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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Admiral Croft's Orange Face and Mary Musgrove's Red Nose

In my post, above, I demonstrated the 3 thematically interrelated layers of meaning carried by that simple color code, in terms of sailors' faces, admirals and conch shells, respectively, in Sir  Walter Elliot’s witty  wordplay about Admiral Croft’s “orange” face. There is no stretching or twisting for obscure meaning, everything flows naturally and organically from the actual words spoken by Sir Walter Elliot, in the actual context of his explicitly expressed concerns about Admiral Croft as a "raider of the lost park", i.e., Kellynch Hall. I.e., the thematic relevance of Sir Walter's subtle wit is obvious.

Now I have one more important textual corroboration to add.. I recalled this morning that Sir Walter had actually indulged in one  _other_ bit of color-coded wordplay later in the novel, which is, as you will immediately note, clearly an extension of his earlier color-coded wit about Admiral Croft:

"How is Mary looking?" said Sir Walter, in the height of his good humour.
"The last time I saw her she had a RED NOSE, but I hope that may not happen every day."
"Oh! no, that must have been quite accidental. In general she has been in very good health and very good looks since Michaelmas."
"If I thought it would not tempt her to go out in sharp winds, and grow coarse, I would send her a new hat and pelisse."

Note first the narrator’s “in the height of his good humour”, which shows that Sir Walter is perfectly well aware that he is revisiting his wit about Admiral Croft, in exactly the same way, i.e., it’s clear that he is  thinking back to his initial anticipation of Admiral Croft’s orange face.

So what does Mary’s red nose mean here? Mary likes to think of herself as having a higher rank in the Elliot family hierarchy than she actually occupies---so I perceive irony in Sir Walter attributing a red nose to her, because the “Red Admiral” was the very highest ranking Admiral, whereas Mary’s true ranking, on the ground, was at the other end of the totem pole! So it’s clear that Sir Walter is using the color code to pure perfection in this instance. Bravo, Sir Walter!

I keep emphasizing Sir Walter’s wit in order to illustrate the significance of my decoding of his color-coded wit—JA is going out of her way, repeatedly, to give the knowing reader a veiled portrait of a Sir Walter who is much much smarter than the narrator‘s comments about him suggest—and that’s a big deal.

Yesterday, Anielka Briggs made the argument in Austen L that Sir Walter’s reference to Admiral Croft’s orange face was also a veiled  allusion to the broken engagement between Princess Charlotte, daughter of  the Prince Regent, and her high-born suitor , William of ORANGE.

I responded today to Anielka as follows:

Anielka, that you were able to tie the wordplay on "orange" to that passage, as tweaked by you, was important, and so I certainly do give you credit for that, except...I disagree with your referring to your interpretation as "the real" one. Obviously, from what I’ve written, above, in the first part of this post, I consider Sir Walter’s wit about admirals to be very “real”, in terms of Jane Austen’s authorial intentions.

So let me frame things this way--- I see the gestalt of my find plus yours as the thousandth example of Jane Austen, with Mrs. Norris-like economizing, using one bit of wordplay, ORANGE, to convey two completely independent layers of meaning (Admiral Croft as raider, the breaking off of an engagement in Persuasion).

I.e., I'm right, you're right, and JA was an amazing genius.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: And I also like your pickup about the "Red Admiral" butterflies, too, that certainly dovetails with my claims about the color coded "Admiral" conch shells, and I find it intriguing in other ways as well, especially when we again consider that the “Red Admiral” is at  the top of the heap of naval admirals.

P.P.S.: I note in passing that there was a Regency Era category of pear trees which went by the name of “Red Admiral”---and given JA’s known interest in various sorts of fruit trees, and her giving them thematic significance, I would not at all be surprised to find out that she included some subtext about these pear trees as well!

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