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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, February 20, 2012

August Wayne Booth in Once Upon A Time: Jane Austen Really IS Everywhere in 2012!

Whenever I check my blog statistics, I always get a kick out of noting all the varied home countries of those who read my blog (I am sorry I did not keep track, but my impression is that over the past 20 months, at least 100 countries have been represented), but I am even more interested in seeing what words people Googled that led them to my blog in the first place.

This morning, I was astonished to see not one but three searchers during the last day had entered the words "August Wayne Booth fairy tale" and had thereby been led to my blog.

I was astonished because even though I knew I had written a blog post a while back about Wayne Booth's reversal of his original opinion about the feminism of _Emma_ ....

...I did not recall there being any reference to a fairy tale in Booth's 1983 Persuasions article.....

.... from which I had quoted in my above-linked 2010 blog post.

It did not take me long to find out that Booth had indeed referred to fairy tales not once but twice in the following passage I had quoted, which I now quote again:

"....G. B. Stern once wrote that the marriage of Emma and George Knightley is not a happy ending. “Oh, Miss Austen, it was not a good solution; it was a bad solution, an unhappy ending, could we see beyond the last pages of the book.” Edmund Wilson predicted that Emma would find a new protegĂ© like Harriet, since she has not been cured of her inclination to “infatuations with women.” Marvin Mudrick emphatically rejected Jane Austen’s final sentence, claiming that Emma is still a “confirmed exploiter.” For him, the ending must be read as ironic. When I first reported views of this kind, more than two decades ago, I rejected them. Though I still see them as at best half of what should be said, I think my response was too simple. My point here is that unless we can somehow incorporate something like an ironic vision of the ending, even while pretending not to, EVEN WHILE ENJOYING THE FAIRY TALE TO THE FULL, we are indeed confirming its capacity to implant a harmful vision of the sexes. In other words the ending is indeed a happy ending, not the least ironic, given the world of the conventional plot, a world that we are to enter with absolute whole-heartedness. And yet, simultaneously, we are taught by this work the standards by which the ending must be experienced as we experience fairy-tales or fantasies; the implied author has been teaching us all along what it means to keep our wits about us, and how we must maintain a steady vision about the follies and meannesses in our world. Though all is well for Emma and George Knightley, IN THEIR FAIRY-TALE WORLD, we have been taught that all is far from well in the real world implied by the book, either for their kind (if any such exist) or for those less fortunate men and women who surround them. Every perceptive reader will have learned, by the end, that in the realer world portrayed so perceptively by Jane Austen, the lot of women is considerably more chancy, considerably more threatening, than the lot of men. Emma, with her rich fortune, could build some sort of decent life without a Knightley, just as she earlier claimed. But where would a Jane Fairfax be if Mrs. Churchill had not died to fulfil the needs of the conventional plot?....."

Being the Austen nerd/obsessive that I am, I found this extremely exciting, because even though I just checked and saw that Booth did during his long and distinguished career make _other references to fairy tales [in "Of the Standard of Moral Taste", Booth took note, in passing, of the perverse pleasure that readers take in reading gruesome fairy tales; and in "Who is Responsible in Ethical Criticism", Booth discussed the suspension of disbelief vis a vis the moral message of fairy tales], it is very clear to me that at least someone on the Once Upon A Time creative team, by naming the mysterious stranger "August Wayne Booth", was pointing very very VERY specifically and slyly to the above passage in which Booth wrote in 1983 about the doubleness of the fictional worlds of _Emma_ (Emma's fairy-tale view of things, and the more objective reality concealed in the shadows of the text).

After all, those who watch the show (and many others who've merely heard about it) know that the central conceit of Once Upon A Time is that of a fairy tale world intertwined with the real world, which the primary source of the enormous confusion, mystery, and suspense that the show generates. And "Wayne Booth" is the furthest thing from a common name like "John Smith". This all cannot be a coincidence, it is one GIANT wink by the creators of the TV show!

And then I Googled to see whether anyone else had noticed what my blog statistics had serendipitously brought to my attention, and I did find the following comment by a perceptive viewer of Once Upon A Time in a Google Blogs discussion thread about the character name "August Wayne Booth":

"On the other hand there's a Wayne Booth who was a literary critic and coined the term "unreliable narrator". ...And another book had the string "... August, Wayne Booth..." in reference to some critique Booth had made about Light in August. So maybe the writers are saying we shouldn't believe a word they say. Or perhaps that none of this is real, Emma is Dorothy and it's all a Wizard of Oz dream...."

Spot-on! is my reply. And that dream/reality blurring is exactly the thrust of Booth's 1983 analysis of _Emma_, which is that having the story filtered through Emma's subjective consciousness results in a profound distortion of the objective reality behind it. The entire edifice of my theory of Jane Austen's fiction rests on such an approach to her writing.

So now I think I will make my wife happy and start watching Once Upon a Time with her (we're about to run out of Frasier reruns to watch together), because I have a very strong hunch that there are going to be some sly references to _Emma_ in Once Upon A Time every now and then.

Speaking of sly references to _Emma_, those reading this post today who ARE regular watchers of Once Upon A Time will _already_ be nodding approvingly when I tell you that the show's heroine, played by Jennifer Morrison (who made her reputation starring in House), is named.......EMMA Swan!

So I think that one day (maybe at the Prime Time Emmys?), the creators of Once Upon A Time have some 'splaining to do about all of the above!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: I am amazed at the large number of people who have read this post today! If any of you would like to make a comment, I would love to hear what you think. And those of you reading this who have watched all the episodes so far, and who also have read some of Jane Austen's novels, I would love to hear from you as to any additional winks toward Jane Austen in the TV show!

P.P.S: Please be sure to read my followup post here:


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the insights! We have a mystery to unfold and any information is appreciated.

OUAT fan

Unknown said...

Just wanted to thank you for this fascinating look at the show.

I guess I should add Emma to my reading list. :)

Arnie Perlstein said...

Please do, Josh, and then come back here to talk about what you see, and also for you to browse here and see what I have found in Emma--it is the ultimate mystery story, because all of the mystery is from everyday life.

Deianeira said...

Thank you for pointing me towards this post on Twitter (@cormonline). I have been watching Once Upon a Time all season and will now be obsessed looking for Austen and other literary references. I must admit that if there have been to date, I've missed them (my old profs would be horrified to know I was only watching on "one level"). And Emma is my favourite of Jane Austen's novels.

Arnie Perlstein said...

Deianeira, you are exactly the sort of person I wanted to reach with my posts about OUAT, and I am confident that now that you are watching OUAT with Emma in mind, you will see things. What my thousands of hours of research have shown me more than anything is that Jane Austen's central principle was that your point of view dictates what you see--so things which might have been invisible or subliminal when watching without thinking about Emma, may well now become very visible!

I actually can't wait for the next episode, which I gather will not be until March 5 because of the Oscars this Sunday (?)

In the interim, I think I need to watch as many of the back episodes as I can, and see if anything Austenesque pops out at me, beyond the stuff I have already blogged about!

Arnie Perlstein said...

One more thing---I urge you to browse in this blog and get a hang on the kinds of things I have written about the shadow story of Emma--there are two different stories in Emma, and even though Emma herself is the same in both, the other characters are opposite in the two stories.

So, e.g., Harriet is a naive doofus in the overt story, but Harriet is a canny manipulator in the shadow story. The novel supports BOTH stories!

Artsnark said...

what fun! I'm catching the show on netflix & after googling this character found your space. Enjoyed your thoughts

Arnie Perlstein said...

Thank you very much, Stacey! A lot of people read my blog, but Very few take the time to write a nice note as you just did.