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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, January 7, 2012

P.P.S. on Poor Catherine: Wedding Cake, Anyone?

Christy: "Arnie, In letter 57, DLF notes that Catherine Bigg is “soon to become Mrs. Hill”. "

Christy, I can only bow to you in honor of another bit of superior and very meaningful followup sleuthing on your part, making the picture complete. Here is the passage from Letter 57 to which the above was Le Faye's footnote:

"Do you recollect whether the Manydown family send about their Wedding Cake?-Mrs. Dundas has set her heart upon having a peice from her friend Catherine, & Martha who knows what importance she attaches to the sort of thing, is anxious for the sake of both that there shd not be a disappointment."

Now, I am not sure, Christy, because you are so sly, whether you realize that you've made my argument about Le Faye stronger, and not weaker? How so? Because Le Faye knew that including a footnote (about the impending wedding) to the above passage in Letter 57 causes no ripple of disturbance whatsoever in the mind of an unsuspicious Janeite, because, on the surface, the above passage seems utterly benign. At first glance, it seems no more than a silly bit of mock-serious banter about making sure that Mrs. Dundas [who was herself a young woman who got married only 6 months earlier] gets her "peice" of wedding cake.

And because that's an apparently plain vanilla passage in Letter 57---no subtextual critique of English marriage visible at first glance---nobody blinks an eye when reading Le Faye's footnote--including me when I skimmed through Letter 57 a few weeks ago--in fact, I did not even find any reason to read the footnote in the first place.

And...because reading letters is _not_ like reading a novel, where a reader is automatically keeps in mind what has been read in a previous chapter, in order to follow the story line, there was absolutely no reason for any reader of Letter 60, upon reading the two-word footnote "Catherine: Bigg", to look elsewhere for the answer. So Le Faye cannot, with a straight face, argue that it was unnecessary for her to refer to Catherine Bigg's impending wedding in that footnote to Letter 60, because she had just done so for the footnote in Letter 57. All Le Faye needed to do, if she did not wish to repeat her Letter 57 footnote, was to write the following after "Catherine: Bigg" : "See Letter 57 note 14". Needless to say, she did neither.

And she did neither, I suggest to you, because connecting these passages in Letter 57 and Letter 60 is exactly what Le Faye did _not_ want her readers to do! She was banking on there being practically no readers of "poor Catherine" in Letter 60 who were going to be that meticulous and dogged so as to check around via the Index to find other mentions of Catherine Bigg. And forget about there being _any_ readers who actually would have read Letters 57 through 60 at one sitting, so as to have the possibility of connecting the dots, by memory, between those two passages, without an assist from footnotes.

And.....lest someone reply, that's all well and good in theory, but Le Faye should not have to clutter all her footnotes with lots of cross references to other footnotes, like the one I argued she should have included between Letters 57 and 60. After all, wouldn't the footnotes then become hopelessly cluttered. Well, if Le Faye had been Calvinistic in avoiding cross references in her footnotes, perhaps I'd have to back down, but it just so happens that Le Faye in fact includes cross references _all_ _over_ _the_ _place_ in her footnotes!!! I just found ten of them with a single word search, plus some more via quick skimming of some of the early letters, and so I know there must be several dozen at a minimum scattered through all the letters. Not a Calvinist at all, in fact rather liberal and free in cross referencing .....when there is nothing disturbing involved, that is!

No, this appears to be a conscious editorial decision _not_ to give the slightest bit of assistance to a reader to connect all the dots that I and Christy have connected today, only because Christy and I are both meticulous and dogged, especially when working as a tag team! ;)

But.....I have not even gotten to the best part of this post, which I recognized the minute I read the above-quoted passage in Letter 57--and which would _almost_ make me wonder why Christy chose to only quote the footnote, and not also the Letter excerpt itself.

I invite anyone who read my previous post about the "poor Catherine" passage in Letter 60 to reread what I wrote about that passage and then _carefully _ read the above passage about Mrs. Dundas and Catherine and Martha, and tell me if something _else_ does not jog in your memory banks, from _Emma_, in addition to the echo of Letter 60 in Mr. Woodhouse's _nine_ "poor Miss Taylor" exclamations????

Isn't it interesting first of all that we hear about a piece of wedding cake from the impending wedding?

Does it perhaps remind us of something _else_ that Mr. Woodhouse says about weddings and marriage?

How about this post I wrote 22 months ago?:

For those who don't want to savor the whole argument I made in that much earlier post--even though it's pretty funny, I promise you--suffice to say that I now claim it is now light years beyond the realm of coincidence that there should be two passages about Catherine Bigg's impending wedding in Letters 57 and 60, respectively, which independently correspond in two extraordinarily memorable ways to utterances by Mr. Woodhouse about Mrs. Weston's wedding! Which means, to me, that even in Letter 57, in what initially appeared as an innocuous bit of banter about wedding cake, JA is already laying the groundwork for her explicit expression of negativity toward Catherine Bigg's impending marriage to the much older Revd. Herbert Hill.

Wild stuff!

Cheers, ARNIE

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