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

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

“We are FORCED TO Rejoice” about Colonel FORSTER’s failure as "FOSTER father" to Lydia in Brighton

In followup to my recent discussion with Diane Reynolds re Darcy as Iago, I just realized who is the other assistant to Mr. Darcy in his campaign to subtly coerce Elizabeth into marrying him. It’s the person without whose assistance Darcy could never have discreetly and effectively stage-managed the Wickham-Lydia elopement and shotgun-marriage---- Colonel Forster!

As I stated in my previous post in our recent thread, I already had deduced that Mrs. Yonge must be in cahoots with Darcy, so as to let Darcy know exactly where to find Wickham and Lydia; but I was still unclear as to how Darcy managed to maintain some measure of remote control over what went on between Wickham and Lydia prior to their arrival in London.

That's when it dawned on me – of course! It's Colonel Forster who proposes the excursion to Brighton, it's Colonel Forster's wife who is Lydia's bosom friend, and it's Colonel Forster’s surrogate oversight upon which  Mr. Bennet relies in order to keep an eye on Lydia. I also suspect that there are a few more duties fulfilled by the Colonel that will become visible as I think about this some more—such as, e.g., the possibility that the Colonel, at Darcy’s suggestion, followed Iago’s lead and got Wickham drunk a good deal in Brighton, and maybe even took him out to gaming establishments as well.

This list I just described already collectively pegs the Colonel as just the man Darcy would have depended upon to look the other way at just the right moment, so as to gull Wickham into believing he and Lydia were slipping away to Mrs. Yonge in London scot-free (so to speak) and unfollowed.

But that’s only the half of this amazing tour de force by JA. I believe she also gave us nonstop subliminal hints the entire length of the novel, as to the importance of Colonel Forster in the shadow story of P&P, including , for starters, in this passage:

"What does Mr. Darcy mean," said she to Charlotte, "by listening to my conversation with Colonel Forster?"
"That is a question which Mr. Darcy only can answer."

This is JA’s early wink at the beginning of a connection between Darcy and the Colonel . In the overt story, it suggests nothing other than that Darcy eavesdrops solely to satisfy his own surprising (to him) spike of interest in Elizabeth’s intelligent “beautiful dark eyes”, and that is a reasonable assumption. However, once armed with the hindsight of my interpretation of the shadow story, most of all as to Darcy as Iago and Colonel Forster as one of his minions, I imagine that Darcy recalls that bit of eavesdropping when he reaches out to Colonel Forster after Elizabeth rejects his first proposal, in order to enlist his assistance. I also imagine that Darcy’s offer was sweetened by the offer of an appropriate emolument, to be paid to the Colonel upon the successful completion of Darcy’s scheme to make himself a hero to Elizabeth. And so, what a rich irony to read Charlotte’s coy explanation of the reason for Darcy’s eavesdropping being “a question which Mr. Darcy only can answer”—indeed that is an appropriate way to describe the motivation and tactics of a Regency Era Iago! And it is especially so, because I have believed since 2004 what Kim Damstra first showed in 1999, i.e., that Charlotte is a benevolent Iago who works behind the scenes to bring about the marriage of Elizabeth to Darcy, for the higher purpose of Charlotte once again getting to live in close proximity to the one she loves—Elizabeth!

But back to Colonel Forster. That passage is, as I said, only for starters. It turns out that there is an even more audacious train of continuing wordplay in P&P, which reinforces, at nearly a dozen key points in the storyline, the role that Colonel Forster plays that helps Darcy to force her (meaning Elizabeth) to marry him!  I’m not the first to notice this wordplay, I found an April 2009 Honors Thesis entitled  “Jane Austin and the significance of names” by Amanda Katherine Reinbold,, which stated the following: 

“When read out loud, the name [Forster] can sound like “forced her.” The language in the novel that surrounds the descriptions Lydia gives of Mrs. Forster in particular support the connection of this surname with the idea of force. For example, one paragraph in which Lydia describes to her sisters a party that the Forsters have thrown also contains the phrase “forced to” twice: “…Pen was FORCED to come by HERself” and “…we were FORCED to borrow one of HER gowns”. Though this scene itself is not the most explicit representation of the Forsters’ purpose in the novel, the language the narrator uses surrounding them invites this reading. As the couple, they force into existence the situation that loses Lydia her reputation, though Lydia is anything but an innocent bystander.”

My addition of ALL CAPS illustrates that Reinbold only fell short, in failing to note that it wasn’t just “forced” that was echoed in both of those quoted passages, it was “forced…her” (homophone of “Forster”)---and she also failed to note the obvious sexual innuendo in those two particularly lewd statements uttered by the shameless Lydia.

But those two passages are only the tip of an iceberg of subliminal allusion, as we see in the following additional passages that all hint at the sound of the name “Forster”:

Immediately before we read Colonel Forster’s name for the first time in that eavesdropping scene, we read: “Though [Darcy] had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in [Elizabeth’s] form, he was FORCED to acknowledge HER figure to be light and pleasing…”

Then, when Mrs. Bennet attempts damage control after Elizabeth rejects Mr. Collins’s proposal, he replies: “If therefore she actually persists in rejecting my suit, perhaps it were better not to FORCE HER into accepting me, because if liable to such defects of temper, she could not contribute much to my felicity."

Then, when Mrs. Bennet grumbles about Charlotte swooping Mr. Collins up in the aftermath of Elizabeth’s rejection, she adds three “hers” after “forced”, as if to lengthen out the last syllable of the name, for humourous effect,  to sound like “Forstererer”: "Indeed, Mr. Bennet," said she, "it is very hard to think that Charlotte Lucas should ever be mistress of this house, that I should be FORCED to make way for HER, and live to see HER take HER place in it!"

But then, as if to ratchet up the subliminal suggestion to a fever pitch, when Mr. Bennet rationalizes sending Lydia off with the Colonel and his wife to Brighton, we read not one, not three, but FIVE “hers” following “forced”, sounding like Forstererererer!!!!!:   With this answer Elizabeth was FORCED to be content; but HER own opinion continued the same, and she left him disappointed and sorry. It was not in HER nature, however, to increase HER vexations by dwelling on them. She was confident of having performed HER duty, and to fret over unavoidable evils, or augment them by anxiety, was no part of HER disposition.

But we’re still not done. When Elizabeth is being subjected to the intense pressure (or “force”) of the Pemberley experience, plus seeing Bingley again, we read:  But she had no reason to fear Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner's curiosity; it was not their wish to FORCE HER communication.

And then, while still at Pembeley, after Caroline Bingley gets the final humiliation of hearing Darcy reassert his admiration for Elizabeth’s looks, we read: He then went away, and Miss Bingley was left to all the satisfaction of having FORCED him to say what gave no one any pain but HERself.

But perhaps the eleverest wordplay in this vein is Elizabeth’s reaction to Jane as soon as they are alone after learning the news about Wickham and Lydia: “…That they should marry, small as is their chance of happiness, and wretched as is his character, we are FORCED TO Rejoice. Oh, Lydia!"  ---“forcetor”, spread across three words, is a perfect homonym for “Forster”, and I imagine Jane Austen took special pride in that bit of wordplay!

And of course it is fitting that Lydia should prompt the next one, given that Elizabeth’s curiosity has been provoked to find out why Darcy was at Wickham’s wedding:
"Thank you," said Lydia, "for if you did, I should certainly tell you all, and then Wickham would be angry."
On such encouragement to ask, Elizabeth was FORCED to put it out of HER power, by running away.
But to live in ignorance on such a point was impossible; or at least it was impossible not to try for information. Mr. Darcy had been at HER sister's wedding.

And then Lydia is again a part of the next such passage in P&P:
The day of his and Lydia's departure soon came, and Mrs. Bennet was FORCED to submit to a separation, which, as her husband by no means entered into HER scheme of their all going to Newcastle, was likely to continue at least a twelvemonth.

And it is altogether fitting that the final such passage is the one which occurs at the very instant when Darcy has indeed “forced her” (meaning Elizabeth) to accept his second proposal:   Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now FORCED HERself to speak…

Elizabeth only thinks that she forced herself—but those who know the shadow story of P&P know that Darcy “forced her” (with that key assist from Colonel Forster!)

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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