(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, August 26, 2012

P.S. re Aphra Behn, Jane Austen and The Witty Few (i.e., Sharp Elves)

In followup to my previous post about Aphra Behn.....

...I did some Googling looking for any other references to "the witty few"--I just had a hunch that Jane Austen would have left some other witty clue to her general admiration for Aphra Behn's feminist writing, and to her specific admiration for the sentiments expressed by Behn in the Preface to The Lucky Chance. It turns out that my hunch was correct, and it is easy to demonstrate.

What I quickly found, by Googling "the witty few", was the following poem, which I noted with satisfaction had been included in an anthology edited by some Lady of Quality named.....Aphra Behn (in 1685)!!! That was two years before The Lucky Chance was first performed. So it turned out that Behn enjoyed that turn of phrase "the witty few" so much that she deployed it _twice_---once in prose in the Preface, and once in poetry, as follows:

The Female Wits by a Lady of Quality

Men, with much toil, and time, and pain, At length, at fame arrive;
While we, a nearer way obtain The palms for which they strive.

We scorn to climb, by Reason's rules, To the loud name of Wit;
And count them silly modest fools, Who to that test submit.

Our SPARKLING way, a method knows, More airy and refined;
And should DULL Reason interpose, Our lofty flight 'twould bind!

Then, let us on! and still believe! A good bold faith will do!
If we ourselves can well deceive; The World will follow too!

What matter! though the witty few, Our emptiness do find;
They, for their int'rest, will be true! 'Cause we are brisk and kind.

Whether Behn wrote the above poem first and the Preface second, or vice versa, or wrote them both contemporaneously, seems unimportant to me. What seems _very_ significant to me, however, is that this poem expounds a more assertive feminism than the Preface---this poem playfully yet unmistakably asserts the idea not merely of female _equality_ when it comes to Wit, but of female _superiority_! I believe Behn is suggesting that what passes for Wit coming from most famous male pens (I suspect she would have excluded Shakespeare from that judgment, however) is too heavy handed---the male writer works too hard, and too obviously--whereas the female wits, who are the "heroines" of this poem, work with a lightness of touch which is much more effective, because more subtle.

And of course, when I thought about .....

(i) writing that was "light", and

(ii) the words "sparkling" and "dull" both appearing in the third couplet, and

(iii) (as I pointed out in my previous post) how Behn's "Since 'tis to the witty few I speak..." was transformed by JA into her famous "_Dull_ Elves" quote about the (deliberately) ambiguous pronouns of Pride & Prejudice.....

...I was immediately prompted to connect all these dots to the _other_ very famous epistolary quote of JA's about Pride & Prejudice, which she (totally disingenuously) called "too light, bright and _sparkling_"!

There can be no reasonable doubt that JA was so exuberantly proud (in the best sense) of her achievement in writing and publishing Pride & Prejudice in January 1813, that she felt it only proper to pay covert homage to one of her literary heroes, Aphra Behn, by covertly alluding to Behn's own exuberant celebration of her own talents!

Therefore, this is yet another reason why those who read JA as being sincerely modest and self-deprecating in calling P&P "too light bright and sparking" are reading JA's writing upside down from her true meaning! JA obviously _loved_ to dream that she was about to achieve the kind of fame that she believed Behn had merited, but had never fully received, since she was a woman--hence the plain brass floor plaque in a forgotten corner of Westminster Abbey.

And it wasn't just in January 1813 that JA was channeling that exact same satirical sentiment of Behn's in the above poem. No, JA also noted Behn's dismissing the toilsome, painful, time-consuming wit of male writers who achieve fame by the literary equivalent of brute force, when JA's narrator obtruded into the text of Northanger Abbey in the famous Defence of the Novel in Chapter 5, and asserted in no uncertain terms:

"And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens—there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the [female] novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, WIT, and taste to recommend them."

Indeed, JA held to these sentiments over the length of her lifetime, I suggest, and I also suggest that JA's above-described veiled allusions to Behn _also_ "have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend _them_"!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Aphra, Astraea, Austen: "Since 'tis to the witty few I speak..."

Anielka Briggs wrote today in Austen-L: "Behn is every feminist's forgotten favourite: you may recall Virginia Woolfe said we should all drop flowers on her grave for earning us the right to speak. Most of us are forced to endure a touch of restoration drama as a compulsory unit of a literary English education. May I propose that instead we voluntarily flock to Behn's metaphorical feet, read her plays, throw entire bouquets on her monumental slab a-la-Virginia, and recognise her as Austen's seminal source?"

I responded as follows.

A couple of reactions to the above:

1. Anielka, it sounds like your on-again-off-again position on whether you agree with me that JA was a radical feminist or not is now "on again" least for the moment. I have been aware of Behn as a proto-feminist inspiration to JA for several years.

2. Apropos [Anielka's] reference to Behn's "monumental slab a-la-Virginia" (Woolf):  had you been present (as Christy was) at my 2009 Portland JASNA AGM presentation about the late Mrs. Tilney as the shadow heroine of Northanger Abbey, [Anielka] would have learnt that Aphra Behn is _not_ buried under a monumental slab a-la-Virginia or a-la-Anybody-Else. For a description of the exact, and much humbler, location where she lies buried, here is the text of the relevant portion of my Portland presentation, which was part of the case I made for the real-life Samuel _Morland_ being an allusive source for the death in childbirth theme in NA:

"I recall standing in that access-restricted nave in Westminster Abbey, looking up at those awful memorials [erected by Samuel Morland to his two young wives who died in childbirth], imagining Jane Austen stood right there, like Catherine looking up at Mrs. Tilney’s portrait! And this is right in front of a plain brass floor plaque denoting the crypt of the great proto-feminist writer _Aphra_ _Behn_, Morland’s contemporary. Morland’s memorials above, Behn’s plaque below;the irony of Behn spending eternity at the foot of Morland’s memorials to ego masquerading as grief for the two poor girls he “murdered” is just too perfectly aligned with Austen’s ironic double bluff."  END QUOTE

During my July 2009 visit, I took a photo of Behn's plain brass floor plaque, and as I stood there, I truly did feel the full force of the poetic injustice that Aphra Behn does not like in Poet's Corner, where she belongs, but instead lies underfoot in a forgotten corner of WESTminster (not to be confused with NORTHanger) Abbey, literally at the feet of Morland's monstrous memorials.  But...I also really did feel the thrill of knowing that approximately 2 centuries ago, Jane Austen herself stood there where I was standing--I imagine JA looking up, looking down, smiling and laughing out loud, and deciding to correct that injustice in her inimitably sly satiric way!

Here are links to my earlier posts that amplify on various aspects of the Samuel Morland subtext in NA, including providing photos I took of Morland's memorials:

Otherwise...Anielka also wrote, in relevant part: "Aphra Behn had the pen in her hands and with that pen she wrote the following sentence when proving that "The Lucky Chance" was a great deal more chaste (even though quite sexy) than comparable writings by men. "All I ask, is the Priviledge for my Masculine Part the Poet in me, (if any such you will allow me) to tread in those successful Paths my Predecessors have so long thriv’d in, to take those Measures that both the Ancient and Modern Writers have set me " Compare this with Anne's (Austen's)  "All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone!" " So Behn wishes for the writer in her which she describes as masculine is to compete on an even footing with men. Whereas Austen, in the part of Anne, claims for her own sex the ability to "love longest when existence or hope is gone" This resemblance in sentence construction might be sheer coincidence. However, the same pasage from The Lucky Chance (I'll post it below in full as a link) goes on to say: "I am not content to write for ...(money)... only. I value Fame as much as if I had been born a _Hero"_ And we all know Austen's famous comment: "I write only for fame, and without any view to pecuniary emolument" "

Bravo on that discovery, Anielka! I believed Behn's plays were on JA's radar screen, but never got past skimming one of her plays, and finding nothing that caught my eye, and not going further. Kudos to [Anielka] for finding it.

Truly there can be no doubt that [Anielka has] found something significant----JA read that Preface, and alluded to in not only in the two places [Anielka has] so aptly pointed out, but also in a _third_, in the immediately preceding portion of that same paragraph of that Preface, an allusion by JA which is near and dear to my heart, as the name of my blog illustrates:

"I cannot omit to tell you, that a Wit of the Town, a Friend of mine at Wills Coffee House, the first Night of the Play, cry'd it down as much as in him lay, who before had read it and assured me he never 'saw a prettier Comedy. So complaisant one pestilent Wit will be to another, and in the full Cry make his Noise too; but SINCE 'TIS TO THE WITTY FEW I SPEAK, I HOPE THE BETTER JUDGES will take no Offence, to whom I am oblig'd for better Judgments; and those I hope will be so kind to me, knowing my Conversation not at all addicted to the Indecencys alledged, that I would much less practice it in a Play, that must stand the Test of the censoring World. And I must want common Sense, and all the
Degrees of good Manners, renouncing my Fame, all Modesty and Interest for a silly Sawcy fruitless Jest, to make Fools laugh, and Women blush, and wise Men asham'd; My self all the while, if I had been guilty of this Crime charg'd to me, remaining the only stupid, insensible. Is this likely, is this reasonable to be believ'd by any body, but the wilfully blind? All I ask, is the Priviledge...."

"Since 'tis to the witty few I speak, I hope the better Judges..."  is obviously a line which JA took to heart, and then reinvented in a different form to convey exactly the same idea:

"I do not write for such Dull Elves, as have not a Great Deal of Ingenuity themselves...."

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: I disagree with [Anielka] only on one interpretation you made---you suggested that Anne Elliot spoke for Jane Austen in altering Behn's assertion of a masculine poetic prerogative into a feminine amatory prerogative. I think it's clear from all of the above context that Anne Elliot did not speak for JA in that alteration, and that JA saw herself very decisively as "holding the pen" with a firm hand that would have been called "masculine" back then.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Jane Austen's Letter 76(C) and its Subversive Feminist, Slavery Subtext

In the group read of Jane Austen's 154 surviving letters (one letter per week) that we have recently resumed in Janeites and Austen-L, we are up to Letter 76(C) dated October 29-31, 1812 (or two months and a week shy of exactly two centuries ago!), a very short letter written by Jane Austen to niece Anna Austen.

I posted a link to the post I wrote about Letter 76(C) in this blog last October....

Diana Birchall then responded, in relevant part:  "It would take a lot of work to try to unravel what, exactly, Jane Austen was saying about Mrs. Hunter's Lady Maclairn to her niece Anna. Looking a few things up with each Austen letter is profitable and fun, but this one is a subject for a book in itself. Arnie tells us that Isobel Grundy has written extensively about it and he has his own conjectures, as others have theirs. I have no doubt that Jane Austen meant something but the references are too obscure for me and the unpicking is way too much of a project."

I replied to Diana as follows:

I just reread that post for the first time since I wrote it, and I beg to differ with you----it really isn't such a project to to pick one's way through the few steps I took in sleuthing out the true significance of Jane Austen's allusion to Lady Maclairn. And it's worth the small effort, I suggest, in part because it is a quintessential example of how hard Le Faye sometimes worked in order to make an "unseemly" Austen allusion _more_ obscure than it was! It's clear to me that Le Faye did not want anyone reading Letter 76(C) to imagine that:

(i) Jane Austen might actually have approved of Hunter's novel, which exposed the moral corruption of English colonial slavery, both at home and in the West Indies, and depicted a cavalcade of patriarchal oppressions of African slaves and English women; and

(ii) even more shocking, Jane Austen might have drawn parallels between the morally corrupt fictional family of Hunter's novel and the real-life families at Godmersham and Goodnestone; and

(iii) still more shocking, Jane Austen might have shared those subversive perspectives with literary niece Anna, age 19, in a series of little epistolary in-jokes, that continued from the writing of Letter 76(C) in late 1812, at least until the writing of Letter 108 (also to Anna) two years later---and we can only imagine what Anna wrote in her half of that particular "thread" of correspondence!

Horrors! Much better to sanitize Jane Austen's meaning, and turn Letter 76(C) into a silly, harmless, meaningless, innocent bit of joking between aunt and young niece. Or so goes the editorial thinking of Deirdre Le Faye, it seems.

Diana further wrote: "Grundy's article that Arnie alludes to sounds interesting...It does seem likely, as Grundy/Arnie suggest, that the joke is that JA is comparing the houses in Lady Maclairn with ones she and Anna are familiar with - such as Godmersham and Goodnestone; that would be consistent with JA saying it was a complete likeness, and she'd like to read 4 more volumes about the inmates' lives, which she jokingly compares to the soap operatic and spicy events contained in Lady Maclairn....But of course if she was making fun of the Knight family, she would wish concealment. "

And I further replied to her as follows:

I was not clear about one thing, Diana---all the speculations in my above-linked blog post about topic (iii), above, are entirely my own. 99% of Isobel's article does an extraordinary job of elucidating the serious significance of Hunter's novel, and showing that it is anything but silly. But Isobel only notes the Austen connection in a single, passing sentence...

" Jane Austen, paying Lady Maclairn the dubious compliment of ironical encomium and fantasy, pretends to believe in the existence of the characters as real-life persons."

...and then elaborates briefly in a single footnote:

" Austen directs her mockery at the sentiment surrounding Mary (Flint) Howard, and ignores the Jamaican component (Letters, ed. R. W. Chapman, 2nd edn, London: Oxford University Press, 1952, pp. 406-407). It is noteworthy that critics are divided as to whether her treatment of Sir Thomas Bertram's West Indian property reflects pro- or anti-slavery views."

Isobel is being very coy in that footnote--she first points out that JA ignores the Jamaican (i.e., slavery) component of Hunter's novel, but then obliquely suggests in the latter footnote sentence that perhaps that slavery subtext really was on JA's mind anyway.

That is why I commented as follows in my October 2011 blog post:

"Had Isobel been aware of Letter 108’s veiled allusion to Hunter’s novel, and also had Isobel had the benefit of reading the past 17 years of scholarship about the slavery subtext of MP, and had realized that the consensus has clearly turned toward seeing MP as the unified, complex _anti_ slavery (and feminist) work that it so clearly is, perhaps she might have looked past the joking tone of Letter 76(C) and perhaps might been induced to read Letter 76(C) more deeply than she did. Isobel’s article is a gold mine for an Austen scholar with my feminist, anti-slavery perspective, demonstrating in a dozen ways why JA would have been so interested in Hunter’s novel, to the point of initiating her own beloved niece Anna into these mysteries as well, so that Anna, as a budding novelist, would learn to weave allusive shadows into _her_ fiction as well! This was much more important advice than the familiar nostrums about writing about people you knew, and only about a few families in a country village, and Anna’s fiction demonstrates that she absorbed this lesson very well indeed."

I stand by those comments today.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Todd Akin’s Belief in “Biological Defenses” to Pregnancy After Rape: Shades of Mr. Perry’s “Cure” for Mr. Woodhouse’s Ailments

When I posted yesterday about the eerie, dreadful resonance between the recent prison sentence handed down on courageous female musicians in Russia….

…and the prison sentence handed down on courageous journalists in Jane Austen's England, it did not occur to me that _another_ news item would cross my monitor within a day, which would carry an even _more_ horrid, dreadful resonance to the patriarchal abuses that Jane Austen covertly satirized in her novels. But it seems that in 2012, we live in an era when pretty much the only thing that unites the men doing bad things in the world today (and men do seem to account for pretty much all of it)  is their hatred and abuse of women. Religious extremist men, whether they be Christian, Moslem or Jew, who all want to blow each other up, nonetheless seem to agree on _one_ thing, which is that women need to be suppressed, and then God’s order will be restored, and everything will be happy ever after—until the next war, that is.

And speaking of magical thinking, here are the key excerpts from the article I just read….

…that made me shake my head in horror:

“Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri who is running against Sen. Claire McCaskill, justified his opposition to abortion rights even in case of rape with a claim that victims of “legitimate rape” have unnamed biological defenses that prevent pregnancy.  “First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” …. In a tweet, McCaskill said she was “stunned” by Akin’s comments. … As a state legislator, Akin voted in 1991 for an anti-marital-rape law, but only after questioning whether it might be misused “in a real messy divorce as a tool and a legal weapon to beat up on the husband,” according to a May 1 article that year in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch….”

Now, what, you might ask, have Todd Akin’s primitive opinions about female reproduction to do with Jane Austen?

Well,  think about the most famous hypochondriac in English literature, Mr. Woodhouse, of course the father of the heroine in _Emma_, with his implicit faith in the “thin gruel” and other cures prescribed to him by Mr. Perry the Apothecary---and his Satanic love of a “great fire” during the heat of summer.

As I first learned in early 2005, and have been doing my best to spread the word since then, Prof. Jill Heydt-Stevenson, in a 1999 article, blew the roof clear off of Austen scholarly studies of sexual themes in Jane Austen’s writing, by convincingly demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that the stanzas of Garrick’s Riddle, which Mr. Woodhouse just _cannot_ remember in Chapter 9, of _Emma_,  are actually a thinly veiled, sharp-as-nails satire of the medieval belief held by more than a few Englishmen during Jane Austen’s lifetime, that men with advanced syphilis could be cured if they had sex with virgins!

Perhaps you think I am putting you on, because this is too absurd to be true? Well, if you can’t put your hands on her 1991 article, or on p. 161 of  her followup 2005 book “Austen’s Unbecoming Conjunctions” where this brilliant interpretation is updated, then have a look at the wonderful 2010 dissertation by Melanie Osborn….

….in which Osborn amplifies on Heydt-Stevenson’s discoveries and makes the case trebly more convincing still.

And now I think you probably already see the sickening resonance between the “medical” theories of 18th century England about the cure for syphilis, and the “medical” theories of Todd Akin about pregnancy after rape---both of which ascribe a supernatural power to virginal or chaste women---i.e., it seems that raping a virgin can cure a man of syphilis, and, on the other side of this perverse coin, raping a woman who does not enjoy it even one teensy bit cannot result in a pregnancy.  Taken together, they might almost sound like they provide mutual corroboration, until you realize that they are both completely absurd—and what is even worse, arising out of male fear, ignorance and misogyny!

As I contemplate the truly horrid and horrible absurdity of all of this, I am reminded of the chilling line spoken in the movie Time After Time by Jack the Ripper, sitting in a hotel room in late Sixties San Francisco, opening the naïve, idealistic eyes of his old friend H.G. Wells about the future of humankind:

“90 years ago I was a freak. Today I'm an amateur.”

Other than to change “90 years” to “2 centuries”, that’s _exactly_ what Mr. Woodhouse would say if he heard Todd Akin’s opinions about the female reproductive system. At least no English law was ever enacted exonerating men from having sex with virgins to cure syphilis---but if Todd Akin and his odious ilk had their way, similarly crazy male ideas about women’s bodies would have the force of federal law.

And if Jane Austen were to travel to 2012 in a time machine and hear Mr. Akin’s opinions, she’d nod sadly and remind us that, yes, Henry Tilney’s rant, in Northanger Abbey, about Englishmen being Christians….

…is a satire, because what Jane Austen saw in her world two centuries ago, and what anyone with eyes can see in the likes of Todd Akin (or the Taliban) in 2012, is that those women who would allow the likes of Todd Akin or the Taliban the right to regulate what happens to women’s bodies, are greater fools even than Mr. Woodhouse.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, August 17, 2012

England’s Jane Austen & Russia’s Pussy Riot: Sisters in Resistance to State/Church Oppression

My most central claim, which I’ve repeated a hundred times in one form or another, is that Jane Austen wrote her six novels to be _anamorphic_. This means that they are double stories, with _overt_ stories which have significant but not particularly radical feminist elements, but with _shadow_ stories which constitute an intense and radical feminist critique of the male power structure in England. Those powerful men superficially placed women on a pedestal, while hypocritically (and obliviously) oppressing women in a variety of ways, most of all in relation to women’s control over their own bodies—a life and death issue in many cases.

The epicenter of my above claims is the famous rant that Henry Tilney unleashes on (future wife) Catherine Tilney in the climactic scene in Northanger Abbey, when he (believes he) realizes what sort of Gothic horror Catherine has been imagining regarding the death of Mrs. Tilney at the hands of her husband, General Tilney:

"If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to—Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?"

See the following sampler of posts at my blog that elaborate on the ironic interpretation of the above rant, i.e., that the exertion of male power via church, state and familial custom was a lethal combination for women in Jane Austen’s world, which those powerful men all thought to be perfectly okay:

One of the counterarguments commonly presented to me by critics of my ideas is that Jane Austen had no reason to be covert in her feminist critique, she could have presented it openly if she had wished, because she would not have suffered significant adverse consequences. I have always been amazed by this particular response, and finally, today, I have a contemporary example to present, to illustrate the kind of risk JA would have run had she made her overt stories as radically feminist and subversive as I claim her shadow stories to be.

