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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Jane Austen’s History of England….and all that

Three weeks, ago, I wrote about Jane Austen’s broad winks, in Northanger Abbey, at Sophia Lee’s 1783 Gothic classic novel  The Recess & Sir Walter Scott’s Preface to Waverley:

That led me to think about how the well-known riffs on history vs. fiction in Northanger Abbey had their origins in the 16 year old JA’s juvenilia The History of England...

Some quick searching online confirmed that I am not the first Austen scholar to detect that JA’s extraordinary sympathy (indeed, identification) with the tragic Mary Queen of Scots surely also had its roots in Sophia Lee’s Recess:  [Elisabeth Lenckos review] JASNA News 18/3,Win. ‘02
“Alliston suggests that The Recess is proof of the novelist’s prerogative, the artistic license of the free-roaming literary imagination, to do what the historian could not, that is, write history from a new and different perspective and revise some of its traditions and assumptions. Thus, Sophia Lee shifted the center of her readers’ attention and sympathy from Elizabeth to Mary, from the public to the private sphere, and rewrote some important chapters in Elizabeth’s life to accord with her view of the British queen as the villain of the story. Lee’s imaginative rewriting of history, so it may be argued, paved the way for future authors of historical novels, a development from which the young Austen perhaps benefited when she wrote her own highly irreverent History of England (1791). This is a work in which, coincidentally, Elizabeth receives, to put it mildly, a less than sympathetic portrayal….”

April Alliston edition of The Recess (2000)
xxi: “JA’s NA also alludes to The Recess, although its primary reference is to Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (a more recent best-seller when Austen’s parody was published). More importantly, The Recess led the way for both Radcliffe and Austen in its innovative play with conventions of probability, implicitly but uncomfortably questioning both gender norms and the status of historical truth. When the heroine of NA prefers Gothic romance to ‘real solemn history’, her preference makes sense because of Lee’s earlier blurring of the boundaries between them. Austen’s juvenile work, The History of England (written in 1791), further underscores her skepticism of the more aggressive claims to objective truth made by ‘real solemn’ historians such as Hume—and it may also be poking fun at The Recess by humorously exaggerating Lee’s sympathy with Mary at the expense of Elizabeth. [I owe the observation about the possible connection between Austen’s History and The Recess to Isobel Grundy]”

Novel Histories: British Women Writing History, 1760-1830 by Lisa Kasmer (2012) Intro
While parodying the m.o. of histories at the time, Austen’s History of England plays with genre expectations at a dizzying pace….Austen parallels Lord Essex to a character from Charlotte Smith’s Emmeline (1788), making little distinction between the historical personage and the fictional character …Austen also makes her QE and Queen Mary echo the characterizations of these rulers in Sophia Lee’s The Recess…a historical romance in Gothic vein. In Austen’s most colorful moment, she accuses Elizabeth of being a ‘Murderess’ who ‘confined’ and ‘allowed an untimely, unmerited, and scandalous Death’ of Queen Mary, who bore her fate ‘with a most unshaken fortitude…with a magnanimity that could alone proceed from conscious Innocence.” Austen thereby uses the Gothic trope of the evil woman unfairly punishing a beautiful and saintly victim. In creating a continuum between the genres of history and historical fiction, Austen not only exposes the fictionality of history, but also confirms that history…”

As I was Googling to find the above quotes, I came across a reference to the 1922 parodic history 1066 And All That , and it made me wonder whether it owed a debt to Austen’s History of England. I quickly found an excellent article by Peter Sabor called “JA’s The History of England and 1066 And All That” on that very topic. Here are some relevant excerpts from Sabor’s article:
“…Several critics have been struck by the resemblances between the two works. Deirdre Le Faye for example finds The History of England ‘uncannily prophetic’ of 1066 and All That, while Daniel Woolf believes that it is ‘anticipatory’ of Sellar and Yeatman’s ‘much later parody’. I suggest, in contrast, that there is nothing surprising about the parallels between the histories: their resemblance is not uncanny if Sellar & Yeatman, as I believe, were among the early readers of Austen’s astonishingly precocious work. They had, after all, eight years in which to study the techniques of their youthful predecessor, and in 1066 and All That, as its subtitle, ‘A Memorable History of England’, indicates, they put The History of England to good use.
The most obvious source for 1066 And All That, as several readers have noted, is the illustrated history by the Scottish children’s writer Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall, Our Island Story: A History of England for Boys and Girls (1905). Replete with anecdotes, many of the apocryphal, it contained a wealth of stirring stories that Sellar & Yeatman could recast in comic and often surrealist form. In doing so, they were mirroring Austen’s abusive treatment of Goldsmith; while Marshall provided Sellar & Yeatman with copious material to parody, Austen furnished many of the satirical techniques that they deployed.…In 1922, the year in which The History of England was first published…Sellar and Yeatman…graduated from…Oxford. …In the late 1920s, they began to collaborate on the book that would make them famous: 1066 and All That. Excerpts began appearing in Punch in September 1930… By 1935 it had reached a twentieth edition…Like Austen, Sellar & Yeatman furnish their work with a mock dedication…Both The History of England and 1066 and All That are furnished with illustrations designed to heighten the humour of their respective works.
….In her sketch of the dying Cardinal Wolsey, Austen quotes his words to the Abbot of Leicester Abbey ‘that “he was come to lay his bones among them.” The line is taken from Goldsmith’s history, which in turn is indebted to a report of Wolsey’s words in Henry VIII… Sellar & Yeatman quote the same lines but with an ingenious twist, combining them with Mark Antony’s famous words in SS’s Julius Caesar: “Father Abbot, I come to lay my bones among you, Not to praise them.” …
…Austen’s wild prejudices are echoed by those of Sellar & Yeatman. Consider, for example, their respective treatments of Sir Francis Drake. In Austen’s zany account, this ‘ornament of his Country and his profession’ is depicted as the precursor of his namesake, Austen’s brother Francis [quote from The History of England ]
…For Sellar & Yeatman, Drake’s storied career affords fine opportunities for comedy, as they scramble and recompose some of the myths surrounding him….…Neither Marshall nor Austen is so much as mentioned in 1066 And All That…it is a spoof…This silence has a precedent in Austen herself. The only historian mentioned anywhere in her work is John Whitaker, author of Mary Queen of Scots Vindicated (1787). Oliver Goldsmith, author of the four volumes that she recreated as The History of England, is never named. And Austen, in turn, would not be mentioned in the book that recreated her mock history in the 20th century: 1066 and All That.”

I would only add to the above that I obtained a copy of 1066 And All That from the library, expecting to find some subtle allusions in it to Austen’s youthful history beyond the Wolsey wink. Alas, I was very disappointed, not only in the lack of any other specific allusions, but also in the marked inferiority of with compared to Austen’s production. Sellar & Yeatman rarely exceeded the quality of the entries in The Loiterer, which of course was the work of JA’s elder brothers James and Henry.

Think I might be displaying unjustified favoritism toward Austen? Well, then, here’s an example which I think is exemplary of the contrast between what JA managed at age 16, and Sellar & Yeatman came up with 131 years later in 1066 And All That:

First here’s what S&Y wrote about Henry VIII and “The Monasteries”:

“One of the strongest things that Henry VIII did was about the Monasteries. It was pointed out to him that no one in the monasteries was married, as the Monks all thought it was still the Middle Ages. So Henry, who, of course, considered marrying a Good Thing, told Cromwell to pass a very strong Act saying that the Middle Ages were all over, and the Monasteries were all to be dissolved. This was called the Disillusion of the Monasteries.”

Lame, lame, lame, is all I can say. A whole paragraph invested in generating one weak pun not even worthy of a groan.

And now, here is what JA came up with on that same topic:

“The Crimes & Cruelties of this Prince, were too numerous to be mentioned, (as this history I trust has fully shewn;) & nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses & leaving them to the ruinous depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general, which probably was a principal motive for his doing it, since otherwise why should a Man who was of no Religion himself be at so much trouble to abolish one which had for ages been established in the Kingdom.”

I think it’s clear that Austen’s wit and command of language is vastly superior to that of her 20th century imitators. And then, behind the superficial pleasure of witty verbiage, there is for the scholar the deeper please in the Austen of the well recognized satire of Gilpin’s pompous comments on picturesque monastery ruins.

Now, I am sure that Sellar and Yeatman had a knowledge of English which dwarfs my own, and therefore surely there are at least some in-jokes scattered throughout 1066 And All That which I missed in my quick scan of same. But with high confidence, I can say that the humor of their little book largely evaded me on pretty much every page. Whereas there is scarcely a sentence in all of JA’s much shorter History of England that I would not miss. And ultimately the young Jane Austen is much braver in taking on and satirically goring a variety of historical sacred cows than her modern imitators. Where in their work, e.g., is anything comparable to her famous sexualized Sharade about James the First? I didn’t see it if it was there.

So I conclude with the recommendation to those who know 1066 And All That to give Austen’s work a try, and see if you don’t agree with my opinion about the stark contrast in quality between them.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Much more on the Marriage of Figaro subtext in Pride & Prejudice

\This is a followup to my post yesterday about the risqué, veiled allusion to The Marriage of Figaro in Pride & Prejudice:  At the center of that allusion, you’ll recall, was the convincingly cross-dressed militiaman CHAMBERLAYNE, who looked so well in women’s clothes----as colorfully described by the inimitable Lydia Bennet---who is, I suggested, Jane Austen’s ultra-sly allusion to the convincingly cross-dressed, beautiful cross-dressing soldier (and remarkably similarly named) CHERUBINO in Mozart/DaPonte’s Figaro.  Today, I have three additional blocks of supportive evidence to fit into the matrix of Jane Austen’s Mozartean allusion in P&P. So strap on your seat belts, this will be quite a ride!

PART ONE: Some of you may have questioned whether Jane Austen, prior to completion of her writing of P&P in late 1812, would’ve had the opportunity to become familiar with Mozart’s first great Italian comic opera, which was first performed in Vienna in May, 1786, when JA was 10 years old, but as to which the libretto does not appear to have been published in England during JA’s lifetime. Well, with a little digging, I found the following, highly relevant discussion in W.A. Mozart (1987) by Tim Carter at ppg 132 et seq.:  
“…even though Da Ponte [of course, Mozart’s librettist for Figaro] was librettist at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket—a complete opera by Mozart was not performed there until 1806, when La Clemenza di Tito was first staged at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, on 27 March. Between 1809 and 1811, there were amateur performances of Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro, and Cosi Fan Tutte. However, Cosi Fan Tutte was first staged professionally on 9 May 1811 (with the addition of ‘Voi che sapete’, sung by Guglielmo), Die Zauberflote, in Italian, on 6 June, 1811, Le Nozze di Figaro on 18 June, 1812…. The London premiere of Le Nozze di Figaro…received the following announcement in The Times:
‘There will be represented at this Theatre [the King’s Theatre, Haymarket], THIS EVENING, June 18, and for the first time in this country, the celebrated Opera of LE MARIAGE DE FIGARO: the music by Mozart. [lists cast] All the above eminent performers have generously given their gratuitous assistance on this occasion…The performance was for the benefit of the Scottish Hospital…Henry Robertson, writing in The Examiner [Leigh Hunt’s newspaper, which JA read in connection with her Prince of Whales satire in Emma], commented on the delay in bringing Mozart to the London stage, offering some perceptive insights into the opera…:
‘The works of MOZART, which have long lain dormant…have at length shone forth from the obscurity in which jealousy and bad taste had involved them. Till the last two or three years, this genius had been known chiefly as an instrumental writer, and might still have remained so, had not a society of amateurs, who were capable of perceiving where true merit was to be found, laudably exerted themselves to diffuse the delight his vocal works had given themselves. With this view, and aided by some tasteful professors, they brought forward the Opera of Don Giovanni, and followed it up successively with performances of two of his other productions, which required only to be heard, to ensure them a high reputation….The last which has been produced, Le Nozze di Figaro, is perhaps, altogether, the finest of his works. The subject is taken, with little alteration, from BEAUMARCHAIS’s celebrated comedy… and in its quick succession of incident, gives full scope to the fancy [much praise, then] Figaro was given 8 times in 1812, and then revived in March 1813, June 1816, and February 1817. The 1817 revival, first staged on 1 February with an all-Italian cast, was given 11 performances and seems to have been a marked success….“  END QUOTE

So from Tim Carter’s detailed account, we learn first & foremost that The Marriage of Figaro was first staged professionally in London at the Haymarket Theatre on June 18, 1812----a date which happens to fall smack dab in the middle of JA’s famous lopping and cropping of Pride & Prejudice for its January 1813 first publication! And Carter also shows that an amateur production of Figaro had previously been staged in London between 1809 and 1811. So, might JA have actually seen any of those productions?

There’s no mention of this in any of her surviving letters, but given that we have no surviving Austen letters at all from 1812 prior to November, that silence does not settle that question. Suffice to say that with
(1) brother Henry and sister in law Eliza living in London that entire time, &
(2) JA having visited London repeatedly during the final five years of her life, &
(3) JA’s London visits included frequent attendance at theatrical and musical performances, &
(4) Figaro having received such positive reviews in publications read by JA and her brothers,
I believe it very plausible that she saw Figaro, particularly during its Summer 1812 run.  It was the talk of the town, she loved music, and so she had both opportunity and motive to see it!

But all of that turns out to be only one third of the extraordinary extrinsic synchronicity between P&P and Figaro that I’ve dug up since yesterday.

PART TWO:  As I was writing this post, my memory was jogged to a post I wrote 8 years ago in Janeites, about “the irony that Lydia bemoaned not getting to see a performance at "the Little Theatre" while she was in London, at the precise moment that a performance of a different kind was being staged for her benefit in "the Little Theatre" in her room at Gracechurch Street. [i.e., when Mr. Gardiner fibbed to Lydia so as to keep her under wraps at his home till the wedding could take place]”.

I quickly retrieved the entirety of Lydia’s speech, which is her whiny account to Elizabeth and Jane of the events leading up to, and including her wedding to Wickham in London:

"Well, and so we breakfasted at ten, as usual. I thought it would never be over; for, by the bye, you are to understand that my uncle and aunt were horrid unpleasant all the time I was with them. If you'll believe me, I did not once put my foot out of doors, though I was there a fortnight. Not one party, or scheme, or anything! To be sure, London was rather thin; but, however, THE LITTLE THEATRE WAS OPEN. Well, and so, just as the carriage came to the door, my uncle was called away upon business to that horrid man, Mr. Stone. And then, you know, when once they get together, there is no end of it. Well, I was so frightened, I did not know what to do; for my uncle was to give me away; and if we were beyond the hour we could not be married all day.”

I read “the little theatre was open” and I wondered, could this be yet another giant hint in the text of P&P, pointing to that very same Summer 1812 London production of Figaro? It took me two minutes to find confirmation in Wikipedia, which convincingly connects the dots between Lydia’s frustrated wish to go to “The Little Theatre” and Figaro’s first production in London:
“The Theatre Royal, Haymarket (also known as HAYMARKET THEATRE OR THE LITTLE THEATRE) is a West End theatre in the Haymarket in the City of Westminster which dates back to 1720, making it the third-oldest London playhouse still in use…”

So, “the Little Theatre” Lydia wished she could have gone to just happens to be the very same venue where that first professional London production of Figaro was staged! And, just like the speech in Chapter 39 describing the cross-dressing Chamberlayne, this speech is also spoken by Lydia! But what, someone else may ask, about the chronology of the fictional action in Pride & Prejudice –does it match up with the real-life chronology of staging of Figaro at the Haymarket Little Theatre? You bet it does!!!

According to the authoritative chronology for P&P originally by Chapman, and updated by our own Ellen Moody, Lydia’s “captivity” at Gracechurch Street begins on August 17, 1812, which is a mere 60 days after that London debut production at the Haymarket Little Theatre—a production that ran for 8 performances, meaning that, if they were weekly, a performance of Figaro might very well have occurred at the very start of Lydia’s “confinement”. In that regard, I’ve reached out to the Little Theatre, and asked their educational department whether their records show this, and I promise to return with their answer when I receive it.

But even if that 8-show run ended in July instead of August, 1812, it’s important for us, looking back two centuries from 2016, to realize that the association to that widely acclaimed production of Figaro at the Little Theatre would still have been very fresh in the minds of the culturati of London in early 1813 when P&P and its mysterious anonymous author were the talk of the town, and they read Lydia’s whiny speech. Lydia’s whiny reference to “the Little Theatre” is then an injoke lost in the mists of history …. until now!

But even the above Parts One and Two are still not all the additional corroboration I found of a strong connection between P&P and The Marriage of Figaro. It’s much more than the amorphous connection between Mozart and Austen that the late Lionel Trilling sensed when he famously wrote a half century ago that “one understands very easily why many readers are moved to explain their pleasures in P&P by reference to Mozart, especially The Marriage of Figaro”.  

PART THREE: It also turns out that there are two transcriptions in Jane Austen’s own hand of music written by Mozart, and both are of arias from Mozart’s operas—and, what’s more, one of those arias is an adaptation from (you guessed it!) The Marriage of Figaro! In Wallace’s very well known book about the strong resonance he sees between Mozart’s music in general, and Austen’s fiction, we read the following in Appendix 1: 
“A second manuscript book entirely in [Austen’s] own hand- this one 84 pages long – contains both songs and instrumental works. The keyboard works include numerous waltzes, marches, and themes with variations…Piggott [1979] has discovered that one of the marches Austen copied into this book is by Mozart, though she would have had no way of knowing it. “The Duke of York’s New March” is not new at all: it is a pirated version of “Non piu andrai” from The Marriage of Figaro. As Piggott points out, this is the “only music by Mozart in the Chawton Collection”. [incorrect, actually there’s also an aria from The Magic Flute]”

Now go here… …and listen to “The Duke of York’s New March”—you’ll immediately recognize the tune, as “Non piu andrai” is, in 2016 as in 1812, among the three or four most famous arias from all of Mozart’s operas. But I strenuously disagree with Piggott’s and Wallace’s belief that Jane Austen would not have known that melody as being pirated from The Marriage of Figaro--- Jane Austen was an accomplished amateur musician and a scholar, and I believe she gave herself a quiet, ironic pat on the back in both those regards, when her narrator drily comments on Mary Bennet’s study of thorough-bass and human nature, two areas JA herself was expert in. Plus we have all the “smoke” I’ve outlined in my prior post, and in Parts One and Two, above, that converges in connecting P&P to Figaro.

So I suggest to you that it is no coincidence at all that JA would have chosen piano music adapted from an aria from Figaro for her own private music collection. At some point, I am also going to find out if it is known when JA transcribed that particular musical piece, but from what I can tell in Google Books, the “Duke of York” version had already been published by 1801.

But that’s still not all! It turns out, when we dig a little deeper, that in this aria, so famous for its melody, the substance is even more interesting to us vis a vis P&P as alluding to Figaro. Why? Because in this aria Figaro teases (you’ll never guess)….. Cherubino about his Spartan military future, in stark contrast with the pleasant and flirtatious life Cherubino has enjoyed in the Count's palace. So we’re right back to Cherubino again, and his strong resemblance to Austen’s cross-dressing Chamberlayne!

Here’s an English translation of “Non piu andrai”, within which I’ve interspersed some quotations from P&P which I believe are reactions to its verbiage:

[Mrs Gardiner: “…I really believe your letter this morning gave [Mr. Gardiner] great pleasure, because it required an explanation that would ROB HIM OF HIS BORROWED FEATHERS…]
That light, romantic cap, That hair, that GLOWING COUNTENANCE,
[[Wickham’s] appearance was greatly in his favour; he had all the best part of beauty, a FINE COUNTENANCE, a good figure, and very pleasing address.] 
That rosy, womanly complexion. Among soldiers, by Jove!
[[Wickham’s] regiment is there; for I suppose you have heard of his leaving the ——shire, and of his being gone into the regulars.]
A big moustache, a little kit. With a rifle on your shoulder, and a sabre on your flank,
Standing up straight, hard faced, A big helmet, or a big turban, Plenty of honour, little pay!
And instead of dancing the 
fandango, A march through the mud.
Through mountains, through valleys, With snow and with the sun beating down.
To the beat of the bugle, Of bombs, of cannons, Whose thunderous report
Makes your ears ring. Cherubino, to victory: To glory in battle!
[[Lydia] saw herself the object of attention, to tens and to scores of them at present unknown. She saw all the glories of the camp—its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and, to complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once.]

In short, once again the Cherubino-esque smoke in P&P all has to do with Lydia and/or Wickham.

So, in conclusion, I hope you’ll now agree that it is highly likely that Jane Austen did indeed intentionally but covertly allude in P&P, in a variety of subtle ways, to The Marriage of Figaro.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Austen’s shockingly subversive & risque allusion to The Marriage of Figaro in Pride & Prejudice

I’ve been saying for some time that Andrew Davies is an even sharper elf than he’s been given credit for in giving us the great gift of his four Austen film adaptations (and when if ever will he wave his magic cinematic wand over Mansfield Park and Persuasion?). In particular, I not only strenuously contest the common assertion that his adaptations have overly sexed up Jane Austen’s novels, I assert the opposite: i.e., that there’s a great deal more eroticism just under the surface in all of JA’s fiction, and so Davies’s occasional sexualized scenes are actually tame representations of what Austen actually intended.

Today, I’m back with another sly Davies gem, which I only recently fully grasped. One of the many romantic moments in Andrew Davies’s 1995 P&P occurs when Eliza sings an aria that entrances Darcy in the Pemberley salon:    Singing in English, the lyrics perfectly describe the surprisingly powerful love for Darcy that has seized Eliza’s heart, a love of which she cannot quite make sense:

You who know what love is, Ladies, see if I have it in my heart.
I'll tell you what I'm feeling, It's new for me, and I understand nothing.
I have a feeling, full of desire, Which is by turns delightful and miserable.
I freeze and then feel my soul go up in flames, Then in a moment I turn to ice.
I'm searching for affection outside of myself, I don't know how to hold it, nor even what it is!
I sigh and lament without wanting to, I twitter and tremble without knowing why,
I find peace neither night nor day, But still I rather enjoy languishing this way.
You who know what love is, Ladies, see if I have it in my heart.

In 2009, I wrote the following in an email to Richard Jenkyns (Austen descendant, Oxford prof, and attendee at my 2007 Oxford presentation) about a passage in A Fine Brush on Ivory:
“I just went to see The Marriage of Figaro…I was strongly struck during the first act by Susannah's concern that Count Almaviva might send Figaro on a wild goose chase 3 miles away, and then pounce on her--it was strikingly similar to what I believe Knightley actually does do with Mr. Elton in order to get him out of the vicarage for several hours (while Mrs Elton is also, not coincidentally, being entertained by Miss Bates). And then I was also struck by the Count's attempting to send Cherubino away as an officer, in order to get him far away from his manor, and connected that dot to Darcy's arranging for Wickham (who is, like Figaro, very likely the son of the deceased Count) to be sent out of town as an officer when he marries Lydia. And then I was also struck by the situation of cross dressing courtship in The Marriage of Figaro that was so reminiscent of Twelfth Night. And that is when…I reread, with new eyes, the section of your book in which you point out the striking authorial career parallelism between Shakespeare (Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure) and Austen (P&P and Mansfield Park) and Mozart (Figaro and Don Giovanni)…”

Then, a couple of years ago, I posted the following in Janeites & Austen-L about Davies’s decision to have Elizabeth sing an aria from Figaro in his film: 
“…Emily Auerbach wrote at P. 158 of Searching for Jane Austen:  “Elizabeth probably shared the thoughts of Figaro in his daring monologue from Marriage of Figaro: “Because you’re a great lord, you think you’ve a great mind as well! Nobility, fortune, rank, power, it makes a man proud. What have you done to deserve all that? You went to the trouble of being born, nothing more. “ Rest of that quote: “As for the rest -- you're really rather mediocre. Whereas I? ye gods! Buried among the nameless crowd, I've had to deploy more skill, more calculation, simply to survive, than it would take to govern the whole of Spain for a century!"” And I think Davies knew of this connection because he has Lizzy sing a love song from The Marriage of Figaro in his adaptation.,,,”

Many will recognize, as I did then, that Voi se chapete comes from The Marriage of Figaro; but only Mozart opera buffs would know that, in the opera itself, this particular aria is sung by a female soprano playing a male character—Cherubino —the young page who gets into sticky romantic wickets. Here’s a video of Frederika von Stade as Cherubino:  And, for quick orientation, here is Wikipedia’s synopsis of the part of Act Two which includes this aria:

“The Countess laments her husband's infidelity…Susanna comes in to prepare the Countess for the day. She responds to the Countess's questions by telling her that the Count is not trying to "seduce" her; he is merely offering her a monetary contract in return for her affection. Figaro enters and explains his plan to distract the Count with anonymous letters warning him of adulterers. He has already sent one to the Count (via Basilio) that indicates that the Countess has a rendezvous of her own that evening. They hope that the Count will be too busy looking for imaginary adulterers to interfere with Figaro and Susanna's wedding. Figaro additionally advises the Countess to keep Cherubino around. She should dress him up as a girl and lure the Count into an illicit rendezvous where he can be caught red-handed. Figaro leaves.
Cherubino arrives, sent in by Figaro and eager to co-operate. Susanna urges him to sing the song he wrote for the Countess (aria: Voi che sapete che cosa è amor – "You ladies who know what love is, is it what I'm suffering from?"). After the song, the Countess, seeing Cherubino's military commission, notices that the Count was in such a hurry that he forgot to seal it with his signet ring (which would be necessary to make it an official document). They proceed to attire Cherubino in girl's clothes…and Susanna goes out to fetch a ribbon. While the Countess and Cherubino are waiting for Susanna to come back, they suddenly hear the Count arriving. Cherubino hides in the closet. The Count demands to be allowed into the room and the Countess reluctantly unlocks the door. The Count enters and hears a noise from the closet. He tries to open it, but it is locked. The Countess tells him it is only Susanna, trying on her wedding dress…”

Which brings me to the epiphany I had last month, while revisiting all of the above re: my seeing Figaro as a source for P&P. My eye was caught by the italicized sentences in that synopsis. Can those of you who know the text of P&P guess what specific passage in P&P I was reminded of by “Cherubino” and “cross-dressing”? As an additional hint, I blogged only 2 months ago about an uncanny resonance with that same specific passage in P&P of the following excerpts from JA’s 1801 letter to Cassandra about JA’s travel to, and then arrival in, Bath:
“…Between Luggershall and Everley we made our grand meal, and then with admiring astonishment perceived in what a magnificent manner our support had been provided for. We could not with the utmost exertion consume above the twentieth part of the BEEF. The CUCUMBER will, I believe, be a very acceptable present, as my uncle talks of having inquired the price of one lately, when he was told a shilling….
…The CHAMBERLAYNES are still here. I begin to think better of Mrs. C----, and upon recollection believe she has rather A LONG CHIN than otherwise, as she remembers us in Gloucestershire when we were very charming young women.…My mother has ordered a new BONNET, and so have I; both white strip, TRIMMED with white ribbon. I find my straw BONNET looking very much like other people's, and quite as smart. BONNETS of cambric muslin on the plan of Lady Bridges' are a good deal worn, and some of them are very pretty; but I shall defer one of that sort till your arrival. …We have had Mrs. Lillingstone and the CHAMBERLAYNES to call on us. My mother was very much struck with the ODD LOOKS of the two latter; I have only seen her. Mrs. Busby drinks tea and plays at cribbage here to-morrow; and on Friday, I believe, we go to the CHAMBERLAYNES….”

Now, that’s a pretty big hint!---think about it, and then scroll down for my answer……



My epiphany was to be reminded by Voi se chapete of the following passage in Chapter 39 of P&P:

“We dressed up Chamberlayne in woman's clothes on purpose to pass for a lady, only think what fun! Not a soul knew of it, but Colonel and Mrs. Forster, and Kitty and me, except my aunt, for we were forced to borrow one of her gowns; and you cannot imagine how well he looked! When Denny, and Wickham, and Pratt, and two or three more of the men came in, they did not know him in the least. Lord! how I laughed! and so did Mrs. Forster. I thought I should have died. And that made the men suspect something, and then they soon found out what was the matter."

This of course is Lydia regaling Elizabeth (who is en route home from Kent) at a roadside inn with sexually suggestive details of events involving a crossdressed soldier whose name, CHAMBERLAYNE, is very very similar to CHERUBINO! That scene did not make it into Davies’s 1995 film adaptation, and so it might appear that Davies had missed its significance, but now I believe, after understanding that Davies has Ehle sing Cherubino’s aria at Pemberley, that I have caught Davies in the act of sly greatness, as I now realize that he shifted JA’s Figaro allusion from the roadside inn to the Pemberley salon.

Skeptical? Well, then, here’s the capper. Recall what Miss Bingley says to Elizabeth in that very same scene in the novel which Davies adapted by having Elizabeth sing at Pemberley, singing which, by the way, does not occur in the novel text:
“…in the imprudence of anger, [Caroline] took the first opportunity of saying, with sneering civility:
"Pray, Miss Eliza, are not the ——shire Militia removed from Meryton? They must be a great loss to your family." In Darcy's presence she dared not mention Wickham's name; but Elizabeth instantly comprehended that he was uppermost in her thoughts; and the various recollections connected with him gave her a moment's distress; but exerting herself vigorously to repel the ill-natured attack, she presently answered the question in a tolerably detached tone. While she spoke, an involuntary glance showed her Darcy, with a heightened complexion, earnestly looking at her, and his sister overcome with confusion, and unable to lift up her eyes.”

In short, then, Davies connects Figaro to Wickham in a different scene than JA did. And I also see JA adding some sly wordplay to subliminally emphasize the connection of Wickham and pal Chamberlayne to Figaro’s oversexed Cherubino. The “cherubim” of the Bible were, of course, daunting, unearthly beings who do God’s bidding- and so it is surely no accident that Wickham is referred to twice in P&P as an “angel”—with the added irony of course, that the Angel of Light in the Bible is Lucifer!

[Lydia] "You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise to-morrow morning, as soon as I am missed. I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an ANGEL…”

All Meryton seemed striving to blacken the man who, but three months before, had been almost an ANGEL OF LIGHT. He was declared to be in debt to every tradesman in the place, and his intrigues, all honoured with the title of seduction, had been extended into every tradesman's family. Everybody declared that he was the wickedest young man in the world; and everybody began to find out that they had always distrusted the appearance of his goodness…

In conclusion, I will return within the next week with a followup post about some other significant implications I see in JA having covertly alluded in so shocking a way to gender-bending in Figaro. But for today I leave you with this final teaser---the idea that caused me to recently revisit my long-standing intuition that Figaro was an important allusive source for P&P, was my sense of the shadow Darcy as a version of Figaro’s Count Almaviva – more specifically, my sense that the Count’s attempts to exercise his “droit du seigneur” on Susannah before her impending wedding with Figaro is echoed by the shadow Darcy as similarly doing much the same with a variety of women within his considerable sphere of influence. And that brings me right back to Richard Jenkyns’s sharp observation that Wickham, like Figaro, might be illegitimate sons of the late Count/Mr. Darcy, respectively.

It tells me that another reason for Lydia being sworn to secrecy about Darcy’s presence in London before and during the wedding of Wickham and Lydia, besides Darcy’s supposed modesty:

“ [Lydia] “…Well, I was so frightened I did not know what to do, for my uncle was to give me away; and if we were beyond the hour, we could not be married all day. But, luckily, he came back again in ten minutes' time, and then we all set out. However, I recollected afterwards that if he had been prevented going, the wedding need not be put off, for Mr. Darcy might have done as well."
"Mr. Darcy!" repeated Elizabeth, in utter amazement.
"Oh, yes!—he was to come there with Wickham, you know. But gracious me! I quite forgot! I ought not to have said a word about it. I promised them so faithfully! What will Wickham say? It was to be such a secret!"
"If it was to be secret," said Jane, "say not another word on the subject. You may depend upon my seeking no further."
"Oh! certainly," said Elizabeth, though burning with curiosity; "we will ask you no questions."
"Thank you," said Lydia, "for if you did, I should certainly tell you all, and then Wickham would be angry."
On such encouragement to ask, Elizabeth was forced to put it out of her power, by running away.”

Why would Wickham have been angry? Might the actual need for secrecy have instead been in order not to bring scrutiny to what “droit” Darcy, the “seigneur” of Austen’s comic “opera”, might have been exercising with Lydia the night before her wedding to Wickham?

And that’s a shocking twist that I am pretty sure even the daring, insightful sexer-upper Andrew Davies did not spot. ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Plain girl in crimson rose: Charlotte Bronte’s wickedly subversive anagrammed pen name, Currer Bell

Today, I promise a significant Brontean revelation, but first a necessary digression:

pretty girl in crimson rose: a memoir of love, exile, and crosswords is the evocative title of the memoir  by Sandy Balfour that first caught my eye several years ago, which was reviewed by the Guardian in 2003:   [Nicholas Lezard finds plenty of clues but few answers in Sandy Balfour's love affair with crosswords]

While I heartily recommend Balfour’s slim book in general, I’m writing about it today because of its title, which Balfour explained as follows in his book at ppg. 53-56:

“It is New Year’s Day, 1990. My girlfriend…is making another attempt to teach me the basics of crosswords…’Take “pretty girl in crimson rose…Eight letters. What does it mean?...It means that we have a pretty girl, and she is wearing something red, or pink…She is wearing something that suits her prettiness. Prettiness, girls, roses—they all go together.’
I nod. ‘Got it,’ I say.
‘It means…nothing of the sort…That is what they want you to think it means. What it actually means is either the first word or the last word What it actually means is “rose.” …So give me another word for ‘crimson’.
‘Very good. [she writes   R E _ _ _ _ _ D    on a piece of paper] And ‘pretty girl’?....’belle’. ‘belle’ is another word for ‘pretty girl’. And then we put ‘belle’ which means ‘pretty girl’ inside ‘red’ which means ‘crimson’, and we get  R-E-B-E-L-L-E-D, ‘rebelled’. Et voila.
‘Rebelled’ means ‘rose’?
It does.”  END QUOTE

Balfour never does learn or reveal to us the identity of the brilliant puzzle setter who devised that elegant clue a quarter century ago, and there ends my brief digression into British cryptic crossword puzzle solving. The question I now pose to you is: what further clue does Balfour’s explanation provide toward the discovery of the anagram that, I suggest, C. Bronte cleverly hid in plain sight in her famous male pen name “Currer Bell”? For those so inclined, I will pause here, and give you a chance to sleuth it out yourselves. Then scroll down to read my answer.




I imagine that at least a few of you, with an assist from Balfour’s crossword explanation, were able to discern that the ten letters comprising “Currer Bell” can be closely anagrammed into a nine-letter, two-word phrase, “rebel cur”, requiring only the addition/recurrence of a third “r”.

But…what payoff is there in this solution to a puzzle we’re not even sure was intended as such by Charlotte Bronte? You might first be interested to know in this regard that the novel’s earliest review in The Christian Remembrancer included a surprising speculation in that regard:

[Recently] no novel has created so much sensation as Jane Eyre. Indeed, the public taste seems to have outstripped its guides in appreciating the remarkable power which this book displays. For no leading review has yet noticed it, and here we have before us the second edition. The name and sex of the writer are still a mystery. CURRER BELL (which by a curious Hibernicism appears in the title-page as the name of  a female autobiographer) is a mere nom de guerre—PERHAPS AN ANAGRAM. However, we, for our part, cannot doubt that the book is written by a female, and, as certain provincialisms indicate, by one from the North of England. Who, indeed, but a woman could have ventured, with the  smallest prospect of success, to fill three octavo volumes with the history of a woman's heart?...”

Perhaps the Bronte mavens amongst you, who from numerous rereadings know well the actual text of C. Bronte’s most famous novel, Jane Eyre, by now have realized exactly why I’m so confident that this is not a coincidental anagram. I.e., Jane Eyre, eponymous heroine, is famous in the history of feminist literature as Charlotte Bronte’s enormously influential, thinly veiled, self portrait of a great female REBEL against patriarchal tyranny—against women being treated the way her cruelly sexist society treated mongrel dogs, which of course is the meaning of the derogatory word “cur”. And so, what better way for Bronte to put an emphatic, if subliminal, exclamation point on her feminist rebellion against bestial male oppression, than to adopt a male pen name which not only uses her own initials, but also carries within its very letters the jumbled seeds of her rebellious novel’s core theme?

Several small forests have been felled to supply the paper explaining the significance of that theme of feminist rebellion in Jane Eyre, and so I will not even attempt to recapitulate any of same in this post. For today, I’ll just add a wordplay gloss to that rich lode of critical scholarship, by quoting the passages in Jane Eyre which I am convinced were in the author’s mind when she called herself “Currer Bell”. For greater visibility, I’ve put in ALL CAPS the verbiage which literally or indirectly relates to “rebel” and to “cur”.

But before I do that, one last bit of prologue, where the level of apparent coincidence between “Currer Bell” and “pretty girl in crimson rose” gets pretty spooky. Among the words in Jane Eyre which suggest  “rebellion” is the word “rose”, because “rose up” is a synonym for “rebelled”. And of course that’s the key to the answer to that 1990 puzzle clue. And here’s the spookiest part—that resonance between pen name and puzzle clue not only involves the word “rose” as “rebelled”, it also punnily connects to “rose” as synonym of the colors “red” and “crimson”, which, as you’ll see, below, are crucial to the origin of the heroine’s defiant rebelliousness in Jane Eyre as well. (And I’ll return at the end with some final observations on the following textual examples provided).

Chapters. 1-2: “…Take her away to the RED-room, and lock her in there.”  Four hands were immediately laid upon me, and I was borne upstairs. I RESISTED all the way: a new thing for me, and a circumstance which greatly strengthened the bad opinion Bessie and Miss Abbot were disposed to entertain of me.  The fact is, I was a trifle beside myself; or rather out of myself, as the French would say: I was conscious that a moment’s MUTINY had already rendered me liable to strange penalties, and, like any other rebel slave, I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths.
“Hold her arms, Miss Abbot: she’s like a mad CAT.”
They went, shutting the door, and locking it behind them.
The RED-room was a square chamber, very seldom slept in…A bed supported on massive pillars of mahogany, hung with curtains of deep RED damask, stood out like a tabernacle in the centre; the two large windows, with their blinds always drawn down, were half shrouded in festoons and falls of similar drapery; the carpet was RED; the table at the foot of the bed was covered with a CRIMSON cloth; the walls were a soft fawn colour with a blush of pink in it; the wardrobe, the toilet-table, the chairs were of darkly polished old mahogany.  Out of these deep surrounding shades ROSE HIGH, and glared white, the piled-up mattresses and pillows of the bed, spread with a snowy Marseilles counterpane.  Scarcely less prominent was an ample cushioned easy-chair near the head of the bed, also white, with a footstool before it; and looking, as I thought, like a pale throne.

Ch. 5:  The odour which now filled the refectory was scarcely more appetising than that which had regaled our nostrils at breakfast: the dinner was served in two huge tin-plated vessels, WHENCE ROSE A STRONG STREAM redolent of rancid fat. 

Ch. 12:  It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.  Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent REVOLT against their lot.  Nobody knows how many REBELLIONS besides political REBELLIONS ferment in the masses of life which people earth.  Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they SUFFER FROM TOO RIGID A RESTRAINT, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer…
…In those days I was young, and all sorts of fancies bright and dark tenanted my mind: the memories of nursery stories were there amongst other rubbish; and when they RECURRED, maturing youth added to them a vigour and vividness beyond what childhood could give.  As this horse approached, and as I watched for it to appear through the dusk, I remembered certain of Bessie’s tales, wherein figured a North-of-England spirit called a “Gytrash,” which, in the form of horse, mule, or large DOG, haunted solitary ways, and sometimes came upon belated travellers, as this horse was now coming upon me.

Ch. 16: “You should have seen the dining-room that day—how richly it was decorated, how brilliantly lit up!  I should think there were fifty ladies and gentlemen present—all of the first county families; and Miss Ingram was considered THE BELLE of the evening.”

Ch. 22: I suppose I do come on; though in what fashion I know not; being scarcely cognisant of my movements, and solicitous only to appear calm; and, above all, to control the working muscles of my face—which I feel REBEL INSOLENTLY against my will, and struggle to express what I had resolved to conceal.  But I have a veil—it is down: I may make shift yet to behave with decent composure.

Ch. 25: “Am I about to do it?  Why, the day is already commenced which is to bind us indissolubly; and when we are once united, there shall be no RECURRENCE of these mental terrors: I guarantee that.”
..The gale still rising, seemed to my ear to muffle a mournful under-sound; whether in the house or abroad I could not at first tell, but it RECURRED, doubtful yet doleful at every lull; at last I made out it must be SOME DOG HOWLING at a distance. 

Ch. 26: “Good-morrow, Mrs. Poole!” said Mr. Rochester.  “How are you? and how is your charge to-day?”
“We’re tolerable, sir, I thank you,” replied Grace, lifting the boiling mess carefully on to the hob: “rather snappish, but not ‘rageous.”
A fierce cry seemed to give the lie to her favourable report: THE CLOTHED HYENA ROSE UP, AND STOOD TALL ON ITS HIND-FEET.
“Ah! sir, she sees you!” exclaimed Grace: “you’d better not stay.”
“Only a few moments, Grace: you must allow me a few moments.”
“Take care then, sir!—for God’s sake, take care!”
The maniac bellowed: she parted her shaggy locks from her visage, and gazed wildly at her visitors.  I recognised well that purple face,—those bloated features.  Mrs. Poole advanced.
“Keep out of the way,” said Mr. Rochester, thrusting her aside: “she has no knife now, I suppose, and I’m on my guard.”
“One never knows what she has, sir: she is so cunning: it is not in mortal discretion to fathom her craft.”
“We had better leave her,” whispered Mason.
“Go to the devil!” was his brother-in-law’s recommendation.
“‘Ware!” cried Grace.  The three gentlemen retreated simultaneously.  Mr. Rochester flung me behind him: the lunatic sprang and grappled his throat viciously, and laid her teeth to his cheek: they struggled…At last he mastered her arms; Grace Poole gave him a cord, and he pinioned them behind her: with more rope, which was at hand, he bound her to a chair.  The operation was performed amidst the fiercest yells and the most convulsive plunges.  Mr. Rochester then turned to the spectators: he looked at them with a smile both acrid and desolate.
“That is my wife,” said he.  “Such is the sole conjugal embrace I am ever to know—such are the endearments which are to solace my leisure hours!...”

Ch. 27:  Some time in the afternoon I raised my head, and looking round and seeing the western sun gilding the sign of its decline on the wall, I asked, “What am I to do?”
But the answer my mind gave—“Leave Thornfield at once”—was so prompt, so dread, that I stopped my ears.  I said I could not bear such words now.  “That I am not Edward Rochester’s bride is the least part of my woe,” I alleged: “that I have wakened out of most glorious dreams, and found them all void and vain, is a horror I could bear and master; but that I must leave him decidedly, instantly, entirely, is intolerable.  I cannot do it.”
But, then, a voice within me averred that I could do it and foretold that I should do it.  I wrestled with my own resolution: I wanted to be weak that I might avoid the awful passage of further suffering I saw laid out for me; and Conscience, turned tyrant, held Passion by the throat, told her tauntingly, she had yet but dipped her dainty foot in the slough, and swore that with that arm of iron he would thrust her down to unsounded depths of agony.
“Let me be torn away,” then I cried.  “Let another help me!”
“No; you shall tear yourself away, none shall help you: you shall yourself pluck out your right eye; yourself cut off your right hand: your heart shall be the victim, and you the priest to transfix it.”
I ROSE UP SUDDENLY, terror-struck at the solitude which so ruthless a judge haunted,—at the silence which so awful a voice filled...”  

Ch. 35: “Could you decide now?” asked the missionary. The inquiry was put in gentle tones: he drew me to him as gently. Oh, that gentleness! how far more potent is it than FORCE! I could RESIST St. John’s wrath: I grew PLIANT as a reed under his kindness.  Yet I knew all the time, if I YIELDED now, I should not the less be made to repent, some day, of MY FORMER REBELLION…”
… “I am coming!” I cried.  “Wait for me!  Oh, I will come!”  I flew to the door and looked into the passage: it was dark. I ran out into the garden: it was void.
“Where are you?” I exclaimed.
The hills beyond Marsh Glen sent the answer faintly back—“Where are you?”  I listened.  The wind sighed low in the firs: all was moorland loneliness and midnight hush.
“Down superstition!” I commented, AS THAT SPECTRE ROSE UP BLACK by the black yew at the gate.  “This is not thy deception, nor thy witchcraft: it is the work of nature.  She was roused, and did—no miracle—but her best.”
I broke from St. John, who had followed, and would have detained me.  It was my time to assume ascendency…. 

Ch. 37: [Rochester] pursued his own thoughts without heeding me. “Jane! you think me, I daresay, an irreligious DOG: but my heart swells with gratitude to the beneficent God of this earth just now.  He sees not as man sees, but far clearer: judges not as man judges, but far more wisely.  I did wrong: I would have sullied my innocent FLOWER—breathed guilt on its purity: the Omnipotent snatched it from me.  I, in my STIFF-NECKED REBELLION, almost cursed the dispensation: instead of BENDING TO the decree, I DEFIED it…” 

Ch. 38: My tale draws to its close: one word respecting my experience of married life, and one brief glance at the fortunes of THOSE WHOSE NAMES HAVE MOST FREQUENTLY RECURRED IN THIS NARRATIVE, and I have done.

Note in particular the passages linking rebellion with an animal – both the description of the madwoman in Rochester’s attic in Chapter 26, and the humbled Rochester’s description of his own rebellious life story in Chapter 37. That linkage is what clinches the deal with me on “rebel cur” as an intentional anagram of “Currer Bell”.

And then please take special note of that remarkably metafictional sentence in chapter 38, which occurs only a few paragraphs before the novel’s end. I see it as Charlotte Bronte addressing the reader directly, while slyly, broadly winking at her own wordplay, in adopting “Currer Bell” as her male pen name, reflecting all of the wordplay she scattered like so many proverbial bread crumbs throughout the entire length of Jane Eyre.—hence her choice of the word “recurred” in that particular sentence!

So, finally, in light of all of the above, I also cannot help but wonder---preposterous as I know it sounds--whether the deviser of “rebelled” as the answer to the clue “pretty girl in crimson rose”, might just have been thinking about Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte’s plain girl who rose from the blood-curdling agony of the red-room, to exert her indomitable will and rewrite a happy ending for her own tale of feminist rebellion, which has inspired generations of readers.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, August 5, 2016

Northanger Abbey, The Recess & the Introductory to Waverley

In 2007, Ellen Moody wrote that she thought that the opening of The Recess is parodied by Henry Tilney in his famous teasing scare speech to Catherine as they ride along to Northanger Abbey. Today, I will suggest that Henry Tilney’s speech has a second source as well, which is directly tied to The Recess:

First, here is Henry’s teasing scare speech:

He smiled, and said, "You have formed a very favourable idea of the abbey."
"To be sure, I have. Is not it a fine old place, just like what one reads about?"
"And are you prepared to encounter all the horrors that a building such as 'what one reads about' may produce? Have you a stout heart? Nerves fit for sliding panels and tapestry?"
"Oh! yes—I do not think I should be easily frightened, because there would be so many people in the house—and besides, it has never been uninhabited and left deserted for years, and then the family come back to it unawares, without giving any notice, as generally happens."
"No, certainly. We shall not have to explore our way into a hall dimly lighted by the expiring embers of a wood fire—nor be obliged to spread our beds on the floor of a room without windows, doors, or furniture. But you must be aware that when a young lady is (by whatever means) introduced into a dwelling of this kind, she is always lodged apart from the rest of the family. While they snugly repair to their own end of the house, she is formally conducted by Dorothy, the ancient housekeeper, up a different staircase, and along many gloomy passages, into an apartment never used since some cousin or kin died in it about twenty years before. Can you stand such a ceremony as this? Will not your mind misgive you when you find yourself in this gloomy chamber—too lofty and extensive for you, with only the feeble rays of a single lamp to take in its size—its walls hung with tapestry exhibiting figures as large as life, and the bed, of dark green stuff or purple velvet, presenting even a funereal appearance? Will not your heart sink within you?"
"Oh! But this will not happen to me, I am sure."
"How fearfully will you examine the furniture of your apartment! And what will you discern? Not tables, toilettes, wardrobes, or drawers, but on one side perhaps the remains of a broken lute, on the other a ponderous chest which no efforts can open, and over the fireplace the portrait of some handsome warrior, whose features will so incomprehensibly strike you, that you will not be able to withdraw your eyes from it. Dorothy, meanwhile, no less struck by your appearance, gazes on you in great agitation, and drops a few unintelligible hints. To raise your spirits, moreover, she gives you reason to suppose that the part of the abbey you inhabit is undoubtedly haunted, and informs you that you will not have a single domestic within call. With this parting cordial she curtsies off—you listen to the sound of her receding footsteps as long as the last echo can reach you—and when, with fainting spirits, you attempt to fasten your door, you discover, with increased alarm, that it has no lock."
"Oh! Mr. Tilney, how frightful! This is just like a book! But it cannot really happen to me. I am sure your housekeeper is not really Dorothy. Well, what then?"
"Nothing further to alarm perhaps may occur the first night. After surmounting your unconquerable horror of the bed, you will retire to rest, and get a few hours' unquiet slumber. But on the second, or at farthest the third night after your arrival, you will probably have a violent storm. Peals of thunder so loud as to seem to shake the edifice to its foundation will roll round the neighbouring mountains—and during the frightful gusts of wind which accompany it, you will probably think you discern (for your lamp is not extinguished) one part of the hanging more violently agitated than the rest. Unable of course to repress your curiosity in so favourable a moment for indulging it, you will instantly arise, and throwing your dressing-gown around you, proceed to examine this mystery. After a very short search, you will discover a division in the tapestry so artfully constructed as to defy the minutest inspection, and on opening it, a door will immediately appear—which door, being only secured by massy bars and a padlock, you will, after a few efforts, succeed in opening—and, with your lamp in your hand, will pass through it into a small vaulted room."
"No, indeed; I should be too much frightened to do any such thing."
"What! Not when Dorothy has given you to understand that there is a secret subterraneous communication between your apartment and the chapel of St. Anthony, scarcely two miles off? Could you shrink from so simple an adventure? No, no, you will proceed into this small vaulted room, and through this into several others, without perceiving anything very remarkable in either. In one perhaps there may be a dagger, in another a few drops of blood, and in a third the remains of some instrument of torture; but there being nothing in all this out of the common way, and your lamp being nearly exhausted, you will return towards your own apartment. In repassing through the small vaulted room, however, your eyes will be attracted towards a large, old-fashioned cabinet of ebony and gold, which, though narrowly examining the furniture before, you had passed unnoticed. Impelled by an irresistible presentiment, you will eagerly advance to it, unlock its folding doors, and search into every drawer—but for some time without discovering anything of importance—perhaps nothing but a considerable hoard of diamonds. At last, however, by touching a secret spring, an inner compartment will open—a roll of paper appears—you seize it—it contains many sheets of manuscript—you hasten with the precious treasure into your own chamber, but scarcely have you been able to decipher 'Oh! Thou—whomsoever thou mayst be, into whose hands these memoirs of the wretched Matilda may fall'—when your lamp suddenly expires in the socket, and leaves you in total darkness."
"Oh! No, no—do not say so. Well, go on."
But Henry was too much amused by the interest he had raised to be able to carry it farther; he could no longer command solemnity either of subject or voice, and was obliged to entreat her to use her own fancy in the perusal of Matilda's woes. Catherine, recollecting herself, grew ashamed of her eagerness, and began earnestly to assure him that her attention had been fixed without the smallest apprehension of really meeting with what he related. "Miss Tilney, she was sure, would never put her into such a chamber as he had described! She was not at all afraid."

And now read the first portion of Sir Walter Scott’s short 1814 “Introductory” to Waverley, Or, Tis Sixty Years Since, and disagree if you dare with my assertion that Henry Tilney’s speech also winks at Scott’s wink at The Recess—winks within winks!:

“The title of this work has not been chosen without the grave and solid deliberation which matters of importance demand from the prudent. Even its first, or general denomination, was the result of no common research or selection, although, according to the example of my predecessors, I had only to seize upon the most sounding and euphonic surname that English history or topography affords, and elect it at once as the title of my work, and the name of my hero…my second or supplemental title was a matter of much more difficult election, since that, short as it is, may be held as pledging the author to some special mode of laying his scene, drawing his characters, and managing his adventures. Had I, for example, announced in my frontispiece, Waverley, a Tale of other Days, must not every novel reader have anticipated a castle scarce less than that of Udolpho of which the eastern wing had long been uninhabited, and the keys either lost, or consigned to the care of some aged butler or housekeeper, whose trembling steps, about the middle of the second volume, were doomed to guide the hero, or heroine, to the ruinous precincts? Would not the owl have shrieked and the cricket cried in my very title-page? and could it have been possible for me, with a moderate attention to decorum, to introduce any scene more lively than might be produced by the jocularity of a clownish but faithful valet, or the garrulous narrative of the heroine’s fille-de-chambre, when rehearsing the stories of blood and horror which she had heard in the servants’ hall?...”

There’s no doubt that Jane Austen read Waverly, because she famously commented on its publication in Letter:  

"Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. – It is not fair. He has Fame and Profit enough as a Poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people's mouths.– I do not like him, and do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it – but fear I must".”

Austen scholars with tin ears for Austen’s irony have taken this comment literally, as if she, in 1814, especially after the positive reception of P&P by the literati, actually felt personally threatened by Scott’s entry into novel-writing. This is absurd. He was writing a completely different sort of novel than she was, as he himself so eloquently admitted, in terms of his own limitation to the big Bow-Wow strain”, unable to depict human character truly as she could.

What I do, however, detect, is a subtle but serious feminist rebuke of Scott beneath the irony, on a different point. Jane Austen recognized that Scott was not only invading the turf of the female Gothic authors like Sophia Lee, Ann Radcliffe, et al, he was staking a false claim (per Diana Wallace in her excellent recent book about female Gothic historical fiction like The Recess) of having invented historical fiction with the writing of Waverly. As Wallace points out, Scott thereby successfully erased the prior claim of Lee for nearly a couple of centuries, and Jane Austen, for one, was outraged.

And so, how fitting for JA to wink at both Scott and Lee in Northanger Abbey, the novel in which she explicitly condemns the erasure or diminishment of female authors like Burney and Edgeworth from the canon:

“…I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding—joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens—there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. "I am no novel-reader—I seldom look into novels—Do not imagine that I often read novels—It is really very well for a novel." Such is the common cant. "And what are you reading, Miss—?" "Oh! It is only a novel!" replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. "It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda"; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation which no longer concern anyone living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favourable idea of the age that could endure it.

Cheers, ARNIE
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