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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

“I Didn’t Believe A WORD of It!” --- Deirdre Le Faye’s Sly Joke on Me?

Ever since the summer of 2009, I have ended all of my presentations about Jane Austen’s shadow stories with an anecdote which always gets a big laugh (thanks in part to the wacky PowerPoint slide that goes with the punch line), even from that half of the audience who’ve been giving me an increasing number of displeased, quizzical looks after listening to my (to their ears) increasingly outlandish claims about JA’s novels. Here is the anecdote:

“When I asked Deirdre Le Faye, the famous biographer and editor of Jane Austen’s letters, for her opinion about my claims about Jane Fairfax’s predicament in the shadow story of Emma, after hearing my presentation at the Chawton House Conference in July, 2009, she replied (in her formidable Julia Childs voice):   I didn’t believe a WORD of it!!! So, I hope that at least some of you did believe at least three words I spoke today, and, pending my completing and publishing my book on the shadow stories of Jane Austen, that you’ll be inspired to reread Emma in search of its shadow story—see if you think I’m right!”

For those who don’t read along regularly in this blog, Jane Fairfax’s predicament is that she is secretly pregnant when she comes to Highbury, and the solution thereto is a baby swap, with little Anna Weston only appearing to be the child of Mrs. Weston.  And so Le Faye was telling me, in no uncertain terms, that she did not buy into any of that, thank you very much. Or so I was certain until today.

It never occurred to me till today, nearly four years after the formidable Deirdre Le Faye spoke those words to me in the driveway leading away from Chawton House, that perhaps her forceful ad lib, delivered with such panache, might just have had some secret subtext of its own. Sounds even crazier than my theories, right? But read on, and see if you still are so sure by the time you get to the business end of this post.

What prompted me to this speculation was, as usual in my research, serendipity. I was rereading Chapter 5 of Pride & Prejudice for another reason entirely, when my eyes widened upon reading the following:
"Miss Bingley told me," said Jane, "that [Darcy] never speaks much, unless among his intimate acquaintances. With them he is remarkably agreeable."
“I DO NOT BELIEVE A WORD OF IT, my dear. If he had been so very agreeable, he would have talked to Mrs. Long. But I can guess how it was; everybody says that he is eat up with pride, and I dare say he had heard somehow that Mrs. Long does not keep a carriage, and had come to the ball in a hack chaise."

So it was Mrs. Bennet who first spoke, in an Austen novel, almost those exact same words as Le Faye spoke to me! And is it just a coincidence that Mrs. B, an older woman with a forceful delivery, is saying some pretty suspicious, unkind things about the truthfulness of the “presentation” of a younger man,  Mr. Darcy—how he isn’t really so very agreeable, and how he is “eat up with pride”? Hmmm….

That would seem to fit Le Faye’s reaction to my theories to a T, i.e., her view of me being that I might seem to an unsuspecting audience to be a nice guy; but watch out!--this man’s theories about Jane Austen are not agreeable at all, in fact they’re downright dangerous, because he’s arrogantly appropriating the sacred texts of Jane Austen’s novels, and reclothing them in the garb of the distasteful, tawdry inventions of his own proud hubris. Thinking he could amaze the world with his great discovery, trying to change the way Jane Austen is perceived by her readers in a way that would counteract the safe, comforting image of Jane Austen that Le Faye has worked so hard for over a half century to foster.

But, striking as this parallelism was between real life and fiction, was it intentionally evoked by Le Faye? After all, I knew for certain that it was an ad lib, because she had absolutely no idea that I was going to walk up to her and ask that question of her.  So maybe a more plausible inference is that this was just a case where that phrase bubbled up instantaneously from the memory of Le Faye, unconscious of the allusion by her to a line in P&P that she had perhaps read dozens of times or more, an association triggered by her strong negative feelings about my presentation. She channeled Mrs. Bennet without ever realizing it. I know that lines from JA’s novels pop into my head all the time in different real life situations which remind me of something from her novels.

And the best argument for its being an unconscious association on her part is---when you think about it, would anyone want to consciously align oneself with Mrs. Bennet, of all of JA’s characters, in making a statement? That would not exactly bolster the validity of the statement. The only association that might be less likely to be intentional would be Lady Catherine!

