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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, October 22, 2021

Another Missing Party-cipant in one of Jane Austen’s Novels

I’ve received no answer to my tricky quiz, so now I will give the final (decisive) hints necessary to figure it out. HINT #1: The Austen novel (other than Emma, with Mr. K, like a svelte Santa Claus, missing from most of the Randalls Christmas dinner party) with the missing party-cipant in a small social gathering is PERSUASION. HINT #2: The following passage in Persuasion will greatly assist you in ascertaining which character that might be. You then need to figure out which gathering that character is a surprising no-show at, even though the clueless Anne Elliot never notices that absence, and therefore neither does the narrator!: Ch. 16: “She longed to see the Crofts; but when the meeting took place, it was evident that no rumour of the news had yet reached them. The visit of ceremony was paid and returned; and Louisa Musgrove was mentioned, and Captain Benwick, too, without even half a smile. The Crofts had placed themselves in lodgings in Gay Street, perfectly to Sir Walter's satisfaction. He was not at all ashamed of the acquaintance, and did, in fact, think and talk a great deal more about the Admiral, than the Admiral ever thought or talked about him. The Crofts knew quite as many people in Bath as they wished for, and considered their intercourse with the Elliots as a mere matter of form, and not in the least likely to afford them any pleasure. They brought with them their country habit of being almost always together. He was ordered to walk to keep off the gout, and Mrs Croft seemed to go shares with him in everything, and to walk for her life to do him good. Anne saw them wherever she went. Lady Russell took her out in her carriage almost every morning, and she never failed to think of them, and never failed to see them. Knowing their feelings as she did, it was a most attractive picture of happiness to her. She always watched them as long as she could, delighted to fancy she understood what they might be talking of, as they walked along in happy independence, or equally delighted to see the Admiral's hearty shake of the hand when he encountered an old friend, and observe their eagerness of conversation when occasionally forming into a little knot of the navy, Mrs Croft looking as intelligent and keen as any of the officers around her.” HINT #3: The following passage (that begins the scene in the first cancelled chapter of Persuasion that Jane Austen completely deleted in her final published version) is a further (oblique) clue as to the identity of the missing party-cipant, and also perhaps a clue as to why that character might have no-showed. Recall that at this moment in the story, Anne has just left Mrs. Smith’s apartment after hearing all about Cousin Elliot: “With all this knowledge of Mr E--& this authority to impart it, Anne left Westgate Buildgs--her mind deeply busy in revolving what she had heard, feeling, thinking, recalling & forseeing everything; shocked at Mr Elliot--sighing over future Kellynch, and pained for Lady Russell, whose confidence in him had been entire.--The Embarrassment which much be felt from this hour in his presence!--How to behave to him?--how to get rid of him?--what to do by any of the Party at home?--where to be blind? where to be active?—It was altogether a confusion of Images & Doubts--a perplexity, an agitation which she could not see the end of— -and she was in Gay St & still so much engrossed, that she started on being addressed by Adml Croft, as if he were a person unlikely to be met there. It was within a few steps of his own door.--"You are going to call upon my wife, said he, she will be very glad to see you."--Anne denied it "No--she really had not time, she was in her way home"--but while she spoke, the Adml had stepped back & knocked at the door, calling out, "Yes, yes do go in; she is all alone. go in & rest yourself."--Anne felt so little disposed at this time to be in company of any sort, that it vexed her to be thus constrained--but she was obliged to stop. "Since you are so very kind, said she, I will just ask Mrs Croft how she does, but I really cannot stay 5 minutes.--You are sure she is quite alone."— -The possibility of Capt. W. had occurred--and most fearfully anxious was she to be assured--either that he was within or that he was not; which, might have been a question.--"Oh! yes, quite alone--Nobody but her Mantuamaker with her, & they have been shut up together this half hour, so it must be over soon."--"Her Mantua maker!--then I am sure my calling now, wd be most inconvenient.--Indeed you must allow me to leave my Card & be so good as to explain it afterwards to Mrs C." "No, no, not at all, not at all. She will be very happy to see you. Mind--I will not swear that she has not something particular to say to you--but that will all come out in the right place. I give no hints.