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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Jane Austen’s “Triumph of the Wha--- of the Principal Prince-iple of Pemberley, Mr. Darcy”

While working on my followup post providing answers to the questions I posed re: 3 linked “summer” passages in P&P, my eye was caught today by an unexpected and significant meaning hidden in these memorable words spoken by Colonel Fitzwilliam in one of them. He is responding to Lizzy’s clever temptation, when she suggests (but of course does not mean) that maybe Bingley and Jane did not feel much affection for each other:

"That is not an unnatural surmise, but it is a lessening of the honour of my cousin's triumph very sadly."

In fishing for Fitzwilliam to shed light on whether Darcy knew that Jane and Bingley were in love, Lizzy is unprepared to hear that Darcy has enjoyed his interference! This sends Lizzy over the edge into an understandable fury at what she believes is Darcy’s having destroyed Jane’s chances of happiness with Bingley. Bad enough that Darcy put the kibosh on Jane’s romantic prospects, but ten times worse that Darcy then sadistically gloated to his cousin about the magnitude of the “honour” of his “triumph” in achieving that destruction.

And it was that galling word “triumph” in Fitzwilliam’s rumination that leapt out at, and startled, me today, because it simultaneously (1) made me suspect that JA meant to thereby point to Charles Lamb’s “Triumph of the Whale” and also (2) reminded me of a post I wrote 4 years ago about a parallel passage in JA’s Letter 22 dated 6/19/1799, which I had identified back then as a source for Col. Fitzwilliam’s comment about Darcy’s triumph over Jane.

First, my suspicion about Lamb’s “Triumph” in the subtext of P&P: That came to my mind, primed as it was by having recently written a post about all the ramifications of Lamb’s poem, and its punch line (“Prince of Whales”) as the secret answer of the “courtship” charade in Emma. It was only a short step to my wondering whether Jane Austen, in Emma, might have actually been reprising an earlier, less spectacular allusion, in P&P, to Lamb’s poem satirizing the Prince Regent. In other words, what if Darcy was JA’s earliest satirical representation of the “Prince of Whales”?

Second, here’s what I wrote 4 years ago about the parallel passage in JA’s Letter 22 to Cassandra:

“I cannot help thinking from your account of Mrs. Earle Harwood that Earle’s vanity has tempted him to invent the account of her former way of Life, that his TRIUMPH in securing her might be GREATER—I dare say she was nothing but an innocent Country Girl in fact.”

“[T]here is…a very unsavory but unmistakable echo in that description of Earle Harwood's gloating "triumph" in Letter #22 of Colonel Fitzwilliam's tactless comments while talking to Lizzy about Darcy's gloating "triumph" in having successfully separated Bingley from Jane. I read this allusion as working in two directions--first, it suggests to me that JA felt strongly enough about Earle Harwood's crude insult to his wife's reputation to memorialize (actually, to "notorietize") it for all posterity in her novel; and, second, it also suggests to me that Colonel Fitzwilliam is broadly hinting that Darcy, tempted by his vanity, has referred to Jane not merely as coming from a vulgar, upstart family, but that Jane actually had been a slut herself--which is what Earle Harwood has apparently suggested about his blushing bride! And, just like what JA wrote about Princess Caroline vis a vis the Prince Regent, my feeling is that in Letter #22, as always, JA ultimately would take the side of the woman in cases of transgressive behavior, because of the gender power differential.
And, in conclusion, perhaps the word "slut" is not strong enough to describe Earle Harwood's smearing of his wife's reputation----when we think about JA describing the future Mrs. Earle Harwood as an "innocent country girl", it leads me inexorably back to JA's Letter #7, written two years earlier, in which JA covertly alluded to Hogarth's Harlot's Progress engraving of the fat woman who tempts a "young country girl" into prostitution with "small beer". And that makes the connection to Darcy all the more disturbing.”  END QUOTE FROM MY 2011 POST

However, it never occurred to me when I mentioned the Prince and Princess in passing in my 2011 post, that Jane Austen herself had at the time of writing Letter 22 made that association between Earle Harwood and the Prince Regent, who was already, in 1799, notorious for his rakish contempt for his wife Princess Caroline.

But it did today, as I realize now for the first time that Jane Austen likely was prompted by reading the word “Triumph” in Lamb’s poem title in March 1812, to recycle in P&P the “triumph” verbiage from Letter 22, as part of her allusion to the Prince Regent, defamer of his wife’s reputation, as Darcy, defamer of Jane Bennet’s reputation. The rest of this post is my further unpacking of the implications of that realization.

First, on a hunch, I quickly checked for any other usage of “triumph” in P&P associated specifically with Darcy, knowing that JA’s m.o. was to wink a textual confirmation of the significance of a word to her alert readers via just such an echo. And lo and behold, I indeed found a textual smoking gun that validated my hunch! I suggest that it is clear, upon consideration, that Darcy’s sadistic feelings of “triumph”, as reported by Colonel Fitzwilliam in Chapter 33, are unmistakably echoed, in a shocking and very Freudian reversal, in Chapter 50, in Lizzy’s own thoughts!:

“What a TRIUMPH for [Darcy], as she OFTEN thought, could he know that the proposals which she had proudly spurned only four months ago, would now have been most gladly and gratefully received! He was as generous, she doubted not, as the most generous of his sex; but while he was mortal, there must be a TRIUMPH.”

Once we hear this echo, and think about it, it is shocking. Here we see a very dwindled Elizabeth, no longer fearlessly standing up to male privilege and narcissism, but instead overpowered by self loathing and regrets (to use Mrs. Gardiner’s expression, “savouring of disappointment”) for having refused Darcy’s first proposal. She tasted sour grapes when Wickham dumped her to try for Miss King, but that earlier sourness was nothing next to what was insulting her heart’s “taste buds” in self-inflicted torments over having (apparently) lost Darcy forever.

And note that little word “often”, which reveals that Eliza is not just having a particularly bad day---she has not just had this thought once, she has often thought it, meaning she is obsessed with Darcy, as she keeps wishing, wishing, wishing that somehow she can hit the Rewind button, put the genie back in the bottle, and magically receive Darcy’s proposal again, so that this time she can accept it.

And that “triumph” is the final brilliant touch of Austenian wordplay, because it subtly underscores how utterly Eliza has capitulated, in so short a time, in reversing her former feelings about Darcy. It reveals that she has not yet lost her original self, she is still unconsciously repressing it, and that is why she now adopts (albeit unconsciously) Fitzwilliam’s verbiage that was so casually and cruelly degrading to Jane. Her mind appropriates verbiage which was formerly so infuriating to her, in order to accord Darcy the hypothetical honour and privilege not only of feelings of proud triumph over herself, but of her immediately excusing those feelings as justified by her own error in having refused him! As if, by giving him that privilege to revel in his sadistic triumph, by groveling even more, she could somehow induce Darcy to show her mercy and repropose.

And that brings me right back to Lamb’s poem, which derives its title from its mocking portrayal of the Prince Regent as a conquering hero and man of power, with dominion over a host of obedient subjects (flat-fish, seals, and crooked dolphins) who circle around his massive bulk. In P&P, this gives extra hidden meaning to the repeated motif of fish I have mentioned in the past, with women as objects to be obtained (whether at cards, or by fishing). In particular, we read the following passage, unique among all of JA’s writing on the subject of fishing, with fresh satirical eyes:

“The conversation soon turned upon fishing; and she heard Mr. Darcy invite him, with the greatest civility, to fish there as often as he chose while he continued in the neighbourhood, offering at the same time to supply him with fishing tackle, and pointing out those parts of the stream where there was usually most sport….”

And finally, it also occurred to me to check to see if the homophonic words “principal” & “principle” might have been used by JA as puns on the word “prince”, so as to deliberately associate Mr. Darcy with the real life Prince of W(h)ales in yet another bit of subliminal wordplay.

It didn’t take me long to find another textual smoking gun in the passage near the end of P&P when Darcy explains himself to Elizabeth at the end of P&P in terms that ring uncannily true of the real life Prince Regent:

“I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in PRINCIPLE. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good PRINCIPLES, but left to follow them in pride and conceit.”

How punny (and funny) for an aristocratic “prince” to refer to himself as having been selfish “in principle”, in spite of having been “given good principles”!

But that’s not all, there are also these punny passages as well:

Jane’s report to Lizzy: “…Mr. Bingley does not know the whole of [Wickham’s] history, and is quite ignorant of the circumstances which have PRINCIPALLY offended Mr. Darcy…”  Wickham is the defiant usurper who has repeatedly offended the “prince”, Darcy!

Lizzy’s accusation of Darcy: "I have every reason in the world to think ill of you. No motive can excuse the unjust and ungenerous part you acted there. You dare not, you cannot deny, that you have been the PRINCIPAL, if not the only means of dividing them from each other—of exposing one to the censure of the world for caprice and instability, and the other to its derision for disappointed hopes, and involving them both in misery of the acutest kind."  Darcy has used his power as “prince” over his overly servile “courtier” Bingley to separate him from Jane.

Darcy’s defense of his treatment of Wickham: “As for myself, it is many, many years since I first began to think of him in a very different manner. The vicious propensities—the want of PRINCIPLE, which he was careful to guard from the knowledge of his best friend, could not escape the observation of a young man of nearly the same age with himself, and who had opportunities of seeing him in unguarded moments, which Mr. Darcy could not have.”  “The want of principle” can refer to Wickham NOT being the “prince” (heir) of Pemberley, even though he was a favorite of the “king”, the late Mr. Darcy, and so Wickham is suffering from an acute case of “want of [being a] prince” (which itself is a further ironic echo of the famous opening sentence of the novel about a single man being in want of a wife!)

Lizzy reflecting on Darcy after reading his letter: “in farther justification of Mr. Darcy, …she had never, in the whole course of their acquaintance—an acquaintance which had latterly brought them much together, and given her a sort of intimacy with his ways—seen anything that betrayed him to be UNPRINCIPLED or unjust—anything that spoke him of irreligious or immoral habits…” Just as Lizzy later jokes to Jane about falling in love with Darcy when she saw Pemberley, the pun here suggests that Darcy’s being a “prince” is part of what justifies Darcy to Lizzy.

Narration about the beauties of the “principality” of  Pemberley:  “To the little town of Lambton, the scene of Mrs. Gardiner's former residence, and where she had lately learned some acquaintance still remained, they bent their steps, after having seen all the PRINCIPAL wonders of the country; and within five miles of Lambton, Elizabeth found from her aunt that Pemberley was situated….The picture-gallery, and two or three of the PRINCIPAL bedrooms, were all that remained to be shown. “

Lizzy explaining Darcy’s cleaning up of the Wickham Lydia mess: “It was reasonable that he should feel he had been wrong; he had liberality, and he had the means of exercising it; and though she would not place herself as his PRINCIPAL inducement, she could, perhaps, believe that remaining partiality for her might assist his endeavours in a cause where her peace of mind must be materially concerned.”

Lizzy thumbing her nose at Lady Catherine: "Neither duty, nor honour, nor gratitude," replied Elizabeth, "have any possible claim on me, in the present instance. No PRINCIPLE of either would be violated by my marriage with Mr. Darcy….” Lizzy famously defies Lady C, and in effect says, Darcy’s being a “prince” does not place him above her.

Mr. Bennet telling Lizzy: "I have received a letter this morning that has astonished me exceedingly. As it PRINCIPALLY concerns yourself, you ought to know its contents. I did not know before, that I had two daughters on the brink of matrimony. Let me congratulate you on a very important conquest." One last time, Mr. Collins’s letter is “principally” concerns Lizzy, because it is about Darcy the “prince” being engaged to Lizzy.

And finally, everything I have claimed, above, is also consistent with the chronology of this allusion to the Prince Regent in Darcy. It fits perfectly with extratextual evidence of Jane Austen’s opportunity and motive, if you will, for hiding such a satirical portrait of the Prince Regent in plain sight in her “light, bright, & sparkling” novel, the surprise toast of the literati of London.

Lamb’s satirical poem was first published anonymously in March 1812, more than nine months before P&P was published. Therefore JA had enough time, during her famous final lopping and cropping, to have read and admired Lamb’s poem, and then to have woven it into the subtext of P&P via her usual clever wordplay, and to hope that the sharpest elves among her readers might still have Lamb’s poem in their minds.

Plus…we know that the Prince Regent was particularly on JA’s mind in a very bad way in early 1813, right after she published P&P, when she wrote these famous words to her trusted friend Martha Lloyd, with whom JA did not need to pull any punches: “I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales's Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband -- but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself ``attached & affectionate' to a Man whom she must detest -- & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad -- I do not know what to do about it; but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. --"

While it is true that JA wrote these words in the immediate aftermath of the scandal that exploded into the English tabloids about the Prince and Princess’s latest matrimonial fracas, it also seems clear to me that JA’s hatred of the Prince (written without any apparent irony) did not spring up suddenly, but had been brewing in her mind and heart over a period of many years.

And so, I believe that Jane Austen had consciously alluded to the personage of the Prince Regent in the character of Mr. Darcy long before she read Lamb’s March 1812 poem --- but when it came along, she was opportunistic, and it provided her with more fuel for her satirical fire while she was finalizing the novel, as she also recalled her own Letter 22, written 14 years earlier, about Earle Harwood.

Cheers, ARNIE
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