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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, December 12, 2014

More re Swift's Modest Proposal in Jane Austen's Emma (AND ALSO in Jane Austen's Juveniila, per Emily Auerbach!)

Diane Reynolds, my partner in crime on this latest thread about the veiled allusion to Swift's Modest Proposal in Jane Austen's Emma, wrote the following response to my earlier post:

"Yes, the thin broth--I meant to mention that in my last post--what a thing to send the child out to get, thought he argument will be that it's medicinal ... but probably what the family needs to stay healthy is good food."

Indeed on all points, Diane!

Diane also wrote: "On Swift and on this food theme, and I know I've posted on this before--as it connects to Lamb as well--Lamb's essay on roast pig, which decries the cruelty of killing suckling pigs for the pleasure of overly refined palates (shades of Mr. Woodhouse) is understood to be, in part, a response--or influenced by--A Modest Proposal--and here, in Austen, we have that hind quarter of "the small and delicate" porker that Emma sends to the Bates--naturally, Mr W only wants to send a tiny portion of it (!)--I have searched for some evidence that Lamb published some early version of the roast pig essay before 1820 in vain though I imagine he must have--but I can't find it. Or perhaps he caught JA's Swiftian allusions in Emma--but did he read Emma? In any case, we have the acrostic about lamb, the small and delicate porker, all these food withholding issues and poverty... not an accident. "

No question there is no coincidence or accident here--my personal sense is that JA and Charles Lamb were secretly in contact with each other no later than 1815, possibly a few years earlier--Lamb would have been one of the London literati tuned into JA's first three published novels, beginning in 1811, but especially after P&P was published in January 1813. And we know for a fact that JA was aware of Lamb's 1812 "Triumph of the Whale" doggerel poem about the Prince of WHALES by the time JA wrote the "courtship" charade in Emma, because the charade and the surrounding dialog between Emma and Harriet so clearly alludes to Lamb's poem (also to Cruikshank's caricature, which I found, and which I have used as my blog masthead all along)--and I believe she knew Lamb first from reading his and his sister's 1809 Tales of Shakespeare.  Recall also JA's famous paragraph in her 1812 letter to Martha Lloyd in which JA baldly stated that she hated the Prince Regent.

So what makes the most sense to me from all that "smoke" is that the two of them found each other (especially while JA was in London, it would have been pretty easy to connect, via Henry Austen's many social contacts) and then decided to act as co-conspirators in a worthy cabal to use their talents as writers to satirize the Prince Regent in a variety of ways.

By the way, re the Swift allusion in Emma, I revisited my last hastily written post last night (the writing of which, on my IPhone, helped me pass the time during the 3 hour power outage we experienced here in Portland due to high winds!), and I have now done better justice to my realization that Jane Fairfax's concealed pregnancy is right there alongside Emma's "charity" to the poor sick family near the Vicarage, at the center of the veiled allusion to Swift's "Modest Proposal":
Now finally Jane Fairfax's numerous connections to all things Irish (supposed suitors, fashions, melodies, mails, & car parties) are revealed to have a unified, deeper significance--they are all meant to associate Jane and her concealed pregnancy (which of course involves an "inconvenient" baby) with Swift's Modest Proposal about "inconvenient" Irish babies.

And....I did some more digging, and found that the sharp-eyed Emily Auerbach has the following very interesting discussion at p. 57 of her 2005 Searching for Jane Austen (which I've quoted from with approval on several occasions) which is spot-on,  I believe, in spotting Jane Austen's affinity for Swift's Modest Proposal even in JA's early Juvenilia, and also connects the thematic dots to Emma, although Auerbach did not grasp the wild audacity of the mature JA to bring the essence of Swift’s savage satire right there into plain sight all over the place in Emma:

"Irony allows Austen to expose the discrepancy between what people say and what they mean, what they proscribe for others and what they practice themselves, what they pretend and what they know to be true...LIke modern real estate ads that call a small dump a 'cozy abode', Austen cites in ' A Tale' an advertisement for a cottage that is 'ready furnished except two rooms & a Closet.' The catch? It turns out the house only has two rooms and a closet!
Could Austen's irony have a political bite to it? Does she imply that the upper classes pose as benevolent while engaging in cruelty to those beneath them on the social ladder? Austen opens one sketch with the startling sentence, 'Sir George and Lady Harcourt were superintending the Labours of their Haymakers, rewarding the industry of some by smiles of approbation, and punishing the idleness of others, by a cudgel' (Henry and Eliza). In "A Fragment written to inculcate the practise of Virtue' (which Chapman notes was 'erased in MS'), Austen takes an understated stab at the heartlessness of the fortunate toward the unfortunate:
We all know that many are unfortunate in their progress through the world, but we do not know all that are so. To seek them out to study their wants, & to leave them unsupplied is the duty, and ought to be the Business of Man. But few have time, fewer still have inclination, and no one has either the one or the other for such employments. Who amidst those that perspire away their Evenings in crouded assemblies can have leisure to bestow a thought on such as sweat under the fatigue of their daily Labour. ' 
THIS READS MORE LIKE JONATHAN SWIFT THAN JANE AUSTEN. Members of the leisure class lack the time and inclination to concern themselves with tired, perspiring laborers, so they leave their needs 'unsupplied'. LIKE THE NARRATOR OF SWIFT'S "MODEST PROPOSAL" who pretends to approve of boiling the children of poor people for food, the narrator of Austen's fragment labels it the 'duty' and 'business' of the upper class to IGNORE the plight of workers. Did Austen abandon this fragment-erase it, in fact-because it was moving in a more radical direction than she felt comfortable pursuing, OR DID AN AUSTEN RELATIVE LATER ERASE IT? Whichever is the case, it remains fascinating that Austen wrote it at all.
In 'A Collection of Letters", the haughy Lady Greville tells Maria, 'It is not my way to find fault with people because they are poor, for I always think that they are more to be despised & pitied than blamed for it.' This foreshadows Lady Catherine de Bourgh of P&P, whose approach to the poor is to sally forth into the village 'to scold them into harmony and plenty.' ...In another juvenile sketch included in "A Collection of Letters", the materialistic Henrietta boasts with no awareness of her ridiculousness, " I AM very Charitable every now and then' ...THIS ANTICIPATES EMMA WOODHOUSE, WHO FOLLOWS "a charitable a poor sick family' by forgetting all about them within minutes, distracted by her own matchmaking plans."  END QUOTE FROM AUERBACH

This is astonishingly strong proof of something I have been saying all along-i.e., that the radical over the top social satire of the Juvenilia was not abandoned by the mature Austen—instead the mature genius Jane Austen found ways of hiding in plain sight that exact same message---shouting out the many ways that the Emperor  —or at least the King and the rest of the ruling elite of Great Britain—had no clothes on, morally speaking.

JA was inspired by Swift's Modest Proposal at age 13, and was still inspired by same 20 years later when she wrote Emma-she just dusted off those identical plot twists and characters, and resurrected them in their full glory. Emma Woodhouse is that very same Henrietta!
Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

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