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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

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.



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