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

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Much more on the Marriage of Figaro subtext in Pride & Prejudice

\This is a followup to my post yesterday about the risqué, veiled allusion to The Marriage of Figaro in Pride & Prejudice:  At the center of that allusion, you’ll recall, was the convincingly cross-dressed militiaman CHAMBERLAYNE, who looked so well in women’s clothes----as colorfully described by the inimitable Lydia Bennet---who is, I suggested, Jane Austen’s ultra-sly allusion to the convincingly cross-dressed, beautiful cross-dressing soldier (and remarkably similarly named) CHERUBINO in Mozart/DaPonte’s Figaro.  Today, I have three additional blocks of supportive evidence to fit into the matrix of Jane Austen’s Mozartean allusion in P&P. So strap on your seat belts, this will be quite a ride!

PART ONE: Some of you may have questioned whether Jane Austen, prior to completion of her writing of P&P in late 1812, would’ve had the opportunity to become familiar with Mozart’s first great Italian comic opera, which was first performed in Vienna in May, 1786, when JA was 10 years old, but as to which the libretto does not appear to have been published in England during JA’s lifetime. Well, with a little digging, I found the following, highly relevant discussion in W.A. Mozart (1987) by Tim Carter at ppg 132 et seq.:  
“…even though Da Ponte [of course, Mozart’s librettist for Figaro] was librettist at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket—a complete opera by Mozart was not performed there until 1806, when La Clemenza di Tito was first staged at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, on 27 March. Between 1809 and 1811, there were amateur performances of Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro, and Cosi Fan Tutte. However, Cosi Fan Tutte was first staged professionally on 9 May 1811 (with the addition of ‘Voi che sapete’, sung by Guglielmo), Die Zauberflote, in Italian, on 6 June, 1811, Le Nozze di Figaro on 18 June, 1812…. The London premiere of Le Nozze di Figaro…received the following announcement in The Times:
‘There will be represented at this Theatre [the King’s Theatre, Haymarket], THIS EVENING, June 18, and for the first time in this country, the celebrated Opera of LE MARIAGE DE FIGARO: the music by Mozart. [lists cast] All the above eminent performers have generously given their gratuitous assistance on this occasion…The performance was for the benefit of the Scottish Hospital…Henry Robertson, writing in The Examiner [Leigh Hunt’s newspaper, which JA read in connection with her Prince of Whales satire in Emma], commented on the delay in bringing Mozart to the London stage, offering some perceptive insights into the opera…:
‘The works of MOZART, which have long lain dormant…have at length shone forth from the obscurity in which jealousy and bad taste had involved them. Till the last two or three years, this genius had been known chiefly as an instrumental writer, and might still have remained so, had not a society of amateurs, who were capable of perceiving where true merit was to be found, laudably exerted themselves to diffuse the delight his vocal works had given themselves. With this view, and aided by some tasteful professors, they brought forward the Opera of Don Giovanni, and followed it up successively with performances of two of his other productions, which required only to be heard, to ensure them a high reputation….The last which has been produced, Le Nozze di Figaro, is perhaps, altogether, the finest of his works. The subject is taken, with little alteration, from BEAUMARCHAIS’s celebrated comedy… and in its quick succession of incident, gives full scope to the fancy [much praise, then] Figaro was given 8 times in 1812, and then revived in March 1813, June 1816, and February 1817. The 1817 revival, first staged on 1 February with an all-Italian cast, was given 11 performances and seems to have been a marked success….“  END QUOTE

So from Tim Carter’s detailed account, we learn first & foremost that The Marriage of Figaro was first staged professionally in London at the Haymarket Theatre on June 18, 1812----a date which happens to fall smack dab in the middle of JA’s famous lopping and cropping of Pride & Prejudice for its January 1813 first publication! And Carter also shows that an amateur production of Figaro had previously been staged in London between 1809 and 1811. So, might JA have actually seen any of those productions?

There’s no mention of this in any of her surviving letters, but given that we have no surviving Austen letters at all from 1812 prior to November, that silence does not settle that question. Suffice to say that with
(1) brother Henry and sister in law Eliza living in London that entire time, &
(2) JA having visited London repeatedly during the final five years of her life, &
(3) JA’s London visits included frequent attendance at theatrical and musical performances, &
(4) Figaro having received such positive reviews in publications read by JA and her brothers,
I believe it very plausible that she saw Figaro, particularly during its Summer 1812 run.  It was the talk of the town, she loved music, and so she had both opportunity and motive to see it!

But all of that turns out to be only one third of the extraordinary extrinsic synchronicity between P&P and Figaro that I’ve dug up since yesterday.

PART TWO:  As I was writing this post, my memory was jogged to a post I wrote 8 years ago in Janeites, about “the irony that Lydia bemoaned not getting to see a performance at "the Little Theatre" while she was in London, at the precise moment that a performance of a different kind was being staged for her benefit in "the Little Theatre" in her room at Gracechurch Street. [i.e., when Mr. Gardiner fibbed to Lydia so as to keep her under wraps at his home till the wedding could take place]”.

I quickly retrieved the entirety of Lydia’s speech, which is her whiny account to Elizabeth and Jane of the events leading up to, and including her wedding to Wickham in London:

"Well, and so we breakfasted at ten, as usual. I thought it would never be over; for, by the bye, you are to understand that my uncle and aunt were horrid unpleasant all the time I was with them. If you'll believe me, I did not once put my foot out of doors, though I was there a fortnight. Not one party, or scheme, or anything! To be sure, London was rather thin; but, however, THE LITTLE THEATRE WAS OPEN. Well, and so, just as the carriage came to the door, my uncle was called away upon business to that horrid man, Mr. Stone. And then, you know, when once they get together, there is no end of it. Well, I was so frightened, I did not know what to do; for my uncle was to give me away; and if we were beyond the hour we could not be married all day.”

I read “the little theatre was open” and I wondered, could this be yet another giant hint in the text of P&P, pointing to that very same Summer 1812 London production of Figaro? It took me two minutes to find confirmation in Wikipedia, which convincingly connects the dots between Lydia’s frustrated wish to go to “The Little Theatre” and Figaro’s first production in London:
“The Theatre Royal, Haymarket (also known as HAYMARKET THEATRE OR THE LITTLE THEATRE) is a West End theatre in the Haymarket in the City of Westminster which dates back to 1720, making it the third-oldest London playhouse still in use…”

So, “the Little Theatre” Lydia wished she could have gone to just happens to be the very same venue where that first professional London production of Figaro was staged! And, just like the speech in Chapter 39 describing the cross-dressing Chamberlayne, this speech is also spoken by Lydia! But what, someone else may ask, about the chronology of the fictional action in Pride & Prejudice –does it match up with the real-life chronology of staging of Figaro at the Haymarket Little Theatre? You bet it does!!!

According to the authoritative chronology for P&P originally by Chapman, and updated by our own Ellen Moody, Lydia’s “captivity” at Gracechurch Street begins on August 17, 1812, which is a mere 60 days after that London debut production at the Haymarket Little Theatre—a production that ran for 8 performances, meaning that, if they were weekly, a performance of Figaro might very well have occurred at the very start of Lydia’s “confinement”. In that regard, I’ve reached out to the Little Theatre, and asked their educational department whether their records show this, and I promise to return with their answer when I receive it.

But even if that 8-show run ended in July instead of August, 1812, it’s important for us, looking back two centuries from 2016, to realize that the association to that widely acclaimed production of Figaro at the Little Theatre would still have been very fresh in the minds of the culturati of London in early 1813 when P&P and its mysterious anonymous author were the talk of the town, and they read Lydia’s whiny speech. Lydia’s whiny reference to “the Little Theatre” is then an injoke lost in the mists of history …. until now!

But even the above Parts One and Two are still not all the additional corroboration I found of a strong connection between P&P and The Marriage of Figaro. It’s much more than the amorphous connection between Mozart and Austen that the late Lionel Trilling sensed when he famously wrote a half century ago that “one understands very easily why many readers are moved to explain their pleasures in P&P by reference to Mozart, especially The Marriage of Figaro”.  

PART THREE: It also turns out that there are two transcriptions in Jane Austen’s own hand of music written by Mozart, and both are of arias from Mozart’s operas—and, what’s more, one of those arias is an adaptation from (you guessed it!) The Marriage of Figaro! In Wallace’s very well known book about the strong resonance he sees between Mozart’s music in general, and Austen’s fiction, we read the following in Appendix 1: 
“A second manuscript book entirely in [Austen’s] own hand- this one 84 pages long – contains both songs and instrumental works. The keyboard works include numerous waltzes, marches, and themes with variations…Piggott [1979] has discovered that one of the marches Austen copied into this book is by Mozart, though she would have had no way of knowing it. “The Duke of York’s New March” is not new at all: it is a pirated version of “Non piu andrai” from The Marriage of Figaro. As Piggott points out, this is the “only music by Mozart in the Chawton Collection”. [incorrect, actually there’s also an aria from The Magic Flute]”

Now go here… …and listen to “The Duke of York’s New March”—you’ll immediately recognize the tune, as “Non piu andrai” is, in 2016 as in 1812, among the three or four most famous arias from all of Mozart’s operas. But I strenuously disagree with Piggott’s and Wallace’s belief that Jane Austen would not have known that melody as being pirated from The Marriage of Figaro--- Jane Austen was an accomplished amateur musician and a scholar, and I believe she gave herself a quiet, ironic pat on the back in both those regards, when her narrator drily comments on Mary Bennet’s study of thorough-bass and human nature, two areas JA herself was expert in. Plus we have all the “smoke” I’ve outlined in my prior post, and in Parts One and Two, above, that converges in connecting P&P to Figaro.

So I suggest to you that it is no coincidence at all that JA would have chosen piano music adapted from an aria from Figaro for her own private music collection. At some point, I am also going to find out if it is known when JA transcribed that particular musical piece, but from what I can tell in Google Books, the “Duke of York” version had already been published by 1801.

But that’s still not all! It turns out, when we dig a little deeper, that in this aria, so famous for its melody, the substance is even more interesting to us vis a vis P&P as alluding to Figaro. Why? Because in this aria Figaro teases (you’ll never guess)….. Cherubino about his Spartan military future, in stark contrast with the pleasant and flirtatious life Cherubino has enjoyed in the Count's palace. So we’re right back to Cherubino again, and his strong resemblance to Austen’s cross-dressing Chamberlayne!

Here’s an English translation of “Non piu andrai”, within which I’ve interspersed some quotations from P&P which I believe are reactions to its verbiage:

[Mrs Gardiner: “…I really believe your letter this morning gave [Mr. Gardiner] great pleasure, because it required an explanation that would ROB HIM OF HIS BORROWED FEATHERS…]
That light, romantic cap, That hair, that GLOWING COUNTENANCE,
[[Wickham’s] appearance was greatly in his favour; he had all the best part of beauty, a FINE COUNTENANCE, a good figure, and very pleasing address.] 
That rosy, womanly complexion. Among soldiers, by Jove!
[[Wickham’s] regiment is there; for I suppose you have heard of his leaving the ——shire, and of his being gone into the regulars.]
A big moustache, a little kit. With a rifle on your shoulder, and a sabre on your flank,
Standing up straight, hard faced, A big helmet, or a big turban, Plenty of honour, little pay!
And instead of dancing the 
fandango, A march through the mud.
Through mountains, through valleys, With snow and with the sun beating down.
To the beat of the bugle, Of bombs, of cannons, Whose thunderous report
Makes your ears ring. Cherubino, to victory: To glory in battle!
[[Lydia] saw herself the object of attention, to tens and to scores of them at present unknown. She saw all the glories of the camp—its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and, to complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once.]

In short, once again the Cherubino-esque smoke in P&P all has to do with Lydia and/or Wickham.

So, in conclusion, I hope you’ll now agree that it is highly likely that Jane Austen did indeed intentionally but covertly allude in P&P, in a variety of subtle ways, to The Marriage of Figaro.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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