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

Thursday, April 28, 2016

“It is an honour that I dream not of”—Juliet & the two Elizabeths (Bennet and Barrett)!

Off and on, I’ve spent a fair amount of time the past two years looking at Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet from a variety of perspectives, particularly the way that Shakespeare looked back at it in his later plays, and the way that two great authors who came after him --- John Milton in Paradise Lost and Jane Austen in several of her novels—also looked back at Romeo & Juliet. I posted most recently about this in the remarkable echoes of Juliet’s Nurse in the character of Mrs. Bennet in Pride & Prejudice:

Juliet’s Nurse & Mrs Bennet: Shakespeare’s & Austen’s matronly “sisters” in vexed quiverings

Pemberley as Eliza Bennet’s Shakespeare/Milton/Fielding Fools Paradise (Hall) Lost & Regained

Today, I wish to revisit Jane Austen’s veiled allusion to Romeo & Juliet, and this time zero in on a wrinkle I have only generally addressed in those prior posts—the surprising way in which Elizabeth Bennet subtly reminds us of Shakespeare’s Juliet! And, as my Subject Line suggests, there is also a post-Austen connection involved as well!


First, here are general parallels I drew between Elizabeth Bennet and Juliet in those two recent posts:

“I see Elizabeth’s married life with Darcy as a parody of Juliet’s tragic death, because it will be no walk in the park for her to be married to the dark Darcy of the shadow story, who does not actually repent and reform after she rejects his first proposal, but merely pretends to do so, because he is a man who cannot take no for an answer, and who does not hesitate to use his considerable resources to stage an extended experience for Elizabeth during the latter half of P&P, which destroys her (healthy) resistance to him.
“…here’s the rest of the Nurse’s speech, when she…issu[es] a stern warning to the amorous Romeo:
 “…but first let me tell ye, if ye should lead her into a fool’s paradise, as they say, it were a very gross kind of behavior, as they say: for the gentlewoman is young; and, therefore, if you should deal double with her, truly it were an ill thing to be offered to any gentlewoman, and very weak dealing.”
In other words, watching out for Juliet, the fiercely maternal Nurse warns Romeo to love Juliet faithfully, and not to break her 12-year old heart. I now suggest that when Mrs. Bennet (to Elizabeth’s great distress and bewilderment) repeatedly makes hostile jabs at Darcy in the Netherfield salon, she’s actually giving him a similar maternal warning not to try to exploit his high status and lead any Bennet girl into a fool’s paradise. She does this because, as I’ve previously suggested, Mrs. Bennet and Darcy (but not Elizabeth)  know that Darcy is the unnamed suitor who wrote a sonnet while six years earlier wooing the then 16-year old Jane Bennet in London. However, Elizabeth’s ear is not tuned to the frequency of her mother’s warning, and so, when Elizabeth first sees Pemberley, she indeed enters a ‘fool’s paradise’. I.e. its Edenic majesty mesmerizes Elizabeth, with such powerful effect that she later jokes to sister Jane (but the joke is actually on Elizabeth) about dating her own falling in love with Darcy from her ‘first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.’ “  END QUOTES FROM MY PRIOR POSTS

Having noted those general parallels, I remained on the lookout for specific textual parallels---which are always the best evidence of a genuine Jane Austen veiled allusion—and this morning I found one---and as happens so often in my research, it dropt into my hands while I was looking at something else entirely!

In this instance, I was following up on my post yesterday about the lesbian subtext of Jane Austen’s final novel fragment, Sanditon , as particularly tagged by the adjective “unaccountable”, by looking also at the variant verbal form “account for” in JA’s novels. I had first identified “unaccountable” as code for lesbian in JA’s writing a few years ago, when I quoted Elizabeth Bennet’s appalled reaction to news she has just received:  “the other is Charlotte's marriage. It is unaccountable! In every view it is unaccountable!”

And so, as I did that further word searching in P&P, I was led to the beginning of the famous showdown in the Longbourn wilderness between Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Elizabeth Bennet:
“As soon as they entered the copse, Lady Catherine began in the following manner:—‘You can be at no loss, Miss Bennet, to understand the reason of my journey hither. Your own heart, your own conscience, must tell you why I come.’
Elizabeth looked with unaffected astonishment. ‘Indeed, you are mistaken, Madam. I have not been at all able TO ACCOUNT FOR the honour of seeing you here.’

But as I read “I have not been able to account for the honour of seeing you here”, Elizabeth’s dry, pitch-perfect sarcastic reply to Lady Catherine, masked by insincere deference, my eye was caught instead by the word “honour”. Why? Because I suddenly realized that this was the very passage I’d been trying to tease out of my memory for weeks, the speech which I was reminded of when I recently read Juliet’s response, with identical dry, pitch-perfect sarcasm, masked by insincere deference, to her mother’s imperious interrogation, but couldn’t bring to mind:

LADY CAPULET  Speak briefly, can you like of Paris' love?
JULIET  I'll look to like, if looking liking move: But no more deep will I endart mine eye
Than your consent gives strength to make it fly.

