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

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The answer to my latest Jane Austen quiz: Darcy as Jesus and Eliza as Mary Magdalene

Here is the link for the hints to my latest quiz:

Two people responded, and here is the answer to my quiz:

 Elissa wrote: “Obviously the quiz writer is alluding to Christian Salvation..”

To be more precise, the verbiage I put in ALL CAPS (in those numerous quoted passages in Pride & Prejudice) all works together to generate a striking, but subliminal portrayal of the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus!

The primary allusion I have excavated is to Darcy as Jesus, and to Elizabeth as Mary Magdalene, and the heart of that allusion are the scenes of sudden, astonishing encounter of Darcy by Eliza in the shrubberies and gardens of Pemberley. These point directly, vividly, and unmistakably to Mary Magdalene in the garden of Gethsemane being the first person to whom Jesus shows himself after his resurrection. But there is also a secondary countercurrent of Elizabeth as Jesus being successfully tempted by Satan (Darcy). It’s a very rich and complex allusion.

I had first spotted Darcy as a Jesus like figure a decade ago, but only in a vague sense of his quietly and humbly performing the “miracle” of forcing Wickham to marry Lydia and thereby save the Bennet family from eternal ruin. It was only last week that I had my own first epiphany about all the textual clues for Eliza as Mary Magdalene seeing Darcy as Jesus.

Before going further, I also want to give credit to two scholars who indirectly and unwittingly paved the way for this latest interpretation of mine:

First, Joel Marcus, a prof at the Duke Divinity School, way back in 1989, wrote a brilliant scholarly article which he began as follows:
“As a New Testament scholar, I was struck, while re-reading Pride and Prejudice recently, by the many parallels between, on the one hand, the crisis of perception undergone by Elizabeth Bennet in the course of the book, and, on the other hand, the epistemological crisis evidently suffered by some first-century men and women whose experience has left its mark on the New Testament.”

And second, in 2011, our very own Anielka Briggs wrote this in Janeites:
“Back with Mansfield Park. Now recall what Mary says about having the key. Mary very specifically imagines that not everyone can wander about in the wilderness. She imagines that one person is likely to be able to get easily into the garden "in these great places the gardeners are the only people who can go where they like." Anyone spotted the allusion yet? Well, there is a very specific New Testament allusion to a Mary who mistakes someone in a garden as a gardener: Mary meets the resurrected Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and mistakes him for a gardener. Note which Mary though. It's Mary Magdalene. Look again at the chapter and you'll see that the allusions continue.”

It never occurred to Prof. Marcus that it wasn’t just Elizabeth’s conversion to “Darcyism” in P&P, it was the whole package of Jesus’s final week, that floats over P&P. And, similarly, it never occurred to Anielka that while she was spot-on in suggesting that Mary Crawford has Mary Magdalene in mind at Sotherton, this was not Jane Austen’s first literary “stroll” in the garden of Gethsemane—she had already gone there once before in P&P!

I will post in more detail later today or tomorrow about the nitty-gritty of the textual details of this extraordinary allusion in P&P. However, in the interim, for those of you who are following along here, I think it will more fun, and more valuable, if you just read through the ALL CAPS verbiage I’ve presented one more time now on your own, this time holding my interpretation firmly in hand as a “lens” to bring it into clear focus. You may also want to first take a short digression, and refresh your memories as to the (brief, poetic) descriptions of Jesus’s trial, crucifixion, and resurrection in the synoptic Gospels, so that you will be able to readily identify the punning wordplay that JA repeatedly deploys in order to constantly remind the reader of Darcy as Jesus.  I promise you that the Jesus allusions will leap off the page at you.

And speaking of allusions leaping off the page at you, that brings me to one of Diane’s excellent guesses:

Diane: “I don't know how the fish and fishing fits in--I had noticed that yesterday, the many references to fishing (which sounds biblical), a subject which had not come up before as I can remember--clearly Austen is pointing to something there. Maybe she is referencing To Penshurst ... but that would not be so dark. :) “

Yes, Diane, the Biblicality is exactly why I put all the “fish” usages in P&P in ALL CAPS! And your comment also fits perfectly with my discovery last year…
…that “To Penshurst” was clearly an allusive source for the mythical aura of Pemberley. In particular, Jonson scholars have oft noted the Christian imagery of the fish who literally “run into thy net” at Penshurst, which is Jonson’s sly way of reminding us of the resurrected Jesus miraculously generating nets full of fish for the apostles. I had not connected Pemberley as Penshurst to Darcy as Jesus, so thanks for leading me to do so!

Diane also wrote: “I will guess Dante's Inferno and the ninth circle of hell--pride--with Satan (Darcy) at the center--as the allusion? “

Diane, that is also brilliant! Although, as you can see, above, it is not what I had in mind, I also have long seen the shadow Darcy as Satan (Lucifer), and so your take on him as Satan at the center of the 9th circle of Dante’s Inferno fits perfectly with that! Especially so, given that I did write only last month about the Dante and Milton in Charles Lamb’s “Triumph of the Whale”, which is of course a key source for the “Prince of Whales” secret answer to the main charade in Emma.—there’s no question that the shadow Darcy is another “whale”, alongside Mr. Knightley.

Diane also wrote:  “I did see the typical JA sleight of hand in Darcy described as just as good and generous as his father ...”

As in “THE Father” and “THE Son”!  ;)  Which perhaps is why my personal favorite among all the parodic Jesus-drenched passages in P&P that I identified might just be:

"Yes, ma'am, that he was indeed; and HIS SON WILL BE JUST LIKE HIM—JUST AS AFFABLE TO THE POOR."

In conclusion, I will only respond to Elissa’s other lucubrations as follows, as usual merely to avoid confusion. My seeing Darcy as the convicted, crucified, and resurrected Jesus fits perfectly with my longstanding vision of Jane Austen’s radical feminist, subversive Christian shadow stories. Eliza as Mary, and Darcy as Jesus, as I see them, is Jane Austen’s dark vision of smart but clueless young women like Elizabeth being seduced and tempted into become “converts” to a religion of worship of false idols, who, Satan-like, take the disguised form of rich, powerful, handsome men like Mr. Darcy.  

Jane Austen’s novels are a virtual encyclopedia of the dangers faced by women in her world, and the artful and alluring shadow Darcy in the garden of Pemberley is one of the most dangerous of all.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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