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

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Raining Power and the Rising Son

© Arnie Perlstein 2010

I have just spent an enjoyable two hours following a lead that popped up as I was just finishing up looking at something else in one of JA’s novels (which is the way most of my best leads present themselves to me, by the way), and I have decided to share it now in these groups. Why? Because I claim it is a particularly good example of the value of the approach that I take to Jane Austen, sleuthing around in the shadows of her novels and letters. It illustrates how it is only in the shadows of her writing that one can find something approaching proof of the intuitions and imaginative insights of a perceptive reader of Jane Austen—insights that are not merely answer to gratuitous puzzles, but which actually inform and deepen our understanding of JA’s stories, which are what matter most to all Janeites.

As a bonus, some regular members of these groups may be surprised to seewhich particular perceptive reader of Jane Austen I am referring to in this particular instance—but you have to keep reading to find out! ;)

The “something else” I was just finishing up researching was an analysis of the homophonic relationship of the word “reigns” (“Woman Lovely Woman Reigns Alone” from the second charade in Chapter 9 of Emma) and the word “rain” asused in all of JA’s novels, especially in Emma. By the way, I can tell you that homophonic relationship is quite significant for an understanding of JA’s shadow stories, but that is a topic for another time.

I outlined the above bit of sequence in my research, because the last thing I did as part of that analysis was to search the word “reign” and its variants in all of JA’s novels, just to see if and how it was used in the novels other than Emma. That is how, quite by serendipity, I came to focus, for the first time, on the following comment made by Charles Musgrove to Anne and Mary in Persuasion:

“I am not one of those who neglect the reigning power to bow to the rising sun….”

Have any of you ever taken note of that line of dialog before? Probably not, because there is no mystery about the surface meaning of Charles’s comment. He is defiantly explaining to Mary, in a faintly macho way, why he is not aboutto show up at Sir Walter’s digs to meet the great Dalrymples, no way no how. Not to please his wife’s desire to ape her father and get close to “important people”, not to please Sir Walter (“the reigning power”) himself, and certainly not to please Sir Walter’s “heir presumptive”, i.e. Cousin Elliot (“the rising sun”)-- Charles will be damned if he will kowtow to any of those damned proud Elliots!

But that is only the first layer of the onion.

Next, I noted, with delight, the two homophonic puns in Charles’s little speech (“reigning” = “raining”, which, in terms of weather, is the opposite of “sun”; and also "sun” = “son”—think about Hamlet--- because Cousin Elliot, as an heir presumptive, is the equivalent of a rising “son” vis a vis a “reigning power”). This is very much of a poetic effect, with condensation of multiple meanings in a single line, and Persuasion would be the very JA novel you’d expect to have more of that sort of poetic effect per page than any of the others.

So far, so good, but that is still only the second layer of the onion. Ihad also recognized immediately that there just had to be a third layer as well, i.e., that this statement by Charles was an allusion of some kind. It seemed a prototypical example of the category of “very unusual turn of phrase” which I have learned from my experience in sleuthing into JA’s writing, is invariably a marker of a covert pointer to some other work of literature or history.

That was the moment of delicious anticipation in my research, to be savored, because at that moment I had absolutely no idea what the allusion would be. So as I entered “bow to the rising sun” in Google Books, I felt like a contestant on Wheel of Fortune when Pat Sajak opens the envelope to reveal exactly how large the prize the contestant has just won. That’s what keeps me doing this research even now.

And my prize was being led to the following book published in 1819, which was the first book written in English, currently searchable on Google Books, which used that phrase “bow to the rising sun”:

Memoirs of the court of Louis XIV.: Comprising biography and anecdotes of the most celebrated characters of that period. by Thomas Pike Lathy.

On P. 423, Lathy wrote the following:

“The courtiers, ever prone, like the simple Persian, TO BOW TO THE RISING SUN, became more attentive to Mme. de Maintenon, They took more notice of the Duke of Maine, and, under the pretext of visiting him, they paid their court to the governess. Mme. de Maintenon, totally unambitious, paid as little attention to all this, as she had done to the neglect they had before shown her, while Mme. Scarron, to please the favourite…..”

Now, I know, as some of you are ready to point out, that JA finished writing Persuasion in July 1816, and died in August 1817, so how could JA have been alluding to a book which was not published till 2 years after her death? And my answer is, I don’t claim she did. I attribute great genius to her, and evena sometimes uncanny ability to foresee the future in her own family (as I posted a few weeks ago about Fanny Knight’s marriage to Baronet Knatchbull), but I don’tthink she had the kind of ESP required in order to allude to Lathy’s book.

But…I realized quickly that Google Books had nonetheless been a usefulguide. The passage in Lathy’s book was an account of the relationship of Mme. Scarron (later Mme. de Maintenon) with Louis XIV, aka “The Sun King”. In the end of a long history together, she became his mistress and morganatic wife. As I read the entire passage, I was strongly struck by several parallels between the character of Mme. de Maintenon and the character of Anne Elliot!

In those few short pages:

I read about Mme. Scarron having had a great bloom but having become pale due to her extreme solicitude and worry for the Duke of Maine, the sickly young son of Louis XIV;

I read about the King’s attention being actively sought by a young beauty, Mme. de Montespan, who was extremely jealous of the favorable attention that the King began bestowing on the older Mme. Scarron; and

I read about Mme. Scarron having great intellectual accomplishment but no desire to show off.

So I wondered, could that alignment of traits be a complete coincidence?No, I was pretty clear that this was intentional. But how could it be? There had to be OTHER books published prior to 1816 which would have provided JA with the information about Mme. de Maintenon that she alluded to. I speculated that even though Lathy’s book postdated Persuasion’s publication, perhaps the reference to “rising sun” was one that dated back to the time of Louis XIV, who, we all know, called himself “The Sun King”, and famously opinedthat “L’etat, c’est moi”, in very Sir Walteresque fashion. It would not be beyond such a narcissist to refer to himself as “the rising sun” as well, right?

And I was right, it turns out that “the rising sun” was the MOTTO ofLouis XIV. And I know this because Google Books led me to the following book published in 1809: The setting sun: or, Devil amongst the placemen by Eaton Stannard Barrett, 1809 (aka Cervantes Hogg, who also wrote in1807, The Rising Sun):

Many of you will recognize that Barrett was the same author who wrote a Gothic burlesque called The Heroine which JA explicitly refers to in one of her Emma-era letters, in a positive light. In that book Hogg aka Barrett recounted ananecdote from the era of Louis XIV as follows:

“When the Earl of Stair was ambassador in Holland, he made frequent entertainments, to which the foreign ministers were invited, not excepting even that of France, though hostilities were then commencing between the two countries. In return, the French resident as constantly invited the English and Austrian ambassadors upon the like occasions. The French minister was a man of considerable wit and vivacity. One day, he proposed a health in these terms: " The Rising Sun," (alluding to the motto of his master, Louis XIV) which was pledged by the whole company. It then came to the Baron de Hicsbach's turn to give a health, and he, in the same humour, gave " The Moon and Fixed Stars," in compliment to the Empress Queen. When itcame to the English ambassador's turn, all the eyes of the company were fixed upon him; but he, no way daunted, drank to his master by the name of Joshua, the Son of Nun, who made both the Sun and Moon stand still."

And I could not fail to note the striking similarity of the prototypically English defiant mockery of power of the Earl’s bon mot, to the tone of Charles Musgrove’s bon mot about Sir Walter and Cousin Elliot.

But there was more. My memory was also tickled by the name “Maintenon”, and I wondered if I had perhaps read it in one of our lists, and I suspected that if I had, it was probably because Ellen, who often posts about the connections between English and French literature and culture during JA’s era, had posted something about her. Sure enough, I quickly found the following in the archives of these lists, from not that long ago, the following comment by Ellen:

“At the same time I'm reading a riveting (wonderful) modern historical novel based on Maintenons's 24 volumes of letters by Francoise Chandernagor. Like Chantal Thomas's _Adieux a la Reine_ published in English translation as _Farewell, my Queen_, so Chandernagor's book has been published in English (a number of years back) as _The King's Way_ (alas abridged and without annotations and quotations in the back). Charlotte Lennox later in the 18th century published a 5 volume set of Maintenon's letters and Genlis wrote a biographical novel in the firstperson (as in Chandernagor, using Maintenon as first person narrator). Iam persuaded that it's just this sort of book Austen read and refers to in Persuasion.”

So here I have finally presented to you, as promised, the intuitive insight by a perceptive reader of Jane Austen, expressed in that final sentence—for reasons having nothing to do with Charles Musgrove’s little aphorism, Ellen had a strong hunch that JA would have had Mme. de Maintenon on her radar screen asshe was writing Persuasion. Intuition is a great thing, but how often do such insights get ignored, because no “proof” has been provided to back up the intuition? So how cool is it when that sort of intuition can be proven by digging around in the shadows ofAusten’s novels, and finding the very words JA deployed as a kind of “bread crumb”, to lead all of us Hansels and Gretels to the proof that yes, JA really really did mean to allude to Louis XIV and Mme. de Maintenon?

And that is what then opens the door to examining the details JA would have known about Mme. de Maintenon, from her own extensive reading in both English and French. Indeed, Mme. de Genlis did write a historical novel about Mme. de Maintenon, and we already know for certain that JA was very interested in de Genlis’s fiction, from the explicit allusion to Adele and Theodore in Emma. I could go into a lot of detail about de Genlis’s historical novel about Maintenon, but that would wear you all out, so I will leave that for another time.

I wish to finish with the final bit of evidence for this being an intentional allusion by JA to Louis XIV and Mme. de Maintenon, which is my personal favorite--it is the icing on the allusive layer cake so lovingly and wittily constructed by Jane Austen solely out of words, words, and nothing but words---but what words!

I did one more Google search to see what might have ever been written about any connection between JA and Mme. de Maintenon, and you’re gonna think I made this up, it’s so good, but it’s really real. Who could possibly believe that I would be led to a footnote in an edition of Persuasion edited by Janet Todd and Antje Blank? That footnote is an explanatory gloss about, of all things, Mrs. Clay’s freckles, in which Todd and Blank mention something called “Unction de Maintenon”. Needless to say, it was with great excitement that I did a search on that very interesting product name, and I found the following Regency Era description of same:

To Remove Freckles.—The most celebrated compound ever used for the removal of freckles was called Unction de Maintenon, after the celebrated Madame de Maintenon, mistress and wife of Louis XIV. It is made as follows:—"Venice soap 1 oz. Lemon-juice 1 oz. Oil of bitter almonds 1/ /oz. Deliquidated oil of tartar. /I /oz. Oil of rhodium 3 drops. First dissolve the soap in the lemon-juice, then add the two oils, and place the whole in the sun till it acquires the consistence of ointment, and then add the oil of rhodium. Anoint the freckly face at night with this unction, and wash in the morning with pure water, or, if convenient, with a mixture of elder-flower and rosewater.

If you think that is a coincidence, and if you think JA was unaware of what was a famous connection in her time of Mme. de Maintenon to freckles, as JA was writing a novel in which another cure for freckles, Gowland’s Lotion, is givensuch prominence, then….well, you should probably never read anything Iwrite, because this is as good as it gets!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: Knowing JA’s love of puns and wordplay, I did one more word search in JA’s novels, wondering if it might just provide the final wink ofJA’s eye about all of the above—I searched the word “maintaining”, which is the closest homophone in English to the French name “Maintenon”. Is it not strange that this exact word “maintaining” is used exactly 8 times in all of JA’s novels combined…..and five of them occur in Persuasion!!!

And, what’s more, one of those five usages in Persuasion is the following

“Charles and Mary still talked on in the same style; he, half serious and half jesting, maintaining the scheme for the play, and she, invariably serious, most warmly opposing it, and not omitting to make it known that, however determined to go to Camden Place herself, she should not think herself very well used, if they went to the play without her."

Which just happens to be the very next paragraph AFTER Charles’s littlespeech about (allow me one final joke) , “The Raining Power and the Rising Son”


P.P.S.: One other scholar has taken notice of Charles Musgrove's speech, and it nicely connects the dots back to Emma's charade, and provides a fourth layer of the onion. Of course it had to be Jocelyn Harris, in A Revolution Beyond Expression, who at p. 133 quotes Charles, and then writes: 'Since the 'rising sun/son' was a common jest about the Prince Regent and his toadies, Austen criticizes here those who follow the Regent rather than remaining loyal to the ailing King George III...". So in one sentence, JA manages to connect the courts of the two greatest reigns of 19th century Europe, those of George III and Louis XIV, to the "courtship" at Sir Walter's apartments in Bath. Two inches of ivory indeed!

P.P.P.S.: Walpole would appear to have written these lines in the papers in 1782, when the Prince of Whales was in his early prime of utter dissoluteness :

Drink like a Lord, and with him, if you will.
Deep be the bumper: let no liquor spill;
No daylight in the glass, though through the night
You soak your senses till the morning light;
Then stupid rise, and with the rising sun
Drive the high car, a second Phaeton.
Let these exploits your fertile wit evince;
Drunk as a lord and happy as a prince.

Jane Austen, it seems to me, may be referring to "your fertile wit" in that same second charade in Chapter 9 of Emma when she writes the following:

Thy ready wit the word will soon supply,
May its approval beam in that soft eye!

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