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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, July 30, 2011

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

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