--Why, Miss Elliot, we begin to hear strange things of you--(smiling in her face)--But you have not much the Look of it--as Grave as a little Judge." --Anne blushed.--"Aye, aye, that will do. Now, it is right. I thought we were not mistaken." She was left to guess at the direction of his Suspicions….” At our Zoom on Thursday, I will be giving my interpretation of how the mysterious no-show fits within the broader context of the shadow story of Persuasion – at this point, please do not respond in this group before then, but feel free to email me privately if you wish to discuss any of this before Thursday. ARNIE MY PRIOR POSTS In Persuasions #18 (1996)… …Joan Austen-Leigh famously speculated that Jane Austen had nodded, i.e., that she had forgotten about Mr. Knightley while writing the Randalls dinner party in the (very light) snow, until late in the party, when he suddenly is just there. As Austen-Leigh argues: “Mr. Knightley is silent. He says not a single word until there is an alarm about snow and we are told he "left the room immediately" (but we have not been told that he was ever in it!). When he returns it is to "answer for there not being the smallest difficulty in their getting home, whenever they liked it". Also "he had seen the coachmen and they both agreed with him". Both! Only two coachmen, so he did not bring his own carriage. Poor fellow, I hope he did not get his feet wet. But it is no matter. It is as we expect, while the others are flapping and fussing to no purpose, Mr. Knightley takes charge. He and Emma settle it all between them, which is entirely satisfactory and exactly what we have counted upon their doing. For this purpose and no other was he present at Randalls.” I don’t agree with her, I believe instead that Jane Austen knew exactly what she was doing, and that she meant her most attentive readers to not only notice his absence during most of the party, but also to then wonder what Mr. Knightley might have been doing, and where he was doing it, while he was discreetly absent from Emma’s observant eye for that crucial few hours. Well… just yesterday, in one of Austen’s other novels besides Emma, I happened upon what appears to me to be another unexplained absence of a character who we would have expected to be present at a party – but in that other case, the missing character never shows up at all, and the heroine never notices that absence! So, unless I have overlooked an explanation, whether oblique or explicit, for that absence, I believe this is another instance in which Jane Austen wanted her best readers to notice that missing “party-cipant”, and to wonder where that character might have been during the party. And now I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t one or two more of these hidden puzzles scattered among Austen’s novels, which have not (yet) been noted. One hint, to make your solving this puzzle less onerous. The instance I have in mind is found in one of the following three novels: Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, or Persuasion. Please respond to me privately at with any answer you come up with, and I will announce my answer (and any other answer that I receive that fits my parameters) on Monday evening 7 pm PST, October 25. Happy hunting, ARNIE MY FOLLOWUP QUIZ POST Here is one necessary clarification, and two more hints: I realized a few minutes ago that I was unintentionally very misleading, when I referred to the gathering that a certain character was absent from as a "party". The gathering actually had no dancing, or food served as far as I can tell, it was a small informal group, and most of the activity was just conversation among them. My apologies! My only excuse is that when I started out my quiz talking about Knightley being absent from the Randalls Christmas dinner party, I had parties on the brain, when I drew the parallel between the two scenes! Anyway, as penance, I will now give you a few more significant clues. First: the absent character is one whom orthodox Janeites would never in a million years think of as being Machiavellian offstage; and yet, there is some Austen scholarship that has been out there for nearly 30 years, and documentary evidence dating back to Jane Austen's lifetime, that fits really, really well with the idea of that missing character being manipulative. Second: I said before, that this scene occurs in one of the following three novels: NA, Mansfield Park, or Persuasion. Well, now I will narrow it down still further, to save you time - it's not in NA, it is in either MP or Persuasion. Okay, so now I think you have enough (non-misleading) clues, so as to have a fair chance of figuring out which scene I am referring to. And if you get that far, I believe that if you make a list of the characters who are clearly present and speaking, then you will be able to immediately recognize who you might have expected to be there, too, but who is AWOL, so to speak.

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