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

Sunday, September 1, 2013

To “She began first to be sensible of this, and to SIGH FOR her conversation” , Add Samuel Morland, CIPHER Expert, “The First Soldier I Ever SIGHed FOR”, & “Lady Bertram Seems More of a CIPHER Now”

In Austen L this morning....

 ...Anielka Briggs presented a roman a clef interpretation of Northanger Abbey as pointing to British royalty succession intrigues between James I and Isabella the Infanta of Spain. In my opinion, her interpretation is SPOT ON, both for the reasons she gives, but also for several additional ones, which I have hinted at in my Subject Line and which I will now briefly spell out, before moving to the details of Anielka’s catch.

Anielka’s catch of the homophone of “sigh for” and “cypher” (or “cipher”), fits perfectly  with my own 2009 discovery of the subtext pointing to the actual historical personage, Samuel Morland, whom I spoke about at the 2010 JASNA AGM in Portland, as an allusive source for General Tilney. Samuel Morland was a famous master of ciphers used by his aristocratic patrons in political intrigues of the late 17th century, and he was also, like General Tilney, a “Bluebeard” who “murdered” his young wives via childbirth, and then erected hypocritical memorials to them in WeSTminster (punning on NORTHanger) Abbey:

So, right off, I had already established that the idea of ciphers was deeply embedded in Northanger Abbey. 

In addition, the text of Northanger Abbey in (at least) two places, makes explicit reference to the idea of ciphers. Look at these two passages in Chapters 20 and 21, respectively:

First here is Henry Tilney goading Catherine’s gothic imagination, even before she arrives at the Abbey:

“…At last, however, by touching a secret spring, an inner compartment will open—a roll of paper appears—you seize it—it contains many sheets of manuscript—you hasten with the precious treasure into your own chamber, but scarcely have you been able to DECIPHER 'Oh! Thou—whomsoever thou mayst be, into whose hands these memoirs of the wretched Matilda may fall'—when your lamp suddenly expires in the socket, and leaves you in total darkness."

That “decipher ‘Oh! Thou…’ reminds me very much of the line from the great cipher of Emma, where we read:

“But ah! united, what reverse we have!” 

Does ‘Oh! Thou’ constitute a loose anagram for “Othello”, Shakespeare’s tragically jealous, gullible General/husband?  I think so! So that is one textual cipher JA has invited her readers to detect and solve.

But there’s yet another, in this second textual example:

“The lock [of the chest] was silver, though tarnished from age; at each end were the imperfect remains of handles also of silver, broken perhaps prematurely by some strange violence; and, on the centre of the lid, was A MYSTERIOUS CIPHER, in the same metal. Catherine bent over it intently, but without being able to distinguish anything with certainty. She could not, in whatever direction she took it, believe the last letter to be a T; and yet that it should be anything else in that house was a circumstance to raise no common degree of astonishment. If not originally theirs, by what strange events could it have fallen into the Tilney family?”

So there is a mysterious cipher which Catherine, goaded by Henry, seeks to decode.

So even before getting to Anielka’s discovery, there’s already a roomful of thick smoke in Northanger Abbey relating to ciphers.

But I had absolutely no clue before this morning of what Anielka found, and now, after studying it a while, I will discuss, commend, and extend Anielka’s interpretation, it is a rich mine of new insight, to which I am glad to be able to add value, below.

First, in that same passage in Chapter 1 that Anielka quoted which refers to hens and heads, etc., we read not one but two gratuitous references to Catherine Morland’s “infancy”, which I do believe fits with Anielka’s claims about Isabella the Spanish “infanta” who, like Isabella Thorpe, winds up out in the cold of inheritance and courtship maneuvering.  The Infanta Isabella whom you specifically identified was the younger daughter of the King of Spain, hence her royal label.

