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

Monday, October 19, 2015

John Thorpe & Tybalt Capulet: Evil Twins!

As I often do shortly after posting a discovery following a few hours of writing it up, I take a short break and then reread what I’ve just written, and see if anything else comes to my mind that I can add in followup. In this case, after posting earlier today.... instinct directed me to delve deeper into Parallel THREE between Romeo & Juliet and Northanger Abbey:  

“Significant romantic development takes place between hero and heroine at a large festive gathering with dancing: The romance between Romeo & Juliet, and between Henry and Catherine, heats up in both cases at large festive dances, the former chez Capulet, the latter in the Pump Room at Bath. “

In my previous post, I went on to quote Father Capulet’s pointed exhortation to the assembled guests to dance, and then Henry Tilney’s witty and profound teasing of Catherine regarding “country-dance as an emblem of marriage”. But I realized upon revisiting that I had been a little offcenter in my explanation. I.e., the parallel was more striking and beautiful than that. What popped out at me was that Shakespeare, without giving any explicit stage directions, had, by the dialog between Romeo and Juliet, already subtly alerted the reader of his play text that they have begun to dance when they speak their love sonnet together, and, similarly Austen had alerted her readers that her young lovers have already begun to dance when they have their memorably romantic exchange.

When I Googled a bit to see if anyone else had previously noted this deeper parallel, imagine my surprise and delight when I saw that Ellen Moody, way back in April 1999, had written the following brilliant question to her readers in her blog:    “Any comments on the metaphor between marriage and dance with which Henry and Catherine play? It always puts me in mind of Romeo and Juliet speaking their sonnet together.”

Indeed, Ellen! I felt a rush of validation---Of course! Romeo and Juliet speak their famous sonnet together while they are dancing, and so the rhythm of their dance movements corresponds to the rhythm of the verses of the sonnet that they trade back and forth---until the very end, when they stop and kiss! Here is that sonnet, showing who speaks which verses:

If I profane with my unworthiest hand                     R
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:                    R
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand             R
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.         R

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,     J
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;                    J
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,  J
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.                      J

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?                R

[End of “sonnet”]

Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged.            R
Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!                 R
Give me my sin again.                                                    R
You kiss by the book.                                                      J

And so that scene is mirrored perfectly by Henry and Catherine being in the beginning of their dancing when he teases her with his definition of marriage!:

”Her partner now drew near, and said, "That gentleman would have put me out of patience, had he stayed with you half a minute longer. He has no business to withdraw the attention of my partner from me. We have entered into a contract of mutual agreeableness for the space of an evening, and all our agreeableness belongs solely to each other for that time. Nobody can fasten themselves on the notice of one, without injuring the rights of the other. …I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not choose to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours."
"But they are such very different things!"
"—That you think they cannot be compared together."
"To be sure not. People that marry can never part, but must go and keep house together. People that dance only stand opposite each other in a long room for half an hour."
"And such is your definition of matrimony and dancing. Taken in that light certainly, their resemblance is not striking; but I think I could place them in such a view. You will allow, that in both, man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal; that in both, it is an engagement between man and woman, formed for the advantage of each; and that when once entered into, they belong exclusively to each other till the moment of its dissolution; that it is their duty, each to endeavour to give the other no cause for wishing that he or she had bestowed themselves elsewhere, and their best interest to keep their own imaginations from wandering towards the perfections of their neighbours, or fancying that they should have been better off with anyone else. You will allow all this?"
"Yes, to be sure, as you state it, all this sounds very well; but still they are so very different. I cannot look upon them at all in the same light, nor think the same duties belong to them." …

So, Ellen’s intuition was spot on, even though she had not realized why she had felt that resonance so strongly. And….that’s when I realized that there is an even stronger smoking gun in the texts of both R&J and NA, which makes it ten times more certain that this was an intentional allusion by Jane Austen. If we rewind to the immediate preceding action in both of the above scenes, we find an even more striking parallel.

First, just as Romeo begins dancing with Juliet, there is a sudden attempted but unsuccessful interruption of their dancing by a rude, aggressive young man connected to Juliet who feels no love lost for Romeo—Juliet’s cousin Tybalt:


And, in remarkably parallel fashion, just as Henry begins dancing with Catherine, an attempt is made to  interrupt their dancing by a rude aggressive young man connected (via Isabella) to Catherine, who hardly feels warm feelings toward Henry Tilney---John Thorpe!:

“…Thorpe was still in view, and she gave herself up for lost. That she might not appear, however, to observe or expect him, she kept her eyes intently fixed on her fan; and a self-condemnation for her folly, in supposing that among such a crowd they should even meet with the Tilneys in any reasonable time, had just passed through her mind, when she suddenly found herself addressed and again solicited to dance, by Mr. Tilney himself. With what sparkling eyes and ready motion she granted his request, and with how pleasing a flutter of heart she went with him to the set, may be easily imagined. To escape, and, as she believed, so narrowly escape John Thorpe, and to be asked, so immediately on his joining her, asked by Mr. Tilney, as if he had sought her on purpose!—it did not appear to her that life could supply any greater felicity.
Scarcely had they worked themselves into the quiet possession of a place, however, when her attention was claimed by John Thorpe, who stood behind her. "Heyday, Miss Morland!" said he. "What is the meaning of this? I thought you and I were to dance together."
"I wonder you should think so, for you never asked me."
"That is a good one, by Jove! I asked you as soon as I came into the room, and I was just going to ask you again, but when I turned round, you were gone! This is a cursed shabby trick! I only came for the sake of dancing with you, and I firmly believe you were engaged to me ever since Monday. Yes; I remember, I asked you while you were waiting in the lobby for your cloak. And here have I been telling all my acquaintance that I was going to dance with the prettiest girl in the room; and when they see you standing up with somebody else, they will quiz me famously."
"Oh, no; they will never think of me, after such a description as that."
"By heavens, if they do not, I will kick them out of the room for blockheads. What chap have you there?" Catherine satisfied his curiosity. "Tilney," he repeated. "Hum—I do not know him. A good figure of a man; well put together. Does he want a horse? Here is a friend of mine, Sam Fletcher, has got one to sell that would suit anybody. A famous clever animal for the road—only forty guineas. I had fifty minds to buy it myself, for it is one of my maxims always to buy a good horse when I meet with one; but it would not answer my purpose, it would not do for the field. I would give any money for a real good hunter. I have three now, the best that ever were backed. I would not take eight hundred guineas for them. Fletcher and I mean to get a house in Leicestershire, against the next season. It is so d—uncomfortable, living at an inn."
This was the last sentence by which he could weary Catherine's attention, for he was just then borne off by the resistless pressure of a long string of passing ladies….”

So, thanks again to Ellen for giving me the extra nudge I needed, in order to significantly increase the persuasiveness of Parallel # THREE from my prior post---is there anyone who has read along herein who now doubts that Jane Austen did indeed intentionally track the budding romance of Romeo and Juliet in the budding romance of Henry and Catherine?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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