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

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Ladies of LLang--- .....Pemberley?: Oh, dear, one case out of ten, indeed!

Charlotte Lucas: "there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement. In nine cases out of ten a women had better show more affection than she feels."

In Austen L and Janeites, Diane Reynolds wrote "The two statements above tell us much about Charlotte Lucas but don't necessarily hold true universally or go together." about the above sentences spoken by Charlotte Lucas, which I raised for discussion here:

Here is my reply:

Very interesting! All the examples you give from the novels, Diane, are of men being encouraged into love by women, and I will leave it for others to respond to you in regard to those interesting examples, as there is much to consider in each of them, each with a different wrinkle.

But....what I find particularly fascinating is something else which you and I both see, as I gather from the end of your above quoted comment, i.e., you agree with me that reading those two sentences _together_ gives that first sentence a whole different meaning than it has when read _alone_ .

[And now I add the following lure: if you have not already gathered from my Subject Line, by the time you get to the end of this post, you'll know why that off-center perspective on Charlotte's pronouncement turned out to be extremely rewarding, in a way I had absolutely no conscious awareness or anticipation of when I started writing this post!]

When those two sentences of Charlotte's are read together, they seem to apply only to _men_ requiring encouragement in order to fall in love with women. But when you only read the first sentence _alone_, it could theoretically apply to the encouragement required for a man _or_ a woman to fall in love.

And note that Charlotte gives not one but _two_ examples of the kind of encouragement that would be effective in generating feelings of love: "There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment...."

We can see the _vanity_ in several of the examples you gave, where a clever woman manipulates a foolish man, via his highly susceptibly flatterable ego. And note the fine distinction drawn at different times by Mary Bennet and Mr. Darcy, where pride (self-esteem) might be pardonable, but vanity (basking in admiration by others) would not be. I.e., vanity is the inseparable partner of flattery. So vanity seems, in Austen's world, to be an encouragement to _men_ to fall in love.

But what about _gratitude_? Off the top of my head, I can't think of an example of a man in a JA novel falling in love with a woman because he feels _grateful_ to her. But...did you ever notice how many times we hear about _Lizzy's_ gratitude toward Darcy during the final volume of P&P? It is a virtual drumbeat, there must be a dozen such references! And perhaps, if we recall Charlotte's aphorism, that is _not_ a good thing, because it suggests that Lizzy's gratitude has been a major factor in making her think she really loves Darcy, rather than some purer form of love. And certainly Henry Crawford brazenly attempts to win Fanny's heart by helping William, which causes Fanny to feel strong gratitude, however unwillingly, toward Henry, as a result.

And so I suspect that Charlotte (and Jane Austen) believed the two genders were roughly equal in their vulnerability to encouragement in the falling-in-love department, but that each gender was susceptible to a fundamentally different sort of encouragement.

But...I believe Charlotte (and Jane Austen) were also cynical about their fellow females, in thinking that women often fell in love way _too_ easily, even with _no_ encouragement at all, or else very little! And in that opinion, Charlotte would be (unawares) agreeing with Mrs. Gardiner, who, I think, knows she is whistling in the dark when she flatters Lizzy with this overly generous appraisal of Lizzy's sensibleness:

"You are too sensible a girl, Lizzy, to fall in love merely because you are warned against it; and, therefore, I am not afraid of speaking openly...."

I think it's overgenerous, because it seems clear to me that if Wickham had not jilted Lizzy for the heiress Miss King, Lizzy might very well have fallen in love with Wickham, because Lizzy really is that immature!

And that was where I originally intended to end this post, until I reread Charlotte's second sentence one last time, when she wrote:

"....In nine cases out of ten a women had better show more affection than she feels...."

It suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks that even though everyone reads that _second_ sentence as if it reads....

"In nine cases out of ten a woman had better show more affection TO A MAN than she feels."

It actually does not say _anything_ at all about the gender of the person to whom more affection should be shown!!!!

So, has everyone who has read that sentence as gender-specific been correct, in penetrating to the core of _all_ that Charlotte meant by her inscrutable, enigmatic, riddling--indeed Kremlinesque---aphorism about love? I say "No!"

I think you all must by now know where I am going with this, but for anyone who doesn't, I will make myself abundantly clear---I am _definitely_ not the first person to suggest that Charlotte might be a lesbian--but I am pretty sure I _am_ the first person to point to this sentence spoken by Charlotte as strong evidence of it!

What I am claiming, in short, is that Charlotte is a lesbian, in deepest concealment from the Meryton gossip mill----and _that_ is why--along with a desire for financial security---Charlotte is willing to marry a man towards whom she feels neither love, respect, nor desire. As a lesbian married to a man like Mr. Collins, whom she could totally control without fear of his realizing it, she could, with her considerable skills and gifts in the realm of interpersonal relations, manage, over time, to discreetly carry on whatever relationship she could manage---"accidentally", of course!----with a female lover, with small risk of discovery. And what, after all, was her alternative? Charlotte was not the type to even attempt to live an openly lesbian lifestyle like the Ladies of Llangolen!

Speaking of whom....

"Their families lived only two miles (3 km) from each other....."

In addition to a real age difference (6 years between Lizzy and Charlotte, six_teen_ years between the Ladies of Llangollen), that geographical proximity growing up is also exactly like Lizzy and Charlotte!

"... They met in 1768, and quickly became friends. Over the years they formulated a plan for a private rural retreat......The ladies were known throughout Britain, but have been said to have led "a rather unexciting life". Queen Charlotte wanted to see their cottage and persuaded the King to grant them a pension. Eventually their families came to tolerate them..."

....I now invite you to take note of the _middle_ name of Eleanor Butler, the elder of the two Ladies, which was the same as the Christian name of the Queen who "patronized" them ----- Charlotte!

[brief pause while those still with me on this take a deep breath, to take a different tack before my final destination......]

At the recent JASNA SW Calif. event where I was privileged to be on the same slate of speakers along with the amazing Dr. Cheryl Kinney, she drew admiring nods and smiles from the audience when she at one point in her talk stated her own medically-expert speculation that Jane Austen had, by the sheer brilliance of her powers of observation of the human animal, written a description of the symptoms of her own Addison's Disease [if that is indeed what killed her, which of course is in hot dispute these days] a full 30 years prior to the first officially recognized medical description of those symptoms.

I would like to now add another feather in JA's observational cap, by pointing to the way she slips one additional hint into that last sentence spoken by Charlotte Lucas, per my alternative reading of lesbian subtext, which relates to the recent exchange between Michelle Bachmann and a gay-friendly voter in Iowa, in which Bachmann expressed her skepticism about the otherwise universally acknowledged estimate that about 10% of the population is gay or lesbian. That statistic of ten percent is _exactly_ what came to my mind when I looked closely at Charlotte's statistical speculation: " nine cases out of ten...". It suggests to me that Jane Austen had concluded, from her own observations, that the percentage of gays and lesbians in her world was about 10%, and, if we believe Kinsey et al--as I do--then she got it _exactly_ right!

And, best of all, this interpretation fits perfectly with the _content_ of Charlotte's wisdom about love, in the most poignantly ironic way. I.e., for the 90% of women who were _heterosexual_, it would indeed be wise to show more affection than they feel toward the _men_ they wish would fall in love with them, because it works, PLUS there is nothing socially unacceptable about a woman doing this vis a vis a man. However....for the 10% of women who were _lesbian_, given the likely horrid treatment they would receive from the world at large, and perhaps also from a straight woman they were interested in, whom they incorrectly guessed to be lesbian, it would be wisest to show as _little_ feeling as possible toward the female object of desire, but instead to be extraordinarily careful in this regard.

Which is, I suggest to you, a perfect description of the lesbian Charlotte Lucas's "courtship" of Elizabeth Bennet during the course of P&P! My sense is that Charlotte has been happy with the status quo for several years, in terms of her relationship with Elizabeth---being her closest friend (and perhaps closer in same ways even than with sister Jane Bennet), and having ample time to spend together. And then, trouble! Lizzy blossoms into womanhood, and the men start buzzing around Lizzy like pollinating bees! It is suddenly imperative that Charlotte take action, and that's when she seizes the moment, plucks Mr. Collins out from under Mrs. Bennet's careless eye, and then goes about her machinations (as per Kim Damstra, copied by John Sutherland) to help bring Lizzy and Darcy together.

And how does this fit with my sense of the ending of P&P? It has long been my belief that, even after the marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth, Charlotte continues her covert operations, such that, as Mr. Bennet advises Mr. Collins, ....

"....But, if I were you, I would stand by the nephew. He has more to give....."

....her own husband Mr. Collins winds up with Darcy fulfilling Mr. Bennet's interesting prophecy by giving Collins a valuable living in close vicinity to Pemberley, perhaps even (and ironically) the Kympton living that Wickham pretends to regret.

And then, as I imagine Charlotte and Lizzy at a quiet tete a tete sipping tea at Pemberley, while Darcy is off becoming Prime Minister or the like (with Bingley as his ever faithful associate), and while Mr. Collins tends to his garden and writes letters to Lady Catherine about the wonders of his new life, Charlotte might just have mentioned to Lizzy the role that Charlotte quietly played in assisting the Gardiners in bringing Lizzy and Darcy together. And why might Charlotte do this? Not out of vanity, but in the hopes that this would _encourage_ Lizzy toward strong feelings of _gratitude_ toward Charlotte---with whatever additional consequences that gratitude might engender! ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: Apropos my post four months ago about the relationship between Martha Lloyd and Jane.... may or may not be of interest that Jane Austen, like Lizzy, was 21, in 1796 when Jane famously flirted with her "Mr. Darcy", Tom Lefroy, and Martha Lloyd was 31. Just sayin'..........

P.P.S.: And now, from the "I could not possibly make this up if I tried" department, the following passage from a letter from Lady Davy (the wife of the great English chemist Humphry Davy) writing to Sarah Ponsonby, the younger Lady of LLangollen:

"P&P I do not very much like. Want of interest is the fault I can least excuse in works of mere amusement, and however natural the picture of vulgar minds and manners is there given, it is unrelieved by the agreeable contrast of more dignified and refined characters occasionally captivating attention. Some power of new character is, however, ably displayed, and Mr. Bennet's indifference is in truth not exaggeration."

What I would really like to know is whether Sarah Ponsonby agreed with her snobbish and not very insightful correspondent, or if Sarah and Eleanor knew that they were themselves, in a very real sense, "heroines" of P&P!

P.P.S.: I also checked in the archives of Janeites, and look what I found written a decade ago by our late friend, Eugene McDonnell: "Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison has a butch lesbian in it. See the early chapter where Harriet is cross-examined at the dinner." With which Jill Spriggs disagreed, replying "Sir Charles' sister....was accused of being rather masculine in manner, but since she was tamed and turned into a proper woman by the end of _Sir Charles_, I think she would not qualify." And here's the best part---guess what the name of Sir Charles's (per Eugene, lesbian] sister was? Yeah, you knew it---_another_ Charlotte!

P.P.P.S. And perhaps Ellen Moody will find in my above post some strong validation for most of what she wrote earlier this year in her blog: "I've become aware of these pattern through close-reading Austen's letters. As I wrote last time (Letter 32), I don't think we can say Jane Austen was a lesbian (even if she loved Martha -- we just can't get back there beyond the lack of documentation), but the patterns of not marrying, of rejecting any ideas of marital bliss at all in the letters, the mockery and harping on the horrors of childbirth and punishments women receive belong to the pattern of spinster women and lesbian writing one can discern in the 18th century. The way one discerns the rejection of heterosexual romance whether because the women just does not want marriage (endless babies, being subject to a man) or prefers woman, the depiction remains the woman reluctant to marry, forced into marrying, the marginalized spinster. From this angle, it's Charlotte Lucas who emerges as one of the most intriguing women characters in Austen. In Davies's 1995 movie Charlotte and Elizabeth are continually interrupted by men in the immediate way when they try to confide, first by Mr Collins and then by Mr Darcy. And then permanently when Charlotte marries as marry she must. Charlotte must give up the most meaningful relationship of her life to marry. She comes closest to embodying what Terry Castle calls "the apparitional lesbian," the woman who in a modern book might have come out, been a lesbian, but has to be marginalized, whose agon we watch in the wrong terms she is given (false options she wishes she could do without include Mr Collins -- if only she could get her house, room, chickens without him). I've found such a figure in Trollope's Barchester Towers: Charlotte Stanhope described in ways that hints she's a lesbian, but alas it's vanished or erased altogether in Plater's film adaptation...."

Ellen, if only you had realized that Charlotte does not allow herself to be marooned in Hell at Hunsford, but that she is actually a high roller in the game of life, who gambles big and in the end wins big!


And I just found the funniest bit of textual evidence of all, hiding in blatant plain sight in P&P, in the very first chapter 6:

"The ladies of Longbourn soon waited on those of Netherfield."

The ladies of Longbourn? Or the ladies of Llangollen? Longbourn ====> Llangollen!

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