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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Jane Austen's garden of punny, low delights

If I somehow found myself at Box Hill, and Frank Churchill limited everyone present to only two puns moderately clever, as quintessential examples of Jane Austen's enormous love of quibbles (Samuel Johnson's word for "puns"), I believe I would bring forward the following two examples, one from her letters and one from her novels:

First, there is the pun I discovered nearly a decade ago in Jane Austen's Letter 57 dated 10/9/1808, written by Jane to sister Cassandra. She casually drops it in, in the midst of a discussion of the repair and dyeing of gowns, and it is about a man who may not have ever existed in reality, but only in Jane Austen's satirical imagination:

"As for Mr. Floor, he is at present rather low in our estimation..."

If you don't get the joke at first, think about it--------eventually you will realize why it is funny that Mr. Floor is "low" in any way, shape, or form.   ;)

And it tells you everything you need to know about Deirdre Le Faye and her extreme tone-deafness to Jane Austen's irony and punning that her annotation for Mr. Floor is (I kid you not):

"Tradesman in Southampton, perhaps a dyer"

Had Le Faye been monitoring activity in Janeites and Austen-L, she might have amended her annotation for her 2012 Fourth Edition.....or, as she said to me at Chawton House in 2009, she still might have maintained that "she didn't believe a word of it!"

And now, for an equally groanworthy pun, which Jane Austen wickedly and audaciously hid in plain sight at one of the most dramatic moments in her most famous novel, the instant when Mr. Darcy appears out of nowhere at Pemberley:

"…[Elizabeth] had instinctively turned away; but stopping on his approach, received his compliments with an embarrassment impossible to be overcome. Had his first appearance, or his resemblance to the picture they had just been examining, been insufficient to assure the other two that they now saw Mr. Darcy, the gardener's expression of surprise, on beholding his master, must immediately have told it."

To recognize the clever pun, you have to remember that at the instant we read about "THE GARDENER'S expression of surprise",  "the other two" unnamed persons who see Mr. Darcy in addition to Elizabeth and the Pemberley gardener, two persons whom pretty much all readers of the novel would imagine are equally surprised to see Mr. Darcy, are none other than........THE GARDINERS!   I.e., how remarkably clever of Jane Austen to find a way to echo the Gardiners's presumed surprise in a phrase referring to the gardener's surprise!

Except.....there's just one final twist.  I referred to "pretty much all readers of the novel", because I am the first among what I imagine is still a very tiny group of readers of P&P from 1813 to the present who has ever believed that the Gardiners are actually NOT in the slightest bit surprised to see Mr. Darcy at that instant! I.e., it has been my interpretation of P&P for the past decade that this dramatic moment in Chapter 43 is actually the culmination of a complex scheme hatched only eight chapters earlier, right after Elizabeth turns down his proposal, by none other than Mr. Darcy himself. This moment is the first real climax (among several) in a "play" written and directed by  Mr. Darcy for the benefit of an audience of one--Elizabeth Bennet--a performance starring not only Darcy and the Gardiners, but also the gardEner and the best performer of them all, Mrs. Reynolds,----a grande dame who successfully delivers the cock-and-bull story to Elizabeth about what a great guy Darcy has always been, and what a rogue Wickham has always been!

So, Jane Austen's cleverness is thus in effect doubled, in that the subliminal echo of the Gardiner's presumed surprise is actually a false echo!

And, in conclusion, I believe Frank and Emma would have found these two examples more than moderately clever, but I will just have to be content to be unable to see the expression of surprise on the faces of those of you reading this post who are unfamiliar with my take on the shadow story of P&P, as to which I've just given you a special sampling, above!

But you are all most heartily welcome and invited to browse in my blog for more bits and pieces of same....

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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