Just look at the hot world news of today, August 17, 2012, nearly 201 years after JA published her first novel, S&S, which shows that the French axiom “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” remains sadly apt. It illustrates that in all too many places in our “modern” world today, women who dare to speak out openly and publicly against the abusive male power structure are indeed still subject to unduly harsh punishment.

Of course I am referring to the sentencing of members of the all-female Pussy Riot music group in Russia to two years in prison for daring to challenge the truly unholy alliance of the Russian Orthodox Church and Vladimir Putin’s government, which are joined at the hip in the suppression of justice and free dissent from political and religious orthodoxy in one of the world’s largest nations:

I was particularly struck by the demand in the Pussy Riot song that the Virgin Mary “put Putin away” and “become a _feminist”_---of course, I thought immediately of Jane Austen!  And I thought, that other adage is also true, i.e., history really does repeat itself, because Jane Austen herself was faced with a similar choice regarding the degree of openness of her critique of the patriarchy in 1815 when she was finishing the writing of her fourth novel, _Emma_.

As the masthead of this blog illustrates, it is incontrovertible, thanks to the remarkable discovery 6 years ago by my friend, Colleen Sheehan, that Jane Austen chose to _covertly_ satirize the gluttony of the most powerful man in England during the last decade of her life. That man was none other than the Prince Regent (and future King George IV), and her satire was achieved covertly by having his well known moniker, the “Prince of WHALES” (with an “h”),  be an alternative answer to the second charade in Chapter 9 of _Emma_, as more fully elucidated here:

And that brings us to the chilling resemblance to these infamous current events in Russia. While Sheehan noted that JA based her charade satire in part on the 1812 satirical “poem about the Prince published in the Examiner, the English periodical edited by James Henry Leigh Hunt and his brother John Hunt….entitled “THE TRIUMPH OF THE WHALE…”, Colleen did not mention the full history of the criticism of the Prince Regent by the Hunt brothers, as summarized here:  

“Along with his brothers John and Robert, Leigh Hunt edited and published the Examiner, a liberal weekly that did much to improve the literary quality of English journalism and did more to rile the conservative government of his time. Indeed, John and Leigh Hunt spent two years in prison, from January 1813 to January 1815, after being convicted of libel because they had called the Prince of Wales, among other things,  . . a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, a companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who has just closed half a century without one single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity!”

Sound familiar? Just think about the Pussy Riot’s ridicule of Vladimir Putin, whose body, ironically, was also all over the  news a few years back, not for morbid obesity, as was the case with the Prince Regent, but for Putin’s machismo, for being really ripped and buff for a man his age. In both cases, the character and politics of the man are inextricably tied to public perception of the body of the man.

So it is an awful repetition of history that we had, in 1813, the sentencing to _two_ years in prison, for libel, of two courageous journalists, for daring to speak out _truthfully_ about the most powerful man in England, and now we have, in 2012, in Russia, the sentencing of brave women to _two_ years in prison, for “hooliganism”, i.e., because they “crudely undermined social order".

If Jane Austen were alive today and living in England, where speech is now (mostly) free, I have absolutely no doubt that she’d be expressing her solidarity with her sisters in resistance, the Pussy Riot, by doing her elegantly subversive best to raise world consciousness about their heroic plight.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The E-Lucy-dation of Elinor Dashwood

Jane Austen's inventive wordplay never ceases to astound and entrance me.

A few moments ago, while following a line of research I will be blogging about tomorrow, I happened to revisit the following passage in Letter 89 which I and others have taken note of in the past:

“Her sister in Lucina, Mrs. H. Gipps does too well we think. Mary P. wrote on Sunday that she had been three days on the Sofa. Sackree does not approve it--"

Le Faye repeats Chapman's footnote to the effect that Lucina was the Roman goddess of _childbirth_ (JA's hobby horse, as I have argued a hundred times). That got me thinking about two female Austen characters, so strikingly similar in their intense pragmatism, whose names share their first three letters with Lucina----of course I refer to the Luciferian Ladies, Lucy (Steele) Ferrars and Charlotte (Lucas) Collins!

Without getting further into the implications of the thematic significance of the resonance of their names with the Roman goddess of childbirth, I decided to check to see whether Jane Austen might have embedded any other wordplay in her novels besides those two character names, which might be deemed to be covertly pointing to that Roman goddess (or to Lucifer himself), and so I did something I had not thought to do previously---I did a word search in all six novels for words which include the sequence "luci".

It turns out there were only two such usages in all of JA's novels, and both of them involve the word "eLUCIdation":

The first, as you might have guessed from my subject line, occurs in S&S Chapter 30, when Colonel Brandon chats with Elinor about Willoughby and Marianne:

"Perhaps, then," he hesitatingly replied, "what I heard this morning may be—there may be more truth in it than I could believe possible at first." "What did you hear?" "That a gentleman, whom I had reason to think—in short, that a man, whom I KNEW to be engaged—but how shall I tell you? If you know it already, as surely you must, I may be spared." "You mean," answered Elinor, with forced calmness, "Mr. Willoughby's marriage with Miss Grey. Yes, we DO know it all. This seems to have been a day of general ELUCIDATION, for this very morning first unfolded it to us. Mr. Willoughby is unfathomable! Where did you hear it?"

I could not help but smile as I read the word "elucidation" in the context of Elinor and Brandon hearing surprising news about an inconstant man's engagement and marriage, because I recalled that in Chapter 24, not too far previously in the action of S&S, Elinor has received a _very_ cruel "elucidation" (e-Lucy-dation) of Edward's marital prospects from Lucy. So right there, it was already highly probable that this was intentional on JA's part, it has that satisfying compactness and thematic significance that marks it as such.

But it turned out that the second usage was also of interest.

It is in Chapter 46 of MP, just before Fanny learns the shocking news about Maria's elopement with Crawford:

"The next day came and brought no second letter. Fanny was disappointed. She could still think of little else all the morning; but, when her father came back in the afternoon with the daily newspaper as usual, she was so far from expecting any ELUCIDATION through such a channel that the subject was for a moment out of her head."

While there is no character in MP with a Luciferian name, there are, of course two Satanic tempters, Henry and Mary Crawford, and of course the unexpected elucidation Fanny receives from her father is about the Luciferian Henry, so the word fits this passage as well, a shocking revelation about a shocking impropriety.

But for the hell of it, I checked to see whether S&S was indeed the only Austen novel with a character named Lucy in it--and it turns out--not coincidentally, I suggest---that there is a Lucy in MP as well! Did you know that? I bet most Janeites have absolutely no idea about it, because she is mentioned only once, in passing, in Chapter 25, when Fanny and William discuss William's courtship exploits. Here it is:

"But you do not wish yourself at Portsmouth, William?" "No, Fanny, that I do not. I shall have enough of Portsmouth and of dancing too, when I cannot have you. And I do not know that there would be any good in going to the assembly, for I might not get a partner. The Portsmouth girls turn up their noses at anybody who has not a commission. One might as well be nothing as a midshipman. One /is/ nothing, indeed. You remember the Gregorys; they are grown up amazing fine girls, but they will hardly speak to /me/, because LUCY is courted by a lieutenant."

So....we have the Lucy Steelean flirt, Lucy Gregory, whose ridiculous overinflated self-importance has blighted William's chances with Lucy's sisters. Maybe not Luciferian, but not very nice either--and perhaps Lucy Gregory is a "sister in Lubricity" with Lucy Steele?

In any event, I don't think it's a coincidence that the only Austenian usages of "elucidation" occur in the two Austen novels which have a "Lucy" in them.

And so, in the end, I hope this post will constitute a satisfying "elucidation" of a gem of wordplay by Jane Austen.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

The Dark, Fine, Brightened, Beautiful, Bright, Sharp, Shrewish, and/or Lustrous Eyes of Elizabeth Bennet

It occurred to me a few moments ago that it would be fun to collect in one place all the references to the appearance of Elizabeth Bennet's eyes in Pride & Prejudice, which, I think, most Janeites would agree are the most important and memorable eyes in all of Jane Austen's novels. It turns out that there are _eight_ such references, and here they are:

Chapter 6: ...But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of HER DARK EYES.

...."My mind was more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of FINE EYES in the face of a pretty woman can bestow."

Chapter 8: "I am afraid, Mr. Darcy," observed Miss Bingley in a half whisper, "that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of HER FINE EYES." "Not at all," he replied; "they were BRIGHTENED by the exercise."

Chapter 9: Mrs. Bennet and her daughters then departed, and Elizabeth returned instantly to Jane, leaving her own and her relations' behaviour to the remarks of the two ladies and Mr. Darcy; the latter of whom, however, could not be prevailed on to join in their censure of /her/, in spite of all Miss Bingley's witticisms on /FINE EYES/.

Chapter 10: As for your Elizabeth's picture, you must not have it taken, for what painter could do justice to those BEAUTIFUL EYES?" "It would not be easy, indeed, to catch their EXPRESSION, but their COLOUR and SHAPE, and the EYELASHES, SO REMARKABLY FINE, might be copied."

Chapter 18: I appeal to Mr. Darcy:—but let me not interrupt you, sir. You will not thank me for detaining you from the bewitching converse of that young lady, whose BRIGHT EYES are also upbraiding me."

Chapter 45: Her teeth are tolerable, but not out of the common way; and as for HER EYES, which have sometimes been called SO FINE, I could never see anything extraordinary in them. They have a SHARP, SHREWISH look, which I do not like at all...

Chapter 53: The colour which had been driven from her face, returned for half a minute with an additional glow, and a smile of delight added LUSTRE to HER EYES, as she thought for that space of time that his affection and wishes must still be unshaken....

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Monday, August 13, 2012

Jane Austen's Letter 75, 6 June 1811, Chawton: The Jane Austen Code

In Janeites and Austen-L, Diane wrote: "Again, no word of her writing, even as JA is at the height of her creative powers. "

I responded as follows:

Diane, you're asking the right question, but I disagree with your answer. As I wrote last week....

....Letter 74 was _all_ about her writing, in particular S&S, which she was proofreading over a period of months---but it's all in code--the Jane Austen Code, in which explicitness is rare, but many things are hinted at----as Marianne Dashwood puts it in Chapter 29 of S&S:

"Yes—no—never absolutely. It was every day implied, but never professedly declared. Sometimes I thought it had been—but it never was."

A reader of JA's letters, as well as of her novels, must be prepared to deal with a writer who, for various good reasons, prefers to leave things a little in doubt at all times.

And in my most recent post, about Letter 75....

, I point out that there is a veiled, but very specific allusion (to the Woodston Cottage passage in Northanger Abbey) hidden in JA's "prosaic" description of the visit of Henry Austen and his partner/friend James Tilson to Chawton Cottage.

Diane wrote: "JA alludes to Merchant of Venice when, picking up on C's answer to her (what I took to be her tongue in cheek) question in the last letter about which Plumtree sister was eldest: "Your answer about the Miss Plumtrees, proves you as fine a Daniel as ever Portia was;-for I maintained Emma to be the eldest."

And it's no coincidence that JA alludes to Shakespeare overtly in Letter 75, after making Shakespeare the main subtextual theme of Letter 74, written only a week earlier, as per the second post linked above.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Jane Austen's Letter 75: Mutton for Henry and his friend Tilney/Tilson

"I had a few lines from Henry on Tuesday to prepare us for himself and his friend, & by the time that I had made the sumptuous provision of a neck of Mutton on the occasion, they drove into the Court-but lest you should not immediately recollect in how many hours a neck of Mutton may be certainly procured, I add that they came a little after twelve-both tall, & well, & in their different degrees, agreable.-It was a visit of only 24 hours-but very pleasant while it lasted.-Mr. Tilson took a sketch of the Great House before dinner;-& after dinner we all three walked to Chawton Park, meaning to go into it, but it was too dirty, & we were obliged to keep on the outside. Mr. Tilson admired the trees very much, but greived that they should not be turned into money."

In the above passage in Letter 75, Jane Austen, writing from Chawton to sister CEA at Godmersham, gives a rapid fire report of the visit to Chawton Cattage by brother Henry and his friend (and banking partner), Mr. James Tilson. However, for the Janeite, there is so much more going on in that paragraph than meets the eye upon a superficial straightforward reading. Upon deeper analysis, it is seen to be a small La Brea Tar Pit containing several "bones" all pointing to the villain of Northanger Abbey, General Tilney, as I will now explain.

First, James Tilson was the husband of Frances Sanford Tilson, who bore him (in Le Faye's words) "_at_ _least_ eleven children" during a career of serial pregnancy that lasted over a decade and a half. At my 2009 JASNA AGM presentation about Mrs. Tilney, the tragic deceased heroine of Northanger Abbey, I spoke about Mrs. Tilson as a real life model for Mrs. Tilney, as I outlined last year in the following blog post:

In a nutshell, Mrs. Tilson was perhaps the most vivid and persistent example from JA's own circle of friends and family of a wife turned into "breeding cow".

Second, I also claimed, in my 2009 presentation, that James Tilson was himself a real life model for General Tilney, and as evidence therefor, I pointed out that JA's statement in Letter 75 that "Mr. Tilson admired the trees [in Chawton Park] very much, but greived that they should not be turned into money"---i.e., this Philistine was ready to tear down the trees for timber in a heartbeat!-- was the real life counterpart to the following passage in Chapter 26 of Northanger Abbey, where the greedy Philistine General Tilney is ready to tear down the Woodston cottage in a heartbeat just because Catherine (his love interest) was initially not vocal enough in her praise for it, but then he instantly reverses his death sentence on the cottage when she expresses her happiness with it:

"You like it—you approve it as an object—it is enough. Henry, remember that Robinson is spoken to about it. The cottage remains."

But it was only today that i saw the _third_ bread crumb in the above-quoted text of Letter 75 linking it to Northanger Abbey:

" the time that I had made the sumptuous provision of a neck of Mutton on the occasion, they drove into the Court-but lest you should not immediately recollect in how many hours a neck of Mutton may be certainly procured, I add that they came a little after twelve..."

I recalled then that there was a mention of mutton being eaten in NA, and I was pleased (but not at all surprised) to discover that mutton was mentioned in Chapter 26, only a few paragraphs before the above quoted passage about General Tilney's plan to demolish the Woodston cottage:

"...And it all ended, at last, in his telling Henry one morning that when he next went to Woodston, they would take him by surprise there some day or other, and eat their mutton with him. Henry was greatly honoured and very happy, and Catherine was quite delighted with the scheme...."

So, to encapsulate this string of connections, in _both_ real life _and_ in Northanger Abbey, (1) mutton is being consumed by the "heroine" (2) with a man the heroine loves named Henry, (3) during a visit from (4) a man close to Henry (5) whose surname begins with "Til" and (6) who is quick to demolish beautiful things!

I'd say the chances of all six of those elements occurring in such close proximity in both Letter 75 and Chapter 26 are vanishingly small, and so we can see that, whether JA finalized Chapter 26 before or after June, 1811, we can safely infer that she had the one she wrote first firmly in mind when she wrote the one she wrote second!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sir Walter Scott's Skeptical Reading of Pride & Prejudice

Today in Janeites and Austen-L, Anielka Briggs wrote the following:

"I'm sorry to disappoint you, Elissa but [Darcy] is blacker than black....The year was 1975, the antagonist was my mother. Swiftly joined by my sister in 1981, the two waged a continual war of attrition on my firmly held belief that Darcy was a thoroughly unpleasant man and EB had sold out in order to marry him. And good luck to her."

I responded as follows:

For those who are unaware (and/or for those, like Nancy, who think that some modern subtexters, like me, read too much into JA's writing) the first reader of P&P to suggest in print that Lizzy Bennet sold out in order to marry Darcy was actually Sir Walter Scott, way, way, way back in 1816 (or only 3 years after the publication of P&P!):

".....The story of the piece [P&P] consists chiefly in the fates of the second sister, to whom a man of high birth, large fortune, but haughty and reserved manners, becomes attached, in spite of the discredit thrown upon the object of his affection by the vulgarity and ill-conduct of her relations. The lady, on the contrary, hurt at the contempt of her connections, which the lover does not even attempt to suppress, and prejudiced against him on other accounts, refuses the hand which he ungraciously offers, and does not perceive that she has done a foolish thing until she accidentally visits a very handsome seat and grounds belonging to her admirer. They chance to meet exactly as her prudence had begun to subdue her prejudice; and after some essential services rendered to her family, the lover becomes encouraged to renew his addresses, and the novel ends happily.....

...[Scott’s concluding paragraph] One word, however, we must say in behalf of that once powerful divinity, Cupid, king of gods and men, who in these times of revolution, has been assailed, even in his own kingdom of romance, by the authors who were formerly his devoted priests. We are quite aware that there are few instances of first attachment being brought to a happy conclusion, and that it seldom can be so in a state of society so highly advanced as to render early marriages among the better class, acts, generally speaking, of imprudence. But the youth of this realm need not at present be taught the doctrine of selfishness. It is by no means their error to give the world or the good things of the world all for love; and before the authors of moral fiction couple Cupid indivisibly with calculating prudence, we would have them reflect, that they may sometimes lend their aid to substitute more mean, more sordid, and more selfish motives of conduct, for the romantic feelings which their predecessors perhaps fanned into too powerful a flame. Who is it, that in his youth has felt a virtuous attachment, however romantic or however unfortunate, but can trace back to its influence much that his character may possess of what is honourable, dignified, and disinterested? If he recollects hours wasted in unavailing hope, or saddened by doubt and disappointment; he may also dwell on many which have been snatched from folly or libertinism, and dedicated to studies which might render him worthy of the object of his affection, or pave the way perhaps to that distinction necessary to raise him to an equality with her. Even the habitual indulgence of feelings totally unconnected with ourself and our own immediate interest, softens, graces, and amends the human mind; and after the pain of disappointment is past, those who survive (and by good fortune those are the greater number) are neither less wise nor less worthy members of society for having felt, for a time, the influence of a passion which has been well qualified as the "tenderest, noblest and best."

I have not read any of Scott's novels, but I love Scott's above-quoted drolly ironic critical writing, he shows himself to be an extremely acute reader of JA's subleties. In particular I love the brilliantly witty cynical epigrammatism of "They chance to meet exactly as her prudence had begun to subdue her prejudice"!!-- it is positively....Austenian!

And he concludes his longish essay (in which he has a number of other interesting things to say about JA's writing) with the second above quoted paragraph,  and my favorite line in it is:

"before the authors of moral fiction couple Cupid indivisibly with calculating prudence, we would have them reflect, that they may sometimes lend their aid to substitute more mean, more sordid, and more selfish motives of conduct, for the romantic feelings which their predecessors perhaps fanned into too powerful a flame."

I love that he detects in the climax of P&P a long overdue curative for circulating libraries full of novels which flame over with gushing romantic endings---but he also understands that JA is not at the other extreme, suggesting that marriage is _only_ about money, but that JA has avoided both extremes, and has presented a balanced, nuanced portrayal of the marriage dance in which shades of grey prevail, and intelligent readers must be on their toes to avoid  either extreme.

To the best of my knowledge after diligent research, among those modern Austen scholars who have commented on Scott's above quoted verdict on the hero and heroine of P&P, none has agreed with Scott's Audenesque appraisal of Darcy and Elizabeth---some, staggered by the implications of what he was suggesting, have concluded that _he_ was just kidding. And all the others have concluded that he was just plain wrong.

Whereas I think Scott knew exactly what he was saying and I also believe he was spot-on in discerning that JA intended her readers to look a whole lot more skeptically at Lizzy's "joking" about falling in love when she first saw Pemberley.  As JA (and Scott) well understood, sometimes people kid themselves into thinking they're only joking, when they're really not joking at all, but are confessing an inconvenient or painful truth without having to be honest (with themselves or with others) about it.

Is Lizzy only joking? _That_, as Hamlet might have said, is the question.....JA wanted her readers to struggle with!

Anielka wrote: "It is our own black hearts that relish the story of the underdog raised to power, glory, wealth and even earthly happiness. We are all luxurious by our wealth and greedier still**. Austen knew it and allows us to deceive ourselves. ... **Milton, of course. Shakespeare is so 2011, people."

Anielka, indeed, that is absolutely true that Austen constantly allows us to deceive ourselves...and yes, it's also true that Satan (and also Comus, as I believe you were hinting in your first post in this thread) are lurking there quietly in the enigmatic mind of Mr. Darcy as well.......but I hope you are kidding about Shakespeare, given that Shakespeare never had a bigger fan than Milton himself!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter