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

Friday, November 23, 2012

Jane Austen's Letter 87: Another (Mind-Bending Pen-Mending) Echo of Pride & Prejudice Chapter 10

In my multiple posts within the past week about Jane Austen's "writing in short sentences" passage in Letter 87, which are all collected here...

....I claimed that JA was deliberating deploying and echoing the same sort of absurdist, incongruous equating of tangible and intangible qualities as she had deployed so remarkably in Chapter 10 of Pride & Prejudice, with Bingley's juxtaposing "height" and "weight" in a similar fashion.

Today, I detected yet _another_ curious echo between Letter 87 and Chapter 10 of P&P, which, I suggest, makes it even more likely that all of this echoing was entirely intentional on JA's part.

First, we have the following passage in Chapter 10 of P&P, involving the use of an unsatisfactory pen to write a letter to a beloved sister, which occurs only a handful of lines earlier in the very same scene as Bingley's "indirect boast":

[Miss Bingley to Darcy] "I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend
it for you. I mend pens remarkably well."
[Darcy] "Thank you—but I always mend my own."
[Miss Bingley] "How can you contrive to write so even?"
He was silent.

And now here we have the following line in Letter 87, also involving the use of an unsatisfactory pen to write a letter to a beloved sister, which occurs only a handful of lines earlier than the "short sentences" passage:

 "I must get a softer pen. This is harder. I am in agonies."

Yet another strange coincidence between Letter 87 and Chapter 10 of P&P? I think it's intentional on JA's part.

What does this parallelism of unsatisfactory pens mean? I don't know for sure, but given the (obvious and well-recognized) sexual innuendo in Miss Bingley's and Darcy's banter, I would have to think JA somehow, some way, is hinting in a similarly suggestive fashion.

Just reread that sentence a few times, keep in mind that Jane Austen has just published Pride & Prejudice, with its broad sexual word play on the word "pen", and see what comes to mind, in terms of a pen that is so hard that it causes agonies to a woman. 
This is NO coincidence, the only question is whether this was merely a bit of sexual wordplay between mature women, or had some additional meaning to the two Austen sisters. 
It's only by excavating each and every instance of such sexual wordplay that survives in JA's novels and letters, and then comparing them all to each other, as I just have done in this post, that we might eventually reach some more profound understanding of what she was about with this.... 
 Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

No comments: