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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Jane Austen & Joseph: Creative Dreamers Betrayed by their Families Who Nonetheless Achieved National Immortality

I’ve been reflecting on various aspects of the allusion in Persuasion to the Joseph of Genesis, which I described in my previous post this morning....

....and what stands out to me as most significant is how much of an extremely personal _self_ portrait this allusion really is. Like the Biblical Joseph [who, by the way, is represented in her fiction in female form not merely by Anne Elliot, but also, in many ways, by Fanny Price as well), each of the following statements is either a fact or a plausible inference about Jane Austen:

She was the next to youngest child in a large family.

She was, among all the Austen siblings, the one true creative artist---the chronicler, in fiction, of the "dreams" of her world--and no one ever interpreted such dreams with any greater mastery than Jane Austen.

She probably was, at least from 1809 onward, more than any other of the Austen siblings, the psychological/emotional lightning rod of the Austen clan, the one to whom almost all the other members of the family (especially the many nieces and nephews) turned for advice.

She was extraordinarily precocious, probably not very shy about it (judging from the brash outrageously subversive tone of her Juvenilia), and very likely an early favorite of her father, all of which, I imagine, triggered some major resentment among some of her elder brothers, in particular James Austen, the one whom she outshone so strongly on his own turf of literary creativity.

Judging from her numerous letters from late 1800 & early 1801, Jane Austen experienced the uprooting from Steventon, and the abrupt move to Bath, as the moral equivalent of being sold into bondage by her elder sibling James (with the tacit consent of brothers Edward and Henry). And yet JA, ever resilient, made lemonade out of lemons—and that lemonade was her writing! She never relented in her quest for literary success, both artistically and financially, and I imagine her in 1802, resisting strong family pressure to marry Harris Bigg-Wither, and drawing inspiration from the Biblical Joseph, who never gave up, even when he was imprisoned for a lengthy period of time in Egypt, but still retained his confidence that he would eventually be able to work to get himself not only freed, but also to attain a position of such power and authority that he would one day save his own family from ruin. And I hear that same stubborn will to survive and prosper in Anne Elliot's confident assertions:

"All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone!"

And last but not least, finally JA also had her “seven year” moment in Letter43, dated April 11, 1805, three months after the sudden death of her father has thrown the family into an extremely unstable, seemingly untenable living circumstance:

"This morning we have been to see Miss Chamberlaine look hot on horseback. Seven years and four months ago we went to the same riding-house 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 and every feeling of one's mind."

When Jane Austen, in 1805, wrote about the lapse of seven years changing everything, she was thinking not only about how different (and better) life had been in early 1798, but she was surely also recalling the Biblical Joseph, with his wisdom about lean and plenty in seven years cycles, and talking herself into hanging on to hope that years of plenty would surely follow the lean years, if she does not give up. And when Jane Austen, in 1816, put into the mind of Anne Elliot the thought about the lapse of seven years changing everything...

"More than seven years were gone since this little history of sorrowful interest had reached its close; and time had softened down much, perhaps nearly all of peculiar attachment to him, but she had been too dependent on time alone; no aid had been given in change of place (except in one visit to Bath soon after the rupture), or in any novelty or enlargement of society."

that was the older Jane Austen speaking through the heroine who most closely resembled herself, and saying, in so many words, that, Yes! There _had_, by July 1816, when she finished writing _Persuasion_, been the lapse of almost exactly seven years and four months since the fateful move to Chawton Cottage--years of "plenty" in terms of Jane Austen's literary fertility!

And that leads directly to the ultimate meaning of this allusion, that this is a perfect example of JA creating, via her novels, a _female_ centered Torah, as she turned one of the great heroes of the Torah into a heroine, a story with distinctly female concerns, the kind of concerns which received such little attention in the Torah.

Did Jane Austen ever imagine that one day, two centuries later, she would achieve a kind of national immortality which rivalled that of her Biblical model?

Cheers, ARNIE

None So Discreet And Wise: A MAJOR Biblical Allusion Hidden in Plain Sight in Persuasion

Somehow, for 193 years, a _major_ Biblical allusion, hidden in plain sight in _Persuasion_ has remained completely undetected. Undetected, that is, until yesterday, when I realized that all of the following nine story elements were present not only vis a vis Anne Elliot in _Persuasion_, but also in the _very_ famous account of one of the _most_ important characters (whom I will temporarily refer to as “X”) in the Hebrew Bible:

ONE: The man in charge of a crisis situation praises X, stating for all to hear that there is “none so discreet and wise” as X in a crunch. And that is indeed borne out by the action of the story, where, time and again, X is called upon, and is trusted, by a variety of other characters, to solve complex problems that seem insoluble.

TWO: There are explicit references to a time period of _seven years_ as being the duration of a critical time---involving what the Elliots all refer to as necessary “retrenching”----after which a long period of happiness is expected to follow. X is crucially involved in the planning such retrenchment.

THREE: X’s life trajectory is perfectly described by Sir Walter Elliot’s sneering words about the Royal Navy: “bringing persons of obscure birth to undue distinction, and raising them to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never _dreamt_ of”. And, by the way, X’s father and grandfather just happen to be every bit as famous as X, because their family saga is the heart and soul of the Hebrew Bible!

FOUR: That word “dreamt” cleverly points to X more than to any other character in the Bible.

FIVE: X was the favorite of one parent, which is in no small part why X is victimized by powerful jealousy by multiple same sex siblings, which endangers X’s long term happiness; however X, by means of talent and integrity, achieves happiness in the end, including a distinct improvement in X’s family’s attitude toward X, due to X’s having achieved distinction and honours.

SIX: X is forced to leave a beloved home, and to endure a period of tribulation in a place of exile that definitely would have (if you think about the landscape of that place of exile) a “white glare”!

SEVEN: X is tempted toward a dangerous romantic relationship by an untrustworthy schemer, but X resists the temptation, even though some others believe X yielded.

EIGHT: X’s story involves shepherds and sheep.

NINE: X’s story is referred to _very_ obliquely by an allusion in _Persuasion_, an allusion never before fully understood.

I would imagine that many of you probably guessed who X was after reading Clues ONE and TWO. Of course, I am referring to Joseph, favorite son of Israel (Jacob) and grandson of Isaac; the dreamer raised by the Pharaoh to the distinction of second in command over the “white glare” of that great desert nation Egypt!

Joseph’s story is told over the course of Genesis Chapters 37-48, beginning here:

For now, I am not going to unpack all of my thoughts on the significance of this elaborate concealed allusion, beyond the general observation that there is much ore to be mined from thinking about Bath as a modern-day Egypt, and about Sir Walter as a modern-day Pharaoh (in his own mind, at least!).
But I urge those of you who haven’t read that part of the Bible to do so----it is not very long at all, and if you are interested in discerning JA’s meaning, you will want to start by reading the Joseph tales through, thinking as you go about Clues ONE through EIGHT. You will, I think, readily discern the particular passages and situations in _Persuasion_ which so strikingly mirror passages in the Joseph stories.

I will also note in passing that I have previously discerned allusions to the Hebrew Biblical Joseph in other of JA’s fictions, but none of them is anywhere close to being as significant as this one, which, it seems to me, “pierces” the heart and soul of _Persuasion_.

But, you might ask, what about Clue _NINE_? This one I only found with the help of Google Desktop, buried in a file I generated a few years ago, in regard to the following passage in _Persuasion_, when we hear Anne’s reactions to her conversations with Harville:

"For, though shy, he did not seem reserved: it had rather the appearance of feelings glad to burst their usual restraints; and having talked of poetry, the richness of the present age, and gone through a brief comparison of opinion as to the first-rate poets, trying to ascertain whether Marmion or The Lady of the Lake were to be preferred, and how ranked the Giaour and The Bride of Abydos, and moreover, how the Giaour was to be pronounced, he shewed himself so intimately acquainted with all the tenderest songs of the one poet, and all the impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony of the other…”

It turns out that Byron’s 1813 poem, The Bride of Abydos, is a portal that _also_ leads us straight to the Biblical Joseph, as the scholar Jonathan Gross explains:

“Jami's [poem, Byron’s primary source]...follows the Joseph story as told in the 13th Sura of the Koran. Punished by her Egyptian husband for seducing Yusef, Potiphar's wife defends herself in the Koran by citing Yusef's extraordinary beauty. She gains social acceptance for her actions by inviting the women of Memphis to a feast of oranges and other delicacies. When they see him, they cut their hands with a knife, distracted by his beauty. They no longer condemn Zuleika, but desire Yusef themselves. For Zuleika, loving Yusef is not sinful but redemptive, for her unrequited love leads her from pagan idolatry to monotheism. Yusef unwittingly saves Zuleika's soul by refusing her advances...[i.e.] Byron humanized the contemptible pagan seductress who appears in the Old Testament and the Aggadah. Byron [had the] intention to portray his own Zuleika as morally pure...By relying on Jami's poem, however, Byron challenged Western readers to keep Genesis and the Koran in their minds at the same time. Byron's interest in narrative complexity had the perhaps inadvertent effect of leading him to espouse cultural pluralism...”

Among other things, I think about the way a significant number of women in Persuasion—not just Anne and Louisa, but also both of Anne’s sisters, seem to find Wentworth attractive . It seems to me that JA is engaged in a very sophisticated game of multiple allusion to a layer cake of prior writings arising out of the Biblical Joseph stories, a layer cake in which Anne Elliot is, at times, a representation of the poem’s heroine Zuleika, but at others is a representation of the poem’s hero Selim, who is himself based on the Biblical and Koranic Joseph/Yusef!

And if anyone thinks that JA would not have realized that Selim was a rewriting of Joseph, and that Clue NINE is just a coincidence, I point you to the following footnote at the end of the 1813 edition of Byron’s poem published by none other than Murray (the very same man who published _Emma_ three years later!):

Note 30, page 35, line 16. “But like the nephew of a Cain.” “It is to be observed, that every allusion to any thing or personage in the Old Testament, such as the Ark, or Cain, is equally the privilege of Mussulman and Jew; indeed the former profess to be much better acquainted with the lives, true and fabulous, of the patriarchs, than is warranted by our own Sacred writ, and not content with Adam, they have a biography of Pre Adamites. Solomon is the monarch of all necromancy, and Moses a prophet inferior only to Christ and Mahomet. Zuleika is the Persian name of Potiphar's wife, and her amour with Joseph constitutes one of the finest poems in their language. It is therefore no violation of costume to put the names of Cain, or Noah, into the mouth of a Moslem.” END QUOTE

So I find it implausible that JA would not have read the published Notes to the poem that she alluded to in such a complex way, or that she’d have missed that explicit reference to the Biblical Joseph!

And finally, the 1813 publication of The Bride of Abydos occurred only a year before certain events involving Lord Byron which I also claim were the basis for another major covert allusion by JA to Byron in _Persuasion_, as I explained five months ago:

And….Jocelyn Harris, among others, has pointed out several other significance allusions to Byron in _Persuasion_. Somehow, all these covert allusions in _Persuasion_ involving Byron all mesh with one another in very interesting ways.

And with that observation, I end this post, and hope to receive some interesting responses!

Cheers, ARNIE

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Wicked, wicked, wicked, wickedly satirical Jane Austen: Crossing the Streams of the Post-Mortems of Mrs. Churchill and Elizabeth Austen Knight

In Chapter 46 of _Emma_, we read the following during the "post-mortem" (ha ha) between Emma and Mrs. Weston about the announcement of Frank and Jane's engagement not long after Mrs. Churchill's sudden death:

"_His_ [i.e., Frank's] sufferings," replied Emma dryly, "do not appear to have done him much harm. Well, and how did Mr. Churchill take it?"

"Most favourably for his nephew—gave his consent with scarcely a difficulty. Conceive what the events of a week have done in that family! While poor Mrs. Churchill lived, I suppose there could not have been a hope, a chance, a possibility;—but scarcely are her remains at rest in the family vault, than her husband is persuaded to act exactly opposite to what she would have required. What a blessing it is, when undue influence does not survive the grave!—He gave his consent with very little persuasion."

As I was reading that very familiar passage for another reason a short while ago, my gaze was unexpectedly arrested this time by the phrases "While poor Mrs. Churchill lived" and "What a blessing it is, when undue influence does not survive the grave!" and "He gave his consent with very little persuasion."

My eye was caught because the memory was extremely fresh in my mind from only 8 days ago, when I had written the following comments about another uncannily similar situation from real life Austen family history....

Specifically, I thought of the following section of my above blog post that I found so uncannily similar to the above passage in _Emma_:

"And the part I personally would have particularly enjoyed most, I found out later, had I been there, was when Joan [Strasbaugh] honored me with the following mention by name: "...On October 10, 1808 [corrected date], Elizabeth, the wife of Edward, dies delivering her 11th child....In less than two weeks, Edward finally offers Mrs. Austen and his sisters a place to stay.The timing of the death and the offer of Chawton certainly seems more than a coincidence." Arnie Perlstein, our own Jane Austen CSI, discovered the connection between the two events. In his blog, ...he says this: “All we know for sure is that when Edward Austen Knight's wife dies, within ELEVEN DAYS thereafter, BOOM!----apparently out of nowhere, Edward Austen Knight makes the decision to provide the Austen women with Chawton Cottage.” END QUOTE

...and it was only 13 days ago, that i had written the following comments about the death of Mrs. Churchill:

To paraphrase Dr. Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters, when the streams of the above two posts crossed in my mind, I was truly stunned beyond the capacity for rational thought. But I will give it a go anyway at an explanation of the mind-altering portal into the dark corners of Gothic Austenalia that opened before my eyes! ;)

What this means, as I see it, is that Jane Austen has drawn a (razor) thinly veiled but dense parallelism between two situations, one real life, one fictional:

(i) Edward Austen Knight, during the period from 1805-1808 in the aftermath of his father's death, feeling powerless to override his wife's refusal to consent to his providing a decent place to live to his Miss Batesian widowed mother and 2 sisters (and of course also Martha Lloyd, who was in exactly the same boat, but without a rich brother).

(ii) Frank Churchill's stifled fury, for about that same length of time, waiting to be freed from his aunt's dictatorial control over his finances, itinerary/schedule, and indirectly his love life.

In both cases, it is the sudden death (after a very recent prior "scare" in that regard) of a wife in firm (psychological) charge of her husband's actions towards other member(s) of his family, that results in that husband, within a very brief time frame (11 days in the case of Edward Austen Knight, and almost exactly that same amount of time in the case of Mr. Churchill---Chapter 46 begins "One morning, about _ten days_ after Mrs. Churchill's decease..."), finally granting long overdue largesse that had been withheld for so long.

The mind reels at all of this...and at the top of the list, wondering how Edward Austen Knight, reading Emma for the first time in 1816 (and we know he read it, if there was any doubt, because he famously "corrected" Jane's "error" about the apple blossoms), could have possibly failed to take the hint, read between these lines, and see his own actions of seven years earlier writ large in faintly visible ink!--Especially when we consider that he himself had also lived, from the other side of the coin, through a very similar inheritance situation a decade before his wife's sudden death---but in that case, the benevolent Mrs. Knight had elected to voluntarily surrender Godmersham to Edward, and retain an annuity.

So we find Edward Austen Knight everywhere in _Emma_ --we see Frank Churchill as the Edward of the late 1790's, but then we see both Frank _and_ Mr. Churchill as the Edward of 1808.

And I wrote "wicked" four times in my Subject Line because JA not only depicts her late sister in law as the awful Mrs. Churchill, she also parodizes brother Edward's feelings about his wife's death, suggesting (by analogy to Leland Monk's 1990 article speculating about Frnk murdering his aunt, which I discussed in my Oct. 17 blog post linked above) that Edward was so "overheated" with fury for a long time before his wife suddenly died, that he might even have been wishing her dead---and that is surely what Jane Austen is drily hinted at in the passage in Chapter 46 I began this post by quoting---Edward's sufferings after the death of his wife did "not appear [to JA] to have done him much harm."

Now...I am _not_ saying that Jane Austen thought Edward killed Elizabeth, or wanted him to kill Elizabeth---I am saying that JA was, in _Emma_, venting a decade or more of very very bitter anger she held against Elizabeth _and_ Edward. And as I see Miss Bates as a self portrait of JA , this reaffirms what I already believed, which is that Miss Bates only pretends to be content with the "goodly heritage" that has fallen to her, while she works behind the scenes to even the score a bit for herself and Jane.

Wickedly satirical, yes--but justified? Yes!

Cheers, ARNIE

PS: [posted a short time after the above]

I see now that I did realize earlier this year that Mrs. Churchill was a representation of Elizabeth Austen Knight, but I never connected that earlier insight to the passage in Chapter 46 which I identified in my message a few moments ago.

Here is the link to my earlier blog post, in which I reached that same conclusion through another "portal", i.e., one of JA's letters written not long after Elizabeth Austen Knight's death:

Jane Austen without the "boring bits"

In a review of a new biography of Georgette Heyer....

the reviewer took this gratuitous swipe at Jane Austen:

"[Heyer] is like Jane Austen but without the boring bits, of which there are more than most of us care to remember."

Kathryn Hughes reveals, by the above comment, that she does not understand the (extremely rich) significance of the "boring bits" in Jane Austen's novels. What if the love stories in Austen's novels are only the easily accessible layer, but there is a secondary layer as well, and the "boring bits" are Hansel & Gretelian "bread crumbs" pointing the way to what mattered to Jane Austen the most?:

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: .and this one may hold special interest....

...especially the following comments at the end of said blog post:

"First, in my talk about Jane Fairfax...I always point out the well recognized slang meaning of "governess" in Jane Austen's day was _”prostitute”_ (a slang meaning connected to Emma no less than 20 years ago)! And so I argue that Jane Fairfax, in code, was passionately proclaiming her resistance to being forced into prostitution by the “friend” who wished to place her there—Mrs. Elton! "

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jane Austen’s Conscious Fictional Depictions of the Freudian Unconscious

A comment in the Janeites group about the unconscious, which I briefly responded to in my previous message by pointing to Lizzy Bennet’s unconscious thoughts about marrying Darcy, remained as a tiny spur in my mind, and I was prompted by it to do a quick tour of Jane Austen’s writings to see where the concept of the unconscious as a part of the mind that could express itself in words or actions beyond the control of the conscious mind, might have been addressed in JA’s writings, in addition to that Lizzy/Darcy passage.

It turned out to be a brief, but very rewarding, even startling, tour, with a few huge pleasant surprises.

For starters, in Pride&Prejudice Chapter 34 itself, I find two explicit usages of the word “unconsciously”, which, in a brilliant bit of authorial staging, function as brackets for the passage I previously quoted, which enacts the unconscious without using the word itself!:

Here is the passage near the start of Ch. 34:

"In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot -- I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to any one. It has been most UNCONSCIOUSLY done, however, and I hope will be of short duration. The feelings which, you tell me, have long prevented the acknowledgment of your regard, can have little difficulty in overcoming it after this explanation."

Lizzy consciously uses the word as a synonym for “unintentionally”, but she does not realize that she has also unconsciously occasioned Darcy pain in the Freudian sense, i.e., because she was so furious at him, she unconsciously DID wish to cause him pain, and so she did so, in spite of her conscious desire not to! This is an amazing tour de force of wordplay on JA’s part!

And then, at the end of Chapter 34, we get a bookend to the above, which is every bit as brilliant as the first one:

“The tumult of her mind was now painfully great. She knew not how to support herself, and from actual weakness sat down and cried for half an hour. Her astonishment, as she reflected on what had passed, was increased by every review of it. That she should receive an offer of marriage from Mr. Darcy! that he should have been in love with her for so many months! -- so much in love as to wish to marry her in spite of all the objections which had made him prevent his friend's marrying her sister, and which must appear at least with equal force in his own case -- was almost incredible! -- it was gratifying to have inspired UNCONSCIOUSLY so strong an affection….”

Again, we see a dual meaning of “unconsciously”—Lizzy consciously tells herself that she inspired so strong an affection in Darcy by accident, but it is clear to me that her considerable attraction to him from the moment she sees him has worked its unconscious magic, and she, in spite of her (conscious) self, has been behaving precisely so as to further bewitch and enamor him of her!

So, those two examples by themselves constitute dramatic (in both senses of that word, too!) evidence that Jane Austen was perfectly conscious of repeatedly depicting a Freudian sort of unconsciousness in her most charismatic heroine. But, as I have come to expect from JA, when she innovates something brilliant, she finds a way to surpass it in her later novels. And that was an approach that JA clearly expanded on in Emma, as evidenced by the following two passages:

First, in Chapter 23 :

“[Mr. Weston] ’Well, well, I am ready;" and turning again to Emma, "but you must not be expecting such a very fine young man; you have only had my account you know; I dare say he is really nothing extraordinary:" though his own sparkling eyes at the moment were speaking a very different conviction. Emma could look perfectly UNCONSCIOUS and innocent, and answer in a manner that appropriated nothing…. "

Here Emma consciously pretends not to be super-excited about Frank’s coming, but the sharp irony is that throughout the entire novel, Emma is actually deeply unaware and innocent of practically everything that happens around her! And,what’s more, she is also Freudianly unconscious about all sorts of things, including her own feelings for the men around her!

But the second usage of “unconscious” in Emma is so spectacular that it takes my breath away, now that I understand it better via this keyword “unconscious”. It appears in Ch. 44:

“There was nothing in all this either to astonish or interest, and it caught Emma's attention only as it united with the subject which already engaged her mind. The contrast between Mrs. Churchill's importance in the world, and Jane Fairfax's, struck her; one was every thing, the other nothing -- and she sat musing on the difference of woman's destiny, and quite UNCONSCIOUS on what her eyes were fixed, till roused by Miss Bates's saying, "Ay, I see what you are thinking of, the piano forte. What is to become of that? Very true. Poor dear Jane was talking of it just now. 'You must go,' said she. 'You and I must part. You will have no business here. Let it stay, however,' said she; 'give it house-room till Colonel Campbell comes back. I shall talk about it to him; he will settle for me; he will help me out of all my difficulties.' And to this day, I do believe, she knows not whether it was his present or his daughter's." Now Emma was obliged to think of the piano forte and the remembrance of all her former fanciful and unfair conjectures was so little pleasing, that she soon allowed herself to believe her visit had been long enough; and, with a repetition of every thing that she could venture to say of the good wishes which she really felt, took leave. “

So the literal meaning of “unconscious” in that passage is “unaware”, but JA’s deeper game is that she is at that instant depicting Emma having a reverie in which Emma’s unconscious is working overtime to try to repress the recollection of walking in on Jane and Frank in the spectacle rivets scene!

And the best part of that passage is that Miss Bates, who is supposed by some—especially Emma-- to be rather dull, has actually read Emma’s mind right there! She has observed Emma staring at the pianoforte, and Miss Bates, that trickster, has also correctly inferred why Emma is staring at the pianoforte, and so Miss Bates makes sure that Emma will remember what she does not want to remember, by starting to talk about the pianoforte.

Miss Bates knows perfectly well that Emma is not at all concerned about where the pianoforte will wind up now that Jane and Frank are engaged, that is just a smokescreen, a way for Emma to save face. But look at how masterfully JA depicts—and even underscores---Miss Bates’s success in her little psychological gambit. Emma does recollect the spectacle rivets scene, and as soon as she does, she realizes that she had completely misunderstood it when it actually occurred, and she is not pleased at all to have been led to that unpleasant bit of self-awareness!

Miss Bates has, in short, taught Emma a lesson, the kind of lesson that Emma badly needs much more of, but is not going to receive once she has married Mr. Knightley. Why? Because Box Hill is already ancient history, and Knightley makes a big point in the last few chapters--once he has gotten engaged to her--of suddenly flattering Emma right and left with how she was right all along about Harriet, etc!

I am also strongly reminded of Andrew Davies’s brilliant tweak of P&P, in which he shows Lizzy as reminding Mr. Collins about what Lady Catherine might think about his staying too long in the presence of the toxic “pollution” at Longbourn. Of course, this is an inspiration of Lizzy, because it is a gambit designed to prompt Mr. Collins to leave right away!

That is exactly what I see Miss Bates doing in her masterful way, pushing the right button in Emma’s head in order to get rid of Emma! And, expanding on that to a much more major aspect of the novel, that insight leads me to realize, that is exactly why Miss Bates always talks so much around Emma—why? Because she wants Emma to leave sooner rather than later!

I will finish my little tour with the following brief passage, from NA, Ch. 29:

“Every mile, as it brought her nearer Woodston, added to her sufferings, and when within the distance of five, she passed the turning which led to it, and thought of Henry, so near, yet so UNCONSCIOUS, her grief and agitation were excessive.”

The clear overt meaning of the narrator is that Henry is unaware of Catherine passing so close by Woodston in the carriage taking her back to Fullerton. However, I detect a very subtle double entendre there, because I do believe that Henry Tilney is, as I have previously opined, a “Hamlet” figure, in particular in terms of his being largely unconscious, during most of the novel, of the causes of a good deal of the angst that plagues him, the angst that causes him to be so relentlessly passive-aggressive toward Catherine, an angst which he only begins to be released from in the climactic scene at the Abbey when he rants at Catherine, which is a very intentional allusion by JA to the scene in Gertrude’s closet in Act 3, Scene 3, of Hamlet!

And finally, I did a very quick search of my own files to see where I might have collected any interested observations by Austen scholars about her use of the unconscious, and I found two:

First, in “The Absent-Minded Heroine: Or, Elizabeth Bennet has a Thought” by Susan C. Greenfield, in Eighteenth-Century Studies - Volume 39, Number 3, Spring 2006, pp. 337-350, Greenfield first quotes Lizzy’s diss of Darcy, and then observes:

“If such a formulation prefigures the Freudian unconscious it does so because Austen makes the mind ironic. As with the linguistic absurdities Elizabeth so enjoys, there is a difference between what the mind articulates and what it really means.”

And of course I agree with that statement.

And then, in "The Labor of the Leisured in Emma: Class, Manners, and Austen" by Jonathan H. Grossman, in a journal with a title that might seem drolly incongruous as the locus of an article about Jane Austen, Studies in Family Planning 54.2 (1999), at P. 143, we read:

“The final result in the novel is that Emma mentally reconstructs her own previous conduct and feelings. Emma, who once had "no doubt of her being in love" with Frank (p. 264), declares that "she had never really cared for Frank Churchill at all!" (p. 412). She does not simply rework the past to justify the present; rather, Emma's feeling that she had never felt anything for Frank registers an active process for her of forgetting what has occurred, in which the performance of "proper conduct" has moved from a realm of self-consciousness and scrutiny to a realm of unconsciousness and acceptance by way of incorporation.”

I agree with Prof. Grossman as well in all respects.

Cheers, ARNIE

Monday, October 24, 2011

Jane Austen’s Astonishing Double Put-Ons in Letter 50 re Sarah Burney’s Clarentine and also in Northanger Abbey re the word “Unnatural”

[Christy Somer quoted, and then commented in Janeites and Austen L, on the following passage in JA's Letter 50]

“-We are reading Clarentine, & are surprised to find how foolish it is. I remember liking it much less on a 2d reading than at the 1st & it does not bear a 3d at all. It is full of unnatural conduct & forced difficulties, without striking merit of any kind.”
[Christy] From my perspective, here is another comment which seems to, more likely, negate the possibility of Jane Austen ever placing subversive (‘unnatural‘) and sensationally disruptive (’forced difficulties’) material within her texts. " ENDQUOTE

I strongly disagree with Christy and I will in this reply make the case for why I believe JA’s reference to "unnatural conduct & forced difficulties, without striking merit of any kind" is actually a sophisticated bit of wordplay that works as mock criticism of Burney’s novels on two different levels, and also opens a portal deep into Jane Austen’s sense of herself as both an author and as a reader.

To start, based on our longstanding disagreement about subtexts in JA’s writing, I feel safe in interpreting Christy as reading JA's reference to "unnatural conduct" and “forced difficulties” as references to depictions of inappropriate sexually charged behaviors of the kind I so often claim are depicted covertly in JA’s novels, which I describe positively as subversive, but which she describes negatively as sensationally disruptive.

I would like to suggest first that there is a second, completely different way of understanding the phrases “unnatural conduct” and “forced conduct”, i.e., as references to a skill in which JA was _almost_ without peer- the gift of creating completely _natural_, realistic characters and placing them in totally _natural_, realistic circumstances! In that alternative interpretation, “unnatural conduct” refers to action in a novel which would never happen in real life, "forced difficulties" refers to _contrived_ plot twists which artificially create drama, and "without striking merit of any kind", refers to writing without _artistic_ merit, i.e., bad writing.

Now...although I have not (yet) read Clarentine, I have read enough _about_ it to know that it actually _does_ depict morally questionable action, including action involving one character oppressing or "forcing" another (female) character, such a depiction being precisely of that nature that Regency Era patriarchal critics of female novel reading considered to be very dangerous especially when read by young “impressionable” women.

And I also have good reason to believe, independently of this passage in Letter 50, and based on my previous research, that JA actually and genuinely admired the writing of Sarah Burney, including, but not limited to, speculations by (at least) a couple of reputable scholars (not named Arnie) who suggest that JA alluded to Clarentine in Mansfield Park.

So I propose to you that JA was in this seemingly throwaway sentence in Letter 50 engaging in some very sophisticated wordplay revolving around _both_ of the alternative meanings of the words "unnatural" and "forced". To be more precise, I claim that JA was engaged in _mock_ criticism of the _moral_ content of the novel, as if JA were that sort of conservative reader, which I am certain she was not!---and…at the same time, JA was also engaged in _mock_ criticism of Burney's _authorial_ skills, as if she thought Burney was really an inept writer—which I also am certain JA did not think!

In short, this little throwaway passage in Letter 50 is a _double_ put on, and I have a fair amount of evidence to back this claim up, if you have the patience to read all the way through the remainder of this post. What you will read about are connections to Mark Twain, Shakespeare, _and_ James Austen in ways that I, for one, did not dream of, when I started writing this post nearly 3 hours ago. It took on a life of its own, and I hung on for dear life to do my best to do justice to what I saw.

Now, my responding to Christy’s comment, and thinking about Austenian wordplay, immediately led me to wonder, how _did_ JA use the word "unnatural" in NA, which is after all the Austen novel that not only contains her famous Defence of the Novel, but also is integrally wound up with characters reading a number of explicitly named novels (Udolpho, The Monk, Tom Jones, Belinda, & Camilla are all mentioned by name, in addition to the Northanger novels). And what I found surprised even me, as being so universally validating of my reading of _both_ of those alternative meanings of "unnatural" in Letter 50—i.e., I claim that JA engaged in the _same_ double entendre in NA, using “unnatural” in _both_ senses I have described above!:

Ch. 5 [the end of the Defence of the Novel] "Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of IMPROBABLE CIRCUMSTANCES, UNNATURAL CHARACTERS, and topics of conversation which no longer concern anyone living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favourable idea of the age that could endure it. "

Ch. 7: [Catherine] ventured at length to vary the subject by a question which had been long uppermost in her thoughts; it was, "Have you ever read Udolpho, Mr. Thorpe?" "Udolpho! Oh, Lord! Not I; I never read novels; I have something else to do."
Catherine, humbled and ashamed, was going to apologize for her question, but he prevented her by saying, "Novels are all so full of nonsense and stuff; there has not been a tolerably decent one come out since Tom Jones, except The Monk; I read that t'other day; but as for all the others, they are the stupidest things in creation." "I think you must like Udolpho, if you were to read it; it is so very interesting."
"Not I, faith! No, if I read any, it shall be Mrs. Radcliffe's; her novels are amusing enough; they are worth reading; some fun and nature in them." "Udolpho was written by Mrs. Radcliffe," said Catherine, with some hesitation, from the fear of mortifying him.
"No sure; was it? Aye, I remember, so it was; I was thinking of that other stupid book, written by that woman they make such a fuss about, she who married the French emigrant." "I suppose you mean Camilla?"
"Yes, that's the book; such UNNATURAL STUFF! An old man playing at see-saw, I took up the first volume once and looked it over, but I soon found it would not do; indeed I guessed what sort of stuff it must be before I saw it: as soon as I heard she had married an emigrant, I was sure I should never be able to get through it." "I have never read it."
"You had no loss, I assure you; it is the horridest nonsense you can imagine; there is nothing in the world in it but an old man's playing at see-saw and learning Latin; upon my soul there is not."This critique, the justness of which was unfortunately lost on poor Catherine, brought them to the door of Mrs. Thorpe's lodgings, and the feelings of the discerning and unprejudiced reader of Camilla gave way to the feelings of the dutiful and affectionate son, as they met Mrs. Thorpe..."
Ch. 14: "The Tilneys called for her at the appointed time; and no new difficulty arising, no sudden recollection, no unexpected summons, no impertinent intrusion to disconcert their measures, my heroine was most UNNATURALLY able to fulfil her engagement, though it was made with the hero himself."

Ch. 22: "Catherine attempted no longer to hide from herself the nature of the feelings which, in spite of all his attentions, [General Tilney] had previously excited; and what had been terror and dislike before, was now absolute aversion. Yes, aversion! His cruelty to such a charming woman made him odious to her. She had often read of such characters, CHARACTERS which Mr. Allen had been used to call UNNATURAL and overdrawn; but here was proof positive of the contrary. "
I believe that in each of the above four passages, the surface meaning of “unnatural” refers to the aesthetic meaning, but there is also a plausible second _moral_ meaning. Just like in Letter 50!

All of this reminds me of a thought I have had before, which is that reading and writing fiction was for JA a kind of holy or sacred act, an act of "communion" between author and reader that was of the greatest moral importance (read the entire Defence of the Novel in Ch. 5 of NA for her full manifesto on the subject), and so it really did offend her when other authors put forth efforts in that arena as if they were serious works of literature which JA found inferior--she was genuinely disappointed in such effort, and it really mattered to her. Just as I am sure it mattered to her when a preacher gave a sermon that did not do justice to the Biblical passages referred to. These were all serious matters for JA.

Having said all of that, I believe that Sarah Burney’s novel Clarentine did not disappoint JA at all, quite the contrary. That JA went to all this trouble in a short passage in a letter in which she claimed to have not much to say, was, I suggest, a big red flag for CEA, with JA saying, in code “I really do have something important to tell you, albeit in code, in this letter!”
And one giant clue to readers of Austen’s fiction that she is engaged in a double put-on here is JA’s reference to having read Clarentine a second time, but then deciding it is not worth a third reading. This is a sentence that is exactly analogous to the famous “tell” in P&P as to Elizabeth Bennet’s deep (but still unconscious) attraction to Mr. Darcy:
“"From the very beginning—from the first moment, I may almost say—of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry."
And the “tell” of course is that, when you step back and think about it, Elizabeth would not have said this if she had not been giving a _lot_ of thought, for quite a while, to the question of whether she would “ever be prevailed on” (e.g., by Charlotte or by her mother, to name two would be “prevailers” in her life!) “to marry” Darcy in particular!
And that connection between Letter 50 and P&P immediately reminds me of what I have written in the past about Mark Twain’s very famous bon mot about REreading P&P, when I have said that I believe he pays a sly homage to JA in the disguise of a putdown:

“_Every time_ I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone"

The idea of rereading as a form of compliment from one writer to another, as expressed in Letter 50, fits perfectly with that bon mot, and also the rest of what I see as Twain's covert praise of JA:

And so now I will add to my previous set of admiring understandings about Mark Twain’s famous dictum about JA, the _additional_ wonderful nuance that Twain must have also had it in mind to pay sly tribute to that very same reference to Sarah Burney’s Clarentine by JA in Letter 50, a passage in which JA _also_ hid a compliment to another novelist in the guise of a criticism involving rereading!
Which only makes all the more implausible the still nearly universal belief among Janeites that Mark Twain really hated JA’s writing!
But there’s even more surprising ore to be mined from this rich vein of exploration.
That fresh insight about Mark Twain also fits very nicely with one other major idea I have had for nearly two years about Twain's engagement with JA's fiction, an idea that goes beyond what I have written about in my blog, which indeed stretches all the way back to the following usages of the word "unnatural" by the one other writer in the English language who I believe _was_ a peer of Jane Austen when it came to writing characters and stories:

"Revenge his foul and most _unnatural_ murder....Murder most foul, as in the best it is; But this most foul, strange and _unnatural_"

Of course I am referring to Shakespeare! As Christy heard me say in my presentation about NA in Portland in 2009 at the JASNA AGM, beneath all the other subtext in Northanger Abbey I perceive the ghost of Shakespeare's Hamlet, both figuratively and literally. I.e., I see JA, in writing NA, as rewriting the Ghost of King Hamlet as the Ghost of Mrs. Tilney in her own female-centered reworking of Hamlet, with Mrs. Tilney as the representation of all the English wives who died in childbirth, whose deaths were, in JA's opinion at least, and mine as well, "most foul, strange and unnatural"! And much more in that same vein….


And finally, I just noticed something wonderful as I reread Christy’s post one more time, to be sure I was responding to what she actually wrote, and now, after sorting out all of the above aspects of this wonderful wormhole into JA’s creative psyche, I read what Christy wrote with new eyes:

To wit, when Christy quoted what JA wrote about James Austen:

"…his Chat seems all forced, his Opinions on many points too much copied from his Wife's…"

I now see that in a way, JA is comparing James to a bad _writer_, who is derivative and "forced" (that word again!), but here JA is suggesting that James is "writing" his own _life_ badly, because he's emulating a very bad "writer", Mary Austen, who, as JA famously pointed out, does not enjoy reading novels. What JA is saying, in so many words, is that living life is a lot like writing a novel (a very 20th century metafictional concept, but also one inspired by the amazing 18th century novel Tristram Shandy), and James Austen did not cut it in either realm, at least in JA’s book.

I think that this little tidbit about James Austen in Letter 50 is a lens that enables us to perceive the heretofore invisible presence of James and Mary Austen in Northanger Abbey. Like the Emperor in the children's story, we can now see that JA is taking on the role of the child in the fable--who is a _lot_ like Catherine Morland, now that I think about it!---and she is saying, in so many words, that James Austen is wearing no clothes---i.e., he is a poor excuse for a writer, and an even poorer excuse for a brother, son and father!
And the way this personal judgment on James Austen is so tightly interwoven with all of the literary significance I have described, above, tells me that JA’s creativity was, at least in part, fueled by her anger at James Austen, and the betrayal of her and the rest of her family that she accused James of to her dying day.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. And finally, Christy, now I hope that perhaps you, after reading all of the above, may agree with me that I have given a half dozen reasons in indirect support of your (to my mind, spot-on) discerning an echo of Isabella Thorpe in JA's comments about Revd. Moore--because I have shown in so many ways that Letter 50 is itself so saturated with Northanger Abbey and all its references to novels—and you're observation adds one more jewel to that crown! ;)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

“The whole World is in a conspiracy to enrich one part of our family at the expence of another”: ONE Interesting Answer Solves TWO Austen Puzzles

In my recent post about last weekend’s JASNA AGM, I thanked my friend Joan Strasbaugh for mentioning me in her breakout session about real-life allusive sources behind Jane Austen’s satire of hypocritical greed in Chapter 2 of S&S. Today, I am thrilled to be thanking Joan again, this time not only for highlighting this great topic, but also for asking a really great question, which eventually propelled me toward an even more complete understanding of _all_ the real-life allusive sources for Chapter 2 of S&S---an understanding which _also_ brings with it an unexpected bonus-a simple explanation for the quartet of characters named John in S&S, which has been under discussion recently here. Here’s how it all hangs together, and I will return to those “Johns” at the end.

In her AGM talk, Joan provided, inter alia, her own fresh take on prior speculations (by both Austen family and non-Austen family biographers) about possible real life sources for John Dashwood, including the following two:

In 1800-1801, James Austen buying the Austen Steventon assets from his parents and sisters moving to Bath, for what we in the US refer to as pennies on a dollar (i.e., dirt cheap), and….

in 1704, John Austen V inheriting the large Austen family fortune (including the family estate known as Broadford, all garnered from the lucrative family wool business in Kent), from _his_ grandfather, John III, resulting in JA’s great grandmother (nee ElizabethWeller) using heroic efforts over 2 decades to single handedly and successfully raise her _other_ 6 children---including JA’s paternal grandfather---who were cruelly disinherited by their grandfather (and her husband’s father) John Austen III.

Joan and I corresponded briefly about all of the above two days ago, ending with her following challenging comment/question:

“If whether [JA] read her great grandmother [Weller]’s tract can’t be pinned down, there is plenty of evidence that Jane Austen cared very much about wills and inheritances, her family often seemed to be at the cusp of receiving money only to be sometimes bitterly disappointed. Here’s an example. In a February 1807 letter written in Southampton to Cassandra begins with “We heard last night of Mr. Austen’s Will. It is believed at Tunbridge – [so it’s this line of John Austens we were talking about] -- that he has left everything after the death of his widow to Mr. [John Austen of Broadford, Jane’s father’s nephew] 3rd son John; & as the said John was the only one of the Family who attended the Funeral, it seems likely to be true.—Such ill-gotten wealth can never prosper!” I wonder what she was referring to!”

I did not have an answer at the time, other than that I knew in my gut that JA knew, by some means or another, the whole sad tale told by her great grandmother, and that JA did write Ch. 2, _in part_ at least, as a memorial preserving that crucial bit of Austen family history.

But then, serendipity! As part of our weekly group read of JA’s letters, having said my piece about Letter 50 on Friday, I turned to Letter 51 dated Feb. 20-22, 1807, to see what I could see. And what _did_ I see right after “My dear Cassandra” but that very same passage that Joan had just quoted to me, with JA’s angry outburst about “Mr. Austen’s Will”!

That’s when I realized what had been staring me right in the eye in Le Faye’s complex biographical index entries for JA’s paternal lineage, the Austens of Kent, i.e., _John_ III, _John_ IV, _John _V_, John _VI_--could the answer to Joan’s question really be _that_ simple and obvious? YES!

I quickly traced the _direct_ connection to JA’s outburst from “the inheritance crime” (Honan’s metaphor, which I like) which, in 1704, bypassed Elizabeth Weller and her younger children! The initial beneficiary of that “crime” was John Austen V, Elizabeth Weller’s eldest son. He surely is (as Honan suggested in 1987, Tomalin elaborated in 1993, and Strasbaugh just resurrected) the (chronologically) first real life model for John Dashwood---a young man, a first born son, with a heart of stone toward his mother and multiple siblings.

But the backstory of S&S does not end there, and it also does not end with the duo of James Austen and Edward Austen as a second source for John Dashwood. No, the third link in the chain is John Austen VII, who inherited from his rich old cousin, John Austen VI, the son of John Austen V. Follow the bouncing ball with me, it can be a bit confusing to follow, what with all the “Johns”!

In 1728, John Austen V had died young, like his father, but he lived long enough to sire a son of his own (John Austen VI). Now John Austen VI was _doubly_ lucky, because he not only inherited great wealth like his great-grandfather and father, he also got to enjoy that wealth for a _very_ long time (he was 12 when he inherited, and he lived to the age of 91!). And, when he died without a living descendant to leave his wealth to, he chose to leave substantially all he had to one person---his young cousin, John Austen VII.

So in John Austen VII, you have the _third_ real life model for John Dashwood, and you also have a perfect explanation for JA’s outburst in Letter 51---John Austen VII’s inheritance of vast wealth in 1807 from his rich old cousin was straight out of Proverbs 10:2, i.e., it was “ill-gotten” not only because, as JA suggested, he had been sucking up to his rich old cousin (for at least a decade, judging from the fact that John Austen VI’s Will was signed in 1799, over eight years before his death in 1807), but also because the wealth of that rich old cousin, John Austen VI, was _itself_ ill-gotten, because he had inherited his wealth from his father, and his father inherited from his grandfather, in the 1704 “inheritance crime”!
In short, it’s all obvious once you make the connection between the inheritance crime of 1704 and the inheritance crime of 1807.

And that obviousness is why I find it remarkable that this connection _between_ the events of 1704 and 1807 has _never_ ever, as far as I can tell online, been discerned by _any_ of JA’s biographers. In fact, the one scholarly reaction I found regarding JA’s comments about “ill-gotten wealth” in Letter 51 was completely wrong headed. In _Obstinate Heart_ , Valerie Grosvenor Myer (1997) renders a very harsh judgment on JA at ppg. 134-5: “Another malicious comment was called forth when a distant cousin, John Austen, inherited a fortune stemming from old Francis Austen. ‘Such ill-gotten wealth can never prosper!” What annoyed her was that it was not ill-gotten. It had bypassed her and it did prosper.”

Ouch! Myer not only harshly judged JA, it turns out Myer was completely _wrong_ in that harsh judgment! And the one discussion I found in the archives of Austen L and Janeites on the topic of JA’s outburst in Letter 51 was equally misguided.

So… I claim that the original inheritance crime has been uncannily and horribly repeated almost exactly one century later, in 1807! In 1704, an estate that should have been divided among 7 children was instead given to one son. Then, in 1807, once again fate conspired such that a single man, the sole beneficiary of that earlier outrage, with no descendants had the choice as to whether to rectify the wrong perpetrated in 1704, and this time spread that wealth among the descendants of those originally frozen out children. However, once more, a choice was made to give everything to only one of those descendants. So, no wonder JA wrote Ch. 2 of S&S. That was the _third_ “inheritance crime” in the Austen family.

And this adds poignant new meaning to JA’s famous comment in Letter _37 dated 5/22/01, after JA comments on the low valuation given to the books in the Steventon rectory library being sold: “The whole World is in a conspiracy to enrich one part of our family at the expence of another.” As JA watched James Austen steal his parents and sisters blind, she recalled hearing or reading about the same thing happening in 1704. And little did she know that only 6 years later, in 1807, Austen family history would repeat itself _again_!

So what does this mean in terms of our understanding of Ch. 2 of S&S? I suggest first that the messy doubling of inheritance favoritism that we see in Chapter 1 is a faithful mirroring of the _multi_ generational nature of the real life Austen family inheritance favoritism.

History repeats itself, JA is telling us in code, and selfish young men who inherit disproportionate amounts of family wealth at the expense of other family members, usually women, who get shut out, and who then somehow always seem to find a way to rationalize holding on to everything they’ve unfairly inherited.

And there is one last, additional irony (one that JA would have savored) which was also brought to light by Joan Strasbaugh, which is that the provenance of Elizabeth Weller Austen’s “memorandum” shows that it passed through the hands of John Austen VII, the very same inheritor who drew JA’s 1807 curse about ill-gotten wealth! When John VII read that memorandum, was the irony of history repeating itself for _his_ benefit lost on him (who was, by the way, born in 1777, two years after JA)? Did he feel entitled to the wealth that he had inherited, and was he aware of the startling parallel between his inheritance in 1807 and the one described so heartwrenchingly in his great grandmother’s testament? If he did recognize it, was he ever tempted to try to conceal the dark secrets behind his own inheritance, by burning the part about the 1704 inheritance crime? My guess is that it was already too late to hide those dark secrets, as the truth was probably already known and preserved in the _oral_ lore of the disinherited branches of the Austen family, including JA’s own family.

And, last question, did John VII realize that among those other descendants was one who, fortunately for us all, held the pen and therefore recorded in veiled form the history of his ill gotten wealth?

What is for sure is that now, finally, after 200 years, this whole Austen family moral morass has finally become publicly understood for the first time!


And last but not least, as I am sure is now obvious from all of the above, my above connecting of the dots also provides one simple explanation for the curious factoid noted by Anielka the other day—those 4 Johns in S&S—I suggest that these can be understood, in addition to any other subtextual meanings, as a very dark joke by JA, pointing to all five of those selfish, hypocritical real life John Austens (III, IV, V, VI & VII) who participated in that conspiracy against Jane Austen’ s side of the family for over a century.

And the fact that John was the most popular male name in JA’s era only adds to the satire—JA is saying that these men are, in a way, interchangeable ciphers—put a man in a situation where his greed is activated, and he will become greedy, and what’s more, he will rationalize it away, the way John Dashwood does. And finally, there is an even darker meaning lurking there—the idea of a “John” as a generic name for a male patron of a brothel. To my eyes, JA is saying that the world is a kind of brothel, set up to service and cater to the “needs” of “Johns”. Not a pretty picture, then, in S&S, but, from JA’s own life experience, an all too accurate one!

Cheers, ARNIE

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Causation & Consolation: Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins two peas in a pod?

Here is another one of JA's subtle long-range verbal echoes in her novels, this time between the words of Mr. Collins and the words of Mr. Darcy, in regard to two very specific points: (i) a summary of the reasons or causes for an opinion regarding marriage to a Bennet girl, and (ii) censure of the behavior of members of the Bennet family. I followed these echoes through a wormhole into some previously unexplored territory in P&P, I hope you will enjoy my report of what I found:

Mr. Collins:

Ch. 19: [speaking to Elizabeth]

"You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. My REASONS for believing it are BRIEFLY these: It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of de Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in my favour; and you should take it into further consideration, that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females."

Ch. 48: [writing to Mr. Bennet]

And it is the more to be lamented, because there is reason to suppose as my dear Charlotte informs me, that this licentiousness of behaviour in your daughter has proceeded from a faulty degree of indulgence; though, at the same time, for the CONSOLATION of yourself and Mrs. Bennet, I am inclined to think that her own disposition must be naturally bad, or she could not be guilty of such an enormity, at so early an age.

Mr. Darcy: [writing to Elizabeth]

P&P Ch. 35:

My objections to the marriage were not merely those which I last night acknowledged to have the utmost force of passion to put aside, in my own case; the want of connection could not be so great an evil to my friend as to me. But there were other causes of repugnance; causes which, though still existing, and existing to an equal degree in both instances, I had myself endeavoured to forget, because they were not immediately before me. These CAUSES must be stated, though BRIEFLY. The situation of your mother's family, though objectionable, was nothing in comparison to that total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly betrayed by herself, by your three younger sisters, and occasionally even by your father. Pardon me. It pains me to offend you. But amidst your concern for the defects of your nearest relations, and your displeasure at this representation of them, let it give you CONSOLATION to consider that, to have conducted yourselves so as to avoid any share of the like censure, is praise no less generally bestowed on you and your elder sister, than it is honourable to the sense and disposition of both.


What these echoes are meant to signify will no doubt vary considerably for different readers. Most readers will find in them an ironic suggestion of the stark contrast between Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy. However, I would like to suggest that perhaps the reader is also meant to be somewhat unnerved by a startling and disturbing similarity between Darcy and Collins, in regard to their respective ideas of consolation.

Every Janeite knows that Mr. Collins's offer of consolation is unmistakably of the same insensitively cruel variety as JA barbedly took note of in the condolence letters written by her cousin Revd. Cooper. Collins's consolation is cruel, because the expected ruin of the entire Bennet family will be no less horrible because one of them, Lydia, was born very very bad!

But what about Darcy's offered consolation, is it really any less cruel? He seems to genuinely believe that it will be a consolation to Lizzy that Darcy has just scotched Jane's potential engagement to Bingley because of improprieties in the behavior of the rest of the Bennet family! At least with Mr. Collins, as far as we know, he was not sending cc's of that letter to Mr. Bennet to the newspapers, blaring Lydia Bennet's elopement with Mr. Wickham to the wider world. I.e., while he plays a role in the Meryton gossip network, he bears no unique or special _personal_ responsibility for the ruination of the Austen family's reputation that is to come.

But Darcy is actually expecting Lizzy to be consoled that she and Jane bear no personal responsibility for the Bennet family taint that so concerns Darcy, when it is Darcy himself who is the _only_ reason why Bingley has left Jane in Meryton with no plans to return, and he is also the only moving force behind Bingley's not seeing Jane in London either. I'd say that Darcy's culpability is much worse than Collins's, and so his offer of consolation has a strong scent of chutzpah about it!

Now, the plot thickens, because here is Lizzy's interesting reaction to Darcy's attempt at consolation, which I never previously connected to Darcy's earlier offer of consolation:

"The compliment to herself and her sister was not unfelt. It soothed, but it COULD NOT CONSOLE HER for the contempt which had thus been self-attracted by the rest of her family; and as she considered that Jane's disappointment had in fact been the work of her nearest relations, and reflected how materially the credit of both must be hurt by such impropriety of conduct, she felt depressed beyond anything she had ever known before. "

It's amazing to me that Lizzy already has so completely repressed her own outrage that she felt so strongly when Fitzwilliam first told her about Darcy's interference, and which she vented on Darcy when he proposed. It's as though she has gone from one extreme to the other at the drop of a hat. Turns out that Lizzy _has_ been consoled by Darcy's comment, but what I fear is that this consolation is nothing other than Lizzy's own vanity being flattered.

Anyway, based on that "brief" analysis, and other aspects, too, I am certain that JA intended these particular verbal echoes between Darcy and Collins to be noticed, and then considered carefully, by her alert readers, and that is why she tagged the above quoted passages with the words "briefly" and "consolation", to jog our memories and cause us to take a closer look.

And if anyone suspects that this was an unconscious parallelism on JA's part, look at how cleverly JA links the above passages to _other_ passages in P&P, via that same word "consolation":

Ch. 6: "It may perhaps be pleasant," replied Charlotte, "to be able to impose on the public in such a case; but it is sometimes a disadvantage to be so very guarded. If a woman conceals her affection with the same skill from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him; and it will then be but POOR CONSOLATION to believe the world equally in the dark. There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all /begin/ freely—a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement. In nine cases out of ten a women had better show /more/ affection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on."

Charlotte is 100% right, and is prescient about what is to come vis a vis Bingley and Jane!

And then we hear a couple of times about Mrs. Bennet first taking consolation that Bingley will return, and then not long afterwards being INconsolable when it is clear that he will not!

But the funniest example of dubious consolation comes from--who else? Mr. Bennet, cracking wise at Mrs. Bennet's expense, his favorite form of amusement:

"Indeed, Mr. Bennet," said she, "it is very hard to think that Charlotte Lucas should ever be mistress of this house, that I should be forced to make way for /her/, and live to see her take her place in it!"

"My dear, do not give way to such gloomy thoughts. Let us hope for better things. Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor."

This was NOT VERY CONSOLING to Mrs. Bennet, and therefore, instead of making any answer, she went on as before.

I am not aware that these _specific_ echoes have been pointed out before, although I am sure there have been a number of general comparisons made between Darcy and Collins over the years, such as this one in Janeites way back in 2002:

[Carmen] "I think the comparison/contrast of Lizzy's first two proposals is so comical... and very likely intentional by J.A. Both men assume they will be accepted. Both men insult Lizzy and her circumstances. Neither men cares what Lizzy feels about them or the proposal, as long as she accepts. Lizzy basically ends up arguing with each man... well, as well as Mr. Collins can be argued with. There are lots of other parallels... anyone notice any in particular? One of the striking differences is what the two men do after the proposals... Collins remains utterly unchanged in any way that counts, he just changes who he decides to marry. Darcy undergoes some major personality revisions, and comes out a much better man."

Carmen, are you still a member of Janeites? If so, whaddaya think?

Cheer, ARNIE

Friday, October 21, 2011

Impressions from the 2011 JASNA AGM

The 2011 JASNA AGM is now nearly a week past, and I find myself looking back on it fondly, and forming some impressions of it in my mind in its aftermath.

The highlight for me was Andrew Davies's plenary address, and also his engaging with so many of the attendees in informal settings like the cocktail hour, etc. If any single person has been more responsible than anyone else for the explosion of Austenmania worldwide in the past 15 years--which I of course think is a very wonderful thing, on balance---I do not know who that person would be, other than Andrew Davies. And he did not disappoint, he is as you might expect an excellent public speaker, with a finely tuned sense of humor about what he represents in
Austen World.

I am going to find out if and when the video montage that was shown just prior to his plenary, which intercut clips from Davies's Austen adaptations with Connie Stevens singing "Sixteen Reasons", is going to be uploaded to YouTube. It was hilarious, it really was brilliantly done, and it brought the house down, even before Davies said a word. It was like a rock concert.

And if I had to pick one persistent theme that popped up over and over in different presentations, and in private conversations among attendees, it was the eternally thorny question of Marianne ending up with Brandon. I remain eternally fascinated by the willingness of so many Janeites to question JA's authorial handling of that ending, in a struggle to make their marriage feel romantic enough to satisfy. Le Faye in particular trotted out her old warhorse, the (absurd, to my mind) notion that S&S was somehow a captive of having been a reworking of the Juvenilia Love and Freindship, and therefore required a great deal more work by JA to get it right, that it never received, and that JA simply did not have a handle on her material. Nonsense is the nicest word I can think of for her interpretation.

Among the breakout sessions I attended, my three personal favorites were the following:

*Diane Capitani*, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL
*If St. Augustine were a marrying man… Could he have married our Jane?* Ever wonder why St. Augustine was the patron saint of brewers and sore eyes? Professor Capitani’s engaging presentation will explain. Augustine believed women’s souls were more in need of redemption than men’s and that a woman too “full of sense” was a usurper of the male role. What would Jane have made of this theology, and would she—or Elinor—have agreed?

When I asked a provocative question during the Q&A, Prof. Capitani dubbed me a 'scamp', which I enjoyed immensely. There's no question in my mind that Capitani was correct in suggesting that St. Augustine is there in the subtext of S&S.


*Joyce Kerr Tarpley*, Mountain View College, Dallas, TX
*Playing with Genesis: Younger Sons and Primogeniture in /Sense and Sensibility/*
The recent PBS blockbuster, /Downton Abbey/, borrows from /Sense and Sensibility/ the theme of primogeniture. Like Edward Ferrars, Matthew Crawley is a reluctant heir, but unlike Edward, he has no younger brother. “Playing With Genesis: Younger Sons and Primogeniture in /Sense and Sensibility/” explores the novel as a reflection of Austen’s awareness of the seventeenth century debate over primogeniture—a debate in which both sides relied on the biblical book of Genesis—to show its effect on sons, especially younger sons, Colonel Brandon and Robert Ferrars.

Prof. Tarpley greatly enjoyed my bringing forward my discovery of JA's word game of Lucy Ferrars ==> Lucifer, which fit very nicely with her imaginative interpretations from Genesis.


*LeeAnn Derdeyn*, University of Texas at Dallas, Dallas, TX
*Intent to Deceive: Self-Deception in Austen’s /Sense and Sensibility/*
Deception plays a major part in the plot of /Sense and Sensibility/ but it is their own self-deception that causes serious consequences for both Elinor and Marianne, saved only by “extraordinary fate.” Examine the implications of this self-deception, and determine whether certain favorable outcomes “could not be otherwise.”

I almost did not attend this one, because the above blurb was so cryptic, but I am so glad I did, because this presentation was an intellectual tour de force, which stunned the small audience with its brilliance--and LAD is not even an Austen specialist, she is a poet with strong philosophical training, but she, coming from such a non-standard perspective, zeroed in unerringly on the way JA played with alternative constructions of reality.

I also was honored to be the "introducer" for a brilliant scholar, Emma Spooner, who demonstrated a remarkable grasp of JA's allusive depths for someone so young (she could not be more than 25) and just starting on her Ph.D:

*Emma Spooner*, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB
*Cultivating Sense from the Cult of Sensibility: The Influence of Frances Burney and Maria Edgeworth in Austen’s /Sense and Sensibility/*
Austen was not the first female author to satirize social expectations for female behavior and exemplify rational thinking in women. The speaker examines the legacy which Burney and Edgeworth left Austen in their respective novels, /Camilla/ and /Belinda/ and how their works may have influenced Austen in her portrayals of Elinor and Marianne.

And one session I missed (because, as always is the case at these AGM's, there are "Sophie's choices" between two or three speakers in the same time slot) but in hindsight I should have attended, was that of my friend Joan Strasbaugh:

*In the Beginning: /Sense and Sensibility/ - with Hot Sauce*
/Sense and Sensibility/ has one of the most powerful opening pages in all of literature! This session will demonstrate how the circumstances of Jane Austen’s life and the book’s creation influenced its opening passages, how they’ve been interpreted and adapted for modern audiences and why they still move us today.

Joan's topic was Chapter 2 of S&S, when Fanny and John Dashwood slice and dice the precatory bequest by the dying Mr. Dashwood to his wife and three daughters, and Joan drew explicit parallels not only to James & Mary Austen scavenging the Steventon rectory like vultures, as I and others have been repeatedly noting in our ongoing groupread of JA's Letters, but also to JA's own greatgrandmother nee Weller, who suffered a similar fate.

And the part I personally would have particularly enjoyed most, I found out later, had I been there, was when Joan honored me with the following mention by name:

"...On October 10, 1810, Elizabeth, the wife of Edward, dies delivering her 11^th child....In less than two weeks, Edward finally offers Mrs. Austen and his sisters a place to stay.The timing of the death and the offer of Chawton certainly seems more than a coincidence. *Arnie Perlstein, our own Jane Austen CSI, discovered the connection between the two events. In his blog, he says this: “All we know for sure is that when Edward Austen Knight's wife dies, within ELEVEN DAYS thereafter, BOOM!----apparently out of nowhere, Edward Austen Knight makes the decision to provide the Austen women with Chawton Cottage.”

*Here is the link to my full blog post that Joan quoted from:

And in addition to all of the above, I made a couple of dozen more new Janeite friends from all over North America (because there are always many fresh faces at every AGM), and it was over before I took a breath. For a hardcore Janeite, there's no other experience quite like a JASNA AGM, and I believe next year's, in NYC, is going to be even more exciting--Cornel West, Anna Quindlen, the curator of the Morgan Library, etc etc.

And those are my scattered impressions from the 2011 AGM, I'd be happy to give more details about any or all of the above, if anyone wants to hear them.

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Allusions to Emma in PD James's The Children of Men

The other day, someone posted a comment online about having noticed an explicit allusion to Jane Austen’s Emma in the 1992 sci fi novel by PD James (made into a film in 2006), The Children of Men (which I will call TCOM from here on in). That Janeite had written to James asking about the allusion, and James replied that Emma “was on a table near her typewriter, so she typed it in…in hindsight, she should have written "Middlemarch" which was more appropriate since the hero was a professor in Victorian studies.”

This has all come up because of the recent news that PD James, who has been at the top of the profession of mystery stories for half a century, is writing a sequel to Pride and Prejudice.

I was very intrigued by this mysterious allusion, and here is the result of my own brief sleuthing into it:

I find James's explanation of the Emma allusion in TCOM fascinating, and I will try to explain why. I started by checking the text of TCOM in, and the following must be the relevant passages in TCOM.

First we have the final passage in Chapter 22, near the end of the novel, after Jasper (played by Michael Caine in the 2006 film adaptation) has just been discovered to have killed himself. As you will note, I think you have slightly misremembered the scene, although not in a material way:

"Carefully he edged the Renault out of the gate and parked it behind the Rover. Rolf, pacing beside the car, was indignant. 'You've been a hell of a time. Did you have trouble?' 'No, Jasper's dead. Suicide.
We've collected as much as the car will hold. Drive the Rover into the garage and I'll lock it and the gate. I've already locked the house.' There was nothing worth transferring from the Rover to the Renault
except his road maps and A PAPERBACK EDITION OF EMMA, WHICH HE FOUND IN THE GLOVE BOX. HE SLIPPED THE BOOK INTO HIS INNER COAT POCKET, which held the revolver and his diary. Two minutes later they were together in the Renault. Theo took the driver's seat. Rolf, after a moment's hesitation, got in beside him. Julian sat in the back between Miriam and Luke. Theo locked the gate and tossed the key over. Nothing could be seen of the darkened house except the high black slope of the roof."

And then, late in Chapter 26, we also read this:

"Luke busied himself with the stores. Rolf showed some natural leadership in giving him this responsibility. Luke decided that we should eat the fresh food first and then the tins in their date stamped
order, discovering in this obviously sensible priority an onwonted confidence in his own administrative ability. He has sorted out the tins, made lists, devised menus. After we had eaten, he would sit
quietly with his prayer book or come to join Miriam and Julian WHILE I READ TO THEM FROM EMMA. Lying back on the beech leaves and gazing up at the glimpses of the strengthening blue sky, I felt as innocently joyous as if we were having a picnic. WE WERE HAVING A PICNIC. We didn't
discuss plans for the future or the dangers to come. Now that seems extraordinary to me, but I think it was less a conscious decision not to plan or argue or discuss than a wish to keep this day inviolate..."

Now, I find it very curious that James called the reference to Emma a wrong choice on her part. Why?
First, because she wrote TCOM only a few years after writing her famous essay about Emma, in which she so carefuly analyzed Emma for narrative clues re the Jane-Frank romance. So Emma and its mystery would have been particularly fresh in her mind.

Second, because these two references in TCOM are not just throwaway details---James goes to the trouble of mentioning Emma _twice_, in two different chapters, which is exactly the way Jane Austen spreads her clues around her novels.
First,Theo (played by Clive Owen in the film) finds only two items from Jasper's Rover worth saving--his road maps (we can surely understand why they were worth saving) and Emma. So I think James is slyly saying here, that Emma is a kind of road map through the twists and turns of the human psyche. I find that a pretty darned good description of Emma, which, beneath its story in which “nothing happens”, we have the status of Western civilization in 1815 quietly tucked away inside, i.e., a story about _everything_!

And that interpretation is borne out in that passage in Chapter 26 of TCOM, when Theo reads to Miriam and Julian (Pam Ferris and Julianne Moore in the film) from Emma. He feels "as innocently joyous as if we were having a picnic."

Is this not the slyest of invocations of Emma's own rhapsodic ruminations on English verdure at the picnic at Box Hill? Which just happens to be the climactic scene in Emma, a moment of shattering (apparent) self revelation for the heroine.

So I _strongly_ suspect PD James not of a pun, but of an authorial unwillingness to explain one of her sly allusions----preferring, I’d guess, that her Janeite readers figure it out for themselves! Just as, I am sure, she would not have wanted to prematurely give away the “gotcha” at the end of her own mystery novels. In a very profound sense, James is showing that she realizes that Emma is a mystery story, not merely in terms of concealing what one character does with another, but also in terms of what Emma’s larger, thematic meanings are. And so James is paying the best sort of homage, by alluding to Emma in a thematically mysterious way!

And guess who also responded in that same sort of cryptic way to questions of that kind? I am thinking of Jane Austen herself, writing to James Stanier Clarke at the time of publication of Emma, and explaining to this pompous, clueless fool why she was not really up to the task of writing the kind of "great novel" he was advising her to write!

And...I will take it one step further. I see an equal slyness in PD James's referring to George Eliot’s Middlemarch, which itself is a kind of midrash on Emma in a variety of ways, and so she took the opportunity of giving another layer of sly allusion to consider, i.e., how might Middlemarch be relevant to this whole question.

Now, I have never read Children of Men, and did not particularly enjoy the film when I saw it in 2006, but I'd be willing to bet a great deal that there is much more to the presence of Emma in TCOM than these two passing references, sly and significant as they already are.

I will conclude with pointing out that I did some browsing in scholarly articles written about TCOM during the past two decades, and what became immediately clear is that everyone is taking it as a kind of Christian allegory, in which James is having a bit of serious satirical fun poking at both the atheists and the true religious believers, and really raising deep theological questions about the purpose of human life on Earth.

And...I also believe it is no coincidence that the central conceit behind TCOM is that the human race reaches a point at which no more babies are being conceived, whereas I have argued for nearly 5 years now that every one of Jane Austen's novels refers to at least one concealed pregnancy, and I've been arguing since early 2009 that Jane Austen was not exactly a big fan of English wives being turned into breeding animals.

And what that immediately brought up for me was another English author, writing in the first half of the 20th century, TF Powys, who wrote two Christian allegories, Unclay and Mr. Weston’s Good Wine, which are both strongly steeped in cryptic Austen allusions, especially to Emma.

Somehow, some way, I am pretty sure that Powys’s fantasies were also on James’s radar screen as she wrote TCOM.

Cheers, ARNIE

Monday, October 17, 2011

PD James's Trojan Horse Moments about the mystery with(out) a murder

Someone wrote the following question in Austen L: "I saw this article in the L.A. Times Calender section, and although I've never heard of this author, I felt this was significant, especially given the publishing house. It seems to indicate just how this story has affected so many people. Has anyone heard of P.D. James or read her books?"

She received a couple of responses about James's distinguished authorial career as "perhaps the preeminent author of detective fiction in the English speaking world from the 60's through the 80's", and "Meaty, complex and well-written stories, more cerebral than the usual fictional detective dross."

However, I would like to give another, Austen-specific perspective on PD James. In an essay she wrote over 20 years ago, she famously wrote that Emma is the mystery without a murder, and then went on to explain about all the clues in Emma which, when you REread Emma, you realize were clues to the secret engagement between Jane and Frank. A Sacramento prof named David Bell did his own alternative version of that argument a few years ago in a Persuasions Online article, focused on the pianoforte/spectacle rivet scene.

