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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, December 20, 2013

Nancy & Me: Text & Subtext, a Tale of Two Critics (or a Christmas Cavil)

Nancy Mayer just wrote as follows in Janeites....

 "Illegitimate children couldn't be heirs. An illegitimate child was the child of no one and so wouldn't be heir to the estate. The biological child of Lady Russell could be a boy who wouldn't go to school with Anne and who would be married and might be in the diplomatic corps or in India or the West Indies for all we know."
. response to my post....

...which I concluded as follows: "...The first child of Lady Russell could be Cousin Elliot, whom I am not the first to speculate might just be the illegitimate child of Sir Walter and Lady Russell, the result of a tryst early in the marriages of both the Elliots and the Russells. It would fit with the often-promulgated fiction in highborn families in those days, that referred to illegitimate children as if they were nephews or cousins instead of who they really were. And that allowed some illegitimate children, especially an only son surrounded by legitimate daughters, to inherit real property.  And there would also be karmic significance in the narrator referring to Anne as Lady Russell’s “other child” having had her happiness secured by Wentworth, when we could surely say, in the same breath, that Wentworth was also responsible for securing the misery of Cousin Elliot, by trumping the latter’s determined courtship of Anne! But…what cinches Option Four for me is that JA’s attempted alteration in Version Two would thereby be eerily parallel to the exact same sort of changes made by JA to S&S---but instead of seeing editing in a handwritten manuscript, the changes in S&S were done between the first and the second edition of the published novel! Of course I am referring to Mrs. Jennings’s references to Eliza, Jr., the “natural child” of Colonel Brandon. So as not to reinvent the wheel, I refer you now to my blog post of nearly 3 years ago…
…in which, in meticulous detail, I lay out my interpretation of how and why Jane Austen altered the text of S&S in a couple of places, so as to alter the way that the delicate and scandalous aspects of the illegitimacy of Eliza, Jr. is handled-most of all, I suggest, to alter the way that the real life Warren Hastings and his love child, Eliza Hancock Austen, were represented by the Colonel and his ward. So….isn’t it amazing to realize for the first time this compelling parallel of the publication history of JA’s first published novel, and her last published novel."   END QUOTE  FROM MY PREVIOUS POST

Now back to the present, here is my further response to Nancy:

 Nancy, in reading your response, and marveling once again on how you and I represent extreme opposite polarities of interpretation of Jane Austen's writing, I was inspired to paraphrase a famous passage S&S as a way of crystallizing this radical difference between us:

"You are seeing a subtextual hint of Cousin Elliot’s illegitimacy, then, Arnie, in the implicit reference to Lady Russell’s unnamed child at the  end of Persuasion?" said Nancy, unable to be longer silent.
"Yes, a little—not much."
After a short pause. "You have no confidence in Jane Austen’s meaning what she seems to say."
"Nay, Nancy, this reproach from YOU—you who have confidence in no one!"
"Me!" returned Nancy in some confusion; "indeed, Arnie, I have nothing to tell."
"Nor I," answered Arnie with energy, "our situations then are alike. We have neither of us any thing to tell; you, because you do not acknowledge any subtext at all, and I, because I conceal nothing about the subtext I see."
Nancy, distressed by this charge of reserve in herself, which she was not at liberty to do away, knew not how, under such circumstances, to press for greater openness in Marianne. So she went back to mending her laptop.

And what composing  the above  vignette about us, Nancy, now I’m wondering whether the ghost of Jane Austen confided all of her subtextual meanings to you privately many years ago, and swore you to absolute secrecy, like Lucy did with Elinor about Lucy’s secret engagement to Edward?

C’mon, fess up!  We all know ghosts are not real….except those subtextual “ghosts” which haunt JA’s writing, of course!

 Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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