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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Capital Gratification of Jane Austen’s Observance of The Rules of Composition in Northanger Abbey: “Captain Tilney” & Eleanor Tilney’s Secret Lover are the one and the same person!

Two days ago, I wrote:

"I just found another imaginary character in an Austen novel other than Emma or Persuasion! And, as I reiterated for the umpteenth time in a post earlier today, that means, I found a significant character who may, OR MAY NOT, be imaginary, depending on which perspective you take on the passages about this character in the novel. Either reading is perfectly plausible.
Here are some giant hints.
He is a man,
He never speaks in the novel,
He is never described by any narration other than narration which can readily be read as the heroine's subjective perception, rather than clearly objective report of a fact,
He may or may not have ever actually been alive.
I found him out via Google--and you could do it too, very easily, if you were willing to go on the hypothesis that I am correct about Mr. Perry being an imaginary character during the action of Emma, and try to figure out how to use Google to find out if anyone else saw something strange about this character, just the way Wiltshire and Stafford saw something strange about Mr. Perry, but did not think far enough outside the box to realize what it meant.
This imaginary character is even more spectacular than Mr. Perry, actually, because the role this imaginary character plays in his novel is very similar to the role that "George Kaplan" plays in Hitchcock's North by Northwest.
And even I, an hour ago, never realized, it was only with the inadvertent help of another Austen scholar rendered a very long time ago, that I instantly understood Jane Austen's trick.  Just amazing!"

As my Subject  Line  has already revealed, I am talking  about Captain Frederick Tilney from Northanger Abbey!

I figured  I’d just start  by getting the bombshell out right there in my Subject Line, I saw no need to build  suspense this time around. Now for a synopsis of how I arrived at this admittedly way outside  the box conclusion.

The other night, I Googled the phrase “Mr. Perry” together with the word “never”, being thorough and wanting to make sure I had not overlooked any online discussion regarding Mr. Perry’s never having spoken, and never having been objectively described by the  narrator of Emma. What I was led to, however, instead of a discussion of these qualities in Mr. Perry, was the following extraordinarily interesting discussion of  another Austen novel, Northanger Abbey!

Persuasions #7, ppg 42-54 (1985) “How might Jane Austen have revised Northanger Abbey?”
by the late Joan Aiken
…What…could [JA] have done [to revise] Northanger [Abbey]?  For a start, she needed a few more characters; as well as to take greater advantage of those already there.  One example of such a character is Henry’s brother, Captain Tilney.  He is used simply as a prop, to beguile flighty Isabella Thorpe away from Catherine’s brother James.  Most improbably, although a “fashionable, handsome young man” Frederick Tilney is never introduced to Catherine (which seems decidedly odd and uncivil of Henry); indeed he never speaks to Catherine at all, and it seems both uneconomic and unskilful of the writer to bring him into play as little as she does.
About another character she is equally remiss, but at least acknowledges the fact herself, charmingly, on the last page, where she admits (“aware that the rules of composition forbid the introduction of a character not connected with my fable”) that “the most charming young man in the world” the titled gentleman whose marriage to Eleanor Tilney solves the plot by putting the General back into good humour, had been the one who had left in the closet a bundle of washing bills which Catherine had taken for somebody’s dying confession.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world to introduce this charming young peer at an early stage of the story.  Of course he would have followed Eleanor to Bath; of course Isabella Thorpe would have set her cap at him…”  END QUOTE FROM AIKEN ARTICLE

Many of you will recognize  her name, since Aiken, who was from a literary family including her father, poet  Conrad Aiken and her sister, Jane Aiken Hodge) was the author of Jane Fairfax (Emma retold from Jane’s point of  view, but without any of the shadow story elements I have discovered since 2005) and other Austen-inspired fiction).

Anyway, the second I got to the end of the above quoted excerpt  from Aiken’s article, I was already searching in Northanger Abbey  to test the hypothesis that immediately formed in my mind, i.e., that Captain Tilney might have been the Mr. Perry of Northanger Abbey, and even better, he was not a completely imaginary person, but  was actually another character impersonating him!

And the first passage I sought out was the penultimate paragraph of the entire novel, where we read:

“The marriage of Eleanor Tilney, her removal from all the evils of such a home as Northanger had been made by Henry's banishment, to the home of her choice and the man of her choice, is an event which I expect to give general satisfaction among all her acquaintance. My own joy on the occasion is very sincere. I know no one more entitled, by unpretending merit, or better prepared by habitual suffering, to receive and enjoy felicity. Her partiality for this gentleman was not of recent origin; and he had been long withheld only by inferiority of situation from addressing her. His unexpected accession to title and fortune had removed all his difficulties; and never had the General loved his daughter so well in all her hours of companionship, utility, and patient endurance as when he first hailed her "Your Ladyship!" Her husband was really deserving of her; independent of his peerage, his wealth, and his attachment, being to a precision the most charming young man in the world. Any further definition of his merits must be unnecessary; the most charming young man in the world is instantly before the imagination of us all. Concerning the one in question, therefore, I have only to add—aware that the rules of composition forbid the introduction of a character not connected with my fable—that this was the very gentleman whose negligent servant left behind him that collection of washing-bills, resulting from a long visit at Northanger, by which my heroine was involved in one of her most alarming adventures. “

Turns out that, in my reading inspired by Aiken’s intuitive brilliance, Jane Austen in her reference to the Rules of Composition was actually observing them doubly, not only with those laundry lists, but much more, and so much more dramatically, in the introduction of Eleanor’s lover (disguised as Captain Tilney)  in Chapter 14 while everyone was still in Bath, and not  much later, in the Abbey, as every reader has understood up  till now.

Several hours of textual searching and analysis  later, here are my broad conclusions in support  of my above captioned claim:

Joan Aiken was a centimeter away from realizing that Jane Austen did not need to revise  Northanger Abbey along  the lines that Aiken suggested, because that plotline was already put in the novel by JA herself! I.e., this is perhaps the mother of all Trojan Horse Moments, because Aiken basically did all the work 25 years ago, and then walked away without applying the final coat of paint, scholarly-wise. Aiken simply did not realize that Jane Austen had planted these ideas  in Aiken’s sensitive writer’s mind without being noticed  doing so.

But because Aiken thought she was just giving playful free advice to a dead author, she did not have a reason to go through the novel text methodically, as I have now done, to see how this basic hidden structure plays out.

When I did, I realized straightaway that there was ONE potential deal-breaking problem for my theory, in that General Tilney appears to speak to “Captain Tilney” before the departure from Bath to the Abbey. How could that be?

And then of course I realized, this is Emma all over again, in a different setting. General Tilney, while different from Mr. Woodhouse in many ways, is also strikingly similar to him in others. You can readily figure out both, I am sure.

The key point is that I say that General Tilney is as crazy in his own way, as Mr. Woodhouse is in his. Where Mr. Woodhouse is a hypochondriac, paranoid  about his own health, General Tilney is a chauvinist, paranoid about the “health” of the nation. And so Mr. Woodhouse invents  an apothecary to echo back to himself his health paranoia, and General Tilney, offstage, does the same with his “son” Captain Tilney.

That’s how Eleanor’s boyfriend could impersonate “Captain Tilney”, who, I believe, did die before the novel begins while in service in some situation (even if not exactly as Henry Tilney described in his lurid story telling about a riot in London). The  General, like the grieving father in Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy, is driven made by the death of his son, cannot believe he has died, and therefore is  ripe for opportunistic  manipulation (in a good cause, because the General really is a bad man) by Henry (later joined  by Eleanor), so that eventually Eleanor can marry her lover, but with the earlier necessary covert operation in which (as Aiken eerily suggested) Isabella Thorpe  is tricked into giving James Morland up.

And I conclude, for now, by pointing out  that General Tilney also has his medical issues, not just Mr. Woodhouse. And while Akiko Takei wrote  an interesting article a while ago arguing that the General is ((like Admiral Croft) gouty, I believe that JA is hereby revisiting the “sex with virgins” theme  from Garrick’s Riddle  that Mr.Woodhouse tries to remember. Now it  gives a real shiver to realize that my long standing belief that the General was courting Catheirne for himself takes on a horrific  dimension when we realize that Kitty a fair  but frozen maid might just  be Kitty (i.e.,Catherine) Morland!

There’s much much more to tell about why this reading works so well, but not tonight.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode  on Twitter

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