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

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cousin Elliot Subtly Administers to the Unconscious Vanity of Anne Elliot in Persuasion

 In my post yesterday…

…I was (as far as I can tell) the first Austen scholar to make the interpretation that, in the concert recital scene in Chapter 20 of Persuasion, Cousin Elliot pretends not to understand Italian, so as to induce Anne to translate sexually charged Italian lyrics into English for him. He does this, I suggested, in furtherance of his very proactive courtship of Anne.

Despite the lack of explicit confirmation from the narration, I inferred Cousin Elliot’s covert trick in part from Diana’s bringing to our attention a likely candidate for the actual Italian lyrics to be translated, from a song in Jane Austen’s own songbook about a Don Juan-like gondolier--plus what we already know about Cousin Elliot’s scheming, manipulative character. I.e., this is precisely the sort of smooth subterfuge he would engage in.

Today, I am back with a followup to bolster my claim, by pointing out a second, even more powerful  motivation for Cousin Elliot’s pretense of ignorance of  Italian—i.e., his clever (and nearly successful) plan to appeal to Anne’s vanity in her accomplishments and intellect, in addition to his well recognized explicit appeal to her other major vanity, that of social class.

I’ve learned over the years that Jane Austen frequently echoed motifs across her novels—sometimes depicting them overtly, sometimes covertly—such that each depiction echoes and informs the others.  And so this morning I reflected on this motif of “playing dumb” as a character’s manipulative technique in JA’s fiction, to see what further light might be shed.  

While I won’t go through them in detail today, I refer you to the following passages which all embody that motif:

ONE: My longstanding claim that Harriet Smith plays dumb with Emma, and by flattering Emma’s ego, gains access to Harriet’s true target, Mr. Knightley.

TWO:  Charlotte Lucas’s own version of subtle flattery of Mr. Collins’s ego as an “eloquent lover” which she carefully stage manages after Elizabeth rejects  his proposal.

THREE: The famous scene at Beechen Cliff in Northanger Abbey, when Catherine feels out of her league while Henry and Eleanor have a learned discussion, and then Jane Austen’s narrator intervenes, in order to very explicitly articulate the basic tenets and benefits of ‘playing dumb’.

These three passages from other JA novels led me right back to the dialogue between Anne and Cousin Elliot in Persuasion in Chapter 16 (i.e., only four short chapters before the concert scene), when Anne spoke praisingly of the company of “well-informed” people, in response to which Cousin Elliot, with much deeper understanding of human vanity than Anne’s, subverts Anne’s resolve by his appeal to status and to the benefits of “a little (but not too much) learning”. In effect, he flatters Anne by pretending ignorance of Italian, because that makes him better company to Anne, because she can show off her knowledge of Italian to him!

So, putting all of the above, interrelated passages together, it is clearer than before that Jane Austen intended her alert readers to infer that Cousin Elliot pretends not to read Italian during the concert scene,
so that Anne will get an ego boost from his request that she translate it for him. In the part of his speech about the best company in which he refers to “a little learning”, he’s as much as warned her (although she’s not really listening) about the strategy which he will shortly implement vis a vis her in Chapter 20.

His playing ignorant of Italian, therefore, is even better established, because it has two bases- in part to prompt her to speak sexual lyrics aloud to him, and in part, in the words of the narrator of Northanger Abbey,  “administering to the vanity of” Anne!

And note that the narrator of NA does not limit her advice (about the benefits of playing dumb) to women, but to any “sensible person” of either gender who has “the misfortune of knowing anything”. And that’s the role Cousin Elliot chooses to play.

Did his maneuver work?  Read the passage from the beginning of Chapter 21, right before Anne hears Mrs. Smith’s devastating account of Cousin Elliot’s infamous past conduct, and judge for yourself. You will read the thoughts of an Anne Elliot who is dancing on air as a result of Cousin Elliot’s smooth flattery as she goes to visit Mrs. Smith.

In particular, note the startling thought that passes through Anne’s head:  “…had there been no Captain Wentworth in the case….”—hmm, sounds to me a lot like Fanny Price being sorely tempted in Portsmouth by Henry Crawford’s miraculous “reformation” despite Fanny’s feelings for Edmund. Anne is literally dancing through horse manure outside Mrs. Smith’s apartment, and she has Cousin Elliot’s successful flattery to thank for this ebullient mood!

And this connects to an insight about Anne which I came to a year ago, which is that Anne Elliot really is a status snob too, it’s not just the vice of her father and sisters. Which is why I conclude  that Cousin Elliot is very consciously  “administering” to Anne’s vanity on two fronts—in his talking up the value of the relationship with the Dalrymples, and also in flattering Anne’s intellectual accomplishments (such as reading Italian), he appealed to Anne’s unconscious vanity on both of those fronts. PLUS he appeals to Anne’s physical vanity of appearance and attempts to give her a sexual charge, with the tale of the Don Juanish gondolier who finds the beauty of his blonde passenger too much to resist.

It is Cousin Elliot’s combination of subtle and unsubtle flattery, his very adept administration to Anne’s vanity on multiple fronts, which has, at least temporarily, immunized Anne to all bad smells. But we all know that Mrs. Smith puts the kibosh on all of that in Chapter 21, and we read the result in Chapter 22, when Anne now “saw insincerity in everything” spoken by Mr. Elliot, and he realizes that “the charm was broken” and he will no longer be able “to kindle his modest cousin’s vanity.”

The only interesting discussion of Anne Elliot’s vanity that I could find in the scholarly literature was in in Persuasions # 15 1993 entitled  Persuasion and Persuadability: When Vanity is a Virtue”  by Inger Sigrun Thomsen (now Brodey). Brodey makes an excellent catch by showing how JA, in Persuasion, is covertly engaged with Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments on this question of different types and nuances of vanity, and how, e.g.,  we ought to judge Anne’s vanity vs. her father’s or her elder sister’s.  Brodey concludes, not surprisingly, that readers are justified in giving Anne a pass on her vanity, while judging her father harshly, because Anne’s vanity sublimates into altruism toward others, whereas her father’s and sister’s appears selfish in the extreme.

I don’t disagree with Brodey as to these plausible conclusions, so much as to disagree as to the completeness of her analysis. I.e., I think JA not only looks at the way a person’s vanity may harm those around her, she also subtly and masterfully portrays the way that Anne’s vanity makes her vulnerable to harm from the manipulative flattery of schemers like Cousin Elliot.  Brodey does not address this side of the question at all, perhaps because it is too outside the box to think of JA as criticizing Anne, the one among her heroines whom Janeites are most likely to identify with Jane Austen herself.  But the overarching point of my above post is that Anne is not a reliable judge of her vanity.

But where in that passage is any recollection by Anne of “…had there been no Captain Wentworth in the case….”, the thought which passed through Anne’s mind 24 hours earlier?  Anne is humiliated to think about how Cousin Elliot duped her father and sister—but what about being honest with herself about how he nearly duped Anne herself? She actually plans “to retrace, as quietly as she could, the few steps of unnecessary intimacy she had been gradually led along,” but that never actually happens.

Anne has many admirable attributes, but she’s human, and she is in complete denial about her own vulnerability to flattery (as she is also in denial, by the way, about her failing eyesight) in a very similar way as her father and her sister, and from the very same flatterer.

The crucial point is that Anne is not capable, on her own, of breaking Cousin Elliot’s spell. She needs the help of the angels (whether supernatural or human) who bring her the crucial information about Cousin Elliot’s bad intent just in the nick of time, so as to break the spell for her. And now, doesn’t that sound suspiciously like one major criticism that has been leveled against the original ending of Persuasion set forth in the cancelled chapters? I refer to the clumsy matchmaking by the Crofts which is the final impetus to bring Wentworth and Anne together.

In the revised version, that clumsy intervention has been replaced, I suggest, by a complex coordinated effort by various family members which I claim has gone on beyond Anne’s field of comprehension and perception, the goal of which has been to break the charm Cousin Elliot has held over Anne. And, ironically, that coordinated effort, as I elucidated recently, includes taking advantage of Anne’s vision impairment, but this time the deception really is for Anne’s good, rescuing her from herself.

And then it is Jane Austen’s supreme genius that she weaves this subtle object lesson into one of the most romantic climaxes in the history of literature. Nothing is ever simple in romance, Jane Austen style.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

 P.S.: A wild additional parallel speculation about the ending of Mansfield Park: Could it be that Henry Crawford is also sandbagged by a similar coalition of family and friends, who avert Fanny's falling prey to Henry's infinitely subtle flatteries, who defeat  Henry by creating a distraction HE cannot resist? Food for thought!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Jane Austen’s R-Rated Songbook: Cousin Elliot and Harriet Smith in Lamberti’s Gondola…but not at the same time!

In Janeites & Austen L, Diana Birchall wrote: “A paean to my favorite author, and my favorite city.  "Jane Austen and Venice," on the Austen Authors website today.

Nicely done! I had absolutely no idea about Jane Austen's own songbook containing lyrics about a gondolier who seduces a sleepy blonde, and exults in his “triumph” at the end! As usual of late, you’ve ferreted out another interesting wormhole into the depths of a JA text, and have brought it forward for our consideration. I hope you enjoy where I was able to go once I maneuvered through that wormhole!  

First, I listened to the YouTube video, and the song sounded like a tender aria ironically describing a creepy seduction, which might (if the music had been a great deal more inspired) have found its way into The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi Fan Tutte or The Barber of Seville, which have such ironic scenes.

Diane also wrote: “No wonder she wrote that the sense of an Italian love-song is not to be talked of, if the Italian songs she knew were like “La Biondina in Gondoletta”!”

As for that passage in Persuasion….

“This,” said she, “is nearly the sense, or rather the meaning of the words, for certainly the sense of an Italian love-song must not be talked of, but it is as nearly the meaning as I can give; for I do not pretend to understand the language. I am a very poor Italian scholar.” “Yes, yes, I see you are. I see you know nothing of the matter. You have only knowledge enough of the language to translate at sight these inverted, transposed, curtailed Italian lines, into clear, comprehensible, elegant English. You need not say anything more of your ignorance. Here is complete proof.”

I think you are spot-on in connecting it to “La Biondina”, but I’d go one large step further than you, and suggest that the presence of this particular song in JA’s own songbook puts this song, among all others, at the head of the list of likely candidates to be the very song that Anne is too discreet to translate for her amorous Cousin Elliot. And I am pretty sure that if there were any other racy Italian songs in JA’s songbook, we’d have heard about them by now!

But I do wonder what he means by “inverted, transposed, curtailed Italian lines”—what could the lyrics set forth in the program have looked like to warrant such a peculiar description? Or was he just being hyperbolic in his praise, attributing to the lyrics in the program a complexity of presentation they did not actually have?—anyone familiar with music and music programs of that era have a clue? Knowing JA, there must be some reality behind that verbiage.

And by the way, the presence of this song in JA’s own songbook also constitutes another nail in the coffin of the notion that JA was too proper and prudish to ever sing, or write, an R-rated word. What were Lamberti’s sexually heated lyrics doing in her songbook, even in Italian? Are we to believe that JA would have been ignorant of their meaning? No way! Here they are again, by the way:

As I gazed intently at my love's features, her little face so smooth, that mouth, and that lovely breast;
I felt in my heart a longing, a desire, a kind of bliss which I cannot describe!
But at last I had enough of her long slumbers and so I acted cheekily, nor did I have to repent it;
for, God what wonderful things I said, what lovely things I did!
Never again was I to be so happy in all my life!

But let me hasten to add, I believe that JA would have sung such a song, not in a salacious way, but as a worldly woman’s warning—blondes who fall asleep in gondolas are at risk of being molested! Note that the song tells us nothing about how the blonde felt about the gondolier’s cheeky words and deeds, and that’s not a good sign!

But let’s get back to Persuasion for the most important part---do you see the subtle ironic twist here? Cousin Elliot, sneaky dog that he is, already understands the Italian lyrics perfectly from the start!!! That is precisely why he pretends ignorance of the Italian and asked Anne to translate them for him in his faux-ignorance, i.e., so as to trap Anne into speaking aloud those very same licentious lyrics! He wants to compromise her virtue, give her a romantic jolt, make her blush.

When she deftly avoids this trap (not even realizing that it was intentionally laid by him), his immediate counter-move is to flatter Anne excessively, then tickle her vanity with the hint of a prior informant (who must be Mrs. Smith, we will later infer) as to Anne’s virtues and talents, and then, when Anne bites at that bait, he finishes with a broad hint at his desire to marry her.

He recognizes that Anne is no sleepy blonde girl in a gondola, but a woman who will require a lot more work to get himself one day to the same position with her as the gondolier achieved so effortlessly with his conquest. However, he comes on SO strong and heavy handedly, that he inadvertently reveals that he is something of a creep. He actually thinks that Anne will be turned on by the words of a song about a Don Juan-type gondolier and his “conquest”.  I am sure you all agree with me that this wouldn’t have worked, even if Anne were not already in love with Wentworth.  Cousin Elliot is no Henry Crawford, who’d never make such a revealing gaffe. Which is why Henry is much more dangerous to a woman of quality than Cousin Elliot.  

And by the way, Diana, your also including in your post a discussion of Margaret Kirkham’s spot-on analysis of the controversial (and in my opinion faux) anecdote in JA’s letter about deaf Mr. Fitzhugh not being able to hear a cannon shows an unexpected connection between that anecdote and Lamberti’s gondolier’s song:

Diana: “Kirkham believes that Jane Austen did not actually recommend Corinne to the deaf gentleman, but was referring in jest to the moment in Venice when Corinne hears a cannon fired thrice across the lagoon. A GONDOLIER explains to her that the firing of the cannon “signifies the moment when a religeuse takes the veil in one of our convents in the midst of the sea. Our custom is for a girl, at the moment she pronounces her sacred vows, to cast behind her the bouquet of flowers she has carried throughout the ceremony, as a sign that she renounces the world, and a cannon is fired to announce the sacred moment.”

Knowing JA’s fertile imagination and love of “unbecoming conjunctions”, I imagine JA juxtaposing Lamberti’s lecherous gondolier with de Stael’s pious gondolier who reports the (inadvertently sexual?) cannon shot which announces a girl’s renunciation of sex, and chuckling about the conjunction to herself, and making a note to use this irony somehow in her novels.

But here’s another link in JA’s subtle chain—that passage in Persuasion also reminded me of the following passage in Ch. 27 of Emma:  

“The other circumstance of regret related also to Jane Fairfax; and there [Emma] had no doubt. She did unfeignedly and unequivocally regret the inferiority of her own playing and singing. She did most heartily grieve over the idleness of her childhood -- and sat down and practised vigorously an hour and a half.
    She was then interrupted by Harriet's coming in; and if Harriet's praise could have satisfied her, she might soon have been comforted.
    "Oh! if I could but play as well as you and Miss Fairfax!"
    "Don't class us together, Harriet. My playing is no more like her's than a lamp is like sunshine."
    "Oh! dear, I think you play the best of the two. I think you play quite as well as she does. I am sure I had much rather hear you. Every body last night said how well you played."
    "Those who knew any thing about it, must have felt the difference. The truth is, Harriet, that my playing is just good enough to be praised, but Jane Fairfax's is much beyond it."
    "Well, I always shall think that you play quite as well as she does, or that if there is any difference nobody would ever find it out. Mr. Cole said how much taste you had; and Mr. Frank Churchill talked a great deal about your taste, and that he valued taste much more than execution."
    "Ah! but Jane Fairfax has them both, Harriet."
    "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?"
    "Just as they always do – VERY VULGAR."

So here we have another passage in which the Italian words to an art song are not understood. And guess who it is who objects to such a song? It’s the one female Austen character (or is there another?) who has "fair hair", i.e., who is blonde---Harriet Smith!

This makes me wonder whether JA intended her knowing readers to guess that Frank and Jane were also singing about the Italian gondolier and his blonde conquest! And how fitting it would be that Harriet—who, in my reading of Emma plays the dumb blonde role for all it’s worth, while she quietly has a “taste” of half the major male characters in the novel by the time it ends—would be the one JA chooses to say that she hates an Italian song she could not understand.

And there’d be a further irony, which is that I see Harriet as playing possum (or asleep at the switch) with all these men, allowing them to think her a dumb blonde who doesn’t know any better, when all the while she is like Lucy Steele, with her eyes on the biggest prize in Highbury, someone a dozen steps up the social ladder from a gondolier—Mr. Knightley.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: And there is a third Austen passage which might be implicated in all of this as well: the following passage in Ch. 10 of P&P, the details of which I never really noticed before. Of course this occurs in the salon at Netherfield:

"Mrs. Hurst sang with her sister; and while they were thus employed, Elizabeth could not help observing, as she turned over SOME MUSIC BOOKS that lay on the instrument, how frequently Mr. Darcy's eyes were fixed on her. She hardly knew how to suppose that she could be an object of admiration to so great a man; and yet that he should look at her because he disliked her was still more strange. She could only imagine, however, at last, that she drew his notice because there was a something about her more wrong and reprehensible, according to his ideas of right, than in any other person present. The supposition did not pain her. She liked him too little to care for his approbation.
After playing SOME ITALIAN SONGS, Miss Bingley varied the charm by a lively Scotch air..."

Whether Miss Bingley was also playing the Gondolier song, I do not venture to guess.

Monday, October 28, 2013

" 'Tis NIGHT, and the LANDSCAPE is LOVELY NO MORE" & “SO FRAIL, so fair, are THE FOND VISIONS of thy early day”: The Blind-Becoming, Poetry-Loving “Hermits”, Jane Austen & Anne Elliot

Happily, my research has reached the advanced stage, when, more often than not, new discoveries often connect the dots between earlier finds which did not seem related at all. This post is a classic example.

In a post last week…

…I claimed that Jane Austen in writing “I have not YET FELT QUITE EQUAL to taking up your Manuscript…” to niece Caroline in Letter 123, was referring to her own long-term and worsening “eye  weakness”, a condition which Caroline remembered a half century later in her memoir of her aunt.

In that post, I also provided links to a series of seven posts which I wrote two months ago about Anne Elliot’s vision impairment in Persuasion, which I claimed were autobiographical to Jane Austen own “spect-ocular” woes.

Today, I am back to add an eighth post to that series, which weaves all the strands of this theme of vision impairment in Persuasion and in Jane Austen’s own life, even more tightly together, as will be clearly visible to those who carefully follow all the relevant strands of meaning & thinly veiled allusion, below.


In the first of those seven earlier posts in the series…

..I argued that one strong bit of textual evidence of Anne Elliot’s vision impairment was (like Odysseus’s and Sherlock Holmes’s proverbial dogs who did NOT bark) the absence of real-time external visual perception by Anne Elliot as she walked between Winthrop and Uppercross, because Anne during that walk only has eyes, so to speak, for the internal poetically-inspired re-creations of her own mind during that walk. Here’s how I put it then:

“…Anne derives pleasure from “repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which had drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling. She occupied her mind as much as possible in such like musings and quotations” –the poignant irony of this activity cannot be overemphasized— here Anne is, in the midst of actual visual, picturesque beauty during actual autumn, but she has zero access to that direct experience, and instead MUST derive what pleasure she can from the indirect, internal, cerebral imagining of that beauty as expressed by word poets. Talk about being too much in one’s head and not enough in the moment! But it does not appear to be an indifference or lack of interest, it appears to be a mechanical problem with the operation of her eyes.”

Today, while reading an excellent article I just obtained in followup to my investigation of the hypocritical mourning of James Benwick in Persuasion as a negative representation of the real life mourning hypocrite, recently widowed Capt. Charles Austen…

…I received the unexpected and serendipitous bonus of learning that Prof. Anne Ehrenpreis, way way back in 1971, had suggested that one of those “some few” poems which Anne Elliot very likely repeated to herself as she walked near Winthrop, was Charlotte Smith’s famous Elegiac Sonnet 2.  

I learned this from “Time and mourning in Persuasion” by Loraine Fletcher, Women's Writing Vol. 5, Issue 1, 1998 ppg 81-90, where Fletcher writes as follows:

“The walk to Winthrop takes place in November 1814. Wentworth with his pompous musing on the hazel nut is as eager as Wordsworth to find a moral lesson in Nature. Anne sees the landscape through a colouring of regret. As she walks she remembers one of Charlotte Smith’s elegiac sonnets, first published in 1784 but reprinted 11 times in England before the date of Persuasion, including 1806, the year of Anne’s meeting and parting from Wentworth. Smith’s Sonnet 2 is refracted through Anne’s consciousness [ALL CAPS added by me for emphasis of words associated with loss of vision]:
The garlands FADE that Spring so lately wove,
Each simple flower, which she had nurs’d in dew,
Anemonies, that spangled every grove,
The primrose WAN and harebell, mildly blue.
No more shall violets linger in the dell,
Or purple orchis variegate the plain,
Til Spring again shall call forth every bell,
And dress with humid hands her wreaths again. -
Ah! poor humanity! so frail, so fair,
Til tyrant passion, and corrosive care,
Another May new buds and flowers shall bring;
Ah! why has happiness – no second Spring? 

I agree with Ehrenpreis’s brilliant catch, and further assert a fresh insight, which is that JA chose to covertly allude to this particular Sonnet 2 by Smith, precisely because a diminishment of visual experience was central to that Sonnet’s imagery of irretrievable loss. That of course corroborates my claims in my earlier series of posts about Anne Elliot’s visual impairment, —and please note that this is a case of convergent evidence, because as far as I can tell, Ehrenpreis claimed (and Fletcher reiterated) the identification of this covert allusion to Smith’s Sonnet 2 by JA, based on thematic resonance having nothing to do with vision impairment, but instead on parallels between Smith’s Sonnet 2 and Persuasion in the contrast of renewal in nature vs. irretrievable loss in the individual human being.  


And now, those who’ve been reading along in my very recent posts can probably guess what writing Part One, above, made me realize, with the excitement that only a literary sleuthing nerd like myself can feel. I.e., I realized that the theme of Smith’s Sonnet 2 was uncannily parallel to that of Beattie’s “The Hermit”, the poem which JA explicitly refers to in Letter 123 to Caroline Austen, and which I was just writing about last week, and which I will reproduce here again now {again with ALL CAPS to pinpoint the imagery of visual impairment]:

 THE HERMIT by James Beattie

At the close of day, when the hamlet is still,
And mortals the sweets of forgetfulness prove,
When nought but the torrent is heard on the hill,
And nought but the nightingale's song in the grove.
'Twas thus, by the cave of the mountain afar,
While his harp rung symphonious, a Hermit began
No more with himself or with nature at war,
He thought as a Sage, though he felt as a Man.

"Ah, why, all abandon'd to DARKNESS and wo,
Why, lone Philomela, that languishing fall?
For Spring shall return, and a lover bestow,
But, if pity inspire thee, renew the sad lay,
Mourn, sweetest complainer, man calls thee to mourn;
O soothe him, whose pleasures like thine pass away
Full quickly they pass - but they never return.

"Now gliding remote, on the verge of the sky,
The Moon, half-extinguish'd, her crescent displays:
But lately I mark'd, when majestic on high
Roll on, thou fair orb, and with gladness pursue
The path that conducts thee to splendour again.
But Man's FADED glory what change shall renew!
Ah fool! to exult in a glory so vain!

I mourn, but, ye woodlands, I mourn not for you;
For morn is approaching, your charms to restore,
PERFUMED with fresh fragrance, with glittering dew,
Nor yet for the ravage of winter I mourn;
Kind Nature the embryo blossom will save.
But when shall Spring visit the mouldering urn!
O when shall it dawn on the night of the grave!

"'Twas thus, by the GLARE of false Science betray'd,
That leads, to bewilder; and dazzles, TO BLIND;
My thoughts wont to roam, from shade onward to shade,
Destruction before me, and sorrow behind.
'O pity, great Father of LIGHT,' then I cried,
'Thy creature who fain would not wander from Thee!
Lo, humbled in dust, I relinquish my pride:
From doubt and from DARKNESS thou only canst free.

"And DARKNESS and doubt are now flying away,
No longer I roam in conjecture forlorn.
So breaks on the traveller, faint, and astray,
The BRIGHT and the balmy effulgence of morn.
see Truth, Love, and Mercy, in triumph descending,
And Nature all GLOWING in Eden's first bloom!
On the cold cheek of Death smiles and roses are blending,
And Beauty Immortal awakes from the tomb."

Now that I read “The Hermit” through the lens of Smith’s Sonnet 2, I see that Beattie’s poem also deploys imagery of diminished vision as part of its theme of mourning for that which was loved but is now irretrievably lost.

And …’s the best part---which almost made me fall out of my chair---it turns out that the line in Beattie’s poem which is the epicenter of its vision-loss subtext is:


is--as anyone who paid close attention to my Subject Line may have already realized--that line is one that Jane Austen actually quoted in a Letter—and it wasn’t even Letter 123! Again, by serendipity, as I searched in my blog to find the text of “The Hermit”, so I could post it now--the search function showed me I had not posted the text of “The Hermit” before, but it also led me to an earlier post of mine….

…which I had written nearly a year ago, as part of our same Group Read of JA’s Letters, that one being about Jane Austen alluding to Beattie’s The Hermit in Letter 89 dated 9/24/13!

You are welcome to read that earlier post in full, but if you don’t want to, then just know that in Letter 89, to CEA, written two years before JA wrote Letter 123 to niece Caroline, Jane Austen, while staying at Godmersham, had quoted that very same line from The Hermit, "'Tis night, and the landscape is lovely no more".

In my above earlier post re same, I suggested this line, along with the line JA also quoted therein from Cowper’s “Alexander Selkirk”, was a marker of the increasing isolation that JA felt from her world. I suggested that this isolation was psychological, a reflection of her deep alienation from the Godmersham elite set with which she was mingling at that moment, and I still hold to that interpretation.  As I suggested in that earlier post, JA was thumbing through a book of poetry in brother Edward’s home library, and came upon Beattie’s poem, and also Cowper’s “Alexander Selkirk” on the same page, and found both struck a chord for her in that common theme of isolation.

But now I also understand that Beattie’s poem must have also resonated to JA’s own experience as her vision was deteriorating, shrinking and fuzzying her distance vision, and making her, of necessity, feel that sort of perceptual isolation as well! That’s why she wrote “ ‘Tis night” –for Jane Austen, even as early as 1813, “night” was beginning to descend gradually on her vision! And that’s why Anne Elliot, in walking between Winthrop and Uppercross, is not even looking around her at the landscape—she can’t see it! Hence, “the landscape is lovely no more”!

And so, based on all of that, it almost goes without saying that I now believe that my hunch last week that Caroline Austen was not actually playing The Hermit all the time as JA seemed to be saying in Letter 123, was spot-on.  It seems clearer than ever that JA had deliberately chosen to indirectly allude to Beattie’s lyrics, to convey the idea of not aggravating little Cassy’s grief for her recently deceased mother. But she also worked her own vision impairment into the subtext of Letter 123, coinciding with her writing, perhaps, of the Winthrop scene in Persuasion!

That JA was quoting from Beattie in Letter 89 two years earlier, and in such a pointed but veiled thematic way, shows that JA was quite deliberate in her reinvoking Beattie’s words in Letter 123 in a similarly thematic but veiled way.

And by the way, add this to the long list of Footnotes Le Faye Ought To Have Written. Even in the new 4th Edition, she does not in the footnote for Beattie’s “Hermit” in Letter 123 refer to the footnote for Beattie’s “Hermit” in Letter 89, or vice versa. To have realized the connection from her edition, you’d have to go to her listing for Beattie allusions under her Topic Index heading “Authors”, and then follow each one to see if they overlapped. In other words, you’d have to have already known about it, as I did!


I also believe that we owe another line in Persuasion to Beattie’s poem---When Anne Elliot seems to be walking on air after leaving Mrs. Smith’s apartment, I think she’s recalling the one optimistic line in Beattie’s poem:

For spring is returning your charms to restore, PERFUMED WITH FRESH FRAGRANCE and glittering with dew.”

And that’s why we read, at that instant, in Persuasion:

“It was almost enough to spread purification and PERFUME all the way.”

It’s not just the “perfume” that would be needed for “purification” of Anne’s shoes, and of the air she breathes, as she walks through the poo outside Westgate Buildings in the lowrent part of Bath…

….it’s also the “perfume” from Beattie’s poem, the happy ending that Anne Elliot is about to reach

So there you have it from Letters 89 & 123: strong corroboration of my claim that Beattie’s “The Hermit”, and Ehrenpreis’s claim that Smith’s Sonnet 2, were both very likely two of the short list of  poems Anne Elliot chanted to herself as she walked between Winthrop and Uppercross!

Cheers, ARNIE
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