In response to a recent thread in Janeites & Austen-L:
With all due respect to Diana Birchall (“[JA] is paying [Clarke] the compliment of being serious and rational when she confides her fears about this latest book...One senses these are very genuine fears, sincerely confided, and she would not say as much to just anybody; only to one whom she is sure holds her in high esteem.”) and Ellen Moody (“So I've not been emphasizing their friendship enough nor how Austen is seriously confiding in him.”), I totally disagree with the claim that Jane Austen was sincere in ANY way whatsoever in Letter 132(D) (or for that matter in any of the three letters she wrote) to James Stanier Clarke.
I’ve posted previously about a number of ways in which JA’s letters to Clarke were all utterly disingenuous, totally satirical, and reflective of a deep seated contempt for him -- they might even be the best examples I know from the real life of Jane Austen’s “regulated hatred” as Harding described it so brilliantly 70+ years ago)—my personal favorite, of course, has to be the letter to Clarke dated on April Fool’s Day, in 1816! I’ve been of this opinion about Austen’s choice of Clarke (along with his sucking-up “twin” Egerton Brydges) since 2005, when Clarke first really became prominent on my radar screen as I was sleuthing out Emma for the first time. But I’ve also long opined that Mr.Collins is a representation of Clarke and Brydges as well.
Anyway, while revisiting this question of JA’s attitude toward Clarke the past two days after reading Diana’s, Ellen’s and Diane’s posts, and going over my files about Clarke going back to when I first realized that Jane Austen was toying with him in these letters, today I was able to finally apply Occam’s Razor to this matrix, and crystallize, in a larger, simpler, and exquisitely layered allusive context, exactly what JA was up to with Clarke (which of course is part and parcel of what she was up to in her fiction vis a vis his boss the Prince of Whales as well).
In a nutshell:
ONE: In these three letters to James Stanier Clarke, Jane Austen has (with spectacular success) turned Clarke into a combination of Malvolio from Twelfth Night, (duping a narcissistic toady into believing he is loved by a woman who is above him) Christopher Sly from the Induction to The Taming of the Shrew, and Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
TWO: Despite recent scholarly assertions that Malvolio is represented by Emma in Emma, it is the character of Mr. Elton who actually represents both James Stanier Clarke and also Malvolio, Sly, and Bottom. Aside from the (to me) obvious similarity between Malvolio’s aspirations for the hand of the countess Olivia and Elton’s aspirations for the hand of Emma, there are also numerous clues hidden in plain sight in the text of Emma which, when properly decoded, reveal that Mr. Elton is duped repeatedly by his unseen, shadowy tormenters (who include, at different times, both Mr. Knightley and Miss Bates), who prey on his narcissism by giving him delusions of grandeur, exactly as is done to Malvolio, Sly, and Bottom in their respective Shakespeare plays.
To be very succinct about it, readers of Emma have not understood that Mr. Elton has actually been goaded and gulled (aided by Mr. Knightley’s especially SPIKED spruce beer!), into coming on too strong to Emma in the carriage ride from Randalls to the Vicarage on Christmas Eve, 1813 (and also has been deliberately misdirected to Donwell Abbey late in the novel, so as to get him away from the Vicarage!).
THREE: Perhaps the most spectacular (and intentional on JA’s part) irony of all in this matrix is that it actually wasn’t Jane Austen’s original idea to wrap James Stanier Clarke in the personae of these three memorably deluded Shakespearean fools—she was beaten to the satirical punch by the Prince Regent and his co-conspirators, most of all Lord Egremont, master of Petworth, who came up with that very same idea at Petworth not too long before JA began writing Emma.
FOUR: There can be no question that the aristocratic pranksters at Petworth were very consciously modeling what you will read about, below, upon the Shakespearean models described in ONE, above, and that JA fully understood their Shakespearean subtext, and extended it magnificently in Emma.
First, if the names Petworth and Egremont sound oddly familiar, it’s because Clarke himself mentioned them both in Letter 132(A) to JA, the very letter JA was responding to via Letter 132(D):
“On Monday I go to Lord Egremont’s at Petworth—where your Praises have long been sounded as they ought to be. “
What Clarke failed to mention about Lord Egremont and Petworth in Letter 132(A), however, but which, as Emma and JA’s 3 letters to Clarke both make clear, was known to JA, was what happened to Clarke one fateful night at Petworth in October 1813 (which was two years before Clarke wrote Letter 132(A), (as I said) one year before JA began writing Emma, and a scant TWO MONTHS before Mr. Elton’s fateful fictional carriage ride with Emma.
I will give the honor of describing the events that made Clarke a national laughing stock in 1814 to Chris Viveash. Now Mr Viveash might consider this a dubious honor, because his own overly flattering descriptions of Clarke in his little bio and article about Clarke are eerily reminiscent of Clarke’s own hyper-toadyish effusions about the Prince. So it’s a safe bet that Viveash would probably not be too thrilled to realize the lasting significance of what happened to Clarke at Petworth in October 1813.
As you read Viveash’s account, just keep thinking about Lord Egremont, the Prince Regent and their cronies as having assumed for their own unkind purposes the roles of Maria & Co. in Twelfth Night, the unnamed Lord who stages Sly’s experiential performance as amnesiac lord of the manor in the Shrew induction, and most of all Oberon, with Puck’s assistance, in Dream):
P. 46: “Fatigued and exasperated, JSC took a well-earned break during Christmas 1809, whilst staying at Petworth House, with Lord Egremont and his distinguished houseparty. However when James heard there was to be A GREAT CHRISTMAS BALL, which most of the aristocratic assembly would attend, he fled. [recall that the party at Randalls occurs on Christmas Eve 1813]
P. 52: “The wonderful news of a decisive battle fought against the French, at Leipzig, in October 1813, caused great rejoicing when the news eventually filtered back to England. This clash of arms became known as the Battle of the Nations. Everyone wanted to celebrate the victory…a distinguished gathering at Petworth, blessed by the presence of both the Prince Regent and the Duke of Clarence, celebrated in style. This was a fete well worth attending. James was there on the specific command of the Princes, and by the sincere wish of Lord Egremont. Spirits were high, and noisy horse play was considered acceptable, on this gala evening. Unfortunately, our hero was the butt of the royal jest, and the dignity of James’s office did not protect him. After he had retired to bed, he was woken by a hammering at his bedroom door. The ebullient royals demanded that he come downstairs to charge another bumper with them in patriotic toasts to the recent victory. The upshot was that James was FORCED TO DRINK TOO MUCH and when he was helplessly inebriated, they took the drunken prelate to bed.
In the darkness of his bedchamber, they pushed him roughly into his bed, causing James to scream out as he touched the hairy flank of a live DONKEY, which had been trussed, DRESSED IN FEMALE ATTIRE and thrust between the sheets. A near riot ensued as the whole of the company crowded into the room to witness James’s distress. It took hours for the excitement to die down, and James felt hot and humiliated by this unprovoked prank.
In the morning he tried to put a brave face on it, at breakfast, but guests giggled and sneered with the remembrance of it all. The PR and the Duke of Clarence patronizingly told him he was a dashed good sport, but James was most uneasy. Later, when the gossip rattled through Sussex retelling and embellishing the scandal of a cleric in bed with an ass, James felt the full force of local censure. Poor man, he was quite innocent, but the cloth was scandalized. A [Cruikshank caricature] print was published in 1814, entitled The Divine and the Donkey—or Petworth Frolicks, depicting the events which took place in the Petworth bedchamber, adding to James’s humiliation.
….When JA told JSC that in her opinion the duties of a courtier could not be too well paid, considering the twin sacrifices of time and feeling, SHE MUST HAVE BEEN THINKING OF THE SHAMEFUL INCIDENT AT PETWORTH. [My added emphasis]” END QUOTE
Viveash’s Persuasions article is entitled “The Donkey and the Divine”, and here is a link for an image of same:
So….does anyone who has read the above still think JA was sincerely confiding in James Stanier Clarke in any of her letters to him? That she would actually have trusted this man with anything resembling the truth, at the very same moment she was extending her satire of him from her fiction into her real life correspondence with him?
I have a dozen more pages of supporting evidence for my above claims—stuff like the repeated motif of SPIKED spruce beer in Emma, especially Knightley’s receipt (or recipe) therefor; and like Mrs.Elton’s desire to “ride on a donkey” to Donwell Abbey---but this is not the time or the place for me to bring it all forward. I suggest that I’ve brought more than enough forward already, above, to justify an indictment from any reasonable grand jury of Janeites on the question of whether Jane Austen not only portrayed James Stanier Clarke as Mr. Elton, but also emulated Maria from Twelfth Night in dropping a letter (from a fairy?) for Malvolio which read:
“To the unknown beloved, this, and my good wishes
Jove knows I love, But who?
Lips, do not move; No man must know.”
I may command where I adore,
But silence, like a Lucrece knife,
With bloodless stroke my heart doth gore;
M.O.A.I. doth sway my life.”
If this fall into thy hand, revolve. In my stars I am above thee, but be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. Thy Fates open their hands. Let thy blood and spirit embrace them. And, to inure thyself to what thou art like to be, cast thy humble slough and appear fresh. Be opposite with a kinsman, surly with servants.”
Now go back and reread all three of JA’s letters to Clarke, and see that the tone is identical, the same appeal to grandiose vanity, the same faux acknowledgment of superiority. Can’t you just picture JA and her trusted confidantes (like Martha Lloyd, to whom JA wrote undisguisedly about her contempt for the Prince Regent) savoring Clarke’s responses, in which he buys her put-on hook, line AND sinker…… on DRY ground (as Richard Pryor was fond of saying for extra emphasis, and a nautical image that fits Clarke’s nautical obsessions)!
In particular, when Clarke writes repeatedly urging JA to write her next novel about a cleric who (like himself) divides time between country and town and otherwise tilts the course of world history in his spare time, JA and her confidantes, like Maria and Sir Toby giggling behind the box tree (as in Box Hill, as Fiona Stafford pointed out in 1995), must have been delighting in Clarke’s ridiculousness, because he already was depicted as Mr. Collins in P&P and now Mr.Elton in Emma!
At the very least, we may safely say that JS Clarke could have had little idea in 1815 that nearly two centuries later, when Clarke, despite his vainglorious ambitions, is only remembered for his role in brokering the dedication of Emma to his boss, the world would now learn how JA thrust a strange kind of additional “greatness” upon him after, by casting him in the role of Malvolio in her own very private production of Twelfth Night.
Speaking of which, the show’s just starting, ladies and gentlemen, please hurry to your seats so as not to miss another minute.
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