause others to chime in too!