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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, August 6, 2012

P.S. re Letter 73: "MY name is Diana"

In response to my recent post about the mysterious sentence "MY name is Diana" in Jane Austen's Letter 73..... occasional poster in Janeites named Terry, whose m.o. is to sleuth out some interesting subtext in Jane Austen's writings, posted the following brilliant analysis:

“Miss [Diana] H. is an elegant, pleasing, pretty-looking girl, about nineteen, I suppose, or nineteen and a half, or nineteen and a quarter, with flowers in her head and music at her finger ends. She plays very well indeed. I have seldom heard anybody with more pleasure. They were at Godington four or five years ago. My cousin, Flora Long, was there last year. *My* name is Diana.”
A string of little coincidences.
Diana and Flora were staying at GOD-ington.
Diana and Flora are goddesses – moon and flowers.
Both have dominion over May, the month the letter was written.
The phases of the moon are known as quarters (‘Half moon is often used to mean the first- and third-quarter moons, while the term 'quarter' refers to the extent of the moon's cycle around the Earth’, ‘nineteen, I suppose, or nineteen and a half, or nineteen and a quarter’) while ‘flowers in her head’ are associated with Diana in a minor way, notably as tributes stuck on her statues. Her twin brother Apollo was the god of music.
If we pretend that JA was referring to *herself* with “*My* name is Diana,” then we have a chaste virgin who was a goddess of fertility and childbirth, not inappropriate given “It was a mistake of mine, my dear Cassandra, to talk of a tenth child at Hamstall. I had forgot there were but eight already.”
Are all these *just* coincidences?
I think so.--Terry"    END QUOTE

To which I respond as follows:

Absolutely brilliant, Terry, bravo! The two best aspects of your ingenious explanation are (1) it fits all the names with a minimum of contortions, and (2) it's an explanation that, once you hear it, is seen to have been hiding in plain sight all along.

One might quibble with your ultimate interpretation of the specific significance of the various gods, goddesses and symbols involved, but you've convinced me beyond a reasonable doubt that JA was having a great time joking about Greek mythology with her lifelong partner in such erudite tomfoolery.

And here are two tidbits to add even further richness to your brilliant solution to this veiled enigma created on a dime by JA for her sister's amusement:

1. Le Faye's Bio index tells us that Mrs and Miss Harding were both named Dionysia, which I at first guessed was a feminized version of Dionysus, but actually is as follows, per Wikipedia:

"The Dionysia was a large festival in ancient Athens in honor of the god Dionysus, the central events of which were the theatrical performances of
dramatic tragedies and, from 487 BC, comedies."

2. We already know that JA was a connoisseur of Greek and Roman mythology, from the many veiled allusions to same hidden in plain sight in all her writings. And it's no accident that we find characters named Lydia and Penelope (twice) in her novels, after all, JA's own mother and sister were named Cassandra--Of all people in the world who would enjoy a joke on Greek names, you would think CEA would be at the top of the list!

Now, JA's joke was opportunistic, because surely the parents who gave their daughters names like Flora and Dionysia were themselves enamored of the Greeks--but JA, with her eagle eye, spotted that, and took fully punny advantage of it.

And, by the way, your explanation does not negate Diana's, relating to Anna---perhaps Anna, who was herself (as we well know) very bright and literarily inclined,  was the original spotter of all the Greek names, and JA was (proudly) repeating Anna's erudite joking to CEA.

How powerful a medium of creative brainstorming a group like Janeites can be.
Starting from my taking a long hard look at this heretofore critically ignored passage in one of JA's letters, I was rewarded with not one but two excellent and ingenious explanations for its meaning.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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