FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER: @JaneAustenCode
(& scroll all the way down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

P.S. re Scott's 1816 Review, Emma & Reynolds's Cupid As Link Boy: "at Highbury Cupid walks decorously, and with good discretion, bearing his torch under a lanthorn, instead of flourishing it around to set the house on fire."

I was pleased in some brief followup to my last post about Sir Walter Scott's reference to a very link-boy-like Cupid in the part of his 1816 review that covered JA's Emma, to find the following passage in Jill Heydt Stevenson's 1999 article, "Slipping into the Ha-Ha":

"In his review of Emma Walter Scott finds fault with Austen for her coupling of “that once powerful divinity, Cupid” with “calculating prudence.” He suggests that it is the responsibility of novelists to “lend their aid” in writing about “romantic feelings,” for the “indulgence” of such feelings, in transforming the lover into a kind of chivalric knight and thelady into an ideal paragon of femininity, “softens, graces, and amends the human [male] mind.” Austen’s use of this riddle, and its attendant allusions to prostitution and syphilis, does indeed invoke Cupid with “calculating prudence,” but not in the sense that Scott meant: Austen exposes the patriarchal/ heterosexual world of conventional courtship as a dangerous, violent, and, indeed, life-threatening arena for both men and women. Thus, she ridicules a system that is based on exploitation of women (who contract venereal disease unknowingly), children (who are raped for a “cure”), and ultimately of the diseased (since these “cures,” mostly administered by quacks and doctors alike, were extremely dangerous and, for obvious reasons, rarely successful). These links between a “proper” novel and a riddle associated with the Hell-Fire Club break down the gap between the Kittys and Fannys of The New Foundling Hospital for Wit and the women of Emma, all of whom—at least at one level of signification— are themselves chimneys. That is, their function is to remain fixed in place, designed to heat, to pleasure, and to heal others. No wonder Mr. Woodhouse worries about Emma marrying; no wonder Emma, our own Cupid, prefers matchmaking to marriage. Austen’s manipulation of Garrick’s riddle and her plaiting of it into both the main narrative and the subplots of the novel reveal her cognizance of the insistent way that the patriarchal system fixes the female body."

It is not clear from the above whether JHS grasped that Scott's reference to Cupid was not Scott's own independent conceit, but was a veiled allusion to the Cupid reference in the part of Garrick's riddle which Mr. Woodhouse CAN'T recall but desperately wishes to, because it is the "cleverest part".

I find the following excerpt from that same section of JHS's article equally interesting:

"Emma is a matchmaker and, like the Cupid in the riddle, one whose pairings have devastating results: both she and the riddle’s narrator, having “kindled . . . flame[s] [they] still deplore,” seek to “quench” them: the one receives an unwanted proposal, the other venereal disease. Harriet, spurned by Elton, tries to recover her emotional health by burning the mementos she gathered during their abortive courtship. The solution to the riddle is that the “Cupid”—the youth he addresses—is a chimney sweep, and, like the “kiss” at the end of the riddle, “chimney sweeping” was eighteenth-century slang for sexual intercourse. Thus when Harriet throws the mementos (metonymies for Elton himself) into the fireplace, she engages in mock sexual relations with him that she also hopes will cure herself. In the riddle, CUPID IS A PIMP who conjoins Kitty and the narrator; in the novel, Emma turns Harriet into both a shopper and an irresistible purchase."

JHS not being aware of the subtext provided by Reynolds's Cupid as Link Boy, did not realize that the real life sexual subtext behind his very disturbing painting was that link-boys were associated with prostitution in two different but complementary ways--i.e., as escorts who led Johns to female prostitutes, but also as prostitutes themselves.


Scott was a very sharp elf indeed to put all the pieces together and to show this by hiding his very Austenian insight in plain sight, just as JA hid her best insights the same way. And JHS clearly was on the scent of something very significant when she chose to highlight Garrick's Riddle in her article--now I finally, via Reynolds's painting, inspired by the lewd poem of the 1st Duke of Dorset and then commissioned many decades later by his second successor to that title, i.e., the 3rd Duke, am able to tie ALL the loose ends together, and show I am in very distinguished company with both Scott and JHS.

Cheers, ARNIE

No comments: