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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, October 17, 2011

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".

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