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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, August 11, 2014

The startling hidden connectedness of THE ONLY two explicit literary allusions which appear in TWO Jane Austen novels

Two weeks ago, during a discussion with Anielka Briggs, I noted that Jane Austen, in Northanger Abbey, misquoted the exact same stanza in Gray’s famous Elegy in the exact same way as her literary poseur Mrs. Elton did in Emma:

Emma, Chapter 33:
“…upon my word, I talk of nothing but Jane Fairfax.—And her situation is so calculated to affect one!—Miss Woodhouse, we must exert ourselves and endeavour to do something for her. We must bring her forward. Such talent as hers must not be suffered to remain unknown.—I dare say you have heard those charming lines of the poet,
        'Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
          'And waste its fragrance on the desert air.'
We must not allow them to be verified in sweet Jane Fairfax."

Northanger Abbey, Chapter 1:
“[Catherine] read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.
From Pope….
From Gray, that
   "Many a flower is born to blush unseen,
   "And waste its fragrance on the desert air."
From Thompson…
From Shakespeare… (from Othello, Measure for Measure & Twelfth Night )”

Aside from this curious revisiting of the same quoted lines, I also am particularly struck by how Catherine, for all that she is supposed by most Janeites to have unsophisticated, underdeveloped literary taste, somehow manages to blunder her way, without any adult guidance, into gathering “a great store of information” from a sampler of three of Shakespeare’s most profound plays (one tragedy, one comedy, and one problem play), in addition to Pope, Gray, and Thompson---a list of literary loves overlapping the refined tastes of three of JA’s greatest readers--- Anne Elliot, Mary Crawford, and Henry Crawford!

But back to my main point. In that post a few weeks ago, I also pointed out that, as far as I was aware, that was the only explicit literary quotation by JA that she repeated in more than one of her novels---which made it very unlikely, I asserted, that this was a haphazard misquotation, and which also made it likely that JA intended it as a significant allusion, and not just random filler.

Well, today I realized that I was not accurate in asserting that as the sole repeated explicit literary allusion in the Austen canon---i.e., I now recognize that there actually is a second explicit literary allusion that also appears in two different Austen novels—although, technically, one of the allusions is a quotation from the particular external literary source, while the other allusion only states the title of that source—still there is inded a second repeated explicit allusion.

Based on those clues, can you guess the identity of that second allusion that JA alluded to, and then revisited in another one of her novels? Hint: if you are a wonk like myself who actually reads scholarly annotations, the answer is right under your nose!  ;)  





Northanger Abbey, Chapter 1:

"Not that Catherine was always stupid—by no means; she learnt the fable of "The Hare and Many Friends" as quickly as any girl in England."


Emma, Chapter 52:

“…[Emma] saw [Mrs. Elton] with a sort of anxious parade of mystery fold up a letter which she had apparently been reading aloud to Miss Fairfax, and return it into the purple and gold reticule by her side, saying, with significant nods,  "We can finish this some other time, you know. You and I shall not want opportunities. And, in fact, you have heard all the essential already. I only wanted to prove to you that Mrs. S. admits our apology, and is not offended. You see how delightfully she writes. Oh! she is a sweet creature! You would have doated on her, had you gone.—But not a word more. Let us be discreet—quite on our good behaviour.—Hush!—You remember those lines—I forget the poem at this moment:
        "For when a lady's in the case,
        "You know all other things give place."
Now I say, my dear, in our case, for lady, read——mum! a word to the wise.—I am in a fine flow of spirits, an't I? But I want to set your heart at ease as to Mrs. S.—My representation, you see, has quite appeased her."
And again, on Emma's merely turning her head to look at Mrs. Bates's knitting, she added, in a half whisper,  "I mentioned no names, you will observe.—Oh! no; cautious as a minister of state. I managed it extremely well."
Emma could not doubt. It was a palpable display, repeated on every possible occasion….”

As has long been identified by Austen scholars, those two lines Mrs. Elton quotes are from Gay’s “The Hare and Many Friends”, the very poem which Catherine Morland learnt by heart at record speed!

And now you know why I hinted that the answer was right under your nose, because it turns out that not only do both of these repeated explicit allusions appear in both NA and Emma, what’s even more striking is that the Gray allusion and the Gay allusion both involve Catherine Morland’s early literary autodidactism in the former, and Mrs. Elton quoting about Jane Fairfax in the latter. And, zeroing in even more minutely…Mrs.Elton’s quotings both hint very histrionically (as only Mrs. Elton can) toward significant, hidden intelligence about the mysterious tight-lipped Jane Fairfax.  

So, what the heck does this very precise hidden parallelism between Emma and Northanger Abbey mean?

I’ll begin my answer by summarizing what I’ve known for nearly a decade now about Mrs. Elton. I.e., one of the linchpins of my analysis of the shadow story of Emma has been that, entirely unknown to Emma (and therefore to the reader as well), Mrs. Elton, while she was still Miss Hawkins, was jilted on Valentine’s Day by Frank Churchill, who had previously given her the same “courtship “ charade that Mr. Elton gives to Emma. Therefore, when Mrs. Elton shows up in Highbury, she is, also entirely unknown to Emma (and the reader), the proverbial woman scorned, who is ruled by an overpowering angry and bitter desire for revenge against the woman whom she blames for “stealing” Frank (with his substantial income and inheritance prospects) away from her ---Jane Fairfax! And Mrs. Elton’s favored tactic for obtaining the most satisfying revenge on Jane is blackmail—to coerce Jane, by threatening to expose her concealed pregnancy to the worlds of Highbury and London, into the double whammy of  “abolition” (i.e., abortion of Jane’s unborn child) and then “governessing” (i.e., prostitution).

So….I’ve long understood that Mrs. Elton communicated her threats to Jane via coded quotations from popular literature---i.e., the hidden “talents” Mrs. Elton hintingly ascribes to Jane via the Gray quotation are those of a woman of low morals who “performs” sexually in order to win the hand of Frank, the “abominable puppy”, in contrast to Miss Hawkins who refused to “put out” for him, as we read here, via yet another literary allusion, to As You Like It, via “Hymen’s saffron robe”:   

"Very true, Mr. Weston, perfectly true. It is just what I used to say to a certain gentleman in company in the days of courtship, when, because things did not go quite right, did not proceed with all the rapidity which suited his feelings, he was apt to be in despair, and exclaim that he was sure at this rate it would be May before Hymen's saffron robe would be put on for us. Oh! the pains I have been at to dispel those gloomy ideas and give him cheerfuller views! The carriage—we had disappointments about the carriage;—one morning, I remember, he came to me quite in despair."
She was stopped by a slight fit of coughing…”

And similarly, Mrs. Elton quotes Gay’s “Hare and Many Friends” to remind the very pregnant (“in the case”) Jane how vulnerable Jane really is, like a “hare” without strong friends to protect her from the “bull”—Mrs. Elton herself!-- who is bearing down on her with cruel intentions. That Mrs. Elton’s vengeful scheme is defeated, because Jane in the end  is a hare who has strong and resourceful friends, is why Jane’s story ends not as a tragedy, but happily.  

So, how does Mrs. Elton’s predilection for covert messages via literary quotation correlate with Catherine Morland’s store of serviceable and quotations?  Why does JA go out of her way to create this covert parallelism between two characters who would seem to otherwise be as opposite as any two characters in the entire Austen canon?  If anything, it’s Isabella Thorpe, and not Catherine, who is the NA character who reminds us of Mrs. Elton in their social climbing and hypocrisy.

I have my own theories as to why JA drew this  covert parallel, but I’ve gone on long enough for today, so I’d be curious to hear from those of you who made it this far in this post what your thoughts are in regard to any or all of the above.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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