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Monday, August 3, 2015

Answer to my latest quiz: "fingering" Darcy & Lovelace as darkly Machiavellian "twins"



Cutting right to the chase: I expected that the two correct answers to my quiz (Clarissa by Richardson & Pride & Prejudice by Austen) would occur to anyone familiar with 18th-19th century English novels. I’ll quickly run through all the parallels between Clarissa and P&P except the two most extraordinary ones, which I save for last, and which, I assure you, justify the “unbecoming conjunction” in my Subject Line:

ONE: It was published more than two hundred years ago:  Clarissa (1748) & Pride & Prejudice (1813)

TWO: In its original form, it was epistolary:  Clarissa was originally epistolary, and remained so. P&P was originally First Impressions, an epistolary manuscript no longer in existence.

THREE: It is universally acknowledged to be one of the greatest novels ever written, along with several other novels written by the same author.   Obviously the case with both of these novels.

FOUR: Its author is widely considered to have been a highly influential literary innovator, who has cast a very long shadow over the history of the novel, and who has provided grist for the mill of hundreds of scholarly articles, books, and dissertations: Again, obviously….

FIVE: In the first half of the novel, the heroine is nearly forced by her family to marry an odious, repulsive man, but she is fortunate to avoid that fate: Clarissa is pushed by her entire family to marry Mr. Solmes, whereupon she allows Lovelace to take her away. Elizabeth is pushed by her mother to marry Mr. Collins, but her father lets her off the hook.

SIX: The novel’s plot includes at least one attempted sexual seduction by a hardened rake.
Clarissa & Lovelace  AND Georgiana & Wickham.

NINE: The heroine is referred to in various ways as having bewitched a leading male character: Words like “witch”, “bewitched”, “arts and allurements” and “enchantment” are used to derogatorily describe both Clarissa and Elizabeth, as temptresses for Lovelace and Darcy, respectively.

TEN: The heroine is the favorite of a male ancestor, whose partiality for her is resented within the family:
Clarissa’s grandfather dotes on her, which infuriates her siblings, AND Elizabeth’s father dotes on her, which irritates her mother.

ELEVEN: There is a war of words between the man and the woman for a goodly portion of the novel:
Again, obviously….

As to the above, so far, to paraphrase Horatio, there needed no independent scholar come from the weirdness of Portland, Oregon, to inform the literary world that one of the principal allusive sources for Jane Austen’s fiction was the fiction of Samuel Richardson. That’s very old news. However, what has only been a minority report up till now has been the counterintuitive connection between the tragedy of Clarissa and the light, bright, and sparkling comedy of Pride & Prejudice.

Here are two “Blooming” scholarly formulations of the sort of broad, subconscious, not-very-surprising influence which mainstream Austen scholarship has perceived in that regard prior to the present:

Donald A. Bloom, “The Romantic Power of the Witty Heroine” 1994: “…Darcy is a very imposing figure, not only rich and well born, tall and good looking, but highly intelligent and well educated. Even if he is no seducer of the Lovelace sort, nor even a Rochester, she must regard him as a dangerous and intimidating figure. ….Thus, the contest between Elizabeth and Darcy, unlike the usual battle of the sexes plot, begins with her genuine dislike of him….When they are thrown together at Bingley’s house by Jane’s illness, we find that they are not bickering like Beatrice and Benedick, but simply working and thinking at cross purposes, like a comic Lovelace and Clarissa. Darcy has no idea how suspicious Elizabeth is of his arrogant aloofness, while she has no idea how intrigued he is becoming by her ‘fine eyes’…”

Harold Bloom’s intro to Elizabeth Bennet (2009):  “…Austen is the daughter of Richardson….Her inwardness is an ironic revision of Richardson’s extraordinary conversion of English Protestant sensibility into the figure of Clarissa Harlowe, and her own moral and spiritual concerns fuse in the crucial need of her heroines to sustain their individual integrities, a need so intense that it compels them to fall into those errors about life that are necessary for life…In this too they follow, though in a comic register, the pattern of their tragic precursor, the magnificent but sublimely flawed Clarissa Harlowe.
…Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse….are Clarissa Harlowe’s direct descendants….But they belong to the secular age; Clarissa Harlowe is poised upon the threshold that leads from the Protestant religion to a purely secular sainthood.….Doubtless, Austen’s religious ideas were as profound as Samuel Richardson’s were shallow, but Emma and Clarissa are Protestant novels without being in any way religious….What is tragedy in Clarissa becomes serious or moral comedy in P&P and Emma…There is also a transcendent strength to Elizabeth’s will that raises her above that cosmos, in a mode that returns us to Clarissa Harlowe’s transcendence of her society, of Lovelace, and even of everything in herself that is not the will to a self esteem that has also made an accurate estimate of every other will to pride it ever has encountered.…[Eliza’s] wit is Mr. Bennet’s, refined and elaborated, but her will, and her pride in her will, returns us to Clarissa’s Puritan passion to maintain the power of the self to confer esteem, and to accept esteem only in response to its bestowal…”

And that’s pretty much where things stood re connections between Clarissa and Pride & Prejudice till two days ago, as I was reading along in Terry Eagleton’s How to Read Literature, and my gaze was arrested by the following statement:   “In Richardson's Clarissa, we are told that the sexually voracious Lovelace, who is also a great scribbler of letters, ‘has always a pen in his fingers when he retires’. Richardson is surely aware of the double meaning.”

I instantly recognized the parallel between Eagleton’s catch in Clarissa and the witty sexual innuendo that I and a handful of other Janeite scholars have previously noted in the following passage in Chapter 10 of P&P (I’ll explain the ALL CAPS words very shortly):

“…Mr. Darcy was WRITING, and Miss Bingley, seated near him, was watching the progress of his letter and repeatedly calling off his attention by messages to his sister. Mr. Hurst and Mr. Bingley were at piquet, and Mrs. Hurst was observing their game.
Elizabeth took up some needlework, and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and HIS COMPANION. The perpetual commendations of the lady, either on his HANDWRITING, or on the EVENNESS of his lines, or on the length of his letter, with the perfect unconcern with which her praises were received, formed a curious dialogue, and was exactly in union with her opinion of each.
"How DELIGHTED Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!"
He made no answer.
"You WRITE uncommonly FAST."
"You are mistaken. I write rather slowly."
"How many LETTERS you must have occasion to write in the course of a year! Letters of business, too! How odious I should think them!"
"It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of yours."
"Pray tell your sister that I long to see her."
"I have already told her so once, by your desire."
"I am afraid you do not like your PEN. Let me mend it for you. I mend PENS remarkably well."
"Thank you—but I always mend my own."
"How can you contrive to WRITE so EVEN?"
He was silent.
"Tell your sister I am DELIGHTED to hear of her improvement on the harp; and pray let her know that I am quite in raptures with her beautiful little design for a table, and I think it infinitely superior to Miss Grantley's."
"Will you give me leave to defer your raptures till I write again? At present I have not room to do them justice."
"Oh! it is of no consequence. I shall see her in January. But do you always write such charming long letters to her, Mr. Darcy?"
"They are generally long; but whether always charming it is not for me to determine."
"It is a rule with me, that a person who can write a long LETTER with ease, cannot write ill."
"That will not do for a compliment to Darcy, Caroline," cried her brother, "because he does not write with ease. He studies too much for words of four syllables. Do not you, Darcy?"
"My style of WRITING is very different from yours."
"Oh!" cried Miss Bingley, "Charles WRITES in the most careless way imaginable. He leaves out half his words, and blots the rest."
"My IDEAS FLOW so RAPIDLY that I have not time to express them—by which means my LETTERS sometimes convey no ideas at all to my correspondents."
"Your humility, Mr. Bingley," said Elizabeth, "must disarm reproof."

So, imagine my astonished delight when, a moment later, Google brought me to the full quotation that Eagleton had noticed and flagged in Clarissa, in a letter written by BFF Anna Howe to Clarissa about Lovelace, and I read the following:

“[Lovelace] DELIGHTS in WRITING. Whether at Lord M.'s, or at Lady Betty's, or Lady Sarah's, he has always a PEN in his FINGERS when he retires. One of HIS COMPANIONS (confirming his love of WRITING) has told [Mrs. Fortescue], that his thoughts FLOW RAPIDLY to his PEN: And you and I, my dear, have observed, on more occasions than one, that though he WRITES EVEN a fine HAND, he is one of the readiest and quickest of writers.”

I believe my reason for the ALL CAPS words in that P&P passage---about Darcy and Bingley writing letters, and their contrasting handwriting styles---will now be crystal clear. I.e., they’re the very same words which appear in the above, very short passage in Clarissa describing Lovelace’s handwriting style! And the payoff is that both passages, it should also be obvious (and as I described in Parameter SEVEN) are laden with clever sexual innuendo centered on the phallic symbol of a “pen” (use your imagination to decode the rest of the ALL CAPS imagery).

And that would have been more than enough to upend mainstream scholarly interpretations of JA’s writing as not having conscious sexual content. But that’s only the half of it. My Parameter EIGHT… [There is a scene when the taking of pains or trouble to attain mastery of a skill by a man who has always had things his way in life is explicitly discussed, in verbiage that also is laden with clever and suggestive sexual innuendo]…just happens to also apply BOTH to THE VERY NEXT PARAGRAPH in Anna Howe’s letter to Clarissa…

“[Lovelace] must indeed have had early a very docile genius; since a person of his pleasurable turn and active spirit, could never have submitted TO TAKE LONG OR GREAT PAINS in attaining the qualifications he is MASTER of; qualifications so seldom attained by youth of quality and fortune; by such especially of those of either, who, like him, have never known what it was to be controuled.”

…AND ALSO to the repartee between Darcy and Eliza at Rosings in Chapter 31 of P&P, that I have previously identified as sexual repartee:

"Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this?" said Elizabeth, still addressing Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?"
"I can answer your question," said Fitzwilliam, "without applying to him. It is because HE WILL NOT GIVE HIMSELF THE TROUBLE."
"I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done."
"My FINGERS," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the MASTERLY manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or RAPIDITY, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I will not TAKE THE TROUBLE of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution."
Darcy smiled and said, "You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers."

I suggest you now take whatever time you need to reread the above quoted passages from Clarissa and P&P a few times, taking special note of the ALL CAPS words. If you invest that short amount of time, you will see why I believe this is a true smoking gun, in terms of proving beyond any reasonable doubt that the sexualized parallels between Richardson’s tragedy and Austen’s comedy are entirely the result of conscious artistry on Jane Austen’s part.

Just think about fingers holding flowing ink-filled pens, and fingers rapidly flying over a responsive set of black and white keys, and how readily that imagery translates into sexual repartee of the most brilliant and sparkling sophistication.  And as if that weren’t enough, speaking of fingers, add into the mix one other passage from Clarissa in a letter from Lovelace to his bro, Belford, that I am now certain was also grokked by Jane Austen:

“I long to know what Miss Howe wrote to her friend, in order to induce her to marry the despicable plotter: the man whose friendship is no credit to any body! the wicked, wicked man. Thou hadst the two letters in thy hand. Had they been in mine, THE SEAL WOULD HAVE YIELDED TO THE TOUCH OF MY WARM FINGER, [perhaps without the help of the post-office bullet] AND THE FOLDS, AS OTHER PLICATIONS HAVE DONE, OPENED OF THEMSELVES TO OBLIGE MY CURIOSITY. A wicked omission, Jack, not contrive to send them down to me, by man and horse!...”

The outrageous sexual imagery in that passage has been noted a half dozen times since James H. Maddox first spotted it in 1982, but I am the first to realize that Jane Austen was already there by 1813 (and probably much earlier), recognizing Richardson’s sly sexual innuendo, and paying it the sincerest homage, by extending it in those two virtuosic passages in P&P! And, for that matter, we also can now see a surprising source for all the suggestive “lock”, “key”, “folds” imagery in the nighttime scenes at the Abbey when Catherine Morland awakens to her own sexuality.

And finally, I cannot imagine a more dramatic confirmation, based on the above, that Jane Austen chose to hide in plain sight an allusion in the character of the supposedly morally upstanding, scrupulously honest Mr. Darcy in P&P to the debauched, Machiavellian character of Lovelace in Clarissa—and as icing on the cake, to flag those two consecutive sexualized passages in Clarissa and reinvent them in two separate sexualized passages in P&P!

Now, as to what this all means beyond the above, it will have to suffice for today that I claim this is yet another dark “shade” of Mr. Darcy to add to the twenty I’ve recently collected here….
…from posts of mine during the past few years .

This is Jane Austen alerting the sharp elves reading P&P who knew Clarissa well (as she obviously did) that the shadow Darcy is a very dark figure indeed, and much much more like the Protean Lovelace (to borrow Jocelyn Harris’s descriptor) than has ever been dreamt of in the philosophy of conservative and mainstream Austen scholars. Put another way, this is Jane Austen whispering to generations of readers so taken with the sophisticated romance of the overt story of P&P, that they have never been able to “adjust their ideas” to also allow for the possibility of a sophisticated dark cautionary tale about the danger of romantic thinking coexisting right alongside the romance, each in its own parallel fictional universe.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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