In short, I recognized that Juliet’s “It is an honour that I dream not of” must be the “mother” of Elizabeth’s “I have not been at all able to account for the honour of seeing you here”!

Searching for that Austenian allusion had been driving me crazy, because the closest I had gotten, were were the following three dishonourable  responses by Willoughby to Marianne’s desperate attempts to meet with him in London:  "I did myself the HONOUR of calling in Berkeley Street last Tuesday, and very much regretted that I was not fortunate enough to find yourselves and Mrs. Jennings at home. My card was not lost, I hope...I have just had the HONOUR of receiving your letter, for which I beg to return my sincere acknowledgments…It is with great regret that I obey your commands in returning the letters with which I have been HONOURED from you, and the lock of hair, which you so obligingly bestowed on me.”  Certainly there was real Shakespearean resonance there, especially when we take into account that it is not only Willoughby awkwardly referring to the “honour” of his relationship with Marianne, but his new wife, who has pressured him to reply thusly to Marianne in person, and then clearly has dictated his letter to Marianne –she is rubbing sarcastic salt in Marianne’s open wound.

But…I knew that wasn’t the passage I was almost remembering, and so my frustration came to blessed end today, when I connected Elizabeth’s thrilling defiance of Lady Catherine to Juliet’s thrilling defiance of her parents’s pressure regarding whom she will marry. And this also of course fits perfectly with what I mentioned in my previous post:  It is interesting to think about Juliet's parents pressuring her to marry Paris, the way Mrs. Bennet pressures Lizzy to marry Mr. Collins…” 

I therefore recommend you also compare the passages in Romeo & Juliet in which Juliet’s parents pressure her to marry Paris, on the one hand, and the passage in Pride & Prejudice, when Mr. Bennet refuses to comply with Mr. Bennet’s demand that he pressure Elizabeth to marry Mr. Bennet, on the other. That comparison shows how masterfully Jane Austen turned tragedy to comedy in those scenes of parental pressure to marry, and in particular how JA (surprisingly) subtly echoed Shakespeare’s most famous young romantic heroine, Juliet, in her own most famous young romantic heroine, Elizabeth Bennet.


I now want to bring yet another pair of famous lovers into this allusive mix – Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning!  The courtship correspondence between them in 1845 included the following playful, erudite Shakespearean to-and-fro over four consecutive letters, which, as you’ll immediately note, bears directly on Juliet’s sarcasm to Lady Capulet:

“You will never more, I hope, talk of the ‘honor of my acquaintance’—but I will joyfully wait for the delight of your friendship, and the Spring, and my Chapel-sight after all! “  --RB

“As to the vain parlance of the world, I did not talk of the ‘honor of your acquaintance” without a true sense of honor, indeed,- but I shall willingly exchange it all; (-& now, if you please, at this moment, for fear of worldly mutabilities…) for the ‘delight of your friendship’.” –EBB

“See now, how of that ‘Friendship’ you offer me (and here Juliet’s words rise to my lips)- I feel sure once and for ever” --- RB

“So do not take me for a born heroine of Richardson, or think that I sin always to this length! Else,--you might indeed repeat your quotation from Juliet….which I guessed at once--& of course—‘I have no joy of this contract today! It is too unadvis’d, too rash & sudden.’ “ -EBB

I found the above exchange, while searching for any other literary engagements with Juliet’s comment to her mother besides the one in P&P, and I then found the following two analyses of these Barrett-Browning Shakespeare allusions:

“Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Shakespeare: Translating the Language of Intimacy” by Gail Marshall 
“One of EBB and Browning's most intimate exchanges involves an absolutely silent quotation from Shakespeare, which neither needs to quote on the page because they are sufficiently sure of the reference being clear to the other without further prompting. Browning writes of a word of Juliet's which rises to his lips, and EBB assures him in her next letter that she "guessed at once" what his meaning was…Under the guise of an exchange about their friendship, the two poets seem to be referring to Juliet's "It is an honour that I dream not of".…words which are applied in the play to the young lovers' marriage. Shakespeare is not simply the language in which EBB and Browning speak to each other, the way in which they acknowledge their shared status and knowledge as poets; he is of the very essence of their relationship…”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Shakespeare: 'This is Living Art by Josie Billington (2012):
“In the letters, very early in the correspondence, the lovers allude (shyly at first) to Romeo & Juliet ‘See now’, Browning writes, ‘how of that ‘Friendship’ you offer me (and here Juliet’s word rises to my lips)—I feel sure once and for ever’ …The quotation is ‘guessed at once’ by Elizabeth Barrett and closes her letter of reply:
I have no joy of this contract today!
It is too unadvis’d, too rash & sudden.” “

After reading these analyses, I had the strong intuition that Elizabeth Barrett’s Shakespearean winking in her final letter in the above exchange, in which she wrote “you might indeed repeat your quotation from Juliet…. which I guessed at once…”, was not about Juliet’s “It is an honour that I dream not of”, but instead was pointing to yet another speech by Juliet. The sophisticated game of dueling quotations played by the erudite lovers seemed to me to have still another layer, which has apparently not been seen by Browning scholars. I was sure that Elizabeth Barrett Browning had in her second letter already moved on from Juliet’s sarcastic allusion to her “honour”, and wanted to show her lover that she had guessed his later allusion as well.   

