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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"Dear Norland" & "Poor Little Harry: JA's Exile from Steventon: Part Sixty Seven

In the aftermath of the 2011 JASNA AGM a few months ago, inspired by a talk given by my friend Joan Strasbaugh (publisher of the very punnily named Jones Books)......

....I wrote a post......\

...which laid out the multigenerational Austen family history underlying the multifaceted allusion by Jane Austen in Sense & Sensibility to the real life dispossession of JA (and her parents and sister, too, of course) from Steventon Rectory by JA's brother James and his wife Mary in 1801.

That was part and parcel with my previous repeated echoing and extending of several earlier Austen scholars who had pointed out the obvious allusion to James and Mary Austen's 1801 "home invasion" in Chapter 2 of S&S, the famous "King Lear" allusion in which John & Fanny Dashwood sliced and diced the senior Mr. Dashwood's dying bequest to his wife and three daughters (John's half sisters), Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret.

However, it was only yesterday that I connected the dots between that veiled but nonetheless well-recognized allusion to James & Mary Austen in Chapter 2 of S&S (with the backdrop of the Austen family history detailed in my above linked post), on the one hand, and the veiled allusion to JANE Austen's own(and famous) reaction to being dispossessed from Steventon in Chapter 5 of S&S, on the other:

In a very few weeks from the day which brought Sir John Middleton's first letter to Norland, every thing was so far settled in their future abode as to enable Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters to begin their journey.

"Many were the tears shed by them in their last adieus to a place so much beloved. "Dear, dear Norland!" said Marianne, as she wandered alone before the house, on the last evening of their being there; "when shall I cease to regret you!—when learn to feel a home elsewhere!—Oh! happy house, could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence perhaps I may view you no more!—And you, ye well- known trees!—but you will continue the same.—No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer!—No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade!—But who will remain to enjoy you?" "

When I say well-recognized, I really mean it, as the printed identification of this latter autobiographical allusion dates back to the unpublished Austen family history written by Anna Austen's daughter Fanny Caroline Lefroy in the mid-19th century, and also to the 1913 Austen bio by the Austen-Leighs.

Kathryn Sutherland writes at length and insightfully about this history of allusion-identification at ppg. 89-94 of her 2005 book JA's Textual Lives, but Sutherland never connected the dots between it and the Chapter 2 "King Lear" allusion.

When taken together, these two integrally related parts of the same allusion to real life, constitute an irrefutable and overwhelming argument that Jane Austen made this veiled allusion to brother James and his wife the emotional centerpiece of her FIRST published novel. As I have said before, the "MAD" Jane Austen of April 1809, the one who had been effectively silenced for 34 years, by being denied publication of her fiction, finally gets the opportunity to vent (no, scream) her rage publicly, albeit in a veiled fashion, and look at what we get: a damning portrait of James & Mary Austen, hypocritical, selfish villains, and their victims, the righteous passionate Marianne Daskwood (aka Jane Austen) and the conflict-avoidant, almost masochistic Elinor (aka Cassandra Austen).

Which is all the more reason (as Sutherland also picks up on) why James Edward Austen Leigh (JEAL), in his 1870 Memoir, goes out of his way to assert that Jane Austen never wrote about real life people (nonsense that I still see repeated as "fact" on a regular basis all over the Austen internet universe)---he better than anyone knew that his own mother and father had been painted in such dark colors in S&S (and also in the characters of Mr. & Mrs. Elton, and he in Mr. Collins).

And, in closing, I just realized that even JEAL himself gets skewered in S&S, in the character of the spoiled "poor Harry" Dashwood:

"It was very well known that no affection was ever supposed to exist between the children of any man by different marriages; and why was he to ruin himself, and their poor little Harry, by giving away all his money to his half sisters?.....He did not know what he was talking of, I dare say; ten to one but he was light-headed at the time. Had he been in his right senses, he could not have thought of such a thing as begging you to give away half your fortune from your own child...Consider ...that when the money is once parted with, it never can return. Your sisters will marry, and it will be gone for ever. If, indeed, it could be restored to our poor little boy...." etc etc.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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