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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Future Admiral Frank Austen's Admirable Admonition As To of the Shark of the Blue Species

Apropos my three recent posts about Sir Walter Elliot's color-coded wit relative to all things nautical in Persuasion...

...I just came upon yet ANOTHER piece of that matrix, and it makes the collective even wittier and more interesting, and internally mutually coroborative, and now it adds a direct Austen family connection to boot.

What I stumbled upon is evidence that JA's brother Frank Austen—the future admiral---was part of the witty mix in the back of Jane Austen's mind, when she made Sir Walter Elliot such a connoisseur of all this salty color-coding, especially in his satirical comments about....admirals.

I come to this evidence courtesy of Lord Brabourne, of all people, who wrote the following in 1884, but without his (or anyone prior to myself) realizing the Persuasion connection:

"As I am upon anecdotes, let me tell one also of Sir Francis Austen, since it shall never be said that I omitted that which I have heard of him all my life as one of the things most like himself that he ever did. He was exceedingly precise, and spoke always with due deliberation, let the occasion be what it might, never having been known to hurry himself in his speech for any conceivable reason. It so fell out, then, that whilst in some foreign seas where sharks and similar unpleasant creatures abound, a friend, or sub-officer of his (I know not which), was bathing from the ship. Presently Sir Francis called out to him in his usual tone and manner,
'Mr. Pakenham, you are in danger of A SHARK OF THE BLUE SPECIES! You had better return to the ship.'
'Oh! Sir Francis; you are joking, are you not?'
'Mr. Pakenham, I am not given to joking. If you do not immediately return, soon will the shark eat you.'
Whereupon Pakenham, becoming alive to his danger, acted upon the advice thus deliberately given, and, says the story, saved himself 'by the skin of his teeth' from the shark. " END QUOTE

Frank's "shark OF THE BLUE species" is a witty echoing of the "admiral OF THE BLUE" terminology, and I assert further that JA had this anecdote in mind when she made her own single solitary novelistic reference to sharks, of course in Harriet's (knowing) questions about the answer to Mr. Elton's charade:

 "What can it be, Miss Woodhouse?...Can it be woman?
    And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.
Can it be Neptune?
    Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!
Or a trident? or a mermaid? or a SHARK? Oh, no! SHARK is only one syllable. It must be very clever, or he would not have brought it. Oh! Miss Woodhouse, do you think we shall ever find it out?"
"Mermaids and SHARKS! Nonsense! My dear Harriet, what are you thinking of? Where would be the use of his bringing us a charade made by a friend upon a mermaid or a SHARK? Give me the paper and listen. …” END QUOTE

In 2006, Colleen Sheehan brilliantly demonstrated that Harriet's reference to sharks was one of the words covertly tagged to Charles Lamb's Triumph of the Lamb which had as its punch line the "Prince of Whales".

In 2009, Anielka asserted that "Shark" was (along with Harriet's other guesses) the name of a sloop in the Royal Navy, but without any particular connection to the Austen family.

Now, I am tieing Harriet's "shark" to yet another Austen referent, and this one is very personal. Frank's vignette about the "shark of the blue species", would, I think it safe to assume, have been well known and oft repeated in Austen family circles, probably long prior to JA's writing Emma and Persuasion.

And finally I assert further that JA added to the nautical subtext of Chapter 9 of Emma, by including _three_ references to ADMIRATION in Chapter 9, in order to subliminally suggest ADMIRALS, vis a vis JA's very nautical  charade:

"The picture, elegantly framed, came safely to hand soon after Mr. Elton's return, and being hung over the mantle-piece of the common sitting-room, he got up to look at it, and sighed out his half sentences of ADMIRATION just as he ought....

"My dear Harriet, you must not refine too much upon this charade. You will betray your feelings improperly, if you are too conscious and too quick, and appear to affix more meaning, or even quite all the meaning which may be affixed to it. Do not be overpowered by such a little tribute of ADMIRATION....

"Oh! here's the charade you were so obliging as to leave with us; thank you for the sight of it. We ADMIRED it so much, that I have ventured to write it into Miss Smith's collection. Your friend will not take it amiss I hope. Of course I have not transcribed beyond the eight first lines."  END QUOTES

So here we have a second example of Frank Austen's wit and love of wordplay (the other being his "rears and vices" joking recollection in his letter to Miss Quincy in 1852), which totally belies the widely held notion that he was a humorless dour fellow. And this Frank Austen connection almost makes me wonder whether Frank Churchill--he who so loved wordplay at Donwell Abbey---derived his Christian name, at least in part, from Frank Austen.

And so I conclude by asserting, three times, my admiration for Jane Austen's clever and significant “admiral-able” wordplay in Emma and Persuasion having to do with nautical color-coding.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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