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

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Turquoise Rings of Jane Austen & Shylock (and the allusion to Shylock hidden in plain sight in Pride & Prejudice)

A few weeks ago, Anielka Briggs wrote the following in Janeites & Austen-L about JA's turquoise ring (the one that just sold at auction for an astronomical amount):  

"Interestingly Austen is singularly restrained in the mention or description of jewellery, unlike Shakespeare who adorns his characters quite specifically with pearls, opals and rubies and even the occasional turquoise ring (Merchant of Venice)...If a turquoise ring held any significance in the long eighteenth century it was much more likely to be remembered as the ring Jessica exchanges for a monkey."

I replied as follows:

Excellent sleuthing, Anielka! I can vouch from prior research that The Merchant of Venice (TMOV) was most definitely on Jane Austen's radar screen, but I never realized that a real life turquoise ring (or at least a turquoise-colored ring) belonging to JA might be yet another link to The Merchant of Venice--one which, upon examination, leads to a remarkable allusion to Shakespeare's Shylock hidden in plain sight in Pride & Prejudice!

But first--thinking of JA's wearing a turquoise ring makes me wonder whether JA enjoyed thinking of herself as a real life Jessica, a transgressive daughter. That JA's ring might in some way be associated with Leah's ring from TMOV is particularly intriguing to me because JA made a strong veiled allusion to Shakespeare's Jessica (after she has snuck away from her father's house) in one of JA's Emma-era letters when she describes to CEA some witty sophisticated wordplay on "every sort of wickedness" with the clever apothecary Haden.

And further consideration led me to realize there was a Pride & Prejudice
connection to TMOV, mediated by Fanny Burney and her novel, Cecilia. See my previous blog post in which I wrote about Burney herself as a real life Jessica (in the eyes of Daddy Crisp, at least), and Cecilia (of course already previously well-recognized as an allusive source for P&P) as alluding to TMOV:

But now I can add yet another layer to the allusion to Jessica in P&P. And
I bet I can make you see it, too, without even telling you what it is:

First, look at the disturbing passage in III.1 of TMOV right before Tubal
reports to Shylock about the turquoise ring:

Shylock. How now, Tubal! what news from Genoa? hast thou found my daughter?

Tubal. I often came where I did hear of her, but cannot find her.

Shylock. Why, there, there, there, there! a diamond gone,  cost me two
thousand ducats in Frankfort! The curse never fell upon our nation till
now; I never felt it till now: two thousand ducats in that; and other
precious, precious jewels. I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and
the jewels in her ear! would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats
in her coffin! No news of them? Why, so: and I know not what's spent in
the search: why, thou loss upon loss! the thief gone with so much, and so
much to find the thief; and no satisfaction, no revenge: nor no in luck
stirring but what lights on my shoulders; no sighs but of my breathing; no
tears but of my shedding.

Doesn't Shylock's shocking wish for his transgressive daughter's death remind every Janeite of an equally disturbing passage in P&P? a passage (to give a hint), in which a moralistic male character passes harsh punitive moral judgment on a young woman who has run away from her father's house?

Of course, I am talking about the following infamous letter written by Mr. Collins about Lydia eloping with Wickham:

"I feel myself called upon, by our relationship, and my situation in life, to condole with you on the grievous affliction you are now suffering under, of which we were yesterday informed by a letter from Hertfordshire. Be assured, my dear sir, that Mrs. Collins and myself sincerely sympathise with you and all your respectable family, in your present distress, which must be of the bitterest kind, because proceeding from a cause which no time can remove. No arguments shall be wanting on my part that can alleviate so severe a misfortune—or that may comfort you, under a circumstance that must be of all others the most afflicting to a parent's mind......

[And here's the "tell"]

...The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this.   [!!!]
And it is the more to be lamented, because there is reason to suppose as my dear Charlotte informs me, that this licentiousness of behaviour in your daughter has proceeded from a faulty degree of indulgence; though, at the same time, for the consolation of yourself and Mrs. Bennet, I am inclined to think that her own disposition must be naturally bad, or she could not be guilty of such an enormity, at so early an age. Howsoever that may be, you are grievously to be pitied...."

Isn't it wonderful (and thought provoking) to think outside the box in this way, to think of Mr. Collins as having a strong scent of Shylock hidden in him? Just as TMOV challenges us to think about the nature of Christian forgiveness, so too does JA, when we later hear Mr. Bennet revisit the topic _after_ Lydia's elopement has been "sanitized":

"...Mr. Collins moreover adds, 'I am truly rejoiced that my cousin Lydia's sad business has been so well hushed up, and am only concerned that their living together before the marriage took place should be so generally known. I must not, however, neglect the duties of my station, or refrain from declaring my amazement at hearing that you received the young couple into your house as soon as they were married. It was an encouragement of vice; and had I been the rector of Longbourn, I should very strenuously have opposed it. You ought certainly to forgive them, as a Christian, but never to admit them in your sight, or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing.' That is his notion of Christian forgiveness!..."

Indeed, Mr. Bennet!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

1 comment:

Richard Jain said...

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