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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Anna Weston's New Caps: Part Two

I just got back to my computer desk and found myself drawn right back to Anielka's marvelous disclosure of the punny meaning of Anna Weston's (and ergo
also Anna Austen's) first set of "caps", meaning, _initials_, which I commented earlier today:
As I've found is almost always the case with JA's best puns/clues, the more you look at them, and reread them repeatedly from various perspectives, the more significance and brilliance gradually emerges, like the image on a gradually developing photographic negative.

What just came into focus for me now is realizing the hidden significance of the _context_ in which we hear about Anna Weston's new caps. I.e., it comes right after we have read about reactions to the revelation of the news of the (briefly) secret engagement of Knightley and Emma, as follows:

"...The difficulty of disposing of poor Mr. Woodhouse had been always felt in [Mrs. Weston's] husband's plans and her own, for a marriage between Frank and Emma. How to settle the claims of Enscombe and Hartfield had been a continual impediment—less acknowledged by Mr. Weston than by herself—but even he had never been able to finish the subject better than by saying—"Those matters will take care of themselves; the young people will find a way." But here there was nothing to be shifted off in a wild speculation on the future. It was all right, all open, all equal. No sacrifice on any side worth the name. It was a union of the highest promise of felicity in itself, and without one real, rational difficulty to oppose or delay it.
Mrs. Weston, with her baby on her knee, indulging in such reflections as these, was one of the happiest women in the world. If any thing could increase her delight, it was perceiving that the baby would soon have outgrown its first set of caps....."   END QUOTE

And what I realized a few moments ago is that the above passage is not an isolated gem, it also sets the stage for another extraordinary tour de force by Jane Austen, a brilliant ambiguity that JA has, I claim, _intentionally_ created, and lovingly and playfully exploits! I will explain.

As we go on to the following excerpt which immediately follows the above quoted passage, I assert that the following excerpt can be read with either of two completely different meanings, depending on whether "the news" refers...

(1) _two_ paragraphs back to the news about the engagement of Emma and Knightley (which of course is how everyone has always read it), or

(2) only _one paragraph back to the news about Anna Weston soon outgrowing its first set of caps, when this latter news is decoded, as per Anielka's brilliant interpretation, to refer to the news of the baby swap from Jane to Mrs. Weston.

Read on and see how perfectly the following passage fits _both_ interpretations, depending on which "news" is being referred to:

"The news was universally a surprize wherever it spread; and Mr. Weston had his five minutes share of it; but five minutes were enough to familiarise the idea to his quickness of mind.—He saw the advantages of the match, and rejoiced in them with all the constancy of his wife; but the wonder of it was very soon nothing; and by the end of an hour he was not far from believing that he had always foreseen it.

"It is to be a secret, I conclude," said he. "These matters are always a secret, till it is found out that every body knows them. Only let me be told when I may speak out.—I wonder whether Jane has any suspicion."

He went to Highbury the next morning, and satisfied himself on that point. He told her the news. Was not she like a daughter, his eldest daughter?—he must tell her; and Miss Bates being present, it passed, of course, to Mrs. Cole, Mrs. Perry, and Mrs. Elton, immediately afterwards. It was no more than the principals were prepared for; they had calculated from the time of its being known at Randalls, how soon it would be over Highbury; and were thinking of themselves, as the evening wonder in many a family circle, with great sagacity."  END QUOTE

I could spend several paragraphs unpacking all the hilarious nuances of the alternative meaning of the above pasage, as we contemplate Mr. Weston being the last one to know of the faux-pregnancy charade that his wife has enacted, in concert with Miss Bates and Jane, and also to imagine the angry reactions of Mrs. Cole and Mrs. Elton, who are the villains who have been foiled by this entire stratagem, which it is now too late for them to foil-- Jane will no longer need to contemplate the horror of a new life under the thumb of _Madam_ Smallridge!

And then the tidy literary artisan Jane Austen recognizes that she has milked this cow dry, and it's time to end the brief ambiguous we either have a continuation of, or a return to, the discussion of the engagement of Emma and Knightley, depending on whether the intervening above quoted passage was one long parenthetical about Anna Weston, or not:

"In general, it was a very well approved match...."

Jane Austen never ceases to astound me with such achievements, even after more than a decade of collecting and analyzing them. Her novels are a veritable rainforest teeming with them!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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