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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

“It was an evening of NO COMMON delight to them all”: Getting to the Collinsian (and Corinthians?) Bottom of the Allusion to A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Pride & Prejudice

Seven months ago…
…Diane Reynolds and I had a brief, profitable exchange regarding the veiled allusion to A Midsummer Night’s Dream that I see in Pride & Prejudice, and I focused in that post on the darker side of Darcy as a disturbingly resonant Regency Era version of the cad Demetrius in Shakespeare’s at times dark comedy.

And I have more recently posted at length about Mr. Elton as a representation of Bottom from Dream, layered right on top of an allusion via Mr. Elton to James Stanier Clarke when he was sadistically punked (after first getting him drunk with something like spruce-beer) at Egmont by the Prince and his cronies putting a live donkey in his bed….
…and in that same post, I mentioned in passing that I also saw Mr. Collins as a version of Bottom.

Well, by an unexpected twist in my research, I was able, today, to weave (pun intended) both of those strands together, and am ready now to place before you the intellectual sweetmeats I’ve discovered, and display to you THE definitive textual evidence which establishes that Mr. Collins was indeed intended by JA to be seen as a fully-fleshed-out version of Bottom!

Specifically, the scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream which JA chose as the centerpiece of her Bottom-FUL allusion in P&P is when Puck first turns Bottom into a jackass, and then Puck sprinkles fairy dust on Titania so that she will fall in love with the ass-headed Bottom when she awakens.

Now, think about Mr. Collins as a kind of Regency Era Bottom, a nobody from nowhere doing nothing until he suddenly finds himself the beneficiary of an unexpected windfall of good fortune when a great lady—a kind of queen, if you will, Lady Catherine de Burgh, inexplicably bestows her largesse on him. Even without any textual support at all, the allusion seems intentional to me. But wait till you see all the textual evidence that materialized before me in less than two hours of research!

First, I’ve put in ALL CAPS the excerpts from P&P which point to Collins as Bottom, and also to Lady Catherine as Titania:

P&P Chapter 15:  “Mr. Collins was NOT A SENSIBLE MAN, and the deficiency of nature had been but LITTLE ASSisted by education or society; the greatest part of his life having been spent under the guidance of an illiterate and miserly father; and though he belonged to one of the universities, he had merely kept the necessary terms, without forming aT IT ANY useful acquaintance. The subjection in which his father had brought him up had given him originally great humility of manner; but it was now a good deal counteracted by the self-conceit of A WEAK HEAD, living in retirement, and the consequential feelings of early and UNEXPECTED PROSPERITY. A fortunate chance had recommended him to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant; and the respect which he felt for her high rank, and his veneration for her as HIS PATRONESS, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his rights as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.
   Having now a good house and very sufficient income, he intended to marry; and in seeking a reconciliation with the Longbourn family he had a wife in view, as he meant to chuse one of the daughters, if he found them as handsome and amiable as they were represented by COMMON report. This was his plan of amends -- of atonement -- for inheriting their father's estate; and he thoughT IT AN Excellent one, full of eligibility and suitableness, and excessively generous and disinterested on his own part. “

Now, that all would be enough if that were all there was in P&P, to establish that JA wishes us to see Collins as Bottom. But it is actually only the appetizer, the main course is in two parts, both of them in Chapter 29, describing scenes at Hunsford and Rosings, after Mr. Collins is fully ensconced in his Kentish “bower of bliss”, oblivious to the profound incongruity of this imbecilic impostor of a clergyman basking in the reflected glow of the “queen” who has taken him into her “court”—indeed, has made him the principal courtier there (shades of James Stanier Clarke in a similar role vis a vis the Prince Regent!- which only makes Lady Catherine’s scandalized exclamation about the pollution of “the shades of Pemberley” by Lizzy’s relations, when Lady Catherine herself has admitted an utterly common man into her own inner sanctum):

P&P Chapter 29: “ Mr. Collins's triumph, in consequence of this invitation, was complete. The power of displaying THE GRANDEUR OF HIS PATRONESS to his wondering visitors, and of letting them see her civility towards himself and his wife, was exactly what he had wished for; and that an opportunity of doing it should be given so soon, was such an instance of Lady Catherine's condescension, as he knew not how to admire enough.
"I confess," said he, "that I should not have been at all surprised by her ladyship's asking us on Sunday to drink tea and spend the evening at Rosings. I rather expected, from my knowledge of her affability, that it would happen. But who could have foreseen such an attention as this? Who could have imagined that we should receive an invitation to dine there (an invitation, moreover, including the whole party) so immediately after your arrival!"
"I am the less surprised at what has happened," replied Sir William, "from that knowledge of what the manners of the great really are, which my situation in life has allowed me to acquire. ABOUT THE COURT, SUCH INSTANCES OF ELEGANT BREEDING ARE NOT UNCOMMON."
Scarcely anything was talked of the whole day or next morning but their visit to Rosings. Mr. Collins was carefully instructing them in what they were to expect, that the sight of such rooms, so many servants, and so splendid a dinner, might not wholly overpower them.
After sitting a few minutes, they were all sent to one of the windows to admire the view, Mr. Collins attending them to point out its beauties, and Lady Catherine kindly informing them that it was much better worth looking at IN THE SUMMER.
The dinner was exceedingly handsome, and there were ALL THE SERVANTS AND ALL THE ARTICLES OF PLATE which Mr. Collins had promised; and, as he had likewise foretold, he took his seat AT THE BOTTOM of the table, BY HER LADYSHIP’S DESIRE, and looked as if he felt that life could furnish nothing greater. He carved, AND ATE, AND PRAISED WITH DELIGHTED ALACRITY; and EVERY DISH WAS COMMENDED, first by him and then by Sir William, who was now enough recovered to echo whatever his son-in-law said, in a manner which Elizabeth wondered Lady Catherine could bear. But LADY CATHERINE SEEMED GRATIFIED by their excessive admiration, and gave most gracious smiles, especially when any dish on the table proved a novelty to them. “

There is so much there to notice in thos passages, besides the astonishing condescension of Lady Catherine towards Collins and his entourage, a realistic parody of the Titania-Bottom drug-induced connection. To help you better hear the echoes to the alluded-to scene in Dream, I now reproduce those passages from Dream below, similarly putting in ALL CAPS the echoed excerpts, beginning with the first three lines, which are exactly what Lady Catherine, in effect, is saying to Lizzy as well, when she tells Lizzy that Mrs. Bennet can spare Lizzy for another six weeks:


Then later…

I have a venturous fairy that shall seek
The squirrel's hoard, and fetch thee new nuts.
Exeunt fairies
They sleep

Just think of the feast at Rosings vis a vis the feast in the Athenian forest—what rich rich irony!

And the scandalous suggestion of Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins sleeping together, which is suggested by extending the parallels to their logical conclusion, is a hilarious conceit of no common rate!

And, speaking of uncommonness, it is no accident that much later in P&P, in Ch. 55—which is, curiously, RIGHT BEFORE Lady Catherine shockingly shows up at Longbourn, we read the following about the Bennet family’s joyous reaction to Bingley’s proposal to Jane:

“It was an evening of NO COMMON delight to them all…”

An intentional echo to Titania’s regal pronouncement of being “a spirit of no common rate”? I think so, and perhaps so also did Deborah Moggach, the screenwriter of the 2005 MacFayden/ Knightley Pride & Prejudice film adaptation, when Moggach put the following words in Bingley’s mouth at exactly the right moment, when he was about to propose to her:   “First, I must tell you I've been the most unmitigated and comprehensive ASS.”

But my favorite out of all of this, is a cluster of textual winks in P&P which was what first got me looking at all of the above. By itself, this cluster would have been speculative at best on my rating scale of Austenian allusions to Shakespeare, but with the corroboration of the above, it is clear to me that the following was also an intentional allusion by JA to Shakespeare. And the best part is, perhaps you already noticed it, above, because I hid my discovery in plain sight (i.e., in ALL CAPS) in two snippets from the two paragraphs from Chapter 15 of P&P that I quoted, above, which I now repeat below:

“…though [Collins] belonged to one of the universities, he had merely kept the necessary terms, without forming aT IT ANY useful acquaintance…” 

“…[Collins] meant to chuse one of the daughters, if he found them as handsome and amiable as they were represented by COMMON report. This was his plan of amends -- of atonement -- for inheriting their father's estate; and he thoughT IT AN Excellent one, full of eligibility and suitableness, and excessively generous and disinterested on his own part. “

Of course, you see now that JA has hidden “TITANY” and “TITANE” in these two passages in consecutive paragraphs, and each of these coded versions of “Titania” not only pertain to Mr. Collins, they are thematically meaningful. I.e., in the first, it is beyond obvious that his “Titania”, i.e., Lady Catherine, is a VERY “useful acquaintance” to him; and in the second, we hear his self-aggrandizing fantasy of being an eligible and suitable husband for one of the Bennet girls! And….as some reasonable skeptics among you might wonder---these also just happen to be two (i.e. HALF) of the total of four
such syntactical constructions which occur in the six Austen novels combined!

And…last but not least, I have long believed that the double acrostic of “Lamb” (first discovered in 2005 by Colleen Sheehan) that appears in the long charade in Emma was in some way a tip of the hat to the acrostic first discovered nearly a century ago by a Baconian Bardolater named William Stone Booth…
…which was ALSO hiding in plain sight earlier in this post, and which I now show you again:

O   ut of this wood do not desire to go:
T   hou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no.
I   am a spirit of no common rate;
T   he summer still doth tend upon my state;
AN  d I do love thee: therefore, go with me;
I   'll give thee fairies to attend on thee,
A   nd they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep,

I.e. O, TITANIA--which just happens to be the same name that JA hid twice in the text of Chapter 15!

If all of THAT is not sufficient to convince you that this is not a coincidence, then you may be beyond the reach of any literary sleuthing “sermon” of mine!  ;)

And with that, I believe the BOTTOM of this post has now finally been reached, all “jewels” having been “fetched” by me from “the deep”, i.e., the Shakespearean subtext, of P&P and A Midsummer Night’s Dream!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: All of the above makes the following coincidence all the more extraordinary, regarding the 2011 season of the Orlando, Florida Shakespeare Theater:

A Midsummer Night's Dream is performed on the same unit set as Pride and Prejudice, a two-story country-house facade painted to look like a summer sky that overlooks a wide-open playing area. Not only is it acted by the same group of players, but both shows have been cast similarly. Michele Vazquez and Courtney Moors, for instance, play Elizabeth and Jane in Pride and Prejudice and Hermia and Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream, WHILE MICHAEL DALY DOES DOUBLE DUTY AS MR. COLLINS AND BOTTOM. This approach gives a strong feeling of unity to the season: You immediately see the artistic point of presenting the two shows in tandem.”

If they only knew how much more of an artistic point there really was in this particular casting of the two tandem productions of Austen and Shakespeare!

P.P.S: For the lover of the truly out-there allusion, I suggest to you that the surname “Collins” may just have been a sly tweaking by JA of “Corinthians” from the Christian Bible! I thought of this because of the veiled allusion by JA to 1 Corinthians 9:14 which JA clearly did (as discovered by a good friend of mine) hide in plain sight in her April Fools letter to James Stanier Clarke, her real life Mr. Collins:
Just as Mr. Bennet points out the perverse twistedness of Mr. Collins’s idea of Christian forgiveness, in that letter JA in effect points out the perverse twistedness of JS Clarke’s interpretation of St. Paul’s admonitions about compensation to God’s messengers on earth.

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