Indulge with me in a quick comparison of words in two Jane Austen novels.
You should always take a quick spin through an Austen at Christmas, with the Coventry carol playing softly for ambience, because Christmas has such a thatch-roofed nostalgia (Thank you, Mr. Dickens) but also because we remember Ms. Austen’s birthday on December 16th.
|Jane, presiding over our two examples.
Add to this the fact that the Literary Life podcast is traipsing through “Northanger Abbey” right now, and you see the absolute necessity.
And absolute necessity brings me round to my brief observation of the role of emphatic redundancy.
Angelina Stanford (of whom I am a shameless devotee) comments on the brief tête-à-tête between
Catherine and Tilney towards the end of the book, regarding the careless use of the phrase “promised so faithfully.”
Tilney exclaims, “Promised so faithfully! –A faithful promise—That puzzles me. I have heard of a faithful performance. But a faithful promise—the fidelity of promising!”
As Angelina and her cohorts note, he is pressing Catherine to examine her faith in the promiser. But I was immediately reminded of the exact phrase on another careless tongue.
For Jane Austen, by no mistake, I am sure, has inserted just these words into this speech by Lydia Bennet at the end of “Pride and Prejudice:”
“But gracious me! I quite forgot! I ought not to have said a word about it. And I promised them so faithfully! It was to be such a secret!” she laughs.
And there you have it.
The redundancy itself, where a steady man’s yes could simply be yes, suggests that the value of words extends only so far as action corroborates them. To strengthen one’s words with exaggerated emphasis is, conversely, to invite suspicion. What necessitates the repetition if not a wariness warranted by a history of inconstancy?
Just as the necessity of reading Jane Austen in a snowstorm over gingersnaps needs no amplification, the faithfulness of promises requires no elaboration, unless the promiser herself gives reason for doubt.
|Exhibit A: An appropriate accompaniment to Jane at Christmas.