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

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The answers to my trick Question: Emma and...Fanny Hill!

"Which very famous novel by a very famous English author fits all of the following specific criteria?"

There are two correct answers (that I am aware of)--Jane Austen's Emma is not the trick answer, but Cleland's Fanny Hill is. Here are the dual sets of answers to each question:

Question #1. "There is a description of the departure for Ireland from England of a young man supposed to be enamored of one of the heroines of the novel (hereafter referred to as "X"), and also describing the marriage of that young man to a well-provided-for bride, instead of the impecunious heroine X."

In Emma, it is Mr. Dixon whom Emma suspects of being enamored of "X", who is none other than the unrich Jane Fairfax. Mr. Dixon, as we all know, winds up marrying the well-to-do Miss Campbell and going back to Ireland, where he is from, with his new wife.

In Fanny Hill, it is Fanny's unnamed "gallant" who loves her and then leaves her to go to Ireland and marry a rich girl, which leads us directly to the answer to Question #2, below....

"There is at least one reference in the author's novels to a metaphorical "chasm" created in "the society" of one of the heroines of the novel, describing the experience of loss arising when certain closely-connected people leave the vicinity of that heroine, who is left to make do (or, as is stated in those fictions, to "fill up" that chasm) in the absence of the departed."

As I stated in my "Chasms" post last week, in Mansfield Park, there are two references to "chasms" caused by departures, one that Mary C. experiences when Tom B. leaves MP, the other that Fanny experiences when Maria and Julia leave MP.

In Fanny Hill, after Fanny's gallant leaves for Ireland, we read:

"This event also created a chasm in our little society, which Mrs. Cole, on the foot of her usual caution, was in no haste to fill up; but then it redoubled her attention to procure me, in the advantages of a traffic for a counterfeit maidenhead, some consolation for the sort of widowhood I had been left in; and this was a scheme she had never lost prospect of, and only waited for a proper person to bring it to bear with."

Could a single sentence be more laden with sexual innuendoes?

And you might also have noticed in that same passage one of the answers to Question #4: "There is a reference to the "usual caution" of a female character who is a "psychological mother" to the heroine X."

In Fanny Hill, it is Fanny's "psychological mother", Mrs. Cole, whose 'usual caution' is referred to.

In Emma, it is Miss Bates's, in the following passage, which is also, you will note, on the topic of the "psychological daughter" in distress:

"I always make a point of reading Jane's letters through to myself first, before I read them aloud to my mother, you know, for fear of there being any thing in them to distress her. Jane desired me to do it, so I always do: and so I began to-day with my usual caution; but no sooner did I come to the mention of her being unwell, than I burst out quite frightened with, 'Bless me! poor Jane is ill!' which my mother, being on the watch, heard distinctly, and was sadly alarmed at. However, when I read on, I found it was not near so bad as I fancied at first; and I make so light of it now to her, that she does not think much about it."

Those of you who've been reading along in this blog, or in Janeites or Austen L, knows very well what Jane's "illness" is, in the shadow story of the novel--i.e., pregnancy outside marriage. And that leads us to the answers to Question #8:

"The heroine X becomes pregnant as a result of sex outside marriage, but the heroine X does not ever mother the baby so conceived, which may or may not be carried to term."

Fanny Hill herself becomes pregnant early in the novel, by Charles, her first true love (or as true as Fanny's love ever seems to get), but then she miscarries at three months.

In Emma, those who know my reading of the shadow story of Emma know that Jane bears her baby but then gives her baby girl to Mrs. Weston.

And I also should have added earlier that the answer to Question #9 has been obvious ever since I named both novels.

"There is an important female character in the novel, Mrs. Cole, who is explicitly named (at least) 32 times in the novel."

In Emma, Mrs. Cole, who is most definitely not a psychological mother to Jane Fairfax--quite the contrary, she is one of Jane's tormentors in the shadow story--is indeed named 32 times. In Fanny Hill, Mrs. Cole is a much more important character and is actually named 76 times.

Now, I will quickly run through the other answers:

Question #3. "There are at least six references in the novel to the blushing of the heroine X, several of them with the suggestion of sexual significance."

That is indeed the case, repeatedly, with both Fanny Hill and Jane Fairfax.

Question #5. "There is a playful double entendre in the fictions of the novel's author with the word "rear", used ostensibly in a military or naval context, and implicitly in two sexualized contexts suggesting gay sex, and also at least one explicit reference to "vices"."

In Fanny Hill, there is the following military double entendre on the word "rear" with the word "vices" not far away:

"....and, leaning forward over his back, drew his face, from which the boy shook the loose curls that fell over it, in the posture he stood him in, and brought him towards his, so as to receive a long breathed kiss; after which, renewing his driving, and thus continuing to harass his rear, the height of the fit came on with its usual symptoms, and dismissed the action."

I needn't tell anyone reading this, I think, about how closely that resonates with Mary Crawford's military double entendre on "rears and vices" in the British Navy.

But I do need to point out that it is an extended double entendre by JA, because I have previously posted about the "dirty bottoms" that Edward and Marianne discuss in S&S, and it turns out that it's not only Samuel Johnson who inadvertently made a bottom joke that had Hannah More and others present in snickering stitches, but also Cleland in another less famous work of his, Memoirs of a Coxcomb, has an elaborate riff on "bottom".

What is most salient is that in Fanny Hill, we have perhaps the most famous scene involving male gay sex in all of English literature prior to the 20th century, and the intricate multifaceted allusion by Jane Austen to Fanny Hill in Mansfield Park makes it crystal clear, I assert, that Mary Crawford was indeed referring to male gay sex in the Royal Navy, and I further assert that Mary is making the even more disturbing suggestion that it might involve her and Fanny's own brothers!

Which brings us to the final unanswered Question #7. "There is a female character in the novel who is referred to as a "Mrs.", who demonstrates a cruel and malicious intent to pressure the heroine X into a career of prostitution in a brothel, which intent may or may not be successful."

And here is the trickiest allusion of all, because in Fanny Hill, the malicious woman who leads Fanny into prostitution is the infamous Mrs. Jones, who blackmails Fanny into it by threatening Fanny with a mountain of debt allegedly owed by Fanny to her, the "price" of discharge of which is to service one of Mrs. Jones's clients.

But in Emma, who can it be? I have been telling my audiences for my Emma presentation that it is Mrs. Elton who, for reasons I will discuss in my book, is out for cruel revenge on poor Jane Fairfax. Mrs. Elton knows that Jane is pregnant, and so she, by turns, hints at Jane's need for an "abolition" (i.e., an abortion), and then for Jane to become a "governess" (i.e., a prostitute). But happily Mrs. Elton is foiled by the forces of good in the shadow story of Emma.

And I saw one more connection between Jane Austen's novels and Fanny Hill earlier today, which should have been Question #10:

"There is a reference to the heroine's heart and its being in danger of a pointed attack"

And the answer is....

In Mansfield Park, Henry Crawford decides to make a hole in Fanny Price's heart, and in Fanny Hill, Fanny, in her raptures upon her being unexpectedly reunited with her "true love" Charles, gushes with questionable self-awareness:

"And amidst all my personal infidelities, not one had made a pin's point impression on a heart impenetrable to the true love passion, but for him."

And ain't it also so that Fanny Price's heart turns out to be impenetrable as well to Henry's diabolical arrows.

There is even more to the complex allusions by JA to Fanny Hill, but I believe the above is sufficient to make it clear that there is no coincidence in any of the above.

I finish by pointing out that there is deep irony even in the unfolding of my discovery of all of the above.

I had been of the vague, unspecific opinion since early 2005, when I read Jill Heydt Stevenson's "Ha-Ha" article, that Fanny Hill, a novel I had never read but had only read about, must have been on Jane Austen's radar screen in ways that had not been previously understood by any scholars.

Then, in October 2006, Fred Runk, wittily teasing me for one of my many subtextual claims, made what he thought was a clever reductio ad absurdam, making a mocking faux "argument" that Fanny Hill must have been a source for Jane Austen. That was what caused me to actually read some of Fanny Hill, and I became certain at that point that it was a source for Jane Austen, because Cleland was clearly a master of sexual euphemism, and that was exactly what I was seeing all over the place in JA's novels, particularly in Emma.

It was when I pointed this all out to Anielka late in 2007 that she, being quite creative, came up with an interpretation of Emma vis a vis Fanny Hill, which perhaps she will be bringing forward sometime.

However, my interpretation is different than Anielka's, as I focus on Jane Fairfax and Fanny Price as the two primary representations of Fanny Hill in Austen's fiction.

In any event, it was only in the past few days that my eyes were opened wide enough by my discoveries regarding "chasms" and "filled up" to ask the question of whether Fanny Hill might have been in the background, and that led me to find several of the answers I have outlined above.

Cheers, ARNIE

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