Two weeks ago, I posted about Janine Barchas’s plenary address to the JASNA Annual General Meeting in Minneapolis, providing my extension of Barchas’s fantastic discoveries, which she described in loving detail in her new book Matters of Fact in Jane Austen about Jane Austen’s clustered historical allusions to the famous Wentworths/Watsons/Darcys of Yorkshire:
Today I am back with my extension of another one of Barchas’s excellent finds, her work (which actually dates back to an article she published in 2009) excavating the thinly veiled allusion in S&S to Sir Francis Dashwood’s “Hellfire-Club”.
Specifically, I start from Barchas’s brilliant analysis (at p. 200 of her book) of the sacrilege of Fanny Dashwood’s tearing down walnut trees at Norland:
“…Fanny’s felling emblematically recalls Dashwood’s diabolism. Levelling a whole grove of ‘old walnut trees’ constituted an assault upon the sacred, as John Evelyn urged in An Historical Account of the Sacredness and Use of Standing Groves. …With West Wycombe Park and its history of black masses as the novel’s primary touchstone, Fanny Dashwood’s arboreal sacrilege neatly echoes the doings of her moral twin and namesake, Francis Dashwood… For, example, NOT ONLY DOES FANNY PLAY SATAN (and Sir Francis) when her garden plan, metaphorically, attacks Christ, but later, and with the requisite number of denials from her betrayer, MARIANNE RISES FROM THE THIRD DAY of her near-fatal illness, while in the netherworld below stairs, the fork-tongued Willoughby speaks to Elinor of "the devil" in one breath and "God" in the next (359–60). In such scenes, Austen may draw upon the known history of the Hell-Fire Club's mock-Catholic ceremonies, infusing Sense and Sensibility with a heightened religious quality..."
In 2009, I quoted from the latter part of the above passage (from Barchas’s earlier article) in a post about the “Crown of Thorns” hidden answer to the Second Charade in Chapter 9 of Emma….
…and in that post, I pointed to how perfectly Barchas’s claims about the Hellfire-Club allusion in S&S dovetail with my claims about Lucy Ferrars’ married name as “Lucifer”, which I’ve posted out countless times by now, in various ways.
Today, I am ready to add another buttress to my claims about Lucy-Fer by pointing out the extremely sacrilegious, hidden significance of the following passage at the very end of Chapter 24 of S&S:
“The visit of the Miss Steeles at Barton Park was lengthened far beyond what the first invitation implied. Their favour increased; they could not be spared; Sir John would not hear of their going; and in spite of their numerous and long arranged engagements in Exeter, in spite of the absolute necessity of returning to fulfill them immediately, which was in full force at the end of every week, they were prevailed on to stay nearly two months at the park, and to assist in the due celebration of that festival which requires a more than ordinary share of private balls and large dinners to proclaim its importance.”
As my Subject Line suggests, when you think Lucy Steele as Lucifer, what JA is saying here, with her tongue deeply in her cheek, is that the devil was prevailed upon to stick around at Barton Park for an extra two months, especially so as to be able to celebrate Christmas chez Sir John with his merry social circle. Do you see the sexual pun hiding in plain sight? ----“private balls”? I.e., Lucy aka the devil would delight in proclaiming the importance of Christmas, one of the two most sacred Christian holidays, by engaging in orgies during all twelve days of Christmas. Lucy and Nancy were apparently “featured guest stars” at those revels.
I sincerely question how is it possible for anyone to still suggest, in light of the above, that Jane Austen’s personal brand of Christianity was one of strict adherence to Anglican dogma & propriety. I have trouble imagining a more sacrilegious passage than the above, which involves a giant blasphemy on Christmas, just as, apparently, Sir Francis Dashwood handled things in real life for many many years. And it’s particularly sacrilegious, because Lucy winds up getting exactly what she wants at the end of the novel—in nowise does Lucy qua Lucifer suffer any adverse consequences or punishment for this blasphemous behavior.
In fact, the Devil actually becomes Elinor’s sister in law!
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