True Fact: As I type, Pun Salad is the number one hit at the Google for Jane Austen puns. This is amazing, given that we've never had any Jane Austen puns here at all. No doubt scores of Googlers have visited briefly and slunk away, shaking their heads in bitter disappointment. It's time to remedy that situation.
Like most language-lovers, Miss Austen was not above a bit of wordplay:
In Mansfield Park, Chapter XL, she had Mary Crawford write, in a letter to
Baron Wildenheim's attentions to Julia continue, but I do not know that he has any serious encouragement. She ought to do better. A poor honourable is no catch, and I cannot imagine any liking in the case, for take away his rants, and the poor baron has nothing. What a difference a vowel makes! If his rents were but equal to his rants!OK, so that's probably not going to make milk come out of your nose.
This one, although in the same vein, works a little better. Miss Austen
writes, in one of her letters:
[I]t is a Vile World, we are all for Self & I expected no better from any of us.--But though Better is not to be expected, Butter may, at least from Mrs Clement's Cow.Not a thigh-slapper either, but it helps if you imagine Groucho Marx saying it while sitting in Margaret Dumont's lap.
And, although this probably isn't a pun, exactly, I still like this
(unintentional?) double entendre from
Persuasion, Chapter VIII:
Very, very happy were both Elizabeth and Anne Elliot as they walked in. Elizabeth, arm-in-arm with Miss Carteret, and looking on the broad back of the dowager Viscountess Dalrymple before her, had nothing to wish for which did not seem within her reach …"Watch out, Viscountess!" cried Miss Carteret. "Elizabeth, keep your hands to yourself!"
Things can get quite heated even discussing whether
Miss Austen was punning. For example, a recent article
in Critical Quarterly by one Sylvia Adamson discusses
a controversy about Miss Austen's usage of interest, and whether
she was playing on the differing meanings of the word in the opening
paragraphs of (again) Mansfield Park:
The example of Jane Austen's 'punning' that Empson offers is germane to the question of an economic/affective interface and indeed is thoroughly Marxist in its implications. It comes from the first page of Mansfield Park, a book which implicitly exposes the economic foundation of late eighteenth-century polite society (the security of Mansfield Park and its humane values depends, we learn, on the success of its owner's West Indian plantations) and explicitly raises the question of the economic foundation of eighteenth-century marriage customs. The novel begins with an extended account of the marriage fortunes (in both senses) of the three Misses Ward and there is no reason to doubt that Empson is correct in thinking that Austen here exposes the economic base (and the base economics) underlying and undercutting the language of feeling and sentiment.Do your eyes glaze over at the first mention of the word 'Marxist'? Mine too.
But if you research this topic even superficially—which is all I
intend to do—you eventually
come across Jillian Heydt-Stevenson. Here's the opening of
a Chronicle of Higher Education article about the
contribution she's made to Austen scholarship:
Some of Jill Heydt-Stevenson's fellow Jane Austen scholars were perturbed last year when she ventured that the great English novelist was far more given to "erotically charged allusions, puns, and double entendres" than her prim reputation might lead one to expect.Ouch. That's probably not the kind of remark you want to read about your research in a national periodical. But Professor Heydt-Stevenson went on to write a celebrated article (JSTOR URL) on the topic, titled (I am not making this up) "'Slipping into the Ha-Ha': Bawdy Humor and Body Politics in Jane Austen's Novels". (Notice the Bawdy/Body thing? Good, you're sentient.) Also, a book: Austen's Unbecoming Conjunctions: Subversive Laughter, Embodied History will set you back a cool $79.95 at Amazon.
"Jill's untenured," explains one of those colleagues.
Exhibit A for the academics is (again) from Mansfield
Park, Chapter VI, where (again) Mary Crawford says:
"…Certainly, my home at my uncle's brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals. Of Rears and Vices I saw enough. Now do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat."Get it? Rears? Vices? She's talking about sodomy! Or so say scads of English Literature profs.
Other examples aren't immediately convincing to someone outside the
field, or who isn't looking for a good grade in class. Here's Prof Jillian's
lead example from her article:
In Pride and Prejudice (1813) Caroline tries to engage Darcy with a powerful metonymy of phallic power: "I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well." Apparently recognizing the significance of her sexual allusion, Darcy playfully invokes autoeroticism when he answers, "Thank you—but I always mend my own."Because a pen is, um, you know, that shape, and "pens" is only a single vowel away from…well, you know that too.
To the uninitiated, this sort of thing reads much like a hifalutin mutation of the famous "Nudge, Nudge" Monty Python sketch (which, by the way, is here), with Jane in the Terry Jones role and Jillian doing Eric Idle. Sometimes a pen is just a pen. And Darcy doesn't come across as "playful" to me; he's bored and aloof.
The decennial Enumeration mandated by the Constitution is coming up next
year. Pundits, if you think it's witty and fresh to title your thoughts
on the matter "Census Sensibility", forget it. It's been
Also, for Information Technologists: "Census and Sensible IT" has also
Over at Lila Prime, Lila suggests
titles for fake Jane Austen novels. Example: Funk and
Functionality. If that tempts you to check out the other
four… go. Just go. (Sob!)
Added 9/15/2017: A new book by Gary Saul Morson and Morton
Cents and Sensibility: What
Economics Can Learn from the Humanities. It got a
review from Deirdre N. McCloskey, which is a slam-dunk indicator for
But I've saved the (non-stupid) best for last.
Hope you know your Tolkien too:
From www.savagechickens.com, which I hope won't sue me if I tell you to go over there and buy stuff.