(& scroll all the way down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Friday, June 10, 2016

“Abominable” ghostwritten letters are key to decoding the Prince of W-h-ales subtext in Austen’s Emma

During the past several days, I’ve claimed, in two successive posts…   …that there’s a common connection underlying Jane Austen’s satire of the Prince Regent (aka the Prince of W-h-ales) which unites a dozen seemingly unconnected passages in Emma.

Today I return to outline that connection, which hinges on the repeated motif of strategically ghostwritten letters, combined with a cluster of 3 words (“abominable”, “indignation” and “warmest”), which appears 3 times in the text of Emma (as in the Magic Flute-like motif of the # 3: the 3 come-at-able ladies, the 3 teachers, Mr. Woodhouse’s 3 turns and 3x-baked apples, and 3 dull things at Box Hill) and leads (fittingly) to the following 3 significant inferences:

ONE: All Janeites know that Knightley correctly guesses that Emma ghostwrites Harriet Smith’s letter rejecting Robert Martin’s written proposal letter. However, only a few (including my friend Barbara Mann in 2002, and myself in 2005) have recognized that Knightley is primed to make this correct guess, because “it takes one to know one”, i.e., it is Knightley himself (not, as Emma guesses, the Martin sisters) who, despite his claim of never engaging in deceit, ghostwrites Robert Martin’s proposal letter. That’s why he gets so angry, he’s been beaten at his own game by the unwitting Emma!

TWO: Knightley turns out to be a serial ghostwriter, given that he also ghostwrites the latter part of Frank Churchill’s long letter to Mrs. Weston (which comprises almost all of Chapter 50), forcing Frank to pretend that he and Jane were engaged all along, when Jane and Frank actually only had a sexual affair, initiated by Jane, who was seeking a husband after she found herself pregnant by the married John Knightley.

THREE: By echoing of key words and phrases, Jane Austen also meant her political tabloid-savvy readers to recognize her veiled allusion to Princess Caroline’s highly publicized January 1813 letter to her husband the Prince Regent, in which the Princess urges him to stop preventing her from having a real relationship with their daughter Princess Charlotte. It must have been obvious to those knowledgeable political observers that the Princess’s letter, which was far too well-written to have actually been authored by the foreign-born, legally unsavvy Princess, was ghostwritten. We know today that the ghostwriter was Henry (later Lord) Brougham, a Whig reformer and skilled advocate on her behalf.

That’s the gist of my argument, but now I will give you the highlights of the textual evidence in Emma
which I say supports my claims:

Ch. 43:  "Oh! for myself, I protest I must be excused," said Mrs. Elton; "I really cannot attempt—I am not at all fond of the sort of thing. I had an acrostic once sent to me upon my own name, which I was not at all pleased with. I knew who it came from. An ABOMINABLE PUPPY!—You know who I mean (nodding to her husband). 

I realized a decade ago that the “abominable puppy” Mrs. Elton refers to but doesn’t name--yet her husband Mr. Elton know exactly who she means---is Frank Churchill, who, several months earlier, while out on the singles social circuit with his “wing man”, that very same Mr. Elton, had jilted the then Miss Hawkins when he made his sudden trip to London for a “haircut”, because Frank believes he has good prospects for marrying Emma!
By that derisive term “abominable puppy”, Mrs. Elton, the proverbial woman scorned, invokes Trinculo’s description of the monstrous Caliban in The Tempest, and throws in a racist innuendo that Frank is of mixed race, to boot:

CALIBAN     I'll kiss thy foot; I'll swear myself thy subject.  
STEPHANO  Come on then; down, and swear. 
TRINCULO   I shall laugh myself to death at this PUPPY-headed monster. A most scurvy monster! I could find in my heart to beat him,-- 
STEPHANO  Come, kiss.
TRINCULO   But that the poor m in drink: an ABOMINABLE monster!

Ch. 49:  "Time, my dearest Emma, time will heal the wound.—Your own excellent sense—your exertions for your father's sake—I know you will not allow yourself—." Her arm was pressed again, as he added, in a more broken and subdued accent, "The feelings of the WARMEST friendship—INDIGNATION—ABOMINABLE  scoundrel!"—And in a louder, steadier tone, he concluded with, "He will soon be gone. They will soon be in Yorkshire. I am sorry for her. She deserves a better fate."

As to Knightley’s second sentence, it is (as with Mrs. Elton’s “abominable puppy”) Frank Churchill whom Knightley is muttering about; and he speaks it in “a more subdued accent”, because, as I also pointed out a decade ago, those are three words/phrases which all also appear in significant passages in Frank’s letter to Mrs. Weston in Chapter 50.
This tells us, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that at a minimum Knightley has already read Frank’s letter in Chapter 49 (even though we hear in Chapter 51, when Emma and Knightley discuss Frank’s letter, that Knightley is supposedly reading the letter for the first time!); and at a maximum, Knightley has (as I stated above) dictated the latter part of Frank’s letter, much the same way that all Janeites know that the new Mrs. Willoughby dictates Willoughby’s jilting letter to Marianne in S&S.

Ch. 39:    In the few minutes' conversation which [Emma] had yet had with [Frank], while Harriet had been partially insensible, he had spoken of her terror, her naivete, her fervour as she seized and clung to his arm, with a sensibility amused and delighted; and just at last, after Harriet's own account had been given, he had expressed his INDIGNATION at the ABOMINABLE folly of Miss Bickerton in the WARMEST terms.

What I didn’t realize till last week, despite my longstanding awareness of those three words/phrases being echoed by Knightley before he is supposed to have read them in Frank’s letter, is that these same three words actually also appear in Frank’s above, negative appraisal of Miss Bickerton’s leaving Harriet in the lurch. What does this treble echoing in these three seemingly unconnected passages mean? I suggest that they all point to a common denominator, the “abominable” Frank.

Ch. 20 “…Manners were all that could be safely judged of, under a much longer knowledge than they had yet had of Mr. Churchill. [Jane] believed every body found his manners pleasing."
            Emma could not forgive her.
Ch. 21 Emma could not forgive her; --but as neither provocation nor resentment were discerned by Mr. Knightley, who had been of the party, and had seen only proper attention and pleasing behaviour on each side…

What Jane Austen means by having the anadiplosis of “Emma could not forgive her” (that bridges Chapters 20 & 21) strongly echo the following famous passage in her 02/16/13 letter [Letter 82] to Martha Lloyd about “the Princess of Wales”, is, I believe, an in-joke for Martha Lloyd’s private benefit, in light of the veiled allusion to the Princess’s letter which prompted JA’s following comment in Letter 82:

“I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter.  Poor Woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband—but I CAN HARDLY FORGIVE HER for calling herself “attached & affectionate” to a Man whom she must detest..I do not know what to do about it; but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first.”

And I conclude with the following highlights from the Princess’s famous (ghostwritten) letter to her husband the Prince Regent, with the words/phrases echoed in Emma (in the passages in my first post, linked above) in ALL CAPS:

"Sir, It is with great reluctance that I presume to OBTRUDE myself upon your Royal Highness, and to solicit your attention to matters which may, at first, appear rather of a personal than a public nature.
…I should continue, in silence and retirement, to lead the life which has been prescribed to me, and console myself for the loss of that society and those domestic COMFORTS to which I have so long been a stranger, by the reflection that it has been deemed proper I should be AFFLICTED without any fault of my own—and that your Royal Highness knows. But, Sir, there are considerations of a higher nature than any regard to my own happiness, which render this address a duty both to myself and my daughter. May I venture to say —a duty also to my husband, and the people committed to his care? There is a point beyond which a guiltless woman cannot with safety carry her forbearance.
It is impossible, sir, that any one can have attempted to persuade your Royal Highness, that her character will not be injured by the perpetual violence offered to her strongest affections—the studied care taken to estrange her from my society, and even to interrupt all communication between us. That her love for me, with whom, by his Majesty's wise and gracious arrangements, she passed the years of her infancy and childhood, never can be extinguished, I well know, and the knowledge of it forms THE GREATEST BLESSING OF MY EXISTENCE. But let me implore your Royal Highness to reflect how inevitably all attempts to abate this attachment, by forcibly separating us, if they succeed, must injure my child's principles —if they fail, must destroy her happiness.
The plan of excluding my daughter from all intercourse with the world, appears to my humble judgment peculiarly unfortunate. She who is destined to be the sovereign of this great country, enjoys none of those advantages of society which are deemed necessary for imparting a knowledge of mankind to persons who have infinitely less occasion to learn that important lesson; and it may so happen, by a chance which I trust is very remote, that she should be called upon to exercise the powers of the Crown, with an experience of the world more confined than that of the most private individual. To the extraordinary talents with which she is blessed, and which accompany a DISPOSITION as singularly amiable, frank, and decided, I willingly trust much; but beyond a certain point the greatest natural endowments cannot struggle against the disadvantages of circumstances and situation.
To the same unfortunate counsels I ascribe a circumstance in every way so DISTRESSING both to my parental and religious feelings, that my daughter has never yet enjoyed the benefit of confirmation, although above a year older than the age at which all the other branches of the royal family have partaken of that solemnity.”  END QUOTE FROM PRINCESS CAROLINE’S JANUARY 1813 LETTER

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

No comments: