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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Dedication of Emma to the Prince of Whales

In Jane Austen's late 1815 letters to John Murray, who would very shortly be publishing her magnum opus, Emma,  JA wrote the following to Murray: 

First, in Letter 130:

'...The title-page must be "Emma, dedicated by permission to H.R.H. the Prince Regent." And it is my particular wish that one set should be completed and sent to H.R.H. two or three days before the work is generally public. It should be sent under cover to the Rev. J. S. Clarke, Librarian, Carlton House..."

and then second, in Letter 131 shortly thereafter: 

"As to my direction about the title-page, it was arising from my ignorance only, and from my having never noticed the proper place for a dedication. I thank you for putting me right. Any deviation from what is usually done in such cases is the last thing I should wish for. I feel happy in having a friend to save me from the ill effect of my own blunder."

Today, in Janeites & Austen-L, Ellen Moody commented as follows re the above passages: 
 "Then fretting over that dedication again.  What words she wants on this title page. She thinks it will appear on the title page. Jumping to the next later in the day, very short and embarrassed and grateful: he has told her the dedication goes on another page. She says this “blunder” of her arises from her “ignorance only, and from my never having noticed the proper place for a dedication.”  This is most revealing bit:  “any deviation from what is usually done in such cases is the last thing I should wish for.” She is doing this only because it’s the done thing. She wants no more attention paid to it by a reader than can be helped. Again that he’s won her over: “I feel happy in having a friend to save me from the ill effects of my own blunder.” She is emotional here and shows that she does not realize quite his power.
She was in no danger; he would never have put the dedication in a wrong place.
....I’ve read ironic statements by reviewers in the know in some books the most lively revealing nay significant matter are these acknowledgements. You learn who connects to who."

Ellen, as I’ve written in the past many times, Jane Austen is being supremely ironic when she writes ““any deviation from what is usually done in such cases is the last thing I should wish for.”  We know this with 100% certainty, because, thanks in large part to Colleen Sheehan….

…we have conclusive, irrefutable evidence that Emma is, in every way possible, a devastating, savage satire of HRH the Prince Regent!  So, could there possibly be a larger deviation from “what is usually done in such cases” than the Dedication to the PR of a novel which covertly savagely satirizes him? It is the quintessence of deviation!

And so I think it gave JA an extra frisson of ironic pleasure to play dumb about the format of novel dedications to royalty, and to seem to be grateful to Murray (who clearly was not in on the satire of the PR) for correcting JA’s rustic ignorance of literary custom vis a vis the London  literati, most of all the self-styled connoisseur the Prince of Whales. JA is playing dumb, a la Miss Bates and Harriet Smith, those expert flatterers of powerful narcissists, knowing she has the last laugh, even if it must be a private laugh shared only with the most trusted confidantes.

Apropos satirical dedications to the Prince Regent, Google led me this morning to another Dedication of a literary work by another literary titan of the age, which I feel confident was also directed at the Prince Regent.  Here it is:

[Title page]
written by
Most respectfully dedicated (by permission)
and intended for
who can read!!!
Published at the request of several persons of distinction,
By Baldwin And Co. 1818.

[2nd page]

[3rd page]
Most unsubstantial and invisible Sir,
Though you and I are generally at variance, and I verily believe there is no love lost between us, I shall nevertheless for once condescend to address you in a few civil words.
I do then most reverentially dedicate to you the poetical trifles contained in this slender volume,
which I beseech you not to read, but to criticise and abuse with all the arrogance of a self-constituted
Censor, and all the rancour of atrabilarious malevolence. And yet I would have you know, that notwithstanding the apparent humility of the foregoing Dedication, I do most heartily despise your critical powers, and accordingly set them at utter defiance.
Believe me to be.
Most unsubstantial and invisible Sir,
very cordially
your old opponent,

As some  of you will already have guessed, the author of this 1818 book of poems was Lord Byron, and I can’t imagine  who else the “most unsubstantial and invisible Sir” could have been, other than the Prince  Regent himself.

The most interesting question, to me, is whether Byron was inspired to pen this overtly satirical Dedication by his having  deciphered  the “Prince of Whales” hidden answer to Emma’s second charade, which would have alerted him that JA’s Dedication to the PR was therefore also totally satirical.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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