|"You write uncommonly fast." Ahem.|
Anyway, one of the articles I read this week is Jill Heydt-Stevenson's "Slipping into the Ha-Ha": Bawdy Humor and Body Politics in Jane Austen's Novels. Heydt-Stevenson argues that the racy elements some readers see in Austen's writing are not only there, but they are there for a purpose. They are a veiled - and thus acceptable - way of criticizing the patriarchy, of subverting its values. The dirty joke signals that the author sees through the patriarchy's game. Among other things, Austen uses this bawdy humor as a way of exposing the (rather crude) sexual and power dynamics behind the romantic ideal of courtship, as a way of "collapsing boundaries between prostitution and courtship."
There were a lot of things I appreciated in this article - and it's well worth a read - but there were also places where I felt it veered into "literary criticism gone mad." Take, for example, this exchange between a desperately flirtatious Caroline and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, Chapter X:
"I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well."
"Thank you—but I always mend my own."
For Heydt-Stevenson, Caroline's line is a "powerful metonymy of phallic power," while Darcy's reply, recognizing her sexual allusion, "playfully invokes autoeroticism." The more I think of it, the more I think this cannot be right. Mind you, this is not just an exercise in interpreting metaphors Freudian-style, where no cigar is ever a cigar and "all vegetation is pubic hair" (to slightly misquote Maud Bailey). In order for this interpretation to work, the characters themselves must be in on the joke. But if they are, how is Darcy's reference to masturbation a good or cutting reply to Caroline's (supposed) innuendo? "Thank you, I've never needed a woman for that"? Is Darcy really the ultimate Socially Awkward Penguin?
But then again, perhaps I'm being naive and reading less into this than I should. (It happened before.) So I'm crowdsourcing this one. What do you think, internet? Is a pen just a pen? Is this pen a, erm, "powerful metonymy of phallic power" and its owner the Socially Awkward Penguin? Is there a third choice I'm missing?