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

Friday, September 10, 2010

I only just realized yesterday that John Knightley is....

....his brother George's real estate lawyer in town!

It's amazing to me that it took me this long to see it, because I myself have been a real estate lawyer in South Florida for 30 years! It's just another example of JA hiding important stuff in plain sight.

The trigger for my realization was my examination, for the first time, of the Knightley (Knox-ly) brothers as somewhat off the wall co-representations of the Scottish religious zealot John Knox. Part of what made me so sure I was onto something was the subliminal verbal linkage of John Knightley to Scotland in the following comment that Emma makes to John, as she desperately seeks to change the subject from some very alarming sparring over health issues between her father and her sister, on the one hand, and John on the other:

' Mr. Graham intends to have a Scotch bailiff for his new estate. Will it answer? Will not the old prejudice be too strong? '

But it was only yesterday that it occurred to me that there was even more to this Scotch connection than just pointing to John Knox.

I never previously understood what that "old prejudice" was, beyond some vague notion of centuries-old hostility between Englishmen and Scotsmen, but then I suspected that this prejudice was very specifically related to the hiring by Mr. Graham (clearly a client of John Knightley's, the owner of another large estate like Mr. Knightley's Donwell Abbey) of a Scotch bailiff. And that's when I did a little more digging and found out that there WAS a contemporary prejudice in the England of JA's time SPECIFICALLY in regard to Scotch bailiffs! Why?

Because, as part and parcel of the enclosure movement that had been sweeping (and not in a good way) across rural England since 1760 or so, there were a number of radical reforms of agricultural practices in England, many of which were imported from Scotland, which had apparently caught enclosure fever earlier than England. Therefore, Scotland turned out to be the crucible in which change in those practices first occurred (as well as being a hotbed of intellectual creativity in general--witness Hume, Adam Smith, etc).

AND....it also followed that, swept along on the crest of that wave of radical change flowing down from Scotland into England, were a goodly number of Scotch bailiffs who were savvy men already experienced in running large agricultural operations of the kind George Knightley is clearly in the process of implementing at Donwell Abbey, one of hundreds of such local English squires doing exactly that across all the English agricultural counties.

And...that's where the "old prejudice" kicks in---if you were one of the millions of rural English poor who were displaced during that half century of rapid enclosure of the commons of England from 1760-1810, and in particular if you were one of the small farmers who were being squeezed financially by the new reality, and were having trouble making your rent payments to the nasty guy with a pistol who came around to collect your rents---naturally, you would not be kindly disposed toward the "mercenaries" hired to "invade" England by the "traitorous" landowners, bailiffs who were the instrumentalities of that deeply disruptive change. PLUS..that would also feed into what probably were ancient resentments between England and Scotland dating back to England's annexation and oppression of Scotland.

And part of those resentments was also surely the hoary "fact" that the Scots were very cheap when it came to money. And so I realized that "Scotch bailiff" in 1815 was not that different from the notion of a "Jewish lawyer" in the modern US, based on much the same sort of prejudice--a Scotch bailiff was exactly the guy that someone like Mr. Knightley would want to hire to make sure he got paid, and he was therefore exactly the kind of guy that would be hated by those from whom he was collecting!

And there's more!

I also realized in a rush that John had gone to London to practice law not merely to put some distance between himself and his father in law, but also because his brother George needed legal representation in London--why? Because George was an encloser, and a great deal of the legal action involving enclosure took place in Parliament, where every one of the Enclosure Acts which provided the deeply hypocritical legal justification for this massive nationwide landgrab had to be ratified.

But some of the legal action did eventually take place in each of those local communities where enclosure was being pushed so strongly, and that's when I realized the final link in this unholy chain of rapacity----the "parish business" that takes place behind closed doors at the "Crown" Inn (i..e, where those on the INSIDE, working with the blessing of the CROWN) consists in part of the local commissions which were supposed to provide due process to the common man, but which actually were almost always shams, kangaroo courts in which the outcome was decided before they sat down to "deliberate".

No wonder Mr. Cole, the richest man in Highbury, is there. No wonder Mr. Elton, the morally venal clergyman who thinks of nothing but getting rich himself, is there. No wonder Mr. Knightley, the Donald Trump of Highbury, is there.

This is still happening today in the Sun Belt in the US--while there are rare communities which have stood firm and resisted the siren song of urban sprawl, most have been railroaded by an unholy alliance of developers in search of profits from maximum density at the expense of the environment and quality of living issues like transportation, education, etc.

During the latter part of my career, I was fortunate to represent a developer who was doing a great deal of his development in the hardest county in all of the U.S. to do development--Martin County, Florida--you may have heard a recent piece on NPR when it was mentioned in this context. I was fortunate to represent him because he was that rare sort of development who embraced the strong restrictions imposed by local government, and used his ingenuity to gain approvals for developments which WERE environmentally and socially responsible--there was no other option, because the Commissioners would only approve projects which met a very high standard!

But that is, I believe, the exception and not the rule. Generally speaking, I believe that a quiet form of corruption is the norm. As Peter Townshend wrote, meet the new boss, same as the old boss--the ordinary Joe and Jane always DO get fooled again!

So (getting back to Jane Austen, because for me, all roads do lead to her---even the ones that the Knightley brothers discuss moving, as part of their enclosure projects--- if you were ever wondering what papers Knightley brings to Mr. Woodhouse to sign near the end of the novel, you better believe they have EVERYTHING to do with the following nasty comments by John Knightley to Mr. Woodhouse at the Randalls Christmas party:

"Another hour or two's snow can hardly make the road impassable; and we are two carriages; if one is blown over in the bleak part of THE COMMON FIELD there will be the other at hand."

Helena Kelly, in her recent brilliant Persuasions article about enclosure issues in JA's writing, particularly Emma, commented:

"Common field means either the common proper or the open fields, farmed in individual strips, which are characteristic of pre-enclosure agriculture patterns. Randalls, however, is outside Highbury, “half a mile” the other side of Hartfield (6). It seems likely that both Randalls and Hartfield would have an interest in
the “common fields” that lie between them. It is difficult to conceive that Mr. Woodhouse, with his hatred of change and his fussy concern for his servants
and dependents, would agree to be an active encloser. Mr. Weston, with his city background, might well not consider the investment required worthwhile.
Whatever the reasons might be, Austen indicates quite clearly that whereas Highbury and Donwell are under Mr. Knightley’s command, Hartfield and Randalls are not. The only common land explicitly mentioned in the novel is firmly placed outside Highbury and so beyond Knightley’s control. As the major
landowner, it must be Knightley who has enclosed Highbury and Donwell, and the local poverty and desperation lie at his door. Even the
remaining common fields between Randalls and Hartfield will be swallowed up in time."

It did not occur to Helena that JA was giving us all sort of quiet hints about this process in the text of the novel itself!
So maybe part of that rancor between John and his father in law has to do with Mr. Woodhouse's "quaint" hatred of change--maybe this was one change--another being the potential dangers to Emma of getting married--like dying in childbirth, perhaps like her mother!---that Mr. Woodhouse was JUSTIFIED in resisting!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: There is ALSO a very good reason why, in P&P, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Gardiner get on so famously, and why Mr. Darcy chooses to act through Mr. Gardiner to dispense his largesse to solve the Lydia-Wickham snafu.

That is because, in the shadow story of P&P, Mr. Gardiner is Mr. Darcy's real estate lawyer in town!!!

It's no coincidence that Mr. Gardiner is married to a woman from tiny Lambton of all places--in the shadow story, that's how he MET Mr. Darcy in the first place, while taking a trip up to Pemberley to check out the details of the land he was going to help Darcy enclose! He and Mrs. Gardiner probably only met within the last decade, because she is still quite young, and their children are small.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting article but the American writer understandably does not have a detailed knowledge of English law or society at the time of the novel.
Scots bailiffs were well known as being very commercial managers of land,and there was a prejudice against them for their success in business. A typical example is Farfrae in Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge" who puts his English rival Henchard out of business.
The enclosure of land took place much earlier in England than the time of the novel,mostly in the 16th and 17th century, so this would not have been an issue at the time of the novel.
Highbury in the novel is based exactly on Leatherhead in Surrey. James Edward Austen-Leigh stated in one of his letters that his aunt Jane Austen had told him this. The estate of Donwell Abbey was based on the estate of Norbury Park at the time of the novel. This consisted largely of land which had once belonged to Merton Priory (known as the Priory Lands). At the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in the sixteenth century the land would have been enclosed by the new owner, if it had not been already. The land is now occupied by a tenant farmer, Mr Martin. Thus there was no need for a bailiff.
The Common Fields still exist in Leatherhead. They are not common land. Common land has a specific legal definition in English law. Common land is usually recognised now by the name of the place and then Common, eg Bookham Common, Esher Common, Clapham Common.
The Common Field in Leatherhead was merely a large field next to Randalls Park which was split into parcels of land belonging to different local landowners, including the estate of Norbury Park, so the idea that it was outside the influence of Mr Knightley is incorrect.
It is unlikely that John Knightly would have become a lawyer in London just to help his brother with any legal disputes. George Knightley could easily engage another lawyer if he needed one. In England the legal profession is split into two, solicitors (or attorneys as they were known at the time of Jane Austen) and barristers (lawyers who plead in court). Attorneys like Mr Cox in the novel were quite lower class and a gentleman would usually only become a barrister. As John Knightley was a younger son, under English law the whole of the estate would go to his older brother. Younger sons usually had the following choice of profession: army, navy,church or barrister. So it is not surprising that John Knightley chooses the latter profession
Similarly, in Pride and Prejudice Mrs Gardiner spent a lot of her youth in Lambton. This has been identified by Professor Donald Greene as the town of Old Brampton in Derbyshire. This is surrounded by sheep pasture which would always have been enclosed, as sheep farming was the mainstay of Derbyshire even in the Middle Ages.
I think this shows that American lawyers should not get involved with English law or vice versa.