(& scroll all the way down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sexual Innuendoes Then and Now: Fanny Price's Unlikely "Trip into China"

In Janeites, the point was made in response to my post earlier today about interconnected same-sex love veiled allusions in all six Austen novels, that there were innocent and perfectly acceptable reasons for each of those conversations without bringing in same sex love. 

I responded as follows:

And that's why they call them double entendres, not single entendres! The better they work with "innocent and perfectly acceptable reasons", the bigger the pop on the concealed meaning.

And it happens, not coincidentally, that I posted yesterday about what was, my research has now shown me, THE most famous (or notorious) double entendre in English literature, bar none, during the entire long 18th century, i.e., the "China" joke in Wycherley's Restoration comedy, The Plain Dealer, which he revisited (and explained) a few years later in his equally famous The Country  (as in Hamlet's "country matters" vulgar wit) Wife, and which I quoted, in full, in my post on Thursday:
I urge anyone who thinks that I am exaggerating about Wycherley's double entendre, which goes on and on for quite a while, and the impact it made on those who saw or read these plays, just read the fully quoted excerpts in my above blog post!

It was also pointed out to me in Janeites that there is a modern day lust to read such things into past works.  

I responded to that point as follows:

I'm afraid that the ghosts of Wycherley and also his long line of VERY famous 18th century literary hommageurs (as to whom I'll be posting in the near future) would disagree with you strongly re your claim of "modern day lust"- the sexual double entendre was already well established among the ancients, and the likes of Shakespeare and the Restoration playwrights like Wycherley, and those in the 18th century who kept Wycherley's literary memory fresh in the public's mind, completely put the kibosh on your factually incorrect view of the history of sexual innuendo during JA's lifetime. If anything, due to societal restraints in that era which punished (mostly female) violators of the official sexual mores of the era, the need for the outlet of the double entendre was much greater during Jane Austen's lifetime than it is today, when, after all, people, including most great fiction writers, can use dirty words freely, without adverse consequences.

And I say Jane Austen was just a particularly subtle, elegant, and adept purveyor of sexual innuendoes with total deniability--those are the best kind, to my mind.

And as a little sneak preview of what I'll be posting soon re Jane Austen's place in that distinguished line of alluders to Wycherley's "china" sexual joke, it turns out that it was not merely the two references to ersatz "china" in JA's 1808 letters which I quoted in that above post....

Letter 57: “I am afraid the Webbes have lost a great deal-more perhaps from igno­rance or plunder than the Fire; — they had a large stock of valuable CHINA, & in order to save it, it was taken from the House, & thrown down anywhere. “

Letter 63:  “I shall not tell you anything more of Wm. Digweed's CHINA, as your silence on the subject makes you unworthy of it."

...the "china" double entendre for "sex" also made its way into JA's novels as well, most of all in the following passage in Chapter 16 of Mansfield Park, when Edmund Bertram pops his head into Fanny's attic refuge:

"You, in the meanwhile, WILL BE TAKING A TRIP INTO CHINA, I SUPPOSE. How does Lord Macartney go on?"—opening a volume on the table and then taking up some others. "And here are Crabbe's Tales, and the Idler, AT HAND TO RELIEVE YOU, IF YOU TIRE OF YOUR GREAT BOOK. I admire your little establishment exceedingly; and AS SOON AS I AM GONE, YOU WILL EMPTY YOUR HEAD of all this nonsense of acting, and sit comfortably down to your table. But do not stay here to be cold."

I promise that I shall return within the next day or two to translate all those ALL CAPS passages, but I think anyone with a reasonable eye for double entendres, who understands that "China" is code for "sex", and who thinks about Fanny's situation at the precise moment after Edmund leaves her alone in her attic, can figure it all out on your own.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

No comments: