Twitter has now officially become part of my research process, as well as helping me spread my literary theories to the digitally sophisticated. In an exchange of Tweets this morning, I was informed by one of my alert Tweetees that I had mixed up Charles the First and Charles the Second in my recent posts about Downton Abbey.
It was actually Charles the SECOND who, at the age of 21, escaped from England in 1651 in drag disguised as a washerwoman, just as Mr. Toad did in Grahame’s 1908 Wind in the Willows.
And Charles the Second was (obviously) not the same person as Charles the FIRST! Charles the First was the father of the faux-washerwoman refugee. Daddy Charles, at the age of 48, was beheaded in 1648, but sometime before that, he posed for the very famous and very valuable Van Dyk (or Dyck, and maybe also Dyke) equestrian portrait that looms over the Downton Abbey (aka Highclere Castle) dinner table.
I was therefore in error in referring to both the escapee and the equestrian as Charles the First. My being American, and therefore not having the succession of the English kings burned into my brain from a young age (although, in my defense, much was made in my family of my being able to name the American presidents in order at age 4 in 1956), has never been more painfully exposed. Given that my primary sleuthing cases are provided by the very English Jane Austen and William Shakespeare, this is a weakness as to which I strive for eternal vigilance.
That’s the (sorta) bad news. The good news, as I also informed my Twitter conversant, after first thanking him for pointing out my mixup of royal Charleses, is that the corrected version of Julian Fellowes’s sly historical/literary allusion works even better than the one I originally presented, and it’s easy and quick to explain why.
I.e., the Downton Abbey character who is escaping without being detected is Edith, who just happens to be the child of the patriarch of the place—and so she is exactly like Charles II, the child of the (former) patriarch of the place, escaping from a no longer tenable existence where she grew up.
And…the imposing portrait of patriarch Charles the First which stares down at the Grantham clan as they dine is exactly like Robert, the father whose once unchallenged absolute authority over his realm has been under attack from all sides for the entire chronology of the show! In fact, that is arguably THE dominant theme of the show over its first five years.
So, I am very glad to have my minor error corrected, as it only makes my larger point more convincing and significant. In moments like these, I like to grandiosely recall the Zen parable at the end of JD Salinger’s Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters:
“Much displeased, the Duke sent for Po Lo. "That friend of yours," he said, "whom I commissioned to look for a horse, has made a fine mess of it. Why, he cannot even distinguish a beast's color or sex! What on earth can he know about horses?"
Po Lo heaved a sigh of satisfaction. "Has he really got as far as that?" he cried. "Ah, then he is worth ten thousand of me put together. There is no comparison between us. What Kao keeps in view is the spiritual mechanism. In making sure of the essential, he forgets the homely details; intent on the inward qualities, he loses sight of the external. He sees what he wants to see, and not what he does not want to see. He looks at the things he ought to look at, and neglects those that need not be looked at. So clever a judge of horses is Kao, that he has it in him to judge something better than horses." When the horse arrived, it turned out indeed to be a superlative animal.”
Before closing this blog parable about Julian Fellowes’s superlative animal, I will take this opportunity to pass along another link I found the other day, which provides yet another spicy historical anecdote, this one about that very same painting of Charles I at Highclere Castle we have gazed at on our TV screens many a time:
“In the State Dining Room, the painting of Charles I on horseback by Anthony Van Dyke, circa 1633 (Queen Elizabeth II also has this painting), dominates the room and overlooks the dining table. The painting has quite a tale about it. The masterpiece, which some value at £60 million today, was found on the estate some time after the death of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell in 1658. It was rolled up and being used to prop open a barn door.”
I am pretty sure Julian Fellowes and Alastair Bruce were both well aware all along of the historical irony of a priceless painting serving during the Interrregnum as a barn doorstop (sorta like Hamlet’s dark speculation to Horatio about “the noble dust of Alexander” ending up by “stopping a bung-hole”). And so I speculate that this historical factoid sparked Fellowes’s imagination to make use of another, connected factoid—Charles the Second escaping in drag -in some clever creative way—which he did—and it’s my honor to be the viewer who detected, and explicated it!
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter