In Austen-L today, Anielka Brigges wrote a post about her own Austen related research and theorizing which began as follows:
"Might writing in the style of four-fold Christian
exegesis explain and exculpate at the same time? Thus moral stories can
be told with three other layers to consider, just like the King James
bible. Those modern writers who are creative theorists who are
unfamiliar with this technique become embedded in one of the four levels
of interpretation and immured to the existence of the other three. Thus
they cannot reconcile an Austen with seemingly sexual references with
the writer of the superficial moral story. Nor can they reconcile the
historic allusions with the other layers or the anagogical, covert
Christian allegories with Austen's sharp and satirical wit. Yet all can
co-exist if the author intended the Anglican morality to be told in an
exegetic style. Exegesis is a form of authorial cookery. The ingredients
must be carefully planned and selected before cooking but the
experiences cook can compose a complex cake with layers of flavour at
some speed. The average eater will only taste the most blatant
ingredients. Only when challenged to taste beyond the over-arching
cinnamon topping can they perhaps distinguish the sharp taste of chilli,
(harsh, hidden truths) the bitter taste of nutmeg (history repeating
itself) or the mysterious flavour of star-anise (Christianity)."
Anyone who's been reading along in this blog the past few years will immediately recognize the relevance of what she wrote to my own Austen related research and theorizing, and so I've just responded as follows, to clarify that relevance as I see it:
Anielka, you've constructed a very elegant model/structure with your
usual flair, but (as seems particularly aptly ironic for me to observe
in this instance) the devil is in the details! I.e., whether you've
got enough "fairy dust"--hard textual and allusive evidence---to
sprinkle on your model in order to bring it to life and convince
Janeites that your model fits what Jane Austen herself intended to do
as an author, I am skeptical....but interested. Based on everything
you've brought forward publicly of your own findings to date, I expect
you to be long on ingenuity and wit, but short on substance and actually
a little too ingenious, seeing connections that are not really there.
But time will tell.
I've taken a great deal of extra time---several years, in fact---on my own
research in order to gather--and equally important, to analyze and
understand the full significance of---the mountain of evidence I now
have in hand, even though my basic model has remained unchanged for many
years now. And time will also tell if I am correct in my assertion that
I have got the goods to prove my claims.
Obviously, what your model and mine have in common is the claim that
there is more going on in JA's six novels than what you call the
"cinnamon" layer (and which I call the "overt story"). I know from
nearly a decade of personal experience on the Internet and in private
communications with other Janeites that there is an extremely high bar
of probative evidence required in order to convince
enough knowledgeable Janeites that any extra layer--whatever its
authorial purpose----is real and not Memorex.
But otherwise, now that you've laid out your model, I am very glad to
confirm that there is great difference between your model and mine. I'm
more convinced than ever before that I have responded correctly to the
evidence that my research has yielded, and that I have formulated a
model of Jane Austen as a radical early feminist writing a female Torah
in order to teach her female readers some basic survival skills in a
world run by and for the benefit of men, which fits that evidence
That is a very different worldview from the one you've
articulated for Jane Austen the author. And one other important
structural difference. My work has focused mostly on what you call the
"chili layer" (and which I call the "shadow story"), and I have always
understood those two other concealed layers (which you call nutmeg and
star-anise) as being present, but indubitably subordinated to the shadow
In a nutshell, then, from my point of view, you've got the tail wagging
the dog, and from what I gather of your model, you see mine as the
tail wagging the dog. Another epistemological irony Jane Austen would have appreciated
if she could have read our respective reactions to her writing.
And I am also very glad to see that your brief description.....
"The spicy secrets of illegitimacy, sexual liaisons, harsh satire and
....of what I call the "shadow story" is so shallow and far off the
mark, in my opinion, as to what Jane Austen was about in creating it,
that there is a very clear choice between your model and mine even as to
that layer alone.
So, lots of fundamental differences between us, even though, ironically,
from the point of view of the ordinary Janeite, we seem very similar
simply because the one large point we do have in common, which is,
again, that we're both saying there is much more there beneath the
surface of these six novels than has met the eye of Janeites for two
All in all, then, I am very glad that you've articulated a model which
is so clearly distinct from my own---it reminds me of what we are
hearing here in the States constantly during this latest electoral
campaign, about two visions of America that are utterly different in
several major aspects---so that Janeites who are interested in what Jane
Austen concealed in her novels will have the luxury of two new and very
different models to examine and consider vis a vis alleged concealed
layers of Jane Austen's writing. That's a very good thing, in my opinion.
I recognized very quickly in 2007 that you and I had far too divergent
an approach to Jane Austen's shadows to ever be able to reconcile our
theoretical stances, and I am glad to see that in the end of the day,
each of us will be making the case we each want to make.
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter
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