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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Anne Elliot, the Thin Ear that Blossomed into a Full Heart

I just received a wonderful comment at my very recent blog post about the allusion in Jane Austen’s Persuasion to the Joseph of Genesis….

…by a recent follower thereof, going by the handle Lit-Lass, which I started to answer as another comment, and then quickly realized my answer would require a whole blog post of its own.

I show Lit-Lass’s comments, broken up into sections, in quotes, with my responses following each:

[Lit-Lass] “I commented to ask where the statement of seven years being the duration for the Eliot's retrenchment was, and just found it in the beginning of chapter two.”

Yes, Ch. 2 is indeed where the _first_ passage is:

"If we can persuade your father to all this," said Lady Russell, looking over her paper, "much may be done. If he will adopt these regulations, in _seven_ _years_ he will be clear…”

[Lit-Lass] “However, in its effect on Anne, I think it more relevant that the first mention of the time since the engagement was broken off is that it was "more than seven years" - rather than the eight years we usually think of.”

Yes, I did say there was more than one passage in Persuasion which referred to "seven years", and the second one, in Chapter 4, about Anne's seven years of romantic “famine”, is indeed the far more significant one of the pair:

“More than _seven_ _years_ were gone since this little history of sorrowful interest had reached its close…”

And it just dawned on me as I was responding to you that JA added (at least) two other very clever touches, textual winks to the reader who is aware of the allusion to Joseph in Genesis, and who realizes that if Anne has come through seven long _lean_ years, then this privation will have manifested itself physically.

First, here is the allusive source, the relevant passage in Genesis 41: 5-7:

“And [Pharaoh] slept and dreamed the second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good. And, behold, seven _thin_ ears and blasted with the east _wind_ sprung up after them. And the seven _thin_ ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream.”

And now look at JA’s first textual wink toward that passage, in Ch. 16 of Persuasion:

"In the course of the same morning, Anne and her father chancing to be alone together, he began to compliment her on her improved looks; he thought her less _thin_ in her person, in her cheeks; her skin, her complexion, greatly improved; clearer, fresher."

What a rich irony that it is Sir Walter, for whom the “book of books” is the Baronetage, who unwittingly points to the relevant passages in everybody _else’s_ “book of books!

Could it be any clearer that Anne is an ear of corn that has nearly withered on the stalk?

And then let’s look at two other Biblically-informed passages in which that metaphor of Anne as a blooming agricultural crop is extended:

Ch. 7: No: the _years_ which had destroyed her youth and _bloom_ had only given him a more glowing, manly, open look, in no respect lessening his personal advantages.

Ch. 12: They ascended and passed him; and as they passed, Anne's face caught his eye, and he looked at her with a degree of earnest admiration, which she could not be insensible of. She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features, having the _bloom_ and freshness of youth restored by the fine _wind_ which had been blowing on her complexion, and by the animation of eye which it had also produced.

And, beyond those, these agricultural metaphors from Pharaoh’s prophetic dream pop up in several other passages in Persuasion referring to “bloom”, “branches” , “blossoms”, “wind”, etc.!

The following passage, after Anne has finally come fully back to life, thanks to being united with Wentworth, takes on special added loveliness and richness, when we think of the word “full” as a Biblical antonym of “thin”:

Ch. 24: Her spring of felicity was in the glow of her spirits, as her friend Anne's was in the warmth of her heart. Anne was tenderness itself, and she had the _full_ worth of it in Captain Wentworth's affection.

[Lit-Lass] Well, I'll have to reread the story of Joseph and think about this. Btw, it is also possible that Jane could have read Josephus' account of Joseph (which shows more interest in Potiphar's wife than the Biblical account). To quote Wikipedia: "However, the 1544 Greek edition formed the basis of the 1732 English translation by William Whiston which achieved enormous popularity in the English speaking world (and which is currently available online for free download by Project Gutenberg)"

And I will be the last person in the world to discourage anyone, especially a sharp reader like Lit-Lass, from following a lead like that—please come back and report on what you find!

So in conclusion: when I wrote my first post in this series, I was certain of JA’s intentionality in this specific but global Biblical allusion to Joseph; I became doubly certain after completing my second post in which I articulated how personal it was to JA; and I became still more certain after my third, in which I was able to connect the dots so strongly to JA’s first two surviving letters, with their Tom Jones and Tom Lefroy significance.

But this post, responding to Lit-Lass’s excellent comments, is for me the icing on the allusive layer cake. In it, we see all these textual bread crumbs (or, perhaps more fittingly to this particular example, I should call them kernels of corn!) which are the tangle manifestations of this complex, beautiful allusion. Like the eloquent prose poet that she was, JA always grounded her most astonishing metaphorical and metaphysical leaps in the rich soil of tangible imagery.

So thanks, Lit-Lass for your acute observations, and for prompting me to tease out more and more of this masterful JA allusion.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: And finally, for those who might be interested, here is the link to Lit-Lass’s own literary blog:

I have browsed in it and have found it very worthwhile, not surprisingly at all, given the acuity of her comments at my blog in recent weeks.


Lit~Lass said...

Well, I suspect you of being an adroit flatterer. ;) This post makes the allusion even more interesting and plausible.

And thanks for explaining Janeites. I've joined both that and Austen-L. I'm just not sure when I'll find the time (and have enough internet) to keep up with and post to them.

Arnie Perlstein said...

Yes, thanks, I agree that each of the posts in this series of posts reinforces the others.

I was sincere about your blog, life is too short for pretense about such important things. ;)

See you in Janeites and Austen L if you get around to posting there.

Cheers, ARNIE