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

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lady Middleton’s Delicacy, Mrs. Jennings’s Ill Wind, and the High Crimes and Misdemeanors of….Colonel Brandon?


Apropos the recent thread about natural children, Ellen wrote the following:

“Ah, the second edition of _S&S_ shows us Austen removing a reference to "the natural daughter" (Mrs Jennings thinks Eliza is Colonel Brandon's natural daughter). I suggest that shows pressure from her family; they really didn't think anyone much would read the book. Now it was a success d'estime, they insisted this come out.”

At first blush, that _could_ be a plausible inference, because nobody but very close family knew that JA was the author of the first edition of S&S. So it would have made sense that when the novel sold, and gossip started among the literati speculating who the “Lady” was who had penned it, and also when at least one of the Austen brothers noticed that particular passage, that would indeed have raised fears that if the world did eventually find out, an explicit reference to a natural daughter would focus unwelcome attention on the Austen family.
But…there’s one fatal defect at the root of that whole analysis, and here is Claudia Johnson’s explanation in her Norton Critical Edition:

“Here [the First Edition of S&S] continues: “Lady Middleton’s delicacy was shocked; and in order to banish so improper a subject as the mention of a natural daughter, she actually took the trouble of saying something about the weather.” Austen’s decision to delete this sentence has occasioned misunderstanding, largely because Chapman claimed she did so “in the interests of propriety”. This is not quite right, however, because Austen actually retains the scandalous phrase. It might be apter to say that Austen curbed the irreverence of her satire on propriety.”

And yes, Johnson is indeed correct in her reference to the _full_ quotation of the relevant passage:

"And who is Miss Williams?" asked Marianne.

"What! do not you know who Miss Williams is? I am sure you must have heard of her before. She is a relation of the Colonel's, my dear -- a very near relation. We will not say how near, for fear of shocking the young ladies." Then lowering her voice a little, she said to Elinor, "She is his _natural daughter._"


"Oh! yes; and as like him as she can stare. I dare say the Colonel will leave her all his fortune."

I.e., Ellen has relied on Chapman’s 86-year old--but, alas, completely _unfounded_--claim (which, by the way, was endorsed in passing at the time by EM Forster)---unfounded because indeed not only does the second edition retain Mrs. Jennings’s explicit and very pointed reference to Colonel Brandon’s natural daughter, but also (as Johnson apparently does _not_ realize) both the first _and_ the second edition of S&S both contain a _second_ even more scandalously explicit reference by Mrs. Jennings to Eliza, Jr.’s relationship to Colonel Brandon, which appears seventeen chapters later, in Chapter 30:

“Elinor, for her sister's sake, could not press the subject farther, and she hoped it was not required of her for Willoughby's; since, though Marianne might lose much, he could gain very little by the inforcement of the real truth. After a short silence on both sides, Mrs. Jennings, with all her NATURAL HILARITY, BURST FORTH again --

“Well, my dear, 'tis a true saying about an ill wind, for it will be all the better for Colonel Brandon. He will have her at last; aye, that he will. Mind me, now, if they an't married by Midsummer. Lord! how he'll chuckle over this news! I hope he will come to-night. It will be all to one a better match for your sister. Two thousand a year without debt or drawback – except THE LITTLE LOVE-CHILD, indeed; aye, I had forgot her; but she may be 'prenticed out at small cost, and then what does it signify? Delaford is a nice place, I can tell you…”

I put in all caps not only the relevant passage, but also JA’s _subliminal_ punning on the words “natural” and “burst forth”, to set-up that scandalous meaning in the introductory narration---a classic Jane Austen textual Trojan Horse.

So, it would appear that Chapman was wrong, but Johnson was correct…except it turns out that even Johnson has not got it all correct either. Why?

Because there is something else that Johnson missed in explaining JA’s deletion, i.e., what Lady Middleton says in the_ previous_ chapter, Chapter 12, _another_ scene where Lady Middleton stops a conversation of the kind as to which Emma-- who at times (alarmingly) reminds _me_ of Lady Middleton!-- would have thought “Here was a dangerous opening”. Lady Middleton responds as follows when her talky mother opens up another can of worms:
"Well, then, he is lately dead, Marianne, for I am sure there was such a man once, and his name begins with an F."

Most grateful did Elinor feel to Lady Middleton for observing at this moment, "that it rained very hard," though she believed the interruption to proceed less from any attention to her, than from her ladyship's great dislike of all such inelegant subjects of raillery as delighted her husband and mother. “

A few years ago, Edward Copeland spotted the parallel between those two passages, and added that same suggestion that JA realized that she had _just_ used that same motif of Lady Middleton interrupting an unseemly thread of conversation started by her mother with a reference to the weather, and decided it would be overdoing it to have it appear twice, especially in consecutive chapters.

And, as _that_ seems a reasonable explanation, can we finally breathe a sigh of relief and say that surely Copeland’s explanation must be the best one?

I think you realize by now that my answers to these leading questions are going to keep being “No” for a while longer!

There is yet _another_ reason why I think there’s a good deal more to it, and it has to do with the character of Lady Middleton herself. Ii.e., I claim that it is not a coincidence that it is she, and not another character in S&S, who puts the kibosh twice on such conversations, and also that it is also she to whom Brandon specifically apologizes for so abruptly ending the Whitwell junket just before it is to begin, _and_....that it is also Lady Middleton who quickly changes the subject when Mrs. Palmer’s pregnancy comes up in conversation.

Yes, in the normal reading of the novel, some among you will respond, what is going on is no big deal, it is, as the narrator delicately suggests in that Ch. 12 passage, Lady Middleton is a prig, who stifles all conversations started by her vulgar relations, including her husband, which embarrass her. But I suggest there is another explanation lurking in the shadows of the novel.

But before I go there, I must make one last detour, to set the stage fully.


Taking a closer look at Mrs. Jennings’s afore-quoted Chapter 30 ejaculations about an “ill wind”, I noted that she does not quote the full proverb, and I suspected it might be important, so I checked, and the full proverb--which appears, among other places, in Sterne’s _Sentimental Journey_, is “An ill wind blows nobody any good.”

The actual proverb makes Mrs. Jennings’s reference all the funnier and sharper, as she speaks in the way Shakespeare’s fools speak, turning the proverb topsy turvy, suggesting that in this instance the ill wind of Willoughby’s cruel treatment of Marianne will not blow merely _good_ things in Marianne’s direction, but a far, far _better_ thing, i.e, Brandon.

And it turns out that my sense of the Shakespearean in Mrs. Jennings’s proverbial allusion is not unfounded, because, of the three places in his entire canon where the Bard himself invokes the proverb, one of them, in Henry IV, Part 2, Act t, Scene 3, fits that scene in Ch. 30 of S&S with uncanny thematic parallelism, and therefore I assert that it is actually being alluded to by Jane Austen in her usual covert, erudite, and very thematically relevant, way. Let me explain:

Falstaff: What wind blew you hither, Pistol?

Pistol: Not the ill wind which blows no man no good. Sweet knight, thou art now one of the greatest men in this realm.

The foolish banter amongst Falstaff, Pistol, Shallow and Silence delays Pistol’s report of the news he carries for 30 lines, but then the news he reveals is indeed as huge as Falstaff’s gut—Henry IV is dead, and now Prince Hal has become Henry V! No wonder Pistol tells Falstaff he is “now one of the _greatest_ men in this realm”—a wonderful pun that reminds us of Falstaff’s corpulence, the way that JA reminds us of Mrs. Jennings’s girth—because Sir John’s [and the mirroring of his name in the Falstaffian Sir John Middleton is also no accident] sweet Prince Hal is now King. So Falstaff can finally expect to play the role of courtier, after a lifetime of living outside the bounds of polite society. But then…it turns out to be a very ill wind indeed for poor Sir John, as, in the next scene, the play’s finale, Falstaff is greeted by the following “ill wind” emanating from the lips of his erstwhile “son”:

“I know thee not, old man, fall to thy prayers. How ill white hair becomes a fool and jester!”

In addition to reminding us of Emma’s public humiliation of Miss Bates on Box Hill, JA’s covert allusion to this particular Shakespearean scene seems to be suggesting that Mrs. Jennings’s optimism for Marianne’s marital future, suggesting that Marianne will now wind up with Colonel Brandon, is as profoundly misguided as Pistol’s was for Falstaff?

I am now about to land the plane I have been carefully maneuvering into position throughout this post, and tell you how in the end, Chapman’s original suggestion that fear of impropriety perceived by contemporary readers, and Ellen’s gloss on same, to the effect that the Austen family as a group pressured JA to make that deletion for that very reason, were, in my opinion, at least partly correct—but in a way, as I will explain below, that was ne’er dreamt of by either Chapman or Ellen.

I.e., there was something the Austen family all knew very well, that would have made readerly attention to that deleted sentence in the second edition of S&S even more unwelcome. That something was a scandal they wished never to see the light of day, about an illegitimate love-child of a famous Englishman closely connected to the Austen family who made his mark in India. Of course I refer to Warren Hastings!

And so, as I will explain below, it was not merely a vague generalized prudery, or even JA’s own fastidious authorial abhorrence of careless repetition of a motif, that were the primary reasons for that deletion -but a very specific worry (the same kind of worry that obviously motivated Henry Austen to write, in his 1818 Biographical Notice, that of course JA _never_ wrote about real people in her novels) about word getting back to Warren Hastings--who was still very much alive and kicking, and we even know from an 1813 letter of JA’s, that Hastings read _and admired_ P&P!--that the daughter of his old reliable, deceased friend, Reverend Austen, with her big mouth, had splashed Hastings’s own high crimes and misdemeanors—those he was acquitted of after a ten year impeachment trial that riveted the English nation as none previously--across the pages of her first novel.

And the key to it all is Lady Middleton. Read on….


In my book, I will unpack this part of my argument in great detail, but suffice for now to point out that Lady Middleton is the key because, during Warren Hastings’s never-ending impeachment trial, the leading “supporting actor” throughout—mentioned several dozen times by Sheridan, for all manner of chicanery, cruelty, and depravity--was Hastings’s right-hand man—who in essence played Christopher to Hastings’s Tony Soprano in regard to the complex plot that Hastings was accused of—was a gentleman by the name of _Middleton_!

I have read Sheridan’s very famous (and very long—it took him 5 hours to deliver it!) closing argument in the case against Hastings, and I recommend the reading of it to anyone who wants to believe that Jane Austen could possibly have been sympathetic to such a man as Warren Hastings. To give an idea of what Sheridan describes in his oration, recall first the Watergate impeachment trial, which is uncannily similar, and then imagine what sort of evidence would have been presented at an Iraq war crimes trial against Dick Cheney argued by a passionate, articulate prosecutor.

Hastings epitomized everything that _my_ JA hated—the worst sort of villain, because polished, cultured, intellectual, and yet, beneath the surface, an avaricious, depraved monster—the ultimate hypocrite! And that is why I _do_ believe that JA was pressured into deleting that sentence from S&S by her family:

Why? Because that sentence was an extraordinarily “unbecoming conjunction” between a fictional character she gave the surname Middleton, on the one hand, and a reference to the natural daughter of a real life Englishman intimately connected to her own family, who had spent long years in India!

And I would bet the house—although she will never admit it!---that Deirdre Le Faye was very well aware of _all_ of the above when she wrote her lengthy 1979 scholarly article, entitled “Jane Austen and her Hancock Relatives” in the Review of English Studies, Vol. 30, No. 117 (February 1979), ppg. 12-27, the subtitle of that article should have been “Le Faye Protests Too Much”!

In it, Le Faye never once mentions the persistent rumors about Hastings as the father of Eliza Hancock, which had survived from their earliest evidence in print in the contemporary correspondence of Lady Clive, the widow of Hastings’s equally corrupt predecessor as Governor General of England, who committed suicide. But of course many of you know that Le Faye has reserved some of her most vituperative published bile for Austen scholars who have dared to raise that rumor in print in modern times. But her article was not about any of that. It was all about presenting “the cover story”, cleverly recognizing that the rumor was out there, and adopting the strategy of ignoring it, while providing an elaborate rationale for the obvious allusions in S&S to India.

It had to be explained, and so Le Faye found every _other_ explanation that stays a million miles away from any suggestion that Brandon might be a representation of Hastings. And so, emulating JA’s own method of hiding a secret, she comes very close to the secret, but then veers away from it at the last minute. She chooses to emphasize the other side of JA’s allusion, the one that alludes to the revealed or overt story, and talks up Colonel Brandon as a representation of Tysoe Hancock, the man cuckolded by Warren Hastings!

Now, I am not the first person to suggest the meme of Brandon as a representation of Hastings. That has, as far as I can tell, its origins in published print in 1998, when Gideon Polya writes the following book:

_Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History : Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability_ 1998

I have ordered Polya’s book from the library, but, pending my actually reading it through, my guess from the above-linked chapter summaries is that Jane Austen’s novels were a means to an end for him, and not an area of his own interest.

And there is one final turn of the screw in this lengthy analysis, which addresses the concerns that might have arisen as you read my claim that JA knew Sheridan’s speech well enough to have discerned the spotlight shone on Hastings’s minion, Middleton, throughout it.
You might be willing to concede that JA knew about the Hastings trial, but nonetheless argue that JA did not pay attention to the details, and in particular would not have been familiar with Sheridan’s closing argument, however famous it may have been in England at the time, in order to know about Middleton’s role in that real life drama. After all, she was only _ten years old_ when Sheridan addressed Parliament that fateful day.

But take a look at this passage from what Sheridan said:

“Filial Piety-It is the primal bond of society. It is that instinctive principle, which, panting for its proper good, soothes, unbidden, each _sense and sensibility_ of man.”
I became aware of the above connection between Sheridan’s speech and JA’s fiction when I read a comment discussing it several years ago in an online achive dating from 1999—and the writer of that comment was none other than the familiar-to-us-all Anielka Briggs.

Now, whether Anielka came up with that insight herself, or perhaps she read it in Polya’s 1998 book (I will of course check to see if he mentions this in his book when I receive it from the library), it does not matter to me—either way it is an extraordinary bit of evidence, a huge textual “bread crumb” that tells the knowledgeable reader that JA not only read the text of Sheridan’s speech all the way through, but also read it with thematic understanding.

As Anielka explained, the evil deed perpetrated by Hastings with the assistance of Middleton and also the devilish “Impey” (a name that shows that real life is stranger than fiction!), that Sheridan was describing in graphic detail at that point in his speech, was that of turning the young Nabob against his mother and sister. And it sounded to her, as it sure sounds to me, like that is a _lot_ like what John Dashwood, the new “Nabob” of Norland (there is some poetry in that!), does to his mother and half sisters under the evil influence of his wife!

But there’s more to this than I have just described, because Anielka at that time did not pursue the implications of the connection between Hastings and Brandon. I.e., I am suggesting that JA is broadly hinting to us that Fanny Dashwood (representing “Middleton”) is not acting alone, but that there is a “Warren Hastings” pulling the strings behind her, i.e., Colonel Brandon! And now you know why I put that question mark in my Subject Line.

I will not go further on this topic before I address it at length in my book.

However, I finish with pointing out what Sheridan said immediately _after_ he referred to the “sense and sensibility of man”: “It now _quivers on every lip_. It now _beams from every eye._”

Surely I am not the only Janeite who immediately makes the association from those two sentences to the following three passages in _Emma_ which all (I claim) refer-whether overtly or covertly--to Jane Fairfax:

Ch. 9: “May its approval _beam_ in that soft _eye_!”

Ch. 34: It was kindly said, and very far from giving offence. A pleasant "thank you" seemed meant to laugh it off, but a blush, a _quivering lip_, a tear in the eye, shewed that it was felt beyond a laugh…

Ch. 51: "On the misery of what she had suffered, during the concealment of so many months," continued Mrs. Weston, "she was energetic. This was one of her expressions. 'I will not say, that since I entered into the engagement I have not had some happy moments; but I can say, that I have never known the blessing of one tranquil hour:' -- and the _quivering lip_, Emma, which uttered it, was an attestation that I felt at my heart."

Cheers, ARNIE

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