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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, November 28, 2016

The reason why Willoughby say he stops at MARLBOROUGH in particular on his way to CLEVELAND

At the end of Ch. 43 and the beginning of Ch. 44 of Sense & Sensibility, we read the following brief passage describing Willoughby’s shocking arrival at Elinor’s door:

“At seven o'clock, leaving Marianne still sweetly asleep, she joined Mrs. JENNINGS in the drawing-room to tea. Of breakfast she had been kept by her fears, and of dinner by their sudden reverse, from eating much;—and the present refreshment, therefore, with such feelings of content as she brought to it, was particularly welcome. Mrs. JENNINGS would have persuaded her, at its conclusion, to take some rest before her mother's arrival, and allow her to take her place by Marianne; but Elinor had no sense of fatigue, no capability of sleep at that moment about her, and she was not to be kept away from her sister an unnecessary instant. Mrs. JENNINGS therefore attending her up stairs into the sick chamber, to satisfy herself that all continued right, left her there again to her charge and her thoughts, and retired to her own room to write letters and sleep.
[skip 4 paragraphs] ………
"No, sir," she replied with firmness, "I shall not stay. Your business cannot be with me. The servants, I suppose, forgot to tell you that Mr. PALMER was not in the house."
"Had they told me," he cried with vehemence, "that Mr. PALMER and all his relations were at the devil, it would not have turned me from the door. My business is with you, and only you."
"With me!"—in the utmost amazement—"well, sir,—be quick—and if you can—less violent."
"Sit down, and I will be both."
[skip more paragraphs and dialog] ….
"Mr. Willoughby, I advise you at present to return to Combe—I am not at leisure to remain with you longer.—Whatever your business may be with me, it will be better recollected and explained to-morrow."
"I understand you," he replied, with an expressive smile, and a voice perfectly calm; "yes, I am very drunk.— A pint of porter with my cold beef at MARLBOROUGH was enough to over-set me."
"At Marlborough!"—cried Elinor, more and more at a loss to understand what he would be at.
"Yes,—I left London this morning at eight o'clock, and the only ten minutes I have spent out of my chaise since that time procured me a nuncheon at MARLBOROUGH."
The steadiness of his manner, and the intelligence of his eye as he spoke, convincing Elinor, that whatever other unpardonable folly might bring him to CLEVELAND, he was not brought there by intoxication…”

I write this post not to comment on the action depicted in the above scene (although I do have a response in the works to Diana re: Willoughby’s cryptic ‘half hour’), but to note a sly, remarkable, quadruple conjunction of four historical names, hidden in plain sight within those 1000+ words, which comprise less than 2/3 of a percent of the entire length of S&S. To wit:

JENNINGS (3x), then PALMER (2x),  then MARLBOROUGH (3x), then CLEVELAND (1x)!

Those who know English history pretty well will have already spotted the conjunction, which can also be accessed by everyone else simply by Googling those four names together. The first Google hit is the Wikipedia page for Sarah Churchill, Duchess of MARLBOROUGH, nee Sarah JENNINGS. And the reason why those four names lead there can be found in the body of the Wikipedia article: the cousin of Sarah JENNINGS’s famous war hero husband (John Churchill, Duke of MARLBOROUGH) was the well-known woman with whom he had a pre-marital affair --his own cousin Barbara PALMER, Duchess of CLEVELAND!  

While I believe the above is the first complete articulation of this quadruple, localized name conjunction in S&S, it has been a while coming. So, here’s a short history of the scholarly detection of aspects of it (in case you were wondering, Frank Churchill’s surname in Emma as a wink at John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, was first detected way back in the early 1980s, but as far as I can tell, no one made the mental leap over to include S&S as well, until the following):

In Feb. 2006 in Janeites, Elissa took the first baby step in this direction, by connecting Sarah Jennings to JA’s fiction:
“…there is much precedent for "pretty," conventionally feminine but politically active and strong women in England from Elizabeth I to Sarah Jennings Churchill, first Duchess of Marlborough…”

Then, in Sept. 2010, also in Janeites, Elissa went much further, connecting Sarah Jennings to S&S:
This is not the only time, it seems to me, that JA invokes resonances of past English social-political-religious history to comment on the position of women vis-a-vis men, the gender power difference, and matters of autonomy and calls her reader's attention to it by use of name. I am thinking of Mrs. Jennings (given name??), who, interestingly appears in a novel where some women have a good deal of power and autonomy that they have attained by virtue of money and force of personality, generally combined…The name Sarah Jennings, later Mrs. Churchill, later Duchess to the Duke of Marlborough during reign of Queen Anne, then during and following the succession of William of Orange and Mary, a beautiful and extremely powerful politically adroit woman springs to mind and cannot help but reverberate in JA's novel.”

In June 2014 in Janeites, I brought Barbara Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland, into the mix:  
"Sarah JENNINGS was born on 5 June 1660...Sarah became close to the young Princess Anne in about 1675, and the friendship grew stronger as the two grew older. In late 1675, when she was still only fifteen, she met John CHURCHILL, 10 years her senior, who fell in love with her. Churchill…had previously been a lover of Charles II’s mistress, Barbara PALMER, Duchess of CLEVELAND…If anyone thinks it is merely a coincidence that the names CHURCHILL, JENNINGS, PALMER & CLEVELAND are all connected to one real life person, as well as to JA's novels, then...nothing I write will ever convince you of anything.”

However, it was only this week, while working on the mystery of Willoughby’s trip to Cleveland that I noticed those two sly winks at Willoughby stopping for a porter/meat nuncheon at “Marlborough”, and that led me to recognize that the above-quoted passage in S&S is Ground Zero for JA’s four-name game.

By the way, Janine Barchas missed this one in her otherwise remarkably thorough trawling of English historical references in JA’s fiction in her recent Matters of Fact in Jane Austen; and Margaret Doody, who apparently doesn’t read in Janeites (and didn’t Google and find my blog version of my above June 2014 post), wrote about the lives of both Sarah Jennings Churchill and Barbara Palmer in her 2015 Jane Austen’s Names, but as you can see, she was late to our party.

So, where does that take us? I think the concentration of those four names within that very short span late in Ch. 44, in perhaps the most dramatic scene in the novel, was deliberate on JA’s part. JA could have chosen any of a few dozen other place names for the highway stop where Willoughby takes his nuncheon, and so I see her choice of “Marlborough”, in such close proximity to those other three names, as no accident. At a minimum, I take it as a sign that we should focus on that scene, and ask hard questions about it, like those I’ve brought up this past week, as to which I have received so many excellent responses. It’s analogous to the quadruple arrival of three suitors and an aunt in Meryton, all focused, seemingly independently, on Elizabeth Bennet. Not a coincidence!

Before I close, there are three other noteworthy Austen connections to Sarah Jennings Churchill:

First, in Wikipedia, we read:
“Sarah had a rival for Churchill in Catherine Sedley, a wealthy mistress of James II and the choice of Churchill's father, Sir Winston Churchill, who was anxious to restore the family's fortune. It is likely that John hoped to take Sarah as a mistress in place of the Duchess of Cleveland, who had recently departed for France; but surviving letters from Sarah to John show her unwillingness to assume that role. In 1677, Sarah's brother Ralph died, and she and her sister, Frances, became co-heirs of the Jennings estates in Hertfordshire and Kent. John chose Sarah over Catherine Sedley, and they were secretly married in the winter of 1677, publicly on 1 October 1678.”

The Austen connection here is that Catherine Sedley was the paternal grandmother of the very same Mrs. Pole (aka the widow of Erasmus Darwin) who wrote glowing and perceptive praise for JA’s experimental observations of her social world. I wonder whether Mrs. Pole and JA ever chatted about Mrs. Jennings as a wink at Mrs. Pole’s grandmother!

Second, Amanda Foreman in The Duchess [of Devonshire], wrote this about Georgiana’s father, John Spencer, who was the younger of the two grandsons of Sarah & John Churchill:
“His father, the Hon. John Spencer, was in fact a younger son and, given the law of primogeniture, had always expected to marry his fortune or live in debt. However, his mother was the daughter of the first Duke of Marlborough, and the Marlboroughs had no heir. To prevent the line from dying out the Marlboroughs obtained special dispensation for the title to pass through the female line. John’s older brother Charles became the next Duke. John, meanwhile, became head of the Spencer family and subsequently inherited Althorp. Charles had inherited the title but, significantly, he had no right to the Marlborough fortune until his grandmother Duchess Sarah, the widowed Duchess of Marlborough, died. Except for Blenheim Palace, she could leave the entire estate to whomever she chose. Sarah had strong political beliefs and she was outraged when Charles disobeyed her instruction to oppose the government of the day. In retribution she left Marlborough’s £1 million estate to John, with the sole proviso that neither he nor his son should ever accept a government post.”

So, Sarah Jennings Churchill wound up doing something remarkably similar to her grandsons, as Mrs. Churchill probably threatened to do to Frank Churchill in Emma, and as Mrs. Ferrars actually did to her sons in S&S – i.e., she disinherited the elder of the two brothers, because the elder brother took an action she violently disapproved of!

And finally, read this from my 2014 post re the parallel between Sarah Jennings Churchill and the “Galigai for ever and ever” whom JA mentioned in her letter 159 to Anne Sharp:

“And in that same vein, I believe, after reading up a good deal today about the relationship between Maria de Medicis and Eleonora Galigai de Concini, that at least a part of the widespread hatred & demonization of Galigai—the horrible cry of “Burn the witch!” repeated in countless varied ways a thousand times, over millennia, all over the world, against women who in any way transgressed, or seemed to transgress, against the cruelly unfair restrictions imposed on their gender--was due to the perception that Galigai was not merely manipulating Maria, who was after all mother of the King of France, for gain and power, but the added extra inciting factor that her manipulation was believed to be at least partly based on a lesbian relationship between them.
And that would be strikingly similar to another royal scenario that played out in England less than a century after Galigai was put to death, and, in that regard, I leave it to an 1844 commentator to give you part one of the explanation of that connection….
Notice of Windsor in Olden Times by John Stoughton, at p. 222: “No reader of English history can fail to associate with the reign of Anne the name of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, whose history is also linked to the locality of Windsor by several interesting incidents. There, in her palmy days, she gave examples of the marvellous influence which she had acquired over her royal mistress, an influence which it has been well remarked, was the same as the sorcery which Leonora Galligai avowed to her judges over Mary de Medicis— "the power of a strong upon a weak mind." She was appointed by the queen ranger of Windsor Park, an appointment which she greatly valued, and had a residence there appropriated for her use, to which she was much attached. The lodge of the park, she remarks, was a very agreeable residence; and "Anne had remembered, in the days of their friendship, that the duchess, in riding by it, had often wished for such a place." The castle was the scene of many a visit from "Queen Sarah," as she was popularly called, till her influence was undermined by the intrigues of the famous Mrs. Masham, that singular personage in English history.”

One way or another, it’s utterly clear to me that Sarah Jennings Churchill was a very big deal in JA’s fiction and life, and so it behooves us to pay the closest attention to her namesake, S&S’s Mrs. Jennings, who, despite her seeming a mere kind hearted, foolish gossip and busybody, increasingly takes on the aspect of the oracle of S&S.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The two deathbed utterances of Sense & Sensibility

It has often been noted that, for all of the vivid psychological realism of JA’s novels, they contain very few direct references to, and no enacted depiction of, the ultimate fact of human existence: death. Unless my memory fails me, there are only four characters who actually die during the chronology of any of the six novels, with none of those deaths being depicted in actual scenes. They are:

Mr. Henry Dashwood, at the very beginning of S&S;
Mr. Norris at the beginning of MP, and Dr. Grant at the very end of MP; and
Mrs. Churchill near the end of Emma.

Of course, there is fear for the lives of a couple of characters --- Marianne Dashwood and Louisa Musgrove --- but they both survive and fully recover from their respective ailments.

This dearth of Austenian death is perhaps not as surprising as it at first seems, because the action of all the novels except MP takes place in a very constricted time frame of one year or less; plus, the majority of the main characters are under 25, and nearly all are under the age of 45, and so there are just not that many old characters ready to shuffle off their mortal coil while we are observing them.

But this Austenian death scarcity extends further. We find perhaps its most extreme example in the remarkable number of apparently deceased parents (of young characters) who are never, or only barely and incompletely, mentioned, in Emma. We never hear a single word about the parents of the Knightley brothers, or those of Mr. Elton or Miss Hawkins, for that matter; we get a short paragraph about Jane Fairfax’s parents; we hear nothing at all about Harriet’s mother, and we only hear that Harriet’s father was a “tradesman” at the very end. And to a lesser extent, that pattern holds true in most of the other novels as well. Explicit backstory about deceased family in Austen novels is very scarce indeed.

What’s less striking, but also significant, is how little we hear, beyond the vaguest generalities, about the words spoken by the dead while they lived. Lady Catherine reports (if we can believe her) that her sister the late Mrs. Darcy had decades earlier made a pact with her for their firstborn children to marry. Mr. Woodhouse (disturbingly) reports that his late wife loved Garrick’s Kitty riddle. And the great Mrs. Churchill never gets to speak a word during the entire action of her novel, even when she dies “after a brief struggle” (a phrase that Leland Monk was the first, in 1990, to take as evidence that Frank Churchill smothered her!).

All of that omission and scarcity in the rest of the Austen canon therefore makes it quite noteworthy that it is only in Sense & Sensibility that we hear about not one, but two deathbed utterances! The first is in Chapter 1, and we all instantly recall the gist of this brief narration describing the words of the dying Henry Dashwood to his son John: “His son was sent for as soon as his danger was known, and to him Mr. Dashwood recommended, with all the strength and urgency which illness could command, the interest of his mother-in-law and sisters.”

As memorable as that narration is, so is almost universally unnoticed the other reference to a dying character’s words in S&S. Before today, I never did. It was only while reading a scholarly article about Mrs. Jennings, who has occupied my special attention the past few days, that I read a quotation of the last dozen words of the following narrative passage:

“Neither Lady Middleton nor Mrs. Jennings could supply to [Elinor] the conversation she missed [in Edward’s absence]; although the latter [Mrs. Jennings] was an everlasting talker, and from the first had regarded her with a kindness which ensured her a large share of her discourse. She had already repeated her own history to Elinor three or four times; and had Elinor's memory been equal to her means of improvement, she might have known very early in their acquaintance all the particulars of Mr. Jennings's last illness, and what he said to his wife a few minutes before he died.”

Just as Emma zones out while Miss Bates is speaking, and therefore ignores the rich subtext of her torrent of words, so too does Elinor do the same in a less obvious way vis a vis Mrs. Jennings. In the above passage, JA’s narrator may seem to be joining in Elinor’s non-listening, suggesting a lack of substance to be attended to, and so we readers tend to tune it out as well. But having recognized Mrs. Jennings as another garrulous but unheeded Cassandra, I wondered for the first time today----what did Mrs. Jennings’ late husband say to her “a few minutes before he died”, that Mrs. Jennings apparently repeated to Elinor? Was this echo of Henry Dashwood’s precatory bequest for his wife and daughters intentional on JA’s part, or purely random? I think not. And, thinking about it further, how long ago did he die? I find a clue to the answer to both questions in this narration: “Mrs. Jennings was a widow with an ample jointure. She had only two daughters, both of whom she had lived to see respectably married, and she had now therefore nothing to do but to marry all the rest of the world.”

By negative implication, since we don’t read that she and her husband lived long enough to see that happy marital ending for their daughters, I infer that he died a number of years earlier. But, you may ask, why should we care? You probably already know my answer—to me, no “trivial detail” is ever really trivial in an Austen novel. And so I believe we are meant to ask ourselves what deathbed utterance Mr. Jennings may have made to his wife, and to look in earnest to the rest of the novel to help us guess what it was, and how that answer might have shaped the outcome of the story.

As a preliminary stab in that direction ---I get the sense that Mr. Jennings’s last words were, like Mr. Dashwood’s last request to son John, a plea that Mrs. Jennings correct some legal stricture leading to a morally repugnant outcome, by means of some voluntary generosity. E.g., did Mr. Jennings leave behind a loved one to whom he’d been unable to provide a sufficient bequest? Taking that idea one step further, was it also a deathbed confession, in which Mr. Jennings revealed some long-ago concealed misdeed on his part, as to which he wished to relieve a guilty conscience, and/or to provide for an illegitimate child, the result of a dalliance early in their marriage?

That is another meme that resonates with the innuendo that Mrs. Jennings tosses in Brandon’s direction:
"Well, my dear, 'tis a true saying about an ill-wind, for it will be all the better for Colonel Brandon. He will have her at last; aye, that he will. Mind me, now, if they an't married by Mid-summer. Lord! how he'll chuckle over this news! I hope he will come tonight. It will be all to one a better match for your sister. Two thousand a year without debt or drawback—except the little love-child, indeed; aye, I had forgot her; but she may be 'prenticed out at a small cost, and then what does it signify?...”

So, in the world of S&S, some fathers die with concerns for their children on their lips, and others take responsibility for their illegitimate offspring. So…who might that illegitimate offspring of Mr. Jennings be?

When I look around the ecosystem of characters who might fit into that category, I find my attention being drawn to Lucy Steele and her sister --- they enter the story at Chapter 21 with this paragraph of narration:  “In a morning's excursion to Exeter, they had met with two young ladies, whom Mrs. Jennings had the satisfaction of discovering to be her relations…Lady Middleton was thrown into no little alarm on the return of Sir John, by hearing that she was very soon to receive a visit from two girls whom she had never seen in her life, and of whose elegance,—whose tolerable gentility even, she could have no proof; for the assurances of her husband and mother on that subject went for nothing at all. Their being her relations too made it so much the worse; and Mrs. Jennings's attempts at consolation were therefore unfortunately founded, when she advised her daughter not to care about their being so fashionable; because they were all cousins and must put up with one another.
…Sir John wanted the whole family to walk to the Park directly and look at his guests. Benevolent, philanthropic man! It was painful to him even to keep a third cousin to himself. "Do come now," said he—"pray come—you must come—I declare you shall come—You can't think how you will like them. Lucy is monstrous pretty, and so good humoured and agreeable! The children are all hanging about her already, as if she was an old acquaintance. And they both long to see you of all things, for they have heard at Exeter that you are the most beautiful creatures in the world; and I have told them it is all very true, and a great deal more. You will be delighted with them I am sure. They have brought the whole coach full of playthings for the children. How can you be so cross as not to come? Why they are your cousins, you know, after a fashion. YOU are my cousins, and they are my wife's, so you must be related."

So, it is Mrs. Jennings who “accidentally” crosses paths with Lucy and her sister, is surprised to find out they are “relations”, and invites them to visit—and then it just happens to be the case that Lucy has been engaged to Edward. I can’t help but be reminded of the way the Thorpes “accidentally” meet the Allens, and how Harriet “randomly” winds up as Emma’s “pet” at Hartfield. And all of that makes me wonder whether Mrs. Jennings has been choreographing the dance of many characters across the stage of S&S from the very beginning, with the endgame being that all the young people wind up married, and part of that surely involves Mrs. Jennings satisfying her moral obligation to fulfill her dying husband’s request.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, November 25, 2016

A wine-glass, FULL OF SOMETHING: Mrs. Jennings’s surprisingly potent Constantia wine

I expect this post will be the last of the new wrinkles in S&S that I’m bringing forward this week, after poking my nose into the shadow story of S&S for the first time in a long while. Just over a year ago, I last revisited my claim that Marianne D. (like Jane F. in Emma) endures a secret pregnancy during the action of the novel in which she is the shadow heroine: 

In that last revisiting, I asserted that (also like Jane F.) Marianne must give up her newborn baby to a married woman who pretends to have borne it– in this case Mrs. Palmer. But I’ve never tried to explain how and when Marianne manages to give birth to her child, without Elinor, her frequent companion, knowing about it. Why? Because I hadn’t ever sleuthed it out! Whereas, with Jane Fairfax, I long ago spotted the textual hints in Emma --the “bustle” going on behind closed doors at the Bates apartment, when Emma drops by to visit Jane and Miss Bates after Box Hill, but Jane refuses to greet the penitent Emma. Miss Bates tearfully reports Jane’s words, “It must be born(e)”—and it (or rather, she, meaning Anna Weston) was indeed born just then.

Until this week, I never could locate the comparable climax of Marianne’s concealed childbirth ordeal. I was sure that the extreme distress Marianne suffers at the end of Ch. 28 and start of Ch. 29 is in large part the onset of labor pains, the deeper explanation for Marianne’s acute physical symptoms and crying, which Elinor believes are only due to Marianne’s upset over Willoughby. But then I saw it—it’s actually very similar to Jane Fairfax’s “It must be born(e)”---in the following passage –see if you can spot it:  
“[Mrs. Jennings] then went away, walking on tiptoe out of the room, as if she supposed her young friend's affliction could be increased by noise. Marianne, to the surprise of her sister, determined on dining with them. Elinor even advised her against it. But "no, she would go down; she could bear it very well, and the bustle about her would be less." Elinor, pleased to have her governed for a moment by such a motive, though believing it hardly possible that she could sit out the dinner, said no more; and adjusting her dress for her as well as she could, while Marianne still remained on the bed, was ready to assist her into the dining room as soon as they were summoned to it….” END QUOTE

Here it is ---- “She would go down; she could bear it very well, and the bustle about her would be less.” I now see that this was Marianne speaking in code, understood only by Mrs Jennings’ eavesdropping ears just outside the door --- to be translated by the kindly old lady (who, despite the decoy of Marianne’s negative comments about her, actually fulfills the identical protective role as Miss Bates, in shielding a pregnant young charge through a safe, secret childbirth) as follows:
“The baby is going down” i.e., it is beginning to drop, and therefore I, Marianne, could bear the pain very well by myself for the next several hours; but...when it gets down to crunch time, later tonight, it will be necessary to eliminate all “bustle” (the identical word used in Emma when Emma visits while Jane F. is giving birth) around her---i.e., Marianne wants Mrs. Jennings to do something to take Elinor out of the picture during the final part of the delivery process, so that Elinor will not witness what must be concealed from her (irony of ironies, given that Marianne claims to conceal nothing!).

But is there also a veiled description of that final stage of Marianne’s childbirth? It could not, as I originally speculated, be the day of Elinor’s outing to Kensington Gardens in Ch. 38. While that seemed  a promising lead, because it is a pretty long outing from which Marianne begs off on the excuse of not wanting to run into the Willoughbys there, it couldn’t be, for the major reason that it was about 8 weeks after Marianne’s night of labor pains. No, it had to be much earlier, soon after those labor pains began.

And that sets the stage for what I also noticed earlier this week, while working on my post about Mrs. Jennings’s Constantia wine as a marker of JA’s Eve of St. Agnes/St. Constantia subtext. The additional textual clues popped out at me, so to speak, right there at the end of Ch. 30:
“And then rising, [Elinor] went away to join Marianne, whom she found, as she expected, in her own room, leaning, in silent misery, over the small remains of a fire, which, till Elinor's entrance, had been her only light.
"You had better leave me," was all the notice that her sister received from her.
"I will leave you," said Elinor, "if you will go to bed." But this, from the momentary perverseness of impatient suffering, she at first refused to do. Her sister's earnest, though gentle persuasion, however, soon softened her to compliance, and Elinor saw her lay her aching head on the pillow, and as she hoped, in a way to get some quiet rest before she left her.”

So in this scene, Marianne plays her part by making sure that Elinor will not approach her again that evening, while Mrs. Jennings and Elinor socialize with friends. Then, it’s Mrs. Jennings’s turn to take care of the later part, and here’s what that resourceful lady comes up with:

“In the drawing-room, whither [Elinor] then repaired, she was soon joined by Mrs. Jennings, with a wine-glass, full of something, in her hand. "My dear," said she, entering, "I have just recollected that I have some of the finest old Constantia wine in the house that ever was tasted, so I have brought a glass of it for your sister. My poor husband! how fond he was of it! Whenever he had a touch of his old colicky gout, he said it did him more good than any thing else in the world. Do take it to your sister."
"Dear Ma'am," replied Elinor, smiling at the difference of the complaints for which it was recommended, "how good you are! But I have just left Marianne in bed, and, I hope, almost asleep; and as I think nothing will be of so much service to her as rest, if you will give me leave, I will drink the wine myself."
Mrs. Jennings, though regretting that she had not been five minutes earlier, was satisfied with the compromise; and Elinor, as she swallowed the chief of it, reflected, that though its effects on a colicky gout were, at present, of little importance to her, its healing powers, on a disappointed heart might be as reasonably tried on herself as on her sister.” END QUOTE

Here's my shadow story interpretation: Mrs. Jennings would already have known that Marianne had sent Elinor away for the rest of the evening, and so Mrs. Jennings’s offer, accompanied by a little spiel touting the benefits of Constantia wine were actually intended solely for Elinor’s own ears all along! And note that Elinor takes Mrs. Jennings’s bait, hook, line, and sinker! We read that Elinor “swallowed the chief of it”; and that brings us to the key point.

That phrase “wine-glass, full of something” could have the totally innocent meaning that Elinor sees the wine-glass in Mrs. Jennings’s hand, but has no idea what sort of wine it is, a suspense which lasts only two seconds, until she learns that it is Constantia wine. But…that phrasing is deliberately ambiguous on JA’s part, since it also has the connotation that the wine in the glass is “full of something” – and that “something” that the Constantia wine is “full of” was a slow-acting Regency Era sleeping draught, the kind that would take a couple of hours to really knock Elinor out, and then keep her sound asleep for a dozen hours (not quite as long as the “two and forty” hours that Juliet sleeps in the tomb)!

And the next clue I see in the text, that fits with that subversive reading is what we eventually read, after Colonel Brandon and the other guests have left, is the following sentence at the beginning of Chapter 31:
“From a night of more sleep than she had expected, Marianne awoke the next morning to the same consciousness of misery in which she had closed her eyes.”

What does “more sleep than she had expected” refer to? The normal reading of that sentence is that it refers to Marianne, because who else could the two “she’s” refer to? Well, allow me to suggest a radical alternative –how about Elinor! I.e., what if that sentence is a reflection of Elinor’s own perceptions as she awakens from a very long sleep? She looks at the clock, notices it is far beyond her own usual hour of waking, and then looks over at Marianne, who appears to Elinor to be in the same miserable state as she was when Elinor went to sleep. But what Elinor has no clue about is that, just like Juliet awakening from her long sleep in the tomb after taking the sleeping potion, only to see Romeo’s and Paris’s corpses, without any idea as to how this occurred, so too does Elinor, who has been drugged by Mrs. Jennings, have no idea that in the intervening 12 hours Elinor has slept through the noisy bustle of Marianne’s delivery!

But there’s still one more subtle clue in the text that addresses the next question that must be in your mind by now—where is the newborn baby when Elinor wakes up? Just follow Mrs. Jennings the next morning, and you can deduce the answer:
“Mrs. Jennings left them earlier than usual; for she could not be easy till the Middletons and Palmers were able to grieve as much as herself; and positively refusing Elinor's offered attendance, went out alone for the rest of the morning.”  END QUOTE

We may readily infer that the real reason Mrs. Jennings had to leave “earlier than usual” and go to the Palmers who were staying with the Middletons, and why she went without Elinor, was in order to drop the baby off with his new (secretly) adoptive mother, Charlotte Palmer!

And that is my version of Marianne Dashwood’s childbirth, with the following two postscripts:

First, getting back to the Eve of St. Agnes, how ironic, then, if that same night witnessed both:

the virgin Elinor having a long dream-filled sleep just a few days before the Eve of St. Agnes, the patron saint of virgins, and also

the birth of a child to Elinor’s non-virginal sister, Marianne.

Second and last, I wonder whether it is relevant to my above interpretation of Marianne’s childbirth that Fanny Austen (later Knight), the firstborn of all the Austen nieces and nephews, was born on Jan 23, 1793, when Jane Austen was seventeen – and that was the same date in real life as the fictional date in S&S when Marianne’s daughter was born. Almost a sister indeed!

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Monday, November 21, 2016

ELI-nor & ELI: drunkenness (real or imagined) in Sense & Sensibility and the Bible

[As I was getting ready to put finishing touches on this post, after working on it and then pausing for an outing and then dinner, I was pleasantly surprised upon my return to read Jane Fox’s intervening response in Janeites, which began as follows:  “In Kings, Eli, the high priest, is presented as thinking Hannah is drunk. This is a common enough scene in literature.”  Jane, you’ll see as you read below, that sometimes great minds DO think alike…although, as you’ll also see, I believe the parallels between S&S and the Biblical tale of Eli and Hannah are anything but common!  ;)]

Yesterday, Nancy Mayer wrote the following in Janeites, in response to my posts about the dramatic night-time encounter between Willoughby and Elinor at Cleveland late in S&S: "The one certainty I have of this scene [with Willoughby and Elinor at Cleveland] is that there is no sarcasm involved. Men have appeared drunk when in the grip of strong emotions. I think Shakespeare even has someone say something like that. It is even in the Book of Acts in the Bible where on Pentecost the apostles filled with the Holy Spirit start preaching and all understood in their own language and some one says "the men are drunk." "

Excellent association, Nancy! You reminded me of Jane Austen's two most significant literary sources-- the Bible and Shakespeare. And so you prompted me to investigation further, to see whether either of those two sources might’ve been in JA’s mind when she depicted Willoughby’s possible drunkenness. I hope you’ll agree, as you read the rest of this post, that your suggestion and my delving were not in vain.

There is, of course, drunkenness all over the place in Shakespeare’s plays. Falstaff's love of alcohol is a running motif that pervades the plays which barely contain his larger than life body and character; Hamlet famously broods bitterly about Claudius's drunken revels; Stephano, Trinculo & Caliban make a spectacle of their collective drunkenness; Iago tricks Cassio into getting drunk, and then getting into deep doodoo with Othello; and there’s much more throughout the canon. But no scene leaps off the page to remind me of that scene between Willoughby and Elinor. Can any of you think of other Shakespearean drunkenness which I’ve overlooked, which in some way does remind you of Willoughby’s possible drunkenness?

As for the Bible, I checked out your tip, Nancy, re drunkenness in the Book of Acts, but I detected no parallelism to Austen’s scene. So I went back to the Hebrew bible to look some more. What first came to mind was the scene in Genesis when Lot's daughters get him drunk and sleep with him --- but that also seems to have nothing in common, other than drunkenness, with Willoughby and Elinor.

However, when I did a Biblical word search on ‘drunk’, I was led to a passage I was unfamiliar with---the poignant tale of Hannah in 1 Samuel (Jane, it’s not in Kings). Hannah is the second, yet more beloved, wife of Elkanah, and Hannah is in anguish over her own long barrenness. Her anguish arises in no small part, because she is being tormented by Peninnah, Elkanah’s other wife and a jealous rival for their shared husband’s affections. Peninnah has lots of offspring, and has neglected no opportunity, over a long period of time, to rub this in with Hannah.

Eventually, in 1 Samuel 10-19, we read Hannah’s encounter with Eli, the high priest at Shiloh whose lack of control over his two dissolute sons will in later chapters of 1 Samuel will prompt God to deprive Eli and his family of priestly influence. But in this scene, Hannah’s emotional angst is front and center:

“And [Hannah] was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore. And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but will give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall be no razor come upon his head.
And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the Lord, Eli marked her mouth. Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. And Eli said unto her, “How long wilt thou be drunken? Put away thy wine from thee.” And Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord. Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto. Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.” And she said, “Let thine handmaid find grace in thine sight.”
So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad. And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the Lord, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and  Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the Lord remembered her. Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked him of the Lord.”

Jane Fox suggested that this was “a common enough theme in literature”. Jane, here is where we part ways, because a closer look reveals otherwise. Some other readers might also suggest that the tale of Hannah and Eli is too different from the encounter between Willoughby and Elinor to be of interest to Janeites. I disagree with them as well, and here’s why.

When you examine both passages in tandem, you realize there are actually nine consecutive points of specific parallelism between the two stories. I’ll now illustrate this in bullet point fashion; as you read, keep in mind that Person A is either Willoughby or Hannah; Person B is either Elinor or (as my Subject Line hints) Elinor’s partial namesake, Eli; Person C is either Marianne or the as-yet unborn Samuel; and Person D is either Willoughby’s wife or Peninnah, Hannah’s sister-wife:

ONE: Person A is in great emotional distress;
TWO: That distress arises from the absence of his/her beloved Person C;
THREE: Person A’s distress has been aggravated by the malicious jibes of close relative Person D, who is jealous of Person A’s love for Person C; 
FOUR: Person A refers to God (the Lord) more than once during an encounter with Person B;
FIVE: Person A’s agitated manner of speaking leads Person B to believe Person A is drunk;
SIX: Person A denies being drunk;
SEVEN: Person B immediately accepts Person A’s alternative explanation, and thereafter attributes Person A’s behavior solely to emotional distress;
EIGHT: Person B wishes Person A well; and
NINE: Person A takes leave of Person B in better spirits than upon arrival.

Now, despite these nine parallels, of course I also recognize that there are a couple of major differences between these two stories: first, the gender of Person A is reversed; and second and more significantly, after her encounter with Eli, Hannah’s anguish is eased by God’s allowing her to conceive, whereas Willoughby’s yearning for Marianne will, for reasons largely within his power rather than God’s, never be satisfied.

And yet, I suggest that the nine parallels far outweigh these two differences, on the following train of logic. We know that Jane Austen knew her Bible intimately, on both a religious and literary level, and that she was especially concerned with the woes of women in the Bible. So I think it fair to assume that JA was familiar with the story of Hannah and her miracle child, Samuel. And, JA also knew that she was far from alone among early 19th century readers in being so familiar with Bible stories –many of her contemporary, potential readers, both male and female, would also have known the story of Hannah and Eli, of which Hannah’s apparent drunkenness was a memorable detail.

And so, it follows that JA could very well have hoped, even expected, that a number of her readers would be reminded of Hannah’s seeming drunkenness by Willoughby’s. And that also makes me ask whether some early readers, having reached Chapter 44 unaware how the novel was going to end, might imagine, or even hope, when Willoughby shows up unexpectedly at Cleveland, that he came not only to learn how sick Marianne was, but also to declare to her that he was going to divorce the wife whom he did not love, and marry his true love Marianne instead!

Sounds farfetched? It’s hard for Janeites today who’ve read S&S or at least have seen a film adaptation thereof, to see S&S through the eyes of a first-time reader in 1811. My guess would be that a not a few of them would’ve been rooting for Willoughby and Marianne to reunite --- just as many readers of MP over the centuries, including some of JA’s own family and friends, have rooted for Edmund to choose Mary!

And so, landing the plane, in that context, if any of those readers made the connection to the Biblical Hannah’s happy ending, they might well have seen that veiled Biblical allusion as a foreshadowing of Willoughby also getting his heart’s desire –and would then have been disappointed at what for many Janeites, even to this day, is a less than romantic ending with Marianne marrying Brandon.

But I’ll go one final step further, and suggest that there’s still more reason for thinking that JA had the Biblical Hannah in mind as she wrote all of S&S. Even though it’s Willoughby who’s explicitly suspected of drunkenness in S&S, those first four parallels between 1 Samuel 1:10-19 and S&S Chapter 44 become even more powerful and interesting in regard to both of the following scenarios, which juggles the characters in my literary algebraic equation:

FIRST: Person A is Marianne, who complains to Person B, Elinor, about her yearning for Person C , Willoughby, but Person A is tormented from a distance by Person D, Willoughby’s wife;  AND

SECOND: Person A is Elinor, who eventually complains to Person B, Marianne, about her feeling of loss vis a vis Person C, Edward, and Person A is tormented, in the most passive aggressive way imaginable, by Person D, Lucy!

As to both of these scenarios, bullet points ONE through FOUR, in particular the jealous, sadistic infliction of emotional pain by Peninnah on Hannah, are a veritable bulls-eye for Mrs. Willoughby doing this to Marianne, and for Lucy doing this to Elinor.

And, last but not least, as to the drunkenness part, it is perhaps not a coincidence that we have the scene 15 chapters earlier in S&S, when Mrs. Jennings prepares that potent glass of Constantia wine, which cures all ills, for Marianne, only to have Elinor drink it instead because Marianne is already asleep.  Maybe that scene not only points to the Eve of St. Agnes, it may also point to the drunkenness in1 Samuel as well!

So, one way or another, I hope I’ve at least made you wonder whether JA might have had the story of Hannah and Eli in mind when she wrote that dramatic scene at Cleveland.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Willoughby drunk or not drunk: that IS the question…Austen wanted us to struggle to answer!

The final straw that prompted me to post my reaction earlier today….  ….to Helena Kelly’s book was the dismissive review of it that John Mullan wrote, that just ran in the Guardian:

You might infer from my previous post that I’m not a fan of Kelly or her book. That’s true, but I still found unsavory the passive aggressive nastiness of Mullan’s attack on her and it. What most got under Mullan’s skin, it seems to me, was Kelly’s blithe insistence that she knew something crucial about Jane Austen (i.e., that she was a secret radical), an insight that for two centuries had eluded Mullan and all other Austen scholars ---- except, as Kelly, alas, neglected to mention, and as I outlined in my previous post, for me—but that is not my topic today.

I am writing this post about one part of Mullan’s revenge on Kelly for the crime of challenging his entrenched idea of Jane Austen. As I see it, Mullan took a page out of Deirdre Le Faye’s reactionary playbook (when she harshly and personally attacked David Nokes and his excellent 1998 Austen biography), by suggesting Kelly was a careless reader of Austenian detail, and therefore was not trustworthy on the Austen Big Picture:  
“And there’s the thing: while Kelly is making her claims about the subtexts that have evaded previous critics, Austen admirers will keep noticing little mistakes about what is going on in the novels. She says that Willoughby is drunk when he turns up at what he fears is Marianne’s deathbed in Sense and Sensibility, but in fact his “Yes, I am very drunk” is entirely sarcastic.” END QUOTE FROM MULLAN

I was intrigued, and located the passage in Kelly’s book that had prompted this correction by Mullan: “Where we hear [Willoughby’s] repentance in his own words, he is mawkish, self-indulgent; remember that he turns up at what he thinks is Marianne’s death-bed intoxicated (‘yes, I am very drunk’) and demands Elinor’s attention, as of right. There’s nothing redemptive about the scene.” END QUOTE FROM KELLY

Mullan’s confident assertion of Kelly’s error brought me up short, because I didn’t recall for sure whether Willoughby was drunk or not. So, as is my custom in such matters, I took nobody’s word as gospel, and instead went back to Austen’s text to search for an answer. So that you can have the same opportunity, before I go further, I suggest that you reread the relevant passage, and see if you can come to your own definitive answer to that question:

“…Elinor, starting back with a look of horror at the sight of him, obeyed the first impulse of her heart in turning instantly to quit the room, and her hand was already on the lock, when its action was suspended by his hastily advancing, and saying, in a voice rather of command than supplication, "Miss Dashwood, for half an hour—for ten minutes—I entreat you to stay."
"No, sir," she replied with firmness, "I shall NOT stay. Your business cannot be with ME. The servants, I suppose, forgot to tell you that Mr. Palmer was not in the house."
"Had they told me," he cried with vehemence, "that Mr. Palmer and all his relations were at the devil, it would not have turned me from the door. My business is with you, and only you."
"With me!"—in the utmost amazement—"well, sir,—be quick—and if you can—less violent."
"Sit down, and I will be both."
She hesitated; she knew not what to do. The possibility of Colonel Brandon's arriving and finding her there, came across her. But she had promised to hear him, and her curiosity no less than her honor was engaged. After a moment's recollection, therefore, concluding that prudence required dispatch, and that her acquiescence would best promote it, she walked silently towards the table, and sat down. He took the opposite chair, and for half a minute not a word was said by either.
"Pray be quick, sir,"—said Elinor, impatiently;—"I have no time to spare."
He was sitting in an attitude of deep meditation, and seemed not to hear her.
"Your sister," said he, with abruptness, a moment afterwards—"is out of danger. I heard it from the servant. God be praised!—But is it true? is it really true?"
Elinor would not speak. He repeated the inquiry with yet greater eagerness.
"For God's sake tell me, is she out of danger, or is she not?"
"We hope she is."
He rose up, and walked across the room.
"Had I known as much half an hour ago—But since I AM here,"—speaking with a forced vivacity as he returned to his seat—"what does it signify?—For once, Miss Dashwood—it will be the last time, perhaps—let us be cheerful together.—I am in a fine mood for gaiety.— Tell me honestly"—a deeper glow overspreading his cheeks—"do you think me most a knave or a fool?"
Elinor looked at him with greater astonishment than ever. She began to think that he must be in liquor;—the strangeness of such a visit, and of such manners, seemed no otherwise intelligible; and with this impression she immediately rose, saying, "Mr. Willoughby, I advise you at present to return to Combe—I am not at leisure to remain with you longer.— Whatever your business may be with me, it will be better recollected and explained to-morrow."
"I understand you," he replied, with an expressive smile, and a voice perfectly calm; "yes, I am very drunk.— A pint of porter with my cold beef at Marlborough was enough to over-set me."
"At Marlborough!"—cried Elinor, more and more at a loss to understand what he would be at.
"Yes,—I left London this morning at eight o'clock, and the only ten minutes I have spent out of my chaise since that time procured me a nuncheon at Marlborough."
The steadiness of his manner, and the intelligence of his eye as he spoke, convincing Elinor, that whatever other unpardonable folly might bring him to Cleveland, he was not brought there by intoxication, she said, after a moment's recollection, "Mr. Willoughby, you OUGHT to feel, and I certainly DO—that after what has passed—your coming here in this manner, and forcing yourself upon my notice, requires a very particular excuse.—What is it, that you mean by it?"—
"I mean,"—said he, with serious energy—"if I can, to make you hate me one degree less than you do NOW. I mean to offer some kind of explanation, some kind of apology, for the past; to open my whole heart to you, and by convincing you, that though I have been always a blockhead, I have not been always a rascal, to obtain something like forgiveness from Ma—from your sister."
"Is this the real reason of your coming?"
"Upon my soul it is,"—was his answer, with a warmth which brought all the former Willoughby to her remembrance, and in spite of herself made her think him sincere.
"If that is all, you may be satisfied already,—for Marianne DOES—she has LONG forgiven you."
"Has she?"—he cried, in the same eager tone.— "Then she has forgiven me before she ought to have done it. But she shall forgive me again, and on more reasonable grounds.—NOW will you listen to me?"
Elinor bowed her assent.
"I do not know," said he, after a pause of expectation on her side, and thoughtfulness on his own….”

So, what do you think? Was Willoughby really drunk, as Kelly opined? Or merely sarcastic about it, as Mullan claimed? For Kelly to have stated he was drunk without any qualification does have the appearance of her having only noticed Willoughby’s “I am very drunk”, without registering the narration that followed soon afterwards: “The steadiness of his manner, and the intelligence of his eye as he spoke, convincing Elinor, that whatever other unpardonable folly might bring him to Cleveland, he was not brought there by intoxication…”

So that proves Mullan is correct, right? Well….no! I believe that Mullan got so wrapped up in springing his little trap on Kelly, that he inadvertently hoist himself on his own pedagogical petard. Let me show you how. First, please read that narration again, but this time ask yourself a different question--- is the statement that Willoughby “was not brought there by intoxication” an objective fact that an omniscient narrator is telling us, such that we can be sure it is correct? That seems to be Mullan’s interpretation. Or is it a subjective opinion of Elinor’s, and therefore open to the reader’s own analysis of the facts presented in this passage?

I think it’s clear that “She began to think that he must be in liquor” and “…convincing Elinor…he was not brought there by intoxication” are both Elinor’s opinions, and are not objective facts. In your rereading, did you pick up on all the subtle clues that JA provided in her description of Willoughby’s behavior and in the words he speaks? Were you able to come to a definitive conclusion as to whether he’s really drunk, or only being sarcastic about it? Mullan confidently states that Willoughby was being sarcastic, but he gives no basis for this inference, he believes it's obvious. And yet, it appears that the evidence which convinces Mullan of this is Elinor's suddenly being convinced that he wasn't drunk---he's on no firmer ground than Kelly!

I sure wasn’t convinced either way. And so I believe therefore that there is a third possibility—i.e., that Kelly and Mullan are BOTH wrong, because this passage, it seems to me, was carefully and deliberately written by Jane Austen to be completely ambiguous as to whether Willoughby is actually drunk! And why, you may ask, would Austen be so uncooperative as to deliberately create such an ambiguity? Because, among several good reasons that come to mind, that ambiguity allows the novel to provide to the reader a kind of verisimilitude to real life experience. I.e., none of us has the benefit of an omniscient narrator perched on our shoulder, telling us The Truth – we have to work from the impressions we derive with our senses and our minds, and struggle to make sense of what is going on around us, especially when it comes to interpreting the feelings and actions of other people!

And so, I believe you will find, if you go through that passage, you will find all sorts of interesting data about what is going on with Willoughby during his lengthy conversation with Elinor (is there a longer conversation between two characters, especially in the sheer number of responses back and forth, in any of JA’s novels?), but I for one do not find any of it determinative. It seems to me to be equally plausible that Willoughby is very drunk, highly worked up after a very long strenuous horseback ride, highly worked up about the possibility of Marianne being mortally ill, or some combination of the three. We cannot know for sure, because all of our data is filtered through Elinor’s mind and heart, and that is NOT a reliable source, especially given that Elinor has probably herself partaken of some more of Mrs. Jennings’s potent Constantia wine, and that Elinor is half-crazy with worry about Marianne, and frantically missing her mother as well. 

How ironic that both Mullan and Kelly are both wrong, because they are both certain about something no reader is justified in being certain about. And that leads me to the ultimate irony of Mullan’s final slam at Kelly:   “Here is [Austen’s] true radicalism: not in her opinions – most of which are unknowable – but in the sheer audacity of her fictional technique.” To which I respond, Metaphysician Mullan, heal thyself, because you lecture Ms. Kelly about her having failed to appreciate “the sheer audacity of [Austen’s] fictional technique”, when you yourself have failed to appreciate what I think is the most audacious aspect of Jane Austen’s fictional technique—her radical commitment to creating an ambiguous, and therefore lifelike, fictional reading experience, so that readers who realize this will be more likely to resist the urge to leap to overhasty conclusions about the outside world…and ourselves. 

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, November 18, 2016

ALL the Shadow Stories of Jane Austen the Secret Radical (Feminist)

In Janeites, Ellen Moody wrote: “Brief comment for those thinking of buying or going out of their way to obtain [Helena Kelly’s new book Jane Austen the Secret Radical]:  I suggest it's mistitled. It opens with a novelistic recreation of Jane Austen's consciousness (goes into this kind of thing far more than Nokes) and briefly retells her early coming into the world in a way that is pure Janeism. It does things like slide by Eliza's parentage. The tone is complacent.  OTOH, it is not jargon ridden at all: it seems aimed at a large general audience. The attitude towards the replacement picture of JA in the 1870s is a case in point: the earlier one is "amateurish," and before you know it, this new one is made somehow just as or more accurate. In comparison (thus far) Maggie Lane is hard stuff, has grit. Arnie need not worry.”

Nancy Mayer wrote in reply to Ellen: “According to a review of the book I saw, she is presenting some of the theories we have been hearing from Arnie for the last decade, if not longer. I'd rather read Jane Austen and the law.”

Thank you both, ladies, very much, for the above shout-outs!  It gives me great pleasure that we three have found a way, over time, to agree to disagree strenuously with each other, yet with courtesy and mutual personal respect. Ellen, I really sincerely appreciate your final sentence-- we’ve sometimes agreed and sometimes disagreed in our interpretations of Austen, but what we’ve both recognized all along is that there is something very similar about us both—we’re both obsessive scholars who’ve devoted countless hours to close reading of serious literature that we love, albeit each in our own way.

And Nancy, I always smile when I tell people that there’s a person I’ve engaged with online for 15 years, who disagrees with 99% of my ideas about Jane Austen, and says so in no uncertain terms every chance she gets, and yet she defends my right to express my ideas in the online Austen group she moderates, and we get along very well personally, so much so that we often joke about the chasm that separates us in our shared love of Jane Austen!  ;)

As for Kelly’s book, I’ve deliberately avoided saying anything about it publicly since I first became aware of it three months ago, before it was actually published. As some who follow me in these groups might have guessed, my right eyebrow first involuntarily raised itself about 3 inches when I saw the title, and then saw the name of the author, for a number of reasons, some of which I will outline below, reserving the right to raise some others if and when the time feels right to me to do so. I will present only facts, and leave it to you, the reader, to infer what they all point to.

First, I refer you to the following paragraph in the chapter about me (entitled ‘The Jane Austen Code’) in Deborah Yaffe’s 2013 book  Among the Janeites, a chapter in which Deborah (who is another Janeite friend with whom I amicably but strongly disagree about Jane Austen) expressed many of the same, not terribly positive critiques of my ideas that Nancy has expressed in terser terms over the years. In the passage quoted below, Deborah described her skeptical reaction to hearing me speak publicly at the 2010 JASNA AGM in Portland, Oregon (where I did not live then, but moved here two years ago) on the topic set forth in the following link (still on display at the JASNA website---just scroll down to Breakout Session C2):

“The talk was vintage Arnie, a semi-convincing, semi-outlandish tapestry woven from the puns he detected in Austen’s use of words like ‘constitutional’ and ‘confinement’, the allusions he perceived to works by other writers, the evidence of feminist anger he found in her letters, and the biographical information he had unearthed about long forgotten contemporaries who, he was convinced, had provided models for her characters. Curiously, Arnie’s central thesis--that Austen meant her readers to understand that the mother of Northanger Abbey’s hero, Henry Tilney, had died in childbirth, not from the “bilious fever” Henry describes, and that this detail revealed Austen’s outrage at the dangerous serial pregnancies that married women of her time often endured—seemed to have little bearing on his controversial theory of shadow stories….In the months after the Portland meeting, it looked as if some of Arnie’s fantasies might be coming true. JASNA chapters in Florida, California, and Oregon invited him to speak. A joint presentation with a local college professor drew two hundred Janeites to a kickoff event for a new south Florida chapter of JASNA, which Arnie planned to organize. The Miami Herald previewed the meeting, and mentioned Arnie’s book, which now had the working title The Shadow Stories of Jane Austen, the Secret Radical Feminist….”

Before I went back and reread Deborah’s last sentence, I had nearly forgotten that working title for my first Austen book. And as I read The Shadow Stories of Jane Austen, the Secret Radical Feminist….”, for some odd reason my eyebrow started twitching again…

But let me move on to the following 2012 online review, also still visible at the JASNA website, written by Jana Bickel, about the talk I gave in late 2011 to the Southern California JASNA chapter:     
“Now for the heart of the presentation, the concealed pregnancies. At first I was willing to concede there might be a few concealed pregnancies like Lydia Bennett, Maria Bertram, possibly Jane Fairfax. Well, having been secretly married to Frank Churchill it is possible that Jane Fairfax might have been pregnant and that might explain her illness and nervousness about Churchill’s interest in other women. But no, that isn’t what Perlstein means. He means that Jane is truly a fallen woman (a so much nicer phrase than the word that initially came to mind), with Colonel Campbell, Mr. Elton, and John Knightly and, to top it off, who leaves a baby for Mrs. Weston to raise. Perlstein is on a roll now. More concealed pregnancies….like Marianne’s illness and poor Mrs. Tilney “murdered by childbirth.” More shameful secrets. Harriet a little schemer in bed with Frank Churchill and Mr Elton among others. But the worst is yet to come. What was the real reason Jane moved to close to Pemberley? Give up. So Jane could be close to Mr. Darcy….” 

With that introduction, I now turn your attention to Kelly’s book, a good deal of which can actually be accessed online at Google Books. That’s where I first scanned through it about 6 weeks ago. Imagine my surprise when I saw that her chapter about Northanger Abbey focused on the same death in childbirth subtext I spoke about at length at the 2010 JASNA AGM. But, what’s more, pretty much all of Kelly’s specific bullet points on that argument were also the same as my own! To be specific, here is a list that is not complete, but will still give you the idea of how uncannily close her 2016 argument is to my 2010 argument:

ONE: the death of Mrs. Tilney as death in childbirth;
TWO: that Mrs. Tilney was thereby metaphorically "poisoned" by her husband’s semen;
THREE: that the General was therefore literally a latter day "Bluebeard", who, by impregnating her, thereby "murdered" her;
FOUR: that Mrs. Tilney’s "bilious fever" was really "puerperal fever";
FIVE: Austen’s comic contrast of the wifely survivor of double digit pregnancies, Mrs. Morland, to Mrs. Tilney, as a key clue to the above subtextual theme;
SIX: Giving examples of Jane Austen's persistent negative attitude toward real life serial pregnancy in her social circle; and, last and most significantly, because it is a global point: 
SEVEN: that the above subtext was part of Austen's global, significant, but covert concern about the ownership of women's bodies by men, which was sanctioned by every major English societal institution, a truly Gothic horror implicit in everyday English marriage.

Now, as to Point Seven, those of you reading this in Janeites or Austen-L, I ask you----how many times have I quoted Henry Tilney’s rant (“Remember the country and age in which we live…We are Christians ….voluntary spies…”)  and called it an anti-parody, an illustration of Austen’s actual outrage at how all the powers that be in England did absolutely nothing to protect women? I’d guess it must be about 100 or more by now (and that is also probably the number of times Nancy has politely advised me I was wrong!)

Now read the following excerpt from Caroline Criado-Perez’s glowing Guardian review, six weeks ago of Kelly’s “sublime literary detective work”:

“Marriage as Jane knew it involved a woman giving up everything to her husband – her money, her body, her very existence as a legal adult. Husbands could beat their wives, rape them, imprison them, take their children away, all within the bounds of the law.” And that is before we even get on to the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth that were implicit in any marriage plot at a time where “almost every family had a tale of maternal death to tell”. Through a combination of beautifully precise close readings alongside Austen’s biographical, literary and historical context, Kelly shows us that the novels were about nothing more or less than the burning political questions of the day..."

So, out of Kelly’s entire book, which includes interpretations of all six Austen novels, Criado-Perez was most impressed by…….Kelly’s argument about Northanger Abbey …..which just happens to track my own in every detail!

But, some of you might say, this could all be coincidence, something in the realm of “great (or crazy) minds think alike”, the result of 21st century changes which have made these radical themes visible in Austen for the first time. Well, be aware also of the following additional facts:

First, Kelly was a grad student at Oxford in June 2007 when she attended my talk there at the Romantic Realignments Seminar (at which I had been invited to speak by Senior Professor Fiona Stafford and her two (then) grad students, Georgina Green (now Perry) and Olivia Murphy), on the topic of the puzzles and “shadow story” of Emma. Kelly even met me in person, in company, the next evening after my talk before I left Oxford! So from then onward, for the next 9 ½ years till her book came out, she knew very well who I was and what sort of subversive interpretations I made about Jane Austen. 

Second, in 2010, when Kelly’s (excellent) article about enclosure appeared in Persuasions Online, I emailed her at that time to praise her insights in that article, and identified her as a kindred spirit in looking at the darker side of Austen’s novels. Although Kelly did not reply to me then, she did acknowledge to me in a Tweets six weeks ago that she had indeed previously looked at my blog posts about her article. So, again, she had a refresher about my “heretical” stance about Jane Austen .

Third, what I didn’t recall till last month was that Kelly ALSO attended the same July 2009 Chawton House conference (Title: “New Directions re Jane Austen”) that I did, at which I gave an updated version of my 2007 Emma talk. It was a massive event, with 70 speakers over 4 days, and most of the leading Austen scholars in the world were there, in addition to unknowns like her and me. Here is the Persuasions Online article by Gillian Dow at Chawton House Library & U. of Southampton… ...   ...which mentions Kelly specifically as  having been one of the presenters, about her (excellent) enclosure research that she wrote an article for in the 2010 Persuasions Online, for which I emailed Kelly praise back then.

On a hunch, I retrieved from my computer hard drive my Word file for my final script for my 20-minute July 2009 talk at that Chawton House conference. That’s when I was reminded of what I wrote and said near the end of it, after I had gone through my argument for Jane Fairfax being pregnant in Emma, and when I was extrapolating my points (about women's bodies in jeopardy) to other Austen novels besides Emma. Here's what I said to my audience (which included Deirdre Le Faye and the late Brian Southam):

"In Northanger Abbey, Austen wanted us to ignore Henry Tilney and recognize that Catherine Morland’s Gothic fantasies of General “Tyranny” as the wife-murdering Bluebeard of Northanger Abbey were all too valid in a world where husbands, including several of Austen’s own brothers, routinely “murdered” their wives with a little too much “love and eloquence”! While in London this coming week, I intend to visit the memorial erected in the 17th century by Samuel Morland in honor of his two wives who died in childbirth, a memorial I strongly suspect was visited by the young Jane Austen over two centuries ago. But that “disorder” also includes the sexual awakening of a girl (the hyacinth that Catherine learns to love, the sexual architecture of she explores that dark and stormy night in Northanger Abbey). As with all other issues raised by her novels, Austen offers elusive complexity and ambiguity."

Did you notice my claim at the end of that quote about Catherine’s sexual awakening at the Abbey, which is not so closely related to my argument about death-in-childbirth? For some reason, it also causes my eyebrow to quiver. Maybe that’s because of the odd similarity of that last part in my 2009 talk about Catherine Morland’s sexual awakening, to the following passage in Kelly’s chapter on NA:

“As Catherine explores the Abbey, with all its faults, storms, drawers, divisions, cavities, crevices, folds, etc., Austen takes the reader on a merry subliminal tour through Gothic sexual suggestiveness, upping the ante on Austen’s literary sources such as Radcliffe’s Udolpho, Lee’s The Recess, and even Cleland’s Fanny Hill, among others. The morning after Catherine’s phantasmagorical experiences that dark and stormy night in the Abbey, Henry’s approval of her floral appreciation is a perfect double entendre  for her nocturnal romp in a carnal garden:  “At any rate, however, I am pleased that you have learnt to love a hyacinth. The mere habit of learning to love is the thing; and a teachableness of disposition in a young lady is a great blessing. Has my sister a pleasant mode of instruction?”   END QUOTE FROM KELLY          

Learning to love a hyacinth, dark and stormy night at the Abbey, hmmm………. One last time, my right eyebrow has now started twitching again. And you know what that means – the upturned knows.

Cheers, ARNIE

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