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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jane Austen's Sovereign Good & Fanny Price's Sovereign Wish

In Janeites, Nancy Mayer made the following comment on my previous post about Jane Austen punning on "sovereign good" in Letter 54:

"Do you really think she meant a gold coin that hadn't been used for two hundred years? The coin wasn't coined between 1607 and 1816. Surely, most people had forgotten all about the old coin. Even though I know that people still give the cost of luxury items in guineas and they haven't been used since 1816, that wasn't true of the old sovereign."

I replied as follows:

Nancy, sovereigns may not have been used as _coins_ between 1607 and 1816, but I think the _pun_ on sovereign was a verbal "coinage" that _never_ went out of circulation among punning wits like JA:

"Elizabeth has a very sweet scheme of our accompanying Edward into Kent next Christmas. A legacy might make it very feasible;-a Legacy is our sovereign good."

Please reconsider my interpretation of this line in my previous message:

"Just as JA joked about legacies providing a wholesome diet in Letter 52, she again jokes about the "sovereign good" (in a Shakespearean pun on "sovereign", the name of an Elizabethan-era gold coin worth about a pound) of spending more time in Kent--but it will only be feasible if JA and CEA miraculously discover the "sovereigns" required to pay for the trip! She is about as sincere here as Mr. Bennet is for Mr. Collins to come back soon to Longbourn---NOT!!!"

Do you really believe that it is a coincidence that JA refers to a _Legacy" (which is a thing of value--whether money or property---that is passed from one person to another upon death) as a "sovereign good", having just made it explicit that she is talking (albeit in a joking way) about the necessity of a legacy to make a trip feasible?

I think this is one of her best puns, because she takes a cliche of high-falutin' pious moralizing writing, "sovereign good", and turns it completely on its head, by giving it a subtly cynical spin (remember Auden and his bon mot about Joyce being as innocent as grass compared to JA) by placing it in an explicitly mercenary and monetary context---this is the ultimate in hiding a pun in plain sight!

And lo and behold! I just searched, and found that JA _repeats_ this very same pun, in a very similar monetary context, in Mansfield Park, Chapter 27, and hides it in plain sight there as well!:

On reaching home Fanny went immediately upstairs to deposit this unexpected acquisition, this doubtful good of a [GOLD] necklace [just given to Fanny by Mary], in some favourite box in the East room, which held all her smaller treasures; but on opening the door, what was her surprise to find her cousin Edmund there writing at the table! Such a sight having never occurred before, was almost as wonderful as it was welcome. “Fanny,” said he directly, leaving his seat and his pen, and meeting her with something in his hand, “I beg your pardon for being here. I came to look for you, and after waiting a little while in hope of your coming in, was making use of your inkstand to explain my errand. You will find the beginning of a note to yourself; but I can now speak my business, which is merely to beg your acceptance of this little trifle—a chain for William’s cross. You ought to have had it a week ago,
but there has been a delay from my brother’s not being in town by several days so soon as I expected; and I have only just now received it at Northampton. I hope you will like the chain itself, Fanny. I endeavoured to consult the simplicity of your taste; but, at any rate, I know you will be kind to my intentions, and consider it, as it really is, a token of the love of one of your oldest friends.”

And so saying, he was hurrying away, before Fanny, overpowered by a thousand feelings of pain and pleasure, could attempt to speak; but quickened by one SOVEREIGN WISH, she then called out, “Oh! cousin, stop a moment, pray stop!” He turned back. “I cannot attempt to thank you,” she continued, in a very agitated manner; “thanks are out of the question. I feel much more than I can possibly express. Your goodness in thinking of me in such a way is beyond— “ “If that is all you have to say, Fanny” smiling and turning away again. “No, no, it is not. I want
to consult you.” Almost unconsciously she had now undone the parcel he had just put into her hand, and seeing before her, in all the niceness of jewellers’ packing, a plain GOLD chain, perfectly simple and neat, she could not help bursting forth again, “Oh, this is beautiful indeed!
This is the very thing, precisely what I wished for! This is the only ornament I have ever had a desire to possess. It will exactly suit my cross. They must and shall be worn together. It comes, too, in such an acceptable moment. Oh, cousin, you do not know how acceptable it is.”

Nancy, are you going to suggest to me that it is _also_ just a coincidence that this single solitary usage of the word "sovereign" in all six of JA's novels happens to be smack dab in the middle of a passage in which Fanny has just received the gift of not one but _two_ pieces of GOLD neck jewelry? A passage in which JA also refers to Fanny "deposit[ing] this unexpected acquisition, this doubtful GOOD" (the diametric opposite of a SOVEREIGN good from Letter 54)--as though it were a modern day deposit in a safety deposit box; a passage in which JA also refers to "smaller treasures"?

This is JA's satire at its highest level, a metaphorical oxymoron raised to a high pitch, with the inseparable mingling of the spiritual, the material, and the moral crammed into a plain GOLD chain! ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

Infallible Popes, Shining & Omnipotent Sovereigns, & Sovereign Goods & Wishes

When I posted yesterday about JA making a pun on the coin, the sovereign, in Letter 54, and then also in Ch. 27 of MP, I tried, in vain, to find an example of Shakespeare making that same pun, because I had a strong recollection that he had done so somewhere, famously.

I woke up today realizing that it was not Shakespeare who made that pun that was on the tip of my tongue, it was the author who knew and loved Shakespeare as well as JA did, and who once playfully referred to his children as “Sense” and “Sensibility”—of course, I mean James Joyce! Here is the very famous scene I was remembering, in the opening chapter of _Ulysses_:

—I get paid this morning, Stephen said.
—The school kip? Buck Mulligan said. How much? Four quid? Lend us one.
—If you want it, Stephen said.
—Four shining SOVEREIGNS, Buck Mulligan cried with delight. We'll have a glorious drunk to astonish the druidy druids. Four omnipotent SOVEREIGNS.
He flung up his hands and tramped down the stone stairs, singing out of tune with a Cockney accent:
O, won't we have a merry time,
Drinking whisky, beer and wine!
On coronation,
Coronation day!
O, won't we have a merry time
On coronation day!

I was immediately reminded, not only of JA’s two puns on “sovereign”, but also of what is arguably JA’s most famous pun: "There has been one infallible POPE in the World."

The above Joycean passage suggests to me that Auden was not correct in his judgment of Joyce’s relative innocence, vis a vis JA, about money making the world go ‘round. I think Joyce hated it just as strongly as JA, but whereas it is JA’s _women_ (including herself, a female author) who lack the power that their rich English masters hold, in Joyce it is the Irish (including himself, an Irish author) who must labor as “governesses” to their rich English masters.

As direct evidence of this, not long after the above passage, Stephen gets paid, and we find the following exchange between him and the clueless bigot, Mr. Deasy, during which Stephen meditates on sovereigns (coins _and_ crowns) as symbols of power “soiled by greed and misery”:

“…First, our little financial settlement, [Deasy] said.
And now his strongroom for the gold. …A SOVEREIGN fell, bright and new, on the soft pile of the tablecloth.
—Three, Mr Deasy said, turning his little savingsbox about in his hand. These are handy things to have. See. This is for sovereigns. This is for shillings. Sixpences, halfcrowns. And here crowns. See.
He shot from it two crowns and two shillings.
—Three twelve, he said. I think you'll find that's right.
—Thank you, sir, Stephen said, gathering the money together with shy haste and putting it all in a pocket of his trousers.
—No thanks at all, Mr Deasy said. You have earned it.
Stephen's hand, free again, went back to the hollow shells. Symbols too of beauty and of power. A lump in my pocket: symbols soiled by greed and misery.
—Don't carry it like that, Mr Deasy said. You'll pull it out somewhere and lose it. You just buy one of these machines. You'll find them very handy.
Answer something.
—Mine would be often empty, Stephen said.
The same room and hour, the same wisdom: and I the same. Three times now. Three nooses round me here. Well? I can break them in this instant if I will.
—Because you don't save, Mr Deasy said, pointing his finger. You don't know yet what money is. Money is power. When you have lived as long as I have. I know, I know. If youth but knew. But what does Shakespeare say? Put but money in thy purse.
—Iago, Stephen murmured.
He lifted his gaze from the idle shells to the old man's stare.
—He knew what money was, Mr Deasy said. He made money. A poet, yes, but an Englishman too. Do you know what is the pride of the English? Do you know what is the proudest word you will ever hear from an Englishman's mouth?
The seas' ruler. His seacold eyes looked on the empty bay: it seems history is to blame: on me and on my words, unhating.
—That on his empire, Stephen said, the sun never sets.
—Ba! Mr Deasy cried. That's not English. A French Celt said that. He tapped his savingsbox against his thumbnail.
—I will tell you, he said solemnly, what is his proudest boast. I paid my way.
Good man, good man.
—I paid my way. I never borrowed a shilling in my life. Can you feel that? I owe nothing. Can you?
….I have rebel blood in me too, Mr Deasy said. On the spindle side. But I am descended from sir John Blackwood who voted for the union. We are all Irish, all KINGS' sons. “ END QUOTE

There is, again, wonderfully subtle personification of the coin, and punning on money as “king” of the world. Mr. Deasy would have had a grand time hanging out with Sir Thomas Bertram. And later when he hands Stephen a diatribe against the Jews, he shows that he would have enjoyed the company of John Thorpe as well. A real charmer.

And Joyce personifies the “sovereign” coin yet again in two later passages in _Ulysses_:

So anyhow Terry brought the three pints Joe was standing and begob the sight nearly left my eyes when I saw him land out a quid O, as true as I'm telling you. A goodlooking SOVEREIGN.
—And there's more where that came from, says he.

[speaking to Bloom] VIRAG: (Arches his eyebrows) Contact with a goldring, they say. Argumentum ad feminam, as we said in old Rome and ancient Greece in the consulship of Diplodocus and Ichthyosauros. For the rest EVE’S SOVEREIGN remedy. Not for sale. Hire only. Huguenot.

Now, was Joyce intentionally alluding to JA in all these puns on “sovereign”? I see no clear “wink” to that effect in the text of _Ulysses_, and it is easy to imagine Joyce independently rediscovering the pun without having (consciously) registered JA making it---but my guess is that he _did_ notice it in JA’s writing, and he flattered JA by imitating her in his own original way. There is an eerie resonance between the Mr. Deasy-Stephen dyad, on the one hand, and the Godmersham/Mansfield Park-JA/Fanny Price dyad, on the other. Stephen Dedalus as a latter day Jane Fairfax—a sovereign allusion to start your day!

Cheers, ARNIE

Monday, November 28, 2011

Jane Austen's Letter 54: "....say no more....but not a word more..."

In Janeites & Austen-L today, Christy wrote: "In this letter, JA is invited to stay longer. She now divulges the secret of her 1802 mishap with Harris Bigg-Wither. I can understand why she would not have divulged this to the Godmersham clan. Natural pride, and general propriety, would have kept this secret for as long as possible. And she seems sure that they will honor this privacy as well. "

I responded as follows:

Christy, when I first read your above comment this afternoon, I was away from my home computer and also away from my tattered (perhaps "shattered" is a better word, as it has now mitosed into two roughly equal halves!) copy of Le Faye's (third) edition of the Letters, and so I was left to the last resort, temporarily, of reading the relevant text in Letter 54 on my IPhone:

"-I have been so kindly pressed to stay longer here, in consequence of an offer of Henry's to take me back some time in September, that not being able to detail all my objections to such a plan, I have felt myself obliged to give Edwd* and Elizth** one private reason for my wishing to be at home in July.-They feel the strength of it, & say no more; -& one can rely on their secrecy.-After this, I hope we shall not be disappointed of our Friends' visit;-my honour, as well as my affection will be concerned in it."

I looked at that passage over and over, and wondered, how in the world did you ascertain the "private reason" that JA shared with Edward and his wife to be JA's 1802 mishap with HB-W, as you so discreetly put it?

Then, as soon as I got home, I saw that you were relying on Le Faye's footnote, which reads as follows:

"Catherine and Alethea Bigg were due to come to Southampton. The secrecy of the explanation to EAK and his wife may be a reference to Harris Bigg-Wither's brief and unsuccessful courtship of JA in 1802; JA may have felt that to stay on at Godmersham would look like a deliberate attempt to avoid meeting his sisters."

I then checked Le Faye's Index, and verified from prior and subsequent letters that indeed "our Friends" was a reference to Bigg sisters (not to be confused with "Big Sisters"!), and so it was a plausible guess by Le Faye that the HBW "mishap" was the general topic that JA was tiptoeing around.

But..something continued to bother me about Le Faye's explanation---it somehow felt too tidy, and unsatisfying in a way I could not quite put my finger on for several minutes, until I identified a clue to what was bothering me--JA's reference to "my honour"--to my ear, that sounded so....out of place in one of JA's letters to CEA. A quick word search in Le Faye's edition confirmed that JA _never_ referred to her own or anyone else's "honour" in _any_ of her letters to CEA or Martha or Anna, and she only used the word "honour" idiomatically (e.g., referring to doing something "in honour of" someone) . But..... JA used the word "honour" in a very similar way to the usage in Letter 54 once in a letter to her niece Fanny Knight, and _several_ times in her two letters to James Stanier Clarke. And _that_ was when I had my small epiphany--in those letters to Clarke, JA was using the word "honour" as a total put-on, covertly mocking the pompous platitudinous officious Clarke, a man who probably used the word "honour" in every other sentence! She was writing her letters to Clarke the same way Mr. Bennet spoke to Mr. Collins--for comprehension only by those with a sharp ear for irony.

So...was it possible that JA, in that passage in Letter 54, was similarly using the word "honour" in a faux, mocking way? Here is the entire relevant passage, which includes what I quoted, above, but also some additional material, see if you hear what I hear:

-I have been so kindly pressed to stay longer here, in consequence of an offer of Henry's to take me back some time in September, that not being able to detail all my objections to such a plan, I have felt myself obliged to give Edwd* and Elizth** one private reason for my wishing to be at home in July.-They feel the strength of it, & say no more; -& one can rely on their secrecy.-After this, I hope we shall not be disappointed of our Friends' visit;-my honour, as well as my affection will be concerned in it.-Elizath** has a very sweet scheme of our accompanying Edward into Kent next Christmas. A legacy might make it very feasible;-a Legacy is our sovereign good.-In the mean while, let me remember that I have now some money to spare, & that I wish to have my name put down as a subscriber to Mr. Jefferson's works. My last Letter was closed before it occurred to me how possible, how right, & how gratifying such a measure wd* be."

This time I read the passage _against_ the grain, as if JA were speaking in the pompous, snobbish voice of the Squire of Godmersham and his Great Lady. First, JA, barely keeping her countenance, "confides" in Edward & Elizabeth, and reveals to their ears only "one private reason". So JA is flattering their vanity, pretending to make them her special confidantes. And it works like a charm! Edward & Elizabeth buy it hook, line, and sinker--on dry ground!---and respond in appropriately grave tones: "Oh, Jane, yes, we feel the strength of it, say no more! You can rely on _OUR_ secrecy."

And then I realized that there was a passage in one of JA's novels which perfectly captured that same phoniness, words spoken by the Queen of JA's Phonies:

"But not a word more. Let us be discreet—quite on our good behaviour.—Hush!... mum! a word to the wise.—I am in a fine flow of spirits, an't I?....And again, on Emma's merely turning her head to look at Mrs. Bates's knitting, she added, in a half whisper, "I mentioned no /names/, you will observe.—Oh! no; cautious as a minister of state. I managed it extremely well." Emma could not doubt. It was a palpable display, repeated on every possible occasion...."

And this explains that strange sentence "After this, I hope we shall not be disappointed of our Friends' visit; my honour as well as my affection will be concerned in it." Translated into plain, unironic English, JA is saying, "After concocting, on the spur of the moment, this elaborate, exaggerated and thoroughly insincere excuse, if the Big sisters don't show up, I will be exposed as a big fat liar--that is JA's "honour", i.e, her reputation for honesty! Whereas the plain truth, which Edward & Elizabeth could not be told, was that JA simply missed the company of her plain old friends in mobcaps, Martha and CEA, and JA was very much looking forward to a snug fortnight with them _regardless_ of whether the Bigg sisters were there or not! That's why JA, in the same voice of insincere desire to see Elizabeth and Edward again sometime soon, writes:

"Elizabeth has a very sweet scheme of our accompanying Edward into Kent next Christmas. A legacy might make it very feasible;-a Legacy is our sovereign good."

Just as JA joked about legacies providing a wholesome diet in Letter 52, she again jokes about the "sovereign good" (in a Shakespearean pun on "sovereign", the name of an Elizabethan-era gold coin worth about a pound) of spending more time in Kent--but it will only be feasible if JA and CEA miraculously discover the "sovereigns" required to pay for the trip! She is about as sincere here as Mr. Bennet is for Mr. Collins to come back soon to Longbourn---NOT!!!

JA yearned to go back to her own real life, even if it was in a crowded walk-up apartment in stinky Southampton!

And this _also_ provides a startling alternative explanation for the following mysterious ending of the above quoted passage, seemingly unrelated to the prior comments about Edward & Elizabeth:

"In the mean while, let me remember that I have now some money to spare, & that I wish to have my name put down as a subscriber to Mr. Jefferson's works. My last Letter was closed before it occurred to me how possible, how right, & how gratifying such a measure wd* be."

Could it be clearer now that JA was not pleased that she had been led to waste even one iota of her preciously small cache of money on Mr. Jefferson's sermons--which, I am guessing, were a great favorite of either Edward or Elizabeth?

JA's method of expressing such displeasure is to satirize the purchase, because only Elizabeth Austen Knight (or Mrs. Elton) would utter such blather as "how possible, how right, & how gratifying such a measure would be."

In short, the above quoted passage comes alive with JA's brilliant witty irony when read against the grain, as she intended Martha (if not CEA) to read it!

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Kitty’s Indiscreet Coughing

One of the iconic motifs of JA’s novels, instantly recognized by all Janeites, is the way various members of the Bennet family respond to Kitty’s persistent coughing in Chapter 2, as we are just getting to know the Bennets. As I recollect, every P&P film adaptation picks up on this motif and runs with it for all it’s worth. It is high comedy, and we all laugh, even though discomfort is sometimes expressed at Mrs. Bennet’s apparent gross insensitivity to Kitty’s symptoms of respiratory illness, no laughing matter in the Regency Era of pre-antibiotic, leech-bleeding, tubercular illness.

Here is a link to the text of the scene, I invite you to reread it now carefully and refresh your memory of it, and then I will present a novel interpretation of Kitty’s indiscreet coughing, i.e., which I cannot find any evidence online of its having been previously made:

My interpretation hinges on Kitty’s coughing being entirely _intentional_ and _feigned_, in the same way that Mrs. Bennet’s equally identifiable _winking_ is intentional in Ch. 55, which is the “bookend” of the scene in Ch. 2---the latter being the first discussion of Bingley as a prospective husband for a Bennet girl, and the former being the culmination of that arc, when Bingley, left alone with Jane, finally proposes to her:

“Two obstacles of the five being thus removed, Mrs. Bennet sat looking and winking at Elizabeth and Catherine for a considerable time, without making any impression on them. Elizabeth would not observe her; and when at last Kitty did, she very innocently said, "What is the matter mamma? What do you keep winking at me for? What am I to do?"
"Nothing child, nothing. I did not wink at you." She then sat still five minutes longer; but unable to waste such a precious occasion, she suddenly got up, and saying to Kitty, "Come here, my love, I want to speak to you," took her out of the room.”

Now, in that same vein, look at what emerges into your awareness when you read the Ch.2 scene as if Kitty was intentionally faux-coughing:

[Mrs. B] "I do not believe Mrs. Long will do any such thing. She has two nieces of her own. She is a selfish, hypocritical woman, and I have no opinion of her."
"No more have I," said Mr. Bennet; "and I am glad to find that you do not depend on her serving you."
Mrs. Bennet deigned not to make any reply, but, unable to contain herself, began scolding one of her daughters.
"Don't keep coughing so, Kitty, for Heaven's sake! Have a little compassion on my nerves. You tear them to pieces."
"Kitty has no discretion in her coughs," said her father; "she times them ill."
"I do not cough for my own amusement," replied Kitty fretfully. "When is your next ball to be, Lizzy?"

I suggest that JA intended the reader to perceive that Kitty’s coughing is _sarcastic_, the equivalent of someone today pointedly saying “A-HEM!”. The sarcastic cough has become, in fact, a cliché of situation comedy, in which a character exaggeratedly and histrionically coughs, as if to say, “Yeah, right!” Just as Mrs. Bennet’s exaggerated winking in Chapter 55 is _also_ a cliché, as if to say “I don’t want to explicitly tell you to go…. but I want you to go!”

And seeing Kitty’s coughing as sarcastic perfectly fits the topic of discussion at that moment in the Bennet family conclave, because it is _not_ random. Kitty’s coughing mysteriously begins, it seems, precisely at the moment when her mother called Mrs. Long “a selfish, hypocritical woman”. Kitty is clearly invoking, in so many words, the proverbial pot calling the kettle black!

And that in turn explains Mrs. Bennet’s reaction—she does not respond to Mr. Bennet’s droll comment, but instead lashes out at Kitty, not because she is afraid of her husband, but precisely because she has understood Kitty’s insulting innuendo was directed at Mrs. Bennet! But just as Kitty conveys her deeper meaning by implication, so too does Mrs. Bennet take her revenge by implication.

And here’s the best part--Mr. Bennet has _also_ understood this subtextual duel between his wife and his daughter, and he weighs in with typical droll irony, pointing out ---with implied approval—that Kitty has been indiscreet in insulting her mother, and further approving of Kitty’s timing—it was “ill” timing only in Mrs. Bennet’s mind, but it was _perfect_ timing from the point of view of delivering a real zinger.

And then Kitty replies, in code, that she does not cough for her own amusement—but what she leaves unspoken, but nonetheless understood by her father, is that she _did_ cough for _his_ amusement---and she succeeded in amusing him, because he never misses a chance to laugh at his wife!

But there is one person present who utterly misses this subtextual layer of meaning—the clueless Lizzy!

And that is the tale of Kitty’s Indiscreet Coughing.

Cheers, ARNIE

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mary Russell Mitford's Friend, Jane Austen's Single Blessedness, Hermia, and Harris Bigg-Wither

Apropos my recent post about Mary Russell Mitford and her famous comments about Jane Austen.....

...I only realized today that there is a sly literary allusion hidden in plain sight in Mitford's comments.

Here is the relevant portion of what Mitford wrote:"...a friend of mine, who visits [JA] now, says that she has stiffened into the most perpendicular, precise, taciturn piece of 'single blessedness' that every existed..."

What I came across by accident today was the literary _source_ of that bon mot in the following passage---we find it early in Midsummer Night's Dream:

But I beseech your grace that I may know
The worst that may befall me in this case,
If I refuse to wed Demetrius.

Either to die the death or to abjure
Forever the society of men.
Therefore, fair Hermia, question your desires.
Know of your youth. Examine well your blood—
Whether, if you yield not to your father’s choice,
You can endure the livery of a nun,
For aye to be in shady cloister mewed,
To live a barren sister all your life,
Chanting faint hymns to the cold, fruitless moon.
Thrice-blessèd they that master so their blood
To undergo such maiden pilgrimage.
But earthlier happy is the rose distilled
Than that which, withering on the virgin thorn,
Grows, lives, and dies in _single_ _blessedness._

So Mitford, if she was not making up an imaginary friend to provide cover for her _own_ thoughts about JA--and I don't believe she was---was reporting her unnamed friend's image of JA as not merely a spinster, but as JA "chanting hymns to the cold, fruitless moon"--a very striking image of JA writing her novels--and also with more than a trace of irony, given that Mitford herself never married, but instead "chanted" her own "hymns" until her own less-premature death in her fifties!

So I immediately began to speculate about the identity of that unnamed friend who was visiting JA in 1815 and who was a learned wit capable of making a subtle Shakespearean allusion--it clearly was not the "Mrs. Russell" who JA wrote about in her letters--that Mrs. Russell was a kinswoman of MRM, not a friend, and anyway she had, as I mentioned the other day, died in 1803. But perhaps it was a friend of Mrs. Russell?

But it could not be Madam Lefroy, who had died in 1804. And it probably wasn't Lucy Lefroy, who had married Henry Rice in 1801 and had moved to Kent.

But they were not the only friends of Mrs. Russell whom we hear about in JA's letters. There is also one other very intriguing candidate----Catherine Bigg! Why her, you ask?

Well, we know from JA's Letter 18 that in early 1799, Catherine Bigg (still single at that time) dined with that same Mrs. Russell whom JA wrote about. Might that be an indicator of a longstanding connection between Catherine Bigg and the Russell family in general? I think so!

And what makes that possibility intriguing, is that it would also fit perfectly with the _context_ of the above-quoted allusion to Hermia's precarious position in the above passage. Hermia is not merely being invited to voluntarily contemplate life as a nun--no, she is in a much more dire situation---she is being subjected to cruel, brutal pressure by her horrible father to marry a wealthy man she does not love, and to give up the person (whether male or female) she really loves, or else live the rest of her life as a nun.

And does that scenario sound at all familiar?

It should! That interpretation fits perfectly with my sense (and also that of the screenwriter of Miss Austen Regrets) that JA was intensely pressured by her family to marry Harris Bigg Wither in 1802--and perhaps also was being pressured to give up someone else whom she did love---but in the end of the day, JA refused to buckle to that pressure, and married no one.

And so of all people to think of the resonance between Hermia and JA, who more likely than Catherine Bigg, the sister of Harris Bigg and close friend of JA and CEEA. Catherine Bigg, who herself had, in 1808, perhaps buckled under pressure from her own family, in marrying Revd. Herbert Hill, a man _26_ years her senior--and also, of course, uncle to the poet (and Shakespeare devotee, no doubt) Robert Southey!

And think about some more context. In 1815, when Mary Russell Mitford quotes her friend, Mansfield Park has recently been published, and in MP we of course have Fanny Price's refusal to marry Henry Crawford as strong evidence that JA _still_ felt very good about her own resistance to pressure 12 years after the fact! Although JA did not collect an opinion about MP from Catherine Bigg Hill, we know that JA visited Catherine and her much older husband in 1811, and possibly again in 1814. Hmm......sounds even more likely.

I am guessing that if it was indeed Catherine Bigg who opined to Mary Russell Mitford about JA, it tells me that Catherine did _not_ (as has been suggested by several Austen biographers) hold any grudge against JA for not marrying Harris Bigg-Wither, but instead felt empathy and kinship with JA in their shared female resistance to patriarchal oppression.

Cheers, ARNIE

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jane Austen’s subversive Juvenilian allusion (in Jack & Alice) to Sarah Fielding’s novella The Governess

In a series of posts six weeks ago (the first one linked to, below)...

...I laid out a smorgasbord of evidence and analysis making an elaborate case for various aspects of the allusions I perceived Jane Austen making to works (by Sarah & Henry Fielding) in a playlet (now lost) which JA wrote and then staged, at Godmersham in 1806, starring a cast composed of various female members of the Austen/Bridges extended family.

In particular, I focused on Sarah Fielding’s short novella, The Governess, as both a key allusive source for JA’s playlet, but also (as Keiko Parker pointed out to me) as a layered allusion, in both Fielding’s novella and in JA’s playlet (and in _Emma_), to Gay’s very famous The Beggar’s Opera with its coterie of prostitutes.

All of this interwoven intertextuality scattered across 18th century English fictional works was tagged by a distinctive set of related character surnames: Gay’s Peachum leading to S. Fielding’s Teachum & H. Fielding’s Thwackum (in Tom Jones) and Achum (in The Virgin Unmask’d), with JA picking up on Teachum in her playlet.

Peachum, Teachum, Achum & Thwackum---- a quartet of names which the Clack Brothers (from NPR’s Car Talk) would have considered ideal for an 18th century law firm, but, at the very least, comprising an _obvious_ lineage of allusion!

In my earlier series of posts, I made the case that The Governess, while superficially a fictionalized primer for conventional conduct book morality designed to keep young women in line, was actually intended by Sarah Fielding as a covert satire and parody of such conventional conduct book “wisdom”, with a covert intent to teach and promote INdependence and autonomy of female thought and action. I’ve previously cited four different scholarly articles which recognize this subversive subtext in The Governess.

Recently, the question arose as to whether I am correct in asserting that Jane Austen detected, and enthusiastically embraced, such a subversive subtext in The Governess when she wrote her little 1806 playlet, or whether JA would instead have taken The Governess at its conventional, superficial level only.

Purely by happenstance yesterday, I was led by another train of inquiry to a definitive answer to that question, written in JA’s own _teenaged_ words—and the answer is “YES!”

I will explain.

I was rereading JA’s early juvenilia farce, “Jack and Alice”---written around 1789 when JA was more or less the same age as niece Fanny Austen was in 1806-- and the unusual combination of the names of the Simpson sisters, “Sukey” and “Lucy” [try saying “Simpson sisters Sukey ‘n Lucy” several times very fast!] leapt off the page at me—as these were the very same names as key characters in The Governess (and also in The Beggar’s Opera) instantly alerted me that “Jack and Alice” itself constituted conclusive written evidence that JA, as a young teenager, had indeed read The Governess in the most subversive light imaginable.

Based on what? Based on Sukey Simpson being perhaps the _most_ transgressive character in all of JA’s very wild juvenilia—she makes Lucy Steele seem mild and unassuming!

But, it might be objected, the name Sukey appears as one of the prostitutes in The Beggar’s Opera, and not merely as one of the young students in The Governess. How do we know that the very youthful Jane Austen is definitely pointing to The Governess? Because of the parallelism of the following two groups of passages on the word/theme of _ENVY_:

First, we have the following passage in The Governess (which I’ve edited for length, without changing the meaning at all):

“Upon which Miss _Sukey_ Jennett said, 'that though she could not promise them such an agreeable story as Miss Dolly's; yet she would read them a letter she had received the evening before from her Cousin Peggy Smith, who lived at York; in which there was a story that she thought very strange and remarkable. They were all very desirous of it, when Miss Sukey read as follows: 'Dear cousin,—I promised, you know, to write to you when I had anything to tell you; and as I think the following story very extraordinary, I was willing to keep my word. Some time ago there came to settle in this city, a lady, whose name was _Dison_. We all visited her: but she had so deep a melancholy, arising, as it appeared, from a settled state of ill health, that nothing we could do could afford her the least relief, or make her cheerful. In this condition she languished amongst us five years, still continuing to grow worse and worse. We all grieved at her fate….When, at last, she one day called her most intimate friends to her bedside, and, as well as she could, spoke to the following purpose: "I know you all pity me; but, alas! I am not so much the object of your pity, as your contempt; for all my misery is of my own seeking, and owing to the wickedness of my own mind. I had two sisters, WITH WHOM I WAS BRED UP; and I have all my lifetime been unhappy, for no other cause but for their success in the world. When we were young, I could neither eat nor sleep in peace, when they had either praise or pleasure. When we grew up to be women, they were both soon married much to their advantage and satisfaction. This galled me to the heart; and, though I had several good offers, yet as I did not think them in all respects equal to my sisters, I would not accept them; and yet was inwardly vexed to refuse them, for fear I would get no better. I generally deliberated so long that I lost my lovers, and then I pined for that loss. I never wanted for anything; and was in a situation in which I might have been happy, if I pleased. My sisters loved me very well, for I concealed as much as possible from them my odious ENVY; and yet never did any poor wretch lead so miserable a life as I have done; for every blessing they enjoyed was as so many daggers to my heart. 'Tis this ENVY that has caused all my ill health, has preyed upon my very vitals, and will now bring me to my Grave." 'In a few days after this confession she died; and her words and death made such a strong impression on my mind, that I could not help sending you this relation; and begging you, my dear Sukey, to remember how careful we ought to be to curb in our minds the very first risings of a passion so detestable, and so fatal, as this proved to poor Mrs. Dison. I know I have no particular reason for giving you this caution; for I never saw anything in you, but what deserved the love and esteem of 'Your very affectionate cousin, 'M. SMITH.'

As soon as Miss Sukey had finished her letter, Miss Patty Lockit rose up, and, flying to Miss Jenny Peace, embraced her, and said, 'What thanks can I give you, my dear friend, for having put me into a way of examining my heart, and reflecting on my own actions; by which you have saved me, perhaps, from a life as miserable as that of the poor woman in Miss Sukey's letter!' Miss Jenny did not thoroughly understand her meaning; but imagining it might be something relating to her past life, desired her to explain herself; which she said she would do, telling now, in her turn, all that had hitherto happened to her.... I lived, till I was six years old, in a very large family; for I had four sisters, all older than myself, and three brothers. We played together, and passed our time much in the common way: sometimes we quarrelled, and sometimes agreed, just as accident would have it. Our parents had no partiality to any of us; so we had no cause to ENVY one another on that account; and we lived tolerably well together. ….I lived in this manner three years, fretting and vexing myself that I did not know so much, nor was not so much liked, as my Cousin Molly, and yet resolving not to learn anything she could teach me; when my grandmamma was advised to send me to school; but, as soon as I came here, the case was much worse; for, instead of one person to ENVY, I found many; for all my schoolfellows had learned more than I; and, instead of endeavouring to get knowledge, I began to hate all those who knew more than myself; and this, I am now convinced, was owing to that odious ENVY, which, if not cured, would always have made me as miserable as Mrs. Dison was and which constantly tormented me, till we came to live in that general peace and good-humour we have lately enjoyed: and as I hope this wicked spirit was not natural to me, but only blown up by that vile Betty's instigations, I don't doubt but I shall now grow very happy, and learn something every day, and be pleased with being instructed, and that I shall always love those who are so good as to instruct me.' Here Miss Patty Lockit ceased; and the dinner-bell called them from their arbour.”

And now here are three passages in “Jack & Alice” which are all about the _envious_ Sukey Simpson:

“Her second sister Sukey was ENVIOUS, Spitefull, & Malicious. Her person was short, fat & disagreable...The Company now advanced to a Gaming Table where sat 3 Dominos (each with a bottle in their hand) deeply engaged; but a female in the character of Virtue fled with hasty footsteps from the shocking scene, whilst a little fat woman, representing ENVY, sat alternately on the foreheads of the 3 Gamesters. Charles Adams was still as bright as ever; he soon discovered the party at play to be the 3 Johnsons, ENVY to be Sukey Simpson & Virtue to be Lady Williams. ….it will be necessary to inform [the reader] that the Miss Simpsons were defended from his Power by Ambition, ENVY, & Self-admiration. Every wish of Caroline was centered in a titled Husband; whilst in Sukey such superior excellence could only raise her ENVY not her Love, & Cecilia was too tenderly attached to herself to be pleased with any one besides….”

.... Miss Simpson is indeed (setting aside ambition) very amiable, but her 2d. Sister, the ENVIOUS & malvolent Sukey, is too disagreable to live with. I have reason to think that the admiration I have met with in the circles of the Great at this Place, has raised her Hatred & ENVY; for often has she threatened, & sometimes endeavoured to cut my throat. -- Your Ladyship will therefore allow that I am not wrong in wishing to leave Bath, & in wishing to have a home to receive me, when I do. I shall expect with impatience your advice concerning the Duke & am your most obliged &c. Lucy."….. What might have been the effect of her Ladyship's advice, had it ever been received by Lucy, is uncertain, as it reached Bath a few Hours after she had breathed her last. She fell a sacrifice to the ENVY & Malice of Sukey, who jealous of her superior charms, took her by poison from an admiring World at the age of seventeen.”

And…those who read my series of posts about JA’s multiple allusions to The Governess may recall that I argued in a couple of them that there was a disturbing allusive resonance between the character of Mr. Knightley in _Emma_ and the character of Sempronius in one of the tales told in The Governess:

(and later posts following up to same)

Well, now I wish to point out _another_ allusion to The Governess, which I missed the first time around, but which I detected today, in Sukey’s two references to Mrs. _Dison_, who dies of envy of her sisters. Here is the passage in _Emma_ which suggests that Emma herself has read The Governess, and has imaginatively made a connection from Fielding’s Sukey and JA’s own Sukey:

“ "Certainly—very strong it was; to own the truth, a great deal stronger than, if I had been Miss Campbell, would have been at all agreeable to me. I could not excuse a man's having more music than love—more ear than eye—a more acute sensibility to fine sounds than to my feelings. How did Miss Campbell appear to like it?" "It was her very particular friend, you know."
"Poor comfort!" said Emma, laughing. "One would rather have a stranger preferred than one's very particular friend—with a stranger it might not recur again—but the misery of having a very particular friend always at hand, to do every thing better than one does oneself!—Poor Mrs. _Dixon_! Well, I am glad she is gone to settle in Ireland." "You are right. It was not very flattering to Miss Campbell; but she really did not seem to feel it."
"So much the better—or so much the worse:—I do not know which. But be it sweetness or be it stupidity in her—quickness of friendship, or dulness of feeling—there was one person, I think, who must have felt it: Miss Fairfax herself. She must have felt the improper and dangerous distinction." "As to that—I do not—"
"Oh! do not imagine that I expect an account of Miss Fairfax's sensations from you, or from any body else. They are known to no human being, I guess, but herself. But if she continued to play whenever she was asked by Mr. Dixon, one may guess what one chuses." "There appeared such a perfectly good understanding among them all—" he began rather quickly, but checking himself, added, "however, it is impossible for me to say on what terms they really were—how it might all be behind the scenes. I can only say that there was smoothness outwardly. “

In other words, Emma imagines Mrs. Dixon as being overpowered by feelings of jealousy and _envy_ toward Jane Fairfax!

And so, in closing, I claim that all of the above shows that JA did indeed hold to a subversive interpretation of Sarah Fielding’s The Governess , both when JA was 14 writing “Jack & Alice”, and she still held to it when she was 40 writing _Emma_!

Cheers, ARNIE

The Russell/Mitford/Austen Husband-Hunting Connection.....and the Real Life Model for Lady Russell

Earlier today, Anielka Briggs wrote in Janeites and Austen L:
"I bought a first edition of "A Memoir of Jane Austen" (J.E. Austen Leigh, Bentley 1870) earlier this year. At the back was a very interesting postscript. Miss Mitford's "prettiest, silliest, husband-hunting butterfly" has always puzzled me as unlikely. Here is James Edward Austen Leigh's version of events which suggest it is an apocryphal second-hand tale....As my history teacher always said "check your primary sources"."

First, here is a link to a single page image in Google Books (which will save opening all of Anielka's jpg images) for JEAL's postscript-----which, curiously, was _omitted_ from the second edition of the Memoir:

Second, and to the substantive point, I would not be so quick to trust JEAL on this point (or a few dozen others in his Memoir, for that matter, as I have written in the past), and maybe there was a compelling reason for his mysteriously omitting that P.S. from his second edition without stating any reason for that deletion. As I will explain, below, I believe he was too clever by half, and stumbled over his own feet in failing to take into account that unintentional ambiguities of temporal reference really can _innocently_ arise out of sloppy syntax.

Here's the key portion of what JEAL wrote, thinking he had found a way to neutralize the Mitford quote, which, when you think about it, threatened to undermine his meticulously Bowdlerized, sanitized (and massively deceitful) account of JA's personality:

"...In point of fact, however, Miss Russell's opportunities of observing Jane Austen must have come to an end still earlier: for upon Dr. Russell's death, in January 1783, his widow and daughter removed from the neighbourhood, so that all intercourse between the families ceased when Jane was little more than seven years old."

And now here is what Mary Russell Mitford (the author) _actually_ wrote:

"A propos to novels, I have discovered that our great favourite, Miss Austen, is my countrywoman; that mamma knew all her family very intimately; and that she herself is an old maid (I beg her pardon—I mean a young lady) with whom mamma before her marriage was acquainted. Mamma says that she was then the prettiest, silliest, most affected, husband-hunting butterfly she ever remembers..."

The syntactical ambiguity arises out of the word "then" in that last quoted sentence. What period of JA's life does it refer to? JEAL seems to believe that the only plausible referent was "before [Mrs. Mitford's] marriage", i.e., sometime around 1785, when the author's parents got married. But what if "then" was meant to refer to JA's early twenties? Sloppily written, I readily agree, but not implausible to read Mitford's words to mean that her "mamma" was directly personally acquainted with JA when JA was a kid, but also remained _indirectly_ connected to JA for long afterwards.

But you then ask, how could that be, if, as JEAL claimed, "all intercourse ceased" between the two families in 1783, when JA was too young to hunt for husbands!

Well, apparently, JEAL was either unaware of, or eager to conceal, the significance of the following passages in JA's letters, which strongly suggest a longstanding _continuation_, indirect or possibly direct, of that "intercourse" between the Russell/Mitford and Austen families:

Letter 11, 11/17-18/98, to CEA: "[Madam Lefroy] showed me a letter which she had received from her friend a few weeks ago (in answer to one written by her to recommend a nephew of Mrs. Russell to his notice at Cambridge)..."

Letter 14, 12/18-19/98, to CEA: "I expect a very stupid Ball, there will be nobody worth dancing with, & nobody worth talking to but Catherine; for I believe Mrs. Lefroy will not be there; Lucy [Lefroy] is to go with Mrs. Russell...."

Letter 18, 01/21-23/99, to CEA: "Our ball on Thursday was a very poor one, only eight couple and but twenty three people in the room; but it was not the ball's fault, for we were deprived of two or three families by the sudden illness of Mr. Wither, who was seized that morning at Winchester with a return of his former alarming complaint. An express was sent off from thence to the family; Catherine and Miss Blachford were dining with Mrs. Russell..."

Let's see--from JA's own words, above, we know that there _was_ some woman named Mrs. _Russell_ who was a close enough connection of Madam Lefroy in 1798 for (1) the latter to write a letter of recommendation for a nephew of the former, and also for (2) the former to accompany Madam Lefroy's daughter Lucy to a Hampshire ball attended by (the _twentythree_ year old) JA herself. And, to also reduce the degrees of separation from another angle, Mrs. Russell was close enough to JA's good friend Catherine Bigg to dine with _her_, with Catherine reporting on that dinner to JA! Sounds to me like Mrs. Russell was a particular friend of both Madam Lefroy _and_ Catherine Bigg, and that JA would either have known Mrs. Russell, or at least known of her!

So, could this Mrs. Russell have been the _grandmother_ of Mary Russell Mitford? Alas, no, the historical record is clear that she died in 1785, thirteen years before that "very poor" ball described by JA. So unless she came as a ghost, she cannot be Mrs. Russell.

But to the unlikely rescue of my argument thereupon comes Le Faye, who provides this index entry for JA's epistolary Mrs. Russell:

"Probably the widow 1794 of Francis Russell of Basingstoke, and therefore probably a connection by marriage of Revd. Dr. Richard Russell (1695-1783), vicar of Overton 1719-71 and rector of Ashe 1729-83. This Dr. Russell, predecessor at Ashe of the Lefroy family, was the grandfather of Mary Russell Mitford, authoress, best known for her Our Village essays." Le Faye--who is the last person in the world to want to validate the unsavory idea of JA as a husband hunting butterfly----thinks it plausible that there was a cousin by marriage of the author Mary Russell Mitford and her "mamma", who was personally connected to both Catherine Bigg and also to Madam Lefroy. And we can readily imagine how the connection to Madam Lefroy first arose---i.e., via the connection of each lady to the Russells of Ashe--Madam Lefroy's husband having been the _successor_ to the Ashe living, which had been held (as Le Faye notes, above) by the author Mary's grandfather Revd. _Richard_ Russell for _fiftyfour_ years! A long window of opportunity for friendship to arise!

As usual with Le Faye, having provided the reader with some potentially significant data, she is absolutely silent on that significance, i.e., not a word about Mary Russell Mitford (the author) having written about JA as "a husband hunting butterfly"! So you have to be an obsessive, like myself, to first connect the dots, before benefiting from Le Faye's index entry.

Having done so, it seems highly likely to me that if the mysterious "Mrs. Russell" came back from time to time to Ashe, why would she not have been accompanied at times by the "mama" of the author Mary Russell Mitford, who after all had grown up at Ashe! Or at the very least, she would have corresponded with her cousin by marriage, whom she would have known very well grew up at Ashe and knew everyone there, and reported back in 1798, among other gossip, that JA had behaved like a "husband hunting butterfly" at that very ball! And that juicy tidbit of gossip apparently survived in the mind of the elder Mary Russell Mitford for 17 years, such that, in 1815, when the future author Mary Russell Mitford---who was only 11 in 1798---had attained the age of 28, she would have heard from her own mamma about JA's wild behaviour, probably prompted by Mary's enthusiasm for the novels of "our great favourite, Miss Austen", whose identity as author of three novels was by then spreading through Hampshire like wildfire! Perhaps her "mamma" was suggesting that JA was in some ways represented by Lydia Bennet in P&P, who has the following memorable exchange about "husband hunting" with her elder sister, Lizzy:

[Lydia] "And then when you go away, you may leave one or two of my sisters behind you; and I dare say I shall get husbands for them before the winter is over." "I thank you for my share of the favour," said Elizabeth; "but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands...."

Now......this does not in any way prove that Mrs. Russell was correct in her assessment of JA's character. Perhaps Mrs. Russell herself was a very proper lady, who was put off by JA's laughing a bit too loud at the young men at that ball? Maybe she took JA as a "Lydia" when she ought to have seen her as a "Lizzy"? Perhaps a fine distinction at a noisy crowded ball?

And therefore perhaps it is also not a coincidence that there is a Lady surnamed "Russell" who is known to _all_ Janeites as the literary poster child for "Foolishly meddling older woman who throws a monkey wrench into a prospective marriage between two young lovers".

Was JA aware of Mrs. Russell's disapproval of her, either by direct observation at that ball, or perhaps by report via Madam Lefroy? Either way, perhaps part of JEAL's motivation in trying to deep-six the Mitford connection to JA was in order to better conceal some romance between Jane Austen and a man she actually did wish to marry--whether Tom Lefroy or some other local suitor? Perhaps JEAL feared that Mitford's famous (by 1869) bon mot about JA would lead someone to search more actively for details of such a thwarted romance? And might that trail lead to Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh and William Austen-Leigh, in 1913, in _JA, Her Life and Letters_ (later expanded by Le Faye into A Family Record), discussing the hasty decision of Rev. and Mrs. Austen to relocate to Bath in early 1801:

" So hasty, indeed, did Mr. Austen's decision appear to the Perrots that l they suspected the reason to be a growing attachment between Jane and one of the three Digweed brothers. There is not the slightest evidence of this very improbable supposition in Jane's letters, though she /does/ occasionally suggest that James Digweed must be in love with Cassandra, especially when he gallantly supposed that the two elms had fallen from grief at her absence."

Notwithstanding RAAL's dismissal of that rumor, that is food for thought when considered in light of all I have written, above, about what we might call the "Russell/Mitford/Austen Husband-Hunting Connection".

Cheers, ARNIE

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Occupy Godmersham/Pemberley (Library)

In the aftermath of my post earlier today "Lady Denham, Aunt Leigh-Perrot, & Arsenic Poisoning", I Googled "Sanditon" and "poison" together, and that combination led me to the following book:

Women's reading in Britain, 1750-1835: a dangerous recreation by Jacqueline Pearson, Chapter 5 "When and how should women read"

Consider the following information in that chapter and how it relates directly and crucially to Jane Austen's life and fiction:

"Circulating libraries were vital in the democratisation and regionalisation of literature, playing a crucial 'popularising role', since most readers, especially of fiction, 'were not library owners, but library goers.' Books were so expensive that hardly anyone beyond the very wealthiest could afford ephemeral reading like novels: 'who buy novels?', Charlotte Smith asks bitterly. The price of novels rose steeply in the 1790s, when Camilla would have cost L15s and The Mysteries of Udolpho L14s (for the same price, one could buy eight to ten pairs of women's shoes)."

I had no idea about that sharp inflation in book prices during JA's young adulthood. That sheds radical new light on the awful events of 1800-1801 when, among other things, the Steventon rectory library, and in particular Jane Austen's personal collection of books, was sold off for a pittance. Now I understand that the books which JA loved, and depended on having in her possession to facilitate her writing, had probably been bought at low prices during her youth, but could never be replaced during her adulthood, because those same books would by then have cost much much more! So, like the reputation of a woman, these books, once gone, were (essentially) irretrievable! For an author like JA, a truly tragic loss.

And that also shed light on one very important reason why JA, as an adult, enjoyed her rare visits to Godmersham, which had a large library where JA could browse and do research at her leisure:

"I am now alone in the library, mistress of all I survey..."

And that's also why we read the following exchange at Netherfield:

"I am astonished," said Miss Bingley, "that my father should have left so small a collection of books. What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!"

"It ought to be good," he replied, "it has been the work of many generations."

"And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books."

"I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these."

But I fear that Mr. Darcy never opened up, for regular access to the less wealthy residents of Lambton, his richly stocked library (like all those trout in the streams at Pemberley)--No, like most 1%ers, his largesse only went so far, and he mostly left the 99%ers in his village to their own poorer resources. What, one wonders, would Mr. Darcy have done if a delegation of Lambtonites had come to him with a request for regular access?

But getting back to Pearson's chapter about libraries, I also read the following, of which I had previously been aware:

"Circulating libraries, then, were vital in allowing access to literature
to less affluent readers, but were also the subject of vigorous hostile propaganda. Library proprietors sought to preempt this by a number of tactics. Library premises were 'designed to suggest privacy and even domesticity', and advertising through trade cards and catalogue engravings offered 'romanticised pictures' of elegant respectability, including even a subtle 'emphasis on chekcs to untutored and irresponsible reading.'
Despite such attempts, however, the evidence suggests even in the managers of such libraries a 'tension between promotion and guardedness, between commercialization and exclusivity': the public-private space of the circulating library was also viewed ambivalently by library users and even writers who depended on sales to libraries for their livelihood.
In reality, many respectable families and individuals were ready to risk the circulating library's ambiguous space. The Austens...and countless other respctable but not affluent readers depended upon its resources...However,...prevailing stereotypes saw them as culturally and morally inferior, marketing 'illiterate authors for illiterate readers':
they were imaged as an 'evergreen tree of diabolical knowledge', 'filthy streams of spiritual and moral pollution', 'the gin-shop of [female] minds', a 'great evil', simultaneously conveying 'food and POISON' to the young reader. ...Proprietors' advertisements tried to counter stereotypes of circulating libraries as haunts of unbridled sexuality...the hostile propaganda denigrated circulating libraries by representing them as places dominated by women, from the 'young ladies at the counter' to female customers whose ignorance and folly are satirised."

And there you have another covert meaning of the "poison" reference in Sanditon, echoed by the idiotic Edward Denham's dismissal of "the trash of the circulating library". And Sanditon itself, had it been completed, would have added to that pile of "poisonous" "trash".

Cheers, ARNIE

Lady Denham, Aunt Leigh-Perrot & Arsenic Poisoning

During the past two days I have reread JA's Sanditon fragment, and I didn't have to be a rocket scientist to see yet another example of how big a liar Henry Austen was when he wrote that JA did not allude to real people in her fiction. What I am about to describe to you might be the Mount Everest of Austenian negative portrayals of real people in her novels.

Edward Copeland has been the Austen scholar who has taken the lead in making the argument that the character of Lady Denham is a very UNflattering, thinly veiled portrait of Aunt Jane Leigh-Perrot, to say the least. And I see even more aspects to that negative portrayal than Copeland has written, including in particular Lady Denham's sneering comments about "West Injines" spending too much money in Sanditon, causing prices to rise (not exactly Adam Smith-level economic theorizing!)--what makes that detail so darkly satirical is that Aunt Leigh Perrot was herself a "West Injine", born and raised in Barbados before coming to England!

And...the most significant aspect of Lady Denham's situation in
Sanditon, which the narrator devotes the lion's share of one chapter to explain, is that Lady Denham is the Queen Bee around whom three different "camps" of potential heirs are buzzing---the family of her rich deceased first husband, the family of her not-so-rich deceased second husband, and a niece and nephew from her own family of origin. It is clear that the development of the plot was going to revolve significantly around that inheritance feeding frenzy. And so is it just a coincidence that JA's own health took a horrific downturn in 1816 as a
result of the Austen women being left out in the _inheritance_ "cold" when Uncle Leigh-Perrot died (the following are the links to my series of posts nearly two years ago on that subject):

Connecting the dots back to my initial paragraph, above, I think it's clear that if members of JA's family--in particular James Austen, the heir-apparent of Aunt Leigh-Perrot--and James's wife Mary---were aware that Sanditon had at the dramatic center of its story-line an extremely negative and thinly veiled portrayal of the anticipated benefactress of
James Austen's family--sorta like Lady Catherine de Bourgh vis a vis Mr. Collins and his family---dontcha think that would have been very disturbing to James and Mary? Especially given their pattern of rapaciously greedy behavior during the move of the Austen women and Revd. Austen to Bath in 1800-1801?

So is it just a coincidence that, almost immediately after the narration brings Lady Denham front and center in the action of the story, in a _very_ unpleasant light, the writing of Sanditon is abruptly _and permanently_ cut off in March 1817 by JA's experiencing a _sudden_ health crisis that lays her very low for nearly two months?

And is it just a coincidence that we have the following parallelism between one of JA's letters describing that health crisis, and the text of Sanditon itself?:

Letter from Diana Parker to her brother Tom Parker:“My dear Tom, We were all much greived by at your accident, & if you had not described yourself as fallen into such very good hands, I shd. should have been with you at all hazards the day after the recpt. receipt of your Letter, though it found me hardly able to crawl from the my Bed to the Sofa suffering under a more severe attack than usual of my old greivance, Spasmodic Bile.”

Letter 159, 5/22/17, from JA to Anne Sharp: Your kind Letter my dearest Anne found me in bed, for in spite of my hopes & promises when I wrote to you I have since been very ill indeed. An attack of my sad complaint seized me within a few days afterwards-the most severe I ever had-& coming upon me after weeks of indisposition, it reduced me very low. I have kept my bed since the 13. of April, with only removals to a Sopha.
Now, I am getting well again, & indeed have been gradually tho' slowly recovering my strength for the last three weeks. I can sit up in my bed & employ myself, as I am proving to you at this present moment, & really am equal to being out of bed, but that the posture is thought good for me.- light of _all_ the above--including the speculations about Jane Austen having died of arsenic poisoning---isn't it curious that we also read the following extraordinary "poisonous" passage in Sanditon:

"What!" said [Arthur Parker]. "Do you venture upon two dishes of strong green tea in one evening? What nerves you must have! How I envy you. Now, if I were to swallow only one such dish, what do you think its effect would be upon me?" "Keep you awake perhaps all night," replied Charlotte, meaning to overthrow his attempts at surprise by the grandeur of her own conceptions. "Oh, if that were all!" he exclaimed. "No. It acts on me like POISON and would entirely take away the use of my right side before I had swallowed it five minutes. It sounds almost
incredible, but it has happened to me so often that I cannot doubt it. The use of my right side is entirely taken away for several hours! " "It sounds rather odd to be sure," answered Charlotte coolly,"but l dare say it would be proved to be the simplest thing in the world by those who have studied right sides and green tea scientifically and thoroughly understand all the possibilities of their action on each other."

And, isn't it also curious that in Anna Austen’s continuation of Sanditon, we also have the following "poisonous" passage?:

"Mr. Parker was engaged to dine with his Brother [Sidney] at the Hotel, & Arthur, also an invited guest, wd very gladly have done the same, if his Sisters had not vehemently protested against his running such a risk. According to their belief, POISON must have been as inevitable at a Hotel, as the bill; & lurked in every dish, from the first, placed on the table according to ancient custom by Mr. Woodcock’s own august
hands, to the concluding Ale & Stilton Cheese….”

Where have you gone, Agatha Christie, a nation of Janeites turns its lonely eyes to you!

Cheers, ARNIE

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hegel and Jane Austen: REDUX REDUX

Today is more or less the second and third anniversary of posts I have written in the past about Hegelian aspects of Jane Austen's writing:

I now have a _third_ post to add to that Hegelian sequence, which is the following quotation from Slavoj Zizek. The Sublime Object of Ideology. (1989), which I was led to by another Austen scholar purely by serendipity, as I was looking into an interesting subtextual Austen angle:

ppg. 62-64: “Austen, not Austin: it is Jane Austen who is perhaps the only counterpart to Hegel in literature. P&P is the literary Phenomenology of Spirit; MP the Science of Logic, and Emma the Encyclopaedia….No wonder, then, that we find in P&P the perfect case of this dialectic of truth arising from misrecognition. Although they belong to different social classes—he is from an extremely rich aristocratic family, she from the impoverished middle classes—Elizabeth and Darcy feel a strong mutual attraction. Because of his pride, his love appears to Darcy as something unworthy; when he asks for Elizabeth’s hand, he confesses openly his contempt for the world to which she belongs and expects her to accept his proposition as an unheard-of honour. But because of her prejudice, Elizabeth sees him as ostentatious, arrogant, and vain: his condescending proposal humiliates her, and she refuses him.This double failure, this mutual misrecognition, possesses a structure of a double movement of communication where each subject receives from the other its own message in the inverse form: Elizabeth wants to present herself to Darcy as a young cultivated woman, full of wit, and she gets from him the message ‘you are nothing but apoor empty-minded creature, full of false finesse’; Darcy wants to present himself to her as a proud gentleman, and he gets from her the message ‘your pride is nothing but contemptible arrogance.’ After the break in their relationship each discovers, through a series of accidents, the true nature of the other—she the sensitive and tender nature of Darcy, he her real dignity and wit—and the novel ends as it should, with their marriage. The theoretical interest of this story lies in the fact that the failure of their first encounter, the double misrecognition concerning the real nature of the other, functions as a positive condition of the final outcome: we cannot go directly for the truth, we cannot say, ‘If, from the very beginning, she had recognized his real nature and he hers, their story could have ended at once with their marriage.’ Let us take as a comical hypothesis that the first encounter of the future lovers was a success—that Elizabeth had accepted Darcy’s first proposal. What would happen? Instead of being bound together in true love, they would become a vulgar everyday couple, a liaison of an arrogant, rich man and a pretentious, empty minded young girl. If we want to spare ourselves the painful roundabout route through the misrecognition…"

I see other deeper layers of misrecognition in P&P beyond those described by Zizek, but they are all related, and also spring in part, I believe, from JA's own insight into, and extension of, Hegel's ideas, into the realm of literature.

Cheers, ARNIE

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Big Lie about Jane Austen

Apropos the recent furor about the new novel that suggests Jane Austen was poisoned, we'll never know the whole story about why Jane Austen died at the height of her artistic powers at age 41, but what is for sure is that her brothers, before she was even cold in the grave, started the Big Lie about what sort of writer and person she was, sanitizing her radical feminist message, a Big Lie that has only started to crumble after 2 centuries:

Weston, Florida

P.S. added Wed. 4:45 pm EST 11/15/11:

It just occurred to me that the strongest argument AGAINST the claim that Jane Austen was intentionally poisoned is that, in the shadow story of not one but TWO of her novels, there are instances of unpunished country house murder perpetrated by close family members:

Dr. Grant murdered by Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park:

Mrs. Churchill murdered by Frank Churchill (he who bought gloves at Fords---the better to strangle his aunt with?) in Emma:

So, if Jane Austen had the imagination to conjure up such dark doings in novels published in 1814 and 1816, respectively, I would find it a remarkably large stretch to imagine that she would calmly and unsuspiciously go to her death in 1817, without taking any actions to protect herself, in terms of what she took into her body via her mouth!

It would be like Agatha Christie being poisoned by a close family member---unthinkable!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Veiled Allusion to Sheridan’s Duenna in Austen’s Mansfield Park

Ellen Moody, in a blog entry earlier this morning, wrote:

“Linda Troost’s paper, “Publicity that Money Cannot Buy: The Syren of Covent Garden and The Duenna.” After “Love in a Village,” Sheridan’s Duenna was performed more frequently than any other play across the century. Sheridan’s father-in-law (Linley) revised the music. In our time the play is helped to an audience through advertising the parallels in Sheridan’s life and marriage and that of his wife, Elizabeth Linley, and the characters in his play who elope to escaped an arranged materialistic merciless match. The action of the play concerns the heroine’s continued attempts to escape an unwanted marriage by eloping. At the time Anne Brown was given the lead, and she too kept running away, eloping, and there seems little doubt this outside play real-life activity kept the staging of plays indoors. Linda was very amusing on the real life stories of Anne Brown who it seems eloped once too often, and died drowned off a ship on its way home (with, so the sentimental stories said, her newborn baby in her arms). For my part, I felt for Ann Brown and wondered why she was so determined to escape her father and was so susceptible to seduction. “

My first association upon reading Ellen's pithy summation was..... “Maria Bertram _and_ Fanny Price” ! My second association was to recall my own line of research of 30 months ago, when I first realized that Richard Brinsley Sheridan, his wife Elizabeth (nee Linley), _and_ his mother Frances Sheridan, were _all_ part of the allusive subtext of _Northanger_ _Abbey_ , an insight which I outlined very briefly during my JASNA AGM talk in Portland in Nov. 2010.

Prior to reading Ellen’s summation, however, I had been unaware that _The_ _Duenna_ had been such a very famous, frequently performed play during JA’s entire lifetime. That factoid led me to wonder: could JA have inserted a veiled allusion to The Duenna in _Mansfield_ _Park_?

I believe I already _subconsciously_ knew the answer was “Yes!”, because my first action was to search for the word “duenna” in MP, and that brought me right to the following passage near the very end of Ch. 13, which had surely stuck in my mind from one of my rereadings of MP:

“Edmund had little to hope, but he was still urging the subject when Henry Crawford entered the room, fresh from the Parsonage, calling out, “No want of hands in our theatre, Miss Bertram. No want of understrappers: my sister desires her love, and hopes to be admitted into the company, and will be happy to take the part of any old _duenna_ or tame confidante, that you may not like to do yourselves.”

Just a coincidence? Well, for starters, look at the passage that JA chose to write in the very beginning of Ch. 14, i.e., only a few paragraphs after the above usage of the word “duenna” in relation to a theatrical role:

“All the best plays were run over in vain. Neither Hamlet, nor Macbeth, nor Othello, nor Douglas, nor The Gamester, presented anything that could satisfy even the tragedians; and _The_ _Rivals_, _The School for Scandal_, Wheel of Fortune, Heir at Law, and a long et cetera, were successively dismissed with yet warmer objections.”
It could not be a coincidence that two of Sheridan’s _other_ very famous theatrical writings were listed in such very close proximity to the title of a _third_ Sheridan stage success! And therefore, I claim, that “long et cetera” listed by the MP narrator surely included _The_ _Duenna_!

So, what could this allusion mean? I found, and then quickly read, the text of _The Duenna_ online, and also read the Wikipedia entry for same, and brought myself up to speed.

It is a play involving the familiar comic mainstay of resourceful heroines using guile to thwart parental oppression. It is easy to see various of the characters as transposed into MP, with the heroine Louisa, the second heroine Clara, and the tertiary heroine the Duenna, Margaret, looking very much like Fanny, Maria, and Mary, respectively, in MP. And we also have Don Antonio as Henry Crawford, Don Ferdinand as Edmund, Don Jerome as Sir Thomas, and (alas) the rich Isaac Mendoza (some unfortunate anti-Semitic imagery from Sheridan) as Mr. Rushworth.

Having gotten that far, and interesting as the above already was, in terms of JA’s allusive artistry, I felt there had to be something more buried under the surface in MP. So I searched the name “Margaret” in MP, and that search opened up the wormhole that led directly to a great deal of text in MP that has up till today seemed like a great deal of superfluous background information, regarding Mary Crawford’s friends the sisters Lady Stornaway and Mrs.Fraser, and the latter’s stepdaughter, _Margaret_ Fraser.

Read now the inset story of these minor characters in MP, keeping in mind the story line of _The_ _Duenna_, and you will, I think, understand another important why JA provided all this detail:

MP, 36: Fanny roused herself, and replying only in part, said, "But you are only going from one set of friends to another. You are going to a very particular friend." "Yes, very true. Mrs. Fraser has been my intimate friend for years. But I have not the least inclination to go near her. I can think only of the friends I am leaving: my excellent sister, yourself, and the Bertrams in general. You have all so much more heart among you than one finds in the world at large. You all give me a feeling of being able to trust and _confide_ [like Mary C.’s reference to playing a “tame confidante”] in you, which in common intercourse one knows nothing of. I wish I had settled with Mrs. Fraser not to go to her till after Easter, a much better time for the visit, but now I cannot put her off. And when I have done with her I must go to her sister, Lady Stornaway, because she was rather my most particular friend of the two, but I have not cared much for her these three years."

...Why, Fanny, you are absolutely in a reverie. Thinking, I hope, of one who is always thinking of you. Oh! that I could transport you for a short time into our circle in town, that you might understand how your power over Henry is thought of there! Oh! the envyings and heartburnings of dozens and dozens; the wonder, the incredulity that will be felt at hearing what you have done! For as to secrecy, Henry is quite the hero of an old romance, and glories in his chains. You should come to London to know how to estimate your conquest. If you were to see how he is courted, and how I am courted for his sake! Now, I am well aware that I shall not be half so welcome to Mrs. Fraser in consequence of his situation with you. When she comes to know the truth she will, very likely, wish me in Northamptonshire again; for _ there is a daughter of Mr. Fraser, by a first wife, whom she is wild to get married_, and wants Henry to take. Oh! she has been trying for him to such a degree. Innocent and quiet as you sit here, you cannot have an idea of the sensation that you will be occasioning, of the curiosity there will be to see you, of the endless questions I shall have to answer! _Poor Margaret Fraser will be at me for ever about your eyes and your teeth, and how you do your hair, and who makes your shoes. I wish Margaret were married, for my poor friend's sake_, for I look upon the Frasers to be about as unhappy as most other married people. And yet it was a most desirable match for Janet at the time. We were all delighted. She could not do otherwise than accept him, for he was rich, and she had nothing; but he turns out ill-tempered and exigeant, and wants a young woman, a beautiful young woman of five-and-twenty, to be as steady as himself. And my friend does not manage him well; she does not seem to know how to make the best of it. There is a spirit of irritation which, to say nothing worse, is certainly very ill-bred. In their house I shall call to mind the conjugal manners of Mansfield Parsonage with respect. Even Dr. Grant does shew a thorough confidence in my sister, and a certain consideration for her judgment, which makes one feel there is attachment; but of that I shall see nothing with the Frasers. I shall be at Mansfield for ever, Fanny. My own sister as a wife, Sir Thomas Bertram as a husband, are my standards of perfection. Poor Janet has been sadly taken in, and yet there was nothing improper on her side: she did not run into the match inconsiderately; there was no want of foresight. She took three days to consider of his proposals, and during those three days asked the advice of everybody connected with her whose opinion was worth having, and especially applied to my late dear aunt, whose knowledge of the world made her judgment very generally and deservedly looked up to by all the young people of her acquaintance, and she was decidedly in favour of Mr. Fraser. This seems as if nothing were a security for matrimonial comfort. I have not so much to say for my friend Flora, who jilted a very nice young man in the Blues for the sake of that horrid Lord Stornaway, who has about as much sense, Fanny, as Mr. Rushworth, but much worse-looking, and with a blackguard character. I had my doubts at the time about her being right, for he has not even the air of a gentleman, and now I am sure she was wrong. By the bye, Flora Ross was dying for Henry the first winter she came out. But were I to attempt to tell you of all the women whom I have known to be in love with him, I should never have done. It is you, only you, insensible Fanny, who can think of him with anything like indifference. But are you so insensible as you profess yourself? No, no, I see you are not."

43:“.. My friend, Mrs. Fraser, is mad for such a house, and it would not make me miserable. I go to Lady Stornaway after Easter; she seems in high spirits, and very happy. I fancy Lord S. is very goodhumoured and pleasant in his own family, and I do not think him so very ill-looking as I did-at least, one sees many worse. He will not do by the side of your cousin Edmund. Of the last-mentioned hero, what shall I say? If I avoided his name entirely, it would look suspicious. I will say, then, that we have seen him two or three times, and that my friends here are very much struck with his gentlemanlike appearance. Mrs. Fraser (no bad judge) declares she knows but three men in town who have so good a person, height, and air; and I must confess, when he dined here the other day, there were none to compare with him, and we were a party of sixteen. Luckily there is no distinction of dress nowadays to tell tales, but—but—but Yours affectionately."

44: “…I had every attention from the Frasers that could be reasonably expected. I dare say I was not reasonable in carrying with me hopes of an intercourse at all like that of Mansfield. It was her manner, however, rather than any unfrequency of meeting. Had she been different when I did see her, I should have made no complaint, but from the very first she was altered: my first reception was so unlike what I had hoped, that I had almost resolved on leaving London again directly. I need not particularise. You know the weak side of her character, and may imagine the sentiments and expressions which were torturing me. She was in high spirits, and surrounded by those who were giving all the support of their own bad sense to her too lively mind. I do not like Mrs. Fraser. She is a cold-hearted, vain woman, who has married entirely from convenience, and though evidently unhappy in her marriage, places her disappointment not to faults of judgment, or temper, or disproportion of age, but to her being, after all, less affluent than many of her acquaintance, especially than her sister, Lady Stornaway, and is the determined supporter of everything mercenary and ambitious, provided it be only mercenary and ambitious enough. I look upon her intimacy with those two sisters as the greatest misfortune of her life and mine. They have been leading her astray for years. Could she be detached from them!-and sometimes I do not despair of it, for the affection appears to me principally on their side. They are very fond of her; but I am sure she does not love them as she loves you.” END QUOTE

I will merely point out that in _The_ _Duenna_, Donna Clara, the daughter from the first marriage of her father, is being pressured (to marry for money) by her stepmother, exactly the way Margaret Fraser is under attack from _her_ stepmother, Mrs. Fraser (i.e., Mary’s particular friend)!

Otherwise, I leave it to those so inclined to delve more deeply into the intricacies of this veiled allusion in MP to _The_ _Duenna_.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: It may very well be a coincidence, but I would be remiss in not adding that in Act 1, Scene 2, of The Rivals, by Sheridan—which, as I noted above, was _explicitly_ named in MP, we have the following exchange:

Lydia Languish: Here, my dear Lucy, hide these books. Quick, quick.—Fling Peregrine Pickle under the toilet—throw Roderick Random into the closet-put The Innocent Adultery into The Whole Duty of Man—thrust Lord Aimworth under the sofa—cram Ovid behind the bolster— there—put the Man of Feeling into your pocket— so, so—now lay Mrs. Chapone in sight, and leave Fordyce's Sermons open on the table.

Lucy. Oh, burn it, ma'am! the hair-dresser haS TORN AWAY as far as Proper Pride.

Lyd. Never mind—open at Sobriety.—Fling me Lord Chesterfield's Letters.—Now for 'em.

Part of the (sub)text of The Duenna, I would suggest, has indeed been “TORN AWAY” by JA and inserted in MP!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Mysterious Miss (Pamela) Andrews in Northanger Abbey

In one of my recent posts about the allusion in Persuasion to the Joseph of Genesis...

...I quoted the following passage from Henry Austen’s 1818 Biographical Notice...

"...She did not rank any work of Fielding quite so high [as Richardson's Grandison]. Without the slightest affectation she recoiled from every thing gross. Neither nature, wit, nor humour, could make her amends for so very low a scale of morals."

...and I then gave a whirlwind tour of a number of interrelated Fielding allusions in Persuasion, NA, and JA’s letters, which collectively belied Henry Austen’s claim that JA “recoiled” from Fielding.

However, I now see Henry Austen’s deception in the above passage in _stereo_, as I note the function of the Biographical Notice---as introduction to the 1818 posthumous _dual_ publication of Northanger Abbey together with Persuasion! I believe Henry Austen’s goal was to influence the initial reading of those novels, and to steer the reader away from disturbing rumors they might have heard about JA’s literary models. So Henry not only asserted the (false) claim that JA “recoiled” from Fielding, but also the equally false (as I will show, below) assertion that JA ranked Richardson (in particular Sir Charles Grandison) _high_, without alloy of satire or subversion. Henry’s Jane Austen would therefore have been the prim, proper, dutifully submissive Aunt Jane who became the face the world saw for nearly 200 years.

The portal for me into JA’s subversive satire of Richardson’s novels in NA was the following passage in Chapter 6 of NA, in which Isabella Thorpe, briefly, tells Catherine _all_ about her “particular friend”, “Miss Andrews”:

[Is.] "Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them. I wish you knew Miss Andrews, you would be delighted with her. She is netting herself the sweetest cloak you can conceive. I think her as beautiful as an angel, and I am so vexed with the men for not admiring her! I scold them all amazingly about it."
[Cath.] "Scold them! Do you scold them for not admiring her?"
[Is.] "Yes, that I do. There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature. My attachments are always excessively strong. I told Captain Hunt at one of our assemblies this winter that if he was to tease me all night, I would not dance with him, unless he would allow Miss Andrews to be as beautiful as an angel. The men think us incapable of real friendship, you know, and I am determined to show them the difference. Now, if I were to hear anybody speak slightingly of you, I should fire up in a moment: but that is not at all likely, for you are just the kind of girl to be a great favourite with the men."
"Oh, dear!" cried Catherine, colouring. "How can you say so?"
"I know you very well; you have so much animation, which is exactly what Miss Andrews wants, for I must confess there is something amazingly insipid about her. Oh! I must tell you, that just after we parted yesterday, I saw a young man looking at you so earnestly—I am sure he is in love with you." Catherine coloured, and disclaimed again. Isabella laughed. "It is very true, upon my honour, but I see how it is; you are indifferent to everybody's admiration, except that of one gentleman, who shall be nameless. Nay, I cannot blame you"—speaking more seriously—"your feelings are easily understood. Where the heart is really attached, I know very well how little one can be pleased with the attention of anybody else. Everything is so insipid, so uninteresting, that does not relate to the beloved object! I can perfectly comprehend your feelings."
"But you should not persuade me that I think so very much about Mr. Tilney, for perhaps I may never see him again."
"Not see him again! My dearest creature, do not talk of it. I am sure you would be miserable if you thought so!"
"No, indeed, I should not. I do not pretend to say that I was not very much pleased with him; but while I have Udolpho to read, I feel as if nobody could make me miserable. Oh! The dreadful black veil! My dear Isabella, I am sure there must be Laurentina's skeleton behind it."
"It is so odd to me, that you should never have read Udolpho before; but I suppose Mrs. Morland objects to novels."
"No, she does not. She very often reads Sir Charles Grandison herself; but new books do not fall in our way."
"Sir Charles Grandison! That is an amazing horrid book, is it not? I remember Miss Andrews could not get through the first volume.”
"It is not like Udolpho at all; but yet I think it is very entertaining."
"Do you indeed! You surprise me; I thought it had been unreadable…. “ END QUOTE

I was led to this passage by searching for the name “Andrews” in JA’s novels, in followup to my recent postings about the Biblical Joseph represented both in Fielding’s _Tom_ _Jones_, and also in JA’s novels and letters. I took note of the obvious and long-recognized allusion in the scene in _Joseph_ _Andrews_, with Lady Booby’s coming on to Fielding’s naïve hero, as a direct echo of Potiphar’s wife coming on to the Biblical Joseph for whom he was so clearly named.

