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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, April 3, 2015

The remarkable wordplay that Jane Austen embedded in Emma to point to her “patriot/Hancock” charade

In my posts yesterday, I claimed, in part, that Jane Austen was thinking of, and alluding to, her own unpublished charade ….

 I with a Housemaid once was curst,
Whose name when shortened makes my first;
She an ill natured Jade was reckoned,
And in the house oft raised my second,
My whole stands high in lists of fame,
Exalting e’en great Chatham’s name.

…when she wrote Emma. I further claimed that she coded two winks at that charade into the text of Emma, by choosing Christian names for the two female servants in the novel---Miss Bates’s maid PATTY and the Randalls maid HANNAH---as a dual tip of the hat to the two alternative answers for the first syllable of the answer to the above charade, derived as follows:

“Patty” shortened is “Pat” which combines with “riot” to give “patriot” (the official G-rated answer)

“Hannah” shortened is “Han” which combines with “cock” to give “Hancock”  (the unofficial X-rated answer)

I then wondered why JA did not find a way to work more of this charade into Emma besides the names of the two maids.  I.e., if JA lavished such care on this charade, by tweaking the version she had found in a riddle book to add the X-rated answer without disturbing the G-rated answer, why didn’t she do more, the way she did with all the layers of meaning she wove into the “courtship” charade that did make it into Emma? 

Yesterday. I threw up my hands and gave my best guess, which was that she may have feared that the charade’s reference to “an ill natured jade” was a little too suggestive of sexual meanings, especially when coupled with the sexually-charged words “raised” and “stands” (which is surely why the 1922 first publication of this charade by Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh sanitized it by turning “Housemaid”  into “footboy” and “ill-natured jade’ into “an unruly rogue”).

But today, I awoke with a fresh idea, and went back to the text of Emma and found that Jane Austen did indeed allude to this charade (both the G-rated and the X-rated answers) in THREE different passages in Emma, over and above those two maids’ names.

I will post those three passages on Sunday, but in the interim I wanted to give those of you who would like to try your hand at a bit of literary sleuthing a big hint, so that perhaps you can find one or more of those three passages yourself.

My big hint is simply that you should go here to a searchable online text of Emma….
….and then search in the text (using the CTRL-7 macro on PC’s, I don’t know what you use on Macs) for passages where unusual keywords in the charade, or its two answers (i.e., ill-natured, raised, stands, cock, fame, patriot), or variants of those words, might appear in a cluster in Emma, sufficiently unusual so as to be extremely unlikely to have occurred by chance.

So, give it a go, and come back and let me know if you see any of those three passages in Emma. In all events, I will reveal those passages on Sunday, and then explain why this was not just frivolous wordplay on JA’s part, but was integrally connected to the most important themes in Emma.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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