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

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Darcy takes Eliza (aka Dr Syntax) for a ride, & she obligingly/willingly forgets what a jerk he is!

Today, I’ll elaborate on the hidden connection between 2 (Dr. Syntax & Elizabeth’s “unlucky recollections”) of the 8 points I made in my omnibus post yesterday....
...about the pervasive Gilpinesque subtext of P&P. It’s a connection which significantly supports my longstanding interpretation of Mr. Darcy, in the shadow story, as in effect taking Elizabeth Bennet for a proverbial ride. He does this by covertly staging an ersatz picturesque tour for her, which includes “views” of him as a repentant, worthy lover & responsible master of the visually spectacular Pemberley; and along the way, he pulls for, and obtains, Elizabeth’s unwitting cooperation, as she (ironically) works very hard to erase all memory of the narcissistic, unfeeling, manipulative jerk he was, and in actuality never ceases to be.  

I begin with the Dr. Syntax subtext of P&P, whom I briefly discussed yesterday as follows:

“1814: Letter 97 from Jane to Cassandra Austen from London:  “I have seen nobody in London yet with such a long chin as Dr. Syntax, nor Anybody quite so large as Gogmagoglicus.”
Here’s what A. Walton Litz had to say about that sentence in the 1979 debut issue of Persuasions:
“By the time she “lop’t and crop’t” P&P around 1811-12, the picturesque of William Gilpin was going out of fashion, replaced by the more sublime intimations of high Romanticism. It had also received a heavy blow in William Combe’s Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque (1809-12), which JA may have read while reworking P&P. Combe’s satire and the wonderful Rowlandson illustrations exposed all [of Gilpin’s] absurdities that had so delighted the young Jane Austen.”
I believe that Litz grossly underestimated the significance of Combe’s Dr. Syntax satire in the subtext of P&P – for example, I see Dr. Syntax as one of the sources for Mr. Collins and his absurd flattery of Lady Catherine’s taste at Rosings, and also a source for the strange references to a “big chin” that I discussed in my post last week about the 15 detailed parallels between Lydia Bennet’s account of the edgy cross-dressing hijinks at the roadside inn in Chapter 39 of  P&P, and Jane Austen’ own account of her and her mother’ trip moving to Bath in early May 1801. “ END QUOTE FROM MY LAST POST

What I didn’t make clear yesterday was that the gist of Combes’s satire was that Gilpin’s rules of the picturesque were an inadvertent guidebook for a modern-day Quixote, whose imagination runs wild seeing what is not actually there –sorta like Emma Woodhouse the imaginist all Janeites know, right? Combes’s collaborator Rowlandson provided the emblematic image of the first Dr. Syntax Tour in 1812 with his long-chinned Dr. Syntax riding up to a crossroads directional sign….
….and promptly turning the sign itself into a picturesque object, as wryly described in the following verses:

Thus as he ponder’d what to do,  A GUIDE POST ROSE WITHIN HIS VIEW
And, when the pleasing shape he spied,  He prick’d his steed and thither hied;
But some unheeding, senseless Wight,  Who to fair learning ow’d a spite,
Had ev’ry letter’d mark defac’d,  Which once its several pointers grac’d.
The mangled post thus long had stood, An uninforming piece of wood;
Like other guides, as some folks say, Who neither lead, nor tell the way.
The Sun, as hot as he was bright, Had got to his meridian height:
’Twas sultry noon—for not a breath  Of cooling zephyr fann’d the heath ;
When Syntax cried—“ ’Tis all in vain  To find my way across the plain;
So here my fortune I will try, And wait till some one passes by:
Upon that bank awhile I’ll sit,  And let poor Grizzle graze a bit;
But, as my time shall not be lost,  I’LL MAKE A DRAWING OF THE POST;
And, tho’ a flimsy taste may flout it,  THERE’S SOMETHING PICTURESQUE ABOUT IT:
’Tis rude and rough, without a gloss, And is well cover’d o’er with moss;
And I’ve a right—(who dares deny it ?)  To place yon group of asses by it.
Aye! this will do: and now I’m thinking,  That self-same pond where Grizzle’s drinking
If hither brought ’twould better seem, And faith I’ll turn it to a stream:
I’ll make this flat a shaggy ridge, And o’er the water throw a bridge:
I’ll do as other sketchers do—  Put any thing into the view;
And any object recollect, To add a grace, and give effect.
Thus, though from truth I haply err.  The scene preserves its character.
What man of taste my right will doubt,  To put things in, or leave them out?
’Tis more than right, it is a duty. If we consider landscape beauty:
He ne’er will as an artist shine, Who copies Nature line by line:
Whoe’er from Nature takes a view,  Must copy and improve it too.
To heighten every work of art, Fancy should take an active part:
Thus I (which few I think can boast) HAVE MADE A LANDSCAPE OF A POST.

