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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pride & Prejudice, Tom Jones, and Jacob & Esau

In Janeites, Jane Fox wrote: “You mentioned Peyton Place. Lovely notion. We could also say [Jane Austen] could have written something similar to Tom Jones about her society. “

Jane, you just had what I call a Trojan Horse Moment, because on some subconscious level I believe you realized that Jane Austen DID write something similar to Tom Jones—it’s called the shadow story of Pride & Prejudice!!!!

And you’ve actually given me the prompt to provide another piece of the interpretation I started a few days ago with Part One of the evidence for Elizabeth having REALLY been into Wickham in a very intense, sexual way, and vice versa, in Pride & Prejudice.

I.e., what I see going on between Elizabeth and Wickham in those few chapters when their romance briefly bursts into bright flame, before it is abruptly extinguished, is very much like the sparks that fly between Sophie Western and Tom Jones.

And, in the shadow story of P&P, as Linda Berdoll recognized a decade ago, Wickham is actually the half brother of Darcy, i.e., they share the same father ---just think Jacob (Darcy) and Esau (Wickham).

But here’s the ironic twist in JA’s allusion to Fielding’s masterpiece. In the shadow story of P&P, Wickham is the hero, Tom Jones, while Darcy is the sleazy hypocritical villain, Blifil ---except that  while in Tom Jones, the story ends as comedy, because Tom gets the heroine, whereas in the shadow story of  P&P, there’s a strong tragic flavor, because it’s the Blifil who gets the Sophie, by successful manipulation of his brother’s good natured but carnal weakness.

Definitely not a happy ending, but a cautionary tale about the even more dangerous sort of suitor, the kind who pretend to reform, but really are all about Winning the Girl (and thereby the Game).

Jane Fox also wrote: “It would be fun to read a novel based on Emma with all of Arnie's imaginative twists. How about it, Arnie? But if you write it, put is firmly in the society of its time.”

Whereas I know that I am actually just using my imagination to decode the shadow story that Jane Austen herself wrote. And that shadow story was very much a story set in the society of her time as it actually existed---in all its horribly anti-female bias that was denied by the powers that be.

Don’t believe The Myth of Jane Austen, which still widely prevails among Janeites---it’s was a mirage then, and it’s a mirage today.

And you’re right, Jane Austen’s shadow stories ARE fabulous stories, that have never (yet) been told properly, because I’ve only ever hinted at various pieces of the six of them. But I WILL tell them as a coherent whole soon, and I hope you will enjoy them, however you choose to see them.

I can only reiterate what I’ve said a hundred times before –I could never, on my own, have invented such a perfectly interlocked plot of the shadow story of Emma, where Jane Austen keeps twelve dishes (main characters) spinning at the top of twelve poles….
…and yet never drops a single one --- and this is while, in a parallel fictional universe,  she keeps those same twelve dishes spinning in a DIFFERENT pattern than in the overt story.

They both work perfectly—but everything is topsy-turvy between them. What a magnificent even miraculous artistic achievement on her part.

In short, I am not a fictional genius, as she was—I am just a master decoder of the handiwork of fictional geniuses, and that is good enough for me—it requires every ounce of creative imagination I can summon up!

And remember what DW Harding wrote 75 years ago:

"…her books are, as she meant them to be, read and enjoyed by precisely the sort of people whom she disliked; she is a literary classic of the society which attitudes like hers, held widely enough, would undermine."

DW Harding would, I believe, have been thrilled to learn that there were alternative versions of each of her novels which could be read and enjoyed by precisely the sort of people whom she LIKED.

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: Jennifer Preston Wilson was the first, in 2004, to notice that the story of Jacob and Esau was played out in P&P. However, her analysis was based on her reading of what i call the overt story of P&P. As I indicate, above, the Biblical tale is a much closer fit to the shadow story of P&P, in which Darcy, like Jacob, tricks his brother twice and gets away with it both times, and walks off with the birthright that makes him Israel.

Similarly, there have been Austen scholars who’ve noticed that Tom Jones lurks behind P&P, but they, like Jennifer Preston Wilson, could only interpret that allusion through the wrong lens of the overt story of P&P, when the shadow story is so much closer to Fielding’s masterful plot.

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