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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What if it were proven tomorrow that Jane Austen’s novels have LGB subtext?

With all the posts I’ve written the past several years in which I’ve presented evidence for my claim that there is a great deal of lesbian and/or gay subtext in Jane Austen’s novels and letters, it never occurred to me until an hour ago to pose the following hypothetical question to those who read what I write about JA:

If it were proven tomorrow, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Jane Austen’s letters and/or novels contain some form or another of LGBT subtext that was clearly intentional on Jane Austen’s part, how do you think that would affect how you think and/or feel about Jane Austen’s novels?

Please note, I said this was a hypothetical question, because I already know from my monitoring of the daily pulse of Janeites, both online and in person, that, as of this moment, a supermajority of Janeites do not believe there is any such thing in her writings. I am not under any delusion that I have made much of  a dent in that widespread (but not universally held) opinion.

But let’s imagine that a duly authenticated manuscript in Jane Austen’s own handwriting—whether a letter or a portion of a draft of one of the novels---were to be discovered, and then duly authenticated by standard handwriting analysis, which made it clear even to skeptics that, e.g., Jane Austen intentionally wrote Charlotte Lucas or Mary Crawford as leading a secret, but active, lesbian lifestyle, unbeknownst to Eliza Bennet and Fanny Price, respectively.

As to those many of you who today do not believe this to be the case, can you, in the spirit of devil’s advocacy, go with this hypothetical suggestion, and imagine reading an article describing such a discovery, including quotes from mainstream Austen scholars affirming that they have been so convinced for the first time?

I.e., I’m asking you to ask yourselves how you think this startling new information would affect your love of Jane Austen’s writing? Would it, e.g., sour the whole thing for you, making you feel betrayed by Jane Austen for misleading you? Or, after you got over the shock, would it expand your admiration for her? or would you have some other reaction?

I hope I’ve made it really clear that I am NOT asking you to agree with me, today, in the real world as it is. I’m only asking you to play a game of what if, and imagine how you think it would affect you as a Janeite, IF it became a “truth universally acknowledged” about Jane Austen.

I lead off by stating that I myself went through this very same journey. Although I first became acquainted with Jane Austen in 1995, and first started reading her novels in 1996, I had absolutely no clue until 2006 that there might be any substantial LGBT subtext in JA’s writings. It was in the summer of 2006 that,as I was first digging deep into MP, I first took a second long look at Rozema’s 1999 adaptation, and wondered whether Rozema’s depiction of the erotic charge between Mary and Fanny was entirely a figment of Rozema’s imagination, or if she had picked up on what was everywhere implied but never stated openly, in the text of MP.

And so, as I have seen more and more of this LGB subtext in JA’s writings over the past 9 years—and I should add, I am a straight man who supports LGBTQ rights wholeheartedly, but I had, and still have, no theoretical axe to grind in finding this in JA---for me, this evolution in my perception of that subtext in her writing has only added immeasurably to my admiration for her writing and for her personally as a courageous author and human being, and also to my sense that this, too, was something in which she emulated her literary master, Shakespeare. And I am convinced that had I been gay or bisexual, I’d have seen this subtext sooner – it was only my own straightness that for over a decade blinded me to the evidence.

But everyone is different, and so I am genuinely curious to hear any reactions I may receive, and I promise not to try to argue anyone out of their opinion, no matter how contrary it may be to my own.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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