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

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Admiral Croft's Orange Face and Mary Musgrove's Red Nose

In my post, above, I demonstrated the 3 thematically interrelated layers of meaning carried by that simple color code, in terms of sailors' faces, admirals and conch shells, respectively, in Sir  Walter Elliot’s witty  wordplay about Admiral Croft’s “orange” face. There is no stretching or twisting for obscure meaning, everything flows naturally and organically from the actual words spoken by Sir Walter Elliot, in the actual context of his explicitly expressed concerns about Admiral Croft as a "raider of the lost park", i.e., Kellynch Hall. I.e., the thematic relevance of Sir Walter's subtle wit is obvious.

Now I have one more important textual corroboration to add.. I recalled this morning that Sir Walter had actually indulged in one  _other_ bit of color-coded wordplay later in the novel, which is, as you will immediately note, clearly an extension of his earlier color-coded wit about Admiral Croft:

"How is Mary looking?" said Sir Walter, in the height of his good humour.
"The last time I saw her she had a RED NOSE, but I hope that may not happen every day."
"Oh! no, that must have been quite accidental. In general she has been in very good health and very good looks since Michaelmas."
"If I thought it would not tempt her to go out in sharp winds, and grow coarse, I would send her a new hat and pelisse."

Note first the narrator’s “in the height of his good humour”, which shows that Sir Walter is perfectly well aware that he is revisiting his wit about Admiral Croft, in exactly the same way, i.e., it’s clear that he is  thinking back to his initial anticipation of Admiral Croft’s orange face.

So what does Mary’s red nose mean here? Mary likes to think of herself as having a higher rank in the Elliot family hierarchy than she actually occupies---so I perceive irony in Sir Walter attributing a red nose to her, because the “Red Admiral” was the very highest ranking Admiral, whereas Mary’s true ranking, on the ground, was at the other end of the totem pole! So it’s clear that Sir Walter is using the color code to pure perfection in this instance. Bravo, Sir Walter!

I keep emphasizing Sir Walter’s wit in order to illustrate the significance of my decoding of his color-coded wit—JA is going out of her way, repeatedly, to give the knowing reader a veiled portrait of a Sir Walter who is much much smarter than the narrator‘s comments about him suggest—and that’s a big deal.

Yesterday, Anielka Briggs made the argument in Austen L that Sir Walter’s reference to Admiral Croft’s orange face was also a veiled  allusion to the broken engagement between Princess Charlotte, daughter of  the Prince Regent, and her high-born suitor , William of ORANGE.

I responded today to Anielka as follows:

Anielka, that you were able to tie the wordplay on "orange" to that passage, as tweaked by you, was important, and so I certainly do give you credit for that, except...I disagree with your referring to your interpretation as "the real" one. Obviously, from what I’ve written, above, in the first part of this post, I consider Sir Walter’s wit about admirals to be very “real”, in terms of Jane Austen’s authorial intentions.

So let me frame things this way--- I see the gestalt of my find plus yours as the thousandth example of Jane Austen, with Mrs. Norris-like economizing, using one bit of wordplay, ORANGE, to convey two completely independent layers of meaning (Admiral Croft as raider, the breaking off of an engagement in Persuasion).

I.e., I'm right, you're right, and JA was an amazing genius.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: And I also like your pickup about the "Red Admiral" butterflies, too, that certainly dovetails with my claims about the color coded "Admiral" conch shells, and I find it intriguing in other ways as well, especially when we again consider that the “Red Admiral” is at  the top of the heap of naval admirals.

P.P.S.: I note in passing that there was a Regency Era category of pear trees which went by the name of “Red Admiral”---and given JA’s known interest in various sorts of fruit trees, and her giving them thematic significance, I would not at all be surprised to find out that she included some subtext about these pear trees as well!

Kitty's Indiscreet Coughing: She's Just Following Advice

I've posted twice before about Kitty Bennet's coughing in the opening  scene of  Pride & Prejudice, most recently here:

Last weekend, I came across the following discussion in  a  scholarly article which shed surprising light on Kitty's strategic coughing. 

In “Goblin laughter: violent comedy and the condition of women in Frances Burney and Jane Austen” by Audrey Bilger, Women’ Studies, 24.4 (Mar. 1995): p323, I detected some striking resonance to Kitty's coughing in Fanny Burney's satirical faux conduct book,  which was not published until long after Pride & Prejudice, which made me wonder  whether  Jane Austen might  have actually read Burney's  sharp satire. See what you think: 
“An entry from [Fanny Burney’s] early journal shows that even before her first novel, she was painfully aware of the restrictions placed upon women and that she could turn the tables somewhat by making these restrictions a subject for laughter. In this entry from 1774, Burney has made it known to an assembled group that she intends to write a conduct book of her own, so her friends eagerly interrogate her about it:  "It will contain all the newest fashioned regulations. In the first place, you are never again to cough."
"Not to cough?," exclaimed every one at once; "but how are you to help it?"
"As to that," answered I, "I am not clear about it myself, as I own I am guilty sometimes of doing it; but it is as much a mark of ill breeding, as it is to laugh; which is a thing that Lord Chesterfield has stigmatized." . . .
"And pray," said Mr. Crisp, making a fine affected face, "may you simper?"
"You may smile Sir," answered I; "but to laugh is quite abominable; though not quite so bad as sneezing, or blowing the nose." . . .
"But pray, is it permitted," said Mr. Crisp, very drily, "to breathe?"
"That is not yet, I believe, quite exploded," answered I; . . . "I shall only tell you that whatever is natural, plain, or easy, is entirely banished from polite circles."
In Burney's conduct book run mad, all natural behavior is restricted and frowned upon; the body becomes a thing to be controlled, and every gesture exposes one to censure or ridicule.  Eleven years later, when Burney returned to this theme, shortly before her five-year confinement at court, she included even more graphic elements of violent suppression, as evidenced by her "Directions for coughing, sneezing, or moving, before the King and Queen": 
In the first place you must not cough. If you find a cough tickling in your throat, you must arrest it from making any sound; if you find yourself choking with the forbearance, you must choke - but not cough. In the second place, you must not sneeze. If you have a vehement cold, you must take no notice of it; if your nose membranes feel a great irritation, you must hold your breath; if a sneeze still insists upon making its way, you must oppress it, by keeping your teeth grinding together; if the violence of the repulse breaks some blood-vessel, you must break the blood vessel - but not sneeze.”  Violent image begets violent image as the directions continue. Next, the author commands that if "a black pin runs into your head," one must not move to take it out. Neither pain nor tears, anguish nor streaming blood, should cause one to budge in the presence of royalty. Burney offers one ghastly consolation to the suffering acolyte:  If, however, the agony is very great, you may, privately, bite the inside of your cheek, or of your lips, for a little relief; taking care, meanwhile, to do it so cautiously as to make no apparent dent outwardly. And, with that precaution, if you even gnaw a piece out, it will not be minded: only be sure either to swallow it or commit it to a corner of the inside of your mouth till they are gone - for you must not spit.”... “  END QUOTE

When I Googled to ascertain the first publication of Burney's wit (it  appears to be 1842), I stumbled upon the following anonymous satire in The Spirit of the Public Journals for 1803, Volume 7 edited by Stephen Jones, Charles Molloy Westmacott, which also appeared as early as 1794 in the Hibernian Magazine, in plenty of time for Jane Austen to have read, enjoyed, and then emulated it:

THE CONVENIENCE OF COUGHING. [From the Sentimental Magazine.]
Sir, There are few disorders incident to the human frame, which people seem more desirous of curing than a cough. For their timidity in this respect, I never could obtain a proper reason. Coughing is, unquestionably, in some cases, attended with a degree of pain; but, have we actually arrived at an age of light, and reason, and philosophy, and yet cannot endure a little pain? Admitting that the pain is on some occasions troublesome; or grafting that it is, on those occasions, much greater than it has been represented; is there nothing to balance it? is not the possession of a cough, and the liberty of using it when we please, an advantage of the first importance? It is, indeed, so valuable a substitute for speech, that I do not see how we can part with it, without suppressing' those opinions which we are not allowed to give in words. The great utility of coughing appears principally in the senate, the pulpit, and at the bar.
To begin with the senate. Suppose a member had made a speech so long as to become tiresome, and so dull as to create no interest, and that he still persists in wearing out-the patience of his hearers, what are they to do? None of them dare to interrupt him in words; not even the Speaker of the House himself can request him to conclude before he pleases. What then is to be done? Why, Sir, half a dozen, or a dozen of his brethren, begin a coughing chorus, which they repeat until he is completely put to silence. And it very fortunately happens that this venerable assembly hold their fittings in winter, when coughs are more frequent than at any other season, and when, consequently, a member may provide himself with this method to reply, at a very easy rate.
In the church, coughing is of considerable service. If the Rev. Mr. A , or the Dean of B , or the Bistiop of C , happen to say any thing which seems to allude to a person or persons present, they can immediately communicate their opinions to one another by a gentle, tickling cough, ay, and understand each other through a whole dialogue, at the expense of the preacher, who thinks, poor man! that their lungs are touched; whereas it is only their consciences.
At the bar, during the harangue of some able and eloquent lawyer, I have often heard a clandestine cough between his opponent and the jury, which was translated into very plain English when they came to give their verdict. Winks and nods any person may detect, but the language of coughing is confined to your old practitioners.
In the private intercourses of life, the advantages of coughing have, I dare say, been experienced by most persons who will honour this letter with a perusal. At the tea-table, when characters come to be discussed, upon which occasion it may not be always safe to speak out, a cough supplies the want of words. Praise an absent character, and accompany your words with a proper intermixture of coughing, and the company will immediately understand that you mean the very reverse of what you say. In another case, when a person advance any thing to which you are not disposed to assent, but which, for certain reasons, you do not choose to contradict, a cough will explain your intention very fully. This is particularly useful when listening to what old aunts and uncles advance, from whom we have great expectations, and who, therefore, must not be thwarted. It will likewise often happen that we are tempted to laugh, and yet must suppress it: this is exceedingly painful, especially when we see another person in the lame situation. The laugh begins involuntarily; but any expert person may soon change it into a fit of coughing; and when he is black in the face, who will dare to dispute the severity of the disease?
In playing at cards, I know, from experience, that coughing is much resorted to, although I can by no means defend any practice that is unfair. The Tabithas and Dorothys, however, do not scruple to inform each other of the state of their hands by means of a gentle coughing duet, intelligible only to themselves. 1 am convinced 1 have lost many a game because my opponents were not provided with pectoral lozenges, or sat with their back to the door, or slept with a window open, or some other cause; while I well know they would not have parted with their cough for five shillings per night.
I have thus, Sir, set down at random some of the advantages of coughing ; and I hope that the ingenious gentleman who executes the medical department of your Magazine, will hereafter mention this disorder - with a becoming tenderness, and not hint at a cure, which, I am persuaded, would be to all the personages above mentioned a very great misfortune.
I am, Sir, &c. Tussiphilus. [i.e., lover of coughing!]   END QUOTE
So in Burney's sharp satire of the suppression  of female expression, and in Tussiphilus’s wit, we see Kitty’s strategy for expressing herself nonetheless.

Cheers, Arnie
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sir Walter’s Wit, Yellowed Admirals and…..Conchs and Conchology!

In response to my immediately preceding post about Sir Walter's Subtle Wit, Anielka Briggs wrote the following in Austen-L: "Well that would have been quite clever. Except for one critical error. ORANGE is the colour you get when you mix RED with YELLOW Not brown!"

I replied as follows:

Orange being obtained from red and yellow instead of from red and brown (which was indeed a factual error on my part about color blending) actually enhances my point—dramatically so, as you'll see below. So before I forget, Anielka, thanks very much for your (entirely unintended) assistance in prompting me to make my point about ten times stronger! 

Here’s the deal. In the brief interim last night between my posting about Sir Walter's Subtle Wit to my blog...

...shortly after posting it to Austen-L and Janeites, it occurred to me to do a quick Google search to see if Sir Walter's joke might have a slang angle (slangle?) to it as well, and my hunch proved very fruitful. Here's what I included in my blog post as a result:

"And did you know that, in Regency Era slang, an “admiral of the red” was a drunk, and an “admiral of the white” was a cowardly admiral (i.e., one who turned white with fear)? Could Sir Walter be aware of such slang, and then created his own slang neologism, an admiral of the orange, to refer to sailors who’ve been at sea too long?"

But as I didn't find anything about an "admiral of the brown",  I left that angle alone. But now you've guided me to another subtlety of Sir Walter's (now apparently inexhaustible) wit, a whole new vista opened up because of a tweak in colors that reset my sleuthing “prism” to the proper wavelength.

To wit:

There was a meaning—and an official one, and not merely slang,  and… a very rich and relevant one for our passage in Persuasion,  of "admiral of the yellow" in the Regency Era!

And guess what, we can thank Patrick O'Brian (of course the late author of the Jack Aubrey series of naval novels, including the film-adapted Master and Commander, and as obsessive a Janeite as ever sailed the literary seas) for an entertaining explanation of same. Let me set the stage:

In O’Brian’s novel, entitled (yes, you guessed it, The Yellow Admiral!), Jack Aubrey is bemoaning his status as a superannuated admiral, i.e., one without a command, and his wife Sophie  (yes, not coincidentally nearly the same name as Mrs. Croft’s Sophia!) tries to comfort him:

“But you are neither red, white nor blue; neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red herring; and when  sailors call you admiral, the decent ones look away—the others smile. In the cant phrase, you have been yellowed'
'But that could never happen to you, Jack,' she cried. 'Not with your fighting record. And you have never refused any service, however disagreeable.' 
"If a captain becomes an admiral without a command he is "in the cant phrase... yellowed". Jack, on blockade duty off Brittany, frets that the impending peace will indeed yellow him; and he's also in for some rough marital weather with his wife, Sophie.”  END QUOTE

And here’s what Wikipedia tells us in its article on admiralty color coding about yellow admirals, which two minutes searching in Google Books will show you is entirely accurate and was in usage in Jane Austen’s era:

“Another way was to promote captains to the rank of admiral without distinction of squadron (a practice known as yellowing—the captain so raised became known as a yellow admiral) . According to N.A.M. Rodger this was the Navy's first attempt at superannuating older officers: a 'yellow admiral' was in effect being retired on half pay.”

So we find from all of this that Sir Walter’s wit has been dramatically validated still further. He’s managed to slip in a double dig at Admiral Croft, by covertly referring to the Admiral’s being over the hill (or  over the wave? ) in more “colorful” ways than one—i.e., with a weather-beaten “orange” face, and as a “yellowed” admiral without a command to  boot.  

But there’s still more… I was searching for  Regency Era usages of the yellowing of admirals, I fortuitously stumbled across the following entry in the 1819 Pantalogia Cyclopaedia put out by Mssrs. Good, Gregory and Bosworth, which will be utterly self explanatory as to why I am bringing  it  forward:

Admiral, in conchology, the name of a beautiful shell of the volute kind, much admired by the curious. There are four species of this shell, viz. the grand-admiral, the vice-admiral, the ORANGE-ADMIRAL, and the extra-admiral. The first is extremely beautiful, of an elegant white enamel, variegated with bands of yellow, which represent, in some measure, the colours of the flags in men of war. It is of a very curious shape, and finely turned about the head, the clavicle being exerted; but its distinguishing character is a denticulated line, running along the centre of the large yellow band; by this it is distinguished from the vice-admiral, the head of which is also less elegantly formed. The ORANGE-ADMIRAL has more yellow than any of the others, and the bands of the extra-admiral run into one another.”

So indeed, there was such a thing as an “orange admiral” in Jane Austen’s time, and Admiral Croft shows he is  aware even of that when he gazes at the painting in the shop  window and speaks to Anne about a “cockleSHELL”!

And speaking of shells, I am personally of the belief that when JA and her family were in Lyme  Regis  in1804, and she wrote:  “I have written to Mr Pyne on the subject of the broken Lid: it was valued by Anning here we were told at five shillings and as that appeared to us beyond he value of all the furniture in the room together We have referred ourselves to the Owner”, that this laid the groundwork, a dozen years  later, for a personal connection between Jane Austen and the by then well known fossil hunter, Mary Anning, which JA in some wise paid covert tribute to via her veiled reference to the “orange  admiral”  conch. Here’s what Peter W. Graham, Persuasions #26, “Why Lyme Regis?”, had to say about Mary Anning:

“…But the most famous geological finds at Lyme fell to a working-class girl, Mary Anning (1799-1847), who was later famed as “the fossil woman,” praised as “the greatest fossilist the world ever knew,” and commemorated by a stained glass window placed in Lyme’s church of St. Michael the Archangel by the local vicar and the Geological Society of London. Mary was taught to hunt for fossils by her father, a cabinetmaker called Richard Anning, who died in 1810, leaving a wife and two young children in poverty. With her mother and her brother Joseph, Mary Anning combed the local cliffs for fossils that could be sold as curiosities. Although there is evidence that gentleman collectors had been aware of the presence of “crocodiles” being found by fossil hunters such as the Annings since at least 1810, Mary’s celebrity hinges on a somewhat oversimplified story that she discovered the first complete skeleton of an ichthyosaurus, as the so-called “crocodile” was officially named in 1817. The facts of this discovery are more complex than is the myth. Joseph Anning apparently located the ichthyosaurus specimen in 1811 at Black Ven, a 150-foot hill east of Lyme and next to the fossiliferous shale and limestone of Church Cliffs; and Mary found the remainder of the skeleton in 1812. Described in Sir Everard Home’s “Some account of the fossil remains of an animal,” an illustrated article appearing in the 1814 volume of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, this find was the first to come to the attention of learned circles. “

So, Anielka, if there was also a William of Orange reference lurking in the back of Sir Walter’s mind  as well, I would not be entirely surprised.  Jane Austen loved to layer her meanings, as we both know. 

A famous connoisseur of sea-life once famously wrote:

By my two posts, I hope I have caused Sir Walter’s wit at the Admiral’s expense to undergo a sea-change in meaning, from the dull elf narcissistic snobbery it first appeared to be, to something very rich and strangely pregnant in multiple meanings, like one of Mary Anning’s fossils—except these  “fossils” were dropt on  the “beach” known as Persuasion  by their creator,  Jane Austen.

Or I could just conclude by echoing Admiral Croft:  “Phoo, phoo”.  ;)

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: If Patrick O’Brian were alive, I could ask him if he also picked up on any of Sir Walter’s subtle  wit as I explained above, or if the “Yellow Admiral” was merely a coincidence. My guess is that he did realize at least some of it. After all, O’Brian famously loved Mary Crawford’s “rears and vices’ pun, as he deployed in the very first Jack Aubrey novel, Master and Commander! So he was closely attuned to Jane  Austen’s suggestive naval wordplay.