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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The numerous intentional distortions in James Edward Austen Leigh's 1870 Memoir

[the following post is an excerpt from a longer 2013 post of mine in which I argued that the image of Jane Austen on the 2017 British 10 pound note should be the authentic one sketched by her sister Cassandra and on display in the National Portrait Gallery and not the phony placid bovine version that Jane's nephew James Edward Austen Leigh (JEAL) commissioned for his 1870 Memoir of his long deceased Aunt Jane]

 I have previously blogged on several occasions about the clearly intentional editorial distortions and outright lies that JEAL promulgated in the Memoir, such as these…
And that’s only skimming the surface. I want to conclude by bringing to your attention what I believe to be the best treatment out there in print on the subject of JEAL’s deceptions in the Memoir--- Searching for Jane Austen (2004), by Emily Auerbach.
My source for what follows is Chapter 1 of her book, entitled “Dear Aunt Jane: Putting Her Down and Touching Her Up”, but you will find much of that same material in the 2005 print Persuasions, under the title "Searching for Jane Austen: restoring the 'fleas' and 'bad breath'.":
Here are some excerpts from Auerbach’s first chapter, which perfectly sum up why the Bank of England should change everything in their planned 10-pound note (while keeping Jane Austen, of course!). Tell me if you don’t get M.A.D. just reading what JEAL did!:
“Book jackets of new Austen studies sport prettified images of her face surrounded with flowers and lace, and comedians joke about men dragged to Austen movies against their wills. Old attitudes die hard. Old texts die hard, too…Internet users [and here I would add, the Bank of England] priding themselves on their state-of-the-art technology unknowingly download not only distorted representations of Austen’s face, but also incomplete or altered versions of her writing. As we will see, Austen’s relatives and early editors would be pleased to know this: they worked hard to sweeten her image, weaken her words, and soften her bite. Paradoxically, JA nowadays seems everywhere yet still hard to find. Hence my title: Searching for Jane Austen.”
And then this about JEAL’s techniques for deception and distortion:
“Like his brother Henry, James Austen emphasized his sister’s mild and traditional feminine nature….His sister did not let her writing inflame her vanity or pride or distract her from completing useful chores, James insisted. James’s son, JEAL, continued this verbal softening in his 1870 Memoir…We are still feeling the effects of the JA myth constructed in 1870 for public consumption ….Noting that her nephews and nieces ‘did not think of  her as being clever’….JEAL emphasizes those qualities considered ladylike …JEAL presents his modest aunt’s occupation as a little hobby for her own amusement and claims she felt no mortification about her lack of early success…”
Then, after detailing the cynical, calculating and unacknowledged editing of the first JA letter JEAL refers to in the Memoir, Auerbach brilliantly concludes:
“In effect, JEAL creates a brilliant Catch-22. After removing references to politics and literature from the letters, he then observes that his songbird-like aunt takes ‘no notice of politics or public events’ and avoids ‘discussions of literature.’ This pattern continues throughout the Memoir…”

And that's not the half of it.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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