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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Baby Swapping in Mansfield Park

Anielka Briggs wrote a very interesting and significant post in Austen L & Janeites today:

I first responded as follows:


I begin by acknowledging that you are clearly the first person to do the math you have laid out in your post. I haven't tried to follow all of your inferences yet, but will do so in the near future, and I go on the assumption that you would not be bringing it forward if it did not "work".

Working on that assumption, what I can say is that, somehow, what you have discerned via that mathematical analysis, _must_ dovetail in some way with _two_ discoveries of my own dating back to the summer of 2006:

FIRST: The following brief outline, which I wrote to several of my Janeite friends in November 2006 (at the same time I submitted to Persuasions Online a draft of an article, discussing same at much greater length, which was rejected), and which I forwarded to Anielka on October 23, 2007:

"As you will recall, I already had my smoking gun from before in terms of the complex allusion to Swift and his life in Mansfield Park, but yesterday I got my full copy of the 1757 article from The Gentleman's Magazine by the mysterious anonymous author of "Anecdotes of Dean Swift and Miss Johnson", and was thrilled to find another one, one that points strongly toward the illegitimacy themes of Mansfield Park which I have uncovered, from so many different sources: In MP Ch. 44, Edmund writes about Mary to Fanny: “I cannot give her up, Fanny. She is "the only woman in the world whom I could ever think of as a wife..." and then Fanny, half a page later, thinks to herself "'The only woman in the world whom he could ever think of as a wife.’ I firmly believe it. It is an attachment to govern his whole life. Accepted or refused, his heart is wedded to her for ever.” Secondarily, we also have, elsewhere in the novel, the following passage:"As to Mr Crawford, she hoped it might give him a knowledge of his own disposition, convince him that "he was not capable of being steadily attached to any one woman in the world,and shame him from persisting any longer in addressing herself." Now, consider those passages, especially those in Chapter 44, in relation to the following memorable turn of phrase in the Gentleman's Magazine article:“....the only woman in the world, who could make him happy as a wife, was the only woman in the world, who could not be that wife.” This is the passage where the writer is defending Swift's failure
to marry his lifelong love, Stella (which it is debatable whether he really did it secretly or not), arguing that it was when Swift, no longer young, was told, on the verge of marrying Stella, that she and her were half-siblings, i.e., both illegitimate offspring of the same father, Sir William Temple, that he realized he could not have children with her. Hence, the only woman who could not be his wife. Added to all the other evidence, the joint theme of incest and illegitimacy in the
novel takes on stronger and stronger reality." END QUOTE

The significance of my above-quoted analysis is that this covert allusion by JA in MP to the life of Jonathan Swift (the above is only the tip of that particular allusion) strongly suggests to the reader who recognizes the Swift allusion (Swift's relationship with Stella was a matter of common knowledge among the English literati during JA's lifetime) that Fanny and _Edmund_ actually _share_ at least one
biological parent, who might just be Sir Thomas Bertram.

SECOND: As I also wrote in _another_ article draft I submitted to Persuasions Online in November 2006 (which was _also_ rejected), and as I also emailed Anielka on October 24, 2007:

"Yes, indeed, the Crawfords are biracial and illegitimate, and Elton is biracial and illegitimate. Those are the ones I am certain were biracial illegitimate Creoles"

Responding to my hints, you were quick on the draw to pick up on the very same textual clues as to facial skin color that had initially started me thinking along those lines, that point in this direction, but I have other reasons as well. My sense since July 2006, which I have occasionally mentioned in passing in the usual online places, has remained that, in some way, either or both of Henry and Mary are
biological offspring of the Bertram family arising in some fashion out of the Bertram family's Antigua estate (where Patricia Rozema had already, in 1999, suggested that Sir Thomas leads a horrible double life there).

If you reveal it, I will be curious to see if your apparent discovery of a chronological and numerical anomaly in the number and ages of the Price children fits in some way with my above two observations, as I would imagine they must, because you and I both know that JA was not a slovenly artist, and her apparent errors can safely be assumed not to be errors at all, but clues to alternative interpretation.

And then I followed up a few moments ago as follows:

Here is a hit list of followup points to my first comments earlier today, after I carefully read through Anielka's analysis of the chronology of births in the Price family, and also refreshed my memory about certain key aspects of my own previous research. There are many points of synergy between Anielka's findings, and mine:

1. Anielka's math seems to me to be in order as best I can tell, there does indeed seem to be a missing child born to Mrs Price. All kudos to Anielka for that very significant discovery. Unless someone can poke a hole in her analysis, I think it is exactly the sort of "broad hem" that JA always hid in plain sight in her novels, to corroborate what the rest of the text suggests in a dozen subliminal ways.

2. That discovery is a wonderful confirmatory textual clue for the belief I have held since 2006, i.e., that when the narrator tells us in Chapter 1 of MP that "there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them", it is code for telling us that there is only _one_ large-fortuned Sir Thomas, but _three_ pretty Ward (Weird) sisters, and therefore he has "magnanimously" shared his wonderfulness at different times with all three of them, resulting in children born to all three of those "deserving" sisters---deserving, as in, they each get their just _deserts_ (i.e., they are all "in for it!", courtesy of Sir Thomas) for foolishly trusting a man like him. Maria Bertram is not the only young lady to fall prey to a smooth talking villain. History repeats itself.

3. So now, with Anielka's Price baby-counting discovery as a signpost, I would now guess that Mrs. Price's unmentioned child (sired by Sir Thomas) is _Julia_, the youngest of the four (nominal) Bertram children, and the next eldest in age to William Price. That would fit with the still-single Frances Ward becoming pregnant and thereby triggering the crisis that led to Mrs. Price _blackmailing_ Sir Thomas and resulting in Fanny's being sent to MP.

4. I have been of the belief since 2006 that Maria is Mrs. Norris's love child (sired by Sir Thomas).

5. I have no idea how to decide who is the mother of Tom and who is the mother of Edmund--each one could be the child of any of the Ward sisters, but there would be a certain Austenian irony if all of this "change of heirs" has come to pass because Lady Bertram, the most beautiful of the three, turned out to be _sterile_, and therefore incapable of "putting on heirs", so to speak, for her husband. But I
still cling to the notion that Lady Bertram did have at least one biological child, and that was _Fanny_, which is why Fanny is selected to be brought to Mansfield Park. Look again at how Fanny is selected---Mrs. Norris suggests that it be Fanny, and Lady Bertram instantly approves of the choice--sounds to me like the two sisters were a tag team.

6. Now _why_ would Fanny have been sent away from Mansfield Park if she was Lady Bertram's daughter? Because, I suspect, the father was _not_ Sir Thomas! Note that Fanny is much smaller than the Bertram children, and Sir Thomas is tall and handsome--which suggests to me that Fanny's biological father was a short man. So if you see a short man wandering around Mansfield Park, he's your man!

7. A year ago Friday, I posted the following.... which I noted the unmistakable parallelism among scenes early in all the novels except NA, in which a tete a tete is held outside the knowledge of the heroine, discussing, in cryptic terms, the relocation of a heroine. So, if you read that linked blog post of mine, you'll see that the idea of babies moving around like so many chess pieces is one that JA played with in all the novels, and it fits perfectly with Anielka's baby-counting game.

8. Speaking of the pun on "heirs" and "airs" that Anielka mentioned, it is indeed an excellent catch by her in MP, as, to me, it clearly has the punny meaning she ascribes to it in Chapter 1 of MP. However, what Anielka might or might not remember is that I posted the following...
(and some other followup posts)

.....last April, in which I noted that same pun on "heir" and "air" being played with by Charlotte Bronte, with the additional puns on her heroine's surname "Eyre", who turns out to be an "heir"-ess, and also is an "eyer" of the actions of others. But I did not pick up on that same pun in MP, as Anielka did, even though, ironically, I had long ago noted that the references to "air" in MP were oblique references to the liberating "air" of England that Lord Mansfield famously opined about, as being intolerant of slavery within the realm of England. So "air" in MP is a double pun, carrying both of those meanings!

9. I just did some quick checking, and it turns out that the phrase "change of air" appears one other place in JA's published novels, and it is exactly the place I'd expect to find it, given my discovery of Jane Fairfax's shadow pregnancy in early 2005:

"[Jane's] care and attention could not be questioned; they were, in fact, only too great. He very much feared that Miss Fairfax derived more evil than good from them. Emma listened with the warmest concern; grieved for her more and more, and looked around eager to discover some way of being useful. To take her -- be it only an hour or two -- from her aunt, to give her CHANGE OF AIR*//*and scene, and quiet rational
conversation, even for an hour or two, might do her good; and the following morning she wrote again to say, in the most feeling language she could command, that she would call for her in the carriage at any hour that Jane would name -- mentioning that she had Mr. Perry's decided opinion, in favour of such exercise for his patient. The answer was only in this short note: "Miss Fairfax's compliments and thanks, but is quite unequal to any exercise." "

This is _precisely_ the climactic moment in the action of the shadow story of _Emma_ when Jane Fairfax is giving birth to her illegitimate child and then reluctantly agreeing to a "change of HEIR", i.e., she tearfully gives up her baby to Mrs. Weston. I had previously found a cluster of puns and word clues that pointed to her labor and delivery, and now I can add to that cluster this particularly interesting pun.

10. Which brings me to my last observation, which is that the odds that the only two usages of this phrase "change of air" in _all_ of JA's published novels should appear in two passages both _saturated_ in the subliminal aroma of baby swapping, is far, far, _far_ beyond the realm of coincidence.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Monday, January 30, 2012

Occupy Wall Street, Tahrir Square, and Jane Austen's Attitude Toward King George III's (Dra)GOONS

Diane Reynolds initiated an interesting thread in Austen L and Janeites:

[Diane] "Is there a term to describe the kind of family Austen grew up in?"

"Dysfunctional" and "sexist" are the first two that come to my mind. (joking, and yet not joking at all)

[Diane]: "While technically "nuclear" in that only two generations, parents and children, lived together, it seems different from the kind of small, intensely individualized nuclear family we have today and that I think of as beginning in the Victorian era. The Austen family functioned, as far as I can tell, more like a business unit, especially in the sense that the needs of individual children were apparently subordinated to the overall needs of the family--I am thinking particularly of the young Jane and C being sent off to boarding school apparently to make room for more students. We can infer Ja being "punished" later in life for her refusal to marry and hence contribute to the finances and status of the family unit as a whole."

That is a brilliant insight on your part, Diane, you prompted me to think back to a joking, and yet not joking, post that I wrote a few months ago:

What your metaphor of family as economic collective (which is another way of conceptualizing what you're saying, if i am not mistaken) made me realize was how uncannily similar the dynamics of JA's family are to the current political debate going on in various parts of the world, but most visibly in the 2012 US presidential campaign. I.e., issues of fairness as to how the costs and burdens of achieving collective well-being are shared by different categories of members of the collective.

I am certain that JA viewed the Austen family/collective the way many people from the Occupy Wall Street/left end of the public spectrum (including myself) view the United States today, which is why the following famous epistolary statement by JA, describing the Pillaging of Steventon by James and Mary Austen.....

"The whole World is in a conspiracy to enrich one part of our family at the expence of another"

...could effortlessly be adapted into a slogan for the bottom line of the Occupy Wall Street political stance:

"The whole World is in a conspiracy to enrich the 1% at the expence of the 99%".

In many ways the Presidential race will be a referendum on whether a majority of Americans believe that to be the case or not.

I've written variations on that theme of unfairness and exploitation in the Austen family from JA's point of view on many occasions, most notably this one:

So, to answer your question, we might very well see an analogy to the banishment to genteel urban poverty in Southampton inflicted on JA (and by a notion of collective punishment, on the other two females in the Austen nuclear family, CEA and Mrs. Austen as well) in JA's fiction with Fanny's banishment to not so genteel urban poverty in Portsmouth, and in modern American politics in the aggressive reactions against Occupy Wall Street protesters by some governmental authorities, or even to union-busting and other governmental tactics designed to keep the less powerful members of the collective in line.

Which leads organically to the question of Jane Austen's attitude toward various analogous uprisings against oppression of the 99% by the 1% in her world, as to which I conclude in pretty much every instance that JA was firmly (but veiledly) on the side of the 99%. This is too large a topic to cover in this post, other than to list the most significant of the many areas where this applies:

Resistance to the enclosure movement under which the 1% destroyed much of the rural commons that the 99% had previously enjoyed for centuries;

Resistance to horrific conditions in the British naval, which boiled to the surface in mutinies at Spithead and elsewhere during JA's early adult years;

Resistance to colonial slavery by African slaves;

etc etc.

And it occurs to me that just as the famous rant by Henry Tilney about Catherine's gothic horror imaginings about General Tilney was really meant to be read ironically as a validation of Catherine's imaginings about the horrors inflicted by the ordinary English husband, so too we are meant to read the following equally clueless rant by Henry Tilney, this one against his sister Eleanor, as Jane Austen's veiled admiration for the ordinary English folk who rose up but were brutally suppressed in the following passage:

"My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous. Miss Morland has been talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out, in three duodecimo volumes, two hundred and seventy-six pages in each, with a frontispiece to the first, of two tombstones and a lantern—do you understand? And you, Miss Morland—my stupid sister has mistaken all your clearest expressions. You talked of expected horrors in London—and instead of instantly conceiving, as any rational creature would have done, that such words could relate only to a circulating library, she immediately pictured to herself a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George's Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons (the hopes of the nation) called up from Northampton to quell the insurgents, and the gallant Captain Frederick Tilney, in the moment of charging at the head of his troop, knocked off his horse by a brickbat from an upper window. Forgive her stupidity. The fears of the sister have added to the weakness of the woman; but she is by no means a simpleton in general."

"The Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the street of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons..."---is this not a chilling description of Tahrir Square during the final stages of the Egyptian Revolution?

And does anyone seriously believe that Jane Austen really was thinking kind thoughts about "the gallant Captain Frederick Tilney" in that moment? Of course not! Her heart was with the poor suckers being beaten to a pulp by the Kings' GOONS (aka Dragoons), just as the world's heart went out to the Egyptians attacked by Mubarak's mounted thugs!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

A SECOND Allusion to a Very Famous Biblical Passage Hidden in Plain Sight in the Judgment of Mr. Bennet

I've given some more thought to my discovery a few days ago.....

(see also my two comments in which I added additional angles)

.....that Mr. Bennet channels the famous Judgment of Solomon in 1 Kings 3:16-28 about the two putative mothers claiming one living baby, when he renders _his_ judgment on Lizzy having to choose between two parents in Chapter 20 of P&P, and concludes:

"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do /not/ marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you /do/."

I've also paid close attention to the synergy (which I wrote about shortly after I made that discovery)......

....between my above discovery and Anielka Briggs's earlier excellent analysis of issues of judgment and forgiveness in JA's novels, and the subliminal aura of the Bible inherent in same. As a result, I have now been rewarded with a great deal of additional insight into the wondrously complex and yet elegantly simple ways that Jane Austen engaged with both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible in this one short but memorable episode in P&P. As I see it, JA dealt with them both separately and in combination, as she formulated her own seamless integration and extension of all parts of the Bible, with special focus on these same slippery issues of judgment and forgiveness, and, as I have frequently claimed, always always with a special focus on women's issues.

Although I've generated a great deal of fresh material about JA's amazing virtuosity and insight during these past few days, too much to attempt to summarize within the constraints of posting in these groups, I do want to bring forward one major additional highlight among my latest findings, which is that the Judgment of Solomon is _not_ the only famous Biblical story that Jane Austen covertly burlesques in the Judgment of Mr. Bennet on Two Parents!

Amazing as it is that a burlesque of one such famous Biblical story was deftly hidden in plain sight by Jane Austen in the Judgment of Mr. Bennet, and has not previously been detected, it is ten times more amazing, I argue, that Jane Austen managed to hide a burlesque of a _second_ equally famous Biblical story in that same memorable comic vignette in Chapter 20 of P&P, as well. Can you guess which other famous Biblical story it is?

I will give my answer below, but here are five hints, which point to strong parallelism between these two Biblical burlesques by JA:

Hint #1: As you might have guessed from my introductory comments, above, the second burlesque is from the Christian Bible--specifically, one of the Gospels.

As in JA's burlesque of the Judgment of Solomon in the Hebrew Bible, in JA's other Biblical burlesque source we also have:

Hint #2: Mr. Bennet once more cast as a "wise king".

Hint #3: Mrs. Bennet once more cast as a "bad guy".

Hint #4: Elizabeth Bennet once more cast as a woman who has transgressed marital norms.

Hint #5: The judgment of Mr. Bennet once more provides justice, and a fresh start, to Elizabeth Bennet.

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And my answer is---the following extremely famous passage inJohn 8:3-11:

"Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” "

Here's how I schematize it. In JA's burlesque:

1. Mrs. Bennet stands in for the Pharisees who seek to punish a woman who has transgressed against "the law" (in Mrs. Bennet's mind, Thou Shalt Accept Any Proposal by A Man With Money is the unwritten Eleventh Commandment!);

2. Elizabeth Bennet is of course the transgressive woman; and

3. Mr. Bennet is Jesus, who, like Solomon, seems to be caught in a juridical Catch 22, but eludes same by thinking outside the box and changing the rules of the game (sorta like Captain Kirk dealing with the Kobayashi Meru unpassable test at the Starfleet Academy).

Here are two particularly spicy aspects of this allusion, I am sure there are more:

1. The Pharisees have as their primary agenda the discrediting of Jesus, and the stoning of the adultress, while an end in itself for such rigid-thinking sexist hypocrites, is more a means to their primary end. It's interesting to think about Mrs. Bennet's agenda vis a vis Mr. Bennet in this regard. Yes, it's clear to all of us that Mrs. Bennet's Eleventh Commandment is a huge priority for her, independently of her feelings about Mr. Bennet. And yet, I now believe JA meant for those readers who perceived her burlesque of John 8:3-11 to also reflect on a deeper motivation that Mrs. Bennet had, which she might not even have been consciously aware of herself. I.e., at that crucial moment in the history of the Bennet family, Mrs. Bennet believes herself to be in a position to force Mr. Bennet to stop indulging his darling Lizzy, and to make Lizzy do something she does not want to do.

Think about it. Mr. Bennet has been making fun of Mrs. Bennet for 23 years, and has, in her jealous eyes, been spoiling Lizzy for many of those years. We receive evidence of this dynamic at the very beginning of the novel, when Mr. & Mrs. Bennet have the following pointed exchange:

[Mr. B] "....I dare say Mr. Bingley will be very glad to see you; and I will send a few lines by you to assure him of my hearty consent to his marrying whichever he chooses of the girls; though I must throw in a good word for my little Lizzy."

[Mrs. B] "I desire you will do no such thing. Lizzy is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good-humoured as Lydia. But you are always giving /her/ the preference."

And so on a subconscious level, I can see Mrs. Bennet in Chapter 20 in full "carpe diem" mode, thinking that finally the wheel of karma has turned to a very favorable position, in which she, Mrs. Bennet, suddenly has an opportunity to use Mr. Bennet as a mallet with which to batter poor Lizzy into submission, and to take jealous revenge on her husband for loving Lizzy much more than he loves his own wife!

But, just as Jesus deftly ducks out of the trap set for him by the Pharisees, so too does Mr. Bennet, using his wit and humor so as to not directly contradict Mrs. Bennet's demand that he crush Lizzy's resistance to Mr. Bennet, and yet get that exact message across nonetheless. Just like Jesus, he refuses to accept the mantle of abusive authority that others wish to force on him, and instead frames the issue as "an unhappy choice" to be made by Lizzy, not by himself.

2. The final wink of JA's eye as to her burlesque of Jesus and the Adultress in John 8:3-11 comes in the following passage three chapters after Lizzy refuses Collins, in Chapter 23, after Charlotte Lucas has snatched Mr. Collins in marriage:

" Mrs. Bennet was in fact too much overpowered to say a great deal while Sir William remained; but no sooner had he left them than her feelings found a rapid vent. In the first place, she persisted in disbelieving the whole of the matter; secondly, she was very sure that Mr. Collins had been taken in; thirdly, she trusted that they would never be happy together; and fourthly, that the match might be broken off. Two inferences, however, were plainly deduced from the whole: one, that ELIZABETH WAS THE REAL CAUSE OF THE MISCHIEF; and the other that she herself had been barbarously misused by them all; and on these two points she principally dwelt during the rest of the day. Nothing could console and nothing could appease her. Nor did that day wear out her resentment. A week elapsed before she could see Elizabeth without scolding her, a month passed away before she could speak to Sir William or Lady Lucas without being rude, and MANY MONTHS WERE GONE BEFORE SHE COULD AT ALL FORGIVE THEIR DAUGHTER/*. */"

What a wonderful irony, that JA deliberately leaves it ambiguous as to _whose_ daughter Mrs. Bennet could not forgive for many months! My guess would be that many Janeites over the years have read that last clause as referring to Charlotte Lucas, because it is immediately preceded in that same sentence by a report that Mrs. Bennet waited a month before speaking amicably to Sir William and Lady Lucas. And certainly Mrs. Bennet feels entitled to be angry at Charlotte for "taking in" Mr. Collins and taking Mr. Collins away from one of her daughters. But....I also surmise that many Janeites whose eyes are caught by "Elizabeth was the _real_ cause of the mischief" will then infer that the most difficult "sin" for Mrs. Bennet to forgive will be the one that was at the root of the miscarriage of justice that Mrs. Bennet perceives.

And that latter reading, with Mrs. Bennet taking forever to forgive _Lizzy_, functions perfectly as a veiled burlesque of John 8:3-11. Why? Because Jesus's brilliant strategy brings about instant awakening of conscience in the Pharisees who've gathered to accuse the adultress, but Mrs. Bennet, being a tough nut to crack, takes months before she moves on, and one would infer that this moving on occurs merely due to the sheer passage of time, rather than any awakening of conscience.

And, in closing, it occurs to me that it makes _perfect_ psychological sense that Mrs. Bennet would be _particularly_ unable to forgive Lizzy for the "sin" of refusing to marry a foolish spouse. You see where I am going with this, I am sure. On some subconscious level, Mrs. Bennet would realize that Mr. Bennet is refusing to order Lizzy to make the exact same mistake he made, a mistake that has one ironic benefit for Mr. Bennet, i.e., giving him Lizzy as a daughter!

I'm amazed Mrs. Bennet _ever_ forgave Lizzy, given the enormous "freight" and "baggage" with which her refusal to marry Mr. Collins is loaded!

Now, to conclude with a series of implications of the above for other aspects of Austen (and Biblical) studies:

1. The burlesque of John 8:3-11 is in total synch with what I wrote last year about the universal misunderstanding by Austen scholars of the famous passage in Letter 36 when JA writes: "...I have a good eye at an Adultress..." ..... that it reinforces my claim that JA, in Letter 36, was mocking the "Pharisees" of her own world who judged adultresses so harshly.

2. The burlesque of 1 Kings 3:16-28 is also in total synch with what I wrote last year about Jane Austen's covert allusion to the tale of Sempronius, Chloe & Caelia in Sarah Fielding's The Governess..... (and several other posts before and after) that I now believe that Jane Austen would've picked up on Fielding's veiled allusion to the Judgment of Solomon in the way that Sempronius chooses his wife based on how they respond to the Solomonesque moral test that he sneakily subjects them to, and emulated Fielding in her own burlesque of same in P&P (and in MP, with Fanny Price's Judgment on the Knives).

3. From a JA biographical perspective, all of the above only reinforces my previous conviction that Jane Austen was put under enormous pressure by various members of her family, but particularly her mother, to marry Harris Bigg-Wither in 1802, and that she never forgot, and perhaps also never forgave, this trauma inflicted on her, which is why she kept revisiting the trauma, with heroines like Lizzy and also Fanny Price, being subjected to such pressures. And perhaps (as was deftly portrayed in Miss Austen Regrets), perhaps JA was repeatedly reminded of her refusal of Bigg-Wither by family members such as her mother, for years and years after 1802.

4. Last but certainly not least, I note one additional major point only in passing---my sense is that Jane Austen, by doubling up these Biblical burlesques in the same passage in P&P, has not only pulled off a massive tour de force of authorial ingenuity, she has also implicitly conveyed her deep insight into the relationship _between_ these two Biblical passages! I.e., I assert that this doubling of burlesques is itself thematically significant--it is a coded message to readers who see both burlesques that JA realized that Jesus (and the author of John 8:3-11) knew 1 Kings 3: 16-28 very well, and had the tale of Solomon's Judgment firmly in mind during the action (and writing) of John 8:3-11. And in my sleuthing out all of the above, she has also taught me to notice this Biblical parallelism.

A quick Internet search has confirmed to me that some relationship between these two "Kobayashi Maru"-like Biblical passages _has_ been detected previously by a few Biblical scholars, and I believe it would be a very fertile area for investigation and analysis. Whether a Biblical scholar believes that the parallels are a reflection of Jesus as a worthy emulator of Solomon, or are a reflection of Jesus as "Solomon 2.0", or some variant on either of those positions, it is a question well worth investigating.

For today, I am content to take this as yet one more example of Jane Austen as an amazingly profound literary scholar, who so deeply understood the texts she read and alluded to, and spotted connections that eluded most other readers, even the most famous (and mostly male) scholars of her day. And was so self assured that she would not explain herself explicitly, but instead left it for the reader to find it out, and struggle to understand its meaning. That was her way.

But JA, even though she was a poker player who did not reveal what cards she held in hand, did take pains to bring her best insights, like these, to her reader's special attention. The way she did this was brilliant--I've come to realize that JA often embedded her most learned and intricate allusive insights into her most memorable scenes, precisely so as to make sure that her readers all read (and reread) those passages, and would therefore be more likely to spot the deeper meanings concealed within them. That's playing fair with the reader!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, January 27, 2012

Mr. Bennet's Judgments and King Solomon

As a followup to my immediately previous post:

I just checked online in the usual places and did not find any indication of any Austen scholar detecting Jane Austen's burlesque of King Solomon's life and death judgment in Mr. Bennet's comic (and yet, beneath it, also serious) judgment on Lizzy's response to Mr. Collins's proposal of marriage.

I also checked in the archives of Austen L and Janeites, and while I found nothing directly on point, I _did_ find comments by Anielka on Mr. Bennet rendering judgment on Mr. Collins in _other_ passages in P&P, as well as a passing reference to Solomon in relation to the "courtship" charade in Emma, which I think you'll agree, are remarkably complementary with my
arguments. I.e., the likelihood that we are _each_ correct in our own arguments is greatly increased alike by the congruence of our arguments.
Let's see if you agree, here is the most relevant part of what Anielka wrote, but actually a great deal of the rest of what she wrote is also connected to the big picture on Jane Austen's Biblical allusions:

"We know Austen is notoriously difficult to interpret. We can't easily pin-down JA's beliefs, likes and dislikes or political and spiritual judgements from what we read in the novels. Sometimes the satire is so subtle that the very text that we feel an empathy for proves on closer inspection to be a veiled criticism. It's possible to catch oneself in the conceit of empathising with Austen one moment and then read to the end of
the chapter only to be horrified the next moment as you realise the very phrase that you empathised with is being gently condemned.

One such example is a quote from Mr. Bennet: which, when used out of context and incomplete, lures us into laughing with Mr. Bennet and agreeing to his proposition: "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours...?" (P&P, chapter 57)

Which seems mildly amusing but if we read the whole quote: " For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, AND LAUGH AT THEM IN OUR TURN?"

It is clear that the intention is less gentle and less kind. Yet this quote is in the mouth of Mr. Bennet who has just pronounced on Mr. Collins' Christianity in the previous sentence: "You ought certainly to forgive them, as a Christian, but never to admit them in your sight, or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing." -- That is his notion of Christian forgiveness!"

Whilst our first instinct is to agree wholeheartedly we may also see that Mr. Bennet is JUDGING Mr. Collins for judging Lydia and Wickham. Two wrongs don't make a right and chapter 7 of Matthew makes it clear that judging others is not a Christian act. More amusingly Mr. Bennet goes on to use his immortal phrase "For what do we live, but to make sport for our
neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?" which is clearly about judging one's neighbours actions as derisible and then being judged similarly by those same neighbours.
....So Mr. Bennet has judged Mr. Collins for judging then suggested the purpose of existence is to judge others and be judged. It's easy to laugh along with him and to fail to see the irony of a Christian minister of the church caught in the act of misapplying the tenets of his own faith.

Back with Austen's charade. One valid solution to lines one and two is the Old Testament (contains the book of Kings) and a further solution to lines three and four is the New Testament (reference to Jesus walking on water on the Sea of Galilee)

My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings, (book of Kings in the Old Testament)
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease. (Reference to Solomon)

...Austen's humour is subtle: the only way you can laugh at other people's faults and still obey this commandment is to laugh at your own faults. It seems JA often had the humility to laugh at self, loved friends and family and to understand that this love should be extended to everyone as everyone is our neighbour when he shows mercy. Laughing at your own faults
exposes the faults of others in the gentlest possible way and calls them to self-correct. The priest and the Levite showed no compassion for the man who fell amongst thieves but Austen would have known that the Samaritan, a supposedly reviled race, showed kindness and mercy and hence qualified as a neighbour in Jesus' parable (Luke chapter 10). Austen found a way to blend judgement with non-judgement in satire making it impossible
for us to judge her fictional characters and situations without judging ourselves." END QUOTE

When you put Anielka's insights into two of Mr. Bennet's judgments alongside my insight into a third judgment by Mr. Bennet, it can only inspire awe at the depth of genius, hiding in plain sight, in the writings of Jane Austen.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Lopping and Cropping, Part Two: King Solomon and Mr. Bennet & Their Hopeless Business

As I began writing my previous post.....

...I already had a strong feeling that JA had the Biblical tale of Solomon (and his outside the box solution to the Catch 22 of the two mothers fighting over one child in 1 Kings 3:16-28) in mind as she wrote Letter 79, and that she savored the irony that in the instance of her editing of _her_ darling child, P&P, she had the wisdom of a literary Solomon, and realized that paradox was the order of the day, such that lopping and cropping was exactly what her darling child needed in order to emerge light, bright and sparkling into the world, a world which that darling child has come to rule as no other novel ever written.

But then as I wrote all of the above, I suddenly realized that Jane Austen's Mr Bennet had read his Bible, and was channeling Solomon in his witty way, when he stood 1 Kings 3:16-28 on its head, by depicting, in burlesque, one child having the Catch 22 of picking between two parents, in exact reverse of two putative parents fighting over one child!:

Mr. Bennet raised his eyes from his book as she entered, and fixed them on her face with a calm unconcern which was not in the least altered by her communication.
"I have not the pleasure of understanding you," said he, when she had finished her speech. "Of what are you talking?"
"Of Mr. Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy declares she will not have Mr. Collins, and Mr. Collins begins to say that he will not have Lizzy."
"And what am I to do on the occasion? It seems an hopeless business."
"Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her that you insist upon her marrying him."
"Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion."
Mrs. Bennet rang the bell, and Miss Elizabeth was summoned to the library.
"Come here, child," cried her father as she appeared. "I have sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr. Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?" Elizabeth replied that it was. "Very well—and this offer of marriage you have refused?"
"I have, sir."
"Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting it. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?"
"Yes, or I will never see her again."
"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do."
Elizabeth could not but smile at such a conclusion of such a beginning....." END QUOTE

"She shall hear my hopeless unhappy alternative..." A group summoned to an inner sanctum of the "king" to hear a definite judgment on a life-determining decision for a child. This really is nothing less than Jane Austen burlesquing the Bible, and making Mr. Bennet nothing less than a Regency Era King Solomon!

And, to come full circle, I claim it is no coincidence that JA wrote about her "darling child" in Letter 79--she was _deliberately_ pointing to Pride and Prejudice as she conjured the spirit of King Solomon with that reference to a "baby" being born, a baby which _had_ been lopt and cropt, surgery which did not kill it, but made it the greatest love story ever written, a true prose "Song of Solomon".

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Lopping and Cropping, Part One: Jane Austen, her Darling Child & King Solomon

It occurred to me this morning for the first time to do an analysis which I have never seen in print during all my research, so _perhaps_ I am the first to do it. I will present it to you in the form of a logical progression of heretofore apparently unconnected facts, from which I believe the inferences I make emerge organically. You may think that crunching numbers will not lead to insight into the mysteries of Jane Austen's creative process, but I beg to differ, sometimes numbers are revealing about art, and I invite you to read on to see if you agree with me in this case.

To begin....many Janeites are familiar with the following thrilling words which we read in Letter 79 dated 01/29/13, at the precise moment of publication of Pride & Prejudice, as Jane waxes eloquent to Cassandra:

"I want to tell you that I have got my own darling Child from London....The 2d vol. is shorter than I cd wish--but the difference is not so much in reality as in look, there being a larger proportion of Narrative in that part. I have lopt & cropt so successfully however that I imagine it must be rather shorter than S&S altogether..."

It occurred to me that a little bit of cutting and pasting using the Project Gutenberg versions of all six novels would yield some interesting data that would let us know how accurate JA's guesses were, as to (a) the relative lengths of P&P and S&S, and (b) the relative length of Vol. 2 of P&P, vis a vis the other two Volumes of P&P.

The relative lengths of the six novels are as follows:

Title #Words #Chapters Words/Chapter Pages(12 font)

NA 77325......31........2494............137
Pers. 83361......24........3473............143

S&S 119593......50........2392............220
P&P 121889......61........1998............240

MP 159915......48........3332............269
Emma 160460......55........2990............287

And here is a further breakdown of the three volumes of P&P:

Vol 1 37745......21........1799.............76
Vol 2 37278......21........1775.............75
Vol 3 46857......20........2343.............89

Here are my inferences, but I hope and believe that others will derive further insights from considering the above:

1. JA was almost correct in her estimate that the lopt and cropt final version of P&P was very close in length to S&S--actually, P&P remained trivially ( 1 ½ %) longer than S&S.

2. JA was correct that the Vol. 2 of P&P was not in fact shorter than Vol. 1, actually she was uncannily correct, because Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are virtually identical in length (differing by only 467 words (about 1/2 %).

3. I realize from the cross-novel stats that I have for the past 5 years been under a profound misapprehension about the length of P&P and of S&S as well. I have up till today divided the novels into two groups by length: the shorter novels (NA, Persuasion, & P&P) and the longer novels (S&S, MP, and Emma).

Now I see that there are actually _three_ categories, by length: the little bears (NA & Persuasion), the middle bears (S&S and P&P) and the big bears (MP and Emma).

Within two of those three groupings, it is uncanny how close the novels are in length. I.e., Emma is virtually identical in length to MP (it is less than 1/3 % longer than MP!), P&P and S&S are very close to each other in length (P&P is 1 1/2 % longer).

As for the relatively greater difference in length between Persuasion and Northanger Abbey (Persuasion is nearly 9% longer than NA), the explanation has also, amazingly, been provided to us by JA, and it is not merely because these two shortest novels were both published posthumously (actually, simultaneously), so that JA was not there, obviously, to participate in the reading of proofs, etc.)

No, the explanation, I assert, for why Persuasion is over 6,000 words longer than NA is that JA altered the final chapters of Persuasion, and when she did (as we know from the actual manuscript of the cancelled chapters), she added nearly 9,000 words!

This tells me that she was willing to override her usual punctilious sense of proportion and length in her novels in Persuasion, because she realized that the rewritten climax of Persuasion (You pierce my soul)was infinitely superior to her earlier version, and so proportion must this one time give way to passion!;)

4. It is also fascinating to look at average chapter length in the six novels. I have recognized for a long while now that the chapters in P&P are much shorter than in all the other 5 novels. My data shows this to be dramatically so. But, now we can zero in on precisely where JA did her lopping and cropping in P&P, because the average length of chapters in Volume _Three_ is almost exactly the same as that in S&S, whereas the average chapter length of chapters in P&P Vols. 1 & 2 is much shorter than in Vol. 3, or for that matter in any of her other novels!

What I believe can be fairly inferred, then, is that JA lopt and cropt in Volumes 1 & 2, but not in Volume 3, which (in parallel to what I wrote about the climax of Persuasion, above) suggests that JA was ready to sacrifice proportion and symmetry for passion in the climactic moments of two of the three JA novels which have true romantic climaxes (P&P and Persuasion are joined by Emma in this regard, whereas NA races past romance at the end, and MP and S&S are decidedly and notorious unromantic in their endings).

And my final observation as to chapter length is that if we discount the long average chapter lengths of Persuasion as being heavily skewed to JA's huge expansion of the romantic climax, that leaves MP standing apart from the other novels in its much greater average chapter length, with Emma a distant second. Why would this be? I think, because my guess is that MP is the least dramatized of all the novels, and that would be because Fanny Price is JA's most interior heroine, the only most likely to be thinking many deep thoughts, but rarely expressing them to anyone else. That makes for a narrative-heavy novel!

If anyone has additional observations to make about the above, or would like to take issue with my inferences, I would be most interested to hear it.

I finish by noting an irony of the words I quoted from Letter 79, in which JA refers to P&P as her darling child, and then speaks of lopping and cropping it. The metaphor of giving a young child his first haircut, or giving a garden its first serious pruning, would be fitting to the radical editorial shortening that JA achieved so brilliantly in P&P.

However, the strange juxtaposition of a darling child with lopping and cropping also brought to my Monty Pythonesque imagination the idea of the most famous story in Western literature about the "lopping and cropping" of a "darling child", which we find in 1 Kings 3:16-28:

Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. One of them said, Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us. During the night this woman's son died because she lay on him. So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. The next morning, I got up to nurse my son and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn't the son I had borne.
The other woman said, No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours. But the first one insisted, No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine. And so they argued before the king. The king said, This one says, My son is alive and your son is dead, while that one says, No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.
Then the king said, Bring me a sword. So they brought a sword for the king. He then gave an order: Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other. The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him! But the other said, Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!
Then the king gave his ruling: Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother. When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.

I had a strong feeling that JA had this Biblical tale in mind as she wrote Letter 79, and that she savored the irony that in the instance of her editing of _her_ darling child, P&P, she had the wisdom of a literary Solomon, and realized that paradox was the order of the day, such that lopping and cropping was exactly what her darling child needed in order to emerge light, bright and sparkling into the world, a world which that darling child has come to rule as no other novel ever written.

But then, as I was getting ready to sign off on this post, I realized something else, something _so_ amazing that Jane Austen did, that I felt it deserved its own post, because it will show, I promise you, something amazing about a passage in P&P which is as famous among Janeites as the story of King Solomon is among readers of the Bible, but which has an additional layer of allusive meaning that has never been understood before. A passage whose Biblical allusiveness has been hiding in the plainest sight possible for 199 years!

To read the _rest_ of that story, go here, to Part Two:

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rick Santorum would have been the worst person in the world to Jane Austen too!

Apropos Rick Santorum proving himself the worst person in the world in terms of female reproductive rights, if Jane Austen were alive today, she'd be writing stuff about him in her novels and letters every bit as angry and sarcastic as any feminist living today 2 centuries after her death! She was a staunch enemy of men controlling women's bodies--but in her era women did not have the luxury of any reproductive rights whatsoever, so that most married gentlewomen of her era were turned into breeding cows, and were replaced by younger wives when they died (as they did all too often) in childbirth!

Start here in my blog...

and then free free to browse about 40 other posts at this blog on this general theme-just search "pregnancy" and "childbirth".

Here's how much confidence Jane Austen had in the Anglican Church, the English government and the average English husband:

""If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to—Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?"

This passage has been misunderstood by most Janeites for 2 centuries---Jane Austen's point really is that horrible things like serial pregnancy and death in childbirth were so "normal" in her day that nobody lifted a finger to stop it!

In the novel, Catherine Morland, at age 18, is shamed out of her suspicions about male oppression of women. How horrible that 2 centuries later, women still need to defend their reproductive rights against men like Rick Santorum.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mr. Fitzhugh, Corinna & St. Swithin: Stone Deafness in its many forms

I've also been engaged in an ongoing dialogue with Christy Somer in Janeites and Austen L, about my three posts earlier this week about Jane Austen's cryptic allusion in Letter 63 to Germaine de Stael's novel Corinna and its symbolic cannon blasts:

Christy picked up on my stating the following.....

"if Mr. Fitzhugh could not hear a cannon in the real world, at least he would be able to "hear" a cannon blast described in a novel!"

...and Christy then replied:

"To clarify, I interpret this 'Corinna' interchange with Mr. Fitzhugh as _only_ being an 'absurdist burlesque' -when she relays the moment to Cassandra. I do not sense that JA is secretly jesting to his deafness and letting him discover it later. That would imply more intimacy than existed between them. And certainly would be considered vulgar and inappropriate to use a disability for the seat of an inside joke."

I just responded thusly:

You're preaching to the choir, Christy! Of course I was _not_ saying that JA was mocking Mr. Fitzhugh's disability! Read back to my earlier posts about JA's satirical reference to Corinna for further verification in that regard. Not in a million years would JA do such a thing, nor would I suggest it.

In addition to the sheer, self-justifying, self-contained pleasure of an absurdist joke, there _is_ a definite satire of deafness here by JA, but it has _nothing_ to do with the physical deafness of poor old Mr. Fitzhugh--no, as I will now briefly explain, Mr. Fitzhugh's deafness is only significant as a symbol---the biting satire is of De Stael's writing style, and the way certain readers read JA and read De Stael as if they were in the same writing universe, when actually, they were the furthest thing from it!

What Jane Austen was mocking was the overblown symbolism of Corinna--while Jane Austen, like Corinna, did yearn for artistic immortality, the contrast between the endless, bloated sausage of ultra-pathos in Corinna's dying poem, on the one hand, and Jane Austen's nimble, absurdist, enigmatic, and disturbing mini-fable of a vengeant St. Swithin, all beneath a seemingly innocent surface, on the other, could not be greater.

What Jane Austen is saying, in so many words, is that De Stael's writing style was like the cannon blasts De Stael includes in her novel--blasts which unwitttingly reveal De Stael's own self indulgent, crudely obvious uber-Romantic excess. Whereas JA's preferred mode of expression was diametrically opposite---the wink, the whisper, the almost subliminal tickling of the reader's imagination.

And it is in carrying that metaphor to its logical conclusion that the deafness comes in---Mr. Fitzhugh stands in as a symbol of all those who read JA as if they were reading De Stael, expecting that what is on the surface is meant to be taken at face value. All that such readers will ever "hear" are the blasts that JA uses to conceal the whispers in her writing. So in that sense, readers who don't understand this core principle of JA's writing are as stone deaf to what JA is really saying as Mr. Fitzhugh was to words (and cannons) sounded in his presence.

P&P, Ch 54 -Teaching What is not Worth Knowing: What is the Sound of One Story Teaching?

Yesterday, in one of my extended dialogues with Christy Somer in Austen L and Janietes, I wrote the following:

"So it would not surprise me at all to learn that she was aware of, and even perhaps familiar with, the basics of Eastern spiritual thought. In particular, as I have noted before, the following statement by Elizabeth Bennet is wonderfully Zen its rich sense of paradox: "We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing." The Buddha himself would have smiled at that one.

Christy replied to me as follows: ".....So I tend to interpret this `bon mot' of Lizzy's as nothing more than a clever play with words which basically espouse a well understood Christian tenet. "

And that led me to respond to her as follows:

So, who will call the newspapers, you or I? Because we disagree completely.... again! ;)

Christy: "Human nature often brings many to set themselves up as teachers of one thing or another -just like Mr. Bennet, Lizzy, Darcy, Wickham, Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins. Yet, very often, what they are actually teaching are their very worst habits and inclinations coming from pride, vanity, and prejudice."

Yes, that is very true, and those examples you gave are part of the evidence that Jane Austen was very much aware of those pitfalls. Indeed, that is precisely my point about Mr Bennet and Lizzy. He was a narcissist who got his naches (parental pride) from having his favorite daughter emulate him, which in his mind felt like a very positive reflection back on him. His love of her, in short, was 80% love of himself in disguise.

But, to get back to the Zen-like aphoristic paradox of Chapter 54, I claim (a) that Jane Austen, as an author and as a person, _did_ have her pride under good regulation, and (b) that JA was aware of the formidable difficulties that she faced, as a feminist novelist with didactic (as well as aesthetic) goals---she had read heavy handed moralizing tripe like Hannah More's _Coelebs_, and she understood perfectly that this sort of "veiled sermon" was not going to be helpful to the female audience she so desperately wished to inspire and awaken. Sermons rarely change attitudes and behavior.

So instead, she followed her own infallible dramatic and psychological instincts, and she devised a strategy to provide to her readers with a fictional simulation of real life--hence the intensely realistic feel of her novels, in which the characters really do feel like people we know intimately---in which her female readers would be presented with the same confusions and ambiguities that faced, and endangered, real women in real life in her world, and she would in this way _show_ (rather than _tell_) them how a woman can go wrong as a studier of character, especially when dealing with men. So, to take one example out of a hundred, when we first read Emma, she shows us how a narcissistic precocious young woman can misread romantic cues from men in a nearly infinite variety of ways. The didactic payoff comes when the first time reader, who has so identified with Emma that she has joined in all of Emma's expectations, experiences a deflation similar to Emma's and then reflects on this, perhaps, and realizes that this has happened to _her_ in real life sometime, and is not just part of a novel.

And since it was crucial to JA's didactic goals that her female readers should _reread_ JA's novels enough so as to eventually begin to register all the ambiguities, and to realize that there was more than one way to understand what they had read, she realized that she could kill many birds with one stone--by making her novels such satisfyingly intelligent, believable, _and_ romantic love stories, she would not only reap financial and prestige benefits, she would also assure that her readers would return to reread them again and again (take that out to 30 or 40 "agains" for many Janeites), and would also talk about them with their friends, and eventually some things _very_ worth knowing---about how to survive in a sexist world--would eventually dawn on many of those same female readers.

And the kind of learning that would occur by this indirect process would be a way of transcending the paradox of Lizzy's Zen-like paradox---you can teach....but only by not teaching! That is the sound of one story teaching (thank you Anthony Burgess!).

"And yes, there is some eastern thought existing within the pure essence of Christianity. Some theologians hypothesize that Christ spent some of his `missing' years in the east. And there are ancient teachings within Tibetan Buddhism and the Hindu religion where this idea seems to find a supportive place. "

And I had a feeling that would resonate with you, Christy, I really do believe that it was something Jane Austen herself became aware of, sometime during her all too short lifetime. It would only have deepened her personal form of Christianity, which, again, I understand to be one of dedication of one's self to providing comfort and guidance to those most in need of same.

And so I thank you, Christy, because it is by your probing and skeptical questioning of my claims that I am led to clarify my thoughts further and further, and I hope you derive some comparable value from our exchanges as well.

Cheers, ARNIE

Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen

I have written on numerous previous occasions about Mary Wollstonecraft's huge influence on Jane Austen:

(as only one example among many)

Today I have the pleasure of providing a link to a blog by a Wollstonecraft maven, Roberta Wedge, who has done me the honor of including a very generous appraisal of my Austenian heresies on her blog here:

Read all five parts of her Austen-Wollstonecraft panorama, including mine (which is fourth).

And the Austen-Wollstonecraft connection takes on twice greater and richer significance when one sees how both Austen and Wollstonecraft were inspired by the pioneering feminist perspectives of Catherine Sawbridge Macaulay, as I have recently and extensively written:

(for starters)

Cheers, ARNIE

Jane Austen's Letter 63: Miss Murden as Miss Bates

Responding to several of Diane Reynolds's interesting comments:

"The letters have yielded riches about JA's life and perceptions, at least on a superficial levels. As I have mentioned before, I have enjoyed this exercise more than I thought I would. My struggle is having more to say than will even fit in a long post. "

Amen, sister---I am frequently thinking of that jackass EM Forster referring to these letters as the whinnying of harpies--apparently he was far too dull and jealous an elf to grasp/acknowledge what a treasure these letters really are.

" In this letter, we will see a novelistic unfolding of the narrative about Miss Murden. "First impressions" can be wrong!"

Diane, I am so glad you brought Miss Murden forward for consideration, I just tracked her sporadic cameo appearances in JA's letters, from JA's cryptic ironic condolence with Miss M. "losses" in Letter 1 way back in 1796 (what that could mean, we'll never know for sure, but I suggested a year ago that JA's broadly ironic tone reminded me of JA's faux concern for Mrs. Knight's "accident") to Miss Murden's final cameo in Letter 82 in Feb. 1813. She seems very much of a Miss Bates marginalized, dependent, ageing, sad single woman, which is, I am sure why you took special notice of her.

Indeed, you are 100% correct, JA's insight into Miss Murden's character dramatically alters as she gets to know her, moving from this....

" Our evening party on Thursday produced nothing more remarkable than Miss Murden's coming too, though she had declined it absolutely in the morning, and sitting very ungracious and very silent with us from seven o'clock till half after eleven, for so late was it, owing to the chairmen, before we got rid of them."

to this....

"Miss Murden was quite a different creature this last evening from what she had been before, owing to her having with Martha's help found a situation in the morning, which bids very fair for comfort. When she leaves Steventon, she comes to board and lodge with Mrs. Hookey, the chemist-for there is no Mr. Hookey. I cannot say that I am in any hurry for the conclusion of her present visit, but I was truly glad to see her comfortable in mind and spirits; at her age, perhaps, one may be as friendless oneself, and in similar circumstances quite as captious."

If anyone was in doubt about JA's empathy for the Mrs. Smiths and Miss Bateses of her world (which to some extent included herself and CEA), the empathy JA demonstrates in that latter passage lays that doubt entirely to rest.

By the time we reach Letter 65 written three weeks after Letter 63, Miss Murden has made a couple of gifts to JA (first a basket, then a volume of sermons--little realizing that JA despised the sermons of her cousin Edward Cooper).

And then the following curious passage about Miss Murden later in Letter 65?:

"Miss Murden has been sitting with us this morng-as yet she seems very well pleased with her situation. The worst part of her being in Southampton will be the necessity of our walking with her now and then, for she talks so loud that one is quite ashamed, but our Dining hours are luckily very different, which we shall take all reasonable advantage of."

Apparently Miss Murden, like Miss Bates, talks too loud in public--but who is "one", I wonder? Who is "us"? I get the feeling that this is Mrs. Austen who "is quite ashamed" to be seen (or rather, heard) in public with Miss Murden. I don't believe this is JA feeling shame, as everything else she writes about Miss Murden demonstrates real empathy for the plight of this poor lonely woman. I think it's Mrs. Austen.

And then, in Letter 67 twelve days later still, this disturbing news about Miss Murden, and JA's sober assessment of the rapid sinking of Miss Murden's quality of life that must now ensue:

"Miss Murden is gone--called away by the critical state of Mrs. Pottinger, who has had another severe stroke, & is without Sense or Speech. Miss Murden wishes to return to Southampton if circumstances suit, but it must be very doubtful."

How fragile the brief window of a stable living arrangement (with access to intelligent and caring acquaintances like JA) was for a woman like Miss Murden in her precariously vulnerable circumstances. I don't understand who Mrs. Pottinger was to Miss Murden, such that the burden of caring for this desperately ill older woman fell upon poor Miss Murden.

And finally, in the two 1812 letters to Martha Lloyd which survive, JA writes empathetically but also candidly about Miss Murden, demonstrating that JA never allowed her heart to blind her eye to reality.

And finally, Diane, I also suspect that when you referred to "First Impressions", at least a piece of what was in your mind, Diane, was the parallelism between Miss Murden "sitting very ungracious and very silent" and Mr. Darcy, first at the Meryton Assembly...

"...his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend."

...and then again at Lucas Lodge:

"Mr. Darcy stood near them in silent indignation at such a mode of passing the evening, to the exclusion of all conversation...."

Thanks again for bringing Miss Murden forward for her well deserved day in the cyber-sun, 200 years later!

Cheers, ARNIE

The True Art of Letter Writing, Jane Austen-style, is Burlesque: A Noble "Profession"!

Ellen Moody wrote the following about a passage in Jane Austen's Letter 29 dated January 3-5, 1801:

"I'll maintain Austen's letters are not superficial but are unsatisfying. They are wholly aimed at their recipient and speaking (as she said) out of the heart as the words came to her pen:
"I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told, is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth; I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter..."
Her heart was unsentimental."

I replied to Ellen as follows:

Ellen, you've once again read JA literally and unironically, and you've thereby entirely missed her wonderful absurdist wit in the above quoted passage in Letter 29.

First of all, JA is mocking the books of her era which counseled ladies as to the proper way to write letters---these were a form of conduct book, with a special focus on the conduct of writing letters suitable for a young proper lady to write. Here is a sample of the advice given in one such book, _The polite lady: or, A course of female education, in a series of letters_ By Polite Lady (1761):

" is as great a shame for a young lady not to be able to tell a story with ease and fluency, or to write an elegant and genteel letter, as not /to /know how to dance a minuet. Indeed, this elegance of taste and propriety of language will be best learned, by reading a collection of familiar epistles. But of this kind, I am sorry to say it, we have none in English, that are proper for the perusal of a young lady. The letters of Pope and Fitz-Osbourne, and Pliny's epistles translated by Melmoth, are, no doubt, excellent in their kind; but then, they are rather too learned and laboured for one of your sex and age. You may read them, however, with great safety, profit, and pleasure: they will, at least, improve your taste and language in general; though, perhaps, they will not teach you that easy, free, and familiar stile, which is peculiarly adapted for female epistolary writing."

If you think JA took such advice as anything other than a rich mine of nonsense suitable for extensive mockery, then I have a bridge I want to sell you for $10......These were not books written in order to encourage artistic, creative expression in words, to encourage written " performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. " No, these were precisely the kind of books with which Mr. Collins would have lined his library shelves, the kind that were designed to channel women's expression into safe, acceptable, unthreatening trivialities, the epistolary equivalent of the kind of empty "accomplishments" that Caroline Bingley touts.

So, then, is it not clear from this that JA is in full blown mockery mode as she writes the above quoted passage, mimicking the sententious, earnest tone of the Polite Lady giving this truly horrid advice?

And so it is no surprise that in the second part of that long sentence, properly construed from a topsy-turvy perspective to the typical reading, we see that JA has actually landed one of her patented satirical zingers. The encouragement to ladies to "express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth" is uncannily in synch with the Polite Lady's regret that young ladies were not smart enough to understand letters of _male_ genius such as Pope's or Pliny's. I.e., those young ladies ought to stick to subjects that just pop into your head--in the shallow, superficial, spontaneous way that Bingley boasts of writing his letters--and at all costs _don't_ get too learned or laboured. God forbid! Instead, aspire to "that easy, free, and familiar style, adapted for female epistolary writing."

Does anyone imagine that JA would have given such advice even a millisecond of serious consideration? Of course not!

And so she burlesques the Polite Lady, in exactly the same way JA burlesqued a hundred pious or trite (and, properly understood, suppressive) conventions or truisms in her Juvenilia, by making the Polite Lady's advice absurdly concrete, the way Lewis Carroll or Eugene Ionesco might. If the goal was to write as if one were speaking aloud, well, then, one must write very very very _fast_, taking the advice in an absurd way, so as not to be late for a very important date! ;)

Which, by the way, is _exactly_ the same sort of absurdist burlesque that I just wrote about within the past week, which JA deployed in her advice in Letter 63, for the stone deaf gentleman to read _Corinna_ --if Mr. Fitzhugh could not hear a cannon in the real world, at least he would be able to "hear" a cannon blast described in a novel! What delight Lewis Carroll would have derived from reading both of these passages in Letters 29 & 63!

So, this is yet another example of how it is that JA's letters could be so utterly misunderstood by so many for so long--so few Janeites seem to realize that JA was "on" pretty much all the time, ready at the drop of hat to insert a burlesque, an irony, a satire, and almost always _without_ explicitly saying that was what she was doing. Even though, she repeatedly hints at doing exactly this in all her writings, especially in the following two very famous passages:

"...I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own."


"Of Rears and Vices I saw enough. Now do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat." Edmund again felt grave, and only replied, "It is a noble profession."

To understand Jane Austen's sense of humor, you have to realize that Edmund's apparently grave response to Mary was intended by JA to be understood by readers in synch with her wicked sense of humor as a pun on the double meaning of the word "profession".

That is the true art of "letter-writing" (in the broader sense of "letters" as literature, as in "a man of letters"), Jane-Austen style, and her satirical stance was, in both senses of the word, a "noble profession"!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Monday, January 23, 2012

P.S. re Always Under Good Regulation? Not Always..

I received an extremely interesting private comment about my response to Christy a short while ago under the above Subject Line.... which I was asked why I changed Man ( humanity) to Woman when telling Christy that I disagreed with her about Jane Austen's pride in her own artistic career.

That excellent question prompts me to clarify myself as follows. The reason why I reframe pretty much all comments about Jane Austen as an author in terms of Jane Austen as a _feminist_ is that I believe these were two fundamental aspects of her identity which were inseparable, i.e., were two sides of the same coin.

I.e., I perceive in Jane Austen's writings, both her fiction and even more so in her letters, an unwavering and intensely proud unwillingness to submit to the tyranny of those members of her family who did not approve of her feminist message--those who wished she would not be such a sharp poker, such a keen and fearless observer of the hypocrisies of her world.

My private commenter then went on to point out to me that Christy's summary of Anglican theology was the traditional interpretation of part of the purpose of religion based on the belief in original sin, and that Christy didn't say that Austen tamely submitted to male authorities in her family.

And my reply is to post what has become my favorite Austen quotation, when Henry Tilney rants at Catherine Morland:

"...If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to—Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?"

As I have argued in a dozen different ways, this passage is at the very core of Jane Austen's feminist, ironic critique of the domination and oppression of gentlewomen by gentlemen in the England she lived in. And the part that is relevant to my private commenter's excellent question is "....we are _Christians_..." I have repeatedly claimed that JA was by this reference including the Anglican church among the "villains" who all not only turned a blind eye to such oppression of women, but actually actively promoted that oppression, and indeed, attempted to give it the stamp of approval of God.

And so that the fact that Anglican theology purported to be gender-neutral, and to impose exactly the same moral constraints upon both male and female, was to beg the most important question! The devastating irony of the above passage is sexism _was_ an atrocity which was invisible to men, precisely because all the social and literary intercourse of the day was insisting it was so, so men could in all sincerity say "I am doing what God, the Church, the King, and the Chief Justice _all_ want me to do"!

That is why I find so deeply absurd the notion that JA endorsed and embraced such a benighted ideology, and that she struggled to quell her resistance to it, as a dutiful Christian daughter and sister should.

And so I thank my private commenter for prompting me to give this further explanation. As attuned to wordplay as I strive to me, I had missed the irony of "under good regulation", which is in the end what Christy and I disagree about so fundamentally--I do assert that JA never accepted the "good regulation" of her family, when it came to her speaking her mind about sexist injustice in the Austen family circle, and when it came to her speaking her mind through her novels about sexist injustice in the wider society.

Cheers, ARNIE

Always Under Good Regulation? Not Always....

My recent posting about Jane Austen's yearnings for artistic immortality....

...triggered an interesting challenge from my friendly adversary in Austen interpretation, Christy Somer, in which she focused on my quotation of the following famous utterance by Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice, and suggested that I was wrong to attribute Darcy's hubris to Jane Austen, personally:

"...where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation." [Ch 11 P&P]

Christy: "This moment occurs just in the beginning of the story. And both Darcy and Elizabeth are so full of themselves -in both pride and prejudice, that the irony just oozes out."

Christy, the key word in that sentence (for me, and, as I will now argue, for Jane Austen as well) is "always". I am so glad you've made this comment, because this point goes to the heart of Jane Austen's artistry, and I will try to explain why I see it that way.

In my opinion, where Darcy goes too far is not in the reasonable assertion that a gifted person's pride can be regulated, but in the Raskolnikov-like, hubristic assertion that a person of superior intellect cannot _ever_ be led astray by feelings of pride, because, somehow, by some miraculous capacity of the gifted human mind, such pride is _automatically_ regulated.

Jane Austen was an excellent and intensely pragmatic psychologist, and understood very well that Darcy's hubris was absurd and very dangerous. She knew better than anyone that pride was a feeling that was extremely difficult to regulate--but, I also am of the opinion that Jane Austen believed that if a highly gifted person such as herself was _aware_ of her own natural feelings of pride, and of their dangerous power, and exercised steady vigilance with respect to same over one's entire lifetime, then these feelings of pride _could_ be effectively regulated.

No good psychologist (or Buddhist] would suggest that the only way to regulate pride is to squash it into nothingness by a rigid puritanical, self-effacement. I recall reading something the Dalai Lama said about this very topic--to the effect that people had the false impression about him that he was such a rarefied being that he never felt any negative emotions, such as anger or pride. Quite to the contrary, he explained that Buddhism aspired to a healthy respect for one's own negative emotions, which were an inevitable part of being human, and therefore he had spent his lifetime working hard to minimize their negative impacts on his own life, and on those around him. I found that explanation compelling, and I assert that Jane Austen understood that fundamental principle very well.

Which is why I clarified my post (to which you were responding) by adding the following crucial caveat to Darcy's pronouncement:

"And I think that JA was a connoisseur of the very fine line that divided the weakness of vanity from the strength of well regulated pride, because she lived on that razor's edge herself."

Jane Austen recognized that with uniquely special gifts came uniquely special challenges, and one of the biggest challenges in her own life was learning how to regulate and channel her own astonishing gifts, and to apply them in the world for the benefit of herself, her loved ones, and the world at large. My speculation is that she recognized that she needed to strike a balance between, on the one hand, the pride and ambition that a great creative artist needs in order to be confident enough to send her creations out into the world, and, on the other hand, the awareness of the great risk that such pride and ambition would become poisonous and take over her mind entirely.

One of the many wonders of P&P is how well JA depicts these infinitely subtle inner processes of regulation of pride inside the mind of _Lizzy_. Lizzy repeatedly and _unwittingly_ gives the reader a constant flow of evidence that she does _not_ have any clue as to how to regulate her own pride, and JA also shows us how this came about in the first place. Lizzy's father, who is a hardened narcissist, has indulged _Lizzy's_ pride from a young age, and has nurtured it into a great vanity where Elizabeth believes herself superior to every one of her sisters, and of course to her mother, as well as to Charlotte, as well as to the true buffoons like Mr. Collins. And so, at age 21, Lizzy has never learned how to effectively regulate her pride in her _own_ superiority of mind.

Therefore, she (like Emma) remains extremely vulnerable both to intimidation _and_ to flattery throughout the entire novel. JA has written P&P so that one entirely plausible interpretation of it, is that Lizzy does not _ever_ learn to regulate her pride after absorbing Darcy's post-proposal letter. Instead, she can plausibly be read as instead veering all the way to the other side of the spectrum, and goes straight from unregulated vanity to abject submission without passing Go along the way. And, although she jokes about it, Lizzy never really does understand that a significant part of what motivates her to this complete flip of personality is that she has become mistress of Pemberley, which to her feels like collecting a _lot_ of "rent" in Monopoly! Her feelings of _gratitude_ are unregulated, and therefore are as dangerous as unregulated pride.

But let's return to Jane Austen herself. JA was the psychologist who could depict the infinitely subtle processes of regulation of pride (and other potentially distortive emotions) in the human mind as well as she did, especially in her depiction of unregulated narcissism---think not just Mr. Bennet, but also Sir Walter Elliot, Mr. Woodhouse, Sir Thomas Bertram (i.e., nearly all the heroines's fathers), as well as Mrs. Elton & Lady Catherine, etc.---was a person who clearly understood the importance of such regulation, and was not operating in a Darcy-like cocky self-assurance that anything she did was ok.

Your idea of a Jane Austen who humbly submitted herself to the will of the male authorities in her family is utterly alien to the one I read on every page of her fiction and of her letters.

You write:

"The stoical brand of Anglicanism she was born into, and lived with everyday, accepted that man needed religion to control and guide his earth-bound, naturally tainted inclinations. "

And I completely disagree, and claim that JA's Christianity was not about squelching the healthy pride and ambition of a gifted woman, but was instead about the burden of the gifted woman to use her gifts to better the lives of other women not so gifted---all the Miss Bateses and Mrs. Tilneys of her world.

You write:

"Imo, JA and her family, would see egregious folly in truly believing, living, speaking from such elevations of ‘self-realized’ and ‘individualized’ thinking -putting oneself beyond ones own family, and most everyone else. "

And I completely disagree with your mantra of JA as being only one part of a large family, rather than an intensely individual artist and personality, who would never allow herself to be submerged to the (mostly male) power in her family in the way you claim she was.

Rather, like Lizzy Bennet, she could truthfully say:

"There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me."

But _unlike_ Lizzy, JA found a way to avoid submission, but also not to ever allow this healthy and useful stubbornness to morph into a narcissism that could bear no reasonable regulation from her own conscience, heart, and intellect.

And, coming full circle to the clever veiled allusion to Corinna that prompted this thread, I claim that JA making clever allusive jokes about her desire for artistic immortality is part of that healthy approach to life that I see in Jane Austen. Her yearning for artistic immortality was entirely normal, entirely admirable, entirely useful, given the extraordinary gifts with which she was endowed, and which she so diligently cultivated in herself.

Cheers, ARNIE

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Letter 63: "I recommend him to read Corinna"" (Margaret Kirkham was there first in 1982)

In further followup to my two previous posts of the past day about Jane Austen's cryptic comment in Letter 63: "I recommended him to read _Corinna_", Google Books has now revealed to me that precedence on outside-the-box interpretations of that cryptic comment belongs to the brilliant pioneer of feminist analysis of Jane Austen's life and writings, Margaret Kirkham, way back in 1982, in her seminal _JA, Feminism and Fiction_, which I have often cited favorably in the past on a variety of points. I can do no better than to quote (with editing for length) the key points that Kirkham made in this regard on ppg. 166-69:

"We may, I think, be sure that, whatever this means, it does not mean that JA actually recommended the poor gentleman to read _Corinne_, for, even if her knowledge of finger-language were equal to such a recommendation, it is inconceivable that she should have teased the old man in such a way. The allusion was clearly designed to convey some sort of joke to her sister, and it is not too difficult to see what it was. In Book the fifteenth, chapter VII, Corinne, in Venice with her lover Lord Oswald Nevil, receives a premonition of her parting from him, and perhaps from this world altogether, when she hears a cannon fire thrice across the lagoon. A gondolier explains to her that the firing of the cannon signifies [those two events]. JA, we need not doubt, conveyed to Mr. Fitzhugh only such things as kindness and compassion, limited by the difficulty of communicating with him at all, made proper. To CEA, however, she allows herself to make a joke about _Corinne_, evidently knowing that her sister will connect Mr. Fitzhugh's inability to hear 'a cannon fired close to him' with a passage in Madame de Stael which it seems likely had provoked irreverent laughter in both sisters.

On this evidence alone, and there is no other, it is clear that the idea that JA admired Madame de Stael is baseless, and it is hard not to convict Henry Austen of a little sleight-of-hand in using his sister's refusal to meet her as confirmation of her retiring, feminine character... The unfounded belief that JA admired Madame de Stael (MdS), yet refused to meet her, has proved misleading in more ways than one. It helped to lend substance to the idea of Austen as exceptionally retiring; it obscured her active interest in an important literary conflict of her own time; and it made it more difficult to understand the estrangement of the mid century women novelists, particularly Charlotte Bronte and George Eliot, from her work. To a generation which admired MdS and saw her as the predecessor of George Sand, JA's pointed avoidance of "genius", both in her presentation of herself as narrator and in her heroines, could not be sympathetic ...Henry Austen's 1833 treatment of his sister's declining to meet MdS, together with his unplaced, and therefore misleading, quotation of the "little bit of ivory" letter, can only have added to the alienation of the later English women novelists from the predecessor to whom, despite their coolness about her, they owed much...." END QUOTE

As I read Kirkham's analysis, I find myself agreeing with most of it, I have previously written....

(one post of mine among many about Charlotte Bronte's covert admiration of JA)

......I don't believe Charlotte Bronte was misled by Henry Austen, I assert that CB only pretended to buy into Henry's Bowdlerizing whitewash of his sister Jane and her writing. But that is only a peripheral quibble in relation to Kirkham's otherwise excellent analysis. In 1982, she was, along with Allison Sulloway, pretty much the only Austen scholar reading JA's letters and fictions from that perspective and with deep insight into JA's infinite allusiveness.

I also wonder what Kirkham would think about my claim that JA was in some ironic yet sincere way drawing a parallel between herself as a great English female artist in some sort of exile, and Corinna, with a special emphasis on JA's enormous ambition for the immortality of her writing, an ambition that, thankfully, has finally reached its full fruition in our modern era of Austenmania. I'd like to think Kirkham would be sympathetic to it.

So, if JA was, as I suggest, playing with the conceit of herself as a Corinna who yearned for artistic immortality, maybe it's time for the British Royals to fire three cannon shots in honor of JA's writing sometime soon--say, perhaps, on the 200th anniversary of the publication of P&P early next year--wouldn't that be a perfect occasion for it? And, to add a nice tip of the hat to JA's little joke in Letter 63, there ought to be an empty chair at the ceremony, with the name "Mr. Fitzhugh" written on it in prominent and bright neon colors, so that the kindly old gentleman's ghost will have a front row seat top watch (and listen to) the festivities!

Cheers, ARNIE

Letter 63: Jane Austen as Corinna

In my previous post....

...I posted about a curious passage in Letter 63....

"...our curiosity was gratified by the sight of their fellow-inmates, Mrs. Drew and Miss Hook, Mr. Wynne and Mr. Fitzhugh; the latter is brother to Mrs. Lance, and very much the gentleman. He has lived in that house more than twenty years, and, poor man! is so totally deaf that they say he could not hear a cannon, were it fired close to him; having no cannon at
hand to make the experiment, I took it for granted, and talked to him a little with my fingers, which was funny enough. I recommended him to read Corinna." to which I suggested that Jane Austen combined a joke about a deaf gentleman of her acquaintance vis a vis cannons firing in Madame De Stael's novel _Corinna_ with a veiled speculation about the future of her own literary career:

Today, in followup, I found two comments on _Corinna_ from contemporary English critical reviews, which bear pointedly on my claim that JA was, in this seemingly offhand, joking reference to cannons firing in _Corinna_, also engaging in veiled speculations about her own artistic future, looking ahead at age 33 in late 1808.

First this excerpt, from an 1820 essay in The British Review, which takes on special meaning when read in the light of Jane Austen's last poem.....

....written in the last days her life 8 1/2 years after she wrote Letter 63:

"In the Capitol, in her letters, on arms, on arts, on nothing, Corinna must harangue. She sports even with death itself, by bidding a poetical farewel to the citizens of Home assembled to behold their sun before it had entirely sunk in the west. And as she is introduced to us with drums beating and colours flying, so she marches off the stage when 'a dreadful wind began to howl through the houses, when the rain beat violently
against the window sashes, and thunder heard in the middle of January aggravated the unpleasant spectacle of bad weather, by a sentiment of horror.' Such is the day on which Corinna, accompanied by Lucilia, entered a crowded hall, TO SPOUT HER OWN VERSES ON HER OWN DEATH; or, what is more voluptuous yet, to hear them chaunted by a young damsel adorned with wreaths of flowers." END QUOTE

And second, this quote, from an 1807 essay in The Critical Review, which summarizes Corinna's deep secret, which is that although she seemed to be Italian, she actually was "an Englishwoman" who "was unable to endure the monotony of an English country life":

"It is after having ascended Mount Vesuvius with Oswald, and taken a near view of the torrents of burning lava, that Corinna puts into the hands of Lord Nelvil, the packet, in which she has written her history. Never was there a more fatal concurrence of circumstances. Corinna is an Englishwoman, and was unable to endure the monotony of an English country life. Corinna was intended from infancy for the wife of Oswald himself;
and the father of the latter, alarmed at the vivacity displayed at an early period in her tastes and ideas, had turned his thoughts to Lucilia, the younger sister of Corinna. Thus Oswald is wounded in his feelings both as an Englishman and as a son. He is hurt in what affects him most profoundly, in what is more deeply rooted in his breast than love itself."

And finally, I was curious to take a look at the verses that Corinna writes as she lies dying, to see if there might be anything in them that reminds me of JA's last poem. What I found as I read it was that even though Corinna's poem is extremely long and consists almost entirely (to my mind) of extremely overblown, melodramatic doggerel, with no trace of
irony or humor, it was striking to read the following stanza just before the end of Corinna's poem:

I dream of immortality!
No more of that which man can give;
Once in the future did I live,
The present seemed too old for me.
All I now ask of Him on high,
Is, that my heart may never die!
Father! the offering and the shrine
A mortal spurns; with grace divine,
Deign to receive, —'tis thine! — 'tis thine!

What was striking to me was the parallelism to the following passage in JA's last poem:

Oh Venta depraved
When once we are buried you think we are gone
But behold me immortal!
By vice you're enslaved
You have sinned and must suffer...

So, was JA remembering Corinna (and Mr. Fitzhugh's cannon-proof deafness) as she lay dying? I think so!

Cheers, ARNIE