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

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Answer to Quiz re the Textual Smoking Gun re Lady Catherine in P&P vis a vis Oliver AND Orlando in As You Like It

Here is my quiz question:

As my Subject Line suggests, in this little followup, I am zeroing in on the parts of that long post in which I made the case for Lady Catherine De Bourgh being represented by both Orlando and Oliver from As You Like It. In a nutshell, I argued that the allusion was centered on the confrontation between the two brothers in Act 1 Scene 1 of AYLI, and the failure of Oliver to provide a proper gentleman's education to Orlando. I already considered the allusion to be ironclad, based on the argument I made, given the multiple points of thematic intersection between JA's novel and Shakespeare's play in this very laser-like allusion.  But it was only an hour ago that it dawned on me that Jane Austen had left a true smoking gun in the text of P&P, which (like Mrs. Elton inadvertently speaking the exact title of As You Like It during her "pastoral" speech) provides the giant wink from Jane Austen, which says, "Yes, THIS one is MUCH more likely to be seen by someone who has already realized the connection between Lady C and Shakespeare's two feuding brothers."

And now, here are the two hints I gave, with the answer: 

Hint One:  The clue in P&P actually appears exactly 39 times in the text of the novel, and it pertains to another clue in As You Like It that appears exactly 5 times in the text of the play.

Answer One: The surname “de Bourgh” appears 39 times in P&P, the surname “de Boys” appears 5 times in As You Like It.

Hint Two: The textual clues in both the novel and the play pertain to something that Lady Catherine very visibly has in common with both Oliver and Orlando.

Answer Two: Obviously, as you can see, above, that is their strikingly similar surnames.

Now, of course, strikingly similar surnames, standing alone, could be coincidental. But recall that my entire post the other day was filled with descriptions of veiled thematic and wordplay allusions to AYLI which I detected in P&P, most of all the number “twenty” as hyperbole, allusions which in particular created a strong but strange resonance between Lady Catherine, on the one hand, and the de Boys  brothers, on the other, on the theme of the proper  provision of  education to a gentleperson.

So the thinly veiled surname allusion then becomes the proverbial icing on an already substantial cake of allusion! What are the odds of my finding all that “smoke” linking P&P to As You Like It (on top of the Rosalind-Elizabeth  smoke originally found by several other famous literary scholars), and then also finding such a resemblance of surnames?  Zero.

But you see it’s so much better even than that, because the surname resemblance goes to the heart of the intense parallelism between Act 1 Scene 1 of AYLI, on the one hand, and several different scenes in P&P. Let me repeat for you now the heart of the interchange between Orlando and Oliver in 1.1:

“ORLANDO: Ay, better than him I am before knows me. I know you are my eldest brother; and, in the gentle condition of blood, you should so know me. The courtesy of nations allows you my better, in that you are the first-born; but the same tradition takes not away my blood, were there twenty brothers betwixt us: I have as much of my father in me as you; albeit, I confess, your coming before me is nearer to his reverence.
OLIVER: What, boy!

“I am the youngest son of Sir Rowland DE BOYS, he was my father.” Isn’t JA gently mocking Orlando’s earnest, injured pretension as he desperately asserts his own value as a person, when she has Mr. Collins, in Chapter 13 of P&P, pontificate as follows in his first letter to Mr. Bennet?” “I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine DE BOURGH, widow of Sir Lewis DE BOURGH, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish…”

I had in my earlier post pointed out how Orlando’s claim of his own worthy status was clearly echoed by Lizzy’s saying to Lady C: “He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter; so far we are equal."

But now I see that JA has echoed that specific nuance of Orlando’s speech twice in P&P, the earlier one being Mr. Collins’s above statement. Both Orlando and Mr. Collins can be heard to place special emphasis on the “distinguished” aristocratic ring of the “Sir” and in the Norman surname, as if that alone proves how important Orlando and Lady Catherine really are. Jane Austen is laughing at both of them, as she laughs at Sir Walter Elliot, for the silliness of such affectations.

JA aligns Mr. Collins with Orlando, because Orlando should know that he has value not merely because of his father’s title, but just because he is a good and worthy human being. She makes this veiled commentary by the caricature Mr.Collins, who ought to concentrate on being a good clergyman and husband, and not so much on his connection to Lady Catherine, as evidence of his personal worth.

And I also believe that JA means for the discerning reader to take a second look at Lizzy's famous riposte to Lady Catherine--even as her defiance of power thrills us, it must give us pause that Lizzy relies on her own father's status as a gentleman as a reason why she should be considered worthy to marry Darcy. Hmmm.... I see Jane Austen's wry smile behind all of this. 

And…as I was writing this post, I saw yet one more echo of that same very short exchange (between Oliver and Orlando) in P&P., which I hadn’t picked up  on when I wrote my long post the other day:  

First, in Chapter 53 of P&P, Elizabeth chats with Wickham after  he has married Lydia and is stopping off at Longbourn before proceeding north into “exile”. She first deftly scores palpable hits on him with references to her now full knowledge of the disingenuousness of Wickham’s earlier allegations about Darcy’s wrongdoing about paying for Wickham’s education. Then after his second attempt to rewrite history and claim he hadn’t deceived her earlier, she cuts him off and says:

"COME, Mr. Wickham, we are BROTHER and sister, you know. Do not let us quarrel about the past. In future, I hope we shall be always of one mind."

Now I see that this is a tip of the pen by JA to Shakespeare, who has Orlando say to Oliver, after Oliver dismisses Orlando’s passionate claim for status:

“COME, COME, elder BROTHER, you are too young in this.”

By such a seemingly trivial correspondence of trivial words and expressions, JA yet creates a subtle but powerful echo. And what delicious irony, that Orlando says this to Oliver right after grabbing Oliver in a headlock, while Lizzy delivers her “blow” to Wickham “with a good-humoured smile”!

And that seems a good place to end my answer to my quiz, and hope that you all liked it a lot!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter
P.S.: I completely overlooked pointing out, in any of my recent posts about Jane Austen alluding to Shakespeare's As You Like It, that only 5 months ago, I had posted about the veiled allusion to that very same confrontation between Orlando and Oliver that I detected then in Chapter 2 of Sense  & Sensibility, when John and Fanny Dashwood screw the Dashwood women out of THEIR inheritance!: 


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