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Friday, March 28, 2014

Northanger Abbey’s John Thorpe as Samuel Johnson: A Tale of Tou…rette’s



In my last post….
…I asserted that John Thorpe, the young ogre of Northanger Abbey, was actually a spot-on, multi-faceted but veiled representation of Samuel Johnson, who was the common denominator behind the following seemingly unrelated eight Austenian data points:

ONE: A joke in a Jane Austen letter JA wrote shortly after finishing Susan (the literary ancestor of Northanger Abbey), attributing authorship of a novel JA knew very well to the wrong author.
TWO: John Thorpe's complaint about "an old man playing at seesaw" in Fanny Burney's Camilla.
THREE: John Thorpe's expressing a strong opinion about Henry Fielding's Tom Jones.
FOUR: John Thorpe's taking Catherine out for a very fast ride in his carriage, and boasting about his speed.
FIVE: John Thorpe's manic logorrhea (intense verbosity and strange vocalizations).
SIX: The footnote to Northanger Abbey.
SEVEN: Henry Austen's Biographical Notice published as the intro to the First Edition of NA and Persuasion.
EIGHT: The Prince of Whales answer to the second charade in Emma.

Rather than try to squeeze all my evidence in support of all of those eight data points as to Thorpe as Johnson into one post, I will serialize my presentation, choosing one or two subtopics for each post, until I am done (thanks, Diane, for leading me to that approach!).

This post will therefore only cover the above Points Five and Seven, which, it turns out, is not short, but mostly because of several relevant quotations which back up my claims. But please keep in mind, the ultimate validity of my overall claim rests on the synergistic probative value of all of the above interconnected Data Points combined, not just one or two. They are all closely interrelated, and mutually supportive.

Data Point SEVEN: Henry Austen's Biographical Notice published as intro to NA & Persuasion includes this sentence: “Her reading was very extensive in history and belles lettres; and her memory extremely tenacious. Her favourite moral writers were Johnson in prose, and Cowper in verse.”

I am now convinced that Henry Austen wrote Johnson into the above sentence, not because this was a true statement, but because Henry understood that John Thorpe was a representation of Samuel Johnson. That understanding must have created quite a dilemma for Henry.

Henry was Mr. Expediency, and wanted more than anything to get Northanger Abbey and Persuasion published soon after Jane’s death. There was money to be made here, and a big shot in the arm to the Austen literary brand overall. But if John Thorpe was “outed” as a mean-spirited parody of Samuel Johnson, that could damage the brand. Something had to be done, but what? The character of Thorpe could not simply be left on the printshop floor. John Thorpe was no minor character in NA by any means--he grabs hold of the stage whenever he is on it, which is in several different chapters, his interaction with the heroine is central to the action while he’s “onstage”, and on top of all that, he is one of the darkest characters to be found in any JA novel, and therefore memorable.  
Even worse, the parody of Samuel Johnson subtext is not a one-shot deal, either, it is all over the place in the characterization of Thorpe, as this series of posts will eventually cover all of them. Therefore, Thorpe-as-Johnson was a tumor which was dangerous while left in the “body” of the novel, and yet it could not be surgically removed from the novel without immediately killing the patient. He is essential to the vitality of Northanger Abbey.

What to do, then, with Henry’s worry that an alert, sensitive, and literarily sophisticated reader of NA might spot this not very flattering allusion to Johnson (and, for that matter, the other, many unflattering allusions to real persons, both famous and Austen-familial, scattered throughout NA and all of the previously published novels)? And if such a “whale” were spotted in NA, then the commentator might just blow the proverbial whistle---“Thar she blows!  Crazed, unsexed female off the starboard bow just rose from the grave like St. Swithin and attacked a defenseless male literary whale!”. You get my Mobyish drift.

This sort of hostile reaction, especially from an influential critic writing in the Critical Review, the Gentlemen’s Magazine, or the like, could’ve spelled doom for sales of NA and Persuasion, as well as hoped-for new editions of the 4 other novels. The idea that JA might have skewered Samuel Johnson, in a thinly veiled parody which (as I will detail below re Point Five) even included a very sharp-edged ridicule of Johnson’s involuntary disabilities, would not play well among such readers, especially when connected to Persuasion’s Anne Elliot’s famous critique of history having been written entirely by men.

If this was what giving the pen to a woman meant (the same male pens which skewered Mary Wollstonecraft’s reputation after her death would write), then we all better make sure to keep the pen away from such female rebels for another few centuries, and maybe burn all existing copies of Jane Austen’s novels, like Sir Thomas did to all the copies of Lover’s Vows, just to be sure.

So I see Henry as he gets ready to publish in 1818, as torn between two unacceptable choices. He’s got to do something. So, in effect he threaded the needle, and (as it turns out famously and successfully) convinced the world, based on no proof whatsoever (other than JA’s two very cryptic, playful references to “Dr. Johnson” in her letters), that Samuel Johnson was JA’s favorite moral writer in prose. It was a brilliant stroke, because there was nothing obvious in JA’s writing to make it sound like protesting too much. And yet, it would plant a seed that would make it much more likely that a reader who did smell the allusion would just say, “It must be my own overactive imagination”, i.e., the very evil that NA was supposed to be a cure for. Brilliant strategy, I have to grudgingly give to Henry, even as I hate the obfuscation he achieved.

That Henry was successful is borne out by the dozens and dozens of scholarly citations of that single sentence by generations of Austen scholars who simply take it as a given, because, basically, Henry Austen said so, and why would he lie about that?  Henry’s strategy worked so well, for 196 years, in fact, that it seems I, in 2014, am the first to make this claim that JOHN Thorpe is Samuel JOHNson (or should I say is, metaphorically speaking “Johnson’s son”?)

And now that sets the stage for the first of my evidentiary sections…

Data Point FIVE: John Thorpe's manic logorrhea and vocalizations (intense verbosity and strange sound-making).

As a result of the universal popularity of Boswell’s 1791 Life of Johnson, many knowledgeable Regency Era English readers were aware that Johnson had, throughout his entire life (died 1784) suffered from intense, multiple involuntary abnormalities in both his body movements and vocalizations.  Several modern articles and book chapters have attempted to diagnose Johnson’s condition, attributing varied medical causes thereto. The most recent, Sara Landreth’s “Breaking the Laws of Motion:  Pneumatology and Belles Lettres in Eighteenth-Century Britain”, New Literary History, Volume 43, #2  (Spring 2012), summarized Johnson’s condition thusly:

“…Johnson, perhaps more than any other writer of his age, wrestled with involuntary motion in his everyday life. Shortly after his death in 1784, an anonymous obituary fondly described Johnson’s erratic gait as a kind of perambulatory automatism: “When he walked the streets, what with the constant roll of his head, and the concomitant motion of his body, he appeared to make his way by that motion, independent of his feet.” Johnson suffered from what Boswell called a “convulsive . . . distemper”—a disorder similar to Tourette’s Syndrome—that caused involuntary “motions and tricks”: “While talking or even musing as he sat in his chair, he commonly . . . shook [his head] in a tremulous manner, moving his body backwards and forwards.”  END QUOTE

After reading the above, alert readers among you may already have guessed that one of my followup posts will connect the above description of Johnson’s “backwards and forwards” rocking physical movements with the “old man playing at SEESAW” comment by Thorpe which I flagged in point TWO, above. But that connection is for my next post-- today I want to focus on Johnson’s vocalizations. Why? Because of the eerie similarity between Johnson’s famous verbal tics and oddities and John Thorpe’s!  

First, here is the famous description by Boswell which I discussed in my post earlier this week about why Jane Austen would have seen Johnson as a “Prince of Whales”:

‘In the intervals of articulating he made various sounds with his mouth, sometimes as if ruminating, or what is called chewing the cud, sometimes giving a half whistle, sometimes making his tongue play backwards from the roof of his mouth, as if clucking like a hen, and sometimes protruding it against his upper gums in front, as if pronouncing quickly under his breath too, too, too: all this accompanied sometimes with a thoughtful look, but more frequently with a smile. Generally when he had concluded a period, in the course of a dispute, by which time he was a good deal exhausted by violence and vociferation, he used to blow out his breath like a whale.' “   “END QUOTE”

And now please also read this passage from ”Samuel Johnson’s Tics and Gesticulations”  by Lawrence C. McHenry, Jr.,  Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Vol. 22 #2 (1967) ppg. 152-68:

“Along with the spasmodic movements or gesticulations, the afflicted are liable to involuntary explosive utterance, in which case there is an irresistible urge to repeat sounds (echolalia), words, or phrases. Obscene words are sometimes emitted (coprolalia), but Johnson objected to obscene words and did not use them. These vocalizations are the outward verbal manifestations of inner psychic conflicts and obsessions. Boswell said that Johnson’s talking to himself was indeed one of his singularities. “ END QUOTE

And now, keep those descriptions of Johnson in mind as you read this wonderful description of John Thorpe’s speech patterns, in “The Idiolects of the Idiots” by Jeffrey Herrle in The Talk in Jane Austen (2002), at ppg. 239-40:

“Notably, Austen’s narrator conveys the rhythm and sound of Thorpe’s manner of speaking here as well as what he says. His ‘discourse now sunk from its hitherto animated pitch, to nothing more than a short decisive sentence of praise or condemnation on the face of every woman they met”. We get a sense that Thorpe almost speaks like the animals with which he so enjoys spending time—he yelps, squeals, and whinnies wildly when he is excited, and barks and snorts at strangers. If he is like a horse, however, he is hardly one of Swift’s Houyhnhnms in Gulliver’s Travels. He seems much more like a Yahoo.
Not surprisingly, Catherine encounters similar discourse, both in substance and in delivery, again and again. If anything, Thorpe’s speech degenerates upon further acquaintance….Catherine’s assertion of her brother’s sobriety provokes “a loud and overpowering reply, of which no part was very distinct, except the frequent exclamations, amounting almost to oaths, which adorned it.” When Catherine suggests that her brother does not have a horse and gig of his own…Thorpe “said something in the loud, incoherent way to which he had often recourse, about its being a d- thing to be miserly; …which Catherine did not even endeavor to understand.”
Thorpe’s departure from civilized discourse to a series of primordial grunts reaches its lowest point when he forces her, against her will, to go to Clifton. The credibility of his talk has by now been tarnished by his continual boasting and curt attacks on everyone else, as we as his lies about Blaize Castle and his lies to the Tilneys about Catherine’s plans. Now, however, we finally see that behind the ‘rattle’ there is something more ominous and brutal. This is, of course, already suggested with his lies and swearing—moral and social offences which clearly mark him as a menace in Austen’s world. But what happens in the carriage on the way to Clifton is nothing short of a figurative rape…”…But Mr. Thorpe only laughed, smacked his whip, encouraged his horse, made odd noises, and drove on;”  I continue to find this scene the most disturbing in Austen’s work. It does however forcefully emphasize how Thorpe’s moral bankruptcy, lack of empathy, and sheer brutality manifests itself in his utterances and noises….”  END QUOTE

And there’s even more on this point, which I only became aware of yesterday, something  so amazing and validating of my claim of Thorpe as Johnson, that I am still shaking my head about it. Turns out that the door was actually wide open for Austen scholars to walk through and notice Thorpe as Samuel Johnson, had they only been up to speed on the Jane Austen Code.

Specifically, there is a true textual smoking gun connecting John Thorpe with Samuel Johnson, in regard to their peculiarly similar ways of speaking, a clue which JA subtly hid in plain sight in Northanger Abbey, which had “Samuel Johnson” written all over it!

I first became aware of this clue yesterday when I came across Phyllis Bottomer’s article is in Persuasions Online Vol. 31  (2010) entitled “Conversation, or rather talk”: Autistic Spectrum Disorders and the Communication and Social Challenges of John Thorpe”.  Phyllis, whom I first met at the Chawton House Austen “Woodstock” in July 2009, has made a very recognizable name for herself in Austen critical circles during the past 5 years with her controversial claims that various characters in JA’ s novels, mostly famously Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins, were JA’s finely observed, clinical depictions of actual physical conditions which we refer to today as being on the autistic spectrum. Phyllis is also one of the Austen scholars whom Deborah Yaffe portrayed in Among the Janeites, where I was honored to be portrayed as well.

So what was it I saw in Bottomer’s article that points to Samuel Johnson?—it actually is right there in her article title “Conversation, or rather talk”, which she goes on to explain as follows in her very first paragraph:

“[A]ll the rest of [Thorpe’s] conversation, or rather talk, began and ended with himself and his own concerns.”  (Northanger Abbey 66).  Samuel Johnson noted this crucial distinction when he described an evening by saying, “we had talk enough, but no conversation; there was nothing discussed” (Boswell 333). “

What Bottomer did not realize, however, was that this parallel was not a mere coincidence that would make a nice opening epigram for her article, but that JA had deliberately almost (but not quite) literally quoted that very same, famous epigram of Johnson’s in Catherine’s narrated thoughts about John Thorpe!

And why would JA virtually quote Samuel Johnson’s famous dictum about the difference between real conversation, and mere talk? In the context of the above eight Data Points all pointing to John Thorpe as Samuel Johnson, that “setting casts a different shade” on this veiled quotation, and makes it clear that this is an ironic allusion to Johnson. I.e., it is classic Austenian irony of reversal of expectation, that the very character in NA who represents Samuel Johnson, advocate for real conversation and not mere talk, is the very character who best illustrates the absence of true conversation— Jane Austen was in effect saying about Samuel Johnson that he talked the talk, so to speak, but did not walk the walk.  And that cliché just happens to fit perfectly with the very real and very famous difficulties that Samuel Johnson had with both talking and walking, as my earlier quotations illustrated!

And I also went back to Herrle’s article and saw that he had, in 2002, been eight years ahead of Bottomer in flagging, without really understanding the significance of, that veiled quotation of Johnson by JA’s narrator describing Thorpe. Here’s how Herrle put it then:

“Samuel Johnson, JA’s favourite moralist, once remarked that ideal conversations are ones in which ‘there is no competition, no vanity, but a calm quiet interchange of sentiments’ (Boswell 623). There is, of course, much evidence to suggest that JA inherited this ideal of conversation. We get an inkling of this when Austen’s narrator in NA remarks that Mrs. Allen spent most of the day ‘ by the side of Mrs. Thorpe, in what they call conversation, but in which there was scarcely ever any exchange of opinion, and not often any resemblance of subject.’..it becomes readily apparent why Austen’s heroines find Thorpe and Collins so unsavoury. Too self serving and egotistical to listen sympathetically to others and to exchange ideas, Thorpe and Collins exhort, denounce, and proclaim their own personal enthusiasms and desires, but never converse. Austen herself makes the distinction between talk and conversation with Thorpe, remarking that ‘all the rest of his conversation, or rather talk, began and ended with himself and his own concerns’ . …”

So it seems that Herrle was the first to experience a Trojan Horse Moment about that same veiled quotation, as he, like Bottomer, just could not imagine that JA would allude in so sly and outrageous a manner, JA was content to create a subliminal echo, and leave it to the few to realize that this was more, and that it was, arguably, the most telling textual hint in all of NA of John Thorpe as Samuel Johnson.

And again, it’s so ironic, because in effect, JA has her wise young heroine perceive a young Samuel Johnson as doing exactly the opposite of what the real Samuel Johnson purported to advocate for. I.e., this was exactly the sort of unconscious hypocrisy that JA exposed everywhere in her novels, but I am gratified to see that my sense of JA doing this with Samuel Johnson has now been so dramatically vindicated.

So in conclusion, I say that the above is very strong evidence that Samuel Johnson’s symptoms, which Landreth’s article makes me think was likely Tourette’s rather than Asperger’s, but in the end, that call is less significant than that what syndrome afflicted, indeed tormented, Samuel Johnson, Jane Austen chose to mimic it in the character of John Thorpe.  And will now wrap up this post by directing those of you wishing for more detail to Herrle’s and Bottomer’s articles if you want to read some more interesting analysis of John Thorpe’s verbal behavior, and to Landreth and McHenry’s articles, for more good stuff about Johnson’s verbalizations.

I’ll be back in a day or two with the next post in this series, which will cover the Fanny Burney connection to all of this, which will cover Data Points ONE and TWO!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Northanger Abbey Quizzing: A Whale of an Allusion Hidden in Plain Sight for 196 Years

So, I have a short quiz for you all, and will give the answer below, no making anybody wait.

What is the common thread among ALL of the following:

ONE: A joke in a Jane Austen letter JA wrote shortly after finishing Susan (the literary ancestor of Northanger Abbey), attributing authorship of a novel JA knew very well to the wrong author.

TWO: John Thorpe's complaint about " an old man playing at seesaw" in Fanny Burney's Camilla.

THREE: John Thorpe's expressing a strong opinion about Henry Fielding's Tom Jones.

FOUR: John Thorpe's taking Catherine out for a very fast ride in his carriage, and boasting about his speed.

FIVE: John Thorpe's  manic logorrhea (intense verbosity).

SIX: The footnote to Northanger Abbey.

SEVEN: Henry Austen's Biographical Notice published as the intro to the First Edition of NA and Persuasion.

EIGHT: The Prince of Whales answer to the second charade in Emma.

The answer is two words. And if you cannot solve this quiz, after all the hints I've given you, then I shall dare to suppose you a great blockhead.

Scroll down for the answer--I will write up a detailed explanation in the next few days, but I was eager to get this out there tonight.



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The answer is..........SAMUEL JOHNSON!

If those of you so inclined want to have some fun before I post my explanation, see if you yourself can reverse engineer my sleuthing and figure out how each of the above eight clues applies to Samuel Johnson.

I must once again thank Diane Reynolds for bringing forward that quotation the other day from her late English professor about Samuel Johnson as Prince of Whales, because it was in following up on that lead that I was led to revisit all of my previous Samuel Johnson sleuthing, and it was in looking at John Thorpe's cryptic reference to  "an old man playing at seesaw" that I for the first time looked past the "correct" answer that this was simply about Eugenia and Hugh Tyrold in Burney's Camilla, and saw that this was just the tip of an iceberg, the "whale" known as Samuel Johnson.

And who'd have thought that the Austen character who resembles Samuel Johnson in more and varied ways than any other, is John Thorpe!

It turns out to truly be a whale of an allusion.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sunday, March 23, 2014

P.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.”




In Austen L & Janeites, Anielka Briggs responded to my recent post (and followups) about Scott’s allusion to Cupid  in Highbury by quoting me: “Can this be anything other than a sexually charged allusion to a link-boy carrying a phallic torch? To my eyes, it is a perfect literary counterpart to Reynolds's painting." and then Anielka added her own, opposite answer. “Yes. it can be many things other than a "sexually charged allusion" “

Anielka, although I freely acknowledge that I was careless in my wording, you know very well that you took my comment out of context, and that it was clear from the rest of my post that I was attributing to Walter Scott a very Austenesque slyness in creating DOUBLE meaning--which is, when you think about it, the whole point of any worthy sexual innuendo. However, I am glad to have the opportunity to correct my overhasty verbal sloppiness and be precise and complete now.

