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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

“When a lady’s in the case: the “KNATCHural” BULL hiding in plain sight in Emma

In Janeites, Jane Fox wrote: “Judging from Austen's treatment of the relationship of Marianne Dashwood with Col Brandon, I'd guess that Austen's feelings about "poor Catherine" stemmed from her husband's being beyond the age of romance. Knightley's willingness to dance (and his ability to dance well) seems to be in the novel partly to show that he is young. Sixty would have been well into the flannel-waistcoat years. I'm not arguing against your interpretation, Arnie, just saying it's not even that simple ;-):”

Thanks for your substantive reply, Jane, and I agree that the huge age differential is surely a fraction of the sympathy behind that “poor Catherine”. But….I still think it’s the smaller fraction—i.e., Mr. Woodhouse’s “poor Miss Taylor” , “poor Mrs. Weston”, and “poor Isabella” are all about a woman getting married, and the unspecified dangers of marriage—regardless of the age of the husband! And in JA’s era, as I have argued a hundred times, the biggest danger of marriage for women of childbearing age was death in childbirth.

I also want to followup to my last post, and make one correction, and also add a very spicy addition to the allusive stew.

First I have learned by further digging that I must revise my guess as to the six attendees at the June 25, 1808 dinner at White Friars, as I will now explain. I now understand that White Friars was the small residence that Mrs. Knight moved into after she voluntarily passed Godmersham on to Edward Austen in 1797, and I see from JA’s 6/20/1808 letter the apparent specific circumstances that led up to that June 26, 1808 dinner party six days later:

“…we proceeded to the White Friars, where Mrs. K. was alone in her Drawing room, as gentle & kind & friendly as usual.—She enquired after every body, especially my Mother & yourself …This morning brought me a letter from Mrs. Knight, containing the usual Fee, & all the usual Kindness. She asks me to spend a day or two with her this week, to meet Mrs. C. Knatchbull, who with her Husband comes to the W. Friars today—& I beleive I shall go.—I have consulted Edward—& think it will be arranged for Mrs. J. A.’s going with me one morning, my staying the night, & Edward’s driving me home the next Evening.. . . .”

So, now it sounds like the six persons who would have been present at that dinner are JA, Edward Austen, Mrs. Mary Austen, Mrs. Knight, Edward Knatchbull and Harriott – and no Fanny Austen (later Knight) after all. Still, I’ve now initiated inquiries to see if I can find out when Edward Knatchbull first met Fanny, and if any mention of their interaction(s) can be found in their respective surviving diaries, etc. My sense is that the close connection of Mrs. Knight with both the Knatchbull and the Austen families would have created occasions when Fanny might have been in company with Edward Knatchbull when Fanny was still a teenager, but certainly they’d have met in 1814 -15 after Edward Knatchbull’s wife died, and while JA was writing Emma.

In that regard, I also note that JA makes some very interesting comments in Letter 98 (March 1814) about Edward Knatchbull’s younger half-brother, Wyndham Knatchbull, vis a vis Fanny. First JA, who, with Fanny, is in London visiting Henry at the time, writes:

"Young Wyndham accepts the invitation. He is such a nice, gentleman-like, unaffected sort of young man that I think he may do for Fanny.”

But then, later in the same letter, we read:

“This young Wyndham does not come after all; a very long and very civil note of excuse is arrived. It makes one moralise upon the ups and downs of this life.”

That last bit strikingly reminded me very much of another passage written by Jane Austen, which I just wrote about last week—i.e., it’s in exactly the same playful, mock-serious tone of the following excerpt from the 14 year old Jane Austen’s Love and Freindship which, I suggested, was part of her veiled allusion to the mythological Phaeton theme in two of Shakespeare’s plays:  Romeo & Juliet and Henry VIII, and also echoing her earlier parodic inversion of Hugh Blair’s sanctimonious advice about explicit authorial statements of a “moral”:

“We instantly quitted our seats and ran to the rescue of those who but a few moments before had been in so elevated a situation as a fashionably high phaeton, but who were now laid low and sprawling in the Dust. ‘What an ample subject for reflection on the uncertain Enjoyments of this World, would not that phaeton and the life of Cardinal Wolsey afford a thinking Mind!’…”

And…bringing this back to the Knatchbull subtext I see in Emma, this tidbit fits very nicely indeed.   I.e., if Mr. Knightley is, as I claim, in part based on Edward Knatchbull, and if Jane Austen already took note,  in 1814, of the recently widowed Edward Knatchbull’s strong romantic interest in the 21 year old Fanny Austen Knight, then….. isn’t it very interesting that JA, while writing Emma, explicitly referred, in one of her letters, to Wyndham Knatchbull, seeing him as a potential suitor for Fanny’s hand, a young man
(1) who must have lived in the imposing shadow of his elder half-brother, the future baronet; and
(2) who is “nice, gentleman-like” and “unaffected”; and
(3) who has promised to come to a social occasion during which he would’ve met Fanny Knight (aka “Emma Woodhouse”); and
(4) who flakes on the invitation at the last minute; and
(5) who writes “a very long and very civil note of excuse”;
(6) causing JA to make a very pointed and subtly literary comment on his having flaked.

Of course, by this list of 5 details, I am suggesting that Wyndham Knatchbull is, in JA’s allusive scheme for Emma…….the gentleman-like, never-quite-arriving Frank Churchill!

Aside from the above, I also have a bit more to add about Edward Knatchbull, Fanny’s future husband.
Edward Knatchbull was the eldest son of the 8th baronet of the same name, and his father holds perhaps the dubious honor of having sired the most children of any man mentioned in JA’s letters—his first wife bore him two children before (apparently) dying in childbirth, then his second wife bore him seven children before (apparently) dying in childbirth, and then his much younger third wife (whose maiden name was Hawkins, by the way!) bore him eight more children and then survived him by two decades.

In my opinion, Jane Austen would have noticed such a man’s marital “career”, and not in a positive way. So, I believe she foresaw that such a man’s eldest son would follow in his father’s dubious footsteps. Mr. Woodhouse (if not the real life Edward Austen Knight) would have taken one look at Edward Knatchbull as a prospective husband for his unmarried daughter-heiress, and said “Poor Fanny!”   ;)

And, by the way, speaking of real life maiden names being slipped inobtrusively by JA into the text of Emma, do you think it’s just a coincidence that the maiden name of Wyndham Knatchbull’s mother was…..Graham, considering the following passage in Emma?:

"My dear Isabella,"—exclaimed [John K.] hastily—"pray do not concern yourself about my looks. Be satisfied with doctoring and coddling yourself and the children, and let me look as I chuse."
"I did not thoroughly understand what you were telling your brother," cried Emma, "about your friend Mr. GRAHAM’s intending to have a bailiff from Scotland, to look after his new estate. What will it answer? Will not the old prejudice be too strong?"

I.e., isn’t it more than a little curious that the second and third wives of the 8th Baronet Edward Knatchbull were originally surnamed, respectively, Graham and Hawkins??? And please note, I had absolutely no idea of that being the case when I first came up with my theory of a veiled allusion in Emma to the Knatchbull family. It all looks even more intentional on JA’s part.

And, last but not least…..for those of you who consider all of the above what Sterne famously termed “a cock and bull story”, consider that when Mrs. Elton (nee Hawkins) very suggestively quotes from Gay’s “The Hare and Many Friends”…

"For when a lady's in the case,
        "You know all other things give place."

….as I have previously noted years ago, the hare in Gay’s sexually suggestive fable is being pursued by a pack of hounds, and finds that her so-called friends, one by one, make excuses and abandon her. And the cruelest abandonment of all is by………(KNATCH-urally) a BULL, who is distracted by his amorous attentions to “a fav’rite cow”!:

"Since ev'ry beast alive can tell
That I sincerely wish you well,
I may, without offence, pretend
To take the freedom of a friend;
Love calls me hence; a fav'rite cow
Expects me near yon barley mow;
And when a lady's in the case,
You know, all other things give place."

I.e., Knightley aka Knatchbull, ignore’s the hare’s (Jane Fairfax’s) plight, because he has his eyes set on ‘a fav’rite cow’—not Harriet, as Emma fears, but Emma herself!


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