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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The late Nina Auerbach’s early take on Mr. Darcy as the Austenian duke of dark corners & disguise

Ellen Moody posted the following today in Janeites/Austen-L about the recent death of literary critic Nina Auerbach:  “An obituary: she was an important feminist woman scholarship; often wrote of the gothic, has a book on DuMaurier, wrote influentially from a feminist progressive angry angle about Fanny Price”: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=nina-auerbach&pid=184181437

For over a decade, I’ve been aware of Nina Auerbach’s having been a pioneer among Austen scholars, in her early recognition of dark aspects of Austen’s radical feminist critique of Regency Era patriarchy, a critique that (as I agree with her) lurks in the shadows of all of Austen’s novels. So I think it a fitting memorial to Prof. Auerbach today, to quote from her literary criticism written during the Seventies, so that her own words can illustrate the prescience and evolution of her subversive insights into the most high profile of Austen heroes  —Mr. Darcy in P&P. In particular, vis a vis my claim (since 2005) that all of Austen’s novels are double stories, I find especially noteworthy Auerbach’s prescient insights into the doubleness of the Austen hero who famously (and disingenuously) sneered: “But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence.” As you’ll see, Auerbach didn’t quite believe him then, and I don’t believe him today.

Auerbach first dipped her critical toe into the deep waters of Mr. Darcy’s mysterious character in 1972 in "O Brave New World: Evolution and Revolution in Persuasion, " English Literary History 39 at p. 120, with this passing observation:   
“…Elizabeth was forced out of her childhood home by Mr. Collins, a horrible embodiment of the power of form to stifle humanity, and her problem in the book was to find a house she could live in. Wickham's ‘unhoused free condition,’ his world of impulse and feeling, was an illusion, easily dissolved by the power of money. Nature, growth, freedom, could survive only in the heavily fortified atmosphere of Pemberley, presided over by the equivocal figure of Mr. Darcy…To find this generosity of feeling, Elizabeth Bennet… retreated into the past: Elizabeth ensconced herself in Pemberley…But there were oppressive and equivocal elements in this protective world of tradition. Darcy's resemblance to his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, pointed to elements in his character of the anti-human pride of his class, although at times Jane Austen ignored Darcy's unpleasant side with skillful sophistry in order to maintain the light and bright and sparkling tone of the book.”

I love Auerbach’s characterization of Austen’s “skillful sophistry” at somehow keeping things comic and tragic at the same time. Then, four years later, in “Austen & Alcott on Matriarchy: New Women or New Wives?” in Novel 10/1 (Autumn 1976) 6-26, Auerbach unpacked her much more fully developed thoughts about Darcy:
“Lady Catherine's final challenge throws Elizabeth back on the female, matriarchal dream world she is trying to escape; in asserting the primary reality of men and patrilineal inheritance, she comes close to denying that she is her mother's daughter. Lady Catherine's withdrawal, and the reassuringly ardent Darcy's quick appearance in her place, suggests the salutary recession of the usurped power of all mothers before the meaning and form only men can bestow. For the acknowledged center of power is the shadowy Darcy. "As a brother, a landlord, a master, she considered how many people's happiness were in his guardianship!-How much of pleasure or pain it was in his power to bestow!- How much of good or evil must be done by him!". Looking at Darcy as his portrait immortalizes him, Elizabeth is overcome by a kind of social vitalism: she is drawn not to the benignity and wisdom of his power but to its sheer extent as such, for evil as well as good. What compels her in the portrait is the awesomely institutionalized power of a man; a power that her own father has let fall and her mother, grotesquely usurped. Loathing as she does the idea of any kinship to her mother, Elizabeth will doubtless be content not to have her own portrait displayed after her marriage. Thus Austen speculates: "I can only imagine that Mr. D. prizes any Picture of her too much to like it should be exposed to the public eye.-I can imagine he wd. have that sort of feeling-that mixture of Love, Pride & Delicacy" (24 May, 1813). After the clamorous anonymity of Longbourn, marriage waits for Elizabeth as a hard-won release into a privacy only Darcy can bestow. But underneath this pervasive largesse Darcy has as shadowy a selfhood as his aunt Lady Catherine. If Elizabeth's childhood is obliterated in memory, Darcy's is a muddled contradiction. The man who caught Elizabeth's eye before audibly insulting her was, according to his "intelligent" housekeeper, a fount of virtue from the beginning of his life. He was merely too modest to declare his goodness and Elizabeth too prejudiced to see it…A good deal of weight is put on this testimony, though it is oddly redolent of Mr. Collins extolling the condescension of Lady Catherine; and it meshes neither with the reliable Mrs. Gardiner's "having heard Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy formerly spoken of as a very proud, ill-natured boy", nor with Darcy's own meticulous diagnosis of his past…Darcy the man is as muddled a figure as Darcy the boy. Is he indeed converted into humanity by Elizabeth's spontaneity and spirit, or was he always the perfection that maturity allows her to see? Oddly, Elizabeth herself prefers the latter interpretation, replacing her power over him with a reassuring silliness: "And yet I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike to him, without any reason. It is such a spur to one's genius, such an opening for wit to have a dislike of that kind. One may be continually abusive without saying any thing just; but one cannot be always laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty". Elizabeth's selective memory serves her well here by erasing the fact that she had, and has, several good reasons for disliking Darcy; but she seems to need a sense of her own wrongness to justify the play of her mind. In choosing to emphasize her own prejudice over Darcy's most palpable pride, she can wonder freely at the power in his portrait while her own (if there is one) will be closeted away, invisible to all eyes but her husband's…
Objectivity, impartiality, and knowledge might endanger the cloak of invisibility which is so intrinsic a part of Jane Austen's perception of a woman's life. The sanctioned power of management with which she endows Darcy allows him to prove his heroism in the third volume by taking over the mother's role: like the shadowy "Duke of dark corners" in Measure for Measure, he moves behind the scenes and secretly arranges the marriages of the three Bennet girls….In becoming the novel's providential matchmaker, Darcy brings about the comic conclusion by an administrative activity for which Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine were, and Emma Woodhouse will be, severely condemned. In the end the malevolent power of the mother is ennobled by being transferred to the hero; and the female community of Longbourn, an oppressive blank in a dense society, is dispersed with relief in the solidity of marriage. “ END QUOTE

Darcy clearly continued to bubble around in Auerbach’s imagination thereafter, because 7 years later, we read, in “Jane Austen and Romantic Imprisonment” these additional thoughts, which I believe are the last that Auerbach wrote about Darcy:
“…Elizabeth Bennet in P&P is the simplest case: she assumes power by marriage to it, and the novel arcs with her comic rise. Unlike Catherine Morland and Marianne Dashwood, she falls back only in a muted, vicarious fashion through her sister’s humiliating elopement. The double prison quietly persists, however, in Darcy’s radically double character, his ambiguous affinity with his tyrannical aunt making him as suggestive a redeemer/jailer as Willoughby was. His humanization is so undefined a process that we can see the ‘shades of the prison-house’ [Wordsworth] closing on Elizabeth forever at Pemberley.”

Given that I ‘ve been writing for almost a decade now about the two Darcys that Jane Austen created, and how the dark Darcy only pretends to reform his character, I’d like to think that Nina Auerbach, who so long ago felt intimations of that darkness, would’ve found my shadow story theories persuasive. And if you were wondering how Auerbach’s subversive ideas about Darcy were received way back when? Well, I will conclude this post with two reviews which show that the world of Austen scholarship was definitely not ready for Auerbach’s radical innovative thinking 3 or 4 decades ago—and perhaps is not much more ready today:

Joel J. Gold in Modern Philology, Vol. 80, No. 3 (Feb., 1983), pp. 313-316
“It is difficult, for example, to harmonize the somewhat strained and subjective readings of "Jane Austen and Romantic Imprisonment" by Nina Auerbach, which presents Austen in "a special sort of agreement with her Romantic contemporaries", with the judicious, balanced appraisal of Patricia Meyer Spacks, who sees Austen's fiction embodying "values of the 18th and 19th centuries alike". Auerbach's subjective approach leads to some dark corners: she finds in both Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey "a similar rhythm of a painful journey toward what looks like freedom but is in fact a deeper prison of the mind”. Many readers have seen Marianne Dashwood's marriage to Colonel Brandon in such terms, but Catherine's to Henry Tilney? Consider Auerbach on the end of Northanger Abbey: "The mechanical, even faintly zombie-like quality of the final epithalamium-'Henry and Catherine were married, the bells rang and every body smiled' . . . in which the smiles seem as non-human as the bells-recalls the darker, enforced marriages of the unnatural in Romantic fiction, whose contrivance (as in Frankenstein or Melmoth) murders the living nature marriage claims to perpetuate". Not surprisingly, with Auerbach as guide, "we can see the 'shades of the prison-house' closing on Elizabeth forever at Pemberley" and Fanny Price transformed "from being the prisoner of Mansfield to the status of its principal jailer".

And a few months after that, Margaret Ann Doody responded with similar skepticism in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 38, No. 2 (Sep., 1983), pp. 220-224:
“Nina Auerbach gives us a different kind of historical Austen. "Jane Austen and Romantic Imprisonment" rebels in Austen's name against the condescending praise (by G. H. Lewes and others) for her limitations; she is too often seen as "the artist of contentedly clipped wings". Auerbach sees in Austen an impatience with "pinched horizons," a Romantic insight into a claustrophobia Romantically evoked. This view has some merit as a reaction against platitudes, but certainly not every reader will perceive Darcy as a "jailer" or agree that "we can see the 'shades of the prison house' closing on Elizabeth forever at Pemberley". If we try to see everything we want in an author, we may in the end see nothing.”

Needless to say, I don’t agree with Gold or Doody, and I especially don’t believe that Nina Auerbach was guilty of “trying to see everything she wanted to see” in Jane Austen’s fiction. Quite the contrary, I see Auerbach as having been a clear-eyed, imaginative interpreter of the meanings hidden beneath the lines Austen wrote, and I hope that one day my own scholarship will fulfill the promise of the pioneering and still underappreciated insights of Nina Auerbach.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAusten on Twitter

Friday, February 17, 2017

Jane Austen stoops to allude to Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer: Part One

Recently, in the following excerpt from a 2008 dissertation, I came across a surprising lead regarding an allusive source for Pride & Prejudice of which I had previously been unaware:

The Pleasures of Comic Mischief in Jane Austen’s Novels by Belisa Monteiro:
“…Readers have noted the remarkably theatrical opening of Pride and Prejudice— the comic dialogue largely devoid of narrative commentary, clearly reminiscent of stage comedy. But none have pointed out the striking resemblance between Austen's scene of marital discord—a husband and wife fundamentally at odds, the husband delighting in thwarting his wife's desires—and the opening of Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer, featuring Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle, another squabbling, middle-aged couple. The Hardcastles, owners of a country estate, argue over the merits of the fashionable custom of going to London for a little seasonal diversion. A pretender to fashion, the hopelessly rustic Mrs. Hardcastle wants nothing more than a sojourn in London's beau monde, while her husband retorts with satirical witticisms on the "fopperies" of the town. While the topic of dispute differs, the comic mode of marital argument
resembles that of the Bennets: the wife exasperatingly pleading for what she wants, and the husband pleasing himself in thwarting her entreaties. The effects produced on the reader and spectator are similar too: we find ourselves laughing with the satirical husband more than sympathizing with the frustrated wife, thus complicit in the element of cruelty underlying the husbands' enjoyment of their wives' torment. Indeed, the anti-wife humor, as ancient as Greek Old Comedy, enlivens and emboldens these satirical sketches of marriage. Moreover, Austen's humor is ultimately bolder: while Goldsmith, more attuned to the sentimental temper of Georgian culture, softens the satire by adding a touch of tenderness to Mr. Hardcastle's feelings for his annoying wife ("I have been pretty fond of an old wife"), Austen denies this mollifying stroke of affection in her depiction of the uneasy dynamics of the Bennet marriage.”
END QUOTE FROM MONTEIRO

It took only a few minutes to retrieve the first scene of She Stoops and verify that Monteiro was spot on:

SCENE—A Chamber in an old-fashioned House.  Enter MRS. HARDCASTLE and MR. HARDCASTLE.
MRS. HARDCASTLE. I vow, Mr. Hardcastle, you're very particular. Is there a creature in the whole country but ourselves, that does not take a trip to town now and then, to rub off the rust a little? There's the two Miss Hoggs, and our neighbour Mrs. Grigsby, go to take a month's polishing every winter.
[REVERSAL OF MRS. BENNET’S STANDING UP TO DARCY FOR COUNTRY LIFE]

HARDCASTLE. Ay, and bring back vanity and affectation to last them the whole year. I wonder why London cannot keep its own fools at home! In my time, the follies of the town crept slowly among us, but now they travel faster than a stage-coach. Its fopperies come down not only as inside passengers, but in the very basket. 
[MR. BENNET’S DROLL IRONIC WIT]

MRS. HARDCASTLE. Ay, your times were fine times indeed; you have been telling us of them for many a long year. Here we live in an old rumbling mansion, that looks for all the world like an inn, but that we never see company. Our best visitors are old Mrs. Oddfish, the curate's wife, and little Cripplegate, the lame dancing-master; and all our entertainment your old stories of Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough. I hate such old-fashioned trumpery.
[MR. BENNET WHOSE OLD FRIENDS ARE HIS WIFE’S NERVES]

[THEN SKIP AHEAD TO MISS HARCASTLE’S ENTRANCE]
HARDCASTLE. Well, remember, I insist on the terms of our agreement; and, by the bye, I believe I shall have occasion to try your obedience this very evening.
MISS HARDCASTLE. I protest, sir, I don't comprehend your meaning.
HARDCASTLE. Then to be plain with you, Kate, I expect the young gentleman I have chosen to be your husband from town this very day. I have his father's letter, in which he informs me his son is set out, and that he intends to follow himself shortly after.
[MR. BENNET JOKING ABOUT BINGLEY AS FUTURE HUSBAND OF ANY BENNET GIRL]

MISS HARDCASTLE. Indeed! I wish I had known something of this before. Bless me, how shall I behave? It's a thousand to one I shan't like him; our meeting will be so formal, and so like a thing of business, that I shall find no room for friendship or esteem.
HARDCASTLE. Depend upon it, child, I'll never control your choice; but Mr. Marlow, whom I have pitched upon, is the son of my old friend, Sir Charles Marlow, of whom you have heard me talk so often. The young gentleman has been bred a scholar, and is designed for an employment in the service of his country. I am told he's a man of an excellent understanding.
[“DEPEND UPON IT” IS MR. BENNET’S PET PHRASE]

MISS HARDCASTLE. Is he?
HARDCASTLE. Very generous.
MISS HARDCASTLE. I believe I shall like him.
HARDCASTLE. Young and brave.
MISS HARDCASTLE. I'm sure I shall like him.
HARDCASTLE. And very handsome.
MISS HARDCASTLE. My dear papa, say no more, (kissing his hand), he's mine; I'll have him.
HARDCASTLE. And, to crown all, Kate, he's one of the most bashful and reserved young fellows in all the world.
[MR. DARCY’S RESERVE]

MISS HARDCASTLE. Eh! you have frozen me to death again. That word reserved has undone all the rest of his accomplishments. A reserved lover, it is said, always makes a suspicious husband.
HARDCASTLE. On the contrary, modesty seldom resides in a breast that is not enriched with nobler virtues. It was the very feature in his character that first struck me.
MISS HARDCASTLE. He must have more striking features to catch me, I promise you. However, if he be so young, so handsome, and so everything as you mention, I believe he'll do still. I think I'll have him.
[DARCY’S LIST OF NECESSARY ASSETS OF AN ACCOMPLISHED WOMAN]

HARDCASTLE. Ay, Kate, but there is still an obstacle. It's more than an even wager he may not have you.
MISS HARDCASTLE. My dear papa, why will you mortify one so?—Well, if he refuses, instead of breaking my heart at his indifference, I'll only break my glass for its flattery, set my cap to some newer fashion, and look out for some less difficult admirer.
[ELIZABETH BENNET’S TRADEMARK WIT & RESILIENCE IN THE FACE OF SNOBBERY]

[THEN ONE MORE BRIEF FAST FORWARD TO...]
MISS HARDCASTLE. No; nothing of all this. I have been threatened—I can scarce get it out—I have been threatened with a lover.
MISS NEVILLE. And his name—
MISS HARDCASTLE. Is Marlow.
MISS NEVILLE. Indeed!
MISS HARDCASTLE. The son of Sir Charles Marlow.
MISS NEVILLE. As I live, the most intimate friend of Mr. Hastings, my admirer. They are never asunder. I believe you must have seen him when we lived in town.
MISS HARDCASTLE. Never.
MISS NEVILLE. He's a very singular character, I assure you. Among women of reputation and virtue he is the modestest man alive; but his acquaintance give him a very different character among creatures of another stamp: you understand me.
[AND IN THOSE LAST EXCHANGES WE HAVE JANE & ELIZABETH DISCUSSING BINGLEY & DARCY; THEN FOR GOOD MEASURE, THERE’S THE MODEL FOR COLONEL FITZWILLIAM’S PRECIS OF DARCY’S SITUATIONAL CHARACTER!]

So it’s clear from the above that She Stoops to Conquer was not only a source (as has previously been noted by Austen scholars) for Emma and Sense & Sensibility, but even more so for P&P---- not just in the above quoted opening scene, but thereafter at various points in the remainder of Goldsmith’s famous play, which I’ll catalog tomorrow in a followup post.

But I will close today with the startling realization I came to as I browsed in the final Act of She Stoops: i.e.,  it stared me in the face that the first reader to notice the allusion in P&P to She Stoops was none other than Sir Walter Scott, when, in 1816, he wrote the following drolly sarcastic encapsulation of tthe romantic climax of P&P:   “They chance to meet exactly as her prudence had begun to subdue her prejudice; and after some essential services rendered to her family, the lover becomes encouraged to renew his addresses, and the novel ends happily..... "

Now, read the following romantic climax of She Stoops, when Marlow (“Darcy”) and Miss Hardcastle (“Elizabeth”) finally connect romantically, and at the end you’ll see the exact passage that Scott was winking at: 

MISS NEVILLE. No, Mr. Hastings, no. Prudence once more comes to my relief, and I will obey its dictates. In the moment of passion fortune may be despised, but it ever produces a lasting repentance. I'm resolved to apply to Mr. Hardcastle's compassion and justice for redress.
HASTINGS. But though he had the will, he has not the power to relieve you.
MISS NEVILLE. But he has influence, and upon that I am resolved to rely.
HASTINGS. I have no hopes. But since you persist, I must reluctantly obey you. [Exeunt.]
SCENE changes.
Enter SIR CHARLES and MISS HARDCASTLE.
SIR CHARLES. What a situation am I in! If what you say appears, I shall then find a guilty son. If what he says be true, I shall then lose one that, of all others, I most wished for a daughter.[THERE IS THE SOURCE FOR MR. BENNET’S SOLOMON-LIKE RESPONSE RE: ELIZABETH LOSING ONE OF HER PARENTS NO MATTER WHETHER SHE ACCEPTS MR. COLLINS’S PPOPOSAL OR NOT]

MISS HARDCASTLE. I am PROUD of your approbation, and to show I merit it, if you place yourselves as I directed, you shall hear his explicit declaration. But he comes.
SIR CHARLES. I'll to your father, and keep him to the appointment. [Exit SIR CHARLES.]
Enter MARLOW.
MARLOW. Though prepared for setting out, I come once more to take leave; nor did I, till this moment, know the pain I feel in the separation.
MISS HARDCASTLE. (In her own natural manner.) I believe sufferings cannot be very great, sir, which you can so easily remove. A day or two longer, perhaps, might lessen your uneasiness, by showing the little value of what you now think proper to regret.

[AND NOW, HERE IS THE PASSAGE THAT SCOTT WINKED AT]
MARLOW. (Aside.) This girl every moment improves upon me. (To her.) It must not be, madam. I have already trifled too long with my heart. My very PRIDE begins to submit to my passion. The disparity of education and fortune, the anger of a parent, and the contempt of my equals, begin to lose their weight; and nothing can restore me to myself but this painful effort of resolution.

And as my very eloquence begins to submit to my fear of going on too long, I will end Part One now, and be back with Part Two tomorrow.

[Added 02/19/17: Subsequent to writing the above post, after a bit more creative Googling, I came upon a 2016 review of a performance of She Stoops by a very sharp elf of a theater critic, Nancy Churnin, who at one point wrote the following about She Stoops: 
"It’s a tale of pride and prejudice that may have influenced characters that Jane Austen would make famous in her novel about proud Fitzwilliam Darcy and spirited Elizabeth Bennet 40 years after this play’s debut."]

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Elizabeth’s inspiring persistence in resistance to oppression….in Pride & Prejudice

Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of Pride & Prejudice, is most beloved, perhaps, for her fearless persistence in speaking truth to, and resisting, power, especially in situations when a female is under pressure to be silent and acquiesce in an injustice being imposed on her or on one of her loved ones. One of the most thrilling scenes in all of literature is the confrontation between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine de Bourgh in the wilderness at Longbourn, when Elizabeth’s refusal to acquiesce in the latter’s demand that she promise never to accept a marriage proposal from Darcy, sends the latter off fuming in apoplectic rage.

In light of very recent events in the news involving female persistence in resisting oppression, and refusing to be suppressed and silenced, it’s worth taking note of two such occasions when Jane Austen actually uses the word “persist” in her most famous and popular novel, never dreaming that she would be inadvertently echoed by a latter day male version of Lady Catherine from Kentucky.

First, in Chapter 20 of P&P, we read Mrs. Bennet’s ill-advised assurances to Mr. Collins that Elizabeth will be forced to accept his repulsive proposal of marriage; at which points Mr. Collins narcissistically points out that Elizabeth’s persistence in rejecting him suggest she would a defective wife who would make him an unhappy husband:

“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. 
IF THEREFORE SHE ACTUALLY PERSISTS IN REJECTING MY SUIT, 
perhaps it were better not to force her into accepting me, because if liable to such defects of temper, she could not contribute much to my felicity.”
“Sir, you quite misunderstand me,” said Mrs. Bennet, alarmed. “Lizzy is only headstrong in such matters as these. In everything else she is as good-natured a girl as ever lived. I will go directly to Mr. Bennet, and we shall very soon settle it with her, I am sure.”

And all Janeites know that Mr. Bennet thwarts his wife and his would-be son-in-law, by eloquently rewarding his favorite daughter’s persistence with his witty parody of the Biblical Solomon, which takes Elizabeth off the hook!

Then, shortly thereafter, in Chapter 24, after Bingley abruptly and inexplicably up and leaves Jane pining away in Meryton, Elizabeth, speaking with Jane, persists in attributing bad actions and bad motives to the Bingley sisters, in regard to their influencing their brother Charles to suspend his courtship of Jane:

“…I intreat you, dear Lizzy, not to pain me by thinking that person to blame, and saying your opinion of him is sunk. We must not be so ready to fancy ourselves intentionally injured. We must not expect a lively young man to be always so guarded and circumspect. It is very often nothing but our own vanity that deceives us. Woman fancy admiration means more than it does."
   "And men take care that they should."
   "If it is designedly done, they cannot be justified; but I have no idea of there being so much design in the world as some persons imagine."
   "I am far from attributing any part of Mr. Bingley's conduct to design," said Elizabeth; "but without scheming to do wrong, or to make others unhappy, there may be error, and there may be misery. Thoughtlessness, want of attention to other people's feelings, and want of resolution, will do the business."
   "And do you impute it to either of those?'
   "Yes; to the last. But if I go on, I shall displease you by saying what I think of persons you esteem. Stop me whilst you can."
   "YOU PERSIST, THEN, IN SUPPOSING HIS SISTERS INFLUENCE HIM."
   "Yes, in conjunction with his friend."
   "I cannot believe it. Why should they try to influence him? They can only wish his happiness; and if he is attached to me, no other woman can secure it."
   "Your first position is false. They may wish many things besides his happiness; they may wish his increase of wealth and consequence; they may wish him to marry a girl who has all the importance of money, great connexions, and pride."

Once again, Elizabeth persists, this time in speaking inconvenient truth subversive of the cruel exercise of power by the wealthy, snobbish Bingley sisters.

So, something tells me that Jane Austen would be smiling at the way so many women and men have responded so positively to the fearless leadership the other day of a latter day Elizabeth, who persists in speaking truth to power, a truth that no rule created by the pen of men can ever silence.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, February 3, 2017

Sting Re-Covered

Jackie and I went to see a band last night that performed astonishingly powerful and convincing covers of many of the greatest hits of the Police, and also several from Sting’s long solo career --- it was 2 ½ hours of almost continuous rock-music listening ecstasy, with even better musicianship than we got in the original recordings from decades ago; and the lead singer in particular did Sting better than Sting himself sang back in the day.

But here’s the thing – the lead singer of the cover band we saw last night was….. Sting himself!  ;)

Sorry for the brief deception, but I wanted to get the point across of how amazingly good a concert it was that we (and 5,000 of our fellow Portlandians) were privileged to experience; and in particular how Sting, despite being old enough to be on Medicare (he turned 65 in October), is still at the absolute top of his game as a musical performer – in particular, he, unlike some other iconic male rock vocalists like Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, and James Taylor, seems to be singing even better than he did in the early Eighties – he was sipping vinegar apple cider during the show, so you aging rock stars, take note of that magic elixir!

When I bought our tickets a few months ago, my modest expectation was that Sting, together with his new “Police-Men”, Dominic and Rufus Miller (father and son) on guitars, and Josh Freese on drums, were mostly going to be doing cuts from their new album – which I found to be pretty good on prior listening, but not in the same league with Synchronicity or Nothing Like the Sun – and do a competent job of it. So I thought it would be a wonderful nostalgic experience—and in Jackie’s and my case, it would also be filling an old void, because when we went, with great expectations, to see Sting in Miami in the late Nineties, he was in the midst of a respiratory illness which, despite his heroic efforts, diminished his powerful unique voice. This time, at the very least, we’d get to hear Sting sing live with his real voice --- but boy, did he and his musical accomplices ever wildly exceed expectations last night!

From the first minute of the show (which began exactly at 8 pm as scheduled, a sure sign of the strong professionalism of this tour) to the end of the third and final encore at 10:30 (again, as advertised), the able replacements for Summers and Copeland made it clear that the only irreplaceable part of the Police’s greatness was Sting himself. Plus, a great extra bonus of the evening was that Sting & his new musical crew (actually, Sting pointed out that he and Miller the father went back 3 decades of music making)  were backed up during the entire show by the members of the Last Bandoleros, a great young Tex-Mex-ensemble out of San Antonio who (joined by the equally talented accordionist Percy Cardona) performed a fabulous opening set; and also by Sting’s own son, Joe, who performed 3 enjoyable solo songs–and it was a little spooky hearing his unmistakably Sting-like voice, singing clever lyrics like his Dad’s with lots of flair, compensating for his not having inherited his father’s superabundance of raw vocal talent.

So the whole show was a kind of big-band rock concert, with tight harmonies, a great wall of well defined musical contours impeccable playing of all instruments, and just a general collective euphoria, expertly and continuously fed by Sting’s mastery of stage presence, that did not stop till the end of the haunting final encore. That was “The Empty Chair” played by Sting alone on acoustic guitar, a song about James Foley, the brave journalist so horribly murdered publicly by Isis a few years ago, a song Sting wrote for the soundtrack of Jim: The James Foley Story, for which Sting worthily received an Oscar nomination.

And the best news for Sting fans around the country is that this was only the second stop in his North American tour (they played Vancouver, BC two days ago), and the schedule… http://www.sting.com/tour      ….reveals that they’ll be hitting pretty much every major city in the US during the next month, before they finish their tour in Europe.

And finally, if you want verification of my rave review, to be sure this wasn’t just my relief at finally hearing Sting sing without laryngitis, just read the following writeup they got after their Vancouver gig, which mine independently echoes on many points:


So, if you were ever a Sting fan, DON’T MISS HIM NOW, and get his latest message in a bottle, while the getting’s great!

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Triumph of the Other Whale: Darcy’s tempting, pleasing, & dangerous mouth & lips

A Janeite friend who prefers to remain in the background recently suggested to me that I take a closer look at the passage in P&P when Mrs. Gardiner refers to Darcy as having “something pleasing about his mouth when he speaks”, because it relates to my longstanding claims that Darcy is a Satan who tempts Elizabeth into falling in love with him, and giving up her self in the process. That suggestion quickly led me to search the usage of the word “mouth” in P&P –it turns out there are only three usages; which, when viewed as a group, have a striking resonance amongst them, which ultimately leads to dark corners of the shadow story of P&P, as you’ll see, below.

First, Mrs. Bennet, when she visits Netherfield, takes a metaphorical potshot at Darcy’s closed mouth:        “…What an agreeable man Sir William is, Mr. Bingley, is not he? So much the man of fashion! So genteel and easy! He has always something to say to everybody. That is my idea of good breeding; and those persons who fancy themselves very important, and never open their mouths, quite mistake the matter.” So, Mrs. Bennet uses the concrete metaphor of Darcy’s failure to open his mouth, and speak in a gentlemanly way, as a way of highlighting his poor breeding and excessive sense of self-importance.

Then, a dozen chapters later, at the end of the Netherfield Ball, the narrator echoes Mrs. Bennet’s mouthy metaphor in exactly the same sense, i.e., to refer to the lack of good breeding in the Bingley sisters, who complain and are inhospitable. We can readily imagine Mrs. Bennet telling her sister about the Bingley sisters the next day in those identical words: “The Longbourn party were the last of all the company to depart, and, by a manoeuvre of Mrs. Bennet, had to wait for their carriage a quarter of an hour after everybody else was gone, which gave them time to see how heartily they were wished away by some of the family. Mrs. Hurst and her sister scarcely opened their mouths, except to complain of fatigue, and were evidently impatient to have the house to themselves. They repulsed every attempt of Mrs. Bennet at conversation, and by so doing threw a languor over the whole party…”

It didn’t take me long to extend the scope of my wordsearching to include the word “lips”, and to confirm what I had vaguely recalled, which is that the opening of Darcy’s “lips” was also a subtly repeated motif:

[Mrs. Bennet]“I beg you would not put it into Lizzy’s head to be vexed by his ill-treatment, for he is such a disagreeable man, that it would be quite a misfortune to be liked by him. Mrs. Long told me last night that he sat close to her for half-an-hour without once opening his lips.”

And it appears that Elizabeth listened to her mother more than she would admit, because on two occasions during the Hunsford episode, her thoughts echo her mother’s usage of that same metaphor:

“But why Mr. Darcy came so often to the Parsonage, it was more difficult to understand. It could not be for society, as he frequently sat there ten minutes together without opening his lips; and when he did speak, it seemed the effect of necessity rather than of choice—a sacrifice to propriety, not a pleasure to himself….Mr. Darcy, who was leaning against the mantelpiece with his eyes fixed on her face, seemed to catch her words with no less resentment than surprise. His complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature. He was struggling for the appearance of composure, and would not open his lips till he believed himself to have attained it. The pause was to Elizabeth’s feelings dreadful.”

And, as I reflected still further, I realized that it was not only the words “mouth” and “lips” that popped up in similar contexts throughout P&P, it was also Mrs. Gardiner’s usage of the word “pleasing” that is repeatedly echoed, often so as to refer to how a person opens his mouth to speak pleasingly:

First, Mrs. Bennet about Darcy again: “But I can assure you,” she added, “that Lizzy does not lose much by not suiting his fancy; for he is a most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all WORTH PLEASING. So high and so conceited that there was no enduring him! He walked here, and he walked there, fancying himself so very great! Not handsome enough to dance with! I wish you had been there, my dear, to have given him one of your set-downs. I quite detest the man.”

And Jane says to Lizzy about the Bingley sisters: “…they are very PLEASING women when you converse with them. Miss Bingley is to live with her brother, and keep his house; and I am much mistaken if we shall not find a very charming neighbour in her.”

And Darcy isn’t the only one of Elizabeth’ s suitors described with that word: Mr. Bennet says it with thinly veiled yet safe irony to the unwitting Mr. Collins: “You judge very properly…and it is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these PLEASING ATTENTIONS proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?”

And the narrator is serious in using it in her description of Wickham’s first impressions on Lizzy: “His appearance was greatly in his favour; he had all the best part of beauty, a fine countenance, a good figure, and VERY PLEASING ADDRESS. …”

So, I believe that Jane Austen, who was ever meticulous and thematic in her repetitive usage of distinctive keywords in passages scattered through her novels, intended to distinctly echo those earlier passages using “mouth”, “lips” and “pleasing”, in the later passage my friend had first pointed me to, in which the Gardiners debrief with Eliza their unexpected (and surprisingly pleasant) Pemberley meeting with Darcy:

“I was never more surprised than by his behaviour to us. It was more than civil; it was really attentive; and there was no necessity for such attention. His acquaintance with Elizabeth was very trifling.”
“To be sure, Lizzy,” said her aunt, “he is not so handsome as Wickham; or, rather, he has not Wickham’s countenance, for his features are perfectly good. But how came you to tell me that he was so disagreeable?”
Elizabeth excused herself as well as she could; said that she had liked him better when they had met in Kent than before, and that she had never seen him so pleasant as this morning.
“But perhaps he may be a little whimsical in his civilities,” replied her uncle. “Your great men often are; and therefore I shall not take him at his word, as he might change his mind another day, and warn me off his grounds.”
Elizabeth felt that they had entirely misunderstood his character, but said nothing.
“From what we have seen of him,” continued Mrs. Gardiner, “I really should not have thought that he could have behaved in so cruel a way by anybody as he has done by poor Wickham. He has not an ill-natured look. On the contrary, there is something pleasing about his mouth when he speaks. And there is something of dignity in his countenance that would not give one an unfavourable idea of his heart….”

Now, on the surface, there’s already something PG-13 about Mrs. Gardiner’s reference to Darcy’s mouth-the fairest reading is that she’s suggesting to Elizabeth that Darcy’s mouth (and not just his spoken words) is sexy when he speaks; and Darcy’s sexy mouth is then, as my Janeite friend also suggested, a satanic temptation that Elizabeth, as a Regency Era Eve, will have a hard time resisting! And here’s where that motif gets more interesting still. Even though Mrs. Gardiner was not present at any of those earlier scenes explicitly referring to Darcy’s mouth and lips, her comments to Elizabeth read as if Mrs. Gardiner somehow had overheard those conversations, and was taking pains to specifically rebut Mrs. Bennet on that specific point, by bringing attention to how pleasing Darcy’s mouth now was, when he was speaking (words which are themselves also pleasing). So, could this be a clue slipped in by Jane Austen, alerting readers that Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Gardiner, offstage and beyond Elizabeth’s awareness, have both been collaborative members of the matchmaking team that has deliberately brought Elizabeth to “accidentally” meet Darcy at Pemberley, as I have often asserted is the case in the shadow story of P&P? I would say it is!

But what else might it mean beyond that? My experience interpreting Austenian tea leaves was telling me that there had to be a reason why JA subtly but repeatedly kept raising in the reader’s mind the concrete image of Darcy’s mostly closed mouth and lips, when abstract references to his speaking would’ve sufficed. That same experience reminded me that when I was grappling with a question about JA’s hidden meaning, in these novels by a clergyman’s learned daughter, the Bible often provided the answer. And a quick Biblical word search on “open” and “mouth” led me right to it! In Numbers 16, we hear of the revolt by Korah and his Israelite followers against the God-given authority held by Moses and Aaron—and then we immediately hear graphic, concrete detail as to how God savagely punishes this revolt, with the method described in 16:23-33:

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, ‘Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.’ And Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel followed him. And he spake unto the congregation, saying, ‘Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of their's, lest ye be consumed in all their sins.’
So they gat up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side: and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children.
And Moses said, ‘Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind. If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the Lord hath not sent me. But if the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the Lord.’
And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.”

The above incident of the earth opening her mouth to swallow Korah and his followers, who challenged Moses’s authority and demanded an equal share of power, is also recalled in Numbers 26:10 and then again in Deuteronomy 11:6. So it seems that two of the writers of the Torah (the Priestly Writer and the Deuteronomist) wanted to send a clear message to those Israelites reading it who might at any point wish to follow in those upstart footsteps and usurp official religious authority: Do that, they’re being warned, and the earth will open her mouth and swallow you (and everyone you’re close to) up!

Which brings me back to Elizabeth and Darcy. She, like Korah, is an upstart who dares to challenge the authority of the likes of Darcy and Lady Catherine, who behave as if their great power in English society is just, God-given, and eternal. Mrs. Gardiner’s reference to Darcy’s pleasingly open mouth at Pemberley is therefore also a veiled warning to Elizabeth (which she does not hear) to the effect that if Eliza marries Darcy, he’s going to swallow her up, the way the earth swallowed up the revolutionaries in Numbers 16. I think many readers of P&P who’ve questioned the suspiciously rapid evaporation of Elizabeth’s “upstart pretensions” vis a vis Darcy during the final third of the novel might find that a very apt metaphor indeed!

And that in turn led me to yet another source for the notion of Darcy swallowing Elizabeth whole --- Numbers 16 resonates with what I wrote last year… http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2015/05/jane-austens-triumph-of-wha-of.html …when I suggested that Darcy was very like a “whale” who swallows up smaller sea creatures, the way the Prince of Whales ruled the seas in Charles Lamb’s satirical 1812 (the year JA finalized P&P) “Triumph of the Whale”, which, as many of you know, JA alluded to a few years later in the “courtship/Prince of Whales” Charade she wrote for Chapter 9 of Emma.

And, coming full circle, that brought me back to the Satanic Paradise Lost subtext of Lamb’s poem, which Susan Allen Ford pointed out to Colleen Sheehan a decade ago. So my shy Janeite friend was right: Mrs. Gardiner’s choice of metaphor about Darcy’s pleasing open mouth did indeed point back to Milton’s version of the Garden of Eden! And as a bonus, Lamb’s poem alerts to yet another Biblical subtext, because it slyly refers to the Prince of Whales as being similar to the Biblical Jonah’s “great fish”:

Had it been the fortune of it
To have swallow’d that old prophet,
Three days there he’d not have dwell’d,
But in one have been expell’d.


I believe it quite likely that Jane Austen intended all of the above subtext on Mrs. Gardiner’s comments about Darcy’s pleasing mouth to be seen as a danger to Elizabeth. And to hammer the point home, even after hearing about Darcy’s pleasing mouth, we get several more echoes of the word “pleasing” as the story moves swiftly toward its climax, with the final one being this one, after Darcy stays silent while visiting Longbourn for the first time, leaving Elizabeth in an agony of uncertainty:   “…She could settle it in no way that gave her pleasure. “He could be still amiable, still PLEASING, to my uncle and aunt, when he was in town; and why not to me? If he fears me, why come hither? If he no longer cares for me, why silent? Teasing, teasing, man! I will think no more about him.”

Teasing before pleasing, you might say, was the romantic technique exercised by the satanic Mr. Darcy, just to let Elizabeth know who’s boss. And it all rotates around the pleasing nature of Darcy’s opening of his mouth and lips, with all the pleasures, temptations, and dangers that it provided.

Cheers, ARNIE
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