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Friday, April 24, 2015

The “Hookup” linking Lady Bertram’s Carpet-Work, James I’s Carr-pet, & LM Montgomery’s Rug-Hooking



In her excellent literary blog, fellow Janeite and JASNA member Sarah Emsley wrote the following  post today:

“The Secret Diary of L.M. Montgomery and Nora Lefurgey”

In relevant part, Sarah wrote:   “Inspired by what Emily [Midorikawa] and Emma Claire [Sweeney] wrote about the secret joint diary, Sue [Lange] sent me an excerpt from the book she’s working on, called Hooked on Montgomery: The Hooked and Braided Rugs in the Life of L.M. Montgomery, and with her permission, I’m pleased to share it with all of you here.. This month…I’ve been rereading Anne of Windy Poplars and thinking about Montgomery’s novels again….Next Friday I’ll post about Anne of Windy Poplars (and the reason I don’t like it very much…)  END QUOTE

After reading the excerpt Sarah quoted from Sue Lange’s book-in-progress, I have the following comments regarding what I believe is a major overlooked implication of Montgomery’s striking focus on rug hooking. I first recommend an excellent article written a decade ago: “Bosom Friends: Lesbian Desire in LM Montgomery’s Anne Books” by Laura Robinson, in Canadian Literature, Spring 2004, # 180, ppg. 12-28. In particular Robinson’s introductory paragraph speaks volumes--she begins with a quotation of Montgomery protesting too much to herself, so to speak:

“ “I am not a Lesbian," fifty-eight-year-old L.M. Montgomery wrote in her journal in response to an increasingly problematic relationship with Isobel,1 a female schoolteacher in her late twenties (Selected Journals 8 Feb 1932). One might think that Montgomery protests too much, especially since she also, intriguingly, claims to understand the "horrible craving" of the lesbian "much better than [Isobel] understands it herself" (SJ 24 June 1932). Yet Montgomery convincingly represents Isobel's relentless pursuit as pathological. The younger woman threatened suicide and professed undying love for the novelist: "I'll die without you. You've always shone like a golden star in my life . . ." (SJ 8 Feb 1932). Montgomery was disturbed yet fascinated by Isobel's interest in her, labelling Isobel an "unconscious" lesbian (10 June 1932). In Anne of Windy Poplars (1936), a novel published four years after these entries, Montgomery depicts a relationship that seems to draw on her own experience with Isobel. As I will discuss in detail later, Anne pursues a friendship with an unhappy spinster schoolteacher, Katherine Brooke. Katherine voices feelings for Anne that echo Isobel's for Montgomery…”

The rest of Robinson’s article makes equally compelling reading. For today, I want to tie Robinson’s basic thesis to Montgomery’s curious obsession with rug hooking, and I give full credit to Jane Austen for sensitizing me to see this point. I.e, what immediately came to my mind as I read Sue Lange’s account was the section of my recent presentation (at both the JASNA AGM in Montreal last October, and also my re-presentation of same to the Portland, Oregon JASNA Chapter), in which I presented a parade of sexual puns and slang hidden in plain sight in Mansfield Park, as follows:

“For those of you who haven’t believed a word of it about Mary’s pun on “rears” as human bottoms being subjected to human “vices”, there is one other place in Mansfield Park  where “rear” appears within a single word, and thirteen others where the word appears in the same disguised form of “r ear” as it does in Shakespeare’s bottom joke hidden in plain sight in Antony’s appeal to “your REARS”. I hope that a 1-minute tour through those 14 usages, with sexual puns in bold italics, will give you pause, because each one just happens to appear in a sexualized context”

In that quick tour of Austenian sexual quotes, I included the 16-year old Jane Austen’s History of England Sharade on James the First and his male pet Carr (“car-pet”) as being echoed in the passage about Tom and Yates’s “friendship, if friendship it might be called”, and I also referred to the usually passive Lady Bertram’s remarkably strong reaction to her handsome husband returning home after a LONG absence:

“By not one of the circle was he listened to with such unbroken, UNALLOYED ENJOYMENT as by his wife, who was really extremely happy to see him, and whose feelings were so WARMED by his sudden arrival as to place her nearer AGITATION than she had been for the last twenty years. She had been almost fluttered for a few minutes, and still remained so sensibly animated as to put away her work, move Pug from her side, and give all her attention and all the rest of her sofa to her husband. She had no anxieties for anybody to cloud HER PLEASURE: her own time had been irreproachably spent during his absence: she had done a great deal of carpet-work, and made many yards of fringe; and she would have answered as freely for the good conduct and useful pursuits of all the young people as for her own. It was so agreeable to her to see him again, and hear him talk, to have heR EAR AMUSED and HER wHOLE comprehension FILLED by his narratives, that she began particularly to feel how dreadfully she must have missed him, and how impossible it would have been for her TO BEAR a LENGTHENED absence.”

The capitalized words reveal most of the numerous sexual puns hidden in plain sight (Lady B having her rear amused and her hole filled are my favorites), which suggest that Lady Bertram is very VERY happy to see her husband again, after those many months of separation. But the part that connects directly to the rug-hooking obsession of LM Montgomery is the following:

“…She had no anxieties for anybody to cloud HER PLEASURE: her own time had been irreproachably spent during his absence: SHE HAD DONE A GREAT DEAL OF CARPET-WORK, and MADE MANY YARDS OF FRINGE….”

Hmmm… Does this suggest that, like sailors at sea availing themselves of the sexual partners at hand, Lady Bertram has made do with a female sexual partner (yes, I am thinking of Fanny, eventually replaced by Susan!) during her husband’s absence? I think so, and if I am right, then “carpet” refers to the female sexual organ (which it resembles) in the Jane Austen Code, both in works written by Jane Austen when she was 16, and again when she was 38, suggesting it was far from a (forgive my pun) “fleeting” definition. And I assure you that there are several other passages referring to rugs and carpets scattered in JA’s other writings which are also interesting, sexual innuendo-wise.

My point in all this being that it is then extremely plausible to speculate that the hooking of rugs may well have carried a very similar hidden meaning in the secret lexicon of LM Montgomery’s fiction. And that would make especially great sense, given that Montgomery was convincingly shown to have been an avid Janeite by another JASNA member, Miriam Rheingold Fuller, here:
“Jane of Green Gables: L. M. Montgomery’s Reworking of Austen’s Legacy”

Just think about how perfectly (and in accordance with Occam’s Razor, how simply) reading “rug-hooking” as code for lesbian sex fits with the following briefly quoted comments from Lange’s book:

 “L.M. Montgomery and her friend Nora Lefurgey make a number of witty references to rug hooking in the collaborative “burlesque” diary they kept from January to June 1903, in which they catalogued their various larks and jokes…. Within a few months of arriving, Lefurgey moved…to board…with Montgomery and her grandmother. Montgomery & Lefurgey would share a lifelong friendship, despite losing contact at some points. The diary primarily revolves around the alleged pursuit of potential male suitors. In the midst of the teasing banter between the two women…are several humorous and informative references to rug hooking….”

Sounds to me just like Harriet Smith virtually moving in with Emma, and like Martha Lloyd actually moving in at Chawton Cottage with the Austen women (and JA referring to Mrs. Stent ejaculating about cocks and hens in her 1800 letter to Martha). I’ve argued many times in the past that Jane Austen and Martha Lloyd appear to have a long-term complicated lesbian love relationship.

But back to Montgomery. Lange refers to gossip about rug-hooking: “If Mrs. “Will Sandy” was hooking rugs for her son over the winter it certainly could have set local tongues wagging with speculation that a wedding announcement was imminent.” Or was it gossip about something else?

Re “the connection between rug-making and suitors”, and Montgomery’s mock outrage “at this slur”, I think Lange is missing the deeper, coded point when she explains “One can understand why Lefurgey was somewhat dubious about Montgomery’s motives, as most consider the task of cutting rags mundane and dreary. The exchange between the two young friends illustrates that rug hooking at that time was a means to gain favour with a beau and a legitimate way to spend time socially with a suitor’s family.” Maybe it was a means to something else entirely!

A lesbian interpretation adds a droll unintended ironic humor to Lange’s averring “The secret diary shows how popular the practice of rug hooking was in P.E.I. at the beginning of the 20th century. It was not only Montgomery’s older female relatives, such as her aunt Annie Campbell, who participated, but also her contemporaries, including Lefurgey and Lucy Macneill.” I would not be surprised if it was indeed more popular a practice than has heretofore been recognized!

And perhaps Montgomery’s grandmother’s intolerance “towards strangers who came to the house” was about the sexual aspects of Montgomery’s social rug-hooking activities.

And finally this from Sarah’s postscript:  “…I couldn’t resist continuing with Anne of Windy Poplars …I came across this comment from Marilla about the braided rugs she plans to give Anne for her new house. Trust Anne to want something old-fashioned instead of the latest thing. “I’m giving Anne that half dozen braided rugs I have in the garret. I never supposed she’d want them – they’re so old-fashioned, and nobody seems to want anything but hooked mats now. But she asked me for them – said she’d rather have them than anything else for her floors. They are pretty. I made them of the nicest rags, and braided them in stripes. It was such company these last few winters.”  

Indeed, Lady Bertram!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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