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

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hunting & Fishing Metaphors in Much Ado & in P&P, & their Connection to the Staged Overhearings of Persuasion

 From my 1/19/11 post in Austen-L….

…I retrieved an additional textual clue--the subtle pun in the phrase “the game” in P&P, pointing to Elizabeth as “the game” (defined as an animal being hunted, as in big-game hunting) being “caught” by Caroline Bingley’s repeated trickery in staging overhearings by Elizabeth:

Ch. 8:   Elizabeth was SO MUCH CAUGHT by what passed as to leave her very little attention for her book; and soon laying it wholly aside, she drew near the card-table, and stationed herself between Mr. Bingley and his eldest sister,  TO OBSERVE THE GAME

Ch. 10: Mr. Darcy was writing, and Miss Bingley, seated near him, was watching the progress of his letter and repeatedly calling off his attention by messages to his sister. Mr. Hurst and Mr. Bingley were at
piquet, and Mrs. Hurst was OBSERVING THE GAME.

Ch. 16: Mr. Wickham did not play at whist, and with ready delight was he received at the other table between Elizabeth and Lydia. At first there seemed danger of Lydia's engrossing him entirely, for she was a most determined talker; but being likewise extremely fond of lottery tickets,  she soon grew too much INTERESTED IN THE GAME, too eager in making bets and exclaiming after prizes, to have attention for any one in particular. Allowing for the common DEMANDS OF THE GAME, Mr. Wickham
was therefore at leisure to talk to Elizabeth, and she was very willing to hear him....

Ch. 29:  SCARCELY A SYLLABLE WAS UTTERED THAT DID NOT RELATE TO THE GAME, except when Mrs. Jenkinson expressed her fears of Miss De Bourgh's being too hot or too cold, or having too much or too little light. A great deal more passed at the other table. Lady Catherine was generally speaking -- stating the mistakes of the three others, or relating some anecdote of herself. Mr. Collins was employed in agreeing to everything her Ladyship said, thanking her for EVERY FISH HE WON, and apologising if he thought he won too many..."

Ch. 43:   Mr. Gardiner, though seldom able to indulge the taste, was VERY FOND OF FISHING, and was so much engaged in watching the occasional appearance of some TROUT IN THE WATER, and talking to the man about them, that he advanced but little. ....The conversation soon turned UPON FISHING; and she heard Mr. Darcy invite him, with the greatest civility,  to FISH THERE as often as he chose while he continued in the neighbourhood, offering at the same time to SUPPLY HIM WITH FISHING-TACKLE, and pointing out those parts of the stream where there was usually MOST SPORT.

Ch. 52:    "On the very day of my coming home from Longbourn, your uncle had a most unexpected visitor. Mr. Darcy called, and was shut up with him several hours…. From what I can collect, he left Derbyshire only one day after ourselves, and came to town WITH THE RESOLUTION OF HUNTING FOR THEM.

The only thing missing here was a reference to fishing for “trout in a peculiar river” (bawdy sexual innuendo from the beginning of Measure for Measure)  at Pemberley. 

So we see that these short passages from P&P can all be read as staged overhearings in which various characters are part of a quiet conspiracy to “observe the game”, i.e., observing Elizabeth, to monitor her reactions to Caroline Bingley’s repeated verbal thrusts—and also, in the earlier passages at Netherfield ,  observing Darcy as well, to monitor his reactions, i.e., to observe the effects of Caroline’s being so pushy and insistent in drawing his attention to other women. And why would she do this? Because Darcy, like Elizabeth, reacts, as per human nature, by reasserting his autonomy to make his own courtship choices. I.e., both Darcy and Elizabeth are “the game” in this particular “hunt”!

And doesn’t that remind us once again of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado, who are both equally the targets of seemingly benevolent stratagems to push them together? And so it should come as no surprise that we not only have one of the female conspirators gleefully reporting “We have caught her, Madam”, we also have Claudio using a bird-hunting metaphor during the staged overhearing by Benedick at the end of Act 2....

And with Beatrice in the beginning of Act 3, we have the following additional and elaborate group riff on fishing among the three female conspirators, with Beatrice as “the fish”, which explains why we hear so much about Lydia Bennet’s and Mr. Collins’s shared interest in winning (but not winning too many)  “fish” during their games, and also Mr. Gardiner’s interest in catching “trout” at Pemberley!:


Approaching the bower

In summary as to the above, then, the lens of the explicit hunting and fishing metaphors in the explicit overhearings staged for the two main lovers of Much Ado reveals to us, in vivid colors, the implicit hunting and fishing metaphors on exactly the same motifs.


Understanding that Caroline Bingley has staged an overhearing of Darcy in a shrubbery for Elizabeth in P&P, particularly at the end of Chapter 10, helps us see that Louisa Musgrove does exactly the same thing in Chapter 10 of Persuasion, i.e., stages not one but two successive overhearings of Wentworth in a shrubbery for Anne:

First, Louisa baits the hook, by inducing Wentworth to express romantic interest in Louisa herself, in order to make Anne extra jealous:

“Anne's object was, not to be in the way of anybody; and where the narrow paths across the fields made many separations necessary, to keep with her brother and sister. Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves, and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which had drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling. She occupied her mind as much as possible in such like musings and quotations; but IT WAS NOT POSSIBLE, THAT WHEN WITHIN REACH OF CAPTAIN WENTWORTH’S CONVERSATION WITH EITHER OF THE MISS MUSGROVES, SHE SHOULD NOT TRY TO HEAR IT; yet she caught little very remarkable. It was mere lively chat, such as any young persons, on an intimate footing, might fall into. He was more engaged with Louisa than with Henrietta. Louisa certainly put more forward for his notice than her sister. This distinction appeared to increase, and there was one speech of Louisa's which struck her. After one of the many praises of the day, which were continually bursting forth, Captain Wentworth added:-- "What glorious weather for the Admiral and my sister! They meant to take a long drive this morning; perhaps we may hail them from some of these hills. They talked of coming into this side of the country. I wonder whereabouts they will upset to-day. Oh! it does happen very often, I assure you; but my sister makes nothing of it; she would as lieve be tossed out as not."
"Ah! You make the most of it, I know," cried Louisa, "but if it were really so, I should do just the same in her place. If I loved a man, as she loves the Admiral, I would always be with him, nothing should ever separate us, and I would rather be overturned by him, than driven safely by anybody else."
It was spoken with enthusiasm.
"Had you?" cried he, catching the same tone; "I honour you!" And there was silence between them for a little while.
Anne could not immediately fall into a quotation again. The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by, unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone together, blessed her memory. SHE ROUSED HERSELF TO SAY, AS THEY STRUCK BY ORDER INTO ANOTHER PATH, "Is not this one of the ways to Winthrop?" BUT NOBODY HEARD, OR, AT LEAST, NOBODY ANSWERED HER.”  END QUOTE

So, after hearing all of that, Anne is so discombobulated that she cannot even retreat into the familiar defense of quoting poetry to herself (she being the person who is a true victim of too much poetry, not Benwick, who only pretends to be poetically addicted!).

The stage is then set for Louisa to plunge the hook right next to Wentworth, so that Anne can hear Wentworth take the “bait” and rekindle his interest in Anne. Just think about it---if Louisa was really out to ensnare Wentworth for herself, would she have chosen to mention to Wentworth the one fact which gives strongest evidence of Anne’s holding out for Wentworth? Read this passage later in Chapter 10, just after Wentworth has delivered his famous speech about his preference for very firm nuts, and read it this time with new eyes:

“He had done, and was unanswered. It would have surprised Anne if Louisa could have readily answered such a speech: words of such interest, spoken with such serious warmth! She could imagine what Louisa was feeling. For herself, she feared to move, lest she should be seen. While she remained, a bush of low rambling holly protected her, and they were moving on. BEFORE THEY WERE BEYOND HER HEARING, HOWEVER, LOUISA SPOKE AGAIN.
"Mary is good-natured enough in many respects," said she; "but she does sometimes provoke me excessively, by her nonsense and pride--the Elliot pride. She has a great deal too much of the Elliot pride. We do so wish that Charles had married Anne instead. I SUPPOSE YOU KNOW HE WANTED TO MARRY ANNE?"
After a moment's pause, Captain Wentworth said--
"Do you mean that SHE REFUSED HIM?"
"Oh! yes; certainly."
"When did that happen?"
"I do not exactly know, for Henrietta and I were at school at the time; but I believe about a year before he married Mary. I wish she had accepted him. We should all have liked her a great deal better; and papa and mamma always think it was her great friend Lady Russell's doing, that she did not. They think Charles might not be learned and bookish enough to please Lady Russell, and that therefore, she persuaded Anne to refuse him."
The sounds were retreating, and ANNE DISTINGUISHED NO MORE. Her own emotions still kept her fixed. She had much to recover from, before she could move. The listener's proverbial fate was not absolutely hers; SHE HAD HEARD NO EVIL OF HERSELF, but she had heard a great deal of very painful import. She saw how her own character was considered by Captain Wentworth, and there had been just that degree of feeling and curiosity about her in his manner which must give her extreme agitation. “   END QUOTE

So there, just as in Much Ado, we have a female schemer who appears on the surface to be a rival for the affections of the hero, but who actually is scheming for the reverse goal, i.e. to bring the confused hero and heroine together by staged overhearing and carefully chosen intelligence about the other’s true motivation.

And it’s not just Louisa Musgrove scheming this way in Persuasion. This reading fits perfectly with the picture of the Crofts as secret matchmakers that we see in the cancelled chapters of Persuasion. Here’s what I wrote in that specific regard a few months ago:

“…the idea of secondary characters playing matchmaker in Persuasion is not new, it has been out there for twenty years, courtesy of my friend Jim Heldman who wrote the following article in the JASNA journal Persuasions in 1993...

...presenting ideas which I have taken further in more recent years:

All of which tells us that if Jane Austen deployed such “gamesmanship” in early 1813 and also in mid-1816, a span of 3 ½ during her prime as a mature writer, that suggests this was a strategy she used in all of her novels, intending readers familiar with all of them to derive insights as to one novel from insights as to others of her novels—just like the echoing amongst Shakespeare’s plays.

And finally, you begin to realize that for Jane Austen, her readers were her “game”----but her “hunt” was a benign, even an altruistic one---it was designed to train her female readers to detect hidden motivations in themselves and in others, the better to survive in a dangerous, unfair world.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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