I assert that Scott wrote the above sentence (“at Highbury Cupid…”) so that it could be read in two completely different, indeed, opposite ways:

ONE: the overt meaning being completely innocent, without sexual innuendo (although with some Audenesque economic cynicism), referring to JA’s clever, subtle, and realistic portrayal of how the couples in Emma wind up marrying, but also

TWO: the veiled meaning, which is multi-layered and sexually disturbing in the extreme. It was aimed at a contemporary reader who would recognize Scott’s representation of Cupid in that sentence as a link-boy, i.e., a young boy who carried a lit torch (“link”) to provide illumination for customers walking unlit city streets at night.
What I meant by my earlier comment about this sentence was that it was beyond dispute that Scott intended for all his readers to recognize that he was portraying Cupid specifically as a link-boy. In a way, that sentence of Scott’s is itself a riddle. That sentence could’ve been rephrased in riddling terms: He looks like Cupid (i.e., he’s a small boy); and he walks around carrying around a torch inside a lanthorn (lantern) in the vicinity of houses?
Let’s put it this way. If Family Feud had been a TV show in Regency Era England, then Link-boy would have been the most frequent answer given by a representative sampling of viewers! And Link-boys were an urban amenity which JA, having lived in Bath for several years, and also having visited London a great deal in later years, was very familiar with.
But here’s the punch line, which makes Scott’s allusion to link-boys disturbing. As I’ve written several times recently, it’s a well documented, uncontroversial historical fact that link-boys were not just providers of nighttime urban illumination—they were notorious for also providing the unofficial service of leading customers to prostitutes, and/ or for being prostitutes & therefore victims of sexual abuse themselves!
So I claim that Scott chose that particular disturbing imagery for Cupid in that particular sentence, as a hint to the knowing eyes of the sophisticated, urban-savvy, sharp elves readers of the Critical Review (published by the same Murray who published Emma at that very same time!), which strikes me as likely having the same kind of readership among “the Ton” that The New Yorker has today. These  readers would have been mostly men, some of whom would have been patrons of that disturbing private service provided by link-boys, but many of whom, even if not such patrons, would have been just the kind of person to be familiar with all or most of the following FIVE veiled but unmistakable allusive sources:

(1) the later, “clever” stanzas of Garrick’s 1771 version of his Riddle which Mr. Woodhouse tries to remember, which include a pandering Cupid who sounds like one of those real-life link-boys;

(2) Joshua Reynolds’s very disturbing and famous 1774 “Cupid as Link Boy” painting which, I’ve asserted, Reynolds panderingly painted on special commission from his main patron for Reynolds’s pedophilic “fancy portraits” of young children--the famously debauched 3rd Duke of Dorset--to hang in the Duke’s private gallery at Knole (the Duke’s great Kentish estate, for which JA’s own great uncle Francis Austen acted as lawyer/agent);

(3) that same 3rd Duke of Dorset’s notorious elopement with Lady Derby in the 1770’s was clearly a source for Henry Crawford’s elopement with Maria Bertram;

(4) the fact that Garrick, like Reynolds, was also a very close friend of  the 3rd Duke of  Dorset;

(4) the 1st Duke of Dorset’s famous early 18th century “Dorinda” poem which crudely insulted Catherine Sedley with this XXX-rated couplet: “Her Cupid is a blackguard boy, Who runs his link full in your face. “

Now, if you want to believe that all of the above is just some monstrous coincidence—that Garrick, Reynolds, the 1st and 3rd Dukes of Dorset, Francis Austen, Mr. Woodhouse, and Henry Crawford, are all connected along the edge of a literary-historical wheel  to the same hub—link-boys--by accident, then knock yourself out. I think the fairest interpretation, by far,  is that Scott intended both of these meanings, both the innocent and the disturbing, to be readable in that sentence—take  it either  way, as Mrs. Elton might  have said, as you like it.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


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

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.”



Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve periodically revisited my recent major post in which I claimed that Jane Austen alluded, via Mr. Woodhouse’s recollections of Garrick’s sexually disturbing Riddle, to Sir Joshua
Reynolds’s famous and equally sexually disturbing 1774 painting Cupid as Link-Boy...
...I’ve wanted to make sure that I leave no historical or literary stone unturned vis a vis my discovery. And one major stone I turned over this morning was in search of anything else JA might have written about Cupid or link-boys, in the same suggestive vein as her observation in her May 20, 1813 Letter # 84 to CEA: “if it had not been for some naked Cupids over the Mantlepiece, which must be a fine study for Girls, one should never have smelt instruction.” As I commented before, Jane Austen went to the major Reynolds exhibition in London right after that, as per Letter 85 written four days later.

So I Googled “Jane Austen” together with “link-boy”, and found nothing, and then, thinking about words pertaining to illumination at night, I Googled her name with “lanthorn” and found the following from her 1804 letter from Lyme:  “…The ball last night was pleasant, but not full for Thursday. My father staid contentedly till half-past nine (we went a little after eight), and then walked home with James and a lanthorn, though I believe the lanthorn was not lit, as the moon was up; but sometimes this lanthorn may be a great convenience to him. My mother and I staid about an hour later.”

So James, an Austen family servant, has in 1804 acted as personal link-bearer for Revd. Austen (who would die within a year thereafter) after a ball, a fact not particularly noteworthy except for verifying what we could have guessed anyway, i.e., that JA was familiar with this after-dark town practice of carrying torches to guide pedestrians through dark city streets.

So I kept Googling various other combinations, until I struck pure gold when I searched “Jane Austen” together with “torch”. My eyes widened as I saw that I had been transported by Google to Sir Walter Scott’s very famous 1816 review of Jane Austen’s novels, specifically to the latter part of Scott’s elegant synopsis of the plot of Emma! But as soon as I read the specific text that Google had led me to, I knew I had found exactly the supporting evidence I had hoped would exist, not from the pen of Jane Austen, but from the pen of Sir Walter Scott!

I have previously noted the amazing perspicacity of Scott’s review vis a vis his cynical take on the romantic climax of P&P…
…but as you will note in that August 2012 blog post of mine, I actually quoted two of Scott’s references to Cupid, not realizing, as I will explain, below, that those references were actually more about Emma than P&P. Now my respect for Scott has increased tenfold, and you will shortly know why.

If you’ve read my above-linked post about  Reynolds’s disturbing painting, then you will instantly understand why I have placed certain passages in ALL CAPS. I.e., it’s crystal clear that Scott understood, as I understand, that Emma is pointing directly at Reynolds’s painting, placing  the reader, as it were, right before it, so we can study it and be disturbed by what we see:

“Harriet has in the interim, fallen desperately in love with Mr. Knightley, the sturdy, advice-giving bachelor; and, as all the village supposes Frank Churchill and Emma to be attached to each other, there are cross purposes enough (were the novel of a more romantic cast) for cutting half the men's throats and breaking all the women's hearts. But 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. All these entanglements bring on only a train of mistakes and embarrassing situations, and dialogues at BALLS AND PARTIES OF PLEASURE,
in which the author displays her peculiar powers of humour and knowledge of human life. The plot is extricated with great simplicity. The aunt of Frank Churchill dies; his uncle, no longer under her baneful influence, consents to his marriage with Jane Fairfax. Mr. Knightley and Emma are led, by this unexpected incident, to discover that they had been in love with each other all along. Mr. Woodhouse's objections to the marriage of his daughter are overpowered by the fears of house-breakers, and the comfort which he hopes to derive from having a stout son-in-law resident in the family; and the facile affections of Harriet Smith are transferred, LIKE A BANK BILL BY INDORSATION, to her former suitor, the honest farmer, who had obtained a favourable opportunity of renewing his addresses. Such is the simple plan of a story which we peruse with pleasure, if not with deep interest, and which perhaps we might more willingly resume than one of those narratives where the attention is strongly riveted, during the first perusal, by the powerful excitement of curiosity. The author's knowledge of the world, and the peculiar tact with which she presents characters that the reader cannot fail to recognize, reminds us something of the merits of the Flemish school of PAINTING. The subjects are not often elegant, and certainly never grand; but they are finished up to nature, and with a precision which delights the reader. This is a merit which it is very difficult to illustrate by EXTRACTS, because it pervades the whole work, and is not to be comprehended from a single passage. The following is a dialogue between Mr. Woodhouse, and his elder daughter Isabella, who shares his anxiety about health, and has, like her father, a favourite apothecary. The reader must be informed that this lady, with her husband, a sensible, peremptory sort of person, had come to spend a week with her father.”

Note that Scott not only creates an unmistakable image of Cupid as a pandering link-boy carrying a flaming phallus “decorously”, so as not to set the “house on fire” (think about Garrick’s Riddle and Miss Bates’s chimney), for good measure he points out the cynicism of the transaction by which Harriet is “indorsed” over to Robert Martin like a “bank note” (recall JA’s famous charade to which “bank note” is the answer. This reflects Scott’s Audenesque take on JA’s cynicism about the economic basis of love.

And….by his reference to the difficulty of illustration by “extracts”, Scott winks that HE knows that Garrick’s Riddle never appeared in Elegant Extracts, and also connects the dots, as I do, between Garrick’s Riddle  and Reynolds’s link—boy.

But there’s more, much more! Scott lays his veiled allusion to Reynolds’s painting on thick, so that it cannot be missed. After Scott quotes at length from the sexual-innuendo-laden scene when Perry, Wingfield, and London and South End “bad air”, he returns to his commentary on Emma:

“…Upon the whole, the turn of this author's novels bears the same relation to that of the sentimental and romantic cast, that cornfields and cottages and meadows bear to THE HIGHLY ADORNED GROUNDS OF A SHOW MANSION, or the rugged sublimities of a mountain landscape. It is neither so captivating as the one, nor so grand as the other, but it affords to those who frequent it a pleasure nearly allied with the experience of their own social habits; and what is of some importance, the youthful WANDERER may return from his promenade to the ordinary business of life, without any chance of having his head turned by the recollection of the scene through which he has been WANDERING. One word, however, we must say in behalf of that once powerful divinity, CUPID, king of gods and men, who in these times of revolution, has been assailed, even in HIS OWN KINGDOM of romance, by the authors who were formerly his DEVOTED PRIESTS. We are quite aware that there are few instances of first attachment being brought to a happy conclusion, and that it seldom can be so in a state of society so highly advanced as to render early marriages among the better class, acts, generally speaking, of imprudence. But the youth of this realm need not at present be taught the doctrine of selfishness. It is by no means their error to give the world or the good things of the world all for love; and before the authors of moral fiction couple CUPID indivisibly with calculating prudence, we would have them reflect, that they may sometimes lend their aid to substitute more mean, more sordid, and more selfish motives of conduct, for the romantic feelings which their predecessors perhaps fanned into TOO POWERFUL A FLAME. …”

Aside from the apparent winks to Burney’s Wanderer, Scott has referred twice more to Cupid, in close proximity to a gratuitous reference to “the highly adorned grounds of a show mansion” (the Duke of Dorset’s great estate Knole being the quintessence of such a mansion in Southern England, and Emma’s famous meditations on the landscape at Donwell Abbey), to Cupid’s “kingdom” (a wink at the “courtship” charade in Emma, and to “devoted priests” of Cupid—as to that last one, what association does that somewhat sacrilegious pagan imagery bring up for  you from late 18th century England? Who would be the “devoted priests” of Cupid? Of course, that would be the Hellfire Club, composed of many of the close aristocratic associates of the 3rd Duke of Dorset (although I don’t know if he was himself a member).

So, in brief conclusion, I never expected to find validation of my connection of Mr. Woodhouse’s recall of Garrick’s Riddle to Reynolds’s Cupid as Link-Boy from a contemporary published source, and especially from Sir  Walter Scott’s review of JA’s novels—but I do not look this gift horse in the mouth, I am just grateful to live in the era of Google, when making such connections depending only on the ingenuity of the Googler.

Cheers, ARNIE
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