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

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Governess & Jane Austen: the Scholarly Plot Thickens!

, As followup to the four posts I have posted during the past several days about the 1806 Godmersham theatricals, and also Jane Austen's _Emma_, as being strongly connected to various literary works by the famous brother and sister Henry and Sarah Fielding, I got around to checking more deeply, and only then became aware of an article published in the 2009 print edition of the JASNA journal Persuasions, entitled "Identifying Jane Austen’s “Boarding-school”: A Proposed Author for The Governess; or, the Boarding School Dissected" by Arden Hegele.

I quickly read her article, and here is the relevant portion of the email I sent her a short while ago:

...I am writing to you about your 2009 Persuasions article...have a read of the following four entries at my blog that I've written during the past several days:

Now let me try to brlefly put all of this together. After reading your article, I went right to the ECCO database and quickly found and skimmed the 1785 play, and I have now (tentatively) concluded as follows:

1. I think the 1785 playlet is ITSELF an adaptation of Sarah Fielding's 1749 novella, The Governess and Henry Fielding's play The Virgin Unmasked. The character name "Teachwell" seems a spin on Sarah's character name "Teachum", and there is both an apothecary and a dancing master mentioned in the 1785 play, just as there are in Henry Fielding's play. And... I also note that there is a character in the 1785 play surnamed Simple (like Sarah Fielding's famous hero, David Simple), and also a character named Miss Sly (just as in Sarah Fielding's The Governess).

So I think that Mrs. Paxson, or whoever wrote the 1785 play, was clearly pointing to those earlier Fielding works, BUT....Paxson took the story in a very very different direction. There is very very little overlap, content-wise, between the 1749 novella and the 1785 play. What Paxson did was akin to what Mary Sherwood did in 1820 (i.e., after Jane Austen's death) when Sherwood adapted Fielding's novella, and "defanged" it, making it much less subversive and mysterious as to its meaning.

2. I think that you and Vivien Jones are probably correct in your guess that Jane Austen's reference to giving The Boarding School to Fanny Knight in her 1801 letter to Cassandra is indeed a reference to the 1785 play--so your article has made me retract the claim that the 1801 letter reference was to Fielding's Governess. BUT....

3. I nonetheless believe that the June 1805 amateur theatrical at Godmersham reported by Fanny Knight in her diary was NOT principally based on the 1785 play, but was instead primarily based, as I argued in my four blog entries, on the two 1749 works by Sarah and Henry Fielding, respectively. If the name of the Governess noted in Fanny Knight's Diary had been "Teachwell" instead of "Teachum", I might well have agreed with you-but I think that very distinctive name is crucial and decisive in making this determination--Teachum can only refer to Sarah Fielding's famous protagonist. BUT....

4. Given #2, that obviously means that Jane Austen was ALSO aware, in 1801, of the 1785 play, and of its being an allusion to the Fielding play, and so it seems plausible that the 1785 play was also in the back of Jane Austen's mind as well, and perhaps some elements from it were therefore woven into the Godmersham theatrical, perhaps at the request of Fanny Knight, then aged 11, who might have made the request for performance of the 1785 play, thereby triggering Jane Austen to make things more interesting by instead substituting a Fielding spinoff. END QUOTE

If she responds to me substantively, and gives me permission, I will pass on to you what she writes.

Just think--all of this wonderful complexity rescued from history only because the 11 year old Fanny Knight was apparently so affected by her aunts's theatricals that she happened to mention the name "Teachum" in her diary 205 years ago, starting a chain of connection that has led me to all of the above!

Cheers, ARNIE

Sempronius in Sarah Fielding's The Governess

In followup to my last post, I was curious to know why Sarah Fielding chose the name Sempronius for the "older man" ("Knightleyesque") suitor for Chloe and Caelia in The Governess, and I found the following excerpt in an 1813 book, entitled _The rule and exercises of holy living_ by Jeremy Taylor:

"But that which we miscall poverty, is indeed nature: and its proportions are the just measures of a man, and the best instruments of content. But when we create needs that God or nature never made, we have erected to ourselves an infinite stock of trouble that can have no period. Sempronius complained of want of clothes, and was much troubled for a new suit, being ashamed to appear in the theatre with his gown a little thread-bare; but when he got it, and gave his old clothes to Codrus, the poor man was ravished with joy, and went and gave God thanks for his new purchase; and Codrus was made richly fine and cheerfully warm by that which Sempronius was ashamed to wear; and yet their natural needs were both alike: the difference only was that Sempronius had some artificial and fantastical necessities super-induced, which Codrus had not; and was harder to be relieved, and could not have joy at so cheap a rate: because he only lived according to nature, the other by pride and ill customs, and measures taken by other men's eyes and tongues, and artificial needs. He that propounds to his fancy things greater than himself or his needs, and is discontent and troubled when he fails of such purchases, ought not to accuse providence, or blame his fortune, but his folly. God and nature made no more needs than they mean to satisfy; and he that will make more must look for satisfaction where he can."

So Sempronius was, during JA's time, a symbol of a man who has been corrupted by wealth into being unsatisfied with simple goods, that were pleasing to a poor man, Codrus, who had lower expectations.

Looking behind still further, Wikipedia told me that Codrus was the last of the semi-mythical Kings of ancient exemplar of patriotism and self-sacrifice. Whereas there was a real life prominent Roman family named Sempronius, and one member was co-consul with Scipio during the Punic Wars---Tiberius Sempronius Congus--who apparently was reputed to be very greedy.

So....that all provides an intriguing subtext to Sarah Fielding's choice of the name Sempronius, and JA's decision to allude to Fielding's Sempronius in the character of Knightley--does it suggest a mercenary motivation in marrying Caelia.

Sarah Fielding's The Governess: The Unmistakable Austen allusions to same in Emma and S&S

My recent two part discovery was that JA, CEA and Anne Sharpe, joined by Elizabeth Knight, put on a Fielding extravaganza combining Sarah's The Governess with Henry's The Virgin Unmasked----joined, no doubt, by Fanny, Louisa, and Marianne Knight, playing some unknown combination of the girls at the Female Academy and the very un-naive heroine of The Virgin Unmasked:

(which includes a link to my first post)

I will now disclose the principal Austenian allusions to The Governess I see:

First and foremost, the story of Chloe, Caelia, and Sempronius was taken by JA and reworked in the most interesting and complex way imaginable into the characters of Emma, Jane F/Harriet S, and Knightley, respectively.

Chloe and Caelia are two girls of 22 (Emma and Jane are both 21) who lost their mothers while they were six (Emma was 3, Jane was younger still), who are supposed to be friends, but one (Chloe) tells jealous and slanderous tales about the other (Caelia) --sound familiar?

And, even more important, the same disturbance noted in Ellen's blog at the Machiavellian character of Sempronius has been mirrored even more disturbingly in the character of Knightley. He is the self-interested Pygmalion who covertly sets up "educational" experiences for the young women who place their trust in him.

I think JA was well aware of Sarah Fielding's subversive silence about Sempronius's machinations, and mirrored it with her own subversive silence about the dark side of Knightley's machinations---and it's no accident that the tale of Sempronius comes not longer after we read the fairy tale of the two giants, one benevolent, one malevolent----those are transformed by JA into two _alternative_ views of Knightley.

And there's much, much more to this allusion when you carefully read Fielding's tale, and match it, in your mind, against the 1000 times more complex interaction of Jane F and Emma in Austen's novel.

And that's just the beginning....

We also, of course, have Mrs. Teachum, the wise, proactive governess of the Little Female Academy, transformed satirically into Mrs. Weston, the governess who seems to have _no_ power to educate her primary charge, Emma, and also into the societal role of governess itself, which is held up by Jane Fairfax as a horrible fate to be avoided at all costs, "the sale of human intellect".

And....we have Mrs. Teachum's boarding school transformed satirically into Mrs. Goddard's parlour boarding school, where the primary education the girls receive seems to be how to place themselves in the path of dangerous and/or mercenary young men, and/or to ingratiate themselves to rich naive girls they can manipulate to gain advantage.

And the story of Lucy Sly is transformed by JA into the story of the very sly Lucy _Steele_ Ferrars ("Lucifer", as I noted years ago), a survivor who finds a way to level the playing field tilted so heavily against females. Lucy Sly has "a pair of exceeding fine black eyes, only with the alloy ofsomething cunning in their look". Lucy Sly also says of her original governess, "I knew by her tone of voice, and her manner of speaking, that she did not blame me in her heart, but rather commended my ingenuity." Lucy-Ferrars to a tee, I'd say.

And, continuing with allusions in _Emma_, take a look at this description in The Governess of the youngest student in Mrs. Teachum's Little Academy, Polly _SUCKLING_:

"Miss Polly Suckling was just turned of eight years old, but so short of her age, that few people took her to be above five. It was not a dwarfish shortness; for she had the most exact proportioned limbs in the world, very small bones, and was as fat as a little cherub. She was extremely fair, and her hair quite flaxen. Her eyes a perfect blue, her mouth small, and her lips quite plump and red. She had the freshness of a milkmaid; and when she smiled and laughed, she seemed to show an hundred agreeable dimples. She was, in short, the very picture of health and good-humour, and was the plaything and general favorite of the whole school."

JA not only gives the last name of this little girl to Mrs. Elton's sister and brother in law, JA also gives many of the little girl's physical and personality attributes (shortness, plumpness, fairness, blue eyes, milkmaidishness, good humour) to Harriet Smith!

And, what's more, look at how JA transforms the following description in Fielding's story of the al fresco adventure Mrs. Teachum takes her little female charges on:

"The housekeeper led them through an avenue of tall elm-trees into this magnificent house, in which were many spacious apartments, furnished with the utmost grandeur and elegance. Some of the rooms were adorned with fine pictures, others were hung with tapestry almost as lively as those paintings, and most of the apartments above stairs were furnished with the finest sorts of short, they should not go till they had been in her room, and eat some sweetmeats of her own making. The good woman seemed to take so much delight in giving them any pleasure, that Miss Jenny could not refuse accepting her offer; and, when they were all in her room, Polly Suckling said, 'Well, this is a most charming house; I wish we could all live here for ever. How happy must the lord and lady of this fine place be!'

There you have the prototype of Harriet Smith at Donwell Abbey, being led by Mr. Knightley through an avenue of lime trees, and then not long afterwards shocking Emma with Harriet's ambition to marry Knightley and become the lady of Donwell Abbey (and by the way, the fairy tale (and there are two fairy tales in The Governess) of Harriet and the Gipsies takes place just outside Highbury on a road "deeply shaded by _elms_ on each side"! And when Emma's nephews insist on hearing the story of Harriet and the Gipsies repeated just so, we hear the echo of the girlsat Mrs. Teachum's school also wishing to hear the fairy tales recited just so.

And as I was just editing this post, I realized that this passage in The Governess is also (and equally disturbingly) pointed to in Lizzy Bennet's reactions upon first seeing Pemberley.

And underlying all of the above is the overarching question of female education--what is good for girls to learn, and what role should imagination play in the development of their minds? The mind reels at the richness and mysteriousness of Austen's allusions to The Governess, which seem to me to demonstrate that JA read Fielding _against_ the grain, picking up on the unstated satire subtly embedded by Sarah Fielding beneath the seemingly conventional moral message to young girls to conform, accept, and obey the orders of men.

And there's more, but that's plenty for now.....

So, how is it possible that so many Janeites, including a fair number of knowledgeable Austen scholars, could actually read Sarah Fielding's The Governess and _not_ see any of the above unmistakable parallels that, it is obvious to me, were intentionally drawn by JA to Fielding's _very_ famous and influential novella, which is generally acknowledged as the first English fiction written for _and_ about children?

I claim that this deep blindness has arisen because nobody before me has read JA as being so audacious, sly, _and_ erudite, as to allude so subtly and covertly, so as to hide such massive parallels in plain sight. JA knew from personal experience in the world, especially at Godmersham where she was viewed by many of the rich and powerful she met as a poor spinster nobody, that her readers would not accord JA sufficient respect to pay attention to those echoes, but instead would treat these echoes the way that Emma treats Miss Bates's stream of comments about everything--as so much blah, blah, blah, to be ignored, and thereby the most important layer of meaning is missed entirely. No one before me has suspected JA of this sort of massive subversive feminist agenda, and therefore no one has seen it. Because, as Tom Wolfe so cleverly turned the proverb on its head 40 years ago, believing is seeing--and no one has previously believed that JA was this sort of author!

JA knew exactly what she was doing, and hoped that there would be some sharp elves among her readers who would pick up on some or all of this. Her novels were _her_ incredibly sophisticated version of Mrs. Teachum's fairy tales and parables, intended to educate her adult female readers as to what they needed to know in order to survive in a man's world!

And all of the above must be related back to JA's enactment of an amateur theatrical at Godmersham in 1805 (ie., 10 years before she wrote _Emma__), and we must realize that JA made very very good use of the delay in publication of her novels until she was in her mid 30's, enabling her to send all six of them out into the world as works of mature fiction, all informed by her fully developed genius.

Cheers, ARNIE

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

There's EVEN MORE Fielding Subtext in the 1805 Godmersham All-Female Theatricals

Diana Birchall in Janeites and Austen L: "…I am delighting in the Fielding connections. I don't think I've read anything that has charmed me so much as the little word-picture image of Aunt Cassandra playing Miss Teachum to Jane Austen's The Governess, and Miss Sharpe in the thick of it!"

And I am equally delighted, Diana, at all the responses I've received, both in these groups and privately, to my discovery of the Sarah Fielding’s The Governess subtext in the 1805 Godmersham all-female theatricals, as (for those who might have missed it) I posted here:

Among those responses, it was suggested to me that if The Governess was actually adapted/parodized, it must have been a very free adaptation, because several of the characters listed by Fanny Knight in her diary entry do _not_ appear in The Governess. It was also suggested to me that perhaps The Governess was not adapted at all, but that, as was the Godmersham custom on Twelfth Night, characters were assumed like costumes, and all was improvised.

These were both plausible observations, and they made me curious to have a second, closer look at those subordinate characters, and see what else Google might turn up, which might bring further clarity to these interesting and important questions. And, it turned out that in this instance, to my great good fortune, lightning struck a second time, and just as powerfully!

First, here again is that excerpt from Fanny Knight’s diary for June 26, 1805:
“Aunts and Grandmama played at school with us. Aunt Cassandra was Mrs Teachum, the Governess Aunt Jane, Miss Popham the Teacher Aunt Harriet, Sally the Housemaid, Miss Sharpe, the Dancing master the Apothecary and the Serjeant. Grandmama Better Jones the Pie woman, and Mama the Bathing Woman. They dressed in Character and we had a most delightful day…”

At first I misidentified Miss Popham as a character name, but then realized that must have been a real life Miss Popham, part of the Godmersham social circle (and probably a close relation of Sir Home Popham, the famous English military man, as to whom JA wrote the following poem in 1807:

Of a Ministry pitiful, angry, mean,
A gallant commander the victim is seen.
For promptitude, vigour, success, does he stand
Condemn'd to receive a severe reprimand!
To his foes I could wish a resemblance in fate:
That they, too, may suffer themselves, soon or late,
The injustice they warrant. But vain is my spite,
They cannot so suffer who never do right.

So, while that was an interesting factoid, it was a dead end in terms of allusive sources for the thematic significance of these Godmersham all-female theatricals. But then I Googled “Dancing Master” & “Apothecary”, and look at what popped up on my monitor!:

An Old Man Taught Wisdom, or The Virgin Unmask’d by Henry Fielding, Esq. (1734)
Dramatis Personae: Good-will, Lucy, his daughter, Blister, an _apothecary_, Coupee, a _dancing-master_, Quaver, a singing-master, Worm-wood, a lawyer, Mr Thomas, a footman

Was it just a coincidence that Googling character names from those theatricals had _again_ led me to a work written by a Fielding, this one by _Henry_? Of course it could not be a coincidence!! I quickly read through the text of Fielding’s wicked little farce, and concocted the following very interesting synopsis:

Goodwill, an arrogant 70-year old, rich widower, wants to marry off his 16 year old daughter Lucy to a rich relative, to keep his wealth ‘in the family’ (shades of Mr. Collins in P&P, and also the Bible stories of Zelophehad’s daughters!). Goodwill is cocksure that Lucy, whom he has deliberately raised in isolation, is under his complete control. However, as the action quickly unfolds, and not surprisingly in a farce, it is immediately apparent that Lucy has her own mind, including some strong but conflicting mercenary and sexual inclinations, far beyond the control of her clueless father.

Lucy winds up marrying Thomas the handsome footman of a neighboring lord, but first deftly deflects several unpleasant suitors, including Blister the _apothecary_ (who tries to physic everyone, even Lucy), and Coupee the _dancing master_ (who finds it scandalous that Lucy has not been taught to dance).

And, apropos the role of “Serjeant” that Fanny also listed, would you be surprised to learn that there are different ranks of footmen, and that the one just beneath valet status is called “_sergeant_ footman”?!

And, for good measure, there is also a character named Mr. Achum, a disabled old man—so now we have a Fielding triumvirate of Thwackum (from Tom Jones), Teachum (from The Governess), & Achum (from The Virgin Unmask’d)!]

And Blister, by the way, sounds disturbingly like the real life Harris Bigg Wither, when Lucy tells him point blank that she finds him too fat and ugly.
And perhaps most relevant to my inquiry vis a vis the Governess, the threat that Goodwill hangs over the head of Lucy (the same name, by the way, as the sharp-eyed girl in The Governess) is that if Lucy disobeys his courtship orders, he will send her to a _boarding school_ where she will be whipt.
So, from the half dozen direct echoes I have just quickly outlined, I feel safe in claiming that the performance that day at Godmersham was in some way a blending of Sarah Fielding’s The Governess, with Henry Fielding’s The Virgin Unmask’d, a truly Fieldingesque extravaganza!

And…(apropos Diana’s comments in particular), it also seems clear to me that Miss Sharpe, in playing the apothecary, the dancing master and the serjeant (footman), has played all three of the listed _male_ parts, the exact reverse of an Elizabethan performance of Shakespeare (as portrayed so memorably in Shakespeare in Love) when men played all the parts, including the female parts! Could there be a more feminist message conveyed to young Fanny? And what, if anything, does this casting suggest regarding Anne Sharpe? Is she like Tom Bertram—whose sexual orientation we have discussed in the past--taking the role of the Rhyming Butler?

The mind reels at all these connections and intimations.

What immediately came to my mind in particular, though, was the following passage from Henry Austen’s 1818 Biographical Notice:

“Richardson's power of creating, and preserving the consistency of his characters, as particularly exemplified in "Sir Charles Grandison," gratified the natural discrimination of her mind, whilst her taste secured her from the errors of his prolix style and tedious narrative. She did not rank any work of Fielding quite so high. Without the slightest affectation she recoiled from every thing gross. Neither nature, wit, nor humour, could make her amends for so very low a scale of morals.”

To which I can only respond “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” Henry Austen, you naughty man, you were successful for a very long time with your charade that JA found Henry Fielding too gross and lacking in morals—quite the contrary, Fielding’s writing was grist for JA’s mill, just as Richardson’s Grandison—and is it just coincidence that we have JA’s playlet of Grandison alongside this (alas) now lost text of a Fielding playlet? No, of course not! Henry knew there was a lot of “Fielding” smoke surrounding his recently deceased sister (don’t forget the 1796 Tom Lefroy letters!), and now that she was no longer alive to complain, he seized the moment to try to bury any sign of JA’s sympatico with Henry Fielding (and perhaps also with Sarah Fielding). And, as I suggested in my previous message, I suspect that if Le Faye did know about JA’s sympathy for “the devil” Fielding, she was not going to bring that to anyone’s attention!

But wait…..there’s even _more_!

I Googled “Virgin Unmask’d”, and I was immediately transported from Henry Fielding’s short, wicked 1734 farce (which, while not famous today, was deemed worthy of inclusion, later in the 18th century, , in the above-linked collection of great farces), to a truly infamous work of literature from 1724 by Bernard de Mandeville, entitled The Virgin Unmask’d: Or, Female Dialogues Betwixt an Elderly Maiden-Lady and her Niece, On several Diverting Discourses On Love, Marriage, Memoirs and Morals, &c. of the times.

Mandeville’s greatest infamy arose from his very popular Fable of the Bees. Here is what Fredson Bowers, in his 1975 edition of Tom Jones, says, in a footnote at ppg. 268-9, re the beginning of Book VI of Tom Jones, when Fielding addresses the “modern doctrine” that there is no such thing as love in human beings, and “that there were no such things as Virtue or Goodness really existing in Human Nature, and who deduced our best Actions from Pride”:
“Throughout his career as novelist and journalist, Fielding warmly denounced the views of those “Political Philosophers’ who followed Hobbes….In Fielding’s own century, the most notorious exponent of this cynical doctrine was Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733), who in several essays in The Fable of the Bees (1714-34) dedicated himself to refuting Shaftesbury and to elaborating the proposition that ‘the nearer we search into human nature, the more we shall be convinced, that the moral virtues are the political offspring which flattery begot upon pride.” (“An Enquiry into the Origin of Moral Virtue” (1714)…Accordingly, Fielding’s sharpest criticism of this school was generally directed at ‘that charming Fellow Mandevil’, as Miss Matthews calls him in Amelia (1751, III.v)….”

So….as with my previous post, this additional discovery opens a half dozen doors of fruitful further inquiry, in terms of the significance of there now being not one, but _two_ Fielding subtexts embedded at the heart of the 1805 Godmersham all-female theatricals. It seems clear to me that these were not just random assignments of amusing literary characters, but that there was, as we see with the Sir Charles Grandison playlet that JA wrote (with some unknown input from Anna Austen), some sort of script.

We also see that the overarching theme is that of female education, the pros and cons of good and bad boarding schools, but all filtered through at least two literary works, Henry Fielding’s The Virgin Unmask’d,

And we are left with the very interesting question of why JA (with CEA’s obvious consent) would choose to stage a performance of works of literature that would not only subvert male authority by promoting a female-centered education for girls, but would go one step further and would seem to celebrate darkly cynical views of human nature and morality, as were at the heart of the satire of both Mandeville and Fielding?

What I wonder is, what was Elizabeth Knight’s take on all of this? Was she Fanny Price, dragged into playing a minor role (the Bathing Woman), while the main players had a satirically good time, and all of this with an audience that included Elizabeth’s own 12 year old daughter, Fanny, who seemed to enjoy the proceedings.

Cheers, ARNIE

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Jane Austen's Playlet Adaptation of a Famous Novel (other than Sir Charles Grandison)

A few days ago, I wrote the following to Christy Somer in Austen L and also here in this blog:

"...if you look at all of _your_ posts from the past 72 hours, there is information contained in _one_ of them which I (with my suspicious eye, working on the assumption that there are interesting connections and meanings everywhere which have never been noticed by Le Faye et al) immediately identified as worthy of closer examination in one respect. That information immediately (via _one_ Google search) led me to a heretofore unidentified, significant, and meaningful connection from Jane Austen to an allusive source from the world of literature published and extant in her world. And, that connection, upon further examination, turns out to strongly support my claim that Jane Austen had a strong authorial agenda to educate and empower young women to think critically and independently, and not to passively accept male prescriptions for female education."

In that post, I promised a quick explanation of the above, and, after a few days’ delay due to travel, here is my explanation.

This is what Christy wrote that caught my eye:

“Another recording from Fanny [Knight]’s diary for Wednesday, the 26th: “Aunts and Grandmama played at school with us. Aunt Cassandra was Mrs Teachum, the Governess Aunt Jane, Miss Popham the Teacher Aunt Harriet, Sally the Housemaid, Miss Sharpe, the Dancing master the Apothecary and the Serjeant. Grandmama Better Jones the Pie woman, and Mama the Bathing Woman. They dressed in Character and we had a most delightful day…” From DLF Record: :”In July some of the Bridges in-laws joined the house-party, and three years afterwards Jane remembered how ‘animated’ she and Cassandra had been when talking with Harriet Bridges and the Godmersham governess, Anne Sharp…..Miss Sharp left Godmersham a few months later, early in 1806.…” END QUOTE

As you see, Christy was quoting from Fanny Knight’s and Le Faye's accounts of an all-female Godmersham amateur theatrical that took place early in 1806.

What struck me immediately was the farcical name Mrs. TEACHUM, the role played by CEA in the theatrical. It reminded me of THWACKUM, the pious horrible hypocritical clergyman/tutor in Henry Fielding's very famous 1749 novel Tom Jones. It was just the kind of verbal—and character- similarity I thought JA-- to whom I ascribed the role of stage director---would definitely have been aware of. And so I thought, hmm… there's a pretty good chance that Teachum was either a name made up by JA as a parody of Thwackum, or maybe, just maybe, it was an allusion to some other work of literature which in some way was related to Fielding’s Tom Jones.

So I Googled "Teachum" and I saw a remarkable validation of my hunch beyond my wildest expectations. In a nutshell, it turns out that Mrs. Teachum is the main adult character in _another_ novel, which, amazingly, shared _three_ crucial similarities with _Tom Jones_:

Both were published in 1749; both were wildly successful, going through many 18th century editions, and (last but certainly not least)…..both were written by an author with the surname Fielding!!!!

How could this be? Because that other novel was _The Governess, or The Little Female Academy_, and its author was none other than SARAH Fielding, the less famous but still well known (among literary scholars) _sister_ of Henry Fielding!

As far as I can tell, after diligent online search during the past 5 days, no literary scholar prior to myself has ever pointed out that this little "play" staged at Godmersham was an adaptation of Sarah Fielding’s famous didactic novel. And what is particularly curious about that lack is the following passage in JA’s Letter 32 dated 1/22/1801….

“Fanny shall have the Boarding-school as soon as her Papa gives me an opportunity of sending it-& I do not know whether I may not by that time have worked myself up into so generous a fit as to give it to her for ever….”

…and Le Faye’s footnote to that passage:

“This would appear to be one of JA’s own childhood storybooks, now being lent to little Fanny; in which case, it may have been Sarah Fielding’s The Governess, or, Little Female Academy (1741, and reprinted up to 1768), or [two other possible books]…”

So there we have Le Faye speculating—based on what might seem to be a tenuous resonance between the two titles, “The Boarding School” and “Little Female Academy”--that JA may have given Sarah Fielding's novel to niece Fanny, age 8 in 1801.

But then Le Faye appears completely unaware of a connection of that passage in Letter 32 to the amateur theatricals that actually occurred at Godmersham in early 1806, a connection which would appear to validate Le Faye’s footnoted speculation, as it would make perfect sense that JA gave that novel to Fanny in 1801, and then, 5 years later, when Fanny has become a young teen, JA and CEA put on a little performance of scenes from that same novel with the participation of the Godmersham women, in effect turning Godmersham into a Little Female Academy for that time period!

There is so much more about the complex relationship between Sarah Fielding’s and Jane Austen’s writing, of which I was previously aware, but which becomes much more interesting in light of this discovery, but that is far beyond the scope of this posting.

Suffice for now to say that I believe I have fulfilled my promise of producing significant evidence of JA’s complex relationship to feminist literature available to be read during her lifetime, which has literally been hiding in plain sight under the nose of Le Faye and all those who swear by her authority. This example is, as I have previously stated, one of a thousand just like it that I have uncovered during the past 7 years, for one simple reason—I actively look for them, and expect to find them!

And my discovery doesn’t just have significance for Austen scholars—I wonder how many Fielding scholars have ever taken note of the coincidence of the character names Teachum & Thwackum (which would make a rather satirical name for a boarding school in JA’s era), and have written about covert coordination between Sarah and brother Henry in their two contemporaneous publications—that would certainly seem likely in the instance of _The Governess_ and _Tom Jones_!

And one final thought—I would not at all be surprised to learn that Le Faye was _already_ aware of the Sarah Fielding subtext underlying Fanny Knight’s 1806 diary entry, but chose not to say anything about it in a footnote—why? Because Sarah Fielding’s novel was _subversive_ in a very proto-feminist way (and there are several excellent modern scholarly articles on that very topic), and Le Faye would rather not raise the ominous spectre of feminism in the minds of readers of JA’s letters.

Or maybe Le Faye really was just clueless about it. Either way, it’s not exactly an advertisement for the usefulness of her footnotes.

Cheers, ARNIE

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Jane Austen's Rapidly Moving Fingers: A Little Internet Puzzle

The above is the link for the public archive of posts to the Austen L group during the past few days. The posts numbered 1, 2, 6, 12 and 14 are the ones I referred to in the following message I sent to Austen L yesterday evening, responding to the following comment by Christy Somer there:

[Christy] "Overall, however, it does seem as if these prevailing winds of popular interest -and their ever-attaching extremities, will continue to find a fire-wall of sorts when it comes to facing the glaring lack of any more hard-copy evidence. Obviously, this structure of reality seems to be considered as an appropriately solid enough reason to let the interpretive record of the historical materials stand as they do."


During our recent exchange [in Austen L] about the spectrum of responses to Jane Austen, you have repeatedly made reference to the weighty authority you ascribe to the standard "interpretive record of the historical materials" pertaining to JA's writings and biography. And you have suggested, if I've understood you correctly, in your own polite poetical way, that I am way outside the pale in my interpretations, and that prudence would dictate I should scale back my claims several degrees in order not to provoke an outraged response from the Janeite world.

However, what you've actually provided me, sometime during the past three days (and I am deliberately being vague, for the time being, as to exactly _when_ during that time period), with a _perfect_ example of how blind and passive the standard interpretation (epitomized by Le Faye) of Jane Austen's writings and biography has been to any sort of subversive, alternative understanding of her fiction and of her life.

I.e., if you look at all of _your_ posts from the past 72 hours [see the link to the recent Austen L archive, above], there is information contained in _one_ of them which I (with my suspicious eye, working on the assumption that there are interesting connections and meanings everywhere which have never been noticed by Le Faye et al) immediately identified as worthy of closer examination in one respect.
That information immediately (via _one_ Google search) led me to a heretofore unidentified, significant, and meaningful connection from Jane Austen to an allusive source from the world of literature published and extant in her world. And, that connection, upon further examination, turns out to strongly support my claim that Jane Austen had a strong authorial agenda to educate and empower young women to think critically and independently, and not to passively accept male prescriptions for female education.

This example is a vivid example of how much low hanging fruit there is out there in Austen scholarship, hiding in plain sight, which could easily have been plucked by other Austen scholars before me, if only they had taken the trouble to stroll through JA's "grove" and look around. But instead, the authority of Le Faye and her cohorts has been so powerful as to discourage _any_ Austen scholar before me to be curious enough to dig even a few inches below the surface.

And I have had this same experience a thousand times during the past 7 years, which has only reinforced my motivation to keep wandering everywhere in the grove, looking for more "fruit"--because I keep finding it, several times every week, week in and week out.

I conclude with another quotation from JA's fiction, which I claim carries a secondary meaning. It comes in the very same novel when one of the male characters famously states that a truly accomplished woman should have developed her mind by extensive reading.

Of course I refer to Mr. Darcy---and the following quotation is Lizzy's great moment of turning the rhetorical tables on Darcy not long afterwards:

""My fingers," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I will not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution."

Aside from the very clever sexual innuendo of this passage, I interpret it as JA's veiled exhortation to her readers, especially the females amongst them, to be active readers, who are willing to take the trouble to practice active reading, including reading the lines under the words.

So, if no one posts a comment here and identifies the connection I am referring to within the next 36 hours, I will post a brief explanation of it on Sunday morning by Noon EST.



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Methods of Poison Delivery in Jane Austen's Novels

Yesterday, a discussion in Janeites and Austen L prompted me to respond as follows:

"I am the originator of the two part claim that Jane Austen took a radical feminist position on the issue of serial pregnancy and death in childbirth, and that she made this position the centerpiece of the shadow story of Northanger Abbey. That was the explicit subject of my JASNA AGM presentation 11 months ago."

Among the arguments I made in that AGM presentation was that General Tilney was a kind of Bluebeard, a symbol of the ordinary English husband of two centuries ago, in the era before Semmelweis and safe childbirth, who was "poisoning" his wives, one after the other--i.e., murder by pregnancy and childbirth.

That's when Nancy Mayer, my most polite and unwavering naysayer, wrote as follows:

"Now, if you want to say that General Tilney browbeat her to death, or killed her with coldness, or even , poisoned her , as we like to speculate that Frank Churchill killed Mrs. Churchill, then I might be able to see a possibility."

I responded as follows, and it will be obvious that one must read between the lines of what I am saying, to grasp its x-rated meaning:

He did "poison" her, just in a way you are not used to thinking, in terms of the method of "delivery" of the poison.

Which actually puts a whole different spin on the following line from _Emma_, when Emma reflects on Jane Fairfax's possible romantic intrigues, a topic that obsesses Emma throughout the novel:

"Emma was very willing now to acquit her of having seduced Mr. Dixon's affections from his wife, or of any thing mischievous which her imagination had suggested at first. If it were love, it might be simple, single, successless love on her side alone. She might have been unconsciously sucking in the sad poison, while a sharer of his conversation with her friend; and from the best, the purest of motives, might now be denying herself this visit to Ireland, and resolving to divide herself effectually from him and his connections by soon beginning her career of laborious

Do you see what I see, in terms of that "sad poison"? Without realizing it, Emma has been imagining Jane performing a lubricious service for Mr. Dixon, vis a vis that "poison". And do you also see how this is directly related to the Bluebeardian poisoning I claim is covertly portrayed in Northanger Abbey via the character of General Tilney?

Dr. Freud would be nodding in sage approval of JA's subtle wit, and her ability to hide very graphic sexual innuendo in absolutely plain sight!


P.S.: What I forgot to mention to Nancy regarding General Tilney as Bluebeard poisoner, was the following passage in Northanger Abbey which constitutes Jane Austen's massive wink on that topic--as Catherine Morland reflects on her own horrified surmises about General Tilney having perhaps murdered his poor wife:

"But in the central part of England there was surely some security for the existence even of a wife not beloved, in the laws of the land, and the manners of the age. Murder was not tolerated, servants were not slaves, and neither POISON nor sleeping potions to be procured, like rhubarb, from every druggist."

The point being that General Tilney did not, like Shakespeare's Romeo, have to procure poison from a druggist or apothecary--he was himself the natural "manufacturer" of his own poison, and carried his own "drugstore" hidden inside his own body! ;)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Letter 44: Abandon all hope, ye who read here, of claiming that Jane Austen did not slip astounding literary allusions into her letters and novels!

Diane Reynolds first quoted from Jane Austen's Letter 44...

"If I have any intention of going to the Grand Sydney-Garden Breakfast, if there is any party I wish to join, Perrot will take out a ticket for me." Such an offer I shall of course decline; & all the service she will render me therefore, is to put it out of my power to go at all, whatever may occur to make it desirable."

..and then added:

"It's interesting to me that she (or is an editorial decision--this would be very interesting to find out) put the Aunt L-P quote in quotes. Generally-- in fact always--JA slides into other people's words without quotations and she does it in the novels as well. Why quotes here? An inconsistency on her part? I'm thinking editorial decision."

I responded that I read that passage in Letter 43 as JA doing a satirical quotation--probably edited for great satirical effect---of whatever her aunt Leigh Perrot said that betrayed that horrid woman's hypocritical Mrs. Norris-like reaction--and surely this was _not_ the first instance of it--and I love the added touch, which is that Aunt Leigh Perrot, Mrs. Elton-like, refers to her husband simply as "Perrot"!

There was an added bonus of this question being raised, however, as it led me to inspect the text of Letter 43 for quotations, thinking it would, by virtue of close temporal proximity, be the most accurate evidence we have of whatever JA's practice was in this regard at the time she wrote Letter 44. It turns out there are _three_ quotations in Letter 43, each of which has its own interest, with the last being the coup de grace!:


Since I wrote so far, I have walked with my Mother to St James' Square & Paragon; neither family at home. I have also been with the Cookes trying to fix Mary for a walk this afternoon, but as she was on the point of taking a LONG walk with some other Lady, there is little chance of her joining us. I should like to know how far they are going; she invited me to go with them [& ] when I excused myself as rather tired & mentioned my coming from St J[ames'] Square, she said " that IS a long walk indeed".

That sounds like a direct quotation of spoken speech, for the primary purpose of depicting the stress that Mary Cooke (age 24) put on the word "is"---and I noted that earlier in that same anecdote, JA had captured another stressed word "long", so the overall intent is a bit of satire of Mary Cooke's hyperbolic mode of speaking. Sort of like the way Lydia Bennet put lines under the words in her letters!


I wrote to Henry because I had a letter from him, in which he desired to hear from me very soon. His to me was most affectionate & kind, as well as entertaining;-there is no merit to him in that, he cannot help being amusing. He expresses himself as greatly pleased with the Screen, & says that he does not know whether he is " most delighted with the idea or the Execution ".

Clearly, JA is quoting from Henry Austen's letter to her, but why does JA only quote that one snippet? It seems to me it is because that is a particularly memorable turn of phrase.

That turn of phrase was also very familiar to me, and I became curious to know if it was already a famous quotation when Henry wrote it, and perhaps that was why it was in quotes. Google Books brought me to the following footnote written by Rev. James Dallaway to an book entitled Anecdotes about Architecture by the famous Horace Walpole, which was published in 1805 (i.e., exactly when JA was writing Letter 44!), even though I only found the quoted passage in an excerpt in another book published after JA's death:

"One of the first buildings completed by Gibbs, in point of time, was at King's College, Cambridge. The diminutive Doric portico is certainly not a happy performance, either in the idea, or the execution. "

So, that would be a witty thing for Henry to do, to couch his aesthetic judgment of a decorative Screen of some kind (a work of art that Henry had perhaps bought or been given) in the snobbish verbiage of such a book by the famous aesthete Horace Walpole. Harmless, witty fun.

But here's something curious vis a vis that turn of phrase---I also found, via Google Books, the following remarkably similar context for that turn of phrase in an 1855 London Quarterly Review article regarding a large exposition in London:

"As to the Fine Art Courts, apart from this subject, we know not which to admire first and most,—the idea, or the execution, —the instruction, or the pleasure, they impart..."

Was that contextual semantic similarity, "not knowing whether", just a coincidence? Unless the 1855 article writer had a copy of JA's letter in front of him, it had to be a coincidence, but I wonder....

As I said, the best is last:


Mrs Buller goes with us to our Chapel tomorrow;-which I shall put down as " Attention ye First ". I hope she will keep an account, too.

This one is the most powerful--and unexpected---quotation of all---it occurred to me as soon as I focused on it that this was clearly a veiled allusion to the sign over the gate of the entry to Purgatory in Dante's Divine Comedy:

"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

If there was any doubt on that attribution, it was quickly dispelled when Google Books brought me to a snippet from the Jane Austen Society publication from 2000 which pointed out that Letter 44 was written on the day before Good Friday, 1805--although, as far as I can tell, the JAS writer did _not_ notice the sacrilegious allusion to Dante, which I nailed down as soon as Wiipedia verified to me that it just so happens that the action of the Divine Comedy _ALSO_ began on the day before Good Friday, 1300!

So, first, how sharply pointed is JA's satire, to equate entry by Mrs. Buller and JA (and probably Mrs. Austen as well) into a Christian chapel on Good Friday with entry into _Purgatory_! And then, if I am reading that last sentence correctly, to amp up the sacrilege by JA saying she hopes that Mrs. Buller will, after that visit to the Chapel, keep an account of precisely _how much_ hope she has actually abandoned!

Now, at first it might have seemed that JA was making cruel fun of Mrs. Buller, perhaps for overpiousness. However, I am certain it is precisely the opposite, just as the sharp black humor about the woman who saw her husband and miscarried was really an expression of JA's anger at how that woman was being oppressed by pregnancy---this learned, sacrilegious satire by JA is actually arising from JA's anger over the hopeless hand that Mrs. Buller has been dealt in the card game of Life! This is the same Mrs. Buller as to whom JA has just written, earlier in Letter 43, with a great deal of sympathy for this poor woman's plight, as her husband Mr. Buller is apparently slowly dying, with no cure on the horizon, and Mrs. Buller does not even have her children there to help or to commiserate with her--a truly _hopeless_ situation.

And so I think JA is writing cynically, suggesting that prayer will do nothing for Mrs. Buller at this point, all that she can do at this sad stage of her life is to keep track of her remaining store of hope as it ebbs away entirely.

A very very dark vision of human life, but there it is. JA called 'em as she saw 'em.

And perhaps some piece of that Dantean quotation was connected to JA's own dark envisioning of her own prospects---and perhaps that is why two weeks later, when writing Letter 44, a _plan_ has been devised to deal with the crisis of where and how to live once they leave Bath--to partner up with Martha Lloyd and Frank Austen and find a way.

Cheers, ARNIE

"...though where so many hours have been spent in convincing myself that I am right, is there not some reason to fear I may be wrong?"

I never before noticed a very curious formulation that Colonel Brandon says to Elinor in Sense and Sensibility, right before he tells her the story of Willoughby and Eliza, Jr.:

"...My regard for her, for yourself, for your mother—will you allow me to prove it, by relating some circumstances which nothing but a VERY sincere regard—nothing but an earnest desire of being useful—I think I am justified—though where so many hours have been spent in convincing myself that I am right, is there not some reason to fear I may be wrong?" He stopped...."

What caught my eye today was the last part of that quotation: "though where so many hours have been spent in convincing myself that I am right, is there not some reason to fear I may be wrong?" He stopped...."

In context, Brandon is saying that he has just spent a great deal of time grappling with the question of whether he ought to reveal Willoughby's misdeeds to Elinor, for her to relay on to Marianne. And with characteristic subtle brilliance, Jane Austen has Brandon utter a psychologically astute paradox--i.e., the very thing that makes him fear he may be wrong in judging that such revelation would be the right thing for him to do, is precisely that he has spent so many hours convincing himself he is right! Of course Brandon is not suggesting that it would be proper for him to simply act on impulsive and blurt out the whole story without due consideration to all the consequences of same. He recognizes that difficult moral judgments sometimes require a great deal of consideration, weighing of pros and cons. But he _also_ recognizes that the danger of error is not removed merely by spending a lot of time thinking about a difficult question, because, if anything, a person may become even _more_ deeply entrenched in error, and perspective can be lost, as more time is invested.

That is cool enough, I think, but I also see a secondary meaning in these quoted words. Taking them _out_ of the context of the novel plot, I find Brandon's words (which are, after all, really Jane Austen's words, and we have no reason to believe she disagrees with Brandon) to be strikingly applicable to the eternal debates that we have had in these groups over many years over interpretation of JA's writings. I.e., that fear of being wrong could apply equally to someone (like myself) who has spent so many hours convincing myself that I am right about my claims that there are shadow stories in Jane Austen's novels, but also equally could apply to someone who strongly opposes my claims, who has spent so many hours convincing themselves that they are right about my claims being wrong! Etc etc.

And what I suggest is that Jane Austen knew very well that her writing was going to raise all sorts of interpretive questions in the minds of her readers, and by this bit of ventriloquism using Brandon's voice, she is alerting _all_ her readers--the subtexters and the anti-subtexters alike--to the paradoxical dangers inherent in answering murky interpretive questions--there is danger in thinking too little about a point of interpretation, but there may also be danger in thinking too much about it!

Cheers, ARNIE

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Not So Mythical Anne Sharpe's Escape from Godmersham....Aided and Abetted by Jane Austen!

In Jane Austen's Letters 43 and 44, respectively, dated two weeks apart in April 1805, we read the following two passages about a governess/teacher named "Anne Sharpe":

"What honour I come to!-I was interrupted by the arrival of a Lady to enquire the character of Anne, who is returned from Wales & ready for service.-And I hope I have acquitted myself pretty well; but having a very reasonable Lady to deal with, one who only required a tolerable temper, my office was not difficult. -Were I going to send a girl to school I would send her to this person; to be rational in anything is great praise, especially in the ignorant class of school mistresses-& she keeps the School in the upper crescent.-"


"...They go with their Masters & Mistresses, & are now to have a Miss: Amelia is to take lessons of Miss Sharpe."

What makes these passages noteworthy, aside from my interpretation of them as Jane Austen providing a work reference, and injecting a bit of characteristic faux snobbery for comic effect, is the name of that woman---why? because Janeites familiar with JA's biography know that "Anne Sharpe" was for a period of a few years the name of the governess at Godmersham, for the children of Edward Austen Knight, JA's rich brother, and, more important, became such a good friend of Jane Austen that JA corresponded with her regularly, and made a gift to her of one of the precious first editions of Emma in 1816.

And yet, Deirdre Le Faye, the doyenne of Austen biographers and editor of the definitive edition of JA's letters, emphatically states in her Bio Index entry for "Anne Sharpe" that she is _not_ the same person as the "Anne Sharpe" of Letters 43 & 44.

That has led to some interesting discussion in Austen L, as follows:

Diana Birchall: Nothing else makes much sense, except equally wild and baseless suppositions, i.e. Anne gets sick during her two-year tenure at Godmersham; goes to Wales to recover, and on her return joins the Austens in Bath and looks for other employment, with some help from the Austens, until deciding to take up her job at Godmersham again after all. Hm, come to think of it, that doesn't sound half bad, does it!"

Ellen Moody: "It depends what Diana means by "spurious."LeFaye turns every bit of obvious evidence that Eliza was Hastings's biological daughter with crass misreadings, erasures &c. It'd be par for the course if she wanted to distance her heroine, Jane, this way.In other cases, she's equally ruthless, such as numbering how many errors a said text is said to have in her estimation; her attack on Nokes's book because he suggests the aunt stole that lace.And in our looking at the notes there is a lot of skullduggery. Even the length of this note makes me suspicious at this point. My suggestion was that Anne Sharpe was quietly looking for another position.We don't write everything down; all time is not accounted for in LeFaye's pinpointing of where Sharpe was said to be and working. One can send a letter quietly without it making any record or you physically doing it. One can get a reply. One can have a friend offer testimony. I don't believe it was "ill health." Rather she couldn't stand the position - not uncommon I should think, especially in a house with so many children where also the firmness of ownership was in question. All the more would the owners be exacting. I don't see that people would ask an outsider who never had a woman as her servant for information. The Austens did not have that many servants at all. As far as their names go, they seem often to be villagers; the Austen in other words tended to take people who were low on the totem pole for their servants, not people of gentry or high status fallen or declined. I assume they obeyed more readily, were more deferent, maybe took less money. I agreed that the passage could be a servant but argued that it doesn't make sense that way. I have no investment here. I wouldn't have gone on about it this way myself.I do find it another instance of closeness for Austen and Anne Sharpe; that's why I wrote about it. Also how Austen was eager even in her own mind to put down that headmistress. She is acutely aware of her own loss of status. Interviewing is even now a come down no matter what people aver -- everyone endures them it's said. Well not people super-high in a profession or who have some "in" where it's a formality.In that level --Austen herself being gauged -- it's a scene of real searing if quiet."

And here is _my_ addition to the discussion:

Well, I am no longer agnostic on the question of whether this really was _the_ Anne Sharpe or not--although I continue to believe that Ellen misreads JA's ironic mock-snobbery about the school mistress on the upper crescent, I think that Ellen has gotten the much more important point 100% correct, about this really being the same Anne Sharpe! -----and Diana, I think you were already 75% of the way there yourself after you wrote the above-you just have to stifle your inner "Jane Bennet" to go the remaining 25% of the distance! ;)

Le Faye seems determined (as I have documented she has done in a dozen or more other instances in these letters, although the Nokes example is still the most egregious of Le Faye's unjust and unjustified hatchet jobs) that this Anne Sharpe _not_ be _the_ Anne Sharpe.

I arrive at that conclusion from thinking about Le Faye's possible motivation--what is it about this being the same Anne Sharpe that Le Faye would find too disturbing to allow to stand unchallenged? Ellen has hit the nail squarely on the head, but left out the final crucial point ---if this is the same Anne Sharpe, it means that JA is aiding and abetting Anne Sharpe who is attempting to make her _escape_ from what must be an awful situation for her at Godmersham ---probably she is being overworked, breaking down her health, and perhaps she is also underpaid to boot. And of course Anne cannot give Edward and Elizabeth Knight as references, if she is escaping from their mistreatment---but who better than the sister of those employers, who conveniently happens to be in Bath (not far from Wales, hmmm), and so can vouch for Anne herself--and wouldn't YOU believe Jane Austen if she spoke highly about someone? ;) And Edward and Elizabeth need never know that JA performed this delicate bit of benevolent skullduggery.

I would like to see Le Faye's backup for her Bio info on Anne Sharpe---is it clear from independent sources that she only began working there in 1804? Is it clear that she was only governess to Fanny? I'd bet that the evidence is much murkier than she has presented, but I can't say for sure till I see the actual evidence.

So, that "betrayal" is what is anathema to Le Faye--the idea that JA might support a female friend in defiance of the will of Edward Austen Knight and his wife---that "disloyalty" would not fit the tidy image of JA the dutiful daughter and sister, humbly acceding to the wishes of the Austen males, even if they impact harshly on powerless women like Anne Sharpe.

And if you look at the Index to the Letters, you'll notice a striking "coincidence"----we read about the mysterious "Anne" in Letter 43, written on April 11, 1805, and then about the mysterious "Miss Sharp" (who must be the same person as "Anne") in Letter 44, written only two weeks later, and then we have what Le Faye presents as the first mention of Anne Sharpe in JA's surviving letters, which begins a steady stream of references to Anne Sharpe thereafter---it begins with two of the three next surviving letters after Letter 44 ---Letters 45 & 47, both written in August 1805. I don't believe in that kind of coincidence, I think that we start hearing about Anne Sharpe in Letter 43, not Letter 45! (and by the way, it's sad that Anne did _not_ make her final escape until 1806)

And Ellen is also exactly right, the length and detail of Le Faye's footnote on this very question of Anne Sharpe's working life and why she left Godmersham is all "protesting too much". It is characteristic of Le Faye that she does not write "Some might argue that this is the same "Anne Sharpe", she would rather put the kibosh on that idea without giving that alternative interpretation the dignity of explicit mention. (She only mentioned the Eliza Hancock-Hastings illegitimacy meme because it was already out there in print!). last point I find very telling, on the subject of JA working within her female network to accomplish goals that might not be to the liking of family powers-that-be. Read the following passage in Letter 44, barely half a page after the factoid about Miss Sharpe giving lessons to little Amelia:

"I am quite of your opinion as to the folly of concealing any longer our intended Partnership with Martha, & whenever there has of late been an enquiry on the subject, I have always been sincere; & I have sent word of it to the Mediterranean in a letter to Frank. None of OUR nearest connections I think will be unprepared for it, & I do not know how to suppose that Martha's have not foreseen it."

The key words there are "any longer"--they make it clear that the strategy of JA, CEA and Martha up till that time _has_ been to actively conceal it from their respective families! Why? For exactly the same sort of reason that the covert operation on behalf of Anne Sharpe would be concealed from Edward and Elizabeth--i.e. so nobody would put the kibosh on these plans until it was too late to stop them!

And don't think that Le Faye did not notice that resonance--she is very shrewd, and she sees these "unseemly" connections--she just does not want anyone else to notice them!

Cheers, ARNIE

Catherine Morland is supposed to be dumb.... how come JA subtly gives us evidence in NA, in many different but (mostly) inobtrusive ways, that Catherine is actually very smart?


I just noticed, today, a particularly clever example of Catherine's quick mind in Chapter 7 of NA:

[John Thorpe] took out his watch: "How long do you think we have been running it from Tetbury, Miss Morland?"

"I do not know the distance." Her brother told her that it was twenty-three miles.

"Three and twenty!" cried Thorpe. "Five and twenty if it is an inch." Morland remonstrated, pleaded the authority of road-books, innkeepers, and milestones; but his friend [Thorpe] disregarded them all; he had a surer test of distance. "I know it must be five and twenty," said he, "by the time we have been doing it. It is now half after one; we drove out of the inn-yard at Tetbury as the town clock struck eleven; and I defy any man in England to make my horse go less than ten miles an hour in harness; that makes it exactly twenty-five."

So far, this seems to just be one of many examples in NA of John Thorpe boasting about his macho toys--his horses, his carriage, etc.

But then, a short time later in that same conversation, we read this:

"Rest! He [Thorpe's horse] has only come three and twenty miles today; all nonsense; nothing ruins horses so much as rest; nothing knocks them up so soon. No, no; I shall exercise mine at the average of four hours every day while I am here."

"Shall you indeed!" said Catherine very seriously. "That will be forty miles a day." END QUOTE

Do you see the hidden humor there? Have you ever noticed that touch before? Although the narrator does not point it out, what we are being shown here is that Catherine is actually adept and quick at algebra! She has just heard Thorpe claim a _minimum_ speed of ten miles an hour for his horse, and then he talks about exercising his horse four hours every day, and Catherine, who has not been able to avoid paying attention to his braggadocio, immediately pops out the correct answer, which is forty miles a day!

Or, in mathematical terms, 4x = y, where x is the number of hours, and y is the number of miles.

Now, my Subject Line question---why JA would want to hide this example of Catherine's quick mind just beneath the surface of the text of NA?---is, of course, disingenuous, as those who follow my sort of Austenian analysis might have guessed. I do have a ready answer--and by the time you reach the end of this message, you will find that we will have arrived at the hidden "room" where lies concealed the horrid answer to the mysteries of Northanger!

Here's my answer----Catherine Morland is only supposed to be dumb if you read NA--as almost all Janeites still do---solely as a parody of the dangers of an overactive imagination in an undeveloped female mind. But...if you read one layer deeper, and read NA as an _anti-parody_ that actually asserts, in a hundred ways, both covert and overt, that female imagination needs to be active, and that the female mind has been unjustly deemed less developed than the male mind, all "computes" perfectly! ;)

And now here is the key that unlocks the door to that hidden room, and I will describe for you the path I took in getting there.

As I was writing the above argument, I noticed another even more subtle and complex detail in that example, which showed me that there was more--much more--than just female skill in algebra hidden in Catherine's ability to solve Thorpe's little equation.

To wit: I was struck by Thorpe's boast that his horse was _so_ wonderful a steed that it could not go _less_ than ten miles an hour, even when _in harness_. It reminded me---and I claim, this was JA's intention--of another sort of (alas, very common) male boasting, in which a _minimum_ of ten units of measurement is also something formidable and boastworthy--I don't think I need to spell this out any further, as I have been so detailed as to be intelligible to anyone who wishes to know what I mean! But if you want a hint, just take it from John Thorpe, who unwittingly supplies the name of the unit of measurement JA means us to detect: "Five and twenty if it is an _INCH_"!!!

And... _that_ realization immediately led me to the part that makes the sexual innuendo even more complex and significant. JA is not just covertly lampooning the proverbial male preoccupation with the size of his "gig", she is also covertly pointing out that such male preoccupation is not merely ridiculous, it is also _dangerous_! Why? Because the unfortunate consequences _for wives_ of husbands making their "horses" go so fast are not limited to a lack of female satisfaction arising from the "ride". For a feminist living in 2011, that would be bad enough---but to a feminist like JA living two centuries earlier, it was a much more dangerous ride, because the "destination" of all those rides, for all the Mrs. Tilneys of England, was serial pregnancy!

And JA shows us she means this extra layer of meaning in (at least) three ways:

First, she shows us Catherine being _confined_ to Thorpe's carriage despite her strong desire to be released so that she can return to her friends the Tilneys. If you reread that scene with this metaphor in mind, I think you will agree with me that it is quite powerful, once understood.

Second, John Thorpe's ten miles per hour is a subliminal echo of the following passage at the very beginning of the novel:

"She [Mrs. Morland] had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on—lived to have six children more—to see them growing up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself. A family of ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are heads and arms and legs enough for the number..."

As I stated in my presentation at the JASNA AGM last October, it is no accident that the spectre of death in childbirth is invoked in the first paragraph of the novel, and further that we learn that there are _ten_ Morland children. This is presented in a comic tone that lulls the reader to sleep, but the message becomes unmistakable when the covert theme of death in childbirth is developed through the character of Mrs. Tilney, and that is precisely where John Thorpe's ten miles per hour comes into play---we can all identify John Thorpe as a menacing shmuck whom any woman in her right mind would escape from, screaming for help. But JA is also telling that even dear, kind Mr. Morland, who seems the antithesis of John Thorpe, is actually much more dangerous than John Thorpe.

It was indeed the case, in JA's pre-Semmelweis England, that "anybody might expect" that Mrs. Morland might have died bringing any of those ten children into the world--and the chilling real life personal irony is that three of JA's sisters in law (two of them during JA's lifetime) actually died in childbirth _after_ giving birth to ten children!

And third, and most brilliant in its subtle punning, we have the following passage later in NA when another shmucky man, General Tilney, is boasting about _his_ male accoutrements:

"...but if he had a vanity, it was in the arrangement of his offices; and as he was convinced that, to a mind like Miss Morland's, a view of the accommodations and comforts, by which the labours of her inferiors were softened, must always be gratifying, he should make no apology for leading her on. They took a slight survey of all; and Catherine was impressed, beyond her expectation, by their multiplicity and their convenience."

Do I need to point out that the words "labours" and "expectation" are, in another context, associated with childbirth, and further that the Bible was understood by some English husbands to direct them to sire a "multiplicity" of children on their wives---which circles back to what I began this post with, i.e., Catherine Morland's demonstration that her knowledge of algebra includes an adeptness at "multiplication"!

But that would be multiplication in a very sinister equation for English wives, to wit--if an English husband gets his wife pregnant once per year, for ten years, how many pregnancies will that English wife endure, if she manages to survive them all?

Here is Catherine's (and Jane Austen's) _serious_ answer, which I hope you now read with new eyes that you did not have when you first read this passage earlier in this message:

"Rest! He [Thorpe's horse] has only come three and twenty miles today; all nonsense; nothing ruins horses so much as rest; nothing knocks them up so soon. No, no; I shall exercise mine at the average of four hours every day while I am here."

"Shall you indeed!" said Catherine very seriously. "That will be forty miles a day.

Indeed, it seemed to Jane Austen that English husbands who sired double digit children on their poor wives ("horses") took the attitude that their wives did not need any rest from pregnancy, and so they needed to be "exercised" frequently and at great length! Which gives chilling new meaning to the expression "no rest for the weary"!

And all of the above is gallows humor, because beneath all this witty humor, there is the true Gothic horror of Northanger Abbey---and it took the very active and fruitful imagination of Jane Austen to bring it all to life!

Cheers, ARNIE

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Letter 44 Highlights: The Unwelcome Mrs. Stent, James Austen “Man of Letters”, & Aunt Leigh-Perrot’s “offer” Which Jane Austen CAN Refuse

Jane Austen's Letter 44, written in April 1805, is rich in characteristic Austenian irony and sarcasm, all reflecting her anger and dismay at important aspects of her life at that moment in time:

“Poor Mrs Stent! 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 & unwelcome to everybody.”

My comment on this passage consists of two words, to be repeated aloud three times: Miss Bates, Miss Bates, Miss Bates! (at which point, as with Beetlejuice, you are transported to another world of wonder!)

“James may not be a Man of Business, but as a " Man of Letters " he is certainly very useful; he affords you a most convenient communication with the Newbury Post.”

Oh, that is so cold! Brother James, the literary poseur, thought of himself as a “Man of Letters”, and that is why JA puts this phrase in quotes---she cuts him down to size, because her witty reframe of “Man of Letters” demonstrates that James may have thought of himself as a man learned in literature, but JA saw him as having utility only as a man who delivers her mail for her! The sarcasm fairly drips off the page!

And the sarcasm has, in the words of Karen Carpenter, only just begun:

“…on my head I wore my crape & flowers, but I do not think it looked particularly well.-My Aunt is in a great hurry to pay me for my Cap, but cannot find in her heart to give me good money. "If I have any intention of going to the Grand Sydney-Garden Breakfast, if there is any party I wish to join, Perrot will take out a ticket for me." Such an offer I shall of course decline; & all the service she will render me therefore, is to put it out of my power to go at all, whatever may occur to make it desirable.- “

Here is the usual Austenian sarcasm reserved for another of her favorite familial hypocrites, Aunt Leigh Perrot—JA’s mocking quotation of her Aunt’s talking the talk when it comes to generosity, but not walking the walk in any way that really matters—Aunt Leigh Perrot was rather like Aunt Norris, wasn’t she?

What I hear here is that it sticks in JA’s craw to accept _any_ of her (secretly) detested Aunt’s “generous” offers of trivial gifts, even to the point of losing out on an event that JA might well wish to attend. The Aunt must have made a big show of fake generosity about trivial things, even while leaving the Austen women to twist slowly in the wind for nearly 4 years after the death of Revd. Austen. Oh, how JA must have hated that heartless debased piece of work who happened, alas, to be her Aunt!

And JA has yet a bit more of sarcasm to vent before she can relax and turn to more pleasant subjects:

“I have not expressly enumerated myself among the party, but there I was, & my cousin George was very kind & talked sense to me every now & then in the intervals of his more animated fooleries with Miss Bendish, who is very young & rather handsome, & whose gracious manners, ready wit, & solid remarks put me somewhat in mind of my old acquaintance Lucy Lefroy.-There was a monstrous deal of stupid quizzing, & common-place nonsense talked, but scarcely any wit;-all that border'd on it, or on sense came from my Cousin George, whom altogether I like very well. -Mr Bendish seems nothing more than a tall Young man.”

“Thy _ready wit_ the word will soon supply…”—So here we have Miss Bendish a prototype of Harriet Smith (at least, the way Harriet Smith presented herself to Emma), and the satire is accentuated by JA adopting the voice of a barely literate young fool who would, like John Thorpe, refer to “a monstrous deal of stupid quizzing”. And what a putdown of Mr. Bendish--his sole distinguishing personal characteristic is his height, which implies that he has no personality worthy of notice!

And here we have the bookend to the sarcasm about Aunt Leigh Perrot, and seeing themselves in Mrs. Stent—JA and CEA have clearly been talking to Martha Lloyd ever since the advent of her mother’s final illness, as they must find a way of living in more modest circumstances once they cannot live in Bath any longer—and the clock is ticking, so to speak, they must act soon. If neither Aunt Leigh Perrot, nor Edward Austen Knight, nor any other benefactor is going to step forward with an offer of real financial support, they are going to have to scrape together an alternative, and Martha, their dearest old friend, now finds herself in that same sinking boat:

“I am quite of your opinion as to the folly of concealing any longer our intended Partnership with Martha, & whenever there has of late been an enquiry on the subject I have always been sincere; & I have sent word of it to the Mediterranean in a letter to Frank.-None of our nearest connections I think will be unprepared for it; & I do not know how to suppose that Martha's have not foreseen it.”

Why those nearest connections should have any negative reaction to such a Partnership is beyond me, but it is a reflection of the lack of respect and empathy for the Austen women and Martha that this is even a question.

Cheers, ARNIE

Letter 44: Jerome Kern Hiding in Plain Sight as a closet Janeite!

After running through tidbits from Jane Austen's Letter 44 which I found noteworthy, I decided to first do a separate post for what is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Letter 44—for me, at least---which is not in the text of the letter at all, but in its provenance. I notice this quite by accident while browsing in Le Faye’s footnotes to find out about “the famous Saunders” [she had no info on who he was]. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the words “Jerome Kern 1927”, and my gaze froze in my tracks—Jerome Kern!

It took me about 20 minutes of Googling thereafter to discern all of the following factoids:

Not only did the famous Broadway and Hollywood composer Jerome Kern (1885-1945) own JA’s Letter 44 from 1927-1929, it turns out that he also owned first editions of _all_ of JA’s novels! So, it is not too bold a leap to infer that during the late Twenties, if not for longer, Jerome Kern was a huge Janeite! From what I also infer, he sold all his valuable literary collectibles in 1929, due to a steep dip in his personal balance sheet due to the stock market crash which is forever associated with the year 1929.

Kern also collaborated with Oscar Hammerstein in 1927 in writing the hugely successful (and socially controversial and groundbreaking) Broadway show _Show Boat_--which just happens to have at its core the theme of racial prejudice, and also has a mysterious charismatic dark skinned young man with great theatrical abilities who shows up out of nowhere and steals the heart of the daughter of a mixed-race marriage, only to abandon her (although in the end he comes back to her). Hmm……. Hmm…….

That takes on extra significance when I connect the dots to what I wrote about last year about the veiled allusion to “rears and vices” in the Royal Navy in Mansfield Park that I detected when I saw the Broadway revival of South Pacific, the book of which was written by none other than that same Oscar Hammerstein:

Very interesting……

And last but not least, in 1934, Kern and Hammerstein wrote a play for the London stage entitled “Three Sisters” which had a 72-performance run at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, described as follows:

“It traces the romantic travails suffered over a few years in the lives of itinerant photographer Will Barbour's three daughters. Tiny, the eldest , anticipates a placid married life with steady, dullish fiancee Eustace, but she's waylaid by antic street busker George. His performing partner Gypsy is a serial Romeo distracted from the chase by adoring youngest sis Mary. Only middle sib Dorrie wants out of this scrape-along, carnival-to-circus lifestyle. Her social ambitions do attract earnest attention from upper-crust dreamboat Sir John. Spousal wanderlust, class snobbery and the advent of WWI provide moments of heartbreak for each Barbour girl before happy endings arrive.”

While there is nothing in that plot summary per se that leaps off the page as an obvious Austen allusion, the courtship of sisters across social & economic class takes on a distinctly Austenesque aura when we consider it in light of all of the Austen connections I have outlined, above.

All of this, among other things, reconfirms to me that Kern and Hammerstein (who were chummy, by the way, with another Janeite, PG Wodehouse) were passionate Janeites, and Kern did not just mindlessly collect Austen memorabilia as a financial investment, but he and his collaborator were both dedicated and subtle readers of Jane Austen’s novels, and both understood that she was writing about much more than just 3 or 4 families in a country village.

Cheers, ARNIE

Gay subtext in zombie books, South Pacific and Mansfield Park

The following is a post I wrote in Janeites and Austen L last May, which I neglected to post here as well, and which is relevant to the post which will immediately follow this one:

Ellen Moody wrote: "A comment from a friend has let me know that it's a known but usually not discussed element in these zombie books that they have strong gay subtexts. It's supposed regarded as "just fun." Well, we had no idea. Izzy told me the details of grotesque sizes, and gags that reminded me of scenes in Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus, some of the lyrics of some of Sondheim's stranger (less popular songs), also some scenes in Orlando the book and more in Sally Potter's film. This morning (having read my friend's comment) she tells me that the book suggests Mrs Gardener has a lover, and then what we discover that Mr Gardener has a male friend that he is "very close" with. Elizabeth worries lest Mr Darcy get "involved" but he doesn't."

By an odd serendipity, Ellen, I went with my 91 year old father last week [i.e., in May, 2010] to see the Broadway revival of South Pacific (he served during WWII in the South AND the North Pacific)---Both he and I thought the production was so-so, but I mention it in these Austen groups because I was immediately struck by the first big production number, There is Nothing like a Dame---that this had, to me, an unmistakable gay subtext, particularly the character of Luther Billis.

My strong impression became a certainty while watching the climactic number, That's my little Honey Bun, where Luther dresses in a hula skirt, and Nelly dresses as a man simulating sex with Luther the island girl. M father was at first astonished when I told him about this, but he was quickly convinced. Afterwards, I checked online, and was amazed to see that only ONE scholar has ever written about the gay subtext of South Pacific--- Marjorie Garber, and even she was cautious about calling it an intentional subtext.

And I mention all of this because I have for some time been 100% certain of the gay subtext of Mansfield Park, in regard to William Price and the "price" paid for Henry Crawford's Pepysian intervention on William's behalf, which JHS touched on in Unbecoming Conjunctions. As I watched the elaborately choreographed dancing of the sailors in that first bug number in South Pacific, I wondered whether Oscar Hammerstein II, Joshua Logan, and their choreographer, had all been inspired specifically by the following passage from MP, which JHS did not pick up on in UC, but which I believe is part and parcel with William's promotion and also Mary Crawford's outrageous pun:

" The next bustle brought in Mr. Campbell, the surgeon of the Thrush, a very well–behaved young man, who came to call for his friend..... and after another quarter of an hour of earnest talk between the gentlemen, noise rising upon noise, and bustle upon bustle, MEN AND BOYS AT LAST ALL IN MOTION TOGETHER, the moment came for setting off; everything was ready, William took leave, and all of them were gone...."

And I finish by pointing out that Frank Austen did serve in the Pacific--what WAS JA suggesting about the promotions earned by Frank?

Cheers, Arnie

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Letter 43: Undercurrents of Scandal and Nostalgia, and Subtle Allusions

Letter 43 is written over a period of 4 days from April 8-11, 1805, and overall, life in the Austen family seems to me to have normalized a great deal during the 3 months after the death of Revd. Austen.

"Here is a day for you! Did Bath or Ibthrop ever see a finer 8th of April?-It is March & April together, the _glare_ of one & the warmth of the other."

So JA wrote here of the glare of Bath 11 years before she immortalized that perception in Persuasion: "...Anne, though dreading the possible heats of September in all the white _glare_ of Bath..."

And that passing allusion to Letter 43 in Persuasion seems to be expanded significantly a little bit later in Letter 43:

"This morning we have been to see Miss Chamberlayne look hot on horseback.-Seven years & four months ago we went to the same Ridinghouse to see Miss Lefroy's performance!-What a different set are we now moving in! But seven years I suppose are enough to change every pore of one's skin, & every feeling of one's mind."

See the following link to my friend Linda Robinson Walker's (Persuasions Online) article about Jane Austen & Tom Lefroy, and some echoes of their relationship in Persuasion (the novel), which includes my small contribution (see fn 4) about this very passage in Letter 43 and its connection to Persuasion:

And here is a reminder of at least one major real life source for Mrs. Bennet:

"We were out again last night; Miss Irvine invited us, when I met her in the Crescent, to drink tea with them, but I rather declined it, having no idea that my Mother would be disposed for another Evening visit there so soon; but when I gave her the message I found her very well inclined to go"

LIke Mrs. Bennet, Mrs. Austen had her unpredictable moods and irritabilities, which were apparently hard even for Jane to read reliably. And surely Mrs. Austen's already pronounced tendencies in this regard were exacerbated tenfold in the aftermath of her husband's death. So when Mrs. Bennet delivers the following bitter philippic....

"...But I tell you, Miss Lizzy—if you take it into your head to go on refusing every offer of marriage in this way, you will never get a husband at all—and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your father is dead. I shall not be able to keep you—and so I warn you. I have done with you from this very day. I told you in the library, you know, that I should never speak to you again, and you will find me as good as my word. I have no pleasure in talking to undutiful children. Not that I have much pleasure, indeed, in talking to anybody. People who suffer as I do from nervous complaints can have no great inclination for talking. Nobody can tell what I suffer! But it is always so. Those who do not complain are never pitied."

...JA was perhaps quoting her own mother, who knew exactly what it was like to be left, with two unmarried daughters, in dire risk of homelessness after the death of a spouse.

" we went into the field, & passed close by Stephen Terry and Miss Seymer again.-I have not yet seen her face, but neither her dress nor air have anything of the Dash or Stilishness which the Browns talked of; quite the contrary indeed, her dress is not even smart, & her appearance very quiet. Miss Irvine says she is never speaking a word. Poor Wretch, I am afraid she is en Penitence."

This makes me wonder what Miss Seymer's shadowy misdeed was, "which the Brown talked of", and for which JA jokes she might have been "en Penitence" for. I note that she married Stephen Terry (the elder brother of Michael Terry, to whom Anna Austen was briefly engaged a decade later, before marrying Ben Lefroy) in 1805, so perhaps the Browns were purveying some prudish gossip about Miss Seymer perhaps jumping the gun, romantically speaking, with Stephen Terry?

"Here has been that excellent Mrs. Coulthard calling, while my Mother was out & I was beleived to be so; I always respected her as a good-hearted, friendly woman"

For all her own enormous genius and sophistication, JA's heart was always responsive to the salt of the earth. And I wonder if part of JA's respect for Mrs. Coulthard has anything to do with the following Bio Index factoid in Le Faye's Letters:

" 1802, a Chawton village girl, Sarah Andrews, had her illegitimate child baptized Thomas-Coulthard."

What Le Faye leaves as the obvious implication is that Thomas Coulthard (the husband of Mrs. Coulthard) had already been married to Mrs. Coulthard for many years in 1802 when he was betrayed by an accident, so to speak.

"And the Brownes have been here; I find their affidavits on the Table."

And what legal matter is this? This is 3 months after Revd. Austen's death, my guess is that these affidavits are part of the probate process for the disposition of Revd. Austen's assets. My own experience as a lawyer handling probates suggests to me that the affidavits would have been to the effect that, to the best of the Brownes's knowledge, all debts of Revd. Austen had been fully disclosed and paid. So the Brownes were close enough friends to the Austen family both to share gossip with the Austens, and also to lend some kindly assistance to facilitate Revd. Austen's probate.

"...I expect to hear from Edward tomorrow...How happy they are at Godmersham now!"

I wonder what happy occasion at Godmersham JA is alluding to here? It can't be a birth of another child, as Louisa Knight had been born about 6 months earlier to Elizabeth Knight. Perhaps it was a child born to Mrs. Deedes (sister of Elizabeth Knight)?

"This is nice weather for Mrs** J. Austen's going to Speen, & I hope she will have a pleasant visit there. I expect a prodigious account of the Christening dinner"

At first I thought this was a reference to the birth of Caroline Austen, but then I saw that she was born in June 1805. Then I realized that it must have been a christening of a grandchild of the recently widowed Mrs. Craven whom I wrote about in connection with Letter 38, who went to live at Speen Hill in 1804, and about whom JA worried as to her finances some years afterwards:

"...If there is no revival, suffering must be all over; even the consciousness of Existence I suppose was gone when you wrote. The Nonsense I have been writing in this and in my last letter, seems out of place at such a time; but I will not mind it, it will do you no harm, & nobody else will be attacked by it."

And there we have a pretty clear statement of JA's guiding principle in speaking freely, which she often does, in her letters---I would summarize it as "no harm, no foul".

"The Children are not come, so that poor Mrs Buller is away from all that can constitute enjoyment with her.-I shall be glad to be of any use to her, but she has that sort of quiet composedness of mind which always seems sufficient to itself."

Again, JA's compassionate instinct toward women who bear unavoidable hardship with grace. I believe that her outrage response only arose when that hardship was avoidable and was caused by the unconcern of others (especially men).

Cheers, ARNIE

Sunday, September 4, 2011

And the Quintessential Austenian Self-Flatterer is........

In Janeites, Elissa Schiff, responding to an interesting exposition of Jane Austen's flatterers, wrote:

"Diana, you have omitted only one category of flatterer (although you mentioned both its practitioners) in your excellent summary: the category of *self-flatterer.* It is an important category because it allows the author's incomparable sense of irony and humor total freedom to soar to new comedic heights with two of her most memorable characters. "

I would suggest first that the self-flattery exhibited so extravagantly by Mr. Collins (studious learning, Christian compassion) and Mrs. Elton (generosity, accomplishment, connections) is not unique in JA's novels--there is at least one grotesquely ridiculous self-flatterer (aka a braggart) in each of the novels---don't forget John Thorpe (astuteness, virility), Fanny Dashwood (generosity), Lady Catherine (talent), Mrs. Norris (generosity, kindness) and Sir Walter (beauty). In aggregate, they constitute a veritable rogues gallery of the type, running through a laundry list of attributes they pride themselves on, for the most part without valid foundation.

I noticed, Diana, that John Thorpe and Mrs. Norris were included in your list of other-flatterers, and I suggest that this makes sense, in that they had been practicing flattering _themselves_ for their whole lives, so of course they would become expert at it and would eventually branch out and use it as a tool for manipulation of others!

But I would argue that JA's greatest triumph in the realm of portrayal of self-flattery, the quintessential Austenian self-flatterer, is hiding in plain sight---it is none other than _Emma_ herself! What makes this portrait of Emma's self flattery such a triumph is its subtlety and its realism, and also the way JA misdirects and teases us, to seduce us into not recognizing it even when it is flaunted in our faces. Emma's self-flattery is never grotesque and obvious, seeing it almost always requires us to step back and read the narration _against_ the grain.

The topic of Emma's self-flattery is actually raised by Knightley early, in Chapter 5, when he says:

"I will add this praise, that I do not think [Emma] personally vain. Considering how very handsome she is, she appears to be little occupied with it; her vanity lies another way. "

"Her vanity lies another way."----but Austen, with her usual discretion, does not spell it out explicitly. Instead she makes Emma's vanity the water that we, the reader, swim in as we read the novel--as such, we don't notice it, unless we pull ourselves out of the swimming pool and look back into it from dry ground. Then we notice that it is actually _everywhere_.

I would argue that the other side of the coin of narcissism and vanity is self-flattery and self-congratulation, and there is no character more narcissistic, in a realistic sense, than Emma. And I would argue further that Mrs. Elton's self-flattery serves a double function in the novel, both as absurd comedy in its own right, but also as a funhouse mirror reflection of Emma's own self-flattery.

For a brief window in the novel, after a series of shattering blows to her ego, Emma comes close to recognizing her own enormous vanity:

"With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of every body's feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange every body's destiny. She was proved to have been universally mistaken; and she had not quite done nothing—for she had done mischief. " and "... in short, for (with a sigh) let me swell out the causes ever so ingeniously, they all centre in this at last—my vanity was flattered, and I allowed his attentions."

However, when Knightley proposes to her, that tear in the fabric of her self-flattery is instantly repaired and sealed up, never to open again. Knightley was right in Chapter 5, and what's more, I would suggest that in the last 6 chapter, Knightley reveals himself to be quite an adept flatterer in his own right.

In summary, then, few people reading _Emma_ are as grotesquely obvious and ridiculous in self-flattery as Mrs. Elton or Mr. Collins, and so it is safe for everyone to laugh at them. But I think JA's most serious point is that _many_ people reading _Emma_ (the Buddha would say, all of us, at some time or another) engage in self-deluding, unaware, complexly rationalized self-flattery as Emma does, on practically every page of the novel!

And what a bravura way for JA to depict narcissistic self-flattery than to present it to us AS EMMA EXPERIENCES IT. Filtered through the prism of her mind with its near infinite capacity for rationalization, it is a constant challenge to blink our eyes, and peer through the semi-opacity of the water to see Emma's self-flattery in its full glory.

Cheers, ARNIE

Friday, September 2, 2011

"...many good paintings; but Elizabeth knew nothing of the art;"

In researching JA's usages of the word "intelligible" in _Emma_, I also briefly browsed in some of the usages in her other novels, and that is why I only today read, for the first time with comprehension of its mysteriousness, the following passage in P&P describing Elizabeth Bennet's reactions as she tours Pemberley:

"The picture-gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shown. In the former were many good paintings; but Elizabeth knew nothing of the art; and from such as had been already visible below, she had willingly turned to look at some drawings of Miss Darcy's, in crayons, whose subjects were usually more interesting, and also more intelligible."

That phrase "but Elizabeth knew nothing of the art" has actually been quoted a couple of times by readers of the novel, but never with any attention paid to what it means! I think almost all readers of P&P blow right by that phrase, and take away from that sentence that Lizzy is extremely interested in anything to do with Darcy and therefore also his sister, and not much else.

But what does it mean that Miss Darcy's drawings were more intelligible than the art in the picture-gallery of which "Elizabeth knew nothing", and also that Miss Darcy's crayon drawings were not only "more interesting" but were also "more intelligible"? Why would JA throw in that kind of detail? As usual, my default setting in reading such cryptic passages in JA's novels is to suspect her of some hidden meaning. And here is what I have come up with.

JA wrote this passage nearly two hundred years ago, in 1813. And yet, if we did not know that date of composition as we read, and we thought we were reading a novel written in 1911, or even in 2011, I think most readers of P&P would read "...but Elizabeth knew nothing of the art.." as meaning that Pemberley's picture-gallery was stocked with what we today would call _abstract_ or non-representational art.

Isn't that the way many people who are not very familiar with abstract art react when they look at it? They can't make sense of it, but they expect there to be something concrete represented, and so they throw up their hands and either claim ignorance of such art, or just say that it does not make sense, i.e., it is not _intelligible_. The same way Emma finds Harriet's sudden acceptance of Robert Martin's second proposal "unintelligible".

But here's the problem--my understanding is that abstract art did not arise in Europe until the latter part of the 19th century, at least a half century _after_ JA published P&P!

So...what sort of paintings did JA want us to imagine that Darcy had on display at Pemberley that would be sophisticated in some way that Elizabeth would have no aesthetic grasp of it?

Here are relevant factoids from the novel that seem relevant. First, we know that Darcy is a connoisseur and a collector, because he is very proud of the library he has inherited, and then expanded, at Pemberley. But we also know that Elizabeth is not artistically ignorant. How? Because she (famously) makes the following veiled and very witty allusion to Gilpin's theories of the picturesque:

" "No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly grouped, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Good-bye." She then ran gaily off, rejoicing, as she rambled about, in the hope of being at home again in a day or two…."

What JA has done here, as has been pointed out by a few Austen scholars, is to compare the Bingley sisters to cows in a pasture, which was the example Gilpin used in his famous tome on the picturesque.

And Lizzy also loves natural beauty, as evidenced by this effusion about touring the English countryside:

"What are young men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend!"

So, Lizzy is no slouch in terms of knowledge and appreciation of the visual arts.

And...JA herself has not blundered into this topic of the visual arts, because _she_ has demonstrated some real erudition in this realm when she wrote the following aesthetically sophisticated passage in Northanger Abbey:

"In the present instance, she confessed and lamented her want of knowledge, declared that she would give anything in the world to be able to draw; and a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed, in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in everything admired by him, and her attention was so earnest that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste. He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances—side-screens and perspectives—lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape. Delighted with her progress, and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline, and by an easy transition from a piece of rocky fragment and the withered oak which he had placed near its summit, to oaks in general, to forests, the enclosure of them, waste lands, crown lands and government, he shortly found himself arrived at politics; and from politics, it was an easy step to silence."

Catherine may not know much about art, but Jane Austen sure does! And you can be sure that part of her expertise was derived from the serious study of pictorial art that CEA surely engaged in, and that surely JA shared a love of, just as CEA loved JA's writing.

So...with all of that, I still have not arrived at an explanation for what sort of paintings Darcy has hanging on the wall in his picture-gallery that so mystify Elizabeth?

Here is my best guess. I would guess that most British aristocrats who collected art would not only have the paintings of European masters on their walls, but also paintings and drawings from the wider world, in particular from the Middle East, India and/or China. I am under the impression that there were artistic traditions from those exotic lands which would partake of abstraction.

Anyway, that is enough for now, I just thought I would toss this one out for any reactions.

Cheers, ARNIE