All of which raised the question in my mind---did JA’s interest in the Biblical Joseph ever lead her to _Joseph_ _Andrews_? As I read this passage (which is the only place in NA where we hear a good deal about Miss Andrews), I noted with interest the explicit multi-part reference to Richardson’s _Sir Charles Grandison_. And of course _Joseph_ _Andrews_ was one of Fielding’s _two_ subversive sequels to Richardson’s _Pamela_! And of course Pamela’s last name is _also_ Andrews, as Fielding’s Joseph is supposed to be her brother--and she is actually referred to several times in Richardson’s novel as “Miss Andrews”!

So, it was already clear to me that JA’s choice of that surname for Isabella’s particular friend was no coincidence. And then I learned, from my usual scrupulous scholarly searching, that the honor of priority of identification of Isabella Thorpe’s “Miss Andrews” as a representation of Richardson’s _Pamela_ Andrews belongs to Prof. Carole Gerster, in her chapter “Rereading Northanger Abbey” in Lambdin’s Companion to Jane Austen studies (2000).

The huge bonus from reading Gerster’s chapter was that it is, in my opinion, one of the very best analyses of the feminist parodic aspects of NA that have ever been written—and I have read them all. I urge you all to read it, it begins on P. 115 here:

What I have to add to the mix is my usual sort of textual wordplay sleuthing, which in a half dozen ways, corroborates and deepens Gerster’s insight. Here are my three favorite elements in JA’s allusion to Richardson in the above passage:

ONE: Pamela, very similar to Isabella’s Miss Andrews, is specifically referred to several times as a “sweet creature”, and as an “angel”, and Miss Andrews netting herself a cloak is a very sly reference to Pamela being accused by Miss Davers of engaging in a cunning _cloak_ of deception!

TWO: Isabella’s Miss Andrews, like Clementina in Sir Charles Grandison, is called “as beautiful as an angel”.

THREE: It is in this very short passage that we learn that Mrs. Morland rereads Sir Charles Grandison, but Miss Andrews finds SCG unreadable. What witty irony of JA, to have a representation of a character from one Richardson novel find another Richardson novel unreadable!

Gerster does a fantastic job of demonstrating, via analysis of a half dozen significant themes in NA, that JA is parodying and satirizing Richardson every step of the way, and my above textual evidence is the icing on that particular cake.
And you can be certain that Henry Austen was aware of at least some of the above, and _that_ is why he protested so much to the contrary in his Bio Notice. It worked for nearly 200 years, but the time is now ending for his deception’s demise, so very long overdue.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. It’s also no accident that Mrs. Elton repeatedly calls Jane Fairfax a “sweet creature” –Augusta and Isabella would have been _such_ good friends if they had ever crossed paths!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Jane Austen’s Persuasion as a Biblical Vision of England as Egypt vis a vis the 1815 Corn Law & the 1816 Volcanic Eruption

This post will fill in the fourth dimension of the allusion by Jane Austen in Persuasion to the story of Joseph and Pharaoh, with thin and full ears of corn, in Genesis, and I will do this, for a change, almost entirely by quotations from other scholars, which, I claim, take on startling added significance when viewed through the lens of that Biblical allusion.

First, per Wikipedia: “In 1813, a House of Commons Committee recommended excluding foreign-grown corn until domestically grown corn reached £4 per quarter. Malthus believed this to be a fair price, and that it would be dangerous for Britain to rely on imported corn as lower prices would reduce labourers' wages, and manufacturers would lose out due to the fall in purchasing power of landlords and farmers. However Ricardo believed in free trade so Britain could use its capital and population to her comparative advantage. With the advent of peace in 1814, corn prices dropped, and the Tory government passed the 1815 Corn Law. This led to serious rioting in London.”

And here is an expanded view of the above-described events, courtesy of Sheryl Craig’s Vol. 22 Persuasions Online article:

“…Between 1790 and 1814, wholesale prices doubled…, a particularly distressing occurrence to household budgets based on fixed yearly incomes, such as the Austen family’s. At the same time, taxes soared; for example, the window tax on houses quadrupled…, and, even without the increase, taxes in general were outrageous. Not only were people taxed on land, houses, and income, taxes were affixed to obvious luxury items such as horses, carriages, and silk and to less ostentatious non-necessities such as male servants and dogs. Middle-class items—glass, hats, newspapers, coffee, sugar, paper, and playing cards—were taxed. Neither could the poor escape the tax burden as taxes were levied on the most common and mundane items, such as candles, beer, malt, bricks, stone, salt, tea, soap, and coal… Perversely, wages for agricultural laborers plummeted from around 15 shillings a week to 6, slightly more than one-third of their former pay. A series of bad harvests and a 60% drop in agricultural prices preceded the passing of the Corn Law in 1815, but it was too little, too late for hundreds of bankrupt farmers and their employees… Faye Weldon reminds us this was also the time of enclosure: “The rural population saw its common land vanishing as farmers and landowners claimed it for their own, and enclosed it with hedges, and was powerless to prevent it, and grew hungrier and hungrier” (92-93). In 1816, as Emma was being distributed, conditions were so bad that food riots broke out in Sussex and Yorkshire. The desperation of the rural poor probably explains the presence of begging gypsies and poultry thieves in Emma. Many banks were forced to close, including the bank managed by Jane Austen’s brother Henry.” END QUOTE

Nancy’s mantra over the past decade has been that JA did _not_ write about national or global events in her novels, and she always has included the Corn Law among those events. Well, I beg to differ.

A few years ago, Derrick took this promising step: “…Messrs Knightley and Martin would have supported the Corn Laws, which were discussed in Commons Committee in 1813 after pressure and lobbying from landowners and farmers. Wheat and spring corn were definitely on the agenda at Donwell.”

But it’s much more even than that. I claim that the allusion to the Joseph of Genesis in Persuasion, centered around his interpretation of the Pharaoh’s dreams of lean and full years in the corn crop, did not hold merely personal meaning for JA. She _also_ wove it, in Persuasion, into a subliminal vision of England as a latter day Egypt, a great empire in the throes of crisis, facing disastrous climate changes, famine, taxation, and social upheaval.

With this background, I invite you to read the following excerpt from the introduction to the 2006 edition of Persuasion edited by Todd and Blank, at p. xxxii, and think, as you go, about how their insightful comments take on treble significance when filtered through the lens of the Biblical Joseph allusion, which Todd and Blank seem at times almost on the verge of realizing themselves:

“…in Persuasion, the snobbishness of Sir Walter Elliot is more corrosive, combined with contempt for the poor and unconcern for the conduct of a war that touched almost everyone in the nation. Although the French Terror had frightened the majority from desiring revolution, there was much unrest in England during the 1810s; taking the threat seriously, the government retaliated with harsh measures…Austen’s vision of prosperous Abbey Mill Farm in Emma epitomized the agricultural flourishing of landowners and richer tenants in the war’s final years, when Napoleon’s Continental System barred countries under French control from trading with England and when internal prices and rents were kept high. After 1815, as inflated prices fell rapidly, the British government appeased worried landowners by bringing in The Corn Law Act, banning imports until the grain price reached L4 a quarter. This measure caused considerable hardship for the poor and made clear to many that the landed gentry did not regard themselves as heading and defending communities, but as looking after their class interest. The legislation was immediately opposed but not repealed until the potato famine in Ireland in 1846. Sir Walter’s failure in Persuasion to manage his estate properly in the ‘good’ years and his lack of concern for his tenants when he abandons Kellynch-hall need to be read against this background.
…Austen must have felt the added gloom of 1816 as she was writing Persuasion. This was the year in which the eruption of the Indonesian Mount Tamboro caused so much atmospheric dust that northern countries experienced an intensely wet cold spring and summer….The oppressiveness and desolation may have crept into her writing, perhaps in her description of the heroine’s autumnal walk to Winthrop. Thinking of human life, Anne Elliot assumes there is only one season of blooming while the farmer of crops means ‘to have spring again’…In hindsight, his intention has an ironic ring; as the first readers knew of the impending battle, they also knew of the dismal spring and disastrous harvest that followed. About the time when Austen was concluding Persuasion, Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughter, Fanny Imlay, described the results of the economic decline and ‘melancholy season’; in late July, the corn was still ‘perfectly green’, there were ’26 thousand men out of employment’ in Staffordshire and Shropshire alone, and ‘millions’ of ‘fellow countrymen left to starve.’ The ‘tax of quick alarm’ in Persuasion’s final sentence…would also have been suggestive to initial readers, signaling the crippling war debt which had to be paid off in peacetime….” END QUOTE
I wondered after assembling all of the above, whether any contemporary of Jane Austen might also have perceived the tumultuous world events occurring in 1815-16 through a Biblical lens, and I found at least one, in _A general collection of the best and most interesting voyages and travels_, edited by the Scottish antiquarian/historian/writer John Pinkerton (and friend of Horace Walpole) in 1814. In the Introduction, after a recapitulation of the story of Joseph and the Pharaoh, Pinkerton writes:

“The reader will hence perceive, that the exquisite history of Joseph includes, not only the first formal mention of commerce, but the slave trade, the bribery of a minister, the dreams of a monarch, the corn laws, the property tax, and the principles of monopoly.”

Indeed, JA had precisely the sort of synthetic vision of the reader Pinkerton imagined would read his book!

In conclusion, I suggest that if you read my four posts about JA’s allusion to Joseph in sequence, you get a four-dimensional perspective on the incredible synthetic genius of Jane Austen, whose limitless metaphorical imagination could find, in a small handful of Biblical verses, clay that she could mold into such radically different shapes, so as to depict her own life as both a woman and a writer, the lives of all other English gentlewomen, and also her entire nation in its global context, and all of it hidden in plain sight-----a staggering example of literary economy and genius.

Cheers, ARNIE