So, to start, take a second look at the teaser Robert wrote, to which Elizabeth was responding:

“See now, how of that ‘Friendship’ you offer me (and here Juliet’s words rise to my lips)- I feel sure once and for ever”

I suggest that Juliet’s sarcastic one-liner spoken to her mother about marrying a man she has no interest in marrying are surely not words which would rise to Robert’s lips at that romantic stage of their repartee. Not only would that be a weak retreading of old ground in their rapidly moving, witty game of quotations, that would also be far less fitting to a romantic moment than a speech Juliet makes directly to Romeo.

And, upon further reflection, I also realized that the speech of Juliet’s which rises to Robert’s lips would also have to fit all three of the following criteria as well:

It would have to include a specific reference to “friendship”, because that is the single word which Robert puts in quotes, as a clue, right before he writes “here”; and  

It would have to relate thematically to the notion of a love which will make Romeo (i.e., Robert) “feel sure once and for ever” of Juliet’s (i.e., Elizabeth’s) love; and

It would have to relate thematically to Elizabeth’s final quote from Juliet: ‘I have no joy of this contract today! It is too unadvis’d, too rash & sudden.’ That line is from the speech Juliet makes to Romeo in 3.5, as she tastes the not-so-sweet sorrow of parting from Romeo as he must hastily decamp from Verona for what seems to both to be an eternity of banishment in Mantua. Here is the full speech that Elizabeth has only quoted two lines from:

                       I have no joy of this contract to-night:
                                   It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden;

So, is there another speech by Juliet elsewhere in the play, which meets all of these tests? Yes!! And I found it in two minutes, simply by searching the word “friend” in the play text!  Here it is, in 2.2 --- exactly where, with 20:20 hindsight, one might expect to find it, at the end of the famous balcony scene, when Julia bids Romeo farewell right after he has finally descended down from her balcony, but before he leaves her garden:

In other words, I believe Elizabeth also solved Robert’s clues, as I just did, and that’s why she chose to respond with the quote from Juliet’s 3.5 speech, because these two speeches by Juliet are really bookends to each other, coming at the ends of the first two parting scenes in the play (the third parting, of course, being the tragic sequence when first Romeo, and then Juliet, commits suicide, a tragic and final parting).


In a way, the above real-life courtship between Elizabeth and Robert bears on the imaginary courtship between Elizabeth and Darcy, in that both of them involved a playful, learned reliance on knowledge of  Shakespearean tragic romance.

Is it possible that either Robert or Elizabeth had any idea that their Shakespearean romance was in a way following in the footsteps of  Elizabeth and Darcy? My answer is “No”, based on what Elizabeth wrote
ten years later, in  a letter to John Ruskin:

“She [Miss Mitford] never taught me anything but a very limited admiration of Miss Austen, whose people struck me as wanting souls, even more than is necessary for men and women of the world. The novels are perfect as far as they go— that's certain. Only they don't go far, I think. It may be my fault.” Browning, Elizabeth Barrett, 1855, To Mr. Ruskin, Nov. 5; Letters, ed. Kenyon, vol. n, p. 217.

In any event, I feel honored to have to have the chance to sleuth out all these connections---and that’s an honor I dreamt not of while I slept last night.  ;)

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode  on Twitter

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"wheel within wheel.” Sanditon‘s “unaccountable” Diana Parker as the dying Jane Austen’s thinly veiled lesbian self portrait

Last summer, I wrote about the word “unaccountable” as JA’s code for “lesbian” in her novels, most saliently in Elizabeth Bennet’s deeply upset reaction to Charlotte Lucas’s marrying Mr. Collins:

“As another unexpected bonus in terms of my own interpretation of Charlotte as lesbian, as I was reading one of those scholarly takes on Anna Howe as lesbian, I read, in passing, the assertion (which I then verified to my satisfaction) that the word “unaccountable” was 18th century punning code for “lesbian” . I immediately recalled Elizabeth’s grumbling world-weary comments to sister Jane about Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins:

“There are few PEOPLE WHOM I REALLY LOVE, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense. I have met with two instances lately, one I will not mention; the other is Charlotte's marriage. It is UNACCOUNTABLE! In every view it is UNACCOUNTABLE!...were I persuaded that Charlotte had any regard for him, I should only think worse of her understanding than I now do of her heart. My dear Jane, Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man; you know he is, as well as I do; and you must feel, as well as I do, that the woman who married him cannot have a proper way of thinking. You shall not defend her, though it is Charlotte Lucas. You shall not, for the sake of one individual, change the meaning of principle and integrity, nor endeavour to persuade yourself or me, that selfishness is prudence, and insensibility of danger security for happiness."  

It’s now obvious to me that this speech, which I already interpreted as Eliza venting her unconscious jealousy of Charlotte---who not only married an absurd husband, but also moved far away from Eliza--- also reflects that JA, from her extensive readings of 18th century novels, understood that code of “unaccountable” as “lesbian” very well indeed, and that’s why she has Eliza exclaim that word not once but twice about Charlotte!  And I think JA also picked up on the following passage in Vol 1, Letter 25, when Clarissa, writing to Anna, quotes from her mother’s (i.e., Mrs. Harlowe’s) letter: 

“I charge you, let not this letter be found. Burn it. There is too much of the mother in it, to A DAUGHTER SO UNACCOUNTABLY OBSTINATE.”

The sexual pun works perfectly here, as it is Clarissa’s “unaccountable” and “obstinate” lesbian love for Anna which, in part, motivates Clarissa to reject both the loathsome Solmes AND the attractive Lovelace.”   

What I didn’t mention in that post last summer was the specific, key literary source I believe lay behind  both JA and Richardson: “The Unaccountable Wife”, one of several inset tales in Jane Barker’s 1723 novel A Patch-work Screen for the Ladies. In it, Barker tells, in “screened” code, a brief but moving tale of unmentionable romantic love between a wife and her maidservant, a relationship which survives despite enormous obstacles thrown in their path. The wife’s husband and the rest of the straight world repeatedly try to separate them, but the “unaccountable” wife – unaccountably in the mind of the straight world --- shows constant love and devotion to her “only friend”---another woman, and a woman from a lower social class to boot!

Earlier today, when I reread my above 2015 post, I couldn’t recall whether I had searched for “unaccountable” in JA’s peripheral fiction, as well as in her published novels. It turned out that I hadn’t, and when I did that search this morning, what a treasure I found! As you’ll see below, I retrieved not one but two jewels from the Austenian deep; and, fittingly, one was from a very early stage in JA’s writing career, and one was from the very very end, as she (literally) lay dying, in almost the last words of fiction she composed.


In the madcap juvenilia Love & Freindship (written—and misspelled--by JA when not yet 15!), JA at one point creates a particular matrix of relationship, which she would revisit in a much more sophisticated and complex manner in Northanger Abbey.  In the passage I quote below, we find the 55-year old epistolary protagonist Laura, recalling and summarizing, for the purpose of educating her young female correspondent Marianne in the ways of the world, one episode from among Laura’s several wild and crazy youthful adventures. As you read it, just think of Laura and her close friend Sophia as a composite model for Catherine Morland; Janetta as a source for Eleanor Tilney, Mr. MacDonald as General Tilney, and MacDonald Hall as a proto-Northanger Abbey:

“I related…every other misfortune which had befallen me since we parted. …of our [meaning, Laura and Sophia] visit to Macdonald-Hall—of the singular service we there performed towards Janetta [Laura and Sophia, like Friar Laurence and the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet, have just aided and abetted Janetta’s elopement with a suitor she loves, rather than marry her father’s choice] —of her Father’s ingratitude for it ... of his inhuman Behaviour, UNACCOUNTABLE SUSPICIONS, and barbarous treatment of us, in obliging us to leave the House ... of our lamentations on the loss of Edward and Augustus and finally of the melancholy Death of my beloved Companion.”

I believe that, even at 15 (and in this regard, please recall the 16-year old JA’s X-Rated Sharade on James I’s “pet” Robert Carr), JA meant to hint, in code, that Mr. MacDonald suspects Laura and Sophia not just of thwarting his matrimonial schemes for his daughter, or even of attempting to rob him (as Laura comically describes), but of something far more “unaccountable” to a homophobic man of that society than either elopement or theft—i.e., of Laura and Sophia being women in love with each other, instead of with men!

And, by the way, it’s that same “unaccountable suspicion” of lesbianism, that I believe Val McDermid was spot-on about, in her recent novel adaptation of Northanger Abbey, as I also wrote last year:  “McDermid suggested that General Tilney abruptly boots Catherine out of the Abbey because he wishes to put the kibosh on a budding lesbian romance between Eleanor and Catherine. While this plot twist has elicited snorts of scorn from many Janeites who’ve read McDermid’s retelling, I have long believed that Jane Austen very intentionally created a very strong erotic subtext in the relationship between Eleanor and Catherine. So I say that McDermid was spot-on in inferring the banishment of Catherine from the Abbey as a probable consequence of Colonel Tilney’s discovery of same.”

So, now that we’ve seen JA writing about “unaccountable” lesbian relationships at 15 in Love & Freindship and then again at age 37 in Pride & Prejudice, it should come as no surprise that this code also pops up one more time, at the end of JA’s life four years later, as she started writing the seventh novel that she did not live to complete.


The other passage I was led to by my word search this morning was the following torrent of words spoken by Diana Parker to young heroine Charlotte Heywood when they first meet, in the next to last chapter of the Sanditon fragment:

“…Miss Heywood, I astonish you. You hardly know what to make of me. I see by your looks that you are not used to such quick measures."
The words "UNACCOUNTABLE officiousness!—Activity run mad!" had just passed through Charlotte's mind, but a civil answer was easy.
"I dare say I do look surprised," said [Charlotte], "because these are very great exertions, and I know what invalids both you and your sister are.
"Invalids indeed. I trust there are not three people in England who have so sad a right to that appellation! But my dear Miss Heywood, we are sent into this world to be as extensively useful as possible, and where some degree of strength of mind is given, it is not a feeble body which will excuse us or incline us to excuse ourselves. The world is pretty much divided between the weak of mind and the strong; between those who can act and those who cannot; and it is the bounden duty of the capable to let no opportunity of being useful escape them. My sister's complaints and mine are happily not often of a nature to threaten existence immediately. And as long as we can exert ourselves to be of use to others, I am convinced that the body is the better for the refreshment the mind receives in doing its duty. While I have been travelling with this object in view, I have been perfectly well."
The entrance of the children ended this little panegyric on her own disposition…”

So, following the logic of my posts about the “unaccountable” Charlotte Lucas and Anna Howe, I asked myself, was Charlotte’s thinking of Diana as “unaccountable” a sly suggestion by Jane Austen, writing in March 1817 (or more than a quarter century after she wrote Love and Friendship) that Diana Parker---whom we as readers barely get to meet before Austen’s fragment breaks off less than a quarter of the way through the novel---was a closet lesbian?

As soon as I read the above passage (not for the first time, but for the first time with a possible lesbian subtext in mind), I immediately realized that it was, and how….because I suddenly connected the dots between Diana Parker’s “panegyric” on the great power, but also the great responsibility, of the strong of mind vis a vis the weak of mind, on the one hand, and the following passage that I practically know by heart from my prior analysis of it:

 “Beleive me, I was interested in all you wrote, though with all the Egotism of an Invalid I write only of myself.-Your Charity to the poor Woman I trust fails no more in effect, than I am sure it does in exertion. What an interest it must be to you all! & how gladly sh. I contribute more than my good wishes, were it possible!-But how you are worried! Wherever Distress falls, you are expected to supply Comfort.  Lady P. writing to you even from Paris for advice!-It is the Influence of Strength over Weakness indeed.-GALIGAI DE CONCINI FOR EVER & EVER.-Adeiu.- “

That excerpt is from Letter 159, written by Jane Austen on May 22, 1817 (less than 3 months before her death) to her dear friend (and, as I’ve long claimed, a woman JA loved much more than a friend), Ann Sharpe. A decade earlier, Jane met Ann, while the latter was the governess at Edward Austen Knight’s Kentish estate Godmersham, and Ann was the donee of one of the dozen precious first editions of Emma only a year before. So she was very special to Jane.  I wrote several posts two years ago here…  …. on the theme of Jane Austen dying a proud lesbian, in which I explained how that reference to “Galigai de Concini for ever & ever” was most of all a coded allusion, which Ann understood, to the woman who was burnt at the stake almost exactly four centuries earlier, purportedly for financial abuse of her fiduciary relationship to her Medici patroness, but with the unspoken subtext of their female friendship having been too close for public comfort – and if that sounds like the reason why Laura and Sophia were banished from MacDonald Hall in Love & Freindship, it’s not a coincidence! And while we’re looking at allusions, it’s also no coincidence that Jane and Ann were in the same class mismatch as we saw in Jane Barker’s “The Unaccountable Wife.”


So, what is the takeaway of all this? There is much more than I can cover in this post today, but I want to hit three points:

First, it tells me that Jane Austen really was a few steps further down the brave path toward bringing her non-heterosexual subtext closer to the surface of her fiction, and I believe Diana Parker was going to be the key character carrying the load of that subtext, along with the other character who is subversive of male power in the Sanditon fragment, Lady Denham – who I believe is going to be played by the lesbian cinema icon, Charlotte Rampling, in the film adaptation of Sanditon in production.

Second, it is a particularly good (and therefore egregious) example of how superficial and/or misguided has been the general scholarly analysis of the relationship between Jane Austen’s life and Jane Austen’s fiction – here we have an unmistakable and obvious parallel between a passage in her final fiction—some of the last words she every wrote down as an author---and one of her last letters—and yet, as far as I can discern after diligent online search, no other Austen scholar has ever noticed it.

Third and last, and perhaps most significant to Janeites who love her novels but are not that interested in her biography, it sheds very intriguing light on how Jane Austen would have finished Sanditon had she lived long enough. I suggest that we can infer from the above that Diana Parker would have continued to play a role somewhat analogous to that played by Miss Bates in Emma—i.e., right there in the thick of the action of the story, but….because misunderstood and harshly judged by Charlotte, the young na├»ve heroine, we would have had, as with Miss Bates, to piece out the deep intrigue that really brought Diana Parker to Sanditon, under cover or disguise of her parade of philanthropy.

Since JA’s death, there have been several continuations of Sanditon, including most intriguingly the one by Jane Austen’s writing niece (and psychological daughter), Anna Austen Lefroy. I will during the coming weeks bring myself up to speed on how each of those continuations saw the character of Diana Parker. And I am particularly curious to see how the Sanditon film will present Diana Parker’s character. That is the interpretation that potentially will be seen by a million eyeballs worldwide during the bicentennial of 1817, the year when JA started, then stopped, writing Sanditon, then wrote that love letter to Anne Sharpe, and then left this world with so many questions unanswered.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pemberley as Elizabeth Bennet’s Fool’s Paradise (Hall) Lost & Regained

In my post earlier this week… …I made the case that Jane Austen, whose genius gave us her unforgettable comic depiction of the nerves, tremblings, and vexations of Mrs. Bennet, also used that same comic figure, Mrs. Bennet, for a much more serious purpose. I.e., Austen wished to  subtly point to the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet uttering the following line to the Capulet servant Peter about Mercutio’s sexually provocative remarks about her:   
“Now, afore God, I AM SO VEXED, THAT EVERY PART ABOUT ME QUIVERS. Scurvy knave! …”

I ended that post with the following summation: 
“I see Elizabeth’s married life with Darcy as a parody of Juliet’s tragic death, because it will be no walk in the park for her to be married to the dark Darcy of the shadow story, who does not actually repent and reform after she rejects his first proposal, but merely pretends to do so, because he is a man who cannot take no for an answer, and who does not hesitate to use his considerable resources to stage an extended experience for Elizabeth during the latter half of P&P, which destroys her (healthy) resistance to him.”

However, it was only today that I took a second look at the rest of that speech by Juliet’s Nurse, and, as you’ll see below, that led me right to a scholar’s paradise: Jane Austen’s three-tiered allusion in Pride & Prejudice, to (chronologically in literary history) Romeo & Juliet (1599), Paradise Lost (1667), and Tom Jones (1749)! It takes my breath away, much as Elizabeth’s breath is taken away by her first views of Pemberley –except mine is not a “fool’s paradise”, it’s for real----I hope you’ll agree!

PART ONE: Pride & Prejudice (1813) Allusion to Romeo & Juliet (1599):

To begin, here’s the rest of the Nurse’s speech, when she abruptly shifts from addressing Peter, to issuing a stern warning to the amorous Romeo:
 “…but first let me tell ye, if ye should lead her into A FOOL’S PARADISE, as they say, it were a very GROSS kind of behavior, as they say: for the gentlewoman is young; and, therefore, if you should DEAL DOUBLE with her, truly it were an ill thing to be offered to any gentlewoman, and very weak dealing.”

In other words, watching out for Juliet, the fiercely maternal Nurse warns Romeo to love Juliet faithfully, and not to break her 12-year old heart. I now suggest that when Mrs. Bennet (to Elizabeth’s great distress and bewilderment) repeatedly makes hostile jabs at Darcy in the Netherfield salon, she’s actually giving him a similar maternal warning not to try to exploit his high status and lead any Bennet girl into a fool’s paradise. She does this because, as I’ve previously suggested, Mrs. Bennet and Darcy (but not Elizabeth)  know that Darcy is the unnamed suitor who wrote a sonnet while six years earlier wooing the then 16-year old Jane Bennet in London.

However, Elizabeth’s ear is not tuned to the frequency of her mother’s warning, and so, when Elizabeth first sees Pemberley, she indeed enters a “fool’s paradise”. I.e. its Edenic majesty mesmerizes Elizabeth, with such powerful effect that she later jokes to sister Jane (but the joke is actually on Elizabeth) about dating her own falling in love with Darcy from her “first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.”

And, once we think about Pemberley as a “fool’s paradise” for Elizabeth, we find that the idea of a single female’s reactions to being wooed as being “foolish”, is a motif that pops up at key points during P&P.

First, we read this exchange between Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins, in which Elizabeth is called “foolish” by both of them, for rejecting his proposal:
"But, depend upon it, Mr. Collins," she added, "that Lizzy shall be brought to reason. I will speak to her about it directly. She is a very headstrong, FOOLISH girl, and does not know her own interest but I will make her know it."
"Pardon me for interrupting you, madam," cried Mr. Collins; "but if she is really headstrong and FOOLISH, I know not whether she would altogether be a very desirable wife to a man in my situation, who naturally looks for happiness in the marriage state….”

Then, we read these contradictory comments regarding the foolishness of Miss King’s flip flop in responses to Wickham’s sudden courtship:

[first, to Mrs. Gardiner, when Miss King appears receptive toWickham’s advances]
"Well," cried Elizabeth, "have it as you choose. He shall be mercenary, and she shall be FOOLISH."
[then, after Miss King rejects Wickham’s proposal]
"And Mary King is safe!" added Elizabeth; "safe from a connection imprudent as to fortune."
[Lydia] "She is a great FOOL for going away, if she liked him."

And then, after Elizabeth rejects Darcy’s first proposal, we read this description of her struggle to make sense of what she reads in Darcy’s letter. The word “fool” does not appear, but the Nurse’s references to “gross” and “double dealing” are distinctly echoed. Elizabeth does not wish to be fooled, but doesn’t at that moment know who is trying to fool her, Darcy or Wickham:

“What Wickham had said of the living was fresh in her memory, and as she recalled his very words, it was impossible not to feel that there was GROSS DUPLICITY on one side or the other; and, for a few moments, she flattered herself that her wishes did not err….”

And finally, here are Elizabeth’s private thoughts as she steals glances at Darcy at Longbourn, after she has already fully and irreversibly entered the “fool’s paradise” while at Pemberley:

"If he does not come to me, then," said she, "I shall give him up for ever."
The gentlemen came; and she thought he looked as if he would have answered her hopes; but, alas! the ladies had crowded round the table, where Miss Bennet was making tea, and Elizabeth pouring out the coffee, in so close a confederacy that there was not a single vacancy near her which would admit of a chair. And on the gentlemen's approaching, one of the girls moved closer to her than ever, and said, in a whisper:  "The men shan't come and part us, I am determined. We want none of them; do we?"
Darcy had walked away to another part of the room. She followed him with her eyes, envied everyone to whom he spoke, had scarcely patience enough to help anybody to coffee; and then was enraged against herself for being so silly!
"A man who has once been refused! How could I ever be FOOLISH enough to expect a renewal of his love? Is there one among the sex, who would not protest against such a weakness as a second proposal to the same woman? There is no indignity so abhorrent to their feelings!"

Despite the feminist warnings of the unnamed whisperer (whom I identified 6 years ago as Elizabeth’s sister Mary!), Elizabeth by this point is so far lost wandering in her fool’s paradise, that she now defines being “foolish” as holding out hope for a second proposal from Darcy she now desperately yearns for.

So there you have a brief tour of Jane Austen’s veiled allusion to the fool’s paradise of Elizabeth’s conversion to loving Darcy, which, I suggest, is the very same fool’s paradise that the Nurse warned Romeo against.  Now, let’s dig another layer deeper.

TWO: Pride & Prejudice Allusion to Paradise Lost (1667)/Romeo & Juliet (1599)

I’ve written on various occasions since 2014 about the allusion to Romeo & Juliet, such as here….    ….that Milton wove into the deepest fabric of Paradise Lost, most strikingly of all in the “SATAN” acrostic in Book 8, which I claim points to the “SATAN” acrostic in Friar Laurence’s speech to Juliet.

Today, I see that the Nurse’s warning reference to a “fool’s paradise” was also alluded to by Milton in plain sight in Book 3 of Paradise Lost, in the description of Satan’s journey leading up to his arrival in Eden. The following-quoted passage not only contains “The Paradise of Fools”, it’s also peppered with scathing insulting descriptions of Catholicism, particularly Franciscan friars ---like “SATAN” Friar Laurence in R&J—whom Satan encounters in his Danteesque journey:

So, on this windy sea of land, the Fiend
Walked up and down alone, bent on his prey;
Alone, for other creature in this place,
Living or lifeless, to be found was none;
None yet, but store hereafter from the earth
Up hither like aereal vapours flew
Of all things transitory and vain, when sin
With vanity had filled the works of men:
Both all things vain, and all who in vain things
Built their fond hopes of glory or lasting fame,
Or happiness in this or the other life;
All who have their reward on earth, the fruits
Nought seeking but the praise of men, here find
Fit retribution, empty as their deeds;
All the unaccomplished works of Nature's hand,
Abortive, monstrous, or unkindly mixed,
Dissolved on earth, fleet hither, and in vain,
Till final dissolution, wander here;
Not in the neighbouring moon as some have dreamed;
Those argent fields more likely habitants,
Translated Saints, or middle Spirits hold
Betwixt the angelical and human kind.
Hither of ill-joined sons and daughters born
First from the ancient world those giants came
With many a vain exploit, though then renowned:
The builders next of Babel on the plain
Of Sennaar, and still with vain design,
New Babels, had they wherewithal, would build:
Others came single; he, who, to be deemed
A God, leaped fondly into Aetna flames,
Empedocles; and he, who, to enjoy
Plato's Elysium, leaped into the sea,
Cleombrotus; and many more too long,
Embryos, and idiots, eremites, and FRIARS
White, black, and gray, WITH ALL THEIR TRUMPERY,   [as in Donald Trumpery!]
Here pilgrims roam, that strayed so far to seek
In Golgotha him dead, who lives in Heaven;
And THEY, WHO to be sure of Paradise,
Dying, put on the weeds of Dominick,
They pass the planets seven, and pass the fixed,
And that crystalling sphere whose balance weighs
The trepidation talked, and that first moved;
And now Saint Peter at Heaven's wicket seems
To wait them with his keys, and now at foot
Of Heaven's ascent they lift their feet, when lo
A violent cross wind from either coast
Blows them transverse, ten thousand leagues awry
Into the devious air: THEN MIGHT YE SEE
COWLS, HOODS, AND HABITS, with their wearers, tost
And fluttered into rags; then RELIQUES, BEADS,
The sport of winds: ALL THESE, upwhirled aloft,
Into a Limbo large and broad, since called
THE PARADISE OF FOOLS, to few unknown
Long after; now unpeopled, and untrod.
All this dark globe the Fiend found as he passed,
And long he wandered, till at last a gleam
Of dawning light turned thither-ward in haste
His travelled steps: far distant he descries
Ascending by degrees magnificent
Up to the wall of Heaven a structure high….

In short, then, I believe that the above was yet another clue left by Milton in Paradise Lost, telling us that he recognized that Friar Laurence was the SATAN whose meddling actually brings about fatal consequences for Juliet far worse even that the Nurse feared when she warned Romeo!

And, I believe Jane Austen, brilliant literary scholar that she had to have been, spotted and understood Milton’s profound engagement with Shakespeare, and then showed it, by weaving both Paradise Lost and Romeo & Juliet into the subtext of Pride & Prejudice, most of all via her portrayal of Elizabeth as Juliet/Eve, and Darcy as Romeo/Friar Laurence/Satan. And the Nurse’s speech is one key linchpin which unites these three of the greatest works in English literature.  But guess what, there’s a fourth, too!

Pride & Prejudice Allusion to Romeo & Juliet (1599) /Paradise Lost (1667)/Tom Jones (1749):

In this section, I’ll explain how I see Jane Austen layering Tom Jones on top of R&J and Paradise Lost  in the subtext of P&P.

First, there are several overt references to Paradise Lost by Henry Fielding’s intrusive narrator in Tom Jones, most notably:
“And now having taken a resolution to leave the country, [Tom Jones] began to debate with himself whither he should go. The world, as Milton phrases it, lay all before him; and Jones, no more than Adam, had any man to whom he might resort for comfort or assistance.”

And, to add a deeper layer, here is an excellent, orthodox unpacking of the veiled allusion to Tom Jones in Pride & Prejudice, courtesy of Jo Alyson Parker in her article “Pride & Prejudice: Jane Austen’s Double Inheritance Plot” (1988):
“Austen’s Pride & Prejudice serves as Austen’s revision of Tom Jones from a woman’s perspective, with Elizabeth filling the Tom Jones role and Pemberley serving as Austen’s version of Paradise Hall. Just as the fact of his bastardy, coupled with the machinations of Blifil, deprives Tom Jones of any claim to Paradise Hall, so does the Longbourn entail cut Elizabeth off from what may seem to be her ‘rightful’ inheritance. And Elizabeth’s state of dispossession, like Tom’s, causes her to embark on what will become a quest for self knowledge and position. Elizabeth is not, like Tom Jones, an actual foundling, but the romantic aura of that condition nevertheless clings to her.
…The family setup at Pemberley bears a curious affinity to the setup at Paradise Hall, so much so that we might regard such allusions as deliberate. In his first appearance early in the novel, Darcy, with his coldness and reserve, might almost be mistaken for Blifil. He is responsible for banishing Wickham from the family estate, just as Blifil is responsible for getting Tom banished. Although legitimate, Wickham is, like Tom Jones, a foster son; Darcy’s father treated him like one of his own children…Wickham also resembles Fielding’s hero in appearance…We come to find out that Wickham shares another quality with Fielding’s hero-an ungoverned sexuality …In eloping with Lydia, he displays a disregard for sexual restraint worthy of the unreformed Tom Jones.
Unlike Tom Jones, however, Wickham does not reform…As Elizabeth discovers, he is prodigal, mercenary, revengeful and mendacious. Murray Krieger points out that Austen turns the TJ model on its head: “Wickham is not permitted to make it: it is as if, in Tom Jones, Blifil turned out to be the good guy. For it is Darcy, the wealthiest and most highly placed character in the novel, who is its hero and who gets the girl … Wickham does not, like Tom Jones, make the discovery which makes him the worthy hero; rather, the discovery is made about him to make him the worthless villain.’
In regards to the respective fates of her two leading men, Austen certainly rewrites the plot of Tom Jones, even to the extent that the worthless Wickham ends up, like Blifil, permanently banished from ‘paradise.’
….the rewriting is also a decentering, Austen’s real focus being not on the heroes but on the heroine. In effect, Elizabeth replaces Wickham as the Tom Jones figure….”  END QUOTE FROM PARKER

I call the above excellent analysis “orthodox” because Parker lacked the outside-the-box perspective on P&P that I have, which is that it is a double story. While her explanation is very plausible for the overt story of P&P, my understanding provides a powerful explanation for what puzzled Parker—i.e., why “Darcy, with his coldness and reserve, might almost be mistaken for Blifil” ---my answer is that, in the shadow story of P&P, Darcy really is Blifil, and Wickham really is Tom Jones!

In any event, what Parker does not get into, but I will now, is to first point out that Tom Jones also points to (what a surprise!) Romeo and Juliet:

Per Fredson Bower in his 1975 edition of Tom Jones:
“Sophia’s situation at this point in the novel recalls that of Shakespeare’s heroine in R&J. As Juliet loves Romeo but is intended by her family for Paris, so Sophia loves Jones while her family arranges her marriage to Blifil. With the present scene between Honour and Sophia, compare, in particular, R&J 3.2: when the Nurse brings news that Romeo has been banished for killing Tybalt, Juliet at first condemns her faithless lover, then reproves her companion for echoing her sentiments.”


While it all may take a while to absorb, if you reread the above a few times over a few days, the dazzling superstructure of layered Shakespeare/Milton/Fielding allusions upon which Pride & Prejudice rests will, I hope, come more and more into focus for you.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

 P.S.: My Subject Line ends with Paradise Regained, because of my earlier claim that Elizabeth Bennet is actually the true heiress of Pemberley, who (like Tom Jones) was banished.