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

Monday, June 27, 2016

The sly, picturesque “sketch” of Pride & Prejudice hidden in Henry’s Biographical Notice of sister Jane

A week ago, I posed what I called a “delightful” Jane Austen quiz to usher in the summer solstice. Today I return to give brief answers to all 9 of the quiz clues. In a series of followup posts in the coming weeks, I’ll unpack different aspects of each of those 9 summary answers at much greater length:

CLUE #1: There is a 2-sentence passage in Henry Austen’s (pretty short) 1818 Biographical Notice of JA…  …which is the common thread that unites ALL EIGHT of the following seemingly unconnected passages written by Jane Austen over a period of 21 years. Can you locate the passage in the Biographical Notice, and then explain the concealed connection to each of the eight passages?

ANSWER #1:   That 2-sentence passage is: “At a very early age she was enamoured of Gilpin on the Picturesque; and she seldom changed her opinions either on books or men”.  It turns out that in P&P in particular, there is a broad, deep, and multifaceted allusion to Gilpin’s writings about the picturesque, which permeates many chapters of the novel, and therefore is far too large a topic to do more than introduce in this post, via my answers to the next 8 clues, presented via a chronology of JA’s writings.

CLUE #2: There is passage in JA’s writings which has long been universally acknowledged to be part of that same concealed connection:
1793: “Henry VIII: in The History of England: “…a slight sketch of the principal Events which marked his reign. Among these may be ranked Cardinal Wolsey's telling the father Abbott of Leicester Abbey that "he was come to lay his bones among them"…Nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses & leaving them to the ruinous depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general, which probably was a principal motive for his doing it…”

ANSWER #2: At age 16, therefore more than two decades before Jane Austen published P&P, she precociously wrote the above well-recognized, sophisticated parody of the following dry wit of Gilpin about Henry VIII:
“What share of picturesque genius Cromwell might have, I know not. Certain however it is, that no man, since Henry the eighth, has contributed more to adorn this country with picturesque ruins. The difference between these two masters lay chiefly in the style of ruins, in which they composed. Henry adorned his landscapes with the ruins of abbeys; Cromwell, with those of castles. I have seen many pieces by this master, executed in a very grand style; but seldom a finer monument of his masterly hand than this.”
Plus, as Peter Sabor points out in “JA’s The History of England and 1066 And All That” (2015): “In her sketch of the dying Cardinal Wolsey, Austen quotes his words to the Abbot of Leicester Abbey ‘that “he was come to lay his bones among them” ‘. The line is taken from Goldsmith’s history, which in turn is indebted to a report of Wolsey’s words in Henry VIII: “O father abbot, An old man, broken with the storms of state, Is come to LAY HIS weary BONES AMONG ye.”
Most of all, all of the above in this Answer #2 fits perfectly with my post a month ago….  …about Shakespeare’s Henry VIII as a very significant allusive source for P&P, with Darcy (shockingly) as Henry!

CLUE #3: 1811: S&S Chapter 18: "I am convinced," said Edward, "that you really feel all the delight in a fine PROSPECT which you profess to feel. But, in return, your sister must allow me to feel no more than I profess…I do not like crooked, twisted, BLASTED trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight, and flourishing. I do not like RUINED, tattered cottages….”

ANSWER #3:  It is also well recognized that Edward Ferrars’s above comments are a satire of Gilpin’s picturesque rules, but they’ve never before been connected to all the other Clues in this post.

CLUE #4: 1813  P&P  Chapter 11: “…My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost, is lost forever."

ANSWER #4: It seems to me that Henry Austen, in his apparently complimentary comment about the steadfastness of JA’s devotion to Gilpin (“she seldom changed her opinions either on books or men”), was himself doing a very sly parody of that famous last sentence spoken by Darcy, as to which Elizabeth Bennet rightly responds that she cannot laugh at such a dreadful steadfastness of resentfulness!

CLUE #5: 1813 P&P Chapter 29:  Elizabeth found herself quite equal to THE SCENE, and could OBSERVE the THREE LADIES before her COMPOSDELY…"…It is wonderful how many families I have been the means of supplying in that way. I am always glad to get a young person well placed out. Four nieces of Mrs. Jenkinson are MOST DELIGHTFULLY SITUATED through my means…”

ANSWER #5:  In both Elizabeth’s thoughts about the group in the Rosings parlour, and also in Lady Catherine’s quoted comments about her local philanthropy, we see JA playing with the terminology of the picturesque, but applied to human beings as objects in a domestic scene.

This is a deliberate and (when recognized) hilarious revisiting of Elizabeth’s very very famous witty parody of Gilpin in Chapter 10, when she says the following to the threesome of Darcy and the two Bingley sisters in the Netherfield shrubbery:
"No, no; stay where you are. You are CHARMINGLY grouped, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Good-bye."

And there are still more echoes of that scene to be revealed, below.

CLUE #6: 1813 P&P  Chapter 35:  "Two offenses of a very different nature, and by no means of equal magnitude, you last night laid to my charge. The first mentioned was, that, regardless of the sentiments of either, I had detached Mr. Bingley from your sister, and the other, that I had, in defiance of various claims, in defiance of honour and humanity, RUINED the immediate prosperity and BLASTED the PROSPECTS of Mr. Wickham…”

ANSWER #6:  Jane Austen must have been ROFL to an extreme degree when she composed the last part of that second sentence, which contains not one, not two, but THREE successive puns (ruined, blasted, & prospects) on picturesque terminology! And, what’s more, these exact same three picturesque terms had already been used literally by Edward Ferrars two years earlier in S&S as I quoted above in Clue #3! And yet, no Austen scholar I can find ever noticed this and realized it was a quintessential example of JA’s hiding witty, meaningful wordplay in plain sight!

CLUE #7:  1813 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….” 

ANSWER #7: (This one really knocked my socks off when I first decoded it!) 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!
And the picturesque winking gets even better. It’s no wonder that Darcy, the shadowy stage manager, introduces another cast member, a housekeeper named “Reynolds” for assistance in inducing Elizabeth to reverse her formerly negative opinion of Darcy. After all, students of Gilpin’s picturesque could have immediately told you that this is yet another sly injoke on JA’s part, since it was Joshua Reynolds to whose august authority Gilpin explicitly appealed: Gilpin actually included the correspondence he exchanged with Reynolds in the publication of Gilpin’s influential Three Essays!

CLUE #8: 1814: Letter 97 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.”

ANSWER #8: 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” Pride and Prejudice 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 Pride and Prejudice. Combe’s satire and the wonderful Rowlandson illustrations exposed all the absurdities [of Gilpin’s writings] 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.

Beyond that big picture, there’s simply no room in this post to unpack all the nuances of the Dr. Syntax subtext of P&P for now, but I wanted to get the big picture out there for purposes of this post.

CLUE #9: 1814: Letter 107 to Anna Austen Lefroy:
“You describe a SWEET PLACE, but your descriptions are often more minute than will be liked. You give too many particulars of right hand and left. Mrs. Forester is not careful enough of Susan's HEALTH. Susan ought not to be WALKING out so soon after HEAVY RAINS, taking LONG WALKS IN THE DIRT. An anxious mother would not SUFFER it. I like your Susan very much; she is a SWEET creature, her PLAYFULNESS of FANCY is very DELIGHTFUL. I like her as she is now exceedingly, but I am not quite so well satisfied with her behavior to George R. At first she seems all over ATTACHMENT and feeling, and afterwards to have none at all; she is so extremely CONFUSED at the BALL, and so well satisfied APPARENTLY with Mr. Morgan. She seems to have CHANGED her character. You are now COLLECTING your people DELIGHTFULLY, getting them exactly into such a SPOT as is the DELIGHT of my life. THREE OR FOUR families IN A COUNTRY village is the very thing to work on, and I hope you will do a GREAT deal more, and make FULL use of them while they are SO VERY FAVOURABLY ARRANGED. “

ANSWER #9: This is the passage which actually first sent me down the research path that eventually led straight to all of the rest of the above Gilpinian picturesque subtext of P&P. As you can see from the words I have now put in ALL CAPS, Jane Austen’s very very famous critique of her niece’s nascent novel is completely saturated in the very specific verbiage of the picturesque. While no Austen scholar before me has ever specifically identified this passage as one giant sendup of the picturesque, Beatrice Battaglia came close in 2006, by including that quotation in an excellent discussion of JA’s authorial deployment of picturesque elements in her fiction in “The Politics of Narrative Picturesque: Gilpin 's Rules of Composition in Ann Radcliffe 's and JA's Fiction”.
It’s no coincidence, I say, that Letter 107 was written about one year after publication of P&P, because it shows that she has not for one second forgotten her amazing Gilpinesque achievement in the writing of P&P itself, most of all in that most famous line about “three or four families in a country village”.
Why? Because, once you take the proper point of view, and look at Letter 107 through the lens of P&P, you realize instantly (as I did last week) that “three or four families in a country village” is a subtle satire of Gilpin’s three or four cows arranged in a landscape, which JA parodied by having Elizabeth Bennet apply that image to the three “cows”, Darcy and the Bingley sisters, in the Netherfield shrubbery!

And so, in conclusion, and as I said upfront, the above is only the barest sketch of the rich Gilpin subtext of P&P which I now clearly see that Henry Austen so slyly alluded to in his Biographical Notice of his late sister Jane in 1818. While a handful of insightful Austen like those I’ve quoted above, have been aware for a very long time that Gilpin was somehow important to JA, none of them had any idea just how crucially and pervasively his rules of the picturesque inform her deepest and darkest meanings, especially in her shadow stories.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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