But….I was not quite ready to stop there, because…the idea of Le Faye being slyer than I gave her credit for was very intriguing to me.  Why? Because I have often wondered, when reading one or another of her footnotes to the Letters during our long, ongoing group read in Janeites and Austen L—or, much more often, my wondering about a footnote Le Faye should have included but did not. I.e., wondering whether she really was as tone deaf to JA’s irony and wordplay as she seemed, or if she in many cases was fully aware of some disturbing information relative to the Letters, and she simply chose to put the kibosh on it, quietly, by letting the unknowledgeable reader assume there really was nothing there worth noticing. There are numerous sins of omission in her edition of the Letters, for every sin of commission.

So, that was when I decided to word search, to see if JA might have used the phrase “word of it” elsewhere in her novels, besides Mrs. Bennet’s little explosion of bile in Darcy’s direction. It was my gut instinct that this was a phrase that JA might have used in a coded sense elsewhere in her novels, to refer to secret information. And boy, am I glad now, also as I so often am, that I followed my gut!

First, I found no usage of that phrase “word of it” in S&S, NA or Persuasion, which told me it was not a phrase that JA used routinely and randomly. Wherever it was, it probably meant something.

In P&P, I found another usage—which at first did not appear particularly interesting, but things got very interesting once I got up to MP, where there were two usages:

Chapter 18:  "You have only to read the part," said Henry Crawford, with renewed entreaty.
"And I do believe she can say every WORD OF IT," added Maria, "for she could put Mrs. Grant right the other day in twenty places. Fanny, I am sure you know the part."

Chapter 46: "A most scandalous, ill-natured rumour has just reached me, and I write, dear Fanny, to warn you against giving the least credit to it, should it spread into the country. Depend upon it, there is some mistake, and that a day or two will clear it up; at any rate, that Henry is blameless, and in spite of a moment's etourderie, thinks of nobody but you. Say not A WORD OF IT; hear nothing, surmise nothing, whisper nothing till I write again. I am sure it will be all hushed up, and nothing proved but Rushworth's folly. If they are gone, I would lay my life they are only gone to Mansfield Park, and Julia with them. But why would not you let us come for you? I wish you may not repent it.—Yours, etc."

Both of these usages relate in some way to words which diverge from the real or the truthful---in the first case, Maria is sure that Fanny can recall every “word of it” from the lines of every part in Lover’s Vows; in the other, Mary urges Fanny not to say “a word of it” about Maria’s elopement with Henry.

But this has all been prelude to the most remarkable result of my word search, which is that there were four usages of “word of it” in Emma (i.e., as many as in all the other five novels combined)---and what’s more, every one of them had to do with Jane Fairfax, the character I had spent my entire presentation talking about to Le Faye and others in my audience! And then, barely 30 minutes later, when I asked her for her reaction, Deirdre Le Faye used a phrase which, it turns out, connects to Jane Fairfax in not one but four different ways! Here they are:

Chapter 19 [about Jane’s letters to Miss Bates] She often says, when the letter is first opened, 'Well, Hetty, now I think you will be put to it to make out all that checker-work'—don't you, ma'am?—And then I tell her, I am sure she would contrive to make it out herself, if she had nobody to do it for her—every WORD OF IT—I am sure she would pore over it till she had made out every word.

Chapter 27  [Harriet doubts Jane’s musical abilities] "Are you sure? I saw she had execution, but I did not know she had any taste. Nobody talked about it. And I hate Italian singing.—There is no understanding A WORD OF IT. Besides, if she does play so very well, you know, it is no more than she is obliged to do, because she will have to teach. The Coxes were wondering last night whether she would get into any great family. How did you think the Coxes looked?"

Chapter 41  [Frank blurts out the gossip Jane secretly wrote to Frank about] As they were turning into the grounds, Mr. Perry passed by on horseback. The gentlemen spoke of his horse.
"By the bye," said Frank Churchill to Mrs. Weston presently, "what became of Mr. Perry's plan of setting up his carriage?"
Mrs. Weston looked surprized, and said, "I did not know that he ever had any such plan."
"Nay, I had it from you. You wrote me WORD OF IT three months ago."
"Me! impossible!"

Chapter 46: [Miss Bates telling Emma about Jane’s accepting the governess job] “Jane took Mrs. Elton aside, and told her at once, that upon thinking over the advantages of Mrs. Smallridge's situation, she had come to the resolution of accepting it.—I did not know A WORD OF IT till it was all settled."

And, even better, as I interpret each of these passages, they are all coded references to Jane’s concealed pregnancy!

So…do you think Deirdre Le Faye consciously hoisted me on my own petard, by instantly producing a bon mot which would appear on the surface to be a putdown of my presentation, but which, if I had understood the code of Emma sufficiently well—as well as she understood it---to hear the allusion to the above four passages in Emma, would constitute a veiled approval of my presentation?

Or do you think this was a classic Trojan Horse Moment for Le Faye, where her unconscious knew better than her conscious mind, and, then, ironically, she inadvertently planted a seed in my own mind, as the phrase “word of it”, which took four years (instead of nine months) to “sprout” in my mind, with Mrs. Bennet providing the water that coaxed the seed open. Jane Austen, the true “gardener” in this scenario, would be smiling if she knew this were what actually happened.

But who knows what all of this really means? Only Le Faye can tell us, and you can go to the bank on her never revealing anything about this. But, even so,  I am pretty sure that anyone who enjoys my shadow story readings will enjoy pondering the mysteries of Deirdre Le Faye channeling Julia Childs and Mrs. Bennet simultaneously. 

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: About that other usage of the phrase “word of it” in P&P, I was not entirely honest with you earlier:

Chapter 18: “And with a low bow [Mr. Collins] left [Lizzy] to attack Mr. Darcy, whose reception of his advances she eagerly watched, and whose astonishment at being so addressed was very evident. Her cousin prefaced his speech with a solemn bow and though she could not hear A WORD OF IT, she felt as if hearing it all, and saw in the motion of his lips the words "apology," "Hunsford," and "Lady Catherine de Bourgh."

While there are those who feel certain that they know exactly what Mr. Collins was saying to Mr. Darcy, I leave you with the suggestion that there are other possibilities which Lizzy never imagines, but a suspicious reader of P&P might, and that the phrase “a word of it” is yet another pointer toward mystery.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Does Herman Melville’s Moby Dick Covertly Allude to Jane Austen’s Persuasion?

And now, as a companion to my immediately preceding post about Moby Dick and Emma….

….I now will briefly examine the possibility Melville had Persuasion in mind as he wrote Moby Dick.

First  here's the passage in Moby Dick that I was led to when I searched in its text for the word "persuasion". It is, as will be immediately obvious, in the very last chapter of Moby Dick,  just as Captain Ahab is about to meet his fate in final embrace with the white whale, and the text I see as resonant with Persuasion is in ALL CAPS. I will then give you the resonant passages in Persuasion, and then give my brief additional thoughts right after those quotations:

"[Ahab] gave the word; and still gazing round him, was steadily lowered through the cloven blue air to the deck. In due time the boats were lowered; but as standing in his shallop's stern, Ahab just hovered upon the point of the descent, he waved to the mate,—who held one of the tackle-ropes on deck—and bade him pause.
"For the third time MY SOUL's ship starts upon this voyage, Starbuck."
"Aye, sir, thou wilt have it so."
"Some ships sail from their ports, and ever afterwards are missing, Starbuck!"
"Truth, sir: saddest truth."
"Some men die at ebb tide; some at low water; some at the full of the flood;—and I feel now like a billow that's all one crested comb, Starbuck. I am old;—shake hands with me, man."
Their hands met; their eyes fastened; Starbuck's tears the glue.
"Oh, my captain, my captain!—noble HEART—go not—go not!—see, it's a brave man that weeps; HOW GREAT THE AGONY OF THE PERSUASION THEN!"
"Lower away!"—cried Ahab, tossing the mate's arm from him. "Stand by the crew!"
In an instant the boat was pulling round close under the stern.
"The sharks! the sharks!" cried a voice from the low cabin-window there;
"O master, my master, come back!"
But Ahab heard nothing; for his own voice was high-lifted then; and the boat leaped on.
…."Heart of wrought steel!" murmured Starbuck gazing over the side, and following with his eyes the receding boat—"canst thou yet ring boldly to that sight?—lowering thy keel among ravening sharks, and followed by them, open-mouthed to the chase; and this the critical third day?—For when three days flow together in one continuous intense pursuit; be sure the first is the morning, the second the noon, and the third the evening and the end of that thing—be that end what it may. Oh! my God! what is this that shoots
through me, and leaves me so deadly calm, yet expectant,—fixed at the top of a SHUDDER!"  END QUOTE

Now for the Persuasion passages that perhaps Melville was wishing to point to:

Chapter 8: “…We had not been six hours in the Sound, when a gale came on, which lasted four days and nights, and which would have done for poor old Asp in half the time; our touch with the Great Nation not having much improved our condition. Four-and-twenty hours later, and I should only have been a gallant Captain Wentworth, in a small paragraph at one corner of the newspapers; and being lost in only a sloop, nobody would have thought about me." Anne's SHUDDERINGS were to herself alone; but the Miss Musgroves could be as open as they were sincere, in their exclamations of pity and horror.
"And so then, I suppose," said Mrs Musgrove, in a low voice, as if thinking aloud, "so then he went away to the Laconia, and there he met with our poor boy. Charles, my dear," (beckoning him to her), "do ask
Captain Wentworth where it was he first met with your poor brother. I always forgot."
"It was at Gibraltar, mother, I know. DICK had been left ill at Gibraltar, with a recommendation from his former captain to Captain Wentworth."
"Oh! but, Charles, tell Captain Wentworth, he need not be afraid of mentioning poor DICK before me, for it would be rather a pleasure to hear him talked of by such a good friend."

Chapter 23: "I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce MY SOUL. I am half AGONY, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a HEART even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W.
"I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening or never."

…"To see you," cried he, "in the midst of those who could not be my well-wishers; to see your cousin close by you, conversing and smiling, and feel all the horrible eligibilities and proprieties of the match! To consider it as the certain wish of every being who could hope to influence you! Even if your own feelings were reluctant or indifferent, to consider what powerful supports would be his! Was it not enough to make the fool of me which I appeared? How could I look on without AGONY? Was not the very
sight of the friend who sat behind you, was not the recollection of what had been, the knowledge of her influence, the indelible, immoveable impression of what PERSUASION had once done--was it not all against me?"
"You should have distinguished," replied Anne. "You should not have suspected me now; the case is so different, and my age is so different. If I was wrong in yielding to PERSUASION once, remember that it was to persuasion exerted on the side of safety, not of risk. When I yielded, I thought it was to duty, but no duty could be called in aid here. In marrying a man indifferent to me, all risk would have been incurred, and all duty violated."

Anyone who wishes can compare the Melville with the Austen and think about Anne shuddering thinking about the dear old Asp going down to the bottom, in relation to the Pequod which does in fact go to the bottom almost immediately after we read the above; and can also think about the brave man Wentworth in an agony that could bring even him to tears, in relation to Starbuck’s poetic exclamation fearing for Ahab.

More food for thought (or for whales).

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Does Herman Melville’s Moby Dick Covertly Allude to Jane Austen’s Emma?

Yesterday in Janeites, Michael Chwe, author of a wonderful new book about Jane Austen viewed through the lens of game theory, wrote in passing about Herman Melville's novel White Jacket, and I responded to him drawing a parallel between the use of color imagery in White Jacket and in Jane Austen's Persuasion, and wondering if there might be a connection.

In followup to that post, in which I also mentioned that I had noted a while ago that Moby Dick contained a allusion to the Prince of Whales (with an "H"), I followed up today to retrieve the reference, and I also refreshed my memory that I had also learned that Melville had been particularly interested in Charles Lamb's Triumph of the Whale, the satirical poem he published anonymously in 1812, hence Melville's echoing Lamb's pun.

Those who read along regularly in this blog know that Lamb's poem is one of the two key sources for Jane Austen's "Prince of Whales" secret answer to the second charade in Chapter 9 of Emma, as originally discovered by Colleen Sheehan in 2006:

So, with that as background, I reread the relevant passage in Moby Dick, Chapter 82, for the first time in several years, and my eyes widened a bit as I read the words I've capitalized from that passage, some of which I had not noticed before. For my brief interpretation of same, be sure to read to the end of this post:

The gallant Perseus, a son of Jupiter, was the first whaleman; and to the eternal honour of our calling be it said, that the first whale attacked by our brotherhood was not killed with any sordid intent. Those were the KNIGHTLY days of our profession, when we only bore arms to succor the distressed, and not to fill men's lamp-feeders. Every one knows the fine story of Perseus and Andromeda; how the lovely Andromeda, the daughter of a king, was tied to a rock on the sea-coast, and as LEVIATHAN was in the very act of carrying her off, Perseus, THE PRINCE OF WHALEMEN, intrepidly advancing, harpooned the monster, and delivered and married the MAID. It was an admirable artistic exploit, rarely achieved by the best harpooneers of the present day; inasmuch as this Leviathan was slain at the very first dart. And let no man doubt this Arkite story; for in the ancient Joppa, now Jaffa, on the Syrian coast, in one of the Pagan temples, there stood for many ages the vast skeleton of a whale, which the city's legends and all the inhabitants asserted to be the identical bones of the monster that Perseus slew. When the Romans took Joppa, the same skeleton was carried to Italy in triumph. What seems most singular and suggestively important in this story, is this: it was from Joppa that Jonah set sail.
Akin to the adventure of Perseus and Andromeda—indeed, by some supposed to be indirectly derived from it—is that famous story of ST. GEORGE and the Dragon; which dragon I maintain to have been a whale; for in many old chronicles whales and dragons are strangely jumbled together, and often stand for each other. "Thou art as a lion of the waters, and as a dragon of the sea," saith Ezekiel; hereby, plainly meaning a whale; in truth, some versions of the Bible use that word itself. Besides, it would much subtract from the glory of the exploit had ST. GEORGES but encountered a crawling reptile of the land, instead of doing battle with the great monster of the deep. Any man may kill a snake, but only a Perseus, a ST. GEORGE, a Coffin, have the heart in them to march boldly up to a whale. Let not the modern paintings of this scene mislead us; for though the creature encountered by that valiant whaleman of old is vaguely represented of a griffin-like shape, and though the battle is depicted on land and THE SAINT ON HORSEBACK, yet considering the great ignorance of those times, when the true form of the whale was unknown to artists; and considering that as in Perseus' case, ST. GEORGE' whale might have crawled up out of the sea on the beach; and considering that the animal ridden by ST. GEORGES might have been only a large seal, or sea-HORSE; bearing all this in mind, it will not appear altogether incompatible with the sacred legend and the ancientest draughts of the scene, to hold this so-called dragon no other than the great LEVIATHAN himself. In fact, placed before the striand piercing truth, this whole story will fare like that fish, flesh, and fowl idol of the Philistines, Dagon by name; who being planted before the ark of Israel, his horse's head and both the palms of his hands fell off from him, and only the stump or fishy part of him remained. Thus, then, one of our own noble stamp, even a whaleman, is the tutelary guardian of England; and by good rights, we harpooneers of Nantucket should be enrolled in the most noble order of ST. GEORGES. And therefore let not the KNIGHTS of that honourable company (none of whom, I venture to say, have ever had to do with a whale like their great patron), let them never eye a Nantucketer with disdain, since even in our woollen frocks and tarred trowsers we are much better entitled to St. George's decoration than they."  END QUOTE

So, is it just a coincidence that Melville, in this one short passage, not only alludes in a variety of ways to Lamb's Triumph of the Whale, but also includes other verbiage that seems to point to Mr. GEORGE Knightley as well?

The most intriguing question is, did Melville discover that secret answer to the second charade in Emma, and then embed his discovery in the above passage, tagging it so that anyone else who also knew the whole context might (as I just did) decode his correct answer to the Emma charade? Or are all the echoes of Emma an artifact of Melville’s allusion to Lamb’s poem?

Food for thought (or whales)!

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mark Twain Emulates Jane Austen AGAIN!

Apropos my most recent post about Mark Twain and Jane Austen….

….and pending my fulfilling my promise, as promptly possible, to produce my magnus opus in progress of being written proving that Mark Twain really loved and emulated Jane Austen’s writing, I came across another gem that I can share now, which I think will just leap off the screen at most of you without the necessity of elaborate explanation:

“I was sorry to have my name mentioned as one of the great authors, because they have a sad habit of dying off. Chaucer is dead, Spencer is dead, so is Milton, so is Shakespeare, and I’m not feeling so well myself.”—From a speech given by Mark Twain to the Savage Club in London, published in 1907.

"Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor, which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony" -- Jane Austen, letter of March 13, 1816, first published in 1884.

If anyone believes the striking parallelism between the above two quotes was coincidental, or was unconscious on Mark Twain's part, I have several bridges to sell you at a heavy discount. It seems pretty clear to me that this is in exactly the same spirit of veiled homage as the following previously recognized gem courtesy of Mark Twain:

"Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone"—Mark Twain writing to Janeite pal William Dean Howells, the operative satirical words being “Every time”, mock-betraying that Mark Twain rereads P&P regularly.

"From the very beginning—from the first moment, I may almost say—of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry."—Elizabeth Bennet betraying that she considered marrying Darcy during the first month of their acquaintance.

Mark Twain had the very good taste to emulate a great master. And…the best  part of his “sad habit of  dying off” homage,  is that overtly it is about dead great authors….and yet covertly, in its comic phrasing,  it is all about another dead great author who is not  one of the four (men) named—Jane Austen! So, it means that Mark Twain loved to play the part of the sexist snob, but in his  heart of hearts,  the author he actually emulated was Jane Austen.

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter