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

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and the great mimic Charles Mathews

In a comment at Dickensblog in rebuttal to my earlier post re myself and  Diane Reynolds claiming Dickens picked up on JA’s half-sentences, dashes-filled speeches by Miss Bates and the strawberry dashes scene, both in Emma,  someone named Andrew wrote:

“The style of speech of the brilliant character Alfred Jingle seems to have been based on the patter of actor/comedian Charles Matthews whose monologues Dickens knew extremely well.

I was intrigued, and quickly found the following discussion in Dickens and Popular Entertainment  by Paul Schlicke at p. 44:

 “…professional entertainment, in the  figure of Mr. Jingle, steps out of its magically enclosed world into the lives of the characters…..From his first entrance, Jingle’s existence is histrionic posturing…He upstages Dr. Slammer and Mr. Tupman in courtship…..His loquacious staccato is a perpetually diverting stage patter, derived, as Earle Davis  has shown, from the one-man “AT HOME” performances of Charles Mathews the elder, which Dickens went to see ‘whenever he played’ for three or four  years; Jingle himself gives the clue to his origins when he tells  Dr. Slammer that he is  not to be found ‘AT HOME’. “

And I also looked up Charles Mathews the elder on Wikipedia and was further intrigued to read:

“His gift for mimicry enabled him to disguise his personality without a change of costume. His versatility and originality were displayed in his one man show, or "monodramatic entertainment," entitled At Home or Matthews At Home, which he initiated in the Lyceum Theatre in 1808. Leigh Hunt wrote that his table entertainments "for the richness and variety of his humour, were as good as half a dozen plays distilled." The show combined mimicry, storytelling, recitations, improvisation, quick-change  artistry, and comic song.”

If you  follow this blog, you know I am stubborn, and when I have a strong hunch about a connection between writers, I don’t give it up without a struggle. So when I read about Mathews, I wondered whether JA, during her London stays with brother Henry as a published author, might have seen Mathews perform?

It took two minutes to verify that she was indeed very familiar with Mathews, as we see in not one but  two of JA’s letters:

Letter 71, 4/25/11, JA in London writing to CEA at Godmersham: “We did go to the play after all on Saturday. We went to the Lyceum, and saw the "Hypocrite," an old play taken from Molière's "Tartuffe," and were well entertained. Dowton and Mathews were the good actors; Mrs. Edwin was the heroine, and her performance is just what it used to be.”

Letter 99, 3/9/14, JA in London  to CEA at  Chawton: “Fanny and Mr. J. P. are delighted with Miss S., and her merit in singing is, I dare say, very great; that she gave me no pleasure is no reflection upon her, nor, I hope, upon myself, being what Nature made me on that article. All that I am sensible of in Miss S. is a pleasing person and no skill in acting. We had Mathews, Liston, and Emery; of course, some amusement.”

So we see from the above data re Dickens, Austen and Mathews, is that JA was a big fan of Mathews (who was one year younger than JA) before Dickens was even born (in 1812), but Mathews’s career extended so long that Dickens got  to see him perform before Mathews retired.  

Based on  JA’s familiarity with Mathews, I infer that Matthews’s one-man show was a primary inspiration to JA  for the character of Miss Bates, and perhaps also for the chameleonic character of Henry Crawford, too.

And just as Dickens scholars have noticed that Dickens was winking toward Mathews when Jingle says  he is not to be found “AT HOME”,  I went looking specifically in the text of Emma for any passages linking  Miss Bates with  the phrase “at home”, and look what I found---three such passages!:
Ch.31: [Emma to Harriet] "We cannot suppose that [Jane] has any great enjoyment at the Vicarage, my dear Emma—but it is better than being always AT HOME. Her aunt is a good creature, but, as a constant companion, must be very tiresome. We must consider what Miss Fairfax quits, before we condemn her taste for what she goes to."

Ch. 44: "The ladies [Mrs. Bates, Miss Bates & Jane] were all AT HOME." [Emma] had never rejoiced at the sound before, nor ever before entered the passage, nor walked up the stairs, with any wish of giving pleasure, but in conferring obligation, or of deriving it, except in subsequent ridicule.
There was a bustle on her approach; a good deal of moving and talking. She heard Miss Bates's voice, something was to be done in a hurry; the maid looked frightened and awkward; hoped she would be pleased to wait a moment, and then ushered her in too soon. The aunt and niece seemed both escaping into the adjoining room. Jane she had a distinct glimpse of, looking extremely ill; and, before the door had shut them out, she heard Miss Bates saying, "Well, my dear, I shall say you are laid down upon the bed, and I am sure you are ill enough."

Ch. 52: “[Emma] went—she had driven once unsuccessfully to the door, but had not been into the house since the morning after Box Hill, when poor Jane had been in such distress as had filled her with compassion, though all the worst of her sufferings had been unsuspected.—The fear of being still unwelcome, determined her, though assured of their being AT HOME, to wait in the passage, and send up her name.—She heard Patty announcing it; but no such bustle succeeded as poor Miss Bates had before made so happily intelligible.—No; she heard nothing but the instant reply of, "Beg her to walk up;"—and a moment afterwards she was met on the stairs by Jane herself, coming eagerly forward, as if no other reception of her were felt sufficient.—Emma had never seen her look so well, so lovely, so engaging. There was consciousness, animation, and warmth; there was every thing which her countenance or manner could ever have wanted.— She came forward with an offered hand; and said, in a low, but very feeling tone,  "This is most kind, indeed!—Miss Woodhouse, it is impossible for me to express—I hope you will believe—Excuse me for being so entirely without words."

So I conclude that  JA did wink  at the inspiration for  the character of Miss Bates that JA drew from Charles Mathews’s “At Home” one-man show.

And then, coming  full circle back to my initial claim about Dickens  drawing upon Miss  Bates for his Mr. Jingle, I now broaden my claim  to assert that Dickens drew upon both Charles Mathews’s show  and Austen’s Miss Bates, in creating his character  Jingle.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode  on Twitter


Andrew said...

Hi Arnie thanks for replying to my post on Dickensblog and the info you've found on Jane Austens admiration of Matthews.

Here's a couple of quotes you might find interesting from Peter Ackroyd's biography of Dickens in relation to Dickens's views of Austen and the influence of theatre.

"In the days of his maturity the presence of large and unruly audiences in the theatres necessitated the use of extravagant colours,large props,and highly exaggerated gestures or expressions:Dickens saw all these things,often mocked them,but noticed their potential in his own bright fiction.Of course this interest was by no means unreciprocated:the number of adaptations of his novels suggests how much he influenced the theatre in turn and,in general,it can be said that eighteenth and nineteenth century drama was as much affected by contemporaneous fiction as the fiction was influenced by drama.That is why Dickens was always attracted by the more theatrical writers of the previous century:he talks of Smollett but hardly mentions Jane Austen,a novelist with whom he was deeply out of sympathy."

Ackroyd also mentions in his biography of Dickens (which is superb by the way and I highly recommend it if you haven't read it)a memoir of conversations made at Dickens's home at Gads Hill Place.

This is from the memoir"Dickens had not read Jane Eyre and said he never would as he disapproved of the whole school(this apropos of Miss Hogarth saying it was an unhealthy book)

So I would still say that Austen didn't influence Dickens but it seems Charles Mathhews influenced them both.

Andrew said...

Just to add to my previous post.Claire Tomalin in her biography of Dickens, mentions that at his request he was presented by his publisher Richard Bently with a complete set of his standard novels which included a set of Jane Austen's books.This was in 1837 by which time he had already been writing and publishing Pickwick Papers serially for a year.

This seems to be his first contact with Austen's novels as his friend and biographer John Forster wrote that, in 1838 whilst writing Nicholas Nickleby Dickens was yet to read any of Austen's work.

As well as that a later friend of Dickens,the poet Frederick Locker-Lampson wrote "He (Dickens) did not unduly appreciate Miss Jane Austen's novels".

So I would say that the school of novelist's such as Austen,the Bronte sister's etc didn't really occupy Dickens's time and thought as opposed to the more picaresque novels of Smollett,Fielding and Sterne.

Arnie Perlstein said...

Andrew, thank you very much for posting those various tidbits about Dickens's attitude toward Jane Austen's writing. I now see that Dickens was every bit as sly about his interest in Jane Austen's writing as were Clara Bronte and Mark Twain, the two other famous 19th century skeptics about her.

When I write this up in my book, I will make a pretty good case, based in part on analysis of their respective writing, but also based on other biographical matter I uncovered a while ago, that Dickens was a sharp and avid Janeite who paid his respects to Jane Austen in various subtle ways.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter