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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, January 18, 2016

“Jane Fairfax had been seen WANDERING about the meadows” : Austen’s surprising allusive source!

 In my post yesterday, I claimed that the crucial evidence (hidden in plain sight) in the text of Emma that demonstrated that Knightley was the ghostwriter of the second half of Frank Churchill’s long explanatory letter to Mrs. Weston, was the following passage in Chapter 49 (i.e., two chapters before Knightley supposedly reads Frank’s letter for the first time):

“For a moment or two nothing was said, and [Emma] was unsuspicious of having excited any particular interest, till she found her arm drawn within [Knightley’s], and pressed against his heart, and heard him thus saying, in a tone of great sensibility, speaking low, "Time, my dearest Emma, time will heal the wound.—Your own excellent sense—your exertions for your father's sake—I know you will not allow yourself—." Her arm was pressed again, as he added, in a more broken and subdued accent, "The feelings of the warmest friendship—Indignation—Abominable scoundrel!"—And in a louder, steadier tone, he concluded with, "He will soon be gone. They will soon be in Yorkshire. I am sorry for her. She deserves a better fate."   

I claimed that the words Knightley mutters “in a more broken and subdued accent” (i.e., almost inaudibly and under his breath), before he returns to “a louder, steadier tone”….
….are inadvertently revealing (although Emma is so clueless that she doesn’t even wonder) that Knightley already knows (from reading the first half, and dictated the second!) that Frank’s letter contains the following three excerpts, in which the above words appear in the same order as Knightley mutters them:

“…With the greatest respect, and the WARMEST FRIENDSHIP, do I mention Miss Woodhouse…as soon as [Jane] found I was really gone from Randalls, she closed with the offer of that officious Mrs. Elton; the whole system of whose treatment of her, by the bye, has ever filled me with INDIGNATION and hatred…In short, my dear madam, it was a quarrel blameless on her side, ABOMINABLE on mine.”

What are the odds that this exact parallel sequence occurred randomly or even unconsciously on JA’s part? Vanishingly small, when you also factor in that Knightley at that climactic instant (he’s about to propose to Emma) is quickly mentally running through Frank’s letter, because he’s so worried that Emma still has feelings for Frank. And so, it makes perfect sense that Knightley would serially register Frank’s most self-serving hyperbole (feeling “the warmest friendship” for Emma; being “filled” “with indignation and hatred” at Mrs. Elton for pressuring Jane so much, and feeling guilt for his “abominable” treatment of Jane).  The word “abominable” is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and that’s when Knightley, in exasperation (and we know he’s prone to that feeling when he’s thwarted), grabs hold of  Frank’s insincere, smooth “abominable on mine”, and bluntly and angrily restates it as “abominable scoundrel!”

It was in reviewing my post late last night that I went into my standard followup mode of checking for possible allusions, wondering whether Knightley’s specific mutterings might not only be clues to his ghost writing of Frank’s letter, but also to some literary source for what is happening at that moment in Emma. But even I was not prepared to score a direct bulls-eye with the third or fourth combination of keywords from that cluster. Check out the following passage from another very famous novel published at the very moment Jane Austen began writing Emma, and you tell me if you see a connection to Knightley’s mutterings:

“Leaning, then, still further out of the window, she fixed her nearly hagard, yet piercing eyes upon those of Juliet, and, in a hollow voice, dictatorially added: ‘Where — tell me, I charge you! where is Harleigh?’
Consternation at sight of her altered countenance, and affright at the impetuosity of her questions, produced a hesitation in the answer of Juliet, that, to the agitated Elinor, seemed the effect of surprised guilt. Her pallid cheeks then burnt with the mixed FEELINGS of triumph and INDIGNATION; yet her voice sought to disguise her WOUNDED FEELINGS, and in SUBDUED, THOUGH BROKEN ACCENTS, ‘Tis well!’ she cried, ‘You no longer, at least, seek to deceive me, and I thank you!’ 

Some of you already know from the character names Juliet, Harleigh, and Elinor that this is a dramatic passage from Fanny Burney’s 1814 (and last) novel, The Wanderer! Over the past few years, I have only read portions of The Wanderer, and also some scholarly articles about it, while following other leads, and learning about leads other scholars have seen, regarding connections between The Wanderer and two of  Austen’s other later novels, Mansfield Park [see “Mansfield Park and the 1814 Novels” by Elaine Bander in the 2006  Persuasions] and Persuasion [see “Frances Burney’s The Wanderer, Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and the Cancelled Chapters”  by Jocelyn Harris in the 2009 Persuasions] However, I did not recall seeing any connections to Emma, until Google dropt them into my virtual lap, by sending me straight to the above passage in The Wanderer!

I checked, and found three Austen scholars who had gotten close to realizing there might be a significant allusion to The Wanderer in Emma.

Doody 2015
…These novels may also have influenced FB’s choice of the name in TW for Selina Joddrell, the feminist Elinor’s foolish younger sister. The Joddrell girls’ disagreeable aunt is named Mrs. Maple, perhaps feeding into Austen’s name for the Sucklings’ “Maple Grove”. Selina Suckling (nee Hawkins) is supposed to visit Highbury but never appears. Like the moon after which she is named, she is inconstant and sometimes invisible.”

In Women Writing about Money: Women's Fiction in England, 1790-1820 (2004) by Edward Copeland, he first writes, in passing, that “Jane Fairfax very nearly sets out on the WANDERER’s path in Emma…the exiled tribe of distressed gentlewomen…” and then, a hundred pages later, places Jane F. in close proximity to Burney’s novel, without making an explicit connection:
“When Jane Fairfax WANDERS the fields of Highbury in an agony of despair, ...the impulsive consent she gives to become governess…Frances Burney courageously sends the well born heroine of her last novel The Wanderer into the world of women’s employment….The heroine concludes bitterly that a genteelly educated unprovided and unprotected woman may..have no place in the economy at all…”
Copeland then quotes a short excerpt from Juliet’s desperate thought processes figuring out how to survive economically, and I present now that longish passage, because it is SO much what must be going on in Jane Fairfax’s mind during the Donwell Abbey and Box Hill episodes:

“Her first impulse was to write to Lady Aurora, and implore her protection; but this wish was soon subdued by an invincible repugnance, to drawing so young a person into any clandestine correspondence.
Yet there was no one else to whom she could apply. Alas! she cried, how wretched a situation! And yet, compared with what it might have been! Ah! let me dwell upon that contrast ! What, then, can make me miserable?
With revived vigour from this reflection, she resolved to assume courage to send in all her accounts, without waiting any longer for the precarious assistance of Miss Arbe. Bat what was to follow? When all difficulty should be over with respect to others, how was she to exist herself? Music, though by no means her only accomplishment, was the only one which she dared flatter herself to possess with sufficient knowledge, for the arduous attempt of teaching what she had learnt. Even in this, she had been frequently embarrassed; all she knew upon the subject had been acquired as a dilettante, not studied as an artist; and though she was an elegant and truly superiour performer, she was nearly as deficient in the theoretical, as she was skilful in the practical part of the science of which she undertook to give lessons.
…Her theatrical abilities, though of the first cast, were useless; since from whatever demanded public representation, her mind revolted: and her original wish of procuring herself a safe and retired asylum, by becoming a governess to some young lady, was now more than ever remote from all chance of being gratified.
How few, she cried, how circumscribed, are the attainments of women! and how much fewer and more circumscribed still, are those which may, in their consequences, be useful as well as ornamental, to the higher, or educated class! those through which, in the reverses of fortune, a Female may reap benefit without abasement! those which, while preserving her from pecuniary distress, will not aggravate the hardships or sorrows of her changed condition, either by immediate humiliation, or by what, eventually, her connexions may consider as disgrace!
Thus situated, she could have recourse only to the dull, monotonous, and cheerless plan, from which Miss Arbe had turned her aside ; that of offering her services to Miss Matson as a needlewoman.
Her first step, upon this resolution, was to send back the harp to the music shop. Since no further hope remained of recovering her scholars, she would not pay her court to Miss Arbe at the expence of Miss Bydel. She next dispatched her small accounts to Lady Kendover, Lady Arramede, Miss Sycamore, Miss Brinville, the Miss Crawleys, and Miss Tedman; but, notwithstanding her poverty, she desired to be allowed to have instructed Selina simply from motives of gratitude.”

Then, in Janeites in 2014, Anielka Briggs wrote this in passing: “We could however, more reasonably suggest that Austen re-examined Burney's ideas of musical performance and display in Emma.

Anielka was spot-on in that limited observation, because Emma resents what she sees as Jane’s false modesty in Jane’s showing off her “superior performance” on the pianoforte, just as Juliet desperate job-seeking calculations in the above quoted passage:
“though she was an elegant and truly superiour performer, she was nearly as deficient in the theoretical, as she was skilful in the practical part of the science of which she undertook to give lessons.”

And did you notice that name “Selina” at the end of that Copeland excerpt? That just happens to be the Christian name of Elinor Joddrel’s sister, as Margaret Doody, in her 2015 book, takes notice (but, as with Copeland, Doody does not realize how significant Austen’s allusion to Burney is in Emma):

“…Fanny Burney’s choice of the name in The Wanderer for Selina Joddrell, the feminist Elinor’s foolish younger sister. The Joddrell girls’ disagreeable aunt is named Mrs. Maple, perhaps feeding into Austen’s name for the Sucklings’ “Maple Grove”. Selina Suckling (nee Hawkins) is supposed to visit Highbury but never appears. Like the moon after which she is named, she is inconstant and sometimes invisible.”

So….with all of that in mind, what are we to make of the above parallelism between that passage in The Wanderer and that mutterings passage in Emma, which to me is as incontestable as the dense parallelism between Knightley’s mutterings and Frank’s letter.  I do not pretend to give any sort of definitive answer in this post, but I will present to you some promising avenues of inquiry.

I also went to Wikipedia, and found the following discussion of Burney’s dark, final novel, which resonates strongly with my non-traditional take on Emma, in particular on Jane Fairfax:  
“Throughout The Wanderer, Burney comments on the tyrannical hold that the rich have over the poor in England, showing how the wealthy will accept music lessons from Juliet but refuse to pay for them, placing her in a desperate situation. She also charts the downward spiral of Juliet from gentility to working woman; she begins as a musician and slips into the less-reputable positions of milliner and seamstress. In her cross-class analysis of the problems of women, Burney was probably influenced by Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria (1798). …Elinor Joddrel is the antagonist of the story. She controls her own destiny, largely because she is an umarried heiress, and articulates "feminist views on the economic and sexual oppression of women". …In the character of Elinor, Justine Crump argues in her article on the novel for The Literary Encyclopedia, Burney represents feminist arguments, but she does not either explicitly criticise or endorse them. Doody, however, contends that Burney endorses Elinor's feminist arguments because no character contradicts them and Juliet appears to agree with them. When the two discuss women's issues, Juliet does not dispute Elinor's point of view, she adds more points to her argument. END QUOTE FROM WIKIPEDIA

To me the most telling point is, as with Copeland’s discussion, the parallel between Burney’s overt heroine Juliet and Austen’s shadow heroine, Jane Fairfax. So in some sense, this validates my longstanding claim that Jane F. is the true heroine of Emma, but that JA deliberately told her story from the wrong point of view—i.e., through the eyes of Emma, a clueless, snobbish, narcissistic heiress (perhaps like Elinor Joddrel?), whereas Burney allowed Juliet to tell her own?

And, finally, knowing Jane Austen’s proclivity for covertly tagging her allusions via keywords, I did word searches in the text of Emma for the keywords contained in Burney’s title and subtitle, The Wanderer; or Female Difficulties. As I hoped, there were several interesting passages pointing to (who else?) Jane Fairfax, including most of all this remarkable one which refers three times to Jane’s very female ‘difficulties” making a living—just like Burney’s Juliet---and Mrs. Elton’s appalling coercions!:

"Oh! [Jane] shall not do such a thing again," eagerly rejoined Mrs. Elton. "We will not allow her to do such a thing again:"—and nodding significantly—"there must be some arrangement made, there must indeed. I shall speak to Mr. E. The man who fetches our letters every morning (one of our men, I forget his name) shall inquire for yours too and bring them to you. That will obviate all DIFFICULTIES you know; and from us I really think, my dear Jane, you can have no scruple to accept such an accommodation."
"You are extremely kind," said Jane; "but I cannot give up my early walk. I am advised to be out of doors as much as I can, I must walk somewhere, and the post-office is an object; and upon my word, I have scarcely ever had a bad morning before."
"My dear Jane, say no more about it. The thing is determined, that is (laughing affectedly) as far as I can presume to determine any thing without the concurrence of my lord and master. You know, Mrs. Weston, you and I must be cautious how we express ourselves. But I do flatter myself, my dear Jane, that my influence is not entirely worn out. If I meet with no insuperable DIFFICULTIES therefore, consider that point as settled."
"Excuse me," said Jane earnestly, "I cannot by any means consent to such an arrangement, so needlessly troublesome to your servant. If the errand were not a pleasure to me, it could be done, as it always is when I am not here, by my grandmama's."
"Here is April come!" said she, "I get quite anxious about you. June will soon be here."
"But I have never fixed on June or any other month—merely looked forward to the summer in general."
"But have you really heard of nothing?"
"I have not even made any inquiry; I do not wish to make any yet."
"Oh! my dear, we cannot begin too early; you are not aware of the DIFFICULTY of procuring exactly the desirable thing."

And you also knew that Miss Bates would get in on that action as well, when she quoted Jane’s reaction to receiving the famous pianoforte:

"Aye, I see what you are thinking of, the pianoforte. What is to become of that?—Very true. Poor dear Jane was talking of it just now.—'You must go,' said she. 'You and I must part. You will have no business here.—Let it stay, however,' said she; 'give it houseroom till Colonel Campbell comes back. I shall talk about it to him; he will settle for me; he will help me out of all my DIFFICULTIES.'—And to this day, I do believe, she knows not whether it was his present or his daughter's."

“he will help me out of all my DIFFICULTIES” indeed!

And I conclude with the allusion which made into my Subject Line, from Emma’s remorseful post-Box Hill meditations on Jane Fairfax’s difficulties:

“When Emma afterwards heard that Jane Fairfax had been seen WANDERING about the meadows, at some distance from Highbury, on the afternoon of the very day on which she had, under the plea of being unequal to any exercise, so peremptorily refused to go out with her in the carriage, she could have no doubt—putting every thing together—that Jane was resolved to receive no kindness from her. She was sorry, very sorry. Her heart was grieved for a state which seemed but the more pitiable from this sort of irritation of spirits, inconsistency of action, and inequality of powers; and it mortified her that she was given so little credit for proper feeling, or esteemed so little worthy as a friend: but she had the consolation of knowing that her intentions were good, and of being able to say to herself, that could Mr. Knightley have been privy to all her attempts of assisting Jane Fairfax, could he even have seen into her heart, he would not, on this occasion, have found any thing to reprove.”

And I hope you all have also not found too many things to reprove in my above ruminations.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

1 comment:

Lambton Rose said...

You do a great job with these posts. I enjoy reading and learning more about JA