So, Dr. Syntax, like Cervantes’s Don Quixote (whom Combes actually mentions), rationalizes a major twisting of the mundane reality of a signpost into a landscape, i.e., absurdly confusing the symbol with the thing it symbolizes. I suggest to you that Jane Austen very deliberately wove an alternative view of Elizabeth Bennet as a Quixotic Dr. Syntax into P&P, such that what Elizabeth experiences as an epiphany in stages as to Darcy’s being the best of men, is actually the diametric opposite, a “tour” through a fake landscape that leads to marriage to a bad man who will not treat her well. And Jane Austen brilliantly plots P&P such that Elizabeth’s internal “tour” of epiphany corresponds precisely to her external, physical tour with the Gardiners, who literally act as the “signpost” who point her to Pemberley and Darcy.

With me so far? Now, I’ll bring in the other point from my post yesterday, about Elizabeth’s “unlucky recollections”, which I now re-quote:

“P&P Chapter 42: “The walk here being here less sheltered than on the other side, allowed them to see him before they met. Elizabeth, however astonished, was at least more prepared for an interview than before, and resolved to appear and to speak with calmness, if he really intended to meet them. For a few moments, indeed, she felt that he would probably strike into some other path. The idea lasted while a turning in the walk concealed him from their view; the turning past, he was immediately before them. With a glance, she saw that he had lost none of his recent civility; and, to imitate his politeness, she began, as they met, to admire the beauty of the place; but she had not got beyond the words "delightful," and "charming," when SOME UNLUCKY RECOLLECTIONS OBTRUDED, and she fancied that praise of Pemberley from her might be MISCHIEVOUSLY CONSTRUED….” 
Before today, no Austen scholar has ever satisfactorily explained which “unlucky recollections obtruded” in Elizabeth’s mind, which led her to fear her praise of Pemberley “might be mischievously construed”. I now claim that once the reader recognizes the pervasive significance of Gilpin’s picturesque in P&P, you then realize that Elizabeth’s “unlucky recollections” are triggered by the words “delight” and “charming”, which are the very words used by Elizabeth in her witty Gilpin-based putdown in Chapter 10 which I quoted in Answer #5 above, when Elizabeth covertly mocks Darcy and the Bingley sisters as if they were three cows being aesthetically arranged in the Netherfield shrubbery!
I.e., Elizabeth, who is in the quoted passage in Chapter 42 in the shrubbery of Pemberley, once again accidentally encounters Darcy, exactly as she did back in Chapter 10 in the shrubbery at Netherfield ---  but this time her feelings are utterly different --- she is now firmly under the spell of Pemberley and the miraculously “reformed” Darcy, and so, of course, she does not wish to remind Darcy of how she skewered him back then.
And this desire of Elizabeth to obliterate her own memory of still fairly recent conflict with Darcy is then revisited twice more before the novel’s end:
first in Chapter 58, when she says to Darcy, “You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.",
and then again when she speaks to Jane in Chapter 59: “Perhaps I did not always love him so well as I do now. But in such cases as these, a good memory is unpardonable. This is the last time I shall ever remember it myself."
But most extraordinary of all on this point, is how my above reading takes on shocking alternative significance, when the reader sees it in the context of the shadow story, and realizes, as I did several year ago, that Darcy has staged that latter “accidental” meeting in the Pemberley shrubbery, precisely so as to force Elizabeth to remember that earlier scene in the Netherfield shrubbery!! He deliberately coordinates his appearance from around the corner so as to reignite that earlier memory, and induce her to feel acutely embarrassed and ashamed—in effect, he is like Duke Vincentio in Meaure for Measure, stage-managing a reenactment of an earlier “scene”, but this time making sure that the “role” played by Elizabeth is to his own satisfaction! Or, to use picturesque terminology, Darcy thereby has repainted the picture of what happened between him and Elizabeth, in order to induce her to erase the part about her calling him out for repeatedly being a first class jerk to her---and she docilely complies, like one of Gilpin’s cows!”   END QUOTE FROM MY LAST POST

It was only after rereading my last post, that I noticed the oddness of Elizabeth’s mantra at the end of the novel, as she twice (playfully yet insistently) touts the benefits of forgetting the past. And I see them as evidence that those “unlucky recollections” which Elizabeth wished to suppress in Chapter 43 had taken firm root in Elizabeth’s mind by novel’s end; and that became even clearer when I found yet another such statement by her in Chapter 58:  "Oh! do not repeat what I then said. These recollections will not do at all. I assure you that I have long been most heartily ashamed of it."

In a conventional interpretation, readers who notice that pattern see Elizabeth as having made a fresh start, after painfully achieving a higher level of self awareness. They see her as having wisely learned to see the error of her former ways of overhasty critical judgment on others, particularly on Darcy. An example of that sort of analysis can be found in Doody’s " ‘A Good Memory Is Unpardonable’: Self, Love, and the Irrational Irritation of Memory” in Eighteenth Century Fiction, 14/1 Oct. 2001 67-94, which includes comments like the following:
“She can indulge in some "forgetting" of her own personal resentment at Darcy's insult to her vanity by taking up this story that makes her a champion determined to right wrongs. She remembers what is in fact not her own memory at all. Both Elizabeth and Darcy are in danger when they approach each other or life on the basis of memory.”

As you surely have gathered, I see things topsy-turvy to Doody. I believe Jane Austen, the mistress of ambiguity, deliberately placed so much subtle emphasis on Elizabeth’s newfound horror of memory, in order to raise a subversive question in the suspicious reader’s mind --- what if Elizabeth is working so hard to erase her own memory of her former negative feelings toward Darcy, precisely because she has not really gone through a rigorous and healthy process of psychological growth, but instead has simply replaced one set of gullible, externally-induced beliefs with another? My idea of personal growth, and I am confident Jane Austen agreed, was that a person must work hard to remember their past errors, so that they won’t repeat them.

Mr. Bennet knows this all-too-human foible of forgetting as a recipe for repetition of error, as we hear in Chapter 48:

“…on her briefly expressing her sorrow for what he must have endured, he replied, "Say nothing of that. Who should suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it."
"You must not be too severe upon yourself," replied Elizabeth.
"You may well warn me against such an evil. Human nature is so prone to fall into it! No, Lizzy, let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough."

But Elizabeth is not listening to what her father is really saying, about how ephemeral awareness of one’s own fault is often is, and so she repeats her error of not being able to tolerate ambiguity.

I.e., Elizabeth fails to understand that if Wickham turns out to be a cad, this does not mean that Darcy is not one as well— and a far more dangerous one, because Wickham, with no money or status, achieves his deceptions using only his verbal facility and personal charm; whereas Darcy, a rich, powerful well educated man of the world, is able to pull off a far more effective and enduring deception of Elizabeth, by deploying his vast resources to (as I said at the start of this post) take Elizabeth (aka Dr. Syntax) for a proverbial ride through a picturesque landscape of the mind, a tour in which he induces her to turn a “post” (himself as he really is, a bad man) into a “landscape” (as he wishes her to see him, a good man).

And the Machiavellian brilliance of his deception is that he implements a Satanic strategy, whereby he takes advantage of Elizabeth’s love of the picturesque to give her the proverbial rope to hang herself with—and at the center of that strategy is the forgetting that Elizabeth so heartily embraces.

So, if you carefully read Chapters 36 & 37, you’ll find Elizabeth obsessively rereading Darcy’s letter, learning it by heart---and as she does so, at several points, she explicitly registers the need to rewrite her memories of Wickham.

If that were all there was on this point, that would be enough, I assert, to make my case. However, Jane Austen never missed the chance for a confirmatory wink to her knowing readers—and so I  tell you now that there’s one additional layer, which is the most spectacular part of Jane Austen’s deep game playing with Elizabeth and her passion to erase unpleasant memories. I invite you now to read the following passages in P&P and view them through the lens of my above analysis, and see if you understand how it is the icing on the cake:

Chapter 27:
"We have not determined how far it shall carry us," said Mrs. Gardiner, "but, perhaps, to the Lakes."
No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth, and her acceptance of the invitation was most ready and grateful. "Oh, my dear, dear aunt," she rapturously cried, "what delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are young men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of anything. We will know where we have gone—we will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor when we attempt to describe any particular scene, will we begin quarreling about its relative situation. Let our first effusions be less insupportable than those of the generality of travellers."

A string of Austen scholars (Litz, Tave, Ellington, Oppenheim, Buck) have all more or less taken Elizabeth literally, passively accepting that her excited vow, as an acolyte of Gilpin, to remember everything scenic about her upcoming Lakes tour, is all this passage is about.

Whereas I see in this passage spectacular Austenian irony --- we have Elizabeth Bennet rhapsodizing about how she is going to remember every single thing about her trip, and not jumble the details together, all so that, as she sums it up, “We will know where we have gone-we will recollect what we have seen.” And yet, as a direct result of that very same trip, suddenly Elizabeth espouses views about memory of her interpersonal landscape that are diametrically opposed to her views about memory of the physical landscape! I.e., to paraphrase Elizabeth’s own words, she tells Darcy and Jane that we ought NOT to know where we have gone, and we ought NOT to recollect what we have seen, when it comes to the behavior of ourselves and those we are closest to, when that recollection is “unlucky”, i.e., doesn’t fit with what we want to believe!

And, there’s one last delicious ironic coda in store for the reader of P&P who can see this line of subtext --- check out now the following passage in Chapter 51, as Elizabeth observes Lydia, Wickham and Mrs. Bennet:

“The bride and her mother could neither of them talk fast enough; and Wickham, who happened to sit near Elizabeth, began inquiring after his acquaintance in that neighbourhood, with a good humoured ease which she felt very unable to equal in her replies. They seemed each of them to have the happiest MEMORIES in the world. Nothing of the past was RECOLLECTED with pain; and Lydia led voluntarily to subjects which her sisters would not have alluded to for the world.

Do you see why this is SO ironic? Elizabeth is clearly standing in harsh judgment of the three of them for being so happy, without regard to all their angst, misbehavior, foolishness, and the like, because things have nonetheless apparently ended well for the three of them. And yet, seven chapters later,  in Chapters 58-59, Elizabeth is going to do exactly the same sort of memory erasure as her foolish relatives, and applaud herself for it to boot!

Yes, indeed, Elizabeth, in this shadow story, alternative reading ---which, I hope you will agree, was entirely intentional on Jane Austen’ part--- is a true Quixotean Dr. Syntax, hearing only what she wants to hear, and disregarding the rest (thank you, Paul Simon).

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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