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

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Caroline’s dark dig at Jane’s 3 absent beaux (& their "numerous" stand-ins!) in Pride & Prejudice

In my post yesterday... …I showed that Jane Bennet’s emotional and physical distress was the hidden reason why the Gardiner children do not visit Longbourn at Christmas. Today, I’ll zero in on another side of Jane’s Christmas angst---a wound inflicted on her by the cruel words which Caroline Bingley writes to Jane, not long before the Bingleys and Darcy leave Netherfield:   

“Many of my acquaintances are already there [in London] for the winter; I wish that I could hear that you, my dearest friend, had any intention of making one of the crowd—but of that I despair. I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings, and that your beaux will be so numerous as to prevent your feeling the loss of the three of whom we shall deprive you."

Aside from the irony of Caroline’s malicious reference to “the gaieties” which the Christmas season generally brings, gaiety being the diametric opposite of what Christmas actually will be like for the abruptly Bingley-less Jane, who exactly are those three beaux whose loss Caroline mockingly suggests Jane will feel?

Obviously one of them is Bingley, and a second one must be Darcy, who is after all, like Bingley, also a single men leaving for London. That makes two, but who is the third beau? The only logical choice seems to be Mr. Hurst----but he, of course, is a married man.  So, why does Caroline refer to a married man as one of Jane’s beaux?

Referring to Darcy, the best friend of Jane’s beloved Bingley, as a beau of Jane’s, is edgy enough. But adding to Jane’s list of wooers the indolent, stupid, and very married Mr. Hurst, stretches the definition of ‘beau’ miles beyond a playful conceit on Jane’s beauty as a flame to which men, like moths, are drawn. Rather, it’s clear, upon such close reading, that Caroline is casting a (very) thinly veiled slur on Jane’s chastity! I.e., she’s hinting that Jane is hot to trot for pretty much anyone wearing pants, regardless of marital status or personality.

Sounds crazy? Well, actually…I’ve been coy so far about what I really think—which is that Caroline is going one giant step further over the line---she’s suggesting not only that Jane has been illicitly involved with all three of those “beaux” during their brief stay at Netherfield, but that, even after they leave, Jane’s ‘beaux will be so numerous’ that Jane won’t notice their absence. I.e., Caroline is not just calling Jane (in Shakespearean terms) a “contaminated stale”, but something far worse…. a “working girl”!

Sounds completely crazy? Well, before you exit out of this post in disgust, consider the following:

First, those who heard me address the JASNA Los Angeles chapter in late 2011 will recall that I publicly disclosed that sweet, Pollyannaish Jane actually led a double life which clueless Eliza was utterly unaware of. In particular, I showed how Jane Austen, in her May 24, 1813 letter to Cassandra playfully telling how she saw portraits of Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Bingley at a London art exhibition, actually drew a strong implicit connection between the fictional Jane Bingley and the most notorious real life Regency Era courtesan to the British elite: Harriette Wilson. 

Second, my reference to a “contaminated stale”, above, was a hint to what I wrote four months ago here…   ….about the slandering of Hero in Much Ado as yet another allusive source for the slandering of Jane Bennet in Pride & Prejudice. The decisive point in that recent post was my decoding the malicious meaning behind Lady Lucas’s retort to Mrs. Bennet in their verbal duel of matchmaking mothers in Chapter 5 of P&P: 
"Upon my word! Well, that is very decided indeed—that does seem as if—but, however, it may all come to nothing, you know."  

“It” refers to the fresh and promising romance between Jane and Bingley, and I wrote the following about Lady Lucas’s comment:
“It took me a second to realize that Lady Lucas’s seemingly magically prophetic words are actually a subtle clue that Lady Lucas will eventually follow up to this war of words with her neighbor Mrs. Bennet, by covertly slandering Jane, by casting a slur on Jane’s reputation that reaches the ears of Darcy, and thereby self-fulfills her own prophecy!... I see Lady Lucas as perpetrating the same slander that the villain Don John (inspired and assisted by his clever henchman Borachio) does to the chaste, modest Hero’s reputation in Much Ado About Nothing….And this interpretation also makes Darcy’s meddling in separating Bingley from Jane more rational---like Much Ado’s aristocratic prince Don Pedro, the aristocratic Darcy would have had a bona fide reason for intervening to keep his impressionable friend free from a disastrous match. And it would also fit with Colonel Fitzwilliam’s curious comment to Eliza about the “strong objections against” Jane, which made Darcy feel triumphant in separating Jane from Bingley….” END QUOTE FROM MY EARLIER POST

So, in a nutshell, I’m saying that we see in Caroline’s cavalier reference, in Chapter 21, to Jane’s loss of three beaux at Christmas, the result of Lady Lucas’s veiled threat to put the kibosh on Bingley’s wooing of Jane, way back in Chapter 5.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


Diane Reynolds said...


Very interesting catch on the three beaux. I had completely missed that. Does the word beau show up elsewhere in the novel? I ask because I immediately thought of the beaux Anne Ferrars goes on about in Sense and Sensibility, where the word attains an unsavory quality. Just the fact that Caroline uses that term seems a red flag to me.

Arnie Perlstein said...

Hey, that line about "three beaux" has been overlooked by 99.99% of readers of P&P, and not fully understand by the small handful who've actually thought about it.

You are absolutely correct about Anne Steele, I noticed yesterday that she actually explicitly raises the topic of "married beaux":

I suppose your brother was quite a beau, Miss Dashwood, before he married, as he was so rich?"

"Upon my word," replied Elinor, "I cannot tell you, for I do not perfectly comprehend the meaning of the word. But this I can say, that if he ever was a beau before he married, he is one still for there is not the smallest alteration in him."

"Oh! dear! one never thinks of married men's being beaux—they have something else to do."

"Lord! Anne," cried her sister, "you can talk of nothing but beaux;—you will make Miss Dashwood believe you think of nothing else." And then to turn the discourse, she began admiring the house and the furniture.

I think Lucy changes the subject so quickly because....either Anne or Lucy, or perhaps both, are "working girls", and John is actually one of their clients!

Diane Reynolds said...

Yes, Anne Steele, of course, the sister of the woman who steals men from under people's noses. Beaux certainly seems a synonym for lover/womanizer in the S&S passage. First, Lucy reacts to her sister's " they have something else to do," ie, have sex with their wives, with such embarrasment that we know the term is unsavory. Of course,if Elinor really is clueless about what the word means, she cluelessly admits her half brother continues to be a womanizer after getting married, which puts another spin on why he might need the inheritance, or worse she really does know and is taking a wicked shot at him. Perfect Austen, either way!