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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Sex, Radicalism, & Jane Austen: Connections to John Thelwall

Yesterday, I read a very interesting guest post at Sarah Emsley’s blog (which this year has an ongoing focus on Northanger Abbey) by Judith Thompson, about resonance between NA and the career and writings of the late 18th century political radical John Thelwall. Thompson is one of the leading Thelwall scholars in the world, and, unlike many other scholars writing about Austen, she does not shy away at all from speculating about resonance between Thelwall and Austen, even though, according to what I call the Myth of Jane Austen, that was a twain that supposedly never met. So first and foremost, I urge you to read her post:

I want to focus today first on two related topics, one addressed in Thompson’s current post, and the other in her 2014 guest post at Emsley’s blog, also about Thelwall and Austen.


Thompson quotes Henry’s witty mockery of Eleanor’s alarm about news from London, then writes:   

“This passage…is one of my favorites in Northanger Abbey….because the mention of riots in London makes it the best place in Austen’s corpus to enter a discussion about the nature and degree of Austen’s political consciousness and her engagement with one of the most revolutionary critical moments in literary history, which she is often accused of, or assumed to be, ignoring.  These much-vexed debates have been rekindled lately with the publication of Helena Kelley’s much ballyhooed book on Jane Austen: The Secret Radical….”

Those who follow my blog know that I’ve previously explained in a detailed blog post here…
…how Kelly’s chapter about Northanger Abbey in her 2016 book owes an enormous, detailed, and utterly UN-acknowledged debt to my own public speaking and writing dating back to 2009, in which I argued (and still argue) that the shadow story of NA is the real-life “domestic Gothic” horror of the death-in-childbirth and serial pregnancy plague that decimated married English gentlewomen like Mrs. Tilney.

Therefore, it will come as no surprise that I generally agree with Thompson’s brief, unfavorable reaction to Kelly’s book, except for the following observations by Thompson, with which I take strong issue:

In place of real, historically-, critically- and technically-informed analysis of radicalism, she substitutes a breathlessly superficial revelation of sexual symbolism (masturbation by the washing-chest, oh my!) in a tone that mimics Isabella’s prurient faux-naïveté, without the saving grace of Catherine’s sincerity. Despite her title, Kelley shows little awareness of the subtle and multiple forms that radicalism takes in the period, or the reasons why a woman in particular might have had recourse to secrecy in an age (like our own) of ideological binaries that forced many intelligent thinkers into silence (clue: it’s not all about sex).”

My rebuttal to Thompson is simple – while, indeed, “it’s not all about sex”, 13 years of research have shown me beyond a shadow of doubt that for Jane Austen (in this regard very different from male radicals like Thelwall) sex (or to be more precise, women’s control over their own bodies, especially in relation to sexuality) was THE main political battleground which engaged Austen’s lifelong radical political focus. When Catherine Morland spurns “real solemn history”, that is Austen herself, slyly hinting that HIStory leaves out the other half – HERstory. The fears, hopes, and interests of women were utterly and very pointedly ignored by the men holding the collective pen (so to speak).

And this is a “plus ca change” moment, because this same comment applies in 2018 even more so, if possible, than in 1818 (and of course, before, during and long after Jane Austen’s own brief lifetime).
As I’ve noted in recent months, Jane Austen was in effect engaged in a covert, one-woman-author, #metoo literary campaign, and I’m proud to be a member of the board of AGE
which has for several years now worked to obtain a fair share of the grip of the “pen” for women, by “offering grants to professional Portland (OR) metro-area theatre companies that demonstrate a commitment to intersectional gender equity in playwriting, directing, casting, and designing.” gender equity in playwriting, directing, casting, and designing.
I’m certain that Jane Austen would approve, but let me now turn to Thompson’s flippant “masturbation by the washing-chest, oh my!”. It is true that Kelly’s treatment of that topic was paper-thin, but consider instead what I said (with Kelly in attendance, as I noted in my linked post) at my own Chawton House talk in July 2009:

"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."

By the way, I did go to Westminster Abbey, and check out those “awful memorials” yourself:
And note that one of the radical feminists who inspired Jane Austen most of all was Aphra Behn!

So, when Thompson concludes with “Austen’s irony, walking the fine line between sedition and entertainment, is a more likely sign of the secret radicalism of Northanger Abbey than her sexual symbolism”, I reply that in Northanger Abbey Austen’s sexual symbolism was at the fiercely beating heart of her secret radical feminism (“feminism”, ironically, being the crucial word Kelly left out of her title when she “borrowed” from me).

And apropos Thompson’s excellent discussion of “voluntary spies” in NA, I now quote the following exchange between Diane Reynolds and myself here in Janeites and Austen L in December 2012, which also resonates in interesting ways to our recent speculations about influence of Coleridge on Austen:

Diane: “I have circled back to reading Holmes's biography of Coleridge and was a bit startled to find out that in 1797, when the Wordsworths came for a long visit to Coleridge's cottage near Bristol, they were literally spied on, apparently as potentially ‘seditious’ people, largely because a radical or former radical, John Thelwall, also arrived in the area…The spy's account is of historic interest, because it documents from an outsider's point of view, the ramblings through nature and careful, ‘scientific’ observations of the natural world of titans of the Romantic movement, but I couldn't help but think of Henry Tilney's observation that in England, everyone's neighbor is a spy. It's possible he (and hence Austen) meant that literally. I can also imagine the young Jane and Cassandra on similar ramblings, with camp stools, notebooks and portfolios ...This is Holmes's account: "Describing Wordsworth and Dorothy [sic] as an 'emigrant family,' the [spy's] report engagingly present their nefarious activities with Coleridge: 'The man has Camp Stools, which he and his visitors take with them when they go about the country upon their nocturnal or diurnal excursions, and have also a Portfolio in which they enter their observations, which they have been heard to say were almost finished. They have been heard to say they would be rewarded for them, and were very attentive to the River near them... These people may possibly be Agents to some principal at Bristol.' 

My reply: Diane, this is what I've been saying all along, in terms of the supposed safety of a "radical" speaking out openly against the manifold hypocrisies, cruelties, and horrors of the "normal English way of life"--to openly espouse free thought was a very dangerous proposition in post-French-Terror England---what you describe above actually sounds like something out of Stalinist Russia, or Orwell's Oceania--thoughtcrime. And since It is clear that JA did not have a suicidal bone in her body, but, to the contrary, was intensely pragmatic, I believe she was determined to survive and to make sure her profound, even revolutionary, insights into human nature and society survived as well. If that meant going undercover, and staying off the radar screens of all the General Tilneys of England, and being very discreet and patient (just think about Miss Bates's survival strategies, and Miss Marple's detection strategies), then so be it. Better to live to fight another day, than to die gloriously on Day One. Just think about the scariness of a society in which malevolent, misogynistic garbage like Polwhele’s Unsex’d Females could attain a measure of fame and influence…”


As promised, here is an excerpt from Thompson’s 2014 guest post at Emsley’s blog… … which she wrote as part of a discussion of the influence of Thelwall on Mansfield Park:

“Recently I had occasion to revisit the adopted daughter of the Bertram family, in order to help me contextualize an edition of Thelwall’s novel The Daughter of Adoption, published 13 years before Mansfield Park. And strangely I found much to compare between the two narratives. Though Thelwall’s Seraphina is an outspoken Wollstonecraftian Creole who challenges and overturns the slave-owning patriarchal system, and Austen’s Fanny is a cowering English country-mouse who seems content to submit to class-bound hierarchies and traditional moral codes, both novels share several plot elements and even some characters with the same names and natures. Perhaps this is because both draw from a common source in Burney’s Evelina, though it is not impossible that Austen had read Thelwall’s Daughter: it was published under a pseudonym, and she read a lot more than she let on, too.”

When I read that in 2014, I was inspired to take a deeper dive into possible connections between Thelwall and Austen than I had found in brief forays since 2006, when I first became aware of who Thelwall was and wondered about that, especially given that by 2009 I had already argued in my JASNA AGM talk that Godwin’s Caleb Williams was a key allusive source for the radical political subtext of Northanger Abbey.

After reading Thompson’s focus on The Daughter of Adoption, and her spotting the strong resonance between it and Mansfield Park,  I decided to take a look at the actual text of Thelwall’s novel, hoping to find something beyond what Thompson had already mentioned in her blog post. And when I did, I struck gold, as I noted in my Oct. 6, 2015 blog post in which I listed nine different literary sources as all pointing to Mr. Woodhouse as an incestuous monster:
John Thelwall’s Daughter of Adoption (1801), with a character named Mr. WOODHOUSE who torments the West Indies-plantation-owning patriarch with an ultimate incestuous nightmare”

In Book 10 of Thelwall’s novel, the Revd. Emanuel Woodhouse is the duplicitous agent for the male protagonist, a Creole named Henry Montfort –so there you have both parts of Mr. Henry Woodhouse’s name. And I had long before then been suspicious of a dark cloud of paternal incest hovering over Mr. Woodhouse, involving one or more of Isabella (who exactly is the bio father of her baby son “Henry”?), Emma, and possibly even Miss Taylor. As I’ve detailed in numerous posts, the Shakespeare play which points to this paternal incest subtext in Emma is Pericles, which is the primary reason, I assert, for Mr. Woodhouse’s futile attempt to recall all the words of Garrick’s Riddle, which, as Heydt-Stevenson first pointed out two decades ago, is all about men with syphilis having sex with virgins in order to cure themselves.

So, for a character named “Woodhouse” to be explicitly connected to incest in Thelwall’s novel which, as Thompson pointed out in 2014 was part of the subtext of Mansfield Park, is, I suggest, very interesting indeed. And that points back to my claim in Part One of this post, above, in which I asserted that for Jane Austen, the collective, injured female body was Ground Zero for her brand of fiery, radical feminism.

And before I close, there’s still one point more. Although MP is the Austen novel in which West Indian slavery is foregrounded, several scholars including myself have speculated about the source of both the Woodhouse fortune and even more so about that of the nouveau riche Hawkins family of Bristol. So a connection to Thelwall’s novel, which involves both England and the West Indies, may perhaps add a great deal to penetrating that elusive slavery subtext in Emma.

And there I will conclude, and hope that the above adds to the development of more insight into the fascinating connections between the radical politics of John Thelwall and Jane Austen.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Jane Austen’s Days of Future Past: Another Unnoticed Romantic Poetry Allusion in Persuasion

Apropos my recent posts about Jane Austen alluding to Coleridge’s "Kubla Khan" in the Pinny passage in Persuasion, which I claim points to Anne Elliot’s sexual reawakening, I confess that I have a very spotty knowledge of Romantic poetry. Which is why I’m surprised that, in following up on my latest post on that subject, I’ve now come upon yet another Austen allusion to another famous Romantic Era poem, which, as far as I can tell, no Austen or Romantic poetry scholar has described as such. 

The allusion I stumbled upon is foregrounded in the passage in Chapter 23, which I was looking at in following up on the significance of the word “recollection” (i.e., memory) in regard to Anne’s sexual reawakening. We read Anne’s ecstatic reflections after she and Wentworth are at last reunited:

“There could not be an objection. There could be only the most proper alacrity, a most obliging compliance for public view; and smiles reined in and spirits dancing in private rapture. In half a minute Charles was at the bottom of Union Street again, and the other two proceeding together: and soon words enough had passed between them to decide their direction towards the comparatively quiet and retired gravel walk, where the power of conversation would make the present hour a blessing indeed, and prepare it for all the immortality which the happiest RECOLLECTIONS of their own future lives could bestow. There they exchanged again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure everything, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement. There they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other's character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting. And there, as they slowly paced the gradual ascent, heedless of every group around them, seeing neither sauntering politicians, bustling housekeepers, flirting girls, nor nursery-maids and children, they could indulge in those retrospections and acknowledgements, and especially in those explanations of what had directly preceded the present moment, which were so poignant and so ceaseless in interest. All the little variations of the last week were gone through; and of yesterday and today there could scarcely be an end.”

That passage is saturated with romantic “recollection” in various forms, and here is the excerpt containing the allusion I spotted:  “prepare [the present hour] for all the immortality which the happiest recollections of their own future lives could bestow.”

My eye was caught by that sentence, because something was strange in it, which required me to pause and parse it. What exactly are “recollections of their own future lives” –shouldn’t it be “recollections of their own past lives”? I recognized this immediately as a poetic reversal of expectation by JA, a deliberate paradox to convey how Anne, in her bliss, has come unstuck in time.

