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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The TWO CANCELLED PASSAGES in Jane Austen’s Letter 142 (and the connection of the first one to the TWO CANCELLED CHAPTERS of Jane Austen’s Persuasion!)

I had no idea when I sat down this morning to write a few comments about Letter 142, that I’d wind up writing what my Subject Line now describes. But at this late stage of my research, every other new lead and revisiting seems to lead to three others I previously found. Why? Because in the universe of Jane Austen’s life and works, everything IS connected, and at the core of the onion, it’s easy to see that global Austenian connectivity. Because it’s all of one piece.

At first, I was merely going to post about how JA, inveterate satirist, in Letter 142...

…went through the motions of condoling with nephew James Edward Austen Leigh (JEAL) as to (his mother) Mary Lloyd Austen’s indisposition. How so? Because after perfunctory condoling, JA abruptly moved from Mary’s illness to the weather, and thence to joking about her own magic power to change the weather—but no wish that Mary’s health would also improve.

JA was unconcerned (given that JEAL was at home in Steventon at that moment) that Mary herself would read Letter 142 at some point. When she returns to the subject of illness, it’s not about Mary’s illness, JA instead jokes about JEAL being not just sick, but really sick, so sick he can’t hold a pen to write. Sick jokes indeed!

That’s when I realized that all this was thinly veiled mockery of the bona fides of the illness of Mary Lloyd Austen, hinting that it was not even real. And, as Ellen has already suggested, there’s a reason why JA would horse around like Holden Caulfield---JA recognizes that the real reason JEAL has not visited Chawton is because his mother Mary won’t let him, but doesn’t want to say that, so instead she keeps feigning phony illnesses to keep him home instead of letting him see the rest of his family.

Sound familiar? Like, say, Mrs. Churchill, with her imaginary illnesses, preventing Frank from visiting his father in Highbury? Of COURSE!!! That’s the subtext of this part of Letter 142, written only months after publication of Emma, and so still overpoweringly fresh in JA’s imagination.  And so, now add Mrs. Churchill to the list of unpleasant Austen characters (like Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Norris, Fanny Dashwood, the sister in law in The Watsons, etc.) who owe at least part of their existence to Mary Lloyd Austen—JA’s favorite sister in law—NOT!

Now, that was the gist of what I had originally planned to say in this post, but I also had meant to check out Ellen’s reference to “the P.S. about Charles’s trial” in Letter 142, which rang a bell. But that was what led me to unexpected revelation---when, in the online text of Letter 142 which I had originally turned to for convenience in cutting and pasting passages from the text….

…I could NOT find ANY reference to Charles’s trial for having lost a ship---in fact there was no reference whatsoever to ANY trial at all in that online version of Letter 142!  How was this possible?

That was my Aha! Moment---when, like Odysseus’s dog which does NOT bark when its old master returns to Ithaca in disguise, I realized that the ABSENCE of this passage in James Edward Austen Leigh’s 1870 Memoir (which was the online text at that link) was extremely significant evidence of JEAL’s editorial foul play.

You may well recall that one of my hobby horses over the past 5 years has been to catalog one editorial malfeasance after another by JEAL in the Memoir. Well, this time, I soon realized, I had stumbled upon the Mother Lode---because this turns out to be the worst example of editorial fraud perpetrated by JEAL, with the ironic overlay that he himself was the recipient of Letter 142 in 1816--- the very letter, it turns out, he censored the most from among those which he included in his Memoir 54 years later!

The Passages JEAL Deleted from Letter 142:   Without further ado, let me present to you now the TWO passages in Letter 142 which JEAL covertly deleted from his transcription of Letter 142:

Deleted Passage #1: This first deleted passage comes right after JA’s joking about Mary Austen’s and JEAL’s mythical illnesses:

“I SUPPOSE IT IS KNOWN AT STEVENTON that Uncle Frank & Aunt Cassandra were to go to Town on some business of Uncle Henry's - & that Aunt Martha had some business OF HER OWN which determined her to go at the same time; - but that Aunt Frank determined to go likewise & spend a few days with her family, MAY NOT BE KNOWN - nor that two other places in the Coach were taken by Capt. & Mrs Clement. - Little Cassy went also, & does not return at present. They are all going to Broadstairs again. - The Aunt Cass: & the Aunt Martha did not mean to stay beyond two whole days, but the Uncle Frank & his Wife PROPOSED BEING PRESSED to remain till Saturday.”

I’ve put in ALL CAPS the verbiage which strongly reminds me of the hinting, winking narrative voice of Emma—the tone of the above passage deleted by JEAL is written in that same mock-absurdist, suggestive tone, which implies a private joke between JA and her reader—but what is the private joke about? Ah, that’s the question!

But isn’t it interesting that JEAL covertly deleted this particular passage? Could that hinting tone be connected to JEAL’s censorship of an Austen family secret from more than a half century before the Memoir was published?

Well, there’s one other fact regarding this deleted passage which I recalled immediately when I saw it—I knew it well, because it is part of a significant discovery I made a year ago, which I’m not ready to make public, but which has to do with JA’s composition of the end of Persuasion.

So I realized today that I ALREADY KNEW, a year ago, a really good reason for why JEAL might have deleted this seemingly trivial description of Austen family travel plans. My learning of JEAL’s deletion thus provided me with unexpected corroboration of my earlier discovery. Like the  boomerang effect of Lady Catherine’s harassment of Lizzy and Darcy, which brings them together, JEAL’s censorship of the above quoted passage in Letter 142 actually taught me that my private interpretation of that passage a year ago, based on utterly different textual evidence, was correct. I.e., JEAL’s deletion told me HE also considered that passage too explosive & significant to publish it even a half century after JA’s death.  

Before I conclude this post, I’ll give you one more hint about my earlier discovery, at least to give you a sense of its significance. But first….
JEAL’s Second Deletion from Letter 142: The second passage that JEAL deleted from Letter 142 when he transcribed it for the Memoir is the following:

“We suppose the Trial is to take place this week, but we only feel sure that it cannot have taken place yet because we have heard nothing of it. A letter from Gm today tells us that Henry as well as William K -- goes to France with his Uncle.- Yrs ever-J. A. “

As to this passage, Le Faye’s fn reveals that this is a reference to Henry Austen’s catastrophic bankruptcy. And so we can hardly be surprised to learn that JEAL deleted this reference to Henry’s bankruptcy, since he did exactly the same thing elsewhere in the Memoir as I first detailed publicly over 4 years ago in a series of 5 posts, beginning with this one…
..and ending with this one….
…which all have to do with JEAL’s attempt to conceal and minimize the devastating effect of being disinherited by Uncle Leigh Perrot (yes, the husband of Aunt Leigh Perrot who was ultimately JEAL’s benefactor!) on the Austen women, from Mrs. Austen to Jane Austen, whose illness got much worse after that bitter news was received at Chawton.

It’s clear to me now that JEAL decided that allowing his readers to know that JA was writing to HIM about Henry’s bankruptcy trial was a very bad idea, it might get them thinking a little too much about the dire finances of the Austen women in 1816, for multiple reasons—so he just cut that offending part out completely, like a surgical removal of a wart.

Le Faye Looks The Other Way, As Usual:   Now that I’ve covered JEAL’s censorship of Letter 142, it’s time to tell you about how Deirdre Le Faye compounded his editorial fraud. Actually, it’s a double play by Le Faye, editor of course of the 3rd & 4th editions of JA’s Letters, and, as I have blogged many times, most notably here….
….the self-appointed Guardian of the Myth of Jane Austen.

While JEAL specialized in covert deletions from relevant texts, Le Faye has never had JEAL’s chutzpah, so her modus operandi is to mislead by silence, i.e., by what she fails to point out, rather than by anything she actively deletes. Here are her two culpable silences:

ONE: Le Faye is silent about JEAL’s deletions from Letter 142: The two omitted passages in Letter 142 were first published by Chapman in 1932, which is when, presumably, Chapman got his hands on the original of Letter 142, and saw that JEAL had omitted them. As I don’t have a copy of Chapman’s 1932 edition, I don’t know if he commented on JEAL’s editorial license—but let’s focus on Le Faye more than 60 years later. Why did SHE fail to flag JEAL’s deletions in a footnote to Letter 142?

TWO: JA wrote Letter 142 the DAY AFTER she started working on the last chapters of Persuasion that got replaced by her, beginning 9 days after she wrote Letter 142. Why did Le Faye fail to flag that chronological connection?  

Omitting just one of these two significant FACTS about Letter 142 would have been an editorial sin! But two? Unconscionable! What could be of greater interest to Janeites reading JA’s letters, than that JEAL had so grossly breached his ethical duty to his readers as to two passages in Letter 142; and that  JA had written Letter 142 at the very moment when she had just started to write the ending of her final completed  novel, and then shortly thereafter revised that ending to provide her readers with one of the most romantic endings of any novel ever written? Most Janeites only read JA’s Letters because of how they feel about her novels! Persuasion is the 900-pound gorilla hiding behind Letter 142!

Whereas Le Faye is only too forthcoming, as to about 1,000 other trivial details of the Letters, with a wealth of information.

So from the fact that Le Faye, in 1995, and then again in 2012, when she had another bite at the editorial apple, chose to deny to Janeites reading Letter 142 any hint as to these  two key facts, I can only infer that she wanted these facts NOT to be noticed.

And the only defense against such editorial concealment is to become so well informed, and so skeptical of Le Faye’s presentation, that you start from scratch, questioning every implication Le Faye leaves you with, especially her silences, and find the answers yourself!

The Connection of the 1st Deleted Passage in Letter 142 to the Cancelled Chapters of Persuasion:

I will conclude with the promised hint about why I am so certain JEAL deleted that first passage from Letter 142 about the Austen family gathering at Chawton the previous week, and perhaps also why Le  Faye failed to alert her readers to the Persuasion subtext of Letter 142---it’s because JEAL (and Le Faye?) knew that JA used that event as a direct inspiration for her revised version of the ending of Persuasion, written very soon after Letter 142!---specifically, for the fateful gathering at the White Hart Inn in Bath!—and one day not too far from now, I will be ready to reveal why that revised ending  is not only at the apex of romantic  climaxes, but  is also a kind of riddle which, when solved, points directly into the deepest of Persuasion’s shadows!

And finally, how ironic that two passages in Letter 142 were “cancelled” by JEAL, intending to conceal, but actually mirroring, JA’s own “cancellation” of the two chapters of Persuasion that JA wrote beginning the day before she wrote Letter 142.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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