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

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The rain falls mainly on Jane: Colin Firth as Darcy, A Single Man, ‘enry ‘iggins….& Milton’s Satan?



 For over a decade after Colin Firth took his famous dip in the pond at “Pemberley”, he was heard periodically to refer, in a mixture of complaint and wry irony, to “the curse of Darcy”. By this he meant that his long, distinguished and varied acting career had come to be completely overshadowed by his one iconic role as the brooding hero of the 1995 Andrew Davies Pride & Prejudice film adaptation that launched Austenmania into the stratosphere, a height it has still not descended from two decades later. Like George Reeves with Superman, or Carroll O’Connor with Archie Bunker, Colin Firth will forever be identified with Mr. Darcy in the imagination of millions of (mostly female) adoring fans.

And yet….you have to wonder whether that curse has retained a non-trivial portion of its power, because Firth himself has chosen, if you will, not to swim very far away from Mr. Darcy, let alone to towel him off. In, fact, upon closer examination, it emerges as a truth never acknowledged, that he has kept playing some variation or another on the character of Mr. Darcy, throughout his acting career since then.

Most visibly to the wider film audience, he has twice played Mark Darcy in the two Bridget Jones’s Diary spinoffs from P&P. But did you ever notice that when he gave his breakout, highly acclaimed performance in 2009 that earned him his first serious award nominations, the film he starred in,  A Single Man , just happened to have as its title a three word phrase which appears right in the middle of one of the most famous first sentences in novelistic history:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that A SINGLE MAN in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. “.  The “single man” who comes to Janeite minds everywhere upon reading that line is of course Mr. Darcy!  (and I won’t even get into the plausible shadow interpretation, that Ann Herendeen first presented to the world in her fanfic Pride(slash)Prejudice,  of Mr. Darcy as being attracted to men, as well as women, making the connection to his role as a gay man in mourning for his dead lover in that 2009 adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s novel even more interesting).

And, finally, I know I wasn’t the only Janeite to get an unexpected  kick out of noting that Firth shares a poignant scene with his 1995 “Eliza Bennet”, Jennifer Ehle, just before the end of The King’s Speech, the 2010 role that earned him the Oscar (she plays the spouse of Geoffrey Rush as his speech teacher).  What a fitting way for Darcy to finally lay the ghost (and curse) of Darcy to rest!

Or does Darcy’s ghost still walk? I ask this, because of the following online article from yesterday:
http://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Colin-Firth-to-Take-On-Henry-Higgins-in-Broadway-Revival-of-MY-FAIR-LADY-#      “Reports of an upcoming Broadway revival of My Fair Lady…continue to surface and according to Page Six of the New York Post, the lead role has already been cast…."New generations never saw it. Colin Firth is already set….”

I was immediately reminded of the post I wrote more than 2 years ago…
…in which I suggested that the spirited war of words between Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in GB Shaw’s Pygmalion (which of course was adapted into My Fair Lady) had at least some of its roots in the spirited war of words between Mr. Darcy and (the much more grammatical) Eliza Bennet in P&P!

So I figured it was a good day to revisit that preliminary bit of literary sleuthing, and I’m so glad I did, because (in addition to the passage in Pygmalion I quoted in my 2013 post in which Eliza Doolittle reverts to Cockney when she says “Not bloody likely!” to the suggestion that she might take an Eliza Bennet-like walk to her next destination, instead of a lady-like taxi ride), I found some more textual echoes, such as these two parallel conversations about civilized culture (i.e., polished society) vis a vis savagery:

Henry Higgins: You see, WE’RE ALL SAVAGES, MORE OR LESS. We're supposed to be CIVILIZED AND CULTURED—to know all about POETRY and philosophy and art and SCIENCE, and so on; but how many of us know even the meanings of these names? [To Miss Hill] What do you know of POETRY?

Sir William Lucas: "What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy! There is nothing like dancing after all. I consider it as one of the FIRST REFINEMENTS OF POLISHED SOCIETY."
[Darcy] "Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. EVERY SAVAGE CAN DANCE."
Sir William only smiled. "Your friend performs delightfully," he continued after a pause, on seeing Bingley join the group; "and I doubt not that you are an adept in the SCIENCE yourself, Mr. Darcy."

AND

"I have been used to consider POETRY as the food of love," said Darcy.

And there are more echoes which popped out at me as I spent a very enjoyable hour scanning through Shaw’s witty play, which I’ll post about at another time. But I want to get right to the hint I gave at the end of my Subject Line, regarding the common literary ancestor I see both Henry Higgins and Mr. Darcy sharing---Milton’s Satan, the eloquent, seductive hero of Paradise Lost!

First, Shaw’s allusion to Milton is obvious, as was pointed out first here:

“Though almost universally interpreted as a critical statement on the artificiality of class and social status, Pygmalion is really just an update of Paradise Lost and the Genesis story of the Fall of Man.  This is most obvious from the way that Shaw changes the ending of the classic myth from which he borrows the plot and title and by his referring several times to Henry Higgins as Miltonic…. Liza ultimately chooses independence from her creator and marries the dull but earnest Freddy.  As Shaw said in a postscript which was added to later editions : “Galatea never does quite like Pygmalion: his relation to her is too godlike to be altogether agreeable.”  And so you have it : God creates a creature in his own image, and is pleased with it, but wishes it to remain wholly His. The creature, created too well, wants its independence, more than it wants to bask in the reflected glow of the Creator, and so rebels….”

And in a full-fledged scholarly article,  “All about Eve: Testing the Miltonic Formula” [SHAW The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 23 (2003) 65-74] Prof. Rhoda Nathan wrote the following:
“Eve….the clearly defined mother of mankind in Milton's epic Paradise Lost, who develops from her first appearance in Book V to her final maturity in Book IX into a feminist heroine born of a Puritan ethos. Consciously or instinctively, in his shaping of women, Shaw adapted the Miltonic formula to the formulation of his own incarnations of Eve……Eliza Doolittle, at first glance an unlikely avatar, is a prime example. When Henry Higgins, an untamed Adam, picks her up, she is a cringing, childish, and, yes, dependent prelapsarian Eve. A thorough prude, she keeps whining: "I'm a good girl, I am." She can be seduced by a chocolate popped into her waiting mouth by the Satan of the phonetics hell. She brings her Svengali his slippers, orders his Stilton, sees to his morning tea. In that famous scene Higgins finally praises Eliza for having become a "tower of strength" and a "consort battleship," even though five minutes earlier he was berating himself for having wasted the treasures of his "Miltonic mind" on her. (What do you think he meant by his "Miltonic" mind in that context? Probably his Pygmalion role in fashioning her just as Milton shaped his Eve.) Still, of all Shaw's heroines, Eliza Doolittle appears to be the truest incarnation of his, and, thus, Milton's Eve. She has been given the gift of insight—possibly by the serpent—and finally has decided to use Higgins as a stepping stone to independence. She might be grateful to Col. Pickering for his kindness, but her instinctive shrewdness informs her that Higgins is her stepping stone into the middle class and independence….Whether or not Eliza will marry Freddy is moot. It is Higgins, the clever one, who was both serpent and savior to her.”

And to Judd’s and Nathan’s above analyses, I add the following subliminal textual hint that Shaw hid in very plain sight a dozen times in his play, by not only having “devil” be Higgins’s favorite swear word, but by also even having Mrs. Pearce bring it to the audience’s specific attention:

What a DEVIL of a name…what the DEVIL do you mean?…. 
MRS. PEARCE: …I don't mind your damning and blasting, and what the DEVIL and where the DEVIL and who the DEVIL— ……
And now, what the DEVIL are we going to talk about until Eliza comes?
What the DEVIL do you imagine I know of philosophy?
I wonder where the DEVIL my slippers are!
What the DEVIL have I done with my slippers?
How the DEVIL do I know what's to become of you?
Most men are the marrying sort (poor DEVILs!); and you're not bad-looking; it's quite a pleasure to look at you sometimes—not now, of course, because you're crying and looking as ugly as the very DEVIL;
I must clear off to bed: I'm DEVILish sleepy.
What the DEVIL use would they be to Pickering?
The DEVIL he does!
Where the DEVIL is that girl?

And then Liza herself calls Higgins out explicitly as a Satan at the very end, when she gives him what-for very much the way Eliza Bennet gives Darcy a tongue-lashing at Hunsford:
HIGGINS. I can't turn your soul on. Leave me those feelings; and you can take away the voice and the face. They are not you.
LIZA. Oh, you ARE a DEVIL. You can twist the heart in a girl as easy as some could twist her arms to hurt her. Mrs. Pearce warned me. Time and again she has wanted to leave you; and you always got round her at the last minute. And you don't care a bit for her. And you don't care a bit for me.
To which Higgins replies: “ I am not intimidated, like your father and your stepmother. So you can come back or go to the DEVIL: which you please.” which reminds us of Darcy’s witty reply to Eliza:  “I am not afraid of you”.

But how do I then make the leap from Henry Higgins as Satan to Mr. Darcy as Satan, too? There’s a very complicated answer to that legitimate, skeptical question, but my very short answer is that I read the shadow story of Pride & Prejudice as casting Eliza in the role of Eve in the Garden (with her aunt & uncle GARDINER) of Longbourn, a place where a succession of would-be persuaders “whisper” in her ear, and she must try to choose “the truth” from among their conflicting messages, like a jury must do in a court of law.

The conventional reading of P&P is that Wickham (“All Meryton seemed striving to blacken the man who, but three months before, had been almost an angel of light.”—Lucifer meaning “angel of light”!) is the Satan who at first convinces Eliza that Darcy is a bad man, but then Eliza is brought to the truth by Darcy’s reformation and repentance.

But in the shadow story I see in P&P, it is Darcy who is the greater Satan, who uses his enormous powers to demolish Eliza’s resistance to him. And I suggested five years ago  that it is Mary Bennet, Eliza’s sister, who literally whispers in Eliza’s ear “The men shan’t come and part us, I am determined. We want none of them; do we?", trying one last time to warn her to stay away from Darcy, who has shown up to claim her. But it is too late, Eliza has already permanently taken too large a bite out of Darcy’s subtly poisonous apple, and is beyond rescue back into the safe, purely female-centric world (including her secret lesbian admirer, Charlotte Lucas)  that was “pre-lapsarian” Meryton.

And, to conclude, I do believe that George Bernard Shaw recognized this Satanic aura of Mr. Darcy,, and wove it into the character of ‘enry ‘iggins---but he lets his Eliza escape with her heart and mind intact!

So…when Colin Firth takes the stage next year in My Fair Lady, keep the Satanic Mr. Darcy in the back of your mind, as well as the rain in Meryton, which mainly falls, it seems, on Jane (Bennet, that is).

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Henry VI, Pt.2: The first thing we do, let’s kill….Lady Catherine! (says Adam the rebellious Gardiner of Cheapside)



As every Janeite knows, the London commercial district known as Cheapside is the focal symbol of the snobbish ridicule that Caroline Bingley heaps upon the Bennet family (with Darcy’s measured approval) in Chapter 8 of P&P:
"I think I have heard you say that their uncle is an attorney in Meryton."
"Yes; and they have another, who lives somewhere near CHEAPSIDE."
"That is capital," added her sister, and they both laughed heartily.
"If they had uncles enough to fill all CHEAPSIDE," cried Bingley, "it would not make them one jot less agreeable."
"But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world," replied Darcy.
To this speech Bingley made no answer; but his sisters gave it their hearty assent, and indulged their mirth for some time at the expense of their dear friend's vulgar relations. …”

And in the final chapter of P&P we hear a faint but distinct echo of “Cheapside” as symbol of class inferiority in the narrator’s description of the married life of the Wickhams:
“Their manner of living, even when the restoration of peace dismissed them to a home, was unsettled in the extreme. They were always moving from place to place in quest of a CHEAP situation, and always spending more than they ought….”

But it is the triumph of love over snobbery that has all Janeites cheering, when Eliza brilliantly bests Lady Catherine in mouth-to-mouth combat/class warfare:
"I will not be interrupted. Hear me in silence. My daughter and my nephew are formed for each other. They are descended, on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the father's, from respectable, honourable, and ancient—though untitled—families. Their fortune on both sides is splendid. They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses; and what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured! But it must not, shall not be. If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up."
"In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter; so far we are equal."
"True. You are a gentleman's daughter. But who was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition."
"Whatever my connections may be," said Elizabeth, "if your nephew does not object to them, they can be nothing to you."

Eliza’s stirring “So far we are equal” is the rallying cry of a successful feminist egalitarian rebellion, and it is Caroline Bingley who eventually is forced to retire from the field, vanquished:
“Miss Bingley was very deeply mortified by Darcy's marriage; but as she thought it advisable to retain the right of visiting at Pemberley, she dropt all her resentment; was fonder than ever of Georgiana, almost as attentive to Darcy as heretofore, and paid off every arrear of civility to Elizabeth.”

In short, the upstart pretensions of Elizabeth’s rebellion against the quasi-regal power of Lady Catherine have (shockingly) emerged victorious, without the necessity of beheading that great lady of Kent and putting her head (and that of her comic consigliere, Mr. Collins), on matched poles at the sweep gates of Pemberley---because P&P is, after all, a comedy.

I deliberately chose that grotesque image of Lady C’s head on a pole, because I am pretty sure it was actually in the back of Jane Austen’s wickedly satirical mind when she wrote P&P. How so? Because, as I will show, lurking just beneath the surface of P&P are two improbable, interrelated Shakespearean sources for her above-exampled theme of rebellion of commoners against the privileged elite. And, as indicated in my Subject Line, one is Henry VI, Part 2, one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, in the character of Jack Cade, leading of a popular insurrection headquartered in….(where else?) Cheapside, a major commercial district in the nation’s (as Mrs. Hurst would call it) “capitol”!

Wikipedia nicely summarizes the action in Act Four of the play: “York has been appointed commander of an army to suppress a revolt in Ireland. Before leaving, he enlists a former officer of his, Jack Cade, to stage a popular revolt in order to ascertain whether the common people would support York should he make an open move for power. At first, the rebellion is successful, and Cade sets himself up as Mayor of London, but his rebellion is put down when Lord Clifford (a supporter of Henry) persuades the common people, who make up Cade's army, to abandon the cause. Cade is killed several days later by Alexander Iden, a Kentish gentleman, into whose garden he climbs looking for food.”

With that brief background, I will now present to you the relevant passage in Act 4, the resonance of which with the class struggle in P&P should leap out at you and grab your imagination, as it did mine when I first read it, after first being led to them by the only two explicit references to “Cheapside” in the entire Shakespearean canon:

In Act 4, Scene 2, we read Cade’s parodic paradoxical vision of himself as king of an egalitarian England, as to which the ALL CAPS portions of Cade’s mocking rhetoric (subverted somewhat by the satirical deflations of his lieutenant Dick the Butcher) nonetheless remind us of Elizabeth Bennet’s stirring declaration of equality to Lady Catherine in various ways:

CADE     We John Cade, so termed of our supposed father,--
DICK      [Aside] Or rather, of stealing a cade of herrings.
CADE     For our enemies shall fall before us, INSPIRED WITH THE SPIRIT OF PUTTING DOWN KINGS AND PRINCES,
--Command silence.
DICK      Silence!
CADE      My father was a Mortimer,--
DICK      [Aside] He was an honest man, and a good bricklayer.
CADE      My mother a Plantagenet,--
DICK      [Aside] I knew her well; she was a midwife.
CADE      My wife descended of the Lacies,--
DICK       [Aside] She was, indeed, a pedler's daughter, and sold many laces.
SMITH   [Aside] But now of late, notable to travel with her furred pack, she washes bucks here at home.
CADE     THEREFORE AM I OF AN HONOURABLE HOUSE.
DICK      [Aside] Ay, by my faith, the field is honourable; and there was he borne, under a hedge, for HIS FATHER HAD NEVER A HOUSE BUT THE CAGE.

And that was the ancestor of Eliza’s “I am a gentleman’s daughter” in Cade’s assertion of himself as descended from “an honourable house”. After some more boasting, we then hear:

CADE       BE BRAVE, THEN; FOR YOUR CAPTAIN IS BRAVE, AND VOWS REFORMATION. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hooped pot; shall have ten hoops and I will make it felony to drink SMALL BEER: all the realm shall be in common; AND IN CHEAPSIDE SHALL MY PALFREY [horse] GO TO GRASS: and when I am king, as king I will be,--
ALL         God save your majesty!
CADE       I thank you, good people: there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I WILL       APPAREL THEM ALL IN ONE LIVERY, THAT THEY MAY AGREE LIKE BROTHERS and worship me their lord.
DICK       THE FIRST THING WE DO, LET’S KILL ALL THE LAWYERS.

And then we have the source for the confrontation between Lady Catherine and Eliza in the Longbourn wilderness:

MICHAEL    Where's our general?
CADE           Here I am, thou particular fellow.
MICHAEL     Fly, fly, fly! Sir Humphrey Stafford and his brother are hard by, with the king's forces.
CADE           Stand, villain, stand, or I'll fell thee down. He shall be encountered with A MAN AS GOOD AS HIMSELF: HE IS BUT A KNIGHT, IS A’?
MICHAEL     No.
CADE            TO EQUAL HIM, I WILL MAKE MYSELF A KNIGHT PRESENTLY.
Kneels           Rise up Sir John Mortimer.
Rises              Now have at him!
Enter SIR HUMPHREY and WILLIAM STAFFORD, with drum and soldiers
SIR HUMPHREY
REBELLIOUS HINDS, THE FILTH AND SCUM OF KENT,
Mark'd for the gallows, lay your weapons down;
Home to your cottages, forsake this groom:
The king is merciful, if you revolt.
WILLIAM STAFFORD
But angry, wrathful, and inclined to blood,
If you go forward; therefore yield, or die.
CADE
As for these silken-coated slaves, I pass not:
It is to you, good people, that I speak,
Over whom, in time to come, I hope to reign;
For I am rightful heir unto the crown.

You can see that Cade is not scared by these dire threats, and that prompts the Lady Catherine of the piece, Sir Humphrey, to get very personal and nasty about Cade’s family of origin:

SIR HUMPHREY
VILLAIN, THY FATHER WAS A PLASTERER
AND THOU THYSELF A SHEARMAN, ART THOU NOT?

To which Cade wittily retorts:

CADE                               AND ADAM WAS A GARDENER.

So here we have reason to believe that one of the reasons JA chose to name Eliza’s uncle from Cheapside “Gardiner”, since he was the butt of Caroline Bingley’s mockery.

And then, finally, we have Cade’s fantasy of himself as the lost heir of the Earl of March, reclaiming his aristocratic birthright---and is this not the story of the other attempted rebellion in P&P, when Wickham, either the biological or the psychological second son of the late Mr. Darcy, seeks his revenge on his “brother” Darcy in every way he can think of?:

WILLIAM STAFFORD   And what of that?
CADE
Marry, this: Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March.
Married the Duke of Clarence' daughter, did he not?
SIR HUMPHREY             Ay, sir.
CADE                              By her he had two children at one birth.
WILLIAM STAFFORD   That's false.
CADE
Ay, there's the question; but I say, 'tis true:
The elder of them, being put to nurse,
Was by a beggar-woman stolen away;
And, ignorant of his birth and parentage,
Became a bricklayer when he came to age:
His son am I; deny it, if you can.
DICK                    Nay, 'tis too true; therefore he shall be king.

But in the end, unlike with Eliza, Wickham’s “rebellion” is crushed.

In a followup post, I will tell about the other Shakespeare history play which Jane Austen wove into the class warfare theme of P&P, which also involves Cheapside, but indirectly---- of course I’m referring to the Henriad, with all the scenes which occur in Eastcheap, not very far from Gracechurch Street where the Gardiners live and St. Clement’s church where Wickham and Lydia tie the knot, with Mr. Darcy (aka the Prince of Whales—Prince Hal) as their witness!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Jane Fairfax’s Secret Kiss (and Secret Pregnancy)



 In articles that appeared yesterday simultaneously in both the Guardian and the Telegraph, Prof. John Mullan was given major headliney kudos for (so these two articles stated) being the first to discover that Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax share a secret kiss right before Emma & company open the door of the Bates residence in a scene in the middle of Jane Austen’s greatest novel.

There’s just this one little problem in the “giving credit where credit is due” department. John Mullan’s “Eureka!” fails to take into account that this very same discovery was actually made, in print, nearly a quarter century ago, in 1991, by Prof. Juliet McMaster! Let me show you.

First, here is the first part of the Telegraph article, detailing Mullan’s Eureka! moment:

“The Jane Austen kiss you didn't realise was there”  Think the characters in Jane Austen never kiss? (Prof John Mullan, an expert on the author, says a 'Regency snog' is hiding in the pages of Emma)
For Jane Austen purists, the sight of two characters sharing a kiss in a screen adaptation is enough to set hackles rising. There were no kisses in Austen’s novels, they argue, so why have Elizabeth Bennet locking lips with Mr Darcy, or Anne Elliot in the arms of Captain Wentworth?  One academic is attempting to prove them wrong. Prof John Mullan, an expert on Austen, claims to have found a scene she wrote which hints at a passionate kiss.  The book in question is Emma. The scene involves Jane Fairfax, the beautiful but penniless granddaughter of Mrs Bates, and Frank Churchill, to whom she is secretly engaged.
"The appearance of the little sitting-room as they entered was tranquility itself; Mrs Bates, deprived of her usual employment, slumbering on one side of the fire, Frank Churchill at a table near her, most deedily occupied about her spectacles, and Jane Fairfax, standing with her back to them, intent on her pianoforte,” it reads. According to Prof Mullan, University College London academic and author of What Matters In Jane Austen?, the pair have just broken off from a kiss…. He went on: “The main complaint from Austen aficionados is when you get a televised version, and what the true diehard don’t like is there is always a kiss. “But I have discovered the kiss. I put it to you they’ve been snogging. When I found this on my 15th reading of Emma, I shouted, ‘Eureka!’”  END QUOTE

And now, here is the relevant section of the 1991 Juliet McMaster article in the JASNA journal Persuasions linked here: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number13/mcmaster.htm  

Now I would like to consider the piano scene at the Bateses for a moment, because it furnishes Frank with his best opportunity for the spectacular display of his virtuoso’s talent in secret languages.  You all know the scene, which follows on one of the most passionate unwritten scenes in Jane Austen.  It is the morning after the Coles’ party.  Miss Bates and Mrs. Weston – “one voice and two ladies”! – have walked into the street to persuade Emma and Harriet to come and hear the piano.  Meanwhile, back at the Bateses, as we deduce, Frank is having his first moments alone, or almost alone, with Jane since he gave her the piano.  The piano was a Valentine’s gift, remember: it arrived on February 14. He has told her the gift was from him.  Her feelings must be tumultuous, if conflicting. Frank – dare we guess it? – has kissed her.  In any case, we have enough evidence that they have sprung guiltily apart.  Old Mrs. Bates, most accommodating of chaperones, is “peacefully slumbering”; Frank is “most deedily occupied” in mending her spectacles (a fine cover-up).  And Jane, who is not nearly so good as Frank at concealing her feelings or her guilt, is “standing with her back to them, intent on her pianoforté”  – or so Emma mistakenly supposes.  Even Emma can see that Jane is deeply disturbed.  She can’t yet play the piano: “she had not yet possessed the instrument long enough to touch it without emotion,” Emma explains to herself.  Whatever went on between Frank and Jane in their precious private moments together, Jane is still vibrating.” END QUOTE

But it’s not just Juliet McMaster’s article that preceded Mullan in print. In the 1996 Persuasions, Prof. Joseph Wiesenfarth wrote “Since Mrs. Bates can’t see, hear, or work, she falls asleep. Frank has effectually been alone with Jane. He is not wasting time with spectacles; he is making time with Jane!”. And then in 1997, John Wiltshire wrote “That ‘deedily occupied’ raises the suspicion that the young occupants have just sprung into those innocent positions. Poor old Mrs. Bates has been as effectively blinded as Emma.” (and then Wiltshire recently amplified that observation in his 2014 book The Hidden Jane Austen.).

And that’s not all. Besides Juliet’s catch, and Wiesenfarth’s and Wiltshire’s apparently unwitting reiterations of her discovery, this very same passage in Emma is one as to which amateur Janeites have been independently noticing that same subtextual kiss for quite some time. For example, it has been noted on more than one occasion in both the Janeites & Austen L groups during the past 15 years.

So what? Well, the part that brings out my inner curmudgeon is that John Mullan is a high profile Austen scholar, not an amateur unfamiliar with the importance of due diligence in citing prior publications of purported discoveries. Plus, he actually presented at the JASNA AGM in Minneapolis in 2013 (I saw him, and he did an excellent job), and had his paper about P&P published in the 2013 Persuasions Online! But most important of all, this claimed discovery was not buried amidst a flurry of comparable interpretations in a footnote in a journal article. It is the HEADLINE of articles in two major British newspapers giving Mullan (and only Mullan) credit for being the first to make this discovery!

Surely it would come with that rarefied territory to take on the tiny obligation of spending 5 minutes to use the search engine at the JASNA website, and find out that Juliet McMaster (and even Wiesenfarth and Wiltshire) were all actually far ahead of him in having such a “Eureka!” moment about Jane and Frank’s stolen kiss.

Now, I can’t say I am surprised that the fact checkers at the Guardian and the Telegraph were similarly asleep at the switch, because I have observed the most egregious errors in articles written about Jane Austen on dozens of occasions in major publications on both sides of the Big Pond.  For example, the endless trotting out of the image of the bogus portrait of Jane Austen created by her Bowdlerizing nephew for his 1870 Memoir, instead of the hard-edged but authentic original hanging in the National Portrait Gallery. I’m afraid this one is mostly on Prof. Mullan.

And that brings me to the second part of my curmudgeonly reaction to this latest Jane Austen news tidbit. The Guardian article about Mullan was actually written not by an arts editor without special claims to Austen scholarly knowledge, but by Prof. John Sutherland, who has long made a lucrative writing career out of publishing books with his version of literary sleuthing of hidden meanings in famous novels.

My eyes widened when I saw Sutherland’s byline, because he just happens to be the same fellow who 15 years ago claimed (in the TITLE of one of his popular literary sleuthing books) to have discovered “Who told Lady Catherine”, i.e., that it was Charlotte Lucas who likely was the secret originator of the rumor that Darcy and Elizabeth were engaged, of course in Pride & Prejudice. And the problem I’ve always had with that claim is that Prof. Sutherland, by his own (subsequent) admission, had forgotten that only a year previously, he had been informed in writing of that very same interpretation by the actual originator/discoverer thereof, Dr. Kim Damstra, a Norwegian biologist, who read P&P in English as a second language (and therefore it was an even more remarkable achievement on Damstra’s part).

And, for the record, as I’ve noted several times in the past, Kim’s article citation is as follows:
“The Case Against Charlotte Lucas” by Kim St. John Damstra,  Women’s Writing Vol. 7, #2 (2000).
I first found Kim’s article in 2004 after I independently came up with my own version of Charlotte as a master manipulator, and then found out that Kim had preceded me by several years.

I mention all of this because, in this current Guardian article at
Prof. Sutherland wrote: “Returning to Emma, an Austen heroine’s most prized quality is “bloom”. We are told – more than once – that Jane Fairfax (the name recalls “fair-face”) is so pale as “to give the appearance of ill-health”. I have always indulged the fantasy that she fears she may be a month pregnant and Frank will marry that snobby Emma bitch.”

It is interesting that Prof. Sutherland, who has over the years included several subtextual examples from JA’s novels in his books besides Charlotte Lucas’s rumor-spreading, never did (as far as I can tell online —someone please correct me if I’m wrong) include that speculation about Jane Fairfax’s pregnancy in any of them. He only pops it out now, almost as an afterthought to his plaudits for Prof. Mullan.

And I happen to take a very personal interest on that point of the cause of Jane Fairfax’s ill health, because I am the first to have publicly claimed that Jane Fairfax is already secretly pregnant when she arrives in Highbury. I first wrote that in January 2005 in the Janeites group, and I’ve given numerous presentations in both England (in June 2007 and July 2009) and the US (from 2010 onward) on the topic of Jane Fairfax as the shadow heroine of Emma, whose three trimesters of concealed pregnancy coincide with the three volumes of Emma itself!

For those who haven’t read or heard my detailed evidence in this regard, and are wondering what happens to Jane’s baby, I’ll give you the very quick version of what I believe happens in the shadows. Jane actually does give birth to her illegitimate daughter (not long after going into labor at Box Hill, which is the real reason why she leaves early without wanting to be noticed). But Jane successfully completes her concealment by secretly “handing off” her newborn baby girl to the (suspiciously very-lately-noticed pregnant) Mrs. Weston at the proverbial eleventh hour, who then announces to Emma and everyone else the arrival of “Anna Weston”. And…the bio father, by the way, is not Frank, it’s John Knightley—I refer you to the Search function on this blog for more details.

For now, I just wanted to set the record straight regarding Juliet McMaster’s discovery of Jane and Frank’s stolen kiss, Kim Damstra’s discovery of Charlotte planting the false rumor of Darcy and Eliza’s engagement, and my own discovery of Jane Fairfax’s concealed pregnancy. There is a common pattern here that I wish to counteract. Such things may not amount to a hill of beans to the rest of the world, but in the world of Janeites, especially obsessives like yours truly, these claims may be of great interest.

Cheers, ARNIE
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