By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 14 2016 01:00PM
Readers of my book Among the Janeites may remember one particularly colorful character: Arnie Perlstein, the Florida lawyer who vigorously promoted his controversial theories about hidden subtextual stories in Jane Austen’s novels.
Now it’s possible to see Arnie in action. The most recent episode of First Impressions, a new Janeite podcast viewable on YouTube, features a ninety-minute interview with Arnie, conducted by the podcast’s hosts, two thirty-ish DC-area friends named Maggie and Kristin.
The podcast focuses on what Arnie believes to be the shadow story of Emma, a sordid tale of adulterous love, crisis pregnancy and clever cover-up. Maggie and Kristin’s podcasting style leans to the shaggy and spontaneous – much white wine is consumed on camera – and their questioning is sympathetic, if sometimes skeptical.
Under their probing, Arnie freely voices many of the opinions that have made him a figure who inspires exasperation, even loathing, among many – though certainly not all – Janeites:
--Austen was bisexual, and her novels feature plenty of hidden-in-plain-sight homosexual pairings. “All of her novels are slash fiction,” Arnie asserts.
--Noble Mr. Knightley is after Emma’s money (“Oh, Arnie, why do you have to ruin the romance?” wails Maggie.)
--The family-generated myth that Jane Austen was a sweet, unthreatening spinster aunt has helped blind generations of readers to her radicalism. “It took two hundred years for these secret messages she planted in everybody’s mind to sprout,” Arnie argues.
--Even writers like Charlotte Bronte and Mark Twain, who are on record saying they hated Austen, were closet Janeites. “It’s like six degrees of separation. There is no [great] author before her or after her who is not directly connected to her,” Arnie says. “They’re all engaged with her in some way. It’s like this big picture, that Jane Austen is the center of a wheel.”
Love him or hate him, it’s vintage Arnie.