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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, January 6, 2012

Addendum re: Jane Austen's Stealth Poem to the 8-year old Anna Austen

A week ago I posted about what I call a "stealth poem" covertly delivered by Jane Austen to her niece Anna Austen upon the very sad occasion of Jane Austen being separated geographically from Anna for the first time in the 8-year old girl's life, due to Jane Austen being exiled to Bath along with her parents and sister:

I have now read a copy of an article by Deirdre Le Faye in which she first quotes that entire poem and reveals that it is written in the inside of the cover of Mentoria. Le Faye then makes the following astounding (and _not_ in a good way) comments about the poem:

"These verses present something of a puzzle: could they be a serious attempt on Jane's part to offer them to Cassandra following the death in the West Indies in 1797 of the latter's fiance Tom Fowle?--the tone of them seems to suggest so; and yet, would Jane then have given away to a niece a book which bore the traces of a sorrow personal to Cassandra? Or was Jane merely experimenting with sentimental verse for her own amusement?"

To paraphrase Mr. Bennet, an unhappy alternative is before those who claim Le Faye is a worthy interpreter of Jane Austen's life and works, is someone whose opinion is worth hearing about hot questions such as whether the Byrne portrait is actually a portrait of Jane Austen.

From this day supporters of Le Faye must be a stranger to that claim. Why? Because, having spotted, and then explicitly stated, the key question---which is, "Why did JA send this book with this poem to her 8 year old niece Anna?", either:

1. Le Faye is so clueless that it never even occurs to her as a possibility that the poem was written _to_ Anna herself--a possibility which, if examined, leads effortlessly to the interpretation I made in my previous blog post; or

2. Le Fay is not clueless at all, but treats it as her job to put the kibosh on any interpretation of Jane Austen which raises disturbing questions about how Jane Austen felt about Mary Lloyd Austen as a stepmother to young Anna, to the extent that JA would have sent Anna this poignant pep talk to help Anna survive not having JA around any more in the neighborhood to try to make Anna's life a little better, something JA clearly had no confidence her brother James would do to take care of his daughter in JA's absence.

My gut feeling is that she really does believe her own propaganda. But either way, it ain't good--my rule of thumb is, if Le Faye is in dispute with another Austen scholar about a point of interpretation, it's very likely that Le Faye is the one in the wrong! ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

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