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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Bottom Line about Monstrously Little

In Janeites and Austen L, Christy Somer responded to a post by Anielka Briggs about Jane Austen's mimicking the expressions of the uneducated in Sense and Sensibility such as the adjective "monstrous" meaning "extremely", by identifying the following passage in a Jane Austen letter using the adjective "monstrously":

"Here it is in context -from Letter 37: .-As I had a separate invitation however, I beleive I shall go some afternoon. It is the fashion to think them both very detestable, but they are so civil,& their gowns look so white and so nice (which by the bye my Aunt thinks an absurd pretension in this place) that I cannot utterly abhor them, especially as Miss Holder owns that she has no taste for Music.-After they left us, I went with my Mother to help look at some houses in New King Street, towards which she felt some kind of inclination-but their size has now satisfied her;-they were smaller than I expected to find them. One in particular out of the two, was quite MONSTROUSLY LITTLE;-the best of the sittingrooms not so large as the little parlour at Steventon, and the second room in every floor about capacious enough to admit a very small single bed…” "

Here is my response to Christy:

Notice the wonderful ironic use of clanging oxymoron----"monstrously little" is absurd in exactly the same way as our modern advertising marvel from Madison Avenue: "jumbo shrimp"!

And now I see that JA did not invent this particular turn of phrase, but almost certainly was channeling the Bard of Stratford on Avon when she wrote that, because he puts almost exactly those same oxymoronic words in the mouth of his most monstrously gifted mechanical, Bottom:

Quince: That's all one: you shall play it in a mask, and you may speak as small as you will.

Bottom: An I may hide my face, let me play Thisby too, I'll speak in a MONSTROUS LITTLE voice. 'Thisbe, Thisbe,' 'Ah, Pyramus, lover dear! thy Thisby dear, and lady dear!'

Cheers, ARNIE

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