That suggested to me that this was likely itself an allusion to another poem (by Coleridge?). So I Googled “immortality” and “recollections” together, and I was immediately rewarded in the search results with the title of a poem as famous as Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, a poem with which Jane Austen was surely familiar, but by a different famous Romantic poet!:

“Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth

When I then checked the JASNA website, I was led to Susan Allen Ford’s Editor’s Note to the latest issue of Persuasions Online, in which Susan wrote the following about the theme of the JASNA AGM held in October 2017:

“As the world celebrated Jane Austen on the 200th anniversary of her death with banknotes and benches, exhibitions and eulogies, teas and tours, members of JASNA gathered in Huntington Beach for the AGM. The theme was fitting: “Jane Austen in Paradise: Intimations of Immortality”. That title, of course, alludes to both Rudyard Kipling’s comic poem “Jane’s Marriage,” in which Jane Austen arrives in Paradise, and William Wordsworth’s more meditative “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” Two hundred years of afterlife might lead either to lightness of heart or to some solemn and philosophical musings, worthy of Fanny Price at her most rhapsodic. But “immortality” is a word that neither Jane Austen’s characters nor her narrators seem comfortable with.
A search of an online concordance finds only one instance, near the conclusion of her last completed novel, Persuasion, as the narrator overflows with powerful feelings of affection and delight in the happiness of her two lovers:  “soon words enough had passed between them to decide their direction towards the comparatively quiet and retired gravel-walk, where the power of conversation would make the present hour a blessing indeed; and prepare for it all the immortality which the happiest recollections of their own future lives could bestow.” 
Here “immortality” is a natural sequel to “blessing,” redeeming the sorrows and losses of Anne and “immortality” is also teasingly parodic, a way of poking gentle fun at the transcendent emotions of the pair. In addition to the celebratory comedy of overfull emotion, “immortality” also picks up the novel’s emphasis on time, its expansions and contractions, its confusions of past, present, future.  In this passage the narrator looks forward from “the present hour” to their “future lives,” in which they will happily recollect the past (this present moment), which will then be transformed to the timelessness of immortality…”   END QUOTE FROM FORD’S EDITOR’S NOTE

Even though Ford quotes Wordsworth’s poem title in the first paragraph, and Austen’s echoing narration in the second, she does not connect them; nor does she claim that Austen intentionally alluded to Wordsworth. That does not surprise me, because mainstream literary scholars rarely assert the existence of an allusion without explicit evidence, and this is not explicit, although, to my mind, to paraphrase that other lover of Romantic poetry, Marianne Dashwood, the allusion “was in every word implied, but never professedly declared.”

I felt certain, especially in the context of all the Romantic poetic allusions by Austen in Persuasion (and, for that matter, in Mansfield Park), including the veiled allusion to Kubla Khan. So I dove into the scholarly databases to see if I could discern its meaning from articles which might give hints to explain why JA would point to Wordsworth’s famous poem at that romantic climactic point in Persuasion.

I wound up finding several very interesting articles, which will all require a great deal of followup study in order for me to arrive at any sort of confident interpretation. However, from my quick skimthrough of  those articles, my tentative hypothesis is that the key clue is the strange reversal of temporality in Anne Elliot’s blurring of past present and future in the midst of her bliss. As far as I can tell so far,  Wordsworth’s poem is itself known for a comparable blurring of time in the heart and mind. All of which fits so perfectly and ironically with Anne’s worry for Benwick’s overindulgence in Romantic poetry – the joke is that it is Anne who repeatedly resorts to Romantic poetry as her heart (and her sexual body) lurches awake after 8 ½ years of hibernation.

I will return with whatever I come up with, once I have completed that review, but at least wanted to get the basic idea out there in the interim.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Anne Elliot’s “faint blush at some recollections”…of her stream of (sexual) consciousness at Pinny!

I’m back (as my famous namesake famously said) to provide even more textual evidence to support my claim that Coleridge’s Kubla Khan was actually a key allusive text for Persuasion, primarily because it symbolizes the sexual reawakening of Anne Elliot which JA, in breaking new fictional ground, depicts in Anne’s stream (all puns intended, vis a vis Kubla Khan) of sexual consciousness.

To begin, I remind you that during the past few weeks, I’ve explained the intense sexual charge I see in three separate passages in Persuasion:

First, at the end of Chapter 9, when Wentworth catches Anne entirely by surprise when he rescues Anne from little Walter Musgrove’s “little sturdy hands fastened around her neck”:

“[Anne’s] sensations on the discovery made her perfectly speechless. She could not even thank him. She could only hang over little Charles, with most disordered feelings. His kindness in stepping forward to her relief, the manner, the silence in which it had passed, the little particulars of the circumstance, with the conviction soon forced on her by the noise he was studiously making with the child, that he meant to avoid hearing her thanks, and rather sought to testify that her conversation was the last of his wants, produced such a confusion of varying, but very painful agitation, as she could not recover from, till enabled by the entrance of Mary and the Miss Musgroves to make over her little patient to their cares, and leave the room. She could not stay. It might have been an opportunity of watching the loves and jealousies of the four--they were now altogether; but she could stay for none of it. It was evident that Charles Hayter was not well inclined towards Captain Wentworth. She had a strong impression of his having said, in a vext tone of voice, after Captain Wentworth's interference, "You ought to have minded me, Walter; I told you not to teaze your aunt;" and could comprehend his regretting that Captain Wentworth should do what he ought to have done himself. But neither Charles Hayter's feelings, nor anybody's feelings, could interest her, till she had a little better arranged her own. She was ashamed of herself, quite ashamed of being so nervous, so overcome by such a trifle; but so it was, and it required a long application of solitude and reflection to recover her.”

Second, in Chapter 11, when we read the following narration describing the last stage of the road trip from Uppercross to Lyme, narration which I claim is filtered through Anne’s poetry-infused mind:

“The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more, its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands, make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest trees and orchards of luxuriant growth, declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again, to make the worth of Lyme understood.”

The above passage, which already contains imagery reflecting Anne’s thawing sexuality, also carries as its echo the even more intensely sexual passage in Coleridge’s poem which would have been recently known to at least some of Austen’s contemporary readers:

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:

And third, in Chapter 23, Austen shows that sexual energy is already building inside Anne’s body as she debates gender and constancy with Harville --- but then, after she reads Wentworth’s letter, the floodgates  open, and she once again finds herself at Pinny, so to speak, enveloped in the waters (hormones) that rushed over her heart, mind, soul, and body:

“Such a letter was not to be soon recovered from. Half an hour's solitude and reflection might have tranquillised her; but the ten minutes only which now passed before she was interrupted, with all the restraints of her situation, could do nothing towards tranquillity. Every moment rather brought fresh agitation. It was an overpowering happiness. And before she was beyond THE FIRST STAGE OF FULL SENSATION, Charles, Mary, and Henrietta, all came in."

So there you have three passages in the same vein depicting Anne’s sexual arousal, to which I will now add a fourth, which I only found because I took note of Coleridge’s subtitle for Kubla Khan:
“A vision in a dream. A Fragment.”

Knowing JA’s predilection for using unusual keywords to tag her allusions, I wondered whether she might have picked up on that powerful word “vision” somewhere in Persuasion other than the Pinny scene, in order to further point to Coleridge’s poem. And guess what! That word picked me up and carried me straight to another, fourth passage in Persuasion in which Anne is caught up in Coleridgean feelings. And wait till you see the bonus in understanding which identifying this fourth passage yields!

The word “visions” appears in the midst of the narrative in Chapter 20 (therefore, after the Pinny passage, but before the White Hart Inn scene). The scene depicts Anne’s brief conversation with Wentworth prior to the concert at Bath, and it gets interesting right after he thrills her with his negative comments about Benwick’s engagement to Louisa. It’s not just that he criticizes it as a mismatch of minds, it’s that Louisa gets the short end of the mismatch from Wentworth, although he does also criticize Benwick’s very short memory and therefore inconstancy toward his previous fiancée, Harville’s late sister Fanny:

“Either from the consciousness, however, that his friend [Benwick[ had recovered, or from other consciousness, he went no farther; and Anne who, in spite of the agitated voice in which the latter part had been uttered, and in spite of all the various noises of the room, the almost ceaseless slam of the door, and ceaseless buzz of persons walking through, had distinguished every word, was struck, gratified, confused, and beginning to breathe very quick, and feel an hundred things in a moment. It was impossible for her to enter on such a subject….”

Note that Anne is so “gratified” by Wentworth’s speech, that she herself immediately falls once more into an aroused, disordered state which might have reminded her of how she felt when Wentworth rescued her from the boy on her neck in Chapter 9, but which, as her next words show, definitely reminds her of that other erotic, Wentworth-infused moment in Chapter 11, because look at what she brings up next:

“…and yet, after a pause, feeling the necessity of speaking, and having not the smallest wish for a total change, she only deviated so far as to say--"You were a good while at Lyme, I think?"

In her own mind, she is suddenly back on that carriage ride past Pinny, reexperiencing the burn of passion! And now note what she says after Wentworth responds without particular passion, not taking the bait she has dangled in hopes of a different response from him:

"About a fortnight. I could not leave it till Louisa's doing well was quite ascertained. I had been too deeply concerned in the mischief to be soon at peace. It had been my doing, solely mine. She would not have been obstinate if I had not been weak. The country round Lyme is very fine. I walked and rode a great deal; and the more I saw, the more I found to admire."
"I should very much like to see Lyme again," said Anne.
"Indeed! I should not have supposed that you could have found anything in Lyme to inspire such a feeling. The horror and distress you were involved in, the stretch of mind, the wear of spirits! I should have thought your last impressions of Lyme must have been strong disgust."

Anne has tried to entice him into going back to Lyme with her, but again he has not responded in kind. And now here is the punch line which shows that Anne persists in trying to convey to Wentworth the sexual thrill she experienced as they passed by Pinny:

"The last hours were certainly very painful," replied Anne; "but when pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure. One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering, which was by no means the case at Lyme. We were only in anxiety and distress during the last two hours, and previously there had been a great deal of enjoyment. So much novelty and beauty! I have travelled so little, that every fresh place would be interesting to me; but there is real beauty at Lyme; and in short" (with a faint blush at some recollections), "altogether my impressions of the place are very agreeable."

Her impressions of the place are very agreeable? A faint blush at some recollections? What she almost says, but then pulls back, is that she nearly had an orgasm as they rode in the bouncing carriage past Pinny, and the landscape kindled her flame of desire! After Wentworth walks away, Anne’s mind then feverishly parses the romantic significance she sees in what has just transpired between her and Wentworth:

“She could not contemplate the change as implying less. He must love her. These were thoughts, with their attendant visions, which occupied and flurried her too much to leave her any power of observation; and she passed along the room without having a glimpse of him, without even trying to discern him. When their places were determined on, and they were all properly arranged, she looked round to see if he should happen to be in the same part of the room, but he was not; her eye could not reach him; and the concert being just opening, she must consent for a time to be happy in a humbler way.”

“With their attendant VISIONS”? No, Wentworth did not get a charge out of riding past Pinny, it was only Anne – but she does not realize this!  It is only she who, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but without the need for opium, experiences “visions” as she gazes at Pinny, which had “given a great deal of (sexual) enjoyment”, so much so that she blushes to recollect it some time afterwards!
By the way, Jill Heydt-Stevenson almost got there 23 years ago on why Anne blushes. In her first scholarly publication which discussed sex in Austen’s novels, JHS gave her interpretation of Anne’s “faint blush at some recollections”:
"Unbecoming Conjunctions": Mourning the Loss of Landscape and Love in Persuasion Jill Heydt-Stevenson  Oct. 1995 8/1 Eighteenth Century Fiction
“Towards the end of the text, Anne says outright that "'when pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure. One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering ... but there is real beauty at Lyme: and in short' (with a faint blush at some recollections) 'altogether my impressions of the place are very agreeable"'. Anne blushes because she has inadvertently referred to her own beauty there, to Elliot's admiration of her beauty, and to Wentworth's acknowledgment of Elliot's admiration. The events at Lyme gradually replace the troubled events of eight years before; Lyme itself becomes an erotic landscape, as Anne and Wentworth alternately blush, redden, and glow while recollecting the past, and in this sense it becomes a restorative, as it colours their faces and strengthens their constitutions.”
As I’ve always said, Heydt-Stevenson deserved enormous credit for having made it impossible for the Janeite world to continue to ignore sex in Austen’s novels, and so, in 1995, how could she have recognized everything I’ve written about, above, with the benefit of hindsight? But it’s worth noting that had JHS was really close. Had she thought further about her ingenious idea that “Lyme itself becomes an erotic landscape”, she’d have realized that she was nearly there, and all she needed to do was to recognize that Jane Austen gave Anne Elliot a sexual life in Persuasion.
But there’s one last wonderful strand in this rich braid of Austenian subtext. It was only as I was finalizing this post, that something tickled my memory, and I searched for other usages of “faint blush” in Austen’s fiction, and that was when the search engine enabled me to catch Jane Austen in a brilliant act of intertextual genius – as she wrote about Anne’s “faint blush”, she was slyly recollecting what she had written nearly four years earlier, in P&P!

Specifically, Anne in the conversation with Wentworth at the concert is in virtually the identical situation as Elizabeth Bennet was when she speaks with Darcy at Pemberley, not long after he has surprised and electrified her by being so attentive and kind to her and the Gardiners:

“With a glance, [Elizabeth] saw, that [Darcy] had lost none of his recent civility; and, to imitate his politeness, she began as they met to admire the beauty of the place [Pemberley]; but she had not got beyond the words "delightful," and "charming," when some unlucky recollections obtruded, and she fancied that praise of Pemberley from her, might be mischievously construed. Her colour changed, and she said no more.”

Those unlucky recollections which made Elizabeth blush because they “might be mischievously construed” are, I now realize, exactly the same as those which Anne blushed at – whereas Anne became aroused by riding past Pinny with Wentworth on the road to Lyme, Elizabeth was recollecting her own strong sexual arousal upon first seeing Pemberley, both outside and inside.

So, while JA wrote P&P before she read Kubla Khan, she recognized in Coleridge’s poem a perfect addition to her other scenes of Anne’s sexual arousal in Persuasion.

Pinny = Pemberley (pendulous member) = the "pen" Anne wished to hold and Darcy wished to mend?  Yes!

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Jane Austen's Constant Subliminal Sexual Subtext

In Janeites, Elissa Schiff wrote:  Now, let me immediately say that I DO NOT find intense sexuality to be the prevailing energy of JA's fiction, although sensuality, sexual attraction, etc.. are certainly central themes woven throughout her fiction.

Nancy Mayer replied: Most romances --Boy meets girl,  etc -- usually has sexual tension, sexual attraction, and some degree of sensuality. However, romances range from "sweet and clean" to those that are rated R. I do not think Jane Austen wrote R rated fiction.

Diane Reynolds chimed in: I think we’re all agreed that Austen is not R rated. She’s more like those old Hitchcock films—Vertigo, North by Northwest, where what is suggested is much steamier than what is shown. Censorship in both cases.

Nancy: Why censorship? Why not taste and preferences? Not every one wants to read or write about orgasms and vaginas.

Diane: In Hitchcock’s case definitely overt censorship; in Austen’s pleasing the family. 

Nancy, relax --- may I suggest, dear lady, that you do protest too much. If you do not see, or choose to see, the sexual subtext, that’s your right, but to each his or her own.  😉

Just to be clear on my own position:

I do believe that Jane Austen meant to repeatedly depict Anne Elliot’s internal experience of sexual arousal; and I also believe that JA did something similar in depicting Catherine Morland’s dark and stormy gothic night in her room at the Abbey, when she learned to love “a hyacinth”, whereupon Henry suggest she may one day learn to love a rose. She also subtly shows us Elizabeth Bennet’s less powerful sexual charge as she gazes at Pemberley, its exterior, its contents, and its master. And she suggests Fanny’s sexual panic in the Sotherton gardens.

But even I do not claim that there is any depiction, whether overt or covert, of sex between characters in Austen’s novels. Although…I have at times wondered whether the tete-a-tetes which occur very early in S&S (between John and Fanny Dashwood), P&P (between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet), and Emma (between Knightley and Mrs. Weston)_….  …might be post-coital. There’s a relaxed intimate quality to these three conversations about the heroine, which would fit perfectly with two mature adults lying in each other’s arms. Of course, it makes us gag to think of the vile John and Fanny in the sack, but it makes sense – part of her power over him would certainly have been sexual – the same, for that matter, with Lucy and Robert (and Lucy and Edward). And that there was a sexual charge between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet is as much as explicitly stated in P&P – and we can see Mr. Bennet’s teasing withholding of the secret of his having visited Netherfield as foreplay, designed to temporarily cure Mrs. Bennet’s headache just long enough for some magic to be rekindled between them again –even if she was definitely not wanting to get pregnant again!

But even though there is no depiction or description of an actual sexual act in her fiction, there is nonetheless a near constant subliminal aura of winking at sex in the characters’ (and the narrator’s) words, via sexual innuendo—this is exactly the same as in so many of Shakespeare’s plays, and I’ve demonstrated in many instances JA’s deployment of the same sexual puns as Shakespeare’s  -- e.g., the repartee about pens and writing letters at Netherfield and about practicing and playing piano at Rosings, comes straight from similar repartee in The Taming of the Shrew & Romeo and Juliet, among other plays.

In other words, Austen’s characters often speak, in polite code, about sex – and this is perfectly normal, although Jane Austen could never have gotten away with it and still gotten published if it were explicit. And, anyway, implication is also subtle, as opposed to heavy handed (so to speak).

But I agree with Elissa so far as saying that this constant winking and hinting at sex is not intense, it takes its proper place in a narrative about real life, which is that it’s always there in the background, but almost never (except in the above-cited, rare internal arousal scenes) takes precedence over other feelings and motives in a given scene.

Speaking about sex in elegant, witty, punny code that preteen children would never understand, and only some teens would either, is PG-13 at most, and therefore perfectly acceptable for a lady observing the rules of polite decorum.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Dennis McCarthy’s discovery of a new, important Shakespeare allusive source

In Janeites, Jane Fox wrote: 
“In this group's discussions of what Austen read, I don't remember seeing reports of anyone using the software mentioned in this article, or similar software. You may find description of the technique interesting.”

Diane Reynolds replied: “This article is quite fascinating and I am very glad, and frankly not surprised, to see McCarthy is a self-taught scholar.”

Thank you very much, Jane, for posting that link, I was not aware of McCarthy’s research and I am as interested in all things Shakespeare as I am in all things Austen. This really is a big deal, for exactly the reasons stated in the article – there may well be more unpublished sources for Shakespeare’s plays than have previously been identified, some as significant as North’s book, and knowing those sources could shed fresh light on Shakespeare’s sometimes cryptic authorial meanings.

I have a couple of additional comments:

First, as Diane pointed out, it is indeed extremely gratifying to see another “eccentric” self-taught independent scholar (who, per the article, spends 12 hours a day on his research—that’s more than I’ve spent over the past 13 years, but not by that much) make an impact. It gives inspiration to the rest of us!

Second, in terms of scholarly approach, I really resonated to the following excerpt from the article:

“Mr. McCarthy used decidedly modern techniques to marshal his evidence, employing WCopyfind, an open source plagiarism software, which picked out common words and phrases in the manuscript and the plays. In the dedication to his manuscript, for example, North urges those who might see themselves as ugly to strive to be inwardly beautiful, to defy nature. He uses a succession of words to make the argument, including ‘proportion’, ‘glass’, ‘feature’, ‘fair’, ‘deformed’, ‘world’, ‘shadow’ and ‘nature’. In the opening soliloquy of Richard III (“Now is the winter of our discontent…”) the hunchbacked tyrant uses the same words in virtually the same order to come to the opposite conclusion: that since he is outwardly ugly, he will act the villain he appears to be.
“People don’t realize how rare these words actually are,” Mr. McCarthy said. “And he keeps hitting word after word. It’s like a lottery ticket. It’s easy to get one number out of six, but not to get every number.”

That is exactly the kind of argument I’ve made a hundred times regarding the importance of very specific verbiage in establishing a non-explicit allusion by Jane Austen to a prior author. It’s all about the clustering of relatively common words around a related theme, and it is as much an art as a science in determining if the allusion is real or not, and what it means.

That’s why I am so certain, e.g., that Jane Austen, via the wording of her “Henry and Emma” allusion in Persuasion, was very specifically alluding to the passage in Sarah Fielding’s “Remarks” about the character of Richardson's Clarissa, in which Fielding’s fictional readers discuss “Henry and Emma” vis a vis Clarissa. There is common verbiage and content which takes us out of the realm of lucky coincidence and into intentional allusion, via a kind of “tagging”. Here’s what I wrote in that recent post:

“I assert that Austen seized upon Mr. Dellincourt’s statement that
nothing less than the lovely Emma's Passion for Henry would be any Satisfaction to [LOVELACE], if he was a Lover",”
and tweaked it into noticeably parallel phraseology in Anne Elliot’s passing thoughts in Persuasion:
"Without emulating the feelings of an Emma towards her Henry, she would have attended on Louisa with a zeal above the common claims of regard, for [Wentworth's] sake." 

McCarthy’s discovery illustrates that Shakespeare did much the same thing – it is not plagiarism, it is deliberate tagging, so that anyone familiar with the source text would read through the lens of the work alluded to – and as the examples listed in the article illustrate, that lens is often ironic.

I really look forward to reading McCarthy’s (and Schlueter’s) book, so thanks again, Jane, for bringing it to our attention!

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Gifts in Jane Austen’s Novels

Jane: “I'm interested in the social context. Who gives large presents of food to whom. Such gifts are mentioned at least three times in Emma (Emma sends a large cut of pork to the Bates, Mr. Knightly sends them a lot of apples, Mrs. Martin sends that goose to Mrs. Goddard. Are food gifts mentioned in any of the other novels? How would readers at the time see these gifts? The only other mention of a large gift (but not food) that I remember is in S&S where Willoughby attempts to give a horse to Marianne. Surely someone has written on "Gifts in Jane Austen's Novels." 

Jane, apropos Willoughby’s gift of a mare (we may safely infer the female gender of the horse by the name, Queen Mab), as I’ve written before, Austen is broadly hinting to her erudite readers about Mercutio’s very famous speech in Romeo & Juliet, and also the Eve of St. Agnes, both about the sexual dreams (or night ‘mares’) of 'young women of good carriage', in both S&S and Emma, as I last elaborated in 2016:

Nancy: “The gifts of food to the Bates are the sort of thing that landlords sent to tenants, richer people sent to the less fortunate etc. Mr. Bates had been the clergyman who had the church Mr. Eldon now serves. The church had no retirement plans, no pensions so each man was responsible for putting aside enough for his family after he was dead. Jane Austen shows many fathers/ husbands who fail to do this. Jane's mother and father were supposed to help out the Grandmother and sister/aunt.
Boxing day was one day such gifts were often given if not any other time. The goose was probably at Michaelmas (or Christmas) and was from the family of some students in appreciation for Mrs. Goddard's position as head of her school.  Jane Austen's original readers would have understood this as Christian charity and looking out for the less fortunate.
Emma visits many in the village. Servants were usually given boxes on Boxing day Looking at gifts in Austen is a good idea. Lucy gave Edward the ring with the lock of hair. Emma gave Elton a picture. Knightley gave foodstuffs because the others didn't have gardens. Elinor Tilney gave Catherine the money for a post chaise to go home. The cross and chain in MP.
Have to think about others-  I think some gift giving is so ordinary we don't necessarily register it.”

Nancy, you’ve forgotten what is by far the most significant, high-profile gift in all of Austen’s novels – the gift of the piano to Jane Fairfax! First Jane and Frank speculate as to the identity of the donor –is it Colonel Campbell, or the Dixons, or just Mr. Dixon? Then Mrs. Weston speculates that the donor is Mr. Knightley; and then Mr. Knightley seems to put the kibosh on that speculation a few paragraphs later:

“This present from the Campbells,” said she—“this pianoforte is very kindly given.”
“Yes,” he replied, and without the smallest apparent embarrassment.—“But they would have done better had they given her notice of it. Surprizes are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable. I should have expected better judgment in Colonel Campbell.”
From that moment, Emma could have taken her oath that Mr. Knightley had had no concern in giving the instrument. 

In the end, we seem to be told that Frank was the donor, but I’ve long asserted that it is equally plausible that it is the same “donor” who got Jane pregnant via another “special delivery” five months earlier –John Knightley!

And now I see for the first time that JA indulged in a brilliant subtle pun ahead of all the gifts to or for the benefit of Jane Fairfax in the novel, when Emma and Frank first speak about Jane:

“I have heard [Jane] speak of the acquaintance [with the Dixons],” said Emma; “she is a very elegant young woman.”  He agreed to it, but with so quiet a “Yes,” as inclined her almost to doubt his real concurrence; and yet there must be a very distinct sort of elegance for the fashionable world, if Jane Fairfax could be thought only ordinarily gifted with it.”

I love that Emma calls Jane “only ordinarily gifted”, because Jane is extraordinarily “gifted”, repeatedly so, during the last 2 volumes of the novel – first, the Hartfield porker; then the pianoforte; then the apples from Knightley; then the shawl from the Dixons; then Mrs. Elton’s (rejected) offers of carriage rides, mail pickups, and job placement; and finally Emma's (also rejected) offer of arrowroot.

That is just another subliminal hint that connects seemingly unconnected passages; the kind of hint that  goes a long way toward creating the pervasive aura of mystery that hovers over the novel from one end to the other.

And don’t forget another “gifted” character in Emma ---Harriet Smith!:

“…Did [Elton] ever give you any thing?”
“No—I cannot call them gifts; but they are things that I have valued very much.”
She held the parcel towards her, and Emma read the words Most precious treasures on the top. Her curiosity was greatly excited. Harriet unfolded the parcel, and she looked on with impatience. Within abundance of silver paper was a pretty little Tunbridge-ware box, which Harriet opened: it was well lined with the softest cotton; but, excepting the cotton, Emma saw only a small piece of court-plaister….”

Jane: “Thank you for the context, Nancy. Sounds reasonable except that the money Miss Tilney gave Catherine Moreland, though Miss Tilney was probably ready to see it as a gift, was later returned, so I think that is a different category. And Lucy's hair ring, going as it does between engaged people, is different still. (BTW, what are we to make of Edward's not sticking it in the corner of a drawer?) It just strikes me that we have those three large gifts of food in E (plus the rejected offer of edible remedies for Jane F) and none in the other novels. Why nothing from Sir John Middleton to the Dashwoods, for example? Quite possibly once Austen had used the first to advance her plot she simply thought (consciously or not) it fitting to continue with the theme (or do I mean motif or something else?).” 

Nancy: “The gifts aren't enumerated in S & S though we are given to understand that Sir John does give them game and other gifts. He is most generous and helpful and that is the sort of thing that many did without thought or comment. Also, Marianne and Brandon send gifts of game and apples and other such foodstuffs to the parsonage. Austen's readers would have filled in those blanks.”

Jane: “I find it interesting how Austen used such gifts in Emma both for the plot and for characterization.”

Nancy: “I like your idea of looking at the gifts in her novels. We may differ as to what is a gift but that often happens before people refine their terms.
There are gifts in MP around that cross and chains. Mrs. Norris extorts "gifts" and just walks off with things. Doesn't Edmund give fanny a coin to send under seal to William when she first arrives?”

Apropos finding any existing article or chapter about gifts in Jane Austen’s novels, my first stop was the  JASNA website, where I found this recent, lengthy article,  “Small, Trifling Presents”: Giving and Receiving in Emma  by Linda Zionkowski   I skimmed through Zionkowski’s article --it’s not my cup of tea, because it does not go below the surface at all, but perhaps it will be of interest to you.

However, from further quick searching online, I cannot find any article or chapter about gifts in Jane Austen’s novels as a whole – it would be an interesting study, but I do believe that Emma is the Austen novel most saliently engaged with the theme of gift-giving.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Monday, January 29, 2018

“Poulticing” the injured “chestnut mares” (meres?) of Austen’s Northanger Abbey

It has become a mantra of mine that Jane Austen often, if not always, chose her most memorable passages as the ideal places to hide, in plain sight, “trivial” hints at alternative, subversive, significant meanings in her novels. Recently, I came across another such hint, in a guest post by Kate Scarth in Sarah Emsley’s Austen-themed blog, on the topic of horses in Northanger Abbey. My attention was caught by Scarth’s reference to an equine detail I’d never noticed before in Chapter 22 of Northanger Abbey:

“[John] Thorpe’s deficiencies reveal Northanger Abbey’s connection between equine care and proper masculinity. His horse obsession extends to his clothes, which resemble a groomsman’s or coachman’s, a not so subtle dig at his dubious claims to the title of gentleman. Northanger Abbey relays a message that, unlike Thorpe, hero-gentlemen treat animals, well, gently. For example, while Austen tells us little about Eleanor Tilney’s husband, we do know that his servant left a farrier’s bill (Catherine’s imagined mysterious manuscript), reading “To poultice chestnut mare”…While we see Thorpe abusing horses, in this brief glimpse of Eleanor’s future husband, Austen chooses to cast him as a man paying to ease a horse’s ailment.” 

I went back to the novel text to find the full paragraph containing that entry for “To poultice chestnut mare”. It’s this famous one, which describes Catherine’s stinging disappointment as she reads what is on the pages of the manuscript in the chest in her room. She’s been working herself up into an imaginative fever over the answers to murderous gothic secrets she anticipates finding there, but then is sadly deflated to learn instead that the papers seem so boringly mundane:

“[Catherine’s] greedy eye glanced rapidly over a page. She started at its import. Could it be possible, or did not her senses play her false? An inventory of linen, in coarse and modern characters, seemed all that was before her! If the evidence of sight might be trusted, she held a washing-bill in her hand. She seized another sheet, and saw the same articles with little variation; a third, a fourth, and a fifth presented nothing new. Shirts, stockings, cravats, and waistcoats faced her in each. Two others, penned by the same hand, marked an expenditure scarcely more interesting, in letters, hair-powder, shoe-string, and breeches-ball. And the larger sheet, which had enclosed the rest, seemed by its first cramp line, “To poultice chestnut mare”—a farrier’s bill! Such was the collection of papers (left perhaps, as she could then suppose, by the negligence of a servant in the place whence she had taken them) which had filled her with expectation and alarm, and robbed her of half her night’s rest! She felt humbled to the dust. Could not the adventure of the chest have taught her wisdom? A corner of it, catching her eye as she lay, seemed to rise up in judgment against her. Nothing could now be clearer than the absurdity of her recent fancies. To suppose that a manuscript of many generations back could have remained undiscovered in a room such as that, so modern, so habitable!—Or that she should be the first to possess the skill of unlocking a cabinet, the key of which was open to all!”

For those not very familiar with Northanger Abbey, this is the second of three familiar passages in which, per mainstream Austen scholarly interpretation, Catherine’s overheated Gothic expectations and illusions are gradually (and appropriately) extinguished by three consecutive splashes of cold water.

The first is Catherine’s disappointment upon first looking into the interior of the Abbey in Chapter 20, and finding all too modern, even antiseptic, architecture:

“The breeze had not seemed to waft the sighs of the murdered to her; it had wafted nothing worse than a thick mizzling rain; and having given a good shake to her habit, she was ready to be shown into the common drawing-room, and capable of considering where she was. An abbey! Yes, it was delightful to be really in an abbey! But she doubted, as she looked round the room, whether anything within her observation would have given her the consciousness. The furniture was in all the profusion and elegance of modern taste. The fireplace, where she had expected the ample width and ponderous carving of former times, was contracted to a Rumford, with slabs of plain though handsome marble, and ornaments over it of the prettiest English china. The windows, to which she looked with peculiar dependence, from having heard the general talk of his preserving them in their Gothic form with reverential care, were yet less what her fancy had portrayed. To be sure, the pointed arch was preserved—the form of them was Gothic—they might be even casements—but every pane was so large, so clear, so light! To an imagination which had hoped for the smallest divisions, and the heaviest stone-work, for painted glass, dirt, and cobwebs, the difference was very distressing.”

Then, after the passage with the farrier’s bill, the third is Henry’s excoriation of Catherine for her ghoulish imaginings about General Tilney, at the end of Ch. 24:

“If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to--Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians.Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?” They had reached the end of the gallery, and with tears of shame she ran off to her own room.

In my 2010 JASNA AGM presentation, I argued that the third passage is the epicenter of what is actually Austen’s virtuosic ANTI-parody of the Gothic. I.e., the knowing reader is meant to see past the apparent satire of Gothic imagination, and instead grasp the tragic irony that such imaginings are all-too-apt as to the actual nightmare of ordinary English marriage for wives trapped in a ‘dungeon’, an endless cycle of serial pregnancy and death in childbirth, a nightmare cruelly ignored by the patriarchal powers-that-be.

However, before reading Scarth’s comment, I hadn’t previously considered, let alone analyzed, the subtle but strong narrative emphasis on that particular entry for “a farrier’s bill”. I now see that it’s no accident that for this entry alone are we given its actual verbiage; that we’re told that it’s on “the larger sheet, which had enclosed the rest”; and finally that it is on “its first cramp line”. By this succession of subtle hints, Austen silently hints that this is, somehow, the most prominent verbiage in all those papers; so it must carry especially significant meaning, when properly understood in all its nuances. But how to decode it?

Scarth cites this entry as evidence for John Thorpe’s cruel treatment of horses, in stark contrast to the benevolent treatment of animals by Eleanor’s secret beloved. That is certainly the case, it’s a valid interpretation, but as I will explain, there’s much more even than that in this line entry on a farrier’s bill.

In my opinion, Jill Heydt-Stevenson came very close to correctly decoding this passage in Unbecoming Conjunctions. First she analyzed it as follows: ‘This mortifying inventory gazes at her. It may be permissible to spy on the sensational, but the passage exposes how it is forbidden to look voyeuristically at the mundane, especially when it includes references to the private parts of the male body, which the language here personifies…’ She then noted the monetization of marriage which is implicit therein. And at another point in her book, Heydt-Stevenson discussed the heavy Freudian sexual significance of John Thorpe’s disturbing, even perverted, obsession with horses in Northanger Abbey. However, she didn’t connect the dots between the two—which connection, I now assert, is the key that unlocks the deeper, more significant meaning of that entry.

To wit: just as John Thorpe treats women and horses alike as objects of his physical abuse, I believe that the “chestnut mare” who was “poulticed” was meant by JA to suggest not merely Eleanor’s chestnut mare, but also Eleanor herself! Let me explain.

First, we know that Eleanor is not fair-haired, from the following mean girl comments by Isabella Thorpe:
“Oh! They [Henry and Eleanor] give themselves such airs. They are the most conceited creatures in the world, and think themselves of so much importance! By the by, though I have thought of it a hundred times, I have always forgot to ask you what is your favourite complexion in a man. Do you like them best dark or fair?”   “I hardly know. I never much thought about it. Something between both, I think. Brown—not fair, and—and not very dark.”  “Very well, Catherine. That is exactly he. I have not forgot your description of Mr. Tilney—‘a brown skin, with dark eyes, and rather dark hair.’ Well, my taste is different. I prefer light eyes, and as to complexion—do you know—I like a sallow better than any other. You must not betray me, if you should ever meet with one of your acquaintance answering that description.”

And then, much later in the novel, as Catherine gazes up at the portrait of the late Mrs. Tilney:
“It represented a very lovely woman, with a mild and pensive countenance, justifying, so far, the expectations of its new observer; but they were not in every respect answered, for Catherine had depended upon meeting with features, hair, complexion, that should be the very counterpart, the very image, if not of Henry’s, of Eleanor’s—the only portraits of which she had been in the habit of thinking, bearing always an equal resemblance of mother and child. A face once taken was taken for generations. But here she was obliged to look and consider and study for a likeness. She contemplated it, however, in spite of this drawback, with much emotion, and, but for a yet stronger interest, would have left it unwillingly.”

There is a subtle suggestion in Mrs. Tilney’s not resembling either Henry or Eleanor, that Eleanor’s complexion and hair color are somewhere in the middle between Mrs. Tilney’s fairness and Henry’s darkness—and that medium would be…chestnut coloration!

And there is one more huge hint of an association of Eleanor with a “chestnut mare”, as Catherine worriedly waits for Henry and Eleanor to visit her as agreed, and attempts to stave off the pressuring Thorpes:

“I cannot go [to Blaize Castle], because”—looking down as she spoke, fearful of Isabella’s smile—“I expect Miss Tilney and her brother to call on me to take a country walk. They promised to come at twelve, only it rained; but now, as it is so fine, I dare say they will be here soon.” “Not they indeed,” cried Thorpe; “for, as we turned into Broad Street, I saw them—does he not drive a phaeton with bright chestnuts?” “I do not know indeed.” “Yes, I know he does; I saw him. You are talking of the man you danced with last night, are not you?” “Yes.”  “Well, I saw him at that moment turn up the Lansdown Road, driving a smart-looking girl...”

Which raises another question-- was it Henry with Eleanor in that phaeton drawn by two chestnut mares, or Eleanor’s future husband? I think, the latter!

But, putting that detail aside, I want to now zero in on what I consider the key point, if we really run with the idea of Eleanor as symbolized by the chestnut mare who is treated with a ‘poultice”. The entry is written on ‘the first cramp line’, and that conjures up for me a narrow space at the top of a lined invoice, in which there is very little room to write, hence a “cramped” handwriting is required.

But Jane Austen, like Shakespeare, never saw a pun she did not like, and so I immediately noted that “cramp”, in Jane Austen’s time as well as our own, referred to a muscle-tightening spasm, the kind which afflict athletes in hot weather, but also, far more significantly vis a vis the pregnancy/childbirth theme of Northanger Abbey which I addressed the JASNA AGM about! 

And guess what---healing cramps is precisely what poultices were designed for (there are numerous concoctions to be found in contemporary veterinary guides) in Jane Austen’s era: both the cramps in horse’s hooves (as the farrier’s bill suggests), but also for the cramps suffered by women as a result of their bodies being the “phaetons”, so to speak, of reproduction for the human race!

And last but not least, thinking about cramps, and also wounds (another ailment for which poultices were applied to both horses and humans in that era), I was then immediately reminded of yet another famous passage in Northanger Abbey, about the collective injured female body, which novels written by women were uniquely responsive to:

“Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding…Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body.there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. “I am no novel-reader—I seldom look into novels—Do not imagine that I often read novels—It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss—?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language….”

I would not dare to attempt any further explanation of why I believe that the above passage is the very one which Jane Austen wished her readers to eventually think of, when they read that farrier’s bill entry on “poultice chestnut mare” (or should I say, “mere”, for all the mothers who, like Mrs. Tilney, suffered). The ultimate Gothic horror was the one suffered by women in their daily lives as the “poor animals” of English society, and Jane Austen’s novels were themselves intended as “poultices’ for the psychic wounds which accompanied the physical.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter