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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, January 9, 2012

Deirdre Le Faye & Me: "I am a scholar, she is a scholar: so far we are equal"

In response to my recent post....

...Christy Somer wrote the following in Austen L:

"At least, Lord Brabourne did respect the whole integrity of the letters - enough, so as not to mark them up with cross-outs. Even as he chose to exclude certain lines in his first edition of the letters, the original letter 32 remains completely intact, and with the underline under ‘Accident’ very clearly there -I’m viewing this from Modert’s facsimile."

At first I did not understand what you meant, Christy, and then I did--yes, thank god he did not presume to that sort of physical desecration of the letters entrusted to him---whether that was the result of his respect for the whole integrity of the letters, or an arrogant presumption on his part that no strangers's eyes would ever gaze at a facsimile of the originals, we will never know--but I certainly don't look that gift horse in the mouth either way!

Christy then went on to ask the following:

"And Arnie, this continual and antagonistic focus on DLF’s ‘motives’ -especially now with this new edition out, causes me to ‘also’ wonder about your own personal and professional motives. Is it possible that you truly wish for some type of ‘public’ confrontation with Deirdre Le Faye?"

Here is my definitive response to this sort of question:

You've can't be serious, Christy. I mean, really, who is the conspiracy theorist now? ;)

I have been making negative comments about Le Faye's editorial practices, and also about her harsh and sometimes vindictive criticisms of other Austen scholars who've dared to challenge her edicts, for _years_. And I am not the only one who has written negatively about her. And I know from direct personal experience that there are many many Janeites who feel something similar to what I feel, but who don't say it publicly. Some people apparently fear her, but many are just plain tired of her.

You should have been there at Chawton House in July 2009 so you could see all the eyes rolling, and all the groaning being choked back, every time she got up and hogged the spotlight and casually derogated some opinion or another that did not please her, and just would not stop.

For just one example of harm she has done to others, that I can only interpret as intentional. Here is the link I provided just this morning:

Do you know that Le Faye went out of her way to slam the lovely and important little book that Annette and her mentor, Christine Alexander, put out about The History of England? It was appalling to see. So Le Faye is hardly a shrinking violet, being subjected to unwarranted attacks. She gives much more than she gets, believe me.

The only reason there has been an increase in my postings about her should be obvious from the circumstances. We're smack in the middle of a two _year_ group read of JA's letters! It has become clearer and clearer to me how to properly make my argument, as more and more of the "Big Picture" of the letters has come into focus for me during this massive group read. And I am not shy about expressing what I believe to be the case.

Just as you, Ellen, Diane, Diana and others have all benefited enormously from the discipline of reading these letters week by week as a group, with our very widely varying viewpoints, so have I. I had studied the letters before, but in a haphazard way.

I think that what we've done, collectively, in these groups during the past years is _historic_, it never was done before--or if anything like it ever was, no trace remains that is visible on the Internet or through scholarly databases. And there has been a rich harvest of insight in a number of ways, from my perspective--I have confirmed what I always felt, which is that JA's letters function in relation to her novels very much the way Shakespeare's sonnets function vis a vis his plays--as a kind of subliminal metacommentary, with a great deal of mutual interaction.

And after reading a few hundred of Le Faye's footnotes very minutely, in the context of interpretation of words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs in the letters, it has become ever clearer to me how pervasively Le Faye's influence has prevented generations of Janeites from seeing what is really there in these letters. I have accumulated over a hundred examples where her footnotes are either inadequate or nonexistent, in relation to something significant in one or more of JA's letters. And that accumulation continues week by week, with rarely a pause.

Whatever her goals may be-whether she believes she is the great protectress of Jane Austen from evil intrusion, or is just clueless about many things, or has some less savory motivation, or some complicated combination of all three, the bottom line is that no one has ever systematically challenged her the way I have, and that is the only way to really make a dent in her stranglehold on interpretation of JA's biography.

I feel genuine outrage every time I come across another example of where Le Faye has been part of the problem instead of part of the solution, in terms of making all relevant _facts_ accessible to _all_ Janeites, whether they agree with my own interpretations or not. She has every right to hold and express whatever opinions she wishes about Jane Austen--but she has no moral right to obstruct others who disagree with her, from being able to reach our own conclusions.

Doing my part to break her de facto monopoly on Jane Austen's biography and letters is a worthy goal in my eyes, and I will continue to pursue it to the best of my ability. Let a half dozen different viewpoints flourish in the aftermath.

But again, to get back to your conspiracy theory-----it is beyond the realm of possibility that Le Faye would ever wish to debate me about any of this, and, in reverse, it certainly is not my goal, I have better (and harder) things to aspire to. Just as she doesn't believe a word of what I say, I don't believe a word of what she says. As Elizabeth Bennet says when standing up to Lady Catherine: " so far we are equal." ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. ADDED JUNE 30, 2013:

The below linked post is a really surprising followup to the above post, on the theme of Deirdre Le Faye's saying "I didn't believe a word of it!" to me at the end of my 2009 Chawton House presentation:


Arnie Perlstein said...

Christy Somer replied: "I do think I’m beginning to understand how you’ve constructed this interpretive sense of ‘novelistic’ equality existing between you.~~~:-) "

I'm not sure what you mean by that, but I gather it's a good thing by the smiley face. In any event, you prompted me to make myself very clear about how I see myself vis a vis Le Faye, and that is a good thing.

Christy: "As to DLF’s aggressiveness towards theoretical biography, assumption, and theory .....well, it is as much her right to express her views on these matters as it is with those who are presenting them. "

I was very clear, it's not about expressing her opinions-it would actually be _better_ if she candidly acknowledged upfront in the intro to the Letters that she take this point of view, and that there are many others who disagree with her. Instead, she puts on a mask of "objectivity" and pretends that she is just sticking to the facts. That is utterly disingenuous, and creates a false impression on readers unfamiliar with the politics of Austen studies, which means, _most_ readers. That is what I find so objectionable!

Christy: "What I do know is that from the written and cinematic evidence I have before me, I am still not able to imagine DLF as deviously hiding any real evidentiary ‘matter’ one can see and read in ones hands. IMO -FWIW, certainly no organized ‘cabal’ protecting the real ‘paper’ could ever have survived this long into the centuries -not with money and recognition to be made."

I can only tell you that at the Chawton House Conference in July 2009, I asked about the manuscript of the Austen family history written by Anna Austen Lefroy, and was told (I am pretty sure it was by Kathryn Sutherland) that "It is private and those in possession want to keep it that way."
That's enough for _me_ to read the writing on the wall. Your mileage may vary. It's obvious to me that there are people in possession of key facts about Jane Austen who don't want them to be disclosed, at least not for the present. Who knows what the future holds.

Arnie Perlstein said...

I've noticed a spike in pageviews of this particular post during the past week or so, and I am curious to know what has triggered that spike--did I post a link to it recently in another online venue?

Anyone who happens along here during the next week, please let me know how you were brought to this post!

Many thanks!


Arnie Perlstein said...

As was the case last November, during the past two months, and especially the past week, I've noticed a spike in pageviews of this particular post, and I am curious to know what has triggered that spike.

Can those being brought to this post by an exterior link PLEASE post the link's URL, so I can know who to thank for sending me so many new readers?



Arnie Perlstein said...

This post is a nice followup to the above post: