Today I am revisiting, and extending, the thesis of my January 18, 2015 post re Napoleon, represented by Captain Tilney, as the real life soldier whom Isabella Thorpe sighs for in NA:
In that post, I showed, with ALL CAPS, how playfully JA had, while revising NA in 1816, slyly alluded to Napoleon’s exile “so out of the way” to Elba, “an hundred miles off”, “confined to…elbow” by edict issued by “a secret conference” of his victorious enemies, leaving him “the jest of [a hundred caricatures in England]” and also leaving him “the most [famously] absent creature in the world.” :
“With a mind thus full of happiness, Catherine was hardly aware that two or three days had passed away, without her seeing Isabella for more than a few minutes together. She began first to be sensible of this, and to sigh for her conversation, as she walked along the pump–room one morning, by Mrs. Allen’s side, without anything to say or to hear; and scarcely had she felt a five minutes’ longing of friendship, before the object of it appeared, and inviting her to A SECRET CONFERENCE, led the way to a seat. “This is my favourite place,” said she as they sat down on a bench between the doors, which COMMANDED A TOLERABLE VIEW of everybody entering at either; “IT IS SO OUT OF THE WAY.”
Catherine, observing that Isabella’s eyes were continually bent towards one door or the other, as in eager expectation, and remembering how often she had been falsely accused of being ARCH, thought THE PRESENT A FINE OPPORTUNITY FOR BEING REALLY SO; and therefore gaily said, “Do not be uneasy, Isabella, James will soon be here.”
“Psha! My dear creature,” she replied, “do not think me such a simpleton as to be always wanting to CONFINE HIM TO MY ELBOW. It would be hideous to be always together; we should be THE JEST OF THE PLACE. And so you are going to Northanger! I am amazingly glad of it. It is one of the finest old places in England, I understand. I shall depend upon a most particular description of it.”
“You shall certainly have the best in my power to give. But WHO ARE YOU LOOKING FOR? Are your sisters coming?”
“I am not looking for anybody. One’s eyes must be somewhere, and you know what a foolish trick I have of fixing mine, when MY THOUGHTS ARE AN HUNDRED MILES OFF. I AM AMAZINGLY ABSENT; I believe I am THE MOST ABSENT CREATURE IN THE WORLD. Tilney says it is always the case with MINDS OF A CERTAIN STAMP.”
I also pointed out in that earlier post the scholarly recognition (since about a decade ago) that the timeline of the action in Persuasion corresponds very closely to the window of Napoleon’s last gasp, after he escaped from Elba, and until he was defeated at Waterloo in June 1815.
Today, I am going to add the claim that the comic theme of the danger of the carriage ride between Hartfield and Randalls on Christmas Eve in Emma is actually a brilliant (and savagely satirical) parody of Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812-13, when he was defeated by the harsh Russian winter and brilliant scorched earth Russian tactics. That spectacular and horrific defeat (in terms of lost lives and suffering) led quickly to Napoleon’s first exile to Elba as a result of the Congress of Vienna in 1814. We may infer from JA’s letters from June 1814 that she did not live with her head buried in the group, but knew all the details of Napoleon’s defeat, including whatever inside dope brother Henry may have gathered while attending the fabulous London ball that celebrated Napoleon’s defeat.
And, as usual, JA chose to discreetly hide her knowledge in plain sight in yet another of her novels---this time just beneath the surface of Emma. First and foremost, just as I discovered that the young talented George Cruikshank’s famous 1812 caricature of the “Fisherman at Anchor” was (along with Charles Lamb’s “Triumph of the Whale”) one of the two satirical sources for the “Prince of Whales” secret answer to JA’s “courtship” charade in Chapter 9 of Emma, so too did I realize, last night, that another 1812 political caricature by Cruikshank, was also on JA’s radar screen:
As per H.L. Stein in his 1980 article about Cruikshank, puts it:
“A classic of this period, ‘Boney Hatching a Bulletin, or Snug Winter Quarters!!’ of December 1812, reveals Napoleon buried up to his neck in the Russian snow, dictating lies for the military gazette: ‘Say we shall be at home at Xmas to dinner-give my love to darling -don't let John Bull know that I have been Cowpoxed....’
And now I invite you to read the following passages from Emma, which describe the travel to and from the “Xmas dinner” at Randall, and think about how JA must have been LOLing the whole time she was writing this brilliant parody of the events which had all unfolded right before she began writing Emma, and which were undeniably THE biggest news of those couple of years! And focus in particular on John Knightley and his repeated bitter philippics, and also tormenting of his father in law, on the topic of the ‘snowstorm’ that ‘threatens’ the very safety of the Woodhouse/Knightley clan, and on Mr. Elton talking up the comforts of a sheepskin carriage:
[Emma] "It is so cold, so very cold—and looks and feels so very much like snow, that if it were to any other place or with any other party, I should really try not to go out to-day—and dissuade my father from venturing; but as he has made up his mind, and does not seem to feel the cold himself, I do not like to interfere, as I know it would be so great a disappointment to Mr. and Mrs. Weston. But, upon my word, Mr. Elton, in your case, I should certainly excuse myself. You appear to me a little hoarse already, and when you consider what demand of voice and what fatigues to-morrow will bring, I think it would be no more than common prudence to stay at home and take care of yourself to-night."
…Mr. Woodhouse had so completely made up his mind to the visit, that in spite of the increasing coldness, he seemed to have no idea of shrinking from it, and set forward at last most punctually with his eldest daughter in his own carriage, with less apparent consciousness of the weather than either of the others; too full of the wonder of his own going, and the pleasure it was to afford at Randalls to see that it was cold, and too well wrapt up to feel it. The cold, however, was severe; and by the time the second carriage was in motion, a few flakes of snow were finding their way down, and the sky had the appearance of being so overcharged as to want only a milder air to produce a very white world in a very short time.
Emma soon saw that her companion was not in the happiest humour. The preparing and the going abroad in such weather, with the sacrifice of his children after dinner, were evils, were disagreeables at least, which Mr. John Knightley did not by any means like; he anticipated nothing in the visit that could be at all worth the purchase; and the whole of their drive to the vicarage was spent by him in expressing his discontent.
"A man," said he, "must have a very good opinion of himself when he asks people to leave their own fireside, and encounter such a day as this, for the sake of coming to see him. He must think himself a most agreeable fellow; I could not do such a thing. It is the greatest absurdity—Actually snowing at this moment!—The folly of not allowing people to be comfortable at home—and the folly of people's not staying comfortably at home when they can! If we were obliged to go out such an evening as this, by any call of duty or business, what a hardship we should deem it;—and here are we, probably with rather thinner clothing than usual, setting forward voluntarily, without excuse, in defiance of the voice of nature, which tells man, in every thing given to his view or his feelings, to stay at home himself, and keep all under shelter that he can;—here are we setting forward to spend five dull hours in another man's house, with nothing to say or to hear that was not said and heard yesterday, and may not be said and heard again to-morrow. Going in dismal weather, to return probably in worse;—four horses and four servants taken out for nothing but to convey five idle, shivering creatures into colder rooms and worse company than they might have had at home."
…"What an excellent device," said [Elton], "the use of a sheepskin for carriages. How very comfortable they make it;—impossible to feel cold with such precautions. The contrivances of modern days indeed have rendered a gentleman's carriage perfectly complete. One is so fenced and guarded from the weather, that not a breath of air can find its way unpermitted. Weather becomes absolutely of no consequence. It is a very cold afternoon—but in this carriage we know nothing of the matter.—Ha! snows a little I see."
"Yes," said John Knightley, "and I think we shall have a good deal of it."
"Christmas weather," observed Mr. Elton. "Quite seasonable; and extremely fortunate we may think ourselves that it did not begin yesterday, and prevent this day's party, which it might very possibly have done, for Mr. Woodhouse would hardly have ventured had there been much snow on the ground; but now it is of no consequence. This is quite the season indeed for friendly meetings. At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather. I was snowed up at a friend's house once for a week. Nothing could be pleasanter. I went for only one night, and could not get away till that very day se'nnight."
Mr. John Knightley looked as if he did not comprehend the pleasure, but said only, coolly,
"I cannot wish to be snowed up a week at Randalls."
At another time Emma might have been amused, but she was too much astonished now at Mr. Elton's spirits for other feelings. Harriet seemed quite forgotten in the expectation of a pleasant party.
"We are sure of excellent fires," continued he, "and every thing in the greatest comfort. Charming people, Mr. and Mrs. Weston;—Mrs. Weston indeed is much beyond praise, and he is exactly what one values, so hospitable, and so fond of society…”
…She had not time to know how Mr. Elton took the reproof, so rapidly did another subject succeed; for Mr. John Knightley now came into the room from examining the weather, and opened on them all with the information of the ground being covered with snow, and of its still snowing fast, with a strong drifting wind; concluding with these words to Mr. Woodhouse:
"This will prove a spirited beginning of your winter engagements, sir. Something new for your coachman and horses to be making their way through a storm of snow."
Poor Mr. Woodhouse was silent from consternation; but every body else had something to say; every body was either surprized or not surprized, and had some question to ask, or some comfort to offer. Mrs. Weston and Emma tried earnestly to cheer him and turn his attention from his son-in-law, who was pursuing his triumph rather unfeelingly.
"I admired your resolution very much, sir," said he, "in venturing out in such weather, for of course you saw there would be snow very soon. Every body must have seen the snow coming on. I admired your spirit; and I dare say we shall get home very well. Another hour or two's snow can hardly make the road impassable; and we are two carriages; if one is blown over in the bleak part of the common field there will be the other at hand. I dare say we shall be all safe at Hartfield before midnight."
Mr. Weston, with triumph of a different sort, was confessing that he had known it to be snowing some time, but had not said a word, lest it should make Mr. Woodhouse uncomfortable, and be an excuse for his hurrying away. As to there being any quantity of snow fallen or likely to fall to impede their return, that was a mere joke; he was afraid they would find no difficulty. He wished the road might be impassable, that he might be able to keep them all at Randalls; and with the utmost good-will was sure that accommodation might be found for every body, calling on his wife to agree with him, that with a little contrivance, every body might be lodged, which she hardly knew how to do, from the consciousness of there being but two spare rooms in the house.
"What is to be done, my dear Emma?—what is to be done?" was Mr. Woodhouse's first exclamation, and all that he could say for some time. To her he looked for comfort; and her assurances of safety, her representation of the excellence of the horses, and of James, and of their having so many friends about them, revived him a little.
His eldest daughter's alarm was equal to his own. The horror of being blocked up at Randalls, while her children were at Hartfield, was full in her imagination; and fancying the road to be now just passable for adventurous people, but in a state that admitted no delay, she was eager to have it settled, that her father and Emma should remain at Randalls, while she and her husband set forward instantly through all the possible accumulations of drifted snow that might impede them.
"You had better order the carriage directly, my love," said she; "I dare say we shall be able to get along, if we set off directly; and if we do come to any thing very bad, I can get out and walk. I am not at all afraid. I should not mind walking half the way. I could change my shoes, you know, the moment I got home; and it is not the sort of thing that gives me cold."
"Indeed!" replied he. "Then, my dear Isabella, it is the most extraordinary sort of thing in the world, for in general every thing does give you cold. Walk home!—you are prettily shod for walking home, I dare say. It will be bad enough for the horses."
Isabella turned to Mrs. Weston for her approbation of the plan. Mrs. Weston could only approve. Isabella then went to Emma; but Emma could not so entirely give up the hope of their being all able to get away; and they were still discussing the point, when Mr. Knightley, who had left the room immediately after his brother's first report of the snow, came back again, and told them that he had been out of doors to examine, and could answer for there not being the smallest difficulty in their getting home, whenever they liked it, either now or an hour hence. He had gone beyond the sweep—some way along the Highbury road—the snow was nowhere above half an inch deep—in many places hardly enough to whiten the ground; a very few flakes were falling at present, but the clouds were parting, and there was every appearance of its being soon over. He had seen the coachmen, and they both agreed with him in there being nothing to apprehend.
To Isabella, the relief of such tidings was very great, and they were scarcely less acceptable to Emma on her father's account, who was immediately set as much at ease on the subject as his nervous constitution allowed; but the alarm that had been raised could not be appeased so as to admit of any comfort for him while he continued at Randalls. He was satisfied of there being no present danger in returning home, but no assurances could convince him that it was safe to stay; and while the others were variously urging and recommending, Mr. Knightley and Emma settled it in a few brief sentences: thus—
"Your father will not be easy; why do not you go?"
"I am ready, if the others are."
"Shall I ring the bell?"
And the bell was rung, and the carriages spoken for. …”
And that’s not all! John Knightley has the last word much later in the novel on the question of unsafe and unnecessary travel during another bout of cold precipitation:
“John Knightley only was in mute astonishment.--That a man who might have spent his evening quietly at home after a day of business in London, should set off again, and walk half a mile to another man's house, for the sake of being in mixed company till bed-time, of finishing his day in the efforts of civility and the noise of numbers, was a circumstance to strike him deeply. A man who had been in motion since eight o'clock in the morning, and might now have been still, who had been long talking, and might have been silent, who had been in more than one crowd, and might have been alone!—Such a man, to quit the tranquillity and independence of his own fireside, and on the evening of a cold sleety April day RUSH out again into the world!—Could he by a touch of his finger have instantly taken back his wife, there would have been a motive; but his coming would probably prolong rather than break up the party. John Knightley looked at him with amazement, then shrugged his shoulders, and said, "I could not have believed it even of him." “
And finally, I do believe I detect Jane Austen having a little fun with that same pun on Elba/elbow which I pointed out in Isabella Thorpe’s speech in NA. In “Napoleon in Exile: Elba: From the Entry of the Allies Into Paris”, Norwood Young wrote:
“In April, 1814, the English pamphleteers and caricaturists discovered that the word Elba, transformed into Hell-bay, Hell-bar, and so forth, lent itself to the coarse invective then in vogue, while the scanty dimensions of the Czar-created Empire could be ridiculed by such a deplorable pun as speaking of a want of "Elba (elbow) room."
And now here is that same pun again, and of course it is at the most appropriate spot--at the beginning of the Randalls’ Christmas dinner:
“Emma's project of forgetting Mr. Elton for a while made her rather sorry to find, when they had all taken their places, that he was close to her. The difficulty was great of driving his strange insensibility towards Harriet, from her mind, while he not only sat AT HER ELBOW, but was continually obtruding his happy countenance on her notice, and solicitously addressing her upon every occasion.”
Lest you think I am taking a common word, elbow, and making too much of its appearance at that point in the text, let me point out that JA used that word only 5 times combined in all of her novels, and those 5 usages ALL appear in her final 4 published novels, the ones published AFTER Napoleon’s Russian debacle and exile to Elba. One of those usages, in MP, curiously, appears in that rare passages in a JA novel in which world events are explicitly mentioned, this time by Tom Bertram gossipping to Fanny:
“…between ourselves, [Mrs. Grant], poor woman, must want a lover as much as any one of them. A desperate dull life hers must be with the doctor,” making a sly face as he spoke towards the chair of the latter, who proving, however, to be close AT HIS ELBOW, made so instantaneous a change of expression and subject necessary, as Fanny, in spite of everything, could hardly help laughing at. “A strange business this in America, Dr. Grant! What is your opinion? I always come to you to know what I am to think of PUBLIC MATTERS.”
What we are “to think of public matters” indeed---what a scamp Jane Austen was!
And finally, I’ll leave you with the further suggestion of JA’s intent to layer sexual innuendoes into this motif as well---i.e., she meant us to see Mr. Elton’s disastrous “invasion” of the unreceptive Emma during that snowy carriage ride, as a mock-epic Napoleonic disaster, that leads to his exile from Emma’s good graces---Emma, whom many Austen scholars have suggested is “Kitty a Fair but FROZEN Maid”!
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter