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

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Freemasonry Subtext in Jane Austen's writing: Part One

Earlier today, Anielka Briggs brought forward the following extremely interesting comments in Austen-L:

"The thing is, you can read any sort of esoteric language you like into Austen:

"The code-word, the most widely used by Masons is Boaz. It is never spoken directly, but concealed in a sentence - 'like an arrow from a bow, as it were' is one " From "Secret Signs and Handshakes"

"Mr. Collins was walking the whole morning within view of the lodges opening into
Hunsford Lane, in order to have the earliest assurance of it; and after making his
BOW AS as the carriage turned into the Park, hurried home with the great

"I'm sure there's a vast many smart BEAUX in Exeter; but you know, how could I
tell ... But perhaps you young ladies may not care about the BEAUX"

Whether it is there or not is another question." END QUOTE

I responded enthusiastically as follows:

Yes, that is the question, as it always is with Jane Austen's writing.

My answer, based on my nearly 10 years of experience as an Austenian literary sleuth, is that when JA intended such esoteric allusions, she _always_ provided additional textual winks to confirm to the suspicious reader that, yes, this pun or allusion is real, this is not Memorex.

In this instance of "bow as" ===> "Boaz" that you've brought forward from P&P, while we already know that there are whiffs of Freemasonry scattered through JA's writings, we don't even have to stray that far for support for your interpretation, because, much more important, and as I am certain you noticed but very wickedly chose not to point out, the "wink" in that sentence you quoted from Chapter is the word "lodges", which of course refers to the basic unit of Freemason organizational structure, which was (and still is) the "lodge"!

So, in this instance, the proper response, a la Mr. Knightley, is "Well done!".... ...but also to add to this wonderful little discovery of yours, Anielka, the following passage in Chapter 37 of P&P:

"The two gentlemen left Rosings the next morning, and Mr. Collins having been in waiting near the LODGES, to make them his parting obeisance, was able to bring home the pleasing intelligence, of their appearing in very good health, and in as tolerable spirits as could be expected, after the melancholy scene so lately gone through at Rosings."

Notice the amazingly dense cluster of parallels between the Chapter 30 passage you quoted, Anielka, and this Chapter 37 quote: it's not just the reference to "lodges", it's also the parallels between "the great intelligence" and "the pleasing intelligence"; between Mr. Collins showing obeisance to Lady C by his bow to her, and "his parting obeisance" to Darcy in the latter passage, and Mr. Collins lying in wait, so to speak, in both passages.

The gestalt of all of this, I think, when coupled to the veiled Masonic allusion, is to subliminally suggest both Lady Catherine AND Darcy as high ranking Masons, to whom Collins, a mere plebeian Mason initiate, prostrates himself. I get the feeling that Darcy in this sense represents none other than the Prince Regent himself, who was the biggest Mason of them all during Jane Austen's adulthood, and perhaps Lady Catherine is the Queen, who had a complicated relation with her eldest son during King George III's long horrible illness, especially after the Regency officially began.

Now why JA would want to link Darcy to the Prince Regent, as to whom we all know she was less than admiring, well, that is a topic for another time.

But back to "lodges" about this one in Chapter 43?:

"Elizabeth, as they drove along, watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the LODGE, her spirits were in a high flutter. "

And how about this one in Chapter 50?:

""Haye Park might do," said [Mrs. Bennet], "if the Gouldings could quit it—or the great house at Stoke, if the drawing-room were larger; but Ashworth is too far off! I could not bear to have her ten miles from me; and as for Pulvis Lodge, the attics are dreadful."

I would guess that one or more of these names (Haye, Goulding, Stoke, Ashworth, and Pulvis) was in some significant way associated with Freemasonry in England at the time JA wrote P&P, but have no time at present to follow up on this intriguing possibility.

And of course and finally, there are not only also all the references to Lucas LODGE in P&P, there are also (as I quickly checked) passing, seemingly trivial, references to lodges in Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey as well, which would all bear closer scrutiny to see whether (as I would guess they do) they are themselves part of a multi-novel pattern of allusion to Freemasonry in JA's fiction.

Once again, well done, Anielka!

[Part Two, written by me 20 minutes later in Austen-L, immediately follows this post, with further significant validation of the Freemasonry allusions by Jane Austen]

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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