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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Anna Weston's New Caps: Part One

This morning, Anielka Briggs wrote the following remarkable statement in Austen-L and Janeites:

"If any thing could increase her delight, it was perceiving that the baby would soon have outgrown its first set of caps." (Emma) 
...A baby's First Set of Caps are it's initials. A baby girl outgrows  her caps. when she marries and takes those of her married name. The second set of caps owned by baby Anna Weston were AW (= Anna Weston -  Ann Aweston - An Austen) if she is not really the Weston's child."

I replied initially as follows:

Indeed, Anielka, you've added yet another exquisite layer of validation to the following, already-compelling syllogism that was first articulated in October 2007, when I revealed to you _my_ longstanding interpretation of Jane Fairfax having covertly given her baby to Mrs. Weston, and you then immediately upped the ante with _your_ discovery of the Anna Austen ===> Ann Awe-ston ===>; Anna Weston metamorphosis. Together, of course, my discovery and yours synergistically constitute Jane Austen's cryptically suggesting the closest of relationships between herself and Anna.

What makes this latest catch of yours exquisite, of course, is that it involves just the sort of punning wordplay that we know JA dearly loved, which allowed her to hide her alternative meanings in plain sight to those who see the wordplay, but safely invisible to all others.

And, I take your catch one small additional distance further. I believe this same pun on "caps" must be implicated in the following collateral usages in _Emma_ of the full word "capital" itself:

[Re Emma's sketch portraits of family members] "A LIKENESS pleases every body; and Miss Woodhouse's PERFORMANCES must be CAPITAL."

"Former provocations re-appeared. The aunt was as tiresome as ever; more tiresome, because anxiety for [Jane's] health was now added to admiration of her powers; and they had to listen to the description of exactly how little bread and butter she ate for breakfast, and how small a slice of mutton for dinner, as well as to see exhibitions of NEW CAPS and new work-bags for her mother and herself; and Jane's offences rose again. They had music; Emma was obliged to play; and the thanks and praise which necessarily followed appeared to her an affectation of candour, an air of greatness, meaning only to shew off in higher style her own very superior PERFORMANCE. She was, besides, which was the worst of all, so cold, so cautious! There was no getting at her real opinion. Wrapt up in a cloak of politeness, she seemed determined to hazard nothing. She was disgustingly, was suspiciously reserved."

"Here ceased the concert part of the evening, for Miss Woodhouse and Miss Fairfax were the only young lady PERFORMERS; but soon (within five minutes) the proposal of dancing—originating nobody exactly knew where—was so effectually promoted by Mr. and Mrs. Cole, that every thing was rapidly clearing away, to give proper space. Mrs. Weston, CAPITAL in her country-dances, was seated, and beginning an irresistible waltz; and Frank Churchill, coming up with most becoming gallantry to Emma, had secured her hand, and led her up to the top. "

"Mrs. Elton then said, "Nobody can think less of dress in general than I do—but upon such an occasion as this, when every body's eyes are so much upon me, and in compliment to the Westons—who I have no doubt are giving this ball chiefly to do me honour—I would not wish to be inferior to others. And I see very few pearls in the room except mine.—So Frank Churchill is a CAPITAL dancer, I understand.—We shall see if our styles suit.—A fine young man certainly is Frank Churchill. I like him very well." "

Each of the above four passages, three of which use the full word "capital" in connection with a sort of artistic "performance", seem to revolve around the central one using the abbreviated word "caps" that Anielka identified, but two stand out.

First, Miss Bates's passing reference, in Chapter 20, to "exhibitions of new caps" is, when read in the light of Anielka's catch re Anna Weston's "first set of caps", a hint that Jane is already actively engaged, when she first arrives in Highbury, in the desperate business of arranging for "_new_ caps" (i.e., finding a husband to marry and thereby provide a _legitimate_ new surname for the baby] for her unborn baby just passing the first trimester of gestation.

Second, the final one, which I have always identified as Mrs. Elton very nastily hinting at the relationship between Frank and Jane (which I assert she knows about LONG before Emma becomes aware of it in Chapter 49), takes on even more sinister meaning when we think of Mrs. Elton taking relish in pointing (incorrectly as it turns out) to Frank as the father of Jane's unborn baby, and in expressing her unhappiness in having been treated by Frank as "inferior" to Jane in the courtship sweepstakes. And this is only one of several instances in which the venomous Mrs. Elton takes a particular relish in hinting at Jane's and Frank's _sexual_ "performances" via innuendo & punning on actions like dancing, balls, singing, etc.

So, again, as always giving credit where credit is due, I applaud Anielka's latest discovery, which is a noteworthy advance!

And...please read the next post immediately following in this blog, for Part TWO of my reactions to Anielka's catch, which further my praise & extension thereof.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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