Per Wikipedia, Isabella the Infanta also resembles Isabella Thorpe in her behavior, as reported by contemporary chroniclers:  As a result of her indiscretions, including an affair with King Richard II’s stepbrother, John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter, whom Pugh terms 'violent and lawless', Isabella left behind a tarnished reputation, her loose morals being noted by Walsingham. According to Pugh, the possibility that Holland was the father of Isabella's favourite son,  Richard, 'cannot be ignored’” Sounds a lot like Isabella Thorpe going too far with the “lawless’ Captain Tilney.

And, by the way, there are also a handful of other usages of the word “infant” and “infancy” in Emma, S&S, P&P, and MP, which all smack of the kind of roman a clef royal inheritance/succession issues Anielka has detected in Northanger Abbey. So “infant” was definitely a “term of artifice” for Jane Austen.

And finally, apropos Anielka’s catch re the cypher/sigh-for homophone in the same sentence with a “secret conference” in Chapter 18 of NA, guess what!--there’s ANOTHER passage only three chapters earlier, in Chapter 15, also involving Isabella and Catherine, which would appear to be part of the same matrix, as will be apparent at the very end of my quotation from the passage:

“…[Catherine’s] brother, she found, was preparing to set off with all speed to Fullerton, to make known his situation and ask consent; and here was a source of some real agitation to the mind of Isabella. Catherine endeavoured to persuade her, as she was herself persuaded, that her father and mother would never oppose their son's wishes. "It is impossible," said she, "for parents to be more kind, or more desirous of their children's happiness; I have no doubt of their consenting immediately."
"Morland says exactly the same," replied Isabella; "and yet I dare not expect it; my fortune will be so small; they never can consent to it. Your brother, who might marry anybody!"
Here Catherine again discerned the force of love.
"Indeed, Isabella, you are too humble. The difference of fortune can be nothing to signify."
"Oh! My sweet Catherine, in your generous heart I know it would signify nothing; but we must not expect such disinterestedness in many. As for myself, I am sure I only wish our situations were reversed. Had I the command of millions, were I mistress of the whole world, your brother would be my only choice."
This charming sentiment, recommended as much by sense as novelty, gave Catherine a most pleasing remembrance of all the heroines of her acquaintance; and she thought her friend never looked more lovely than in uttering the grand idea. "I am sure they will consent," was her frequent declaration; "I am sure they will be delighted with you."
"For my own part," said Isabella, "my wishes are so moderate that the smallest income in nature would be enough for me. Where people are really attached, poverty itself is wealth; grandeur I detest: I would not settle in London for the universe. A cottage in some retired village would be ecstasy. There are some charming little villas about Richmond."
"Richmond!" cried Catherine. "You must settle near Fullerton. You must be near us."
"I am sure I shall be miserable if we do not. If I can but be near you, I shall be satisfied. But this is idle talking! I will not allow myself to think of such things, till we have your father's answer. Morland says that by sending it tonight to Salisbury, we may have it tomorrow. Tomorrow? I know I shall never have courage to open the letter. I know it will be the death of me."
A reverie succeeded this conviction—and when Isabella spoke again, it was to resolve on the quality of her wedding-gown.
THEIR CONFERENCE was put an end to by the anxious young lover himself, who came to breathe his parting SIGH beFORE he set off for Wiltshire….”

So here in that last sentence is a “SIGH beFORE” right after a reference to  “their conference”, meaning, again, Catherine and Isabella, just as in the Chapter 18 sentence. Plus, we also have a completely gratuitous reference by Isabella to a hypothetical cottage/villa in Richmond, which of course was the town that sprang up around Henry VII’s Richmond Palace, a palace closely associated with Elizabeth I.

The odds of all this synchronized verbal and historical parallelism happening by accident, or even by unconscious association by JA, would appear virtually nil, especially given that this Chapter 15 passage is overtly about marital consent and family inheritance, which is the very subject of the historical roman a clef you already detected from the later passage. 

And I therefore submit that within that strikingly coherent, punning matrix, it is also not coincidental, that when Catherine learns of Isabella’s treachery toward James, we read the following in Chapter 25:

“…Catherine took her place at the table, and, after a short silence, Eleanor said, "No bad news from Fullerton, I hope? Mr. and Mrs. Morland—your brothers and sisters—I hope they are none of them ill?"
"No, I thank you" (SIGHING as she spoke); "they are all very well. My letter was from my brother at Oxford."  

“sighing as she spoke”  is Jane Austen’s clever way of saying “wink wink nod nod”, be on the lookout for related, similar ciphering sigh-foring coming up in this novel.

And finally I reach the part of my additional support for Anielka’s interpretation which I have already given away in my Subject Line. I.e., in JA’s Letter to CEA dated 1/24/13, there is this very famous passage:

“ We quite run over with books. My mother has got Sir John Carr’s Travels in Spain from Miss B. and I am reading a Society octavo, An Essay on the Military Police and Institutions of the British Empire by Capt. Pasley of the Engineers: a book which I protested against at first, but which upon trial I find delightfully written and highly entertaining. I am as much in love with the author as ever I was with Clarkson or Buchanan, or even the two Mr. Smiths of the City–the first soldier I ever SIGHed FOR–but he does write with extraordinary force and spirit.”

Was this last sentence segment meant to be read by CEA (or someone else who might later read the letter) as “the first soldier I ever cyphered”?  If so, could “Capt. Pasley” be a cypher for some other name? Or is this, more simply, a wink at Capt. Tilney in NA, and the roman a clef subtext detected by Anielka in NA, which JA already had written by 1813,  and which perhaps JA had recently revised along these very same lines, and was so informing CEA of her latest roman a clef creation? 

Or perhaps Anielka will have a roman a clef explanation to offer about that passage as well.

PLUS, one final bonus: the following passage in Mansfield Park is a final confirmation of JA’s playing with the word “cipher” as a clue to her own wordplay:

“Lady Bertram seems more of a CIPHER now…”

Of course, I wrote very recently that the name “Maria Bertram”  was literally a “cipher”, or to be more specific, closely anagrammatical, to the name of the real life “Mary Bramston” who was a friend of Jane Austen:

So can anyone who has read both Anielka’s post and this one by me, maintain some rational opposition at this point to the central claim that Jane Austen definitely playing with literary ciphers in her novels, for a variety of complicated purposes? I will be curious to see if anyone does attempt this.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.  I just checked to see if ciphers had been previously discussed vis a vis Jane Austen other than in my discussions of Samuel Morland as cipher expert, and I found the following very interesting addition tidbit, which surely was something JA was aware of:

"The laws respecting woman, which I mean to discuss in a future part, make an absurd unit of a man and his wife; and then by the easy transition of only considering him as responsible, she is reduced to a mere CIPHER."

by Mary Wollstonecraft, /A Vindication of the Rights of Woman/, Chapter 9, at page 307.

Although the above quotation was provided 14 years ago by someone else in Austen L, I do believe Anielka had Wollstonecraft's passage in the back of her mind 3 years ago when she wrote about Sanditon and slavery subtexts in JA's novels:

"What sort of cipher might Miss Lambe have become, I wonder?"

But I take this further. Given the very strong feminist subtext I see in Northanger Abbey, and especially Mrs. Tilney as the symbol of all the English wives ever "murdered" in childbirth by their "Bluebeard" husbands, I see now that the overt and veiled references to ciphers in NA are, in addition to the other meanings already presented by Anielka, and by myself in my immediately preceding post, also pointed references to the lack of protection extended to women in England by the laws which ought to have protected them.

Again, I bring forward for probably the fiftieth time during the past seven years, the famous rant by Henry Tilney, which I claim was meant by JA to be understood ironically, as a subversive powerful mockery by her of the hypocrisy of the English powers that were:

"If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to—Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?"

Again, it is Henry not Catherine, who ought to have run out in tears after that rant, as he was the one who had something truly awful to be ashamed of, not her! She understood, intuitively, that Henry was full of it, i.e., that even married Englishwomen were at terrible risk of abuses of all kinds, not just physical, from their husbands, all of which could be committed with impunity on a "mere cipher".

No comments: