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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Gad’s Hill & Box Hill: Falstaff & Miss Bates are BOTH the witty causes of wit in others

My wife and I are, alas, nearing the end of a really lovely weekend in Ashland, attending plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, as we do together twice every year (I also go a third time each summer with a band of Florida friends, sometimes seeing the same play again, and enjoying it even more!). On Friday evening, we witnessed a fabulous Julius Caesar (while all the players were excellent, Jordan Barbour’s Mark Antony was truly extraordinary), and yesterday afternoon we saw an even more fabulous Henry IV Part One.

OSF really knows how to do Shakespeare (they’ve had 82 years to get it right!), particularly when they take artistic license, such as casting women in men’s parts (Glendower & Hotspur were both brilliantly played by women), and transposing the plays into modern settings. These alterations never fall flat, and create opportunities to foreground ambiguities subtleties in the original play texts. For example, the raunchy Eastcheap Tavern crowd transported to uber-punk hiphop nightclub was a revelation, which  showed how timeless Shakespeare really is --the early 17th century raillery carried the same high-voltage energy in that modern room as it did 4 centuries earlier.

And that brings me to the star of the show—both of Shakespeare’s entire play, but also of the show within the show, that ran every night in the Boar’s Head under the creative wand of the master of revels—of course, I mean Falstaff! Here is OSF’s wonderfully apt synopsis of Falstaff’s centrality:

Between a rock and a wild place: Prince Hal is biding his time. His father, Henry IV, wants to tutor him in the cruel art of ruling the realm, but Hal would rather study the bottom of a beer stein in a seedy tavern, surrounded by his carousing friends. His gang’s charismatic leader, Falstaff—larger than life, debauched and allergic to all authority—has been more of a teacher than Hal’s father ever was. Then, when a young rival threatens the kingdom, it’s time for Hal to step up and take on the family troubles. But how does a reckless son become a true prince? [This production contains theatrical strobe lights, guns with laser lights, and the sound of explosions and gun shots.]”

It would’ve been great with a merely competent Falstaff, but it happens that OSF has in its troupe the extraordinary, experienced, charismatic G. Valmont Thomas, who (like Orson Welles) was born to play Falstaff. He somehow transcended the paradox of owning the stage every second he was on it, while still generously sharing it with the rest of the superb supporting cast. So this production became unforgettable.

Thomas’s performance reminded me of an association I first made when I watched Welles’s transcendent film  Falstaff a few years ago; i.e., Shakespeare’s Falstaff is meant to be experienced as an huge expansion (all Shakespearean puns) of the subversive, Bacchanalian fire of Mercutio in Romeo & Juliet which Baz Luhrmann’s film captured in sight and sound. Falstaff is Mercutio on steroids.  


With that background, I was also reminded of the 2015 post I wrote about the improbable allusion to Falstaff I first detected years ago in one of Jane Austen’s immortal characters: Miss Bates, in Emma. Here is the link to that last post…    …which I ended as follows:    “Falstaff was not merely the cause of wit in others, he spoke truth to power, like Lear’s fool, with a smile and a tear in his eye—he is the voice of imagination, art, and love in a cold, cruel, mercenary world in which money and violence are the currency. And that is the exact same role that Miss Bates plays in the world of Emma—treated as an object of ridicule by those of stunted soul and wit, like Emma, but recognized by those with clear vision as a prophet of the best in humankind, a true “Queen” in the only “kingdom” that really matters.”

Now for a few further reflections in that same vein inspired by Thomas’s Falstaff. Just as I believe Miss Bates was a parodic self-portrait by Jane Austen, I now wonder whether Falstaff filled the same function for Shakespeare. It was into these characters, so easily misconstrued as foolish or inconsequential, that I believe these two greatest of authors hid in plain sight their innermost heart, soul and genius. And there is tragedy hidden there too: Gad’s Hill is Box Hill, and both are, metaphorically, also Golgotha.

Revisiting that analogy today prompted me to Google “Gad’s Hill” together with “Box Hill”, and it brought me to a discussion of Emma by Bharat Tandon from 2003 which I had previously overlooked. First Tandon quotes Miss Bates’s “Three things very dull indeed” speech, and then comments:

“…Austen inserts the extraordinary bracketed stage direction in the middle of Miss Bates’s speech- one which, given Austen’s relative lack of adverbial qualifications, is all the more prominent. MISS BATES MAY BE NO FALSTAFF (“I am not onely witty in my self, but the cause that wit is in other men”) BUT the stage direction, compounded by the page directions of the parentheses, suggests she is at least partly aware of the ridiculous figure she makes, and that she has, therefore, partly pre-empted Emma’s joke at her expense—which makes it all the more embarrassing that Emma can then so completely misunderstand her cue….” END QUOTE FROM TANDON

That brought to mind several new insights for me:

First, as I’ve noted in regard to other comments that Tandon has made about Austen, there are more things in Jane Austen’s imagination and literary erudition than are dreamt of in Tandon’s conventional philosophy. I.e., it does not dawn on Tandon that Austen did indeed intentionally allude to Falstaff via the character of Miss Bates, especially in that climactic scene of hilltop humiliation.

Second, Tandon also gives no sign whatsoever of being aware (as was argued persuasively long ago by Roy Battenhouse in “
Falstaff as Parodist and Perhaps Holy Fool” PMLA 90/1 (Jan 1975), channeling Maurice Morgann’s famous late 18th century defense of Falstaff) that Falstaff was likely aware of the prank played on him by Prince Hal at Poins’s suggestion! That counterintuitive reading suggests that Falstaff knowingly played the role of over-boastful fool, to add to the pleasure of his audience, most of all his beloved “son” Hal. And so it only makes the Austenian allusion more gorgeous and profound that Miss Bates would do the same as Falstaff in this way as well.

And finally, that brings me back to other blog comments of mine nearly 7 years ago, about what I called “Miss Bates’s revenge”:

“In Chapter 45 [of Emma], I never really noticed before how many times, and in how many ways, in the space of a few short paragraphs, Jane (via Miss Bates) rejects Emma's repeated attempts to make up for 6 months of ignoring Jane, and suddenly starts trying to show Jane some major "condescension"--only to be rebuffed and rebuffed, etc etc. But as is so often the case, once I looked closely at this passage, I felt like Alice falling down a deep wormhole into a parallel universe…
This rat-a-tat of rapid-fire repeated rejections by Jane of Emma's friendly overtures is so delicately handled by JA that the tone never crosses the line into absurdist humor--instead, at this point in the novel, as at so many others, the tone sits exquisitely poised on a razor's edge between poignancy and burlesque. But some of it is just flat-out comical--and the part that strikes me particularly funny---and very significant thematically-- is the following:

"Emma wished she could have seen [Jane], and tried her own powers; but, almost before she could hint the wish, Miss Bates made it appear that she had promised her niece on no account to let Miss Woodhouse in. "Indeed, the truth was, that poor dear Jane could not bear to see anybody -- anybody at all -- Mrs. Elton, indeed, could not be denied -- and Mrs. Cole had made such a point -- and Mrs. Perry had said so much -- but, except them, Jane would really see nobody."

Think about what that narration is actually saying--Emma, for just a second, flirts with the unthinkable thought that Jane has instructed Miss Bates to keep away Emma AND EMMA ALONE! And look at how Miss Bates conveys that message, unmistakably, while taking great pains to seem to be apologetic every step of the way--it's a cavalcade of indirect humiliations for Emma, as Miss Bates, with the delicate touch of a brain surgeon, takes Emma down one peg at a time--first Mrs. Elton, then Mrs. Cole, THEN Mrs. Perry. Each of these women has at one or more points in the novel been, in the theater of Emma's mind, at the butt-end of Emma's snobbish, elitist sense of social superiority. Now suddenly ALL three of these "social climbers" have easy entree to Jane's inner sanctum, but Emma, only Emma, apparently does not. Like a foursome of twentysomethings trying to crash a trendy, in-crowd dance club, and the three nerds get in, but, inexplicably, the uber-snob, the one who thought she'd be the one to help her "loser" friends get in, winds up alone on the sidewalk cooling her high heels, whining to the bouncer, who politely makes it clear, in a kind of Kafkaesque nightmare, that she's NEVER getting in!

And for all these reasons, it is difficult for me to escape the amazing possibility that this is actually Miss Bates's intentional revenge on Emma, but one which is delivered with infinitely more subtle wit than Emma's heavy joke at Miss Bates's expense up on Box Hill…And here, two chapters later, is it just a coincidence that we have Miss Bates delivering not one, not two, but THREE very clever rapier thrusts (Mrs. Elton---Mrs. Cole---Mrs. Perry) deep into Emma's snobbish heart? And Emma never even knows that it's intentional. Talk about ultimate karmic payback.....

And in that light, think of the tremendous irony of that last clause: "...Jane would really see nobody"--
In this case, Jane literally would really see ALL the 'nobodies', but pointedly will NOT see the only female "somebody" in Highbury! And where else have we heard "nobody" personified? How about when Emma herself, in Chapter 8, attempts to rationalize to Knightley that it is Harriet who would be marrying a social inferior in Mr. Martin, but then her own unconscious snobbery gets the better of her, and undercuts her own argument:   "As to the circumstances of her birth, THOUGH IN A LEGAL SENSE SHE MAY BE CALLED NOBODY, it will not hold in common sense."

…And so JA has put into the mouth of Miss Bates the veiled statement that at this moment at least, Jane has the power to see all the "nobodies" she wants, and to refuse to see the one "somebody" who is so doggedly insistent on her right to "pay attention" to Jane….”  END QUOTE FROM MY 2010 POST

So, in conclusion, I find it wonderful to think of Miss Bates as exercising an astonishing level of wit when she turns Emma away at the door, and I, for one, can imagine her then confiding in her mother those same words which Falstaff famously utters in Henry IV Part 2, which I look forward to seeing at OSF in the Fall:

“Men---and women--of all sorts take a pride to gird at me. The this foolish-compounded clay, man, is not able to invent that intends to laughter, more than I invent or is invented me. I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is other men---and women.”

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, March 24, 2017

“strange things may be generally accounted for if their cause be FAIRLY searched”: Austen’s pity in Northanger Abbey for “poor animals” (worn-out wives) “falling apart at the touch…”

…I vigorously rebutted Ellen Moody’s unjustifiably confident assertion that Janine Barchas had engaged in over-historicism in her 2010 Persuasions article “The Real Bluebeard of Bath: A Historical Model for Northanger Abbey”. In that article, which Barchas subsequently included in her excellent book Matters of Fact in Jane Austen, Barchas brilliantly and persuasively argued that Austen had the Castle at Farleigh Hungerford, a real life Gothic horror located near Bath, and its most evil resident, Walter, Lord Hungerford, specifically in mind as a prototype for General Tilney.

Today I return to focus on one small section of Barchas’s article, which years ago provided me with an extraordinary clue, which Barchas did not notice, in the pun of the word “fairly” on “Farleigh”. As you’ll see below, I was able to follow that clue all the way to the heart of the overarching “death in childbirth” theme I ‘ve seen and argued for in Northanger Abbey since 2009 ---- an original interpretation of mine, which, by the way, was recently lifted practically lock, stock, and barrel from my public writings and speeches on that topic by Helena Kelly for her recent book about Austen, as I explained here:
“ALL the Shadow Stories of Jane Austen the Secret Radical (Feminist)”

That overarching theme is embodied by the ghost of Mrs. Tilney, who, I claim is, Austen’s symbol for the ghost of all the multitude of anonymous English wives who died in childbirth over centuries--- a ghost who hovers over the entirety of Northanger Abbey like the ghost of King Hamlet does in Shakespeare’s play, crying for remembrance and justice. Conversely, I claim that General Tilney is the symbol of the hypocrisy and domestic horror of the ordinary English gentleman husband, who blithely and righteously “poisoned” and “imprisoned” his wife to death, or at least physical ruin and drudgery, via serial pregnancy (“confinement”), all the while believing he was doing what God and country expected of him.

With that brief background, here is the relevant section of Barchas’s article that gave me my clue:

“Even more uncanny is the manner in which the “ruined chapel” of Catherine’s imagination, where she hopes to find evidence of “some traditional legends” and further “awful memorials” at Northanger, resembles the spooky and crumbling crypt under the ruined chapel at Farleigh Castle as described
by Reverend Warner in this same guidebook on the Austens’ shelves:
“The crypt, or vault, under this chapel, exhibits a very extraordinary family party, the pickled remains of eight of the Hungerfords, ranged by the side of each other, cased in leaden coffins, and assuming the forms of Egyptian mummies, the faces prominent, the shoulders swelling out into their natural shape, and the body gradually tapering towards the feet.”
Most of these curious family coffins, what one 1816 visitor termed “the cold relics of an ancient clan,” still remain on view today for visitors who similarly descend the stairs into the lower crypt (Weekly Entertainer 56: 220). After identifying the Hungerford family members thus on display, guidebook veteran Warner recommends one macabre activity:
“The Chapel at Farley Castle near Bath (early 19th c)…One of the full-sized leaden coffins has a perforation on the right shoulder, through which a stick may be introduced, and the embalming matter extracted; this appears to be a thick viscous liquid, of a brown colour, and resinous smell and consistence; the flesh is decomposed by the admission of the air, but the bones still retain their soundness.”
Catherine also imagines inspecting the coffin of Mrs. Tilney, which she conjectures may be occupied by a mere “waxen figure”. She demands the physical proof of death that, according to Warner, awaited visitors to Farleigh Hungerford:
“Were she even to descend into the family vault where her ashes were supposed to slumber, were she to behold the coffin in which they were said to be enclosed—what could it avail in such a case?  Catherine had read too much not to be perfectly aware of the ease with which a waxen figure might be introduced, and a supposititious funeral carried on.”
Is Catherine following the directive in Warner’s book when she thinks of descending, with determined step, into the Tilney vault to put her suspicions to the test? Thankfully, there is no proof that Austen herself poked the decomposing Hungerford remains with a stick during any visit to Farleigh Castle, but her signature and marginalia in the family copy of Warner’s guidebook suggest she surely knew of this “choice” sight for any fan of the gothic, located about seven miles from Bath. Austen’s satire of the gothic resonates therefore with genuine history. Catherine’s gothic fantasies may not be, after all, utter nonsense. Instead, their resemblance to actual historical events and relics at Farleigh Castle may expose Austen’s ironic project, elevating the ambitions of her early fiction. Resemblances to these real situations would also add to the humor of her story. If Austen bests the fantasy of a Radcliffe novel with her own characteristic brand of hyper-realism, she may be showing readers that the choicest truths make for the strangest fictions….”

All the evidence presented by Barchas in her article in general, and in that section in particular, in aggregate strongly supports the interpretation that Jane Austen did indeed mean to allude to Farleigh Hungerford in Northanger Abbey. Today, I want to expand on one sentence in that quoted excerpt:
“Thankfully, there is no proof that Austen herself poked the decomposing Hungerford remains with a stick during any visit to Farleigh Castle…”

While Barchas is correct, there’s no proof that Austen went corpse-poking, nor would I have guessed she did. But I am quite certain that she knew of that specific gruesome practice, and she chose those grotesquely exploited, decomposing corpses at Farleigh Hungerford as the perfect metaphor for the gentlewives of England, who were so worn-out from serial pregnancies that their bodies practically fell apart at a touch (a turn of phrase used in the Austen quotation in my Subject Line, as you’ll see, below).

And it just so happens that the adverb “fairly” is subtly linked to seemingly unrelated passages in Northanger Abbey which have to do with deterioration due to excessive wear. The idea of English wives as Regency Era zombies, whose bodies were slowly decomposing (as it were) due to up to two decades of serial pregnancies, punctuated by a dozen or more harrowing childbirths, over each of which hung the threat of excruciatingly painful death, has the kind of macabre wit that I believe Jane Austen particularly relished, when she was in “Avenging Angel” mode.

I’ll now walk you through the relevant passages in the novel, with this theme in mind:

Chapter 1:   She had reached the age of seventeen, without having seen one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibility, without having inspired one real passion, and without having excited even any admiration but what was very moderate and very transient. This was strange indeed! But strange things may be generally accounted for if their cause be FAIRLY searched out. There was not one lord in the neighbourhood; no—not even a BARONET.

Of course, during the course of the novel, the “strange things” which will inspire Catherine Morland’s real passion and curiosity are the Gothic horrors she believes have been perpetrated by General Tilney against his late wife – fanciful horrors which I claim are actually representative of the true Gothic horror of the scourge of death in childbirth ignored by all the powers that were in England. Austen is winking in those last two sentences that Catherine will “fairly search out” the causes of that scourge at a modern day Farleigh Hungerford, and the reference “a baronet’ is another clue, because it turns out that at Farleigh Hungerford there was a baronet whom Jane Austen would have known about, because he was connected biologically both to the Bluebeard Walter, Lord Hungerford, and also to Jane Austen herself!

In 2010, Derrick Leigh wrote the following in Janeites:  "Jane Austen's great grandparents on the Leigh side were Theophilus Leigh and Mary Brydges. Their daughter Mary Leigh married the 4th BARONET, Sir HUNGERFORD Hoskyns in 1720." I pointed out at my 2010 AGM presentation that one of the several personal connections of NA’s death-in-childbirth theme was to that same Mary Leigh (nee Brydges)----the wife of Theophilus, and great grandmother of JA herself---who died in childbirth after bearing her twelfth child! And Bluebeard, Walter, Lord Hungerford, had a descendant, Jane Law, who was the mother of the same Sir Hungerford Hoskyns, 4th bart., who married Mary Leigh, as Derrick stated, above –so you see that there was indeed a “baronet”, who provides a key clue to Jane Austen’s deeper theme!

Now for the next relevant textual quotation:

Chapter 3:  “But then you know, madam, muslin always turns to some account or other; Miss Morland will get enough out of it for a handkerchief, or a cap, or a cloak. Muslin can never be said to be wasted. I have heard my sister say so forty times, when she has been extravagant in buying more than she wanted, or careless in CUTTING IT TO PIECES.”
“Bath is a charming place, sir; there are so many good shops here. We are sadly off in the country; not but what we have very good shops in Salisbury, but it is so far to go—eight miles is a long way; Mr. Allen says it is nine, measured nine; but I am sure it cannot be more than eight; and it is such a fag—I come back tired to death. Now, here one can step out of doors and get a thing in five minutes.”
… “I should no more lay it down as a general rule that women write better letters than men, than that they sing better duets, or draw better landscapes. In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty FAIRLY divided between the sexes.”
They were interrupted by Mrs. Allen: “My dear Catherine,” said she, “do take this pin out of my sleeve; I am afraid it has TORN A HOLE already; I shall be quite sorry if it has, for this is a favourite gown, though it cost but nine shillings a yard.”
“That is exactly what I should have guessed it, madam,” said Mr. Tilney, looking at the muslin.
“Do you understand muslins, sir?”

In a nutshell, I suggest to you that the above passage, which all Janeites enjoy for the wit and atypical expertise that Henry Tilney displays, serves a second, darker purpose. If one reads “muslins” (which of course were a staple of women’s clothing in Regency Era England) as a metaphor for women in general, and pregnant wives in particular, there is a very very sharp and bitter irony masked just beneath the witty surface—i.e., the bodies of English wives were literally being cut to pieces, with holes torn, to (literally please their husbands! And there, again, tucked away in this passage, is “FAIRLY divided”, to remind the knowing reader of Farleigh Hungerford, where Walter, Lord Hungerford repeatedly (but thankfully unsuccessfully) attempted to murder his wife.

And now, yet another punny metaphor for the serially pregnant female body, the carriage, courtesy of John Thorpe:

Chapter 9: “Break down! Oh! Lord! Did you ever see such a little tittuppy thing in your life? There is not a sound piece of iron about it. The wheels have been FAIRLY worn out these ten years at least—and as for THE BODY! Upon my soul, you might SHAKE IT TO PIECES YOURSELF WITH A TOUCH. It is the most devilish little rickety business I ever beheld! Thank God! we have got a better. I would not be bound to go two miles in it for fifty thousand pounds.”
“Good heavens!” cried Catherine, quite frightened. “Then pray let us turn back; they WILL CERTAINLY MEET WITH AN ACCIDENT if we go on. Do let us turn back, Mr. Thorpe; stop and speak to my brother, and tell him HOW VERY UNSAFE IT IS.”
“Unsafe! Oh, lord! What is there in that? They will only get a roll if it does break down; and there is PLENTY OF DIRT; it will be EXCELLENT FALLING. Oh, curse it! The CARRIAGE is safe enough, if A MAN KNOWS HOW TO DRIVE IT; A THING OF THAT SORT IN GOOD HANDS WILL LAST ABOVE TWENTY YEARS AFTER IT IS FAIRLY WORN OUT. Lord bless you! I would undertake for five pounds to drive it to York and back again, without losing a nail.”

How many words in that passage point to the pregnant female body? You count the ways, with an assist from my ALL CAPS alterations. Could it be more obvious, once you’re thinking about it, that this is an extended riff on serial pregnancy wearing out women’s bodies?

In addition to that, it has been well recognized by other Austen scholars that Thorpe speaks about horses and carriages in a highly sexualized manner- he sounds, actually, like one of those typical English gentleman husbands (Edward Austen Knight for one) who kept their wives barefoot and pregnant, so to speak, for “above twenty years” before she would be “fairly worn out”. 

And, as I’ve previously pointed out many times, it’s a well established biographical fact, derived from explicit verbiage in JA’s letters over a period of twenty years, that Jane Austen was appalled at the serial pregnancy that afflicted so many of English gentlewomen/wives. Most personal was JA’s anguish for niece (and psychological daughter) Anna Austen a few years after Anna’s marriage, expressed in Letter 155, less than four months before JA’s death:
“Anna has not a chance of escape…Poor Animal, she will be worn out before she is thirty.”

Ironically, what saved Anna was an unusual escape for an English wife of that era- it was her husband who died in 1829 after fifteen years of marriage, having first sired seven children on her, when Anna was 35. Thereafter, Anna, without a “Bluebeard” in her home (and more important, bed), wound up never remarrying, never having another child, and living a relatively long and healthy life for another 43 years. But JA died before she could rest easy about Anna’s survival, let alone survival in good health.

And finally, I tie together with the above quotes from NA the following excerpt from JA’s own Letter 57 (written when her sister in law Elizabeth Austen was soon to die in childbirth in 1808), which I assert is a kind of companion to the above quoted passage about muslins in NA. It’s not just the punnily named made-up persons Mr. FLOOR and Mr. CHAMBERS, ---it’s the “pelisse” which “falls apart at a touch” which stands for the “injured body” of the “poor animal” “dying” English wife:

Letter 57: “My mother is preparing mourning for Mrs. E. K.; she has picked her old silk pelisse TO PIECES, and means to have it DYED black for a gown -- a very interesting scheme, though just now A LITTLE INJURED by finding that it must be placed in Mr. Wren's hands, for Mr. CHAMBERS is gone. As for Mr. FLOOR, he is at present rather LOW in our estimation. How is your blue gown? Mine is ALL TO PIECES. I think there must have been something wrong in the DYE, for in places IT DIVIDED WITH A TOUCH. There was four shillings thrown away, to be added to my subjects of never-failing regret.”

So, I hope you’ll now agree that the above provides still further evidence to support Barchas’s claims, and to rebut Ellen Moody’s claim of “over-historicism”.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The clueless leading the clueless: the alt-right hijacks a fake Jane Austen from conventional scholars

Seen the latest news meteor streak across the Austen sky?:  “Alt-Right Jane Austen” by Nicole M. Wright (Chronicle Review, March 12, 2017) with this lead:  “To my surprise, invocations of Austen popped up in many alt-right online venues. Venturing into the mire, I found that there are several variations of alt-right Jane Austen: 1) symbol of sexual purity; 2) standard-bearer of a vanished white traditional culture; and 3) exception that proves the rule of female inferiority.”

In Austen-L & Janeites, my friend Diane Reynolds, wrote: “I go to conferences, I see the alt-right people trying to appropriate "dear Jane" and also the Victorians: some of the papers I've heard full of approval of Victorian discipline of children! Yes, they are out there".  I asked Diane if she could dig up any cites for papers actually published by these so-called "scholars", because I wanted to see what such abominations of literary scholarship might look like –even my active imagination couldn’t picture how they’d try to back up their absurd claims.

In the interim, I immediately perceived one large irony of this current wave of reprehensible hijacking of Jane Austen’s fiction by alt-right literary "scholars" –it’s that they’re cluelessly stealing from a fake, i.e. the bogus Myth of Jane Austen which still largely reigns supreme even today two centuries after her death. I’ve written about that Myth a hundred times, referring to the conventional view of a somewhat conservative, timid, pious, unambitious Jane Austen, in sharp contrast to the radically feminist, gender-flexible, fiercely proud and satirical Jane Austen I’ve been retrieving and fleshing out for the past decade, and writing about in this blog. So I can't help being reminded of the recent videos of Isis savages smashing "priceless' statues and other artifacts from ancient Sumeria, only to learn that all the godless artworks they were destroying were basically papier-mache knockoffs of the real artifacts, which are all safe and sound in Baghdad. Take THAT, Steve Bannon!

Alone among the recent mainstream article writers about alt-right Austen, Claire Fallon was very much on the right track of something very important in her Huffington Post piece:  “Jane Austen Has Become An Alt-Right Icon, Somehow” :
“To use Austen as an alt-right icon, these thinkers must either read the author’s work poorly or not at all, relying on our cultural association of her work with chaste courtship, romantic marriage, and overwhelmingly white British society to imply an endorsement of those values. In fact, white nationalists would do well to realize, her work has endured largely because it cleverly and subtly skewered them.”

Fallon is more spot-on than she realizes, because, in the shadow stories of Austen’s novels (as well as of Jane Austen’s biography), I have found not only that Austen covertly exposed the manifold hypocrisies and cruelties of the rich and titled in her world (the corrupt, gluttonous Prince of “Whales” being her most prominent covert target), all the while making them believe (as DW Harding pointed out way back in 1940) she respected, even idolized them, but also that there were also other, far more radical and subversive elements hidden just beneath the surface of her “placid” tales of the Regency Era, which make  the alt-right invasion of Austenland particularly grotesque. Let me follow Wright’s summary of the three linchpins of alt-right Jane Austen:

In a NY Times piece the other day, Jennifer Schuessler commented on Wright’s article:
“In recent years, scholars have tried to find diversity in the seemingly all white world of Austen, digging into subjects like Miss Lambe, a character in her unfinished final novel, Sanditon, described as a ‘half mulatto’ heiress from the West Indies… But Ms. [Juliette] Wells said scholars teaching Austen at schools with ‘substantially’ teaching Austen at schools with “substantially multicultural students” still wrestled with a truth that must, perhaps, be uncomfortably acknowledged.  “Her characters are white, and her world is white,” she said. “What do you do with that?”

I beg to respectfully but strongly differ. I suggest that it’s not just a careless choice of adjective by Austen when we read that Henry Crawford is “black”, that Mary Crawford has brown skin and eyes, and that Elizabeth Bennet has dark skin (supposedly from being, as Hamlet might have put it, too much in the sun). When we combine those and several other textual winks scattered through her novels, above all in Mansfield Park with Sir Thomas Bertram’s (slave) plantation in Antigua, the negative begins to develop, and the image that emerges is that it wasn’t just Miss Lambe in Sanditon who was not lily white. And, as I suggested in a series of posts a few years ago, even the likes of Mr. Darcy is aware of this, when he winks cruelly at one of the worst abuses of the transatlantic slave trade with his comment that “Any savage can dance”, subtly referring to the barbarism of shackling of slaves onboard:

And people of color don’t just hide in plain sight in her fiction – it is well known in scholarly Austen circles that Jane’s own father served as trustee of land in Antigua for the benefit of a wealthy neighbor, a Mr. Nibbs, who had a biracial illegitimate son (Henry Crawford, anyone?). And in their neighborhood in Hampshire, there were numerous other Creole families of means, with holdings in the West Indies – so Sir Thomas Bertram and his morally rotten offspring in Mansfield Park were not torn from headlines Jane Austen read; they were integral parts of the Austen family’s close social circle. So the alt-right and the conventional Austen scholar turn out to be strange scholarly bedfellows in their shared error in believing in an all-white Jane Austen world.

It has been my opinion since 2011 (it took me an extra few years to see it, because I was too straight to detect it sooner) that the shadow stories of all six of Austen’s novels are above all the suppressed stories of gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters, who have not revealed their sexual preferences to the LGB-blind heroines through whose clueless eyes we view Austen’s fictional worlds. And it’s not just Emma Woodhouse and Catherine Morland, Austen’s Clueless Club also includes Elizabeth Bennet (who doesn’t realize Charlotte Lucas loves her) and Fanny Price (who doesn’t realize Mary Crawford loves her). Go to Twitter sometime and search for “Charlotte Lucas lesbian” or “Charlotte Lucas queer”, and you’ll find Tweets by readers of P&P who’ve never read a scholarly article about it, but who immediately “get” that Charlotte is a lesbian, and that’s the deeper reason why she could care less about which man she marries, in order to survive in her misogynistic world.

But, drollest of all, JA’s clever charade of sexuality reaches its satirical summit when we read that “truth universally acknowledged” that the jackass Milo Yiannopolis amuses himself by repeating ---What he, but also most reputable Austen scholars, have no clue about, is that many of those single men of means in want of a wife are gay or bisexual! That punster Jane Austen was unquestionably ROFL with her literary confidantes about that opening sentence of what would quickly become and remain her most popular and famous novel, Pride and Prejudice. Why? Because it also functions as a coded axiom that a rich gay man needed not only a large estate and stylish barouche landau, but also a “beard” (wife) in order to have cover to safely and discreetly express his unconventional sexuality with his like-minded friends (Bingley) in a barbarically homophobic society. And they’re far from the only gay men in the Austenian closet.

SUPERIOR, BAD-ASS WOMEN: In the breakout session talk I’ll be giving at the upcoming JASNA Annual General Meeting to be held in Huntington Beach, CA in October, I’ll be revealing that it is Jane Austen’s final writings in 1817, prior to her death in July of that year, when death stared her in the face,  where she was most revealing not only of her own alternative sexuality, but also of her own (well regulated) pride in her choice not to marry a man, and to enjoy the best company for her, i.e., other women who were not that into men (such as her old friend, and perhaps lover, Martha Lloyd, who lived with Jane and her sister for the last 8 years of Jane’s life; and also Anne Sharp, former governess for the children of Jane’s rich brother Edward, to whom Jane gifted one of the 12 precious first copies of Emma, and to whom Jane wrote the feminist/lesbian war cry, “Galigai forever and ever” in one of Jane’s final surviving letters – the power of the strong mind over the weak was Jane’s radical feminist war cry, and it was characters like the Luciferian Lucy Ferrars (nee Steele) and Charlotte Lucas, as well as Mary Bennet and Miss Bates, who were Jane’s true alter egos in her fiction—marginalized women who used their wits and audacity to level the gender playing field that was so grossly tilted in favor of men.

I could go on for pages longer in the same vein as these three examples, but suffice for today to say that Jane Austen would truly be LOL’ing at the cluelessness of the alt-right, in helping spread the fame of her writing, without realizing that she really stood for everything they despise. But, she’d also be saddened to learn that two centuries after her death, even her devoted, smart, mostly female fans haven’t read (as Lydia Bennet so aptly put it) the words under Austen’s lines--- and haven’t don’t realize just how multicultural, feminist, and gender-fluid she really was.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

JEAL concealed that Sense & Sensibility AND The Watsons were BOTH written after Papa Austen died!

This morning, I awoke still mulling over the details of the successful 150-year old conspiracy conducted by descendants of James Austen in order to conceal the dangerously noticeable, harshly satirical allusion by Jane Austen in S&S. The conspiracy was designed to conceal the resemblance of the selfish hypocrite John Dashwood to Austen’s brothers James, Edward, and Henry, who damned their mother and sisters with faint generosity after Reverend Austen died; essentially, leaving the Austen women to dangle in the financial wind with inadequate funds and living quarters for 4 long years.

In particular, as I posted yesterday, JEAL and his descendant Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh conjured up a phantom early version of S&S, “Elinor and Marianne”, which they claimed was written by JA in 1797—which was four years before the Austens moved to Bath, and 8 years before Reverend Austen died. Therefore, so the fake implication went, the three selfish Austen brothers couldn’t possibly be the basis for the character of John Dashwood, unless the entire story of the novel was later drastically altered by JA prior to publication in 1811. And it is the rare Austen scholar who has even considered this question at all. Mission accomplished, JEAL….or was it?

I ended my last preceding post in this thread with the following intriguing speculation about a possible off-stage counterthrust by another branch of the Austen family against the above-described conspiracy:

“What I hadn't noted before is that the quote by Richard Austen-Leigh appears in the very first few pages of the 1906 Memoir that he wrote about his late brother, Augustus Austen-Leigh. Provost of King's College, Cambridge. He begins to recount Austen family history, and I find it very very curious that he takes that opportunity to introduce what would seem to be a complete digression from his main topic (his late brother's life) to launch into that emphatic denial of wrongdoing a century earlier in the Austen family -- it makes me wonder, was there someone out there in 1906 questioning Austen family harmony whom he was specifically rebutting? If so, who?
Perhaps it was John Henry Hubback, a descendant of FRANK Austen, and the author of Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers, published in that same year, 1906? After all, someone from Frank's family must have provided to Richard Austen-Leigh the text of those letters to Frank written by Henry and James in 1805 -- so those letters which were eventually published as part of the Austen Papers in 1942 (after such a very long delay!) must already have been provided to Richard Austen-Leigh prior to 1906, and they were so clearly damning to the myth of Austen family harmony as to require some immediate plugging of leaks in the dike.
The pieces of the puzzle fit together more and more tightly.”  END QUOTE FROM MY PRIOR POST

It was while musing this morning about conflict between different strands of the Austen family as to Jane Austen’s legacy, that my memory was tickled by the name “Hubback” in my post, and I recalled that my fellow JASNAite friend, Alice Villasenor (a prof at Medaille U.), had written a section of her dissertation [“Women Readers and the Victorian Jane Austen”  (2009)] about Catherine Hubback, Frank Austen’s daughter (and John Henry Hubback’s mother), and the conflict between her and descendants of James Austen. I searched back in my files, and found that in chapter 1, entitled “Four Generations of The Watsons: Catherine Hubback’s Laboring Women’s Narrative”, Alice had written this:

“Earlier scholarship has rehearsed some of the ways in which the first five chapters of The Younger Sister [a continuation of The Watsons] differ from Austen’s fragment. It is likely that at least some of these changes are the result of the possibility that Hubback worked from memory, thereby making changes due to misremembering inevitable. Some of these changes are minor, such as changing the name of Austen’s Mrs Blake to Mrs Willis. Other changes are more significant, for example, Tom Musgrave becomes Tom Musgrove —which could possibly be an intentional allusion to the Musgroves in Persuasion.
Many of the alterations that Hubback makes to Austen’s fragment set the groundwork for the abuse Emma [Watson] suffers at the hands of her brother and sister-in-law. Whereas Austen’s fragment clearly identifies Emma as the sole expectant benefactor of her uncle’s wealth, Hubback turns Robert Watson into the “the expectant nephew.” This helps explain the extremely negative reactions that Robert and his wife Jane have towards Emma when she becomes dependent upon them after her father dies. In Hubback’s version of the story, the couple has been doubly disappointed: first by the loss of the income they expected from the uncle and second by being saddled with the burden of Emma and Elizabeth after the death of their father. Hubback also revises other aspects of Austen’s fragment in order to portray Robert to be even more mercenary and self-interested than he appears in Austen’s version. This is especially clear in Robert’s address to Emma about her uncle’s fortune:
“[…] But I think the old gentleman might have given you something — a thousand pounds or so would have done very well for you, and the rest would have been most particularly acceptable to me just now.
There was an investment offered itself, a month or two ago, in which I could have, beyond a doubt, doubled five thousand pounds in a very short time, and it was particularly cutting to be obliged to let it pass me, because that old man had behaved so shabbily. Upon my life, it makes me quite angry when I think of it — and just to throw you back upon my father’s hands, without a sixpence — a burden — a useless burden upon the family — what could he be thinking of!”
Emma was too much overcome by the many bitter feelings this speech raised, to be able to reply; and her brother, seeing her tears, said: “Well, I did not mean to make you cry, Emma; there’s no good in that — though I do not wonder that you should be mortified and disappointed too. Girls are nothing without money — no one can manage them – but you shall come and try your luck at Croydon. Perhaps, with your face, and the idea that you have still expectations, you might get off our hands altogether.”
In Austen’s version, Robert expresses concern about Emma being thrown back on their father without a “sixpence,” but the reader may or may not interpret these words as concern that he will be responsible for Emma upon their father’s death. However, Hubback does not allow for a generous interpretation of Robert’s words when she explicitly outlines Robert’s concern for himself in the third paragraph with the use of the word “our”: “you might get off our hands altogether”, emphasis mine). In Austen’s version, Emma defends her uncle’s “faultless” conduct, even while admitting that her aunt “has erred”. In Hubback’s rewrite, Robert’s words go unchecked, except by Emma’s tears. Emma’s “bitter feelings” and tears indicate that Emma interprets Robert’s words about being thrown back onto the family as a negative reflection on her uncle’s conduct rather than a negative reflection on her family’s attitude towards her. In Hubback's version, the conduct of Emma’s uncle is unpardonable, whereas in Austen’s version, it is merely questionable. [These revisions to Austen’s text may have been motivated by Francis Austen’s own loss of an expected fortune to his nephew J.E. Austen-Leigh. Mrs Leigh Perrot, a wealthy widow, left an estate to James Austen-Leigh instead of to Francis Austen as she had once intended (Le Faye Family Record). This decision changed the fortune of both the Francis Austen and James Austen branches of the Austen clan in the 19th century.]”

So, with that background, I’m now ready to fulfill the promise of my Subject Line, and tell you about the connection I see between JEAL’s imaginary earlier version of S&S dating back to 1797, and his equally imaginary dating of The Watsons to prior to Reverend Austen’s death. It’s the same disingenuous biographical shell game that he and his descendants played regarding the date of composition of S&S.

As Alice’s synopsis of key portions of the plot of The Watsons illustrates, we see that same situation of a daughter being left financially and residentially precarious by the unexpected death of a caretaking parental figure, and, more important, the selfish, hypocritical response of a son wishing to wash his hands clean of any responsibility for his sister.

First we have Fanny Lefroy, James’s granddaughter, recalling that “somewhere in 1804, she began The Watsons, but her father died early in 1805, and it was never finished.” Then we have JEAL, in the first edition of the Memoir, claiming “The unfinished story, now published under the title of The Watsons, must have been written during the author’s residence in Bath [which ended in 1805].” And then, in the second edition of The Memoir, JEAL weighs in with an additional wrinkle, that JA realized “the evil of having placed her heroine too low, in a position of poverty and obscurity, which, though not necessarily connected with vulgarity, has a sad tendency to degenerate into it”.

So, neither of those two “recollections” allowed for the possibility of a composition after the turning point in early 1805 when Reverend Austen died. However, I did find in the late Brian Southam’s Jane Austen’s Literary Manuscripts a citation of a 1927 article by E. C. Brown, “The Date of the Watsons”, Spectator, 11 June 1927, ppg. 1016-7, “which put the date as late as 1807-8.” Intrigued yet again, I found a copy of Brown’s article, and here is her explanation of the clue that alerted Brown to 1807 as the year of composition:
“It is to Jane Austen's devotion to detail that we owe the solution, I think, of the problem why the charming beginning known as The Watsons has no end. Not long ago some true-hearted student of Jane Austen discovered that the dates in Pride and Prejudice are correct throughout for the years of its revision, 1811-1812. Jane Austen did not then write down that the "Assembly at D." took place on "Tuesday, October 13th," and mean nothing thereby. In all probability Tuesday, October 13th, was the date on which she began The Watsons. But in what year? For unless we know the year the novel was begun, all speculation as to the reasons why it was abandoned must be guesswork. Mr. Austen Leigh, on finding the water-marks of 1806 and 1804 in the paper on which the manuscript is written, selected 1805 as the year in which she wrote. Now the water-mark, while excellent evidence that the writing was not begun before the year 1804, is flimsy evidence for any year in particular after 1804. For instance, the paper on which these words are written bears the water-mark 1926. Moreover, in 1805 October 13th fell on a Sunday. Not until 1807 could "Tuesday, October 13th," be correctly written…”  END QUOTE FROM BROWN ARTICLE

But that’s not all. It turns out that I am far from the first to notice the resonance between Mr. and Mr. Robert Watson and Mr. & Mrs. John Dashwood. Working back in time, first here is Joseph Wiesenfarth, in “The Watsons as Pretext”, in Persuasions (1986):     
“Jane Austen had already done a clone for Mrs. Robert Watson in Mrs. John Dashwood just as she'd done something of the low-minded, money-grubbing, insensitive brother that Robert is to Emma Watson in John Dashwood (Mudrick; Gooneratne), who treats his sisters abominably…If Mr. and Mrs. Robert Watson found some degree of realization in Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood, there was no need for Jane Austen to write a finished version of The Watsons to do their type again. Jane Austen had to know that she could never do such a couple better than she had done them in the second chapter of Sense and Sensibility. If we want to object that John Dashwood is stupider than Robert Watson, we may be correct. But then we must remember that the other side of the argument is that Robert Watson did marry his awful wife, and that is certainly the case of someone taking a "disagreable" partner for the sake of the money involved. In Jane Austen's world that does not bespeak any intelligence at all. Also, both Watson and Dashwood, live by calculation. With them the bottom line determines their decisions to act or not to act….What I am suggesting, then, is that a good deal of what we have in the fragment of The Watsons was simply pre-empted by the brilliant presentation of the John Dashwoods in Sense and Sensibility…

And following Wiesenfarth’s footnote, here’s what Marvin Mudrick wrote the year I was born (1952):
“[Robert Watson] succeeds chiefly in reminding us that JA has done a figure similar in function, if different in circumstance, much better. Robert is too close to John Dashwood, and without the latter’s complication of feeling …deploring Aunt Turner’s belated rejection of Emma, he can be more brutal with his sister than John would ever dream of being with Elinor or Marianne: [sixpence speech]. Otherwise, however, he duplicates John’s motives, his moral atmosphere, his sense of duty, with none of their preparation and development. He too takes seriously his social responsibility as financial adviser and matrimonial assistant to his sisters. …Robert, like John is never one to confuse the issue with irrelevant Christian charity…and also he will do what he can, in John’s brotherly fashion, within reason:
“…Pity you can none of you get married!—You must come to Croydon as well as the rest, & see what you can do there. I believe if Margaret had had a thousand or fifteen hundred pounds, there was a young man who would have thought of her.”
…His wife is still more plainly an unembodied function. Appropriately, she recollects Mrs. John Dashwood..[but] her position and her smugness concerning it (unlike Mrs. Dashwood’s..) are apparently so secure as to have no need of a supporting malice….If we remember her at all, it is in her closest approach to Mrs. Dashwood, as the patroness who has found her gratifying spiritual complement in a protegee, Emma’s sister Margaret, very like Lucy Steele…”

And so, now I can close the circle started by those early perceptive Austen scholars, and give a compelling new explanation for why Robert Watson and his horrid wife so strikingly resemble John Dashwood and his horrid wife—and as a bonus, I’ll also explain why I now think Jane Austen really abandoned the writing of The Watsons – it’s because both The Watsons and S&S sprang from the same creative source—Jane Austen’s rage and desire for literary revenge against her three unbrotherly brothers James, Edward and Henry for the way they had rationalized their smug dereliction of moral duty to the Austen women.

So she had a first go at it in The Watsons in 1807, but there was one problem—the satire was not funny! Plus, I now speculate, it was only after living a while with Frank and his young family in Southampton that Frank finally, sometime in later 1807, showed Jane those horribly smug letters that Henry and James wrote to him in January 1805 ---- with their own incredibly hypocritical words, they hung themselves,  and provided JA with the inspiration for John and Fanny Dashwood to spring into their horrid existence in JA’s imagination. And the eerily unwitting resonance to Regan and Goneril in King Lear quickly followed ---and so S&S superseded The Watsons. But… I also think JA never could throw away The Watsons fragment, because it must have held such powerful personal emotional significance for her, her original cri de coeur.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sunday, March 19, 2017

“The whole World is in a conspiracy to enrich one part of our family at the expence of another…”: Time to end the coverup

Today I want to revisit for the first time in a long while, and in a more organized way, my longstanding claim that the (to me) obvious primary allusive source for the basic story of S&S was as personal as it could be for Jane Austen, because the Dashwood family was based directly on one particular dark episode in Austen family history, as I’ll lay out, below, with the following cast of fictional characters corresponding to real life persons:

Marianne Dashwood = Jane Austen
Elinor Dashwood = Cassandra Austen
Mrs. Dashwood = Mrs. Austen
John Dashwood = James Austen
Fanny Dashwood = Mary Lloyd Austen

Today I want to propose three short thought experiments for you, in which, on a hypothetical basis, you clear your mind of everything you know, or think you know, abut Jane Austen’s fiction and biography, and consider certain facts in objective isolation, as uncolored by assumptions as is possible in a 2017 world saturated with all things Austen.

#1:  First, imagine you are James and Mary Lloyd, in 1811, upon first reading the first few chapters of S&S, in which the following events occur to the Dashwood women in rapid succession during the first four chapters:

The father dies unexpectedly, leaving his wife and daughters in a precarious financial position;
The father’s son and his son’s wife, who have a very young son, promptly and cynically dispossess the father’s wife and daughters, including taking away the younger daughter’s books and piano; and
The wife and daughters are rescued by an unexpected invitation by another family member (Sir John Middleton) to take occupancy of a cottage in another nearby county, where they are secure.

James and Mary Lloyd Austen knew better than anyone in the world other than Jane Austen that the following events actually occurred in real life:

In 1800-1801, as explicitly stated in Jane Austen’s letters, James and Mary Lloyd Austen dispossessed his sisters and parents, taking not only his father’s clergyman’s living and residence, but also acquiring or forcing to be sold to neighbors, at fire sale prices, pretty much all the Austen family personalty, including, most poignantly, Jane’s books and piano;
In 1805, Revd Austen died unexpectedly, resulting in a very precarious financial position for his surviving wife and daughters, leaving them to scramble to find living accommodations without being able to pay for them;
In 1809, Mrs Austen & her daughters are (eventually) rescued by an unexpected invitation by another family member (Edward Austen Knight) to take occupancy of a cottage in another nearby county where they are secure; and
In 1811, Jane Austen publishes S&S.

So, I ask you, is there any way on earth that James and Mary Lloyd could possibly have missed the obvious and very very negative portrait of themselves in S&S? Recall that James Austen was a very intelligent and well-read man, with literary aspirations of his own. And even if for whatever reason he did not read S&S all the way through, he only had to read through Chapter 4 (out of 50) to read the events covered by the above synopsis. And even in later chapters, whenever John and/or Fanny Dashwood appear in scenes, their behavior and speeches are unrelentingly reprehensible---she a prime example of rapacious greed and self serving manipulativeness; he the epitome of hypocritical selfish self-delusion as to his own self-styled generosity.

So, I cannot imagine anyone trying to argue that James and Mary would not have realized that these were real life allusions to themselves by Jane Austen, contained in the very first pages of her very first fiction published to the world, and therefore presumably of the highest importance to her.

#2: Now a second thought experiment. Imagine that it is 2017, but that up till the present, neither Jane Austen’s writing, nor anything about her life, has ever been known to the world. Then, suddenly there is a discovery of a print copy of S&S dating back to 1811 which by some publishing quirk never previously became known to the world. And simultaneously, imagine that are also discovered JA’s letters from 1800-1809 which establish Jane Austen’s personal take on what happened to the Austen women vis a vis moving to Bath and then eventually to Chawton Cottage.

Now, if you read S&S, particularly the first four chapters, and read those letters, without knowing anything else about Jane Austen or her fiction, what would your inference be as to the degree of likelihood that S&S was based on those letters and those related Austen family facts?

I think you’d agree that the answer is “Overwhelmingly likely”.

#3: That brings me to my final hypothetical: add to the facts of #2 that the following two reports are discovered in 2017 and published:

First, what JEAL wrote about the chronology and stages of composition of P&P, S&S, and NA in his 1869 Memoir:

Pride and Prejudice, which some consider the most brilliant of her novels, was the first finished, if not the first begun. She began it in October 1796, before she was twenty-one years old, and completed it in about ten months, in August 1797.  The title then intended for it was First ImpressionsSense and Sensibility was begun, in its present form, immediately after the completion of the former, in November 1797 but something similar in story and character had been written earlier under the title of Elinor and Marianne; and if, as is probable, a good deal of this earlier production was retained, it must form the earliest specimen of her writing that has been given to the world.  Northanger Abbey, though not prepared for the press till 1803, was certainly first composed in 1798.”

And second, here is what JEAL’s younger sister Caroline wrote, at about the same time:

“Memory is treacherous, but I cannot be mistaken in saying that Sense and Sensibility was FIRST written in letters, and to read to her family.”

If you also learned that JEAL was born in 1798 and Caroline in 1805, you’d also know that neither of them had firsthand knowledge of the compositional facts they claim. Given what we know from #1 and #2, is it not obvious that the source for this info were their own parents, James and Mary Lloyd?

So, with that background, why in the world would any reasonably skeptical person accept as true hearsay testimony provided to their son and daughter by James Austen and Mary Lloyd Austen, the two people who were obviously, culpably depicted in S&S?

And it happens that JEAL and his sister Caroline are the sole sources for the currently universal belief that S&S began as an epistolary novel 14 years before S&S was published, entitled Elinor and Marianne.

#4: I have one more large point to make. Do you find it odd, as I do, that, according to JEAL, JA wrote First Impressions and (objective fact) submitted it for publication in Nov. 1797; and then wrote Susan in 1798 and (objective fact) submitted it for publication in 1803; and yet why would it be that JA supposedly wrote Elinor & Marianne in between in 1797 and yet never submitted it for publication?

So I ask you another question-- what plausible motivation could the children of James and Mary Austen have had to make a point of claiming that the original version of S&S was composed by JA in 1797? Would they have had any motivation you can see to invent such a family memory with such chronological specificity?

I think the motivation must now be painfully obvious --- if the story of S&S dated from before late 1800; and if, as JEAL wrote, “a good deal of this earlier production was been retained” in the final version of S&S published in 1811, then the tale of what happened to the Dashwood women must not have been based on what occurred at Steventon when the Austens relocated to Bath in 1800-1801!

And that brings me to the climactic, ironic portion of this post, in which I will now show you how Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh and William Austen-Leigh, two of  JEAL’s descendants, in 1911, in writing Jane Austen: A Family Record , made the following acute observations regarding the transition from Elinor and Marianne to Sense and Sensibility, observations which have been largely ignored by Austen scholars for over a century now:

“We know that [Elinor and Marianne] was read aloud, but no details have come down to us, and it is difficult to guess between whom the letters can have passed, for in the novel [S&S] Elinor and Marianne are never parted, even for a single day. It seems therefore as if the alterations subsequently made must have been radical; and the difficulty and labour which such a complete transformation would involve make the author's unfavourable judgment on her own earlier method of writing all the stronger. If she decided against using letters as a vehicle for story-telling in the future, it seems all the more probable that the only other instance of her use of this style was at least as early as the date we have now reached.”

Indeed, not only are Elinor and Marianne never separated during the chronology of the novel, neither of them has any close friendship or familial relationship with anyone else living somewhere else (e.g., a friend in the neighborhood of Norland, or a new friend made while living at Barton Cottage), with whom they would have corresponded. And the fact that Elinor and Marianne are never separated during the novel isn’t an incidental fact – it is the core of the novel’s structure. So “radical alteration” and “complete transformation” almost seem inadequate. If Elinor and Marianne was written, and did involve the same characters with the same personalities, then the action must have been completely different from start to finish, since so many of the scenes of the novel involve Marianne and Elinor in conversation, both alone and also in company with others.  It would be as if JA loved the characters so much, that even after scrapping her original story, she for some reason decided to completely start from scratch and give them a whole new fictional world to exist in, during her supposed revision into S&S.

Or maybe, applying Occam’s Razor, which did not occur to RAAL to do, perhaps there never was an Elinor and Marianne; or, if there was, it was written after 1801.  Either way, it is simply not tenable to claim that Jane Austen did not utterly skewer her brother James and his wife Mary in the characters of John and Fanny Dashwood, equating them, with her literary skill, to the likes of Goneril and Ragan in King Lear.

And finally, it turns out that this wasn’t the only time that RAAL seems to have made a subtle, good faith attempt to diplomatically undo the deception foisted on the world by his ancestor JEAL, as I explained back in 2014 here:

So, with all of that, I hope I have at least shaken the firm belief of some of you that JEAL could be relied upon to tell the truth about the germ of the idea behind S&S. Instead, I hope you now see how JEAL perpetrated a massive coverup as to the connection of S&S to painful real life Austen family history. The last thing he was going to do was to let out to the world what JA wrote to CEA in May 1801 during the last stages of what JEAL, in the Memoir, referred to with unwitting irony as “the Removal from Steventon”, as she described the forced sale of her beloved and precious home library:

“Mr. Bent seems bent upon being very detestable, for he values the books at only 70L. The whole World is in a conspiracy to enrich one part of our family at the expence of another…”

What JA surely did not foresee when she wrote those words, was that the then 3 year old James Edward Austen would in his old age, as the sexagenarian James Edward Austen-Leigh, heir of the Leigh-Perrot family fortune that bypassed the Austen women, successfully perpetuate and keep the dirty secret of that conspiracy intact and invisible to the world for over two centuries.

But some of the blame must also be laid at the door of Austen scholars during the past century, who’ve actually had the truth right there in plain sight in the first 4 chapters of S&S, in JA’s 1800-1801 letters, and, if they did their homework, also with an assist from RAAL’s observations about the ”complete transformation” that led to S&S. During the bicentennial of JA’s death, isn’t it long long overdue to strip away the cover that conceals that conspiracy?

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Austen’s noteworthy “John Saunders” & “the Famous Saunders”

In the wake of the British Library’s recent announcement of the super-strong prescription on one of the three pairs of spectacles in Jane Austen’s writing desk, and in particular of the BL’s optometric expert’s inference from those spectacles that JA must have suffered from near blindness due to cataracts at the end of her life, I’ve written a series of posts the past week tieing JA’s real life spectacles to my detailed 2013 textual claims that Austen deliberately bestowed her own late-life vision impairment on her last fictional heroine, Anne Elliot, in Persuasion.

Today I add still another post to my current series, this time focused on two references in Austen’s writing to men coincidentally surnamed “Saunders”, one of whom is directly pertinent to my above-described claims, and, upon examination, supports an extension of my ophthalmologic reading to Emma as well:


In Chapter 27 of Emma, we read the following fragment of a typical Miss Bates flood of words which, as usual, seems to be about “nothing” and so is ignored by Emma:

“For my mother had no use of her spectacles—could not put them on. And, by the bye, every body ought to have two pair of spectacles; they should indeed. Jane said so. I meant to take them over to JOHN SAUNDERS the first thing I did, but something or other hindered me all the morning; first one thing, then another, there is no saying what, you know…

In the NY Times article earlier this week about the British Library’s announcement, I first learned the following:

“Dr. [Janine] Barchas has been doing her own intensive study of Austen’s prescription, summed up in a new paper, “Speculations on Spectacles: Jane Austen’s Eyeglasses, Mrs. Bates’s Spectacles, and John Saunders in Emma” to be published in Modern Philology….”

Pending publication of Barchas’s article (and kudos to her for this excellent literary sleuthing), I couldn’t wait till then to know more about the real “John Saunders” whom Barchas spotted, hiding in plain sight in Miss Bates’s speech. Why? Because while, on the surface, this seemed to be Miss Bates tediously quoting “Jane” (her niece) as authority for the universal need for “two pair of spectacles”, I also knew from all my
research that Miss Bates was also speaking for “Jane” (Austen) as authority for the readerly imperative to read with “double vision”, i.e., to learn to see both the overt story and the shadow story of all of Jane (Austen’s) novels. And so I believed there was a good chance that the allusion to John Saunders flagged by Barchas would also function somehow as a clue to the shadow story of Emma.

Now, for starters, here are 2 online bios of John Saunders that together give a pretty good sketch of the essential facts of his career for which he was known:

A General Biographical Dictionary (1851):
“SAUNDERS (John Cunningham), a surgeon, born at Loirstone in Devonshire, in 1773. After serving his apprenticeship at Barnstaple he became a pupil of St Thomas's Hospital where he was made demonstrator of anatomy. He was born at Huish, Devon, England. He founded the London Eye Infirmary "out of compassion for the pitiful state of many soldiers returning from the Egyptian campaign afflicted with military ophthalmoplegia and trachoma infections". Saunders remained the director of Moorfields, a famous teaching institution, from its founding in 1805 until his death. In 1809, he became one of the first people in England to use belladonna for its mydriatic properties to facilitate cataract extraction. The church at Huish in Devon contains a memorial to him. His book; A Treatise on some Practical Points Relating to the Diseases of the Eye was published posthumously in 1811, edited by his colleague John Richard Farre...”

Dictionary of National Biography (1897):
“SAUNDERS, JOHN CUNNINGHAM (1773–1810), ophthalmic surgeon, the youngest son of John Cunningham and Jane Saunders of Lovistone, Devonshire, was born on 10 Oct. 1773. He was sent to school at Tavistock when he was eight years old, and afterwards to South Molton, where he remained until 1790. He was then apprenticed to John Hill, surgeon of Barnstaple. He served his master for the usual term of five years and came to London, where in 1795 he entered the combined hospitals of St. Thomas and Guy in the Borough. He worked at anatomy so assiduously that in 1797 he was appointed demonstrator in that subject at St. Thomas's Hospital. This post he owed to the influence of Astley Cooper, whose house-pupil he was, and to whom he acted as dresser. He resigned his demonstratorship in 1801, and went into the country for a short time; but on his return to London he was reappointed demonstrator, and held the post until his death.
He took a prominent part in founding a charitable institution in Bloomfield Street, Moorfields, for the cure of diseases of the eye and ear in October 1804. This institution was opened for the reception of patients on 25 March 1805, but it was soon found to be necessary to limit its benefits to those who were affected with diseases of the eye. It still flourishes as the premier ophthalmic hospital…”

And, for those desiring more detail, there is also a long biographical preface (by his faithful colleague Dr. Farre) to Saunders’s posthumously published book about eye surgery.

So, the initial takeaway for me from the above, vis a vis Jane Austen, is that John Saunders, who died very young 5 years before JA published Emma, must have been well known to JA by 1815, if not sooner, specifically as a pioneer in the treatment of cataracts. Why? Because, as I said above, I believe JA herself, and also her creation, Anne Elliot, both suffered from cataracts (whether naturally or iatrogenetically caused), and so it is of special interest that JA went so far as to have Miss Bates states this medical pioneer’s full name in connection with her mother’s spectacles.

There’s no way this is a coincidence. This is an unmistakable hint that JA wanted her savvy readers in town (many of whom, by 1816, would have read or at least heard about John Saunders, whether via his influential books or the prominent London eye infirmary he founded and ran) to take it as a clue. To what end? I suggest, to think about someone in Emma who might also have suffered from cataracts without realizing it, and who, just as I’ve been saying about Anne Elliot, was nearly blind both physically and epistemologically.

Who might it be? Maybe it was the very person Miss Bates was speaking to, the person Miss Bates was actually warning to be more observant…..such as Emma Woodhouse??? After all, this was not the first time in the novel that Miss Bates chose to speak to Emma about spectacles, she had done so earlier in Chapter 19 as well:

“And then I tell her, I am sure she would contrive to make it out herself, if she had nobody to do it for her—every word of it—I am sure she would pore over it till she had made out every word. And, indeed, though my mother's eyes are not so good as they were, she can see amazingly well still, thank God! with the help of spectacles. It is such a blessing! My mother's are really very good indeed. Jane often says, when she is here, 'I am sure, grandmama, you must have had very strong eyes to see as you do—and so much fine work as you have done too!—I only wish my eyes may last me as well.' ”

And those very vague hints of Miss Bates about meaning to take the spectacles to John Saunders but being hindered from doing so? Back in the fall of 2013, I had looked into that possibility of Emma having a vision impairment like Anne Elliot’s, but had dropped it at the time for lack of finding any good textual evidence. But now I believe I need to revisit it, since it appears that JA’s special focus (ha ha) on vision impairment did not begin in Persuasion, but was already very much in play in Emma.


As a serendipitous byproduct of my above brief research on John Saunders, I refocused on a passage that we in Janeites & Austen-L had looked at in very swift passing several years ago during our group read of all 154 of Jane Austen’s surviving letters. The passage appears in Letter 44 dated April 21-23, 1805, when JA was still living in Bath:

“I wonder whether Mr. Hampson’s friend Mr. Saunders is any relation to the famous Saunders whose letters have been lately published!”  

At first it seemed that this must be the same eye doctor John Saunders whom Barchas had identified, as he had already started his Eye Infirmary by that time. However, after I digested all the biographical facts about John Saunders more thoroughly, I saw that he was not even 30 years old when JA wrote Letter 44, and that none of John Saunders’s letters had been published by that early stage of his career --- and he had also only founded the London Eye Infirmary a year or two before then, so it wasn’t likely after all that he had suddenly become famous. It couldn’t be him—but then who was “the famous Saunders”?

I decided to go back to Google Books and see if I couldn’t sleuth out another “famous Saunders” whose letters had recently been published in April 1805. Lucky me, I quickly struck gold in the 1805 edition of the Naval Chronicle (which some of you may recognize as the publication which James Stanier Clarke started in 1799, and which ran through a number of editions over 20 years), at p. 111. That is where I read the following letter from an unnamed retired Royal Navy officer, who was forwarding to the Naval Chronicle letters written by a famous man who just happened to be named….Saunders!:

“As the following letters form a valuable addition to your memoirs of the late Admiral Sir Charles Saunders, I doubt not but you will deem them worthy of a place in your valuable publication. Gazette letters relative to important events ought to be preserved, as the safest documents from which an historian can gather fats. The first letter is particularly curious, as it sets forth in a succinct and precise manner the difficulties which regarded the conquest of Quebec, and the very serious apprehensions the Admiral entertained of being obliged to abandon the expedition.  1 am, &c.   
Southampton, August 9, 1802. AN OLD OFFICER.”

I immediately found the Admiral’s substantial Wikipedia page, which shows that he remains relatively famous 212 years after JA referred to him as such. As you can see there, he had a prominent and illustrious naval career:

So it is clear (and also makes perfect sense given that JA had two sailor brothers, and we know from her letters that she therefore followed events in the British Navy very closely) that “the famous Saunders” is none other than the late Admiral Sir Charles Saunders. I hope this discovery will assist in finally  determining the answer to JA’s question, albeit 212 years later, as to whether the “Mr. Saunders” with whom JA’s relatives (the Hampsons and her brother Edward) were socially connected, was indeed a relation of the late Admiral.

In that regard, I may have found another clue. Google Books also showed me that in 1797 the long dead Admiral Saunders’ granddaughter married Robert Dundas, son of Henry Dundas. I recognized the surname, because there are several references to members of the Dundas family of Barton Court in JA’s letters. So there seems to have been yet another possible interfamily connection of the Austen family to the Saunders family via the Dundases, which may have played a role in exciting JA’s interest in Admiral Saunders’ letters.

This is another example of how curious and persistent JA was herself as an amateur sleuth who kept an eye and ear out for possible familial connections, and then took steps to find out if they were actual.


So, it turns out that both references in JA’s writing to men named Saunders help to fill in a few more pieces of the related puzzles of JA’s fiction and JA’s biography.

Cheers, ARNIE

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