Page the Second


A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Loving Austen


Being a lover of Jane Austen's work has energized me into going places I never would have visited without her lamp to light the way. I have read works penned by obscure authors, and gone sleuthing down lanes through which I'd never ventured before. One of those places is a weblist of scholars focusing on Jane's life, times, works, and the people of her time.

There are a wide variety of people on said list, most extremely intelligent and some utterly gifted as sleuths. They have opened a whole underworld to my view full of treasures of word and history. I keep their posts to study later in the hopes of knowing the ins and outs of my favorite author.

Some scholars, however, seem to me to be that type of person who looks at a painting and is absolutely certain that they know everything which ever skittered through the brain of the artist in conjunction with said painting. They loudly proclaim their opinions as fact and refuse to listen to arguments from opposing viewpoints, however knowledgeable.

This phenomenon is not relegated merely to students of art or the written word. There are archaeologists who take such stances, postulating hypotheses which they tout as absolute truth, although those hypotheses would not stand up in court due to their circumstantial nature.

In my humble opinion, it is folly to take a stance based on little or no actual evidence simply because of extant evidence or a postulation built on practices of the time period.

Here is one example: Recently I saw a program called Secrets of the Dead. In this particular program they were examining the bones of a man found at Stonehenge. Because of a hole in his head near the top and back, they conjectured that the man had to have been a criminal as it was most certainly a punishment wound.
Photograph by Richard Nowitz

I have been a reenactor of medieval warfare for some twenty five years. I fight in heavy armor in varied scenarios ranging from castle battles to field battles to bridge battles and all sorts of other sorties. I have "fallen dead" many times due to tripping or being pushed over "corpses" or weapons. It is extremely easy to come by such a wound as the Stonehenge Man was sporting.

We can certainly make hypotheses, but canonizing such conjectures as fact is absurd. Even carbon dating has been proven in some cases to be faulty. DNA can be polluted. Hair samples can be unstable (just ask Hermione of the Harry Potter books). Tree rings can lie. Any number of suppositions can be boundless and false. 

The further from the point of interest one goes, the easier it is to be wildly wrong about that original point. What's to say these wild conjectures about Jane Austen's propensity for labyrinthine word puzzles strung together throughout all her works and letters is necessarily all true? I doubt she pondered and festered over every single word she ever wrote, trying to weave it into such deeply Stygian cyphers that those cyphers rarely saw the light of day.

Sometimes a grocery list is actually just a grocery list.


  1. This is an awesome post, Heidi. Yeah. Sometimes it is just a grocery list. And look at the brontosaurus.

    Or not.

  2. This is choice. I've been thinking about some of the contorted journeys people make to get from here to there and have come to the exact same conclusion. Occam's razor! The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But, you intrigue me. Labyrinthine word puzzles? (Maybe somebody needed a subject for their master's thesis).

  3. Enlighten me on the brontosaurus. Have I missed something? Did they decide, that, like Pluto and the color indigo, they've been misclassified?

    Jane was a woman of deep wit. She has layers and layers of puzzles, though I don't know if the layers are always as deep as scholars surmise.

  4. I think like everyone else Austen may have secrets that are more simple than some want to believe and some that are so deep they may never be revealed.
    Austen was a fascinating woman from her time and of course because of it she will always be under scrutiny. Makes you wonder if she were here today what she would have to say about it.