(& scroll all the way down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Prince Regent and Mr. Knightley as St. George to the rescue in _Emma_

In my immediately preceding post, I entered the subtext of _Emma_ via a "wormhole"---the description of Emma's sketch of her baby nephew George in Chapter 6---wound up with the claim that the Prince Regent was represented in _Emma_ by that same baby nephew George, and that the Prince Regent had many good reasons for choosing the name "George IV" when he ascended to the British throne in 1820.

In followup, I will now take you on a further Alice & Wonderland-like excursion into the subtext of _Emma_, leading to the conclusions I have stated in the title of this post.

First, it occurred to me that a factor in the Prince Regent keeping the
name George could have been that St. George just happens to be a saint
with special status in England for nearly 600 years in 1820. And look at
the following very curious factoid in that specific regard, reported by
Lloyd in his contemporary Memoir of George IV:

"This year [1817], the celebration of the regent's birth was altered
from the 12th of August, the natal day, to the 23rd of April, the
anniversary of St. George."

Think about that one---it surely suggests that the Prince Regent had a
desire to associate himself with St. George, and what better way to do
that during his own reign than to keep the name George?

Then I took note of two coincidental events which further that linkage:

When the PR became King George IV in 1820, he wore the golden spurs of St. George. I don't know if that was an innovation of his (the accounts of his coronation show that he spent a humongous amount of money on it, and that he took a minute interest in all details of the event) or if this was a custom that he merely followed. If it was a custom, then JA might have heard of it.

When King George IV died in 1830, he was buried in St. George's Chapel at Windsor. That is also where both his parents were buried, as well as Charles I, Henry VIII and Jane Seymour.

However, those two bits are just interesting trivia, vis a vis Jane Austen and _Emma_.

The rest of this post is about something _else_ I found after writing the above, about the circumstances surrounding the Prince Regent's choice of George IV as his royal name.

I mentioned that in 1817, the Prince Regent made the interesting decision to change the celebration of his own birthday to St. George's Day, April 23, clearly wishing to connect himself to the legendary St. George.

It occurred to me to check the calendar for _Emma_ (produced some time ago, as some of you know, by Ellen Moody), to see what happened in the action of _Emma_ around that time. What I found was quite interesting---during the early part of May, according to Ellen, is when two significant events occur in the novel----the Crown Inn ball, and then, the next morning, the fracas of Harriet and the Gypsies.

And that got me thinking about George Knightley swooping in to "rescue" the poor "maiden" Harriet at the ball; and Frank Churchill swooping in to "rescue" the poor "maiden" Harriet from the Gipsies--and of course, several chapters later, when Harriet starts to tell Emma about the man she really wants to marry, Emma guesses that Harriet is talking about Frank, when Harriet really means Mr. Knightley--a confusion based on their both being "rescues" of a poor "maiden".

Of course I am talking about the legend of St. George and the Dragon!:

[Wikipedia] "In the fully developed Western version..., a dragon or Crocodile makes its nest at the spring that provides water for the city of "Silene" (perhaps modern Cyrene) in Libya or the city of Lydda in the Holy Land, depending on the source). Consequently, the citizens have to dislodge the dragon from its nest for a time, to collect water. To do so, each day they offer the dragon at first a sheep, and if no sheep can be found, then a maiden must go instead of the sheep. The victim is chosen by drawing lots. One day, this happens to be the princess. The monarch begs for her life to be spared, but to no avail. She is offered to the dragon, but there appears Saint George on his travels. He faces the dragon, protects himself with the sign of the cross, slays the dragon, and rescues the princess..."

I think the legend of St. George and the Dragon is exactly what JA was pointing to with both "rescues"! In the case of the Crown Inn ball, the "Dragon" is Mrs. Elton (don't you just love the symbolism of Mrs. Elton as a dragon to be slain?), who has, I think it is implied, ordered her husband _not_ to dance with Harriet. In the case of the incident with the Gypsies, the "Dragon" is the Gypsies, which fits perfectly with the way they are demonized in Harriet's telling of the story, treated as dangerous almost non-human creatures.

And this fits perfectly with my previous assertions that the story of being rescued from Gypsies is a fairy tale that Harriet makes up in order to conceal a far less maidenly explanation for why she would be outside town alone with Frank, and would then come back in sartorial disarray. And by the way I just noticed _another_ incriminating inconsistency in Harriet's fable---if it was really true that "[s]he had suffered very much from cramp after dancing" the night before, and if it was also really true that she was still sufficiently incapacitated by cramp the next morning as to be unable to walk up the bank and escape, then why in the world was she out for a walk with Miss Bickerton the next morning??? And not just a Mr. Woodhousean micro-stroll! No, it was a long walk, and what's more, a long walk on a particularly secluded road far outside Highbury. Hmmm.......the story takes on, as Big Daddy might have said, an even stronger aroma of mendacity!

But back to the idea of Mr. Knightley as St. George (a connection, by the way, that U. C. Knoepflmacher first made in 1967, but it was Joseph Kestner in his article “Jane Austen: Revolutionizing Masculinities” Persuasions 16 (1994), 147-60 who _first_ specifically referred to Knightley's St. George-like rescue of Harriet at the Crown Inn ball) also fits with the rhapsodic praises Harriet showers on _George_ Knightley when she reveals the truth of her matrimonial ambitions to Emma's horror.

So how characteristically sly of JA to _covertly_ connect all these dots into one coherent whole, and then to include in that little covert matrix a strong connection to George IV and _his_ St. George fixation!

But... those who've read closely, above, might question the exact timing of all this--if St. George's Day was on April 23, and JA wanted to covertly point to it, why would JA have these two "rescues" occur over two weeks later? It seems a little too long a space.

Well....I don't think the following explanation in Wikipedia is just a coincidence:

"The date of St George's day changes when it is too close to Easter. According to the Church of England's calendar, when St George's Day falls between Palm Sunday and the Second Sunday of Easter inclusive, it is moved to the Monday after the Second Sunday of Easter. "

While Jo Modert and Ellen both claim that the Crown Inn ball and the Gypsies incident take place in May, 1814 when Easter fell on April 10, I have just learned that in 1813, Easter fell on April 18, so then St. George’s Day 1813 was April 26; and, in 1810, Easter fell on April 22, and St. George's Day 1810 was April 30.

So either of those dates brings us significantly closer to the beginning of May---close enough, I suggest, in light of all of the above, to fit nicely.

So it turns out that JA's "bet" on the Prince Regent taking the name George IV was one in which she had a lot at risk--and I am therefore very glad she "won" her bet, even though she did not live to see her own victory!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. (added at 12:58 pm EST)

When I searched "dragon" in all the usual Austen websites, I found the following interesting tidbit written by Anielka on 3/22/10, in the midst of a longer discussion of Biblical allusions in _Emma_ connected to the "Leviathan" solution Anielka Briggs found in September 2009:

"Harriet knows the answer Leviathan and DECEIVES the audience like Satan. "So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world". Note that Satan was overcome with the blood of the LAMB."

So it is very interesting to think about that Biblical allusion to a "dragon" arising in Chapter 9, in conjunction with the allusion to the legend of St. George and the Dragon, arising in Chapter 39--_both_ of them involve Harriet, and both of them involve Harriet deceiving Emma, making herself seem foolish, but actually knowing exactly what she is doing.

Very Arte Johnson used to say!

No comments: