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

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The notorious Jacobean tragedy covertly alluded to by Jane Austen in one of her novels

The other day, I posted a literary quiz about an unnamed author and play, and now I’ll provide my answers, followed by my presentation of salient probative textual evidence:

Who is the author?   JOHN FORD
What is the title of the play?   ‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE (1633)
What does the play have to do with Jane Austen’s fiction? AUSTEN ALLUDED TO ‘TIS PITY IN P&P!

[In a followup post, I’ll answer my two bonus questions: “What do all three of those answers have to do with Shakespeare? & What two clever clues are hidden in plain sight in the speech spoken by the Older Spiritual Advisor, which point to Shakespeare?”]

For those Janeites unfamiliar with Ford’s most notorious drama, here is a brief edited synopsis of the first portion, courtesy of Wikipedia:  “Giovanni, recently returned from university study in Bologna, has developed an incestuous passion for his sister Annabella, despite their blood relationship…Annabella, meanwhile, is being approached by a number of suitors, [but] she is not interested in any of them…and when Giovanni finally tells her how he feels (obviously having failed in his attempts to repent), she requites his love immediately. Annabella's tutoress Putana encourages the relationship. The siblings consummate their relationship. “  After that, well….suffice to say that all does NOT end well! ;)

So where does Austen fit in? First and foremost, there’s striking parallelism between the following speeches by Giovanni in Tis Pity, on the one hand, and by Darcy during his first proposal to Eliza, on the other. In both situations, we have a young man in the throes of an enormous internal struggle as to whether to declare his love to a young woman whom he feels strong attraction to, even though she is in important respects a forbidden romantic option. In each case, the young man, overpowered by feelings, bursts out his declaration of love anyway:

First here’s Giovanni just before he declares his incestuous love to sister Annabella:

Lost! I am lost! my fates have doomed my death:
The more I strive, I love; the more I love,
The less I hope: I see my ruin certain.
What judgment or endeavours could apply
To my incurable and restless wounds,
I thoroughly have examined, but IN VAIN.    
O, that it were not in religion sin
To make our love a god, and worship it!
I have even wearied Heaven with prayers, dried up
The spring of my continual tears, even STARVED
My veins with daily fasts: what wit or art
Could counsel, I have practised; but, alas,
I find all these but dreams, and old men's tales,
To fright unsteady youth; I'm still the same:
Or I MUST SPEAK, OR BURST. 'Tis not, I know,
My lust, but 'tis my fate that leads me on.
Keep fear and low faint-hearted shame with slaves!
I'll tell her that I love her, though my heart
Were rated at the price of that attempt.
— O me! she comes.

And then, a few moments later, here is Giovanni actually expressing his love to her:

True, Annabella! 'tis no time to jest.
I have TOO LONG SUPPRESSED the hidden flames
That almost have consumed me: I have spent
Many a silent night in sighs and groans;
Ran over all my thoughts, despised my fate,
Done all that smoothed-cheeked virtue could advise;
But found all bootless: 'tis my destiny
That you must either love, or I must die.
You My sister Annabella; I know this,
And could afford you instance why to love
So much the more for this; to which intent
WISE NATURE first in your creation meant
To make you mine; else't had been sin and foul
To share one beauty to a double soul.

And now, here, of course, are Darcy’s famous passionate words spoken to Eliza--both his own opening line, and also the narration describing the rest of his speech, all of which parallel the verbiage and substance of Giovanni’s speeches:

"IN VAIN have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be REPRESSED. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
Elizabeth's astonishment was beyond EXPRESSION. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed; and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority—of its being a degradation—of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.
… “But perhaps…these offenses might have been overlooked, had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design. These bitter accusations might have been suppressed, had I, with greater policy, concealed my struggles, and flattered you into the belief of my being impelled by unqualified, unalloyed inclination; by REASON, by reflection, by everything. But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were NATURAL and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?—to congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?"

I also see, in Eliza’s reflections after she rejects Darcy’s proposal, including her “pity” for Darcy, yet another Austenian wink at Giovanni’s proposal to Annabella:

…. The tumult of her mind, was now painfully great. She knew not how to support herself, and from actual weakness sat down and cried for half-an-hour. Her astonishment, as she reflected on what had passed, was increased by EVERY REVIEW OF IT. That she should receive an offer of marriage from Mr. Darcy! That he should have been in love with her for so many months! So much in love as to wish to marry her in spite of all the objections which had made him prevent his friend's marrying her sister, and which must appear at least with equal force in his own case—was almost incredible! It was gratifying to have inspired unconsciously so strong an affection .But his pride, his abominable pride—his shameless avowal of what he had done with respect to Jane—his unpardonable assurance in acknowledging, though he could not justify it, and the unfeeling manner in which he had mentioned Mr. Wickham, his cruelty towards whom he had not attempted to deny, soon overcame THE PITY which the consideration of his attachment had for a moment excited…  

Besides this central and salient parallel, there are also some less salient allusions to Tis Pity in P&P (e.g., Darcy’s sharing with Giovanni a love of books), but I’ll leave them for a followup post. I want instead to get right to demonstrating that Austen not only read Ford’s scandalous play, which was first published 180 years before she wrote P&P, and was almost never staged or edited since then until Weber’s 1811 edition of Ford’s plays, due to its central theme being brother-sister incest. It turns out, I suggest, that JA left numerous hints in the text of P&P to show that she had also read the very high-profile recent review thereof (hence also Eliza’s “every REVIEW of it” in the above “pity” paragraph in P&P), written by William Gifford.

That name should ring a loud bell for Janeites, because Gifford was Murray’s principal editor, a literary savant who wrote admiringly about P&P to Murry, and not long afterward edited Emma! His review of Weber’s 1811 Ford edition ran in The Critical Review in 1812, which is exactly when JA was busily at work on the final lopping and cropping of P&P, and I’m certain that JA read it with great approval.

Gifford’s review, entitled “Weber’s Edition of Ford’s Dramatic Works”, contained the following discussion of Ford, which, I suggest, Jane Austen deliberately echoed in a half dozen different passages in P&P. Why? So as to reinforce, for the literati who read The Critical Review, her subliminal but significant allusion in P&P to Ford’s most infamous play, Tis Pity She’s A Whore.

As you’ll see, Gifford (echoing Charles Lamb’s 1808 praise for Ford—and you know that Charles Lamb was very prominent on JA’s radar screen) made an eloquent plea for appreciation of Ford’s maligned masterwork.  Gifford asking readers to look past Ford’s scandalous theme and “coarse” sexual frankness to reach a deeper appreciation of his overarching literary greatness and beauty—and I believe that is exactly the way Jane Austen read Ford as well, even though, for obvious reasons, she was not about to be explicit in her praise for Tis Pity.

Immediately following the Gifford passage, I’ll present the various passages in P&P which echo it (with parallel verbiage in both in ALL CAPS to make the parallels more visible):

“…Incest has always been a favourite subject with tragic writers of strong powers. Mr. Lamb has given two or three beautiful scenes from this play…Tis Pity is so well known to all whose curiosity has ever TEMPTED them to look into the collection published by Dodsley, (in other words, to all lovers of the antient Drama,) that it is unnecessary to make any particular observations on it in this place. The vivid glow of passion, with which the incestuous INTERCOURSE of Giovanni and Annabella is delineated …has been justly remarked by Mr. Weber as well as other critics and is EQUALLY DESERVING OF poetical ADMIRATION and moral CENSURE: but the NATURAL and consistent DISCRIMINATION of character, so rarely to be found among the old dramatists, except in Shakspere, does not appear to have been so well understood, at least by the present editor...[Weber]: ‘The wicked assurance of Annabella is very properly introduced, though perhaps not with such a design, to erase the pity we had felt for her at first, when her perfections were painted in such strong colours.’ Ford had no other ‘design’ than that (in which he has fully succeeded) of painting A MIND NATURALLY GOOD AND NOBLE, but rendered CORRUPT by the long INDULGENCE of a criminal passion, out-braving the vehemence of angry REPROOF and cruel treatment by an AFFECTED and overstrained assurance, but subdued in an instant and touched with the acutest sense of guilt by the change from furious vehemence to GENTLENESS and mildness. The revolting COARSENESS of the dialogue is another consideration, and the fault rather of the age than of the author. It may, however, be observed that THE EFFECT OF CONTRAST IS HEIGHTENED BY IT.”

Now here are the echoing passages in P&P involving Lizzy & Darcy, with Darcy’s description of his own mixed character particularly echoing Gifford’s description of Giovanni’s mixed character:

"Your PICTURE may be very exact, Louisa," said Bingley; "but this was all lost upon me. I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked remarkably well when she came into the room this morning. Her DIRTY petticoat quite escaped my notice."
"You observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure," said Miss Bingley; "and I am inclined to think that you would not wish to see YOUR SISTER make such an exhibition."
…"I am afraid, Mr. Darcy," observed Miss Bingley in a half whisper, "that this adventure has rather affected your ADMIRATION of her fine eyes."
"Not at all," he replied; "they were BRIGHTENED BY the exercise."

"How very ill Miss Eliza Bennet looks this morning, Mr. Darcy," she cried; "I never in my life saw anyone so much altered as she is since the winter. She is grown so brown and COARSE! Louisa and I were agreeing that we should not have known her again.
 [just as Gifford’s admiration of Tis Pity is heightened by the contrast of the coarse dialog with it’s the play’s serious theme]
"Miss Eliza Bennet," said Miss Bingley, "despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else."
"I DESERVE neither such PRAISE nor such CENSURE," cried Elizabeth; "I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things."
….“…But amidst your concern for the defects of your nearest relations, and your displeasure at this representation of them, let it give you consolation to consider that, to have conducted yourselves so as to avoid any share of the like CENSURE, is PRAISE no less generally bestowed on you and your elder sister, than it is honourable to the sense and disposition of both.
 [just as Tis Pity deserves both poetical admiration and moral censure]

“…I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!"
"I have been used to consider POETRY as the food of love," said Darcy.
"Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that ONE GOOD SONNET will STARVE it entirely away."
Darcy only smiled…

She paused, and saw with no slight indignation that he was listening with an air which proved him wholly unmoved by any feeling of remorse. He even looked at her with a smile of AFFECTED incredulity.
“You could not have made the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have TEMPTED me to accept it."

 Oh! why did she come? Or, why did he thus come a day before he was expected? Had they been only ten minutes sooner, they should have been beyond the reach of his DISCRIMINATION; for it was plain that he was that moment arrived—that moment alighted from his horse or his carriage. She blushed again and again over the perverseness of the meeting. And his behaviour, so strikingly altered—what could it mean? That he should even speak to her was amazing!—but to speak with such civility, to inquire after her family! Never in her life had she seen his manners so little dignified, never had he spoken with such GENTLENESS as on this unexpected meeting. What a contrast did it offer to his last address in Rosings Park, when he put his letter into her hand! She knew not what to think, or how to account for it.

When she saw him thus seeking the acquaintance and courting the good opinion of people with whom any INTERCOURSE a few months ago would have been a DISGRACE—when she saw him thus civil, not only to herself, but to the very relations whom he had openly disdained, and recollected their last lively scene in Hunsford Parsonage—the difference, the change was so great, and struck so forcibly on her mind, that she could hardly restrain her astonishment from being visible.

“…As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was SPOILT by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing…”

Had you not been really amiable, you would have HATED me for it; but in spite of the pains you took to disguise yourself, your feelings were ALWAYS NOBLE and just; and in your heart, you thoroughly despised the persons who so assiduously courted you.

 Now……the big question that surely has occurred to many of  you by now is, “Why, oh why, would Jane Austen consciously allude to the incest theme of Tis Pity in such a complex fashion in P&P, and in particular why would she repeatedly and very specifically depict Darcy as an echo of Giovanni?

My very short answer is --- because Austen intended thereby to add to her portrait of Darcy as having incestuous inclinations! That’s a suggestion I’ve previously made a few times, in calling Darcy “Jane Austen’s Byronic hero/villain”. Beyond that tempting hint, I’ll leave a full explanation for a future time.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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