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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sophia Sentiment, Princess Sophia, Eastern Tales, Kangaroos, Wild Beasts, & Strange Business in America

In Austen-L, Anielka Briggs wrote:  “I am thinking/writing about the Sophia Sentiment letter and trying to ascertain whether or not it is by JA. May I ask a question of every and any individual who cares to reply? Do you believe it was written by Jane Austen or not?”

Anielka, I have been firmly convinced of JA as the true author of the Sophia Sentiment letter (and some others among the Loiterer entries) ever since I first read of that theory (which dates back to the late 80’s as I recall) in 2005. Here are links to my prior posts on JA’s concealed contributions to The Loiterer:

In a nutshell, I see JA’s wickedly satirical hand behind at least two other Loiterer entries, written during the same era, and in the same tone, as JA’s early Juvenilia. But it’s most obvious in Sophia Sentiment’s Letter, which at times reads like JA’s juvenilia, at another point like the narrator of Northanger Abbey, and at still another like JA’s mature  Plan of A Novel .

But as your post has caused me to revisit this topic, now a couple of other aspects of Sophia Sentiment come to mind:

First, and of special importance to me, when Sophia Sentiment complains that the Loiterer archive contains “[n]ot one Eastern Tale full of Bashas and Hermits, Pyramids and Mosques—no, not even an allegory or dream have yet made their appearance in the Loiterer”, I now can say, based on my recent discovery (less than a month ago) that Emma’s Mr. Perry is a representation of the famous fairy “Peri Banou” from the Arabian Nights Entertainments:

So, now I see that JA, at age 40, finally remedied these specific deficiencies of The Loiterer, by including in Emma a character, Mr. Perry, who is, per my deconstruction, straight out of a realistic version of an “Eastern tale”, and also is the subject of Frank Churchill’s supposed ‘dream’, and of course Emma is allegorical in a dozen ways!

So, thank you, Anielka, for prompting me to notice the 3-decade arc of JA’s engagement with “Eastern tales”!

Second, I just learned from this blogger…
that “[t]his theory [of JA as author of Sophia S.] is supported by the fact that (to please Jane?) this was the only edition of The Loiterer ever to be advertised in The Reading Mercury - the Austens' local newspaper. Possibly James paid for this advertisement to please his little sister.

I never knew that, but now that I do, I think that is exactly what happened! It’s a really wonderful extra bit of supporting evidence.

And third (and this is a point I strongly suspect you already had in mind, Anielka, when you wrote your post), I now believe that, somehow, some way, improbable as it  seems, JA, at age 13, could already know enough about the personality of her chronological peer, Princess Sophia, the 12 year old daughter of King George III, to consciously choose that particular Princess’s Christian name for the pseudonymous author of the kind of light, bright and sparkling wit that exudes from every sentence of the Sophia Sentiment letter.  

This is so apt, because everything we know about the real life Princess Sophia from her own writings suggests to me that she was very much a kindred spirit of Jane Austen, a brilliant woman frustrated by her constricted role in a large, psychologically complicated family, and in particular  under the thumb of a domestically tyrannical mother.

And I specifically suspect you of this sly intent, Anielka, because you have written in the past about Princess Sophia, including quietly quoting the Princess’s wittiest bon mot: ““Oh ye Gods, how deadly dull it is, and only think of our going to the Master of Ceremonies’ ball and sitting in a circle there-I wished myself a kangaroo.” 

I cannot help but be reminded of two of JA’s’s own bon mots:

First this from JA’s 1813 letter: “If I am a wild beast I cannot help it. It is not my own fault.”

And second, the following speech by the witty Tom Bertram at a boring Mansfield Park social function:

“…between ourselves, [Mrs. Grant], poor woman, must want a lover as much as any one of them. A desperate dull life hers must be with the doctor," making a sly face as he spoke towards the chair of the latter, who proving, however, to be close at his elbow, made so instantaneous a change of expression and subject necessary, as Fanny, in spite of everything, could hardly help laughing at. "A strange business this in America, Dr. Grant! What is your opinion? I always come to you to know what I am to think of public matters."

I do believe JA in this moment intended her readers to see Dr. & Mrs. Grant as parodic representations of King George III & the Queen, not only in his hinting at a lack of sexual intimacy in the latter stages of both marriages, but also channeling the droll wit of Princess Sophia, and also pointing to war with America, a wickedly satirical political barb to toss at the King who, through his bungling misgovernment, lost the American colonies forever.

And now I will quit while I’m ahead.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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