James and Bell were both very clever, but they both missed the most important point of all, as I always explain in my Jane Fairfax presentation. That point is that, yes, all those clues definitely do point toward some sort of clandestine relationship between Jane and Frank, but there is _nothing_ in the first 49 chapters that definitively points toward Jane and Frank having fallen in love at Weymouth and then got engaged.

The clues _also_ fit perfectly well with Jane having another, rather more serious problem, when she comes to Highbury, as I've been saying publicly since January 2005, a problem that her engagement to Frank, which came afterwards, was supposed to solve......

And by the way, I believe PD James had what I call a "Trojan Horse Moment" when she claimed Emma was the mystery _without_ a murder. Leland Monk first wrote about Frank doing his aunt in way back in 1990, and when you read the relevant text, it is truly astounding that it too 174 years for someone to see it:

"The following day brought news from Richmond to throw every thing else into the background. An express arrived at Randalls to announce the death of Mrs. Churchill! Though her nephew had had no particular reason to hasten back on her account, she had not lived above six-and-thirty hours after his return. A sudden seizure of a different nature from any thing foreboded by her general state, had carried her off after a short struggle. The great Mrs. Churchill was no more. "

I mean, really. How many hints did JA have to give? There are 5 in those few sentences alone, in addition to a variety of other bread crumbs scattered through the novel, as well as the situation itself at that stage of the novel's action, when everything is suggesting that Frank is about to blow like Mt. St. Helens, from the pressure of living under his aunt's thumb, and from having salvation one small death away, just within reach.

If her death took place in an Agatha Christie novel, I think it's fair to say that Frank doing her in would be considered too heavy handed a revelation for the connoisseur. But such is the power of JA's ability to throw charms over her reader's eyes, and also nearly 200 years of groupthink that JA did not do such things, that the idea of a discreet country house murder seems so shocking. So James was certainly right, JA's masterfuly ability to mystify her readers in the most subtle ways imaginable, is indubitable.

And, speaking of Monk's article, I did not know anything about it in Nov. 2004 when Juliet Youngren, who used to be a Janeites regular, rocked _my_ world, and wrote the following:

"On the surface there appears to be little crime in Jane Austen's fiction- nobody murders Aunt Norris....I remember somebody had a theory about Frank murdering Mrs. Churchill, though..."

That meme combusted in my brain along with all the other offstage action I had been noting in S&S and P&P since July 2002, and I soon thereafter realized that Jane was pregnant.

And the rest, as they say, is both history _and_ mystery.

Cheers, ARNIE

Guilt Pursued by Conscience: Another window into the Shadow Story of Emma

Earlier today in Janeites and Austen-L, Christy Somer posted the following:

"Here is something I just read -another suggestion on the authorial inspiration behind Emma: "Emma probably developed as a companion piece to Mansfield Park: there are, at any rate, many elegant contrasts as well as variations and similarities between the two novels. Instead of a big-house interior, Austen creates most ingeniously, through many reported conversations, a large, diverse, populated village, recently swollen by an influx of suburbanites. Its scenes are set in a variety of modern-feeling drawing-rooms, in the open air, and in the street, as Highbury residents move about their business. Austen found one lever to start her plot, and a key name: in a story in the Lady's Magazine of 1802 called 'Guilt Pursued by Conscience', a rich Mr. Knightly had married a girl of uncertain parentage from a local boarding-school..." [Marilyn Butler, 2007]

I responded as follows:

Good find, Christy. Actually, Butler is not the first modern to note that killer parallel---it was Edward Copeland in the late Eighties. In that same earlier article, he was also the first modern to point to the "Shipwreck" tale from the Lady's Magazine, which is also strikingly echoed in Emma, in the tale of Jane Fairfax nearly drowning in the Irish Sea.

Copeland actually recently expanded on that discovery in the Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, but, alas, he being clueless as to the subversive meaning of the allusion, takes it as confirmation of the conventional reading of Emma, instead of realizing that this allusion is a window into one of the darkest corners of Emma, where Harriet Smith is not prey, but predator, where Mr. Knightley is not quite so heroic, and
where a genuine mutual attraction between the two of them is _not_ absurd at all, but is actually a reflection of a recognition between two "social entrepreneurs" of opportunities for mutual benefit and enrichment.

And here's my (seemingly) wackiest suggestion of all. That little story in the November 1802 Lady's Magazine was, I am pretty sure, anonymous.

What if......that little story (or even both of those little stories) was/were written by.....................Jane Austen herself? ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: I did not add in my message to those groups that a search in the text of Emma of the words "guilt" and "conscience" and their variants, leads to even greater confirmation, if such confirmation is necessary for the most diehard skeptic, that Jane Austen strongly engaged with those trashy little stories in the Lady's Magazine and I for one think that the ghost writer of several pieces in the Loiterer could very possibly have earned a few extra pounds during the lean years in Bath by ghost writing small pieces of pulp fiction, and along the way planting public seeds for the Tree of Knowledge we all know by the more familiar title of _Emma_. ;)

PPS added 10/18/11:

Diane Reynolds responded to my above post as follows:

"Arnie, I marvel--truly-- at how you here boldly go where nobody has gone before. Fascinating idea that JA was the "anonymous" author of this piece about a Mr. Knightley. After all, JA's novels were initially published without her name. Have you looked at this article and seen--other than the names--anything to suggest Jane Austen's witty hand? "

Diane, I will have it shortly. What would take my speculation about authorship from the wild blue yonder to more solid ground would be a passage or two in that 1802 piece that pointed _backwards_ in time to a passage or two in Jane Austen's pre-1802 letters, and/or in her juvenilia.

And if Jane Austen actually did write that story, that's exactly what my experience to date in my project would suggest she would have done, i.e., leaving a small bread crumb or two in the text of the 1802 piece, a little "signature".

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shall we summon a council on this lawn?: Yes we SHALL! Jane Austen & Occupy Wall Street

In Chapter 9 of Mansfield Park, we read the following comment by the Satanic tempter Henry Crawford, as he begins to orchestrate the maneuver that will eventually lead to his covert seduction of Maria Bertram on a grassy knoll beyond the ha-ha in the wilderness at Sotherton:

“Query,” said Mr. Crawford, looking round him, “whether we may not find something to employ us here before we go farther? I see WALLS of great promise. Mr. Rushworth, shall we summon a council on this lawn?”

And a bit later, Edmund Bertram enjoys his developing flirtation with Henry's sister, the siren Mary Crawford:

At Oxford I have been a good deal used to have a man lean on me for the length of a STREET, and you are only a fly in the comparison.”

And then in Chapter 10, not long after the above, we read this description of the return of the Bertram party to Mansfield Park at the end of that long and fateful day:

"Their spirits were in general exhausted; and to determine whether the day had afforded most pleasure or pain, might OCCUPY the meditations of almost all."

You may have noticed that I put the following words in all caps from those three proximate passages:


Now, those who think that my comprehensive theory of Jane Austen's radical feminist/Christian shadow stories is evidence that I am a conspiracy theorist who imagines all I see in her novels, perhaps are wondering if I have truly gone off the deep end, in seeming to suggest that Jane Austen was a Nostradamus in a gown who foresaw the Occupy Wall Street movement that has ignited around the world in a very short time, and gives promise of actually mushrooming to the point where some meaningful change might actually be imagined.

Well, sorry to disappoint, but I was just having a little absurdist fun--the way Jane Austen often did, when she showed her self-assurance by creating a character like Miss Bates as a self-portrait, to satirize the dismissive snobbery of wealthy powerful men toward an unmarried impecunious 40 year old country woman who happened to be, arguably, one of the ten greatest geniuses of the entire world during her lifetime.

And my serious purpose behind this fun, was to make the claim that Jane Austen, as I understand her now, after all my research into her fiction, her letters and her biography, would have been right there in Times Square today, supporting this movement that dares to challenge the fattest cats in the history of the human race, the Wall Street billionaires who take their obscene bonuses (which are truly absurd, but not at all in a funny way), attempt to strip away even the pitifully weak regulations that were enacted 2 years ago, and who exert their gargantuan political influence via mountains of money, in the guise of the "personhood" of multinational corporations.

Jane Austen would be there in Times Square writing satirical copy for blogs, posters, and sound bites, doing a critical service in using humor and psychological insight to further this genuine revolution against unspeakable wrongdoing.

The evidence for this includes everything I've written in this blog during the last 18 months, but especially what I wrote about Sir Thomas Bertram in Mansfield Park, who if he were alive today would not have slave plantation in Antigua, he'd own a large interest in Citicorp.

Recall that arguably the most thrilling moment in all of Jane Austen's novels comes when little Fanny Price, shaking in her shoes as the monstrous Sir Thomas, like the Giant in Jack & The Beanstalk, thunderous clomps into her freezing attic, and she dares to tell him that she cannot accept Henry Crawford's proposal, even though she will suffer dearly for her defiance.

Google just led me to an interesting blog by another literary opinionator, on this very topic:

I have to respectfully disagree with Robin Bates (great Austenian name!!!) on that one point. I have absolutely no doubt that Jane Austen would be there with the protester in Times Square today!

I am going to keep this post short, and leave the rest to be filled in by your imagination, I just wanted to join together the two things going on in the world that are most occupying my own personal attention at the moment--the rise of a new kind of Janeism which I am trying to promote, and the Occupy Wall Street movement, which I wholeheartedly support.

So I am happy to take advantage of the coincidence of the passages I quoted from Mansfield Park to make a point about the crisis on our planet today, so far removed from the British Empire of two centuries ago in many ways, and yet so chillingly similar in other ways. Jane Austen was a "fly in comparison" to the Prince of Whales whom she so often skewered in her writings, but she showed that even a fly can, eventually, take down a sea monster. So I am glad to be able to assert, using Jane Austen's words, that I am very glad that someone stood up in that park in lower Manhattan not that long ago, and said something like:

"Shall we summon a council on this lawn?"

And the WORLD answered, "Yes, we shall!"


P.S.: And one thing I KNOW she'd be doing there is making sure that the men in the movement were not lording it over the women in the movement!