In my previous post on this topic…
….I made the case for the 15-year old Jane Austen’s “Carpet” Sharade as a deliberate, learned, sly allusion to the famous gay sex scene in Cleland’s Fanny Hill. In a nutshell, Jane Austen picked up on rumors that had swirled around King James I and his intimate relationships with at least three of his courtiers for nearly two centuries, and connected them to the controversial passage in Cleland’s controversial masterpiece, and showed her extraordinary erudition at such a very young age, and also her sophistication to formulate out of those two sources her own extraordinary original, witty wordplay.
Those who’ve been reading along in this blog for a while will recall that this is not the first time I have claimed that Jane Austen alluded to Cleland’s notorious novel in her own writing. Here are some of my earlier essays on this general topic, which, collectively present a multi-faceted, powerful cumulative argument that Fanny Hill was very much on Jane Austen’s mind while writing Emma at age 39:
What I am writing in my two post now show that Jane Austen’s interest in Fanny Hill dates back to when she was only 15, and continued until she was 39. I’d say that was a lot of interest, and therefore this subject of Cleland’s influence on Jane Austen’s writing should be a pretty big deal in Austen studies, and I hope to entice other Austen scholars to look into it!
But change does not come easily and so the rest of this post is about a challenge to my claims, and how I rebutted it.
My favorite friendly adversary, Nancy Mayer, refusing to believe that the 15 year old Jane Austen could have had access to Fanny Hill, but also to information about the historical rumors about James 1st's homosexual behavior, wrote the following:
"I would like to have the name of some book written before Jane was 14 in which it states definitely in plain words that Car was the king's lover and not just a favorite. Even in the 20th century, some grew up in less than ideal conditions without ever learning that homosexuals existed."
At first, I replied as follows:
Nancy, you know your wish is my command. Plus, whenever I hear the sound of a challenge being tossed on the ground in front of me, I simply cannot resist rising to the bait.
And it took me, literally, 40 seconds, to generate a very promising lead pointing toward what you demanded. Courtesy of Wikipedia, here it is--I really couldn't have made this up if I had tried to design a more perfect validation of the claim that historically knowledgeable, enlightened English people living in the late 18th century were perfectly well aware of King James's "complicated" attitude toward his own bisexuality:
"James adopted a severe stance towards sodomy using English law. His book on kingship, Basilikón Doron, (Greek for "Royal Gift") lists sodomy among those horrible crimes which ye are bound in conscience never to forgive. He also singled out sodomy in a letter to Lord Burleigh giving directives that Judges were to interpret the law broadly and were not to issue any pardons, saying that "no more colour may be left to judges to work upon their wits in that point….."
And here's the kicker!
"…However, nearly two centuries later, Jeremy Bentham, in an unpublished manuscript, denounced James as a hypocrite after his crackdown: "[James I], if he be the author of that first article of the works which bear his name, and which indeed were owned by him, reckons this practise among the few offences which no Sovereign ever ought to pardon. This must needs seem rather extraordinary to those who have a notion that a pardon in this case is what he himself, had he been a subject, might have stood in need of." END QUOTE
[Me again] So Bentham believed, in no uncertain terms, that James I was a monstrous hypocrite when it came to male homosexuality, he was as would say today, a self-hating gay man.
Now, if Bentham had published his thoughts, I would have already honored Nancy’s wish. I'd say that what he wrote, above, clearly meets the test of plain English she set. And Bentham was extremely
famous. And, curiously, Bentham wrote those words in his journal a scant six years before the teenaged Jane Austen wrote her Sharade. So the timing is perfect, too.
But...apparently, Bentham didn't dare publish his enlightened thoughts about the barbarism of homophobia in his own country, for fear of himself being accused in the general witchhunt and being hung. And yet, Bentham found out about that hidden history in some way, didn't he?
I finished responding to Nancy at the time with this challenge of my own:
So, what do you think the chances are that I will be able, in the next week, to figure out a plausible connection between Bentham's private impassioned screed in favor of what we today would call 'gay rights', and some published material about James I's sexuality (because surely Bentham did not manufacture that history about James I out of thin air) which would have been accessible in a decent English home library in 1791? As another Arnold said, I'll be back (when I have the smoking gun in hand)!
That was Monday, and by Wednesday, I had actually found that published source, and I will tell you all about it (or should I say, her) in Part Three…..
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