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

Monday, January 29, 2018

“Poulticing” the injured “chestnut mares” (meres?) of Austen’s Northanger Abbey

It has become a mantra of mine that Jane Austen often, if not always, chose her most memorable passages as the ideal places to hide, in plain sight, “trivial” hints at alternative, subversive, significant meanings in her novels. Recently, I came across another such hint, in a guest post by Kate Scarth in Sarah Emsley’s Austen-themed blog, on the topic of horses in Northanger Abbey. My attention was caught by Scarth’s reference to an equine detail I’d never noticed before in Chapter 22 of Northanger Abbey:

“[John] Thorpe’s deficiencies reveal Northanger Abbey’s connection between equine care and proper masculinity. His horse obsession extends to his clothes, which resemble a groomsman’s or coachman’s, a not so subtle dig at his dubious claims to the title of gentleman. Northanger Abbey relays a message that, unlike Thorpe, hero-gentlemen treat animals, well, gently. For example, while Austen tells us little about Eleanor Tilney’s husband, we do know that his servant left a farrier’s bill (Catherine’s imagined mysterious manuscript), reading “To poultice chestnut mare”…While we see Thorpe abusing horses, in this brief glimpse of Eleanor’s future husband, Austen chooses to cast him as a man paying to ease a horse’s ailment.” 

I went back to the novel text to find the full paragraph containing that entry for “To poultice chestnut mare”. It’s this famous one, which describes Catherine’s stinging disappointment as she reads what is on the pages of the manuscript in the chest in her room. She’s been working herself up into an imaginative fever over the answers to murderous gothic secrets she anticipates finding there, but then is sadly deflated to learn instead that the papers seem so boringly mundane:

“[Catherine’s] greedy eye glanced rapidly over a page. She started at its import. Could it be possible, or did not her senses play her false? An inventory of linen, in coarse and modern characters, seemed all that was before her! If the evidence of sight might be trusted, she held a washing-bill in her hand. She seized another sheet, and saw the same articles with little variation; a third, a fourth, and a fifth presented nothing new. Shirts, stockings, cravats, and waistcoats faced her in each. Two others, penned by the same hand, marked an expenditure scarcely more interesting, in letters, hair-powder, shoe-string, and breeches-ball. And the larger sheet, which had enclosed the rest, seemed by its first cramp line, “To poultice chestnut mare”—a farrier’s bill! Such was the collection of papers (left perhaps, as she could then suppose, by the negligence of a servant in the place whence she had taken them) which had filled her with expectation and alarm, and robbed her of half her night’s rest! She felt humbled to the dust. Could not the adventure of the chest have taught her wisdom? A corner of it, catching her eye as she lay, seemed to rise up in judgment against her. Nothing could now be clearer than the absurdity of her recent fancies. To suppose that a manuscript of many generations back could have remained undiscovered in a room such as that, so modern, so habitable!—Or that she should be the first to possess the skill of unlocking a cabinet, the key of which was open to all!”

For those not very familiar with Northanger Abbey, this is the second of three familiar passages in which, per mainstream Austen scholarly interpretation, Catherine’s overheated Gothic expectations and illusions are gradually (and appropriately) extinguished by three consecutive splashes of cold water.

The first is Catherine’s disappointment upon first looking into the interior of the Abbey in Chapter 20, and finding all too modern, even antiseptic, architecture:

“The breeze had not seemed to waft the sighs of the murdered to her; it had wafted nothing worse than a thick mizzling rain; and having given a good shake to her habit, she was ready to be shown into the common drawing-room, and capable of considering where she was. An abbey! Yes, it was delightful to be really in an abbey! But she doubted, as she looked round the room, whether anything within her observation would have given her the consciousness. The furniture was in all the profusion and elegance of modern taste. The fireplace, where she had expected the ample width and ponderous carving of former times, was contracted to a Rumford, with slabs of plain though handsome marble, and ornaments over it of the prettiest English china. The windows, to which she looked with peculiar dependence, from having heard the general talk of his preserving them in their Gothic form with reverential care, were yet less what her fancy had portrayed. To be sure, the pointed arch was preserved—the form of them was Gothic—they might be even casements—but every pane was so large, so clear, so light! To an imagination which had hoped for the smallest divisions, and the heaviest stone-work, for painted glass, dirt, and cobwebs, the difference was very distressing.”

Then, after the passage with the farrier’s bill, the third is Henry’s excoriation of Catherine for her ghoulish imaginings about General Tilney, at the end of Ch. 24:

“If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to--Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians.Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?” They had reached the end of the gallery, and with tears of shame she ran off to her own room.

In my 2010 JASNA AGM presentation, I argued that the third passage is the epicenter of what is actually Austen’s virtuosic ANTI-parody of the Gothic. I.e., the knowing reader is meant to see past the apparent satire of Gothic imagination, and instead grasp the tragic irony that such imaginings are all-too-apt as to the actual nightmare of ordinary English marriage for wives trapped in a ‘dungeon’, an endless cycle of serial pregnancy and death in childbirth, a nightmare cruelly ignored by the patriarchal powers-that-be.

However, before reading Scarth’s comment, I hadn’t previously considered, let alone analyzed, the subtle but strong narrative emphasis on that particular entry for “a farrier’s bill”. I now see that it’s no accident that for this entry alone are we given its actual verbiage; that we’re told that it’s on “the larger sheet, which had enclosed the rest”; and finally that it is on “its first cramp line”. By this succession of subtle hints, Austen silently hints that this is, somehow, the most prominent verbiage in all those papers; so it must carry especially significant meaning, when properly understood in all its nuances. But how to decode it?

Scarth cites this entry as evidence for John Thorpe’s cruel treatment of horses, in stark contrast to the benevolent treatment of animals by Eleanor’s secret beloved. That is certainly the case, it’s a valid interpretation, but as I will explain, there’s much more even than that in this line entry on a farrier’s bill.

In my opinion, Jill Heydt-Stevenson came very close to correctly decoding this passage in Unbecoming Conjunctions. First she analyzed it as follows: ‘This mortifying inventory gazes at her. It may be permissible to spy on the sensational, but the passage exposes how it is forbidden to look voyeuristically at the mundane, especially when it includes references to the private parts of the male body, which the language here personifies…’ She then noted the monetization of marriage which is implicit therein. And at another point in her book, Heydt-Stevenson discussed the heavy Freudian sexual significance of John Thorpe’s disturbing, even perverted, obsession with horses in Northanger Abbey. However, she didn’t connect the dots between the two—which connection, I now assert, is the key that unlocks the deeper, more significant meaning of that entry.

To wit: just as John Thorpe treats women and horses alike as objects of his physical abuse, I believe that the “chestnut mare” who was “poulticed” was meant by JA to suggest not merely Eleanor’s chestnut mare, but also Eleanor herself! Let me explain.

First, we know that Eleanor is not fair-haired, from the following mean girl comments by Isabella Thorpe:
“Oh! They [Henry and Eleanor] give themselves such airs. They are the most conceited creatures in the world, and think themselves of so much importance! By the by, though I have thought of it a hundred times, I have always forgot to ask you what is your favourite complexion in a man. Do you like them best dark or fair?”   “I hardly know. I never much thought about it. Something between both, I think. Brown—not fair, and—and not very dark.”  “Very well, Catherine. That is exactly he. I have not forgot your description of Mr. Tilney—‘a brown skin, with dark eyes, and rather dark hair.’ Well, my taste is different. I prefer light eyes, and as to complexion—do you know—I like a sallow better than any other. You must not betray me, if you should ever meet with one of your acquaintance answering that description.”

And then, much later in the novel, as Catherine gazes up at the portrait of the late Mrs. Tilney:
“It represented a very lovely woman, with a mild and pensive countenance, justifying, so far, the expectations of its new observer; but they were not in every respect answered, for Catherine had depended upon meeting with features, hair, complexion, that should be the very counterpart, the very image, if not of Henry’s, of Eleanor’s—the only portraits of which she had been in the habit of thinking, bearing always an equal resemblance of mother and child. A face once taken was taken for generations. But here she was obliged to look and consider and study for a likeness. She contemplated it, however, in spite of this drawback, with much emotion, and, but for a yet stronger interest, would have left it unwillingly.”

There is a subtle suggestion in Mrs. Tilney’s not resembling either Henry or Eleanor, that Eleanor’s complexion and hair color are somewhere in the middle between Mrs. Tilney’s fairness and Henry’s darkness—and that medium would be…chestnut coloration!

And there is one more huge hint of an association of Eleanor with a “chestnut mare”, as Catherine worriedly waits for Henry and Eleanor to visit her as agreed, and attempts to stave off the pressuring Thorpes:

“I cannot go [to Blaize Castle], because”—looking down as she spoke, fearful of Isabella’s smile—“I expect Miss Tilney and her brother to call on me to take a country walk. They promised to come at twelve, only it rained; but now, as it is so fine, I dare say they will be here soon.” “Not they indeed,” cried Thorpe; “for, as we turned into Broad Street, I saw them—does he not drive a phaeton with bright chestnuts?” “I do not know indeed.” “Yes, I know he does; I saw him. You are talking of the man you danced with last night, are not you?” “Yes.”  “Well, I saw him at that moment turn up the Lansdown Road, driving a smart-looking girl...”

Which raises another question-- was it Henry with Eleanor in that phaeton drawn by two chestnut mares, or Eleanor’s future husband? I think, the latter!

But, putting that detail aside, I want to now zero in on what I consider the key point, if we really run with the idea of Eleanor as symbolized by the chestnut mare who is treated with a ‘poultice”. The entry is written on ‘the first cramp line’, and that conjures up for me a narrow space at the top of a lined invoice, in which there is very little room to write, hence a “cramped” handwriting is required.

But Jane Austen, like Shakespeare, never saw a pun she did not like, and so I immediately noted that “cramp”, in Jane Austen’s time as well as our own, referred to a muscle-tightening spasm, the kind which afflict athletes in hot weather, but also, far more significantly vis a vis the pregnancy/childbirth theme of Northanger Abbey which I addressed the JASNA AGM about! 

And guess what---healing cramps is precisely what poultices were designed for (there are numerous concoctions to be found in contemporary veterinary guides) in Jane Austen’s era: both the cramps in horse’s hooves (as the farrier’s bill suggests), but also for the cramps suffered by women as a result of their bodies being the “phaetons”, so to speak, of reproduction for the human race!

And last but not least, thinking about cramps, and also wounds (another ailment for which poultices were applied to both horses and humans in that era), I was then immediately reminded of yet another famous passage in Northanger Abbey, about the collective injured female body, which novels written by women were uniquely responsive to:

“Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding…Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body.there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. “I am no novel-reader—I seldom look into novels—Do not imagine that I often read novels—It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss—?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language….”

I would not dare to attempt any further explanation of why I believe that the above passage is the very one which Jane Austen wished her readers to eventually think of, when they read that farrier’s bill entry on “poultice chestnut mare” (or should I say, “mere”, for all the mothers who, like Mrs. Tilney, suffered). The ultimate Gothic horror was the one suffered by women in their daily lives as the “poor animals” of English society, and Jane Austen’s novels were themselves intended as “poultices’ for the psychic wounds which accompanied the physical.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

More on the knowing (and 'singing') Harriet Smith of Emma

[This continues the Harriet Smith thread from my two immediately preceding posts]

Diane Reynolds: “A very interesting discussion. Arnie, what “popped” in reading the passage in which Harriet talks to Emma about Mr. Martin and her time on the farm that you quote, is how much it suddenly reminded me of Elizabeth at Pemberley. Everything is far less about Mr. Martin as a person and much about the money in one way or another. It’s the farm that impresses her—the prosperity of it—far more than Mr. Martin’s person. She also repeats twice that he is “obliging,” signaling that she values that trait—another indication that she might be using or less than enamored of  the less-than-obliging Emma. We are meant to take her speeches about Mr. Martin’s with as merely parroting what she has been told, but I wouldn’t be entirely sure of that”

That sure makes sense to me, Diane, well done! The conflation of man and lucrative estate is very very similar. And, coming from Harriet, it does indeed have the scent of irony – Harriet is “singing” a “song”, so to speak (apropos your later comments, which I respond to, below), the ironic melody of which the tone deaf Emma cannot “hear”.

Diane: “Harriet hasn’t missed that [Robt. Martin] had bid more for his wool than anybody—like Lucy, she has her eyes on the bouncing ball.”

Yes, excellent once again! She’s no fool, and neither is he, they can both tell a hawk from a handsaw, financially speaking—it is the staggeringly naive Emma who doesn’t know squat about such things.

Diane: “I also find it interesting that Austen repeats sing three times in a row and will now have to go and look back at other evidences of singing and Harriet—I know she says vehemently (not all sweetness and light) that she hates singing in Italian because she can’t understand it—could she be angry because she knows, as Emma does not, that Jane is a rival to her (Harriet) for Mr. Knightley’s affections …”

And that is your best catch, I totally blew by the reference to Harriet liking singing in that passage! My initial response to you on that point is that I’ve long been aware that “music” is code for “sex” in Emma. It’s most blatant in all the innuendoes about “playing” the “instrument” (pianoforte), which is straight out of the Fanny Hill school of sexual euphemism; but it’s also there in Mrs. Elton’s passionate advocacy for a female “musical society”, and also (as you point out) in Mr. Knightley’s anger at Jane being forced by Frank to “sing” too much.

I hadn’t previously associated Harriet with that music-as-sex subtext, and so thanks for bringing it to our attention! If you haven’t already done it, here are the passages I just found which relate to Harriet and singing, besides the one you quoted (are there any others?):

Ch. 7: “[Harriet] had heard, as soon as she got back to Mrs. Goddard’s, that Mr. Martin had been there an hour before, and finding she was not at home, nor particularly expected, had left a little parcel for her from one of his sisters, and gone away; and on opening this parcel, she had actually found, besides the two songs which she had lent Elizabeth to copy, a letter to herself; and this letter was from him, from Mr. Martin, and contained a direct proposal of marriage.”

So, how very interesting that Harriet, for all that Emma thinks Harriet is an uncultured rube, has actually loaned the sheet music for two songs to Elizabeth Martin to copy. That suggests that Harriet actually has musical knowledge, and that she performs! Harriet knows that Emma ignores everything that really matters, and, under Emma’s influence, I’d wager that very few Janeites have ever noticed it either!

And here’s the passage you recalled, about Harriet hating Italian singing, it’s quite complex, in Ch. 27, and chock full of sexual innuendo about “taste” and “execution”:

“The other circumstance of regret related also to Jane Fairfax; and there [Emma] had no doubt. She did unfeignedly and unequivocally regret the inferiority of her own playing and singing. She did most heartily grieve over the idleness of her childhood—and sat down and practised vigorously an hour and a half.
She was then interrupted by Harriet’s coming in; and if Harriet’s praise could have satisfied her, she might soon have been comforted.
“Oh! if I could but play as well as you and Miss Fairfax!”
“Don’t class us together, Harriet. My playing is no more like her’s, than a lamp is like sunshine.”
“Oh! dear—I think you play the best of the two. I think you play quite as well as she does. I am sure I had much rather hear you. Every body last night said how well you played.”
“Those who knew any thing about it, must have felt the difference. The truth is, Harriet, that my playing is just good enough to be praised, but Jane Fairfax’s is much beyond it.”
“Well, I always shall think that you play quite as well as she does, or that if there is any difference nobody would ever find it out. Mr. Cole said how much taste you had; and Mr. Frank Churchill talked a great deal about your taste, and that he valued taste much more than execution.”
“Ah! but Jane Fairfax has them both, Harriet.”
“Are you sure? I saw she had execution, but I did not know she had any taste. Nobody talked about it. And I hate Italian singing.—There is no understanding a word of it. Besides, if she does play so very well, you know, it is no more than she is obliged to do, because she will have to teach. The Coxes were wondering last night whether she would get into any great family. How did you think the Coxes looked?”

First, I get the feeling from “if I could but play as well as you and Miss Fairfax” that Harriet actually plays piano as well. Of course, it never occurs to Emma to even ask, and it’s not in Harriet’s best interest to be explicit about such an accomplishment with Emma, for fear of Emma recognizing that Harriet is not the “nobody” Emma assumes she is.

My first reaction about “Italian singing” is that in some way it is Harriet making a witty joke that sails right over Emma’s head, as to some form of alternative sexual practice. As we all know, Knightley advocates for old-fashioned “Englishness” as patriotism, whereas Frank’s “Frenchness” is dismissed as amoral. So… “English singing” would be mainstream heterosexual sex, but “Italian singing” – just use your imagination as to what that might be code for. 😉

Diane’s final reply to me: “I agree that the combination of the overt mention of the Vicar of Wakefield and the walnuts should send us back to that text—whatever is it that Austen wants us to discover?”

I actually have a post under construction on the topic of the subversive significance of the allusion to VoW in Emma – at its heart are some very disturbing parallels between the charming, rich villain of Goldsmith’s novel, Mr. Thornhill, and Mr. Knightley! But I had not till yesterday recognized that Robert Martin’s gift to Harriet of the walnuts was also inspired in part by the reference to the cracking and eating of nuts on Michaelmas Eve which I quoted last night from VoW.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

The ‘Lucifer Geese’ of S&S & Emma vis-a-vis Jane Austen’s Michaelmas/S&S 1813 letters: FIRST FOLLOWUP

Diane Reynolds replied to my prior post in this thread:
“Arnie, As you know, I have long thought Lucy Ferrars is Jane’s rejoinder to all the Catherine de Boughs and etc of the world who try to lord it over women like Elizabeth and Elinor: if Lucy Steele, of no class, is to become the Ferrars matriarch, where did these other women come from?”

Exactly! You and I are in complete agreement on this point. In particular, I’ve long wondered about the backstories of Mrs. Churchill and Mrs. Ferrars, who each behave so abominably toward young women they perceive as lower-status upstarts-- like Frank Churchill’s mother in Emma, and both Lucy and Elinor in S&S, respectively. It’s awfully tempting for me to speculate that a significant portion of that hostility is a projection. By this I mean, that I suspect that each of them was once a “nobody” herself, who had to maneuver to get to the top, by marrying into real money. But, having made it to the top, they then compensate for feeling like impostors themselves, by the intensity of their hostility to any young woman who reminds them of the “inconvenient truth” of their own origins!

Lady Catherine, on the other hand, seems different from Mrs. Churchill and Mrs. Ferrars, because we know for a fact that she was born to privilege and status as the daughter of an earl. So her hostility to Elizabeth, like the Elliot’s initial disdain for Wentworth and Mrs. Smith, appears to me to be the less complicated, more garden-variety, lifelong snobbery of a born aristocrat.

Diane also replied to me: “As for Harriet, the text to me screams that she is another Lucy, only Emma, unlike Elinor, is too clueless to see what a schemer she is.”

Yes, you and I have also been agreeing about that for nearly a decade ---in a word, Shamela – but, unlike Shamela, Jane Austen gives us a flesh and blood, psychologically realistic young woman using her strong mind to level the playing field – especially in Harriet’s devastating speech to Emma when Harriet takes off the mask of docile imbecility, and reveals her brilliance and steely resolve.

Diane again: “But as for that goose—the Michaelmas connection is interesting, and I agree that JA would very much have wanted Hastings to help out Henry, though my sense is that Hastings had long since wearied of the connection.”

Indeed, while it is clear to me that by “Eliza” JA was referring to the real life Eliza Hancock Austen as represented by the fictional younger Eliza Williams, there is more than one plausible explanation for why JA wanted the elderly Warren Hastings to reflect on his having fathered Eliza a half century earlier.

Diane one last time: “To me, however, the goose episode is very telling for another reason, and one that makes Harriet more sympathetic than Lucy, showing JA’s development as a writer. The goose is clearly meant for Harriet—or so I take it. It is sent on Harriet’s behalf and, even though propriety dictates it is from Mrs. Martin, obviously it is from Mr. Martin, to woo Harriet (as in a parallel gesture, Mr. Knightley woos Jane with the apples.) However, to my mind cruelly, Mrs. Goddard doesn’t share it with Harriet but with the other teachers. This shows what Harriet is up against, how she is devalued at the school. Of course, she is going to use her wits to get out of that situation—who wouldn’t? I think she is telling this story to Emma, pretending innocence, but wanting, as Miss Bates is always doing, to communicate how she has been wronged—and perhaps elicit some sympathy. But Emma, par for the course, is deaf to that.”

Let me first add a P.S. to my earlier post, which relates to your above comment. I realized after posting that I had neglected to do the obvious, and search the text of Emma for “Michaelmas” – when I did so, I found the following retrospective exclamation by Harriet to Emma in Chapter 9, which is what Maggie Lane surely relied on in identifying the goose given by Mrs. Martin to Mrs. Goddard as a Michaelmas goose:

“That Mr. Elton should really be in love with me,—me, of all people, who did not know him, to speak to him, at Michaelmas!...”

JA is such a sharp elf, because Harriet’s statement also subtly alerts us to the relevant chronology. I.e., Harriet must have returned to Mrs. Goddard’s school from Abbey Mill Farm just in time to attend Michaelmas services at the church --- which of course would have been conducted by Mr. Elton. So it does then seem likely that, as your comment suggests, Harriet was already back at Mrs. Goddard’s prior to the Michaelmas goose dinner to which Harriet was apparently not invited.

Your excellent suggestion that this is evidence that Harriet was devalued at Mrs. Goddard’s is plausible, but not exclusively so. For example, I don’t believe it’s certain that the gift was sent on behalf of Harriet – instead, picking up on the idea of paying debts, it seems equally likely to me that it could have been intended as a pointed hint to Mrs. Goddard by Mrs. Martin to repay a debt --not necessarily of money, but rather an obligation to keep Harriet away from her son Robert!

That latter reading would have the great virtue of being exactly the opposite of what Emma believes, i.e., Emma smugly assumes that Mrs. Martin is desperately trying to marry off her “clownish” son to Harriet, and so Emma takes as insincere Mrs. Martin’s statement to Harriet that she is in no hurry for Robert to get married. But what if Mrs. Martin was sincere, and really is glad to be rid of Harriet, whom she (rightly) suspects of being a fortune hunter. But, if so, Mrs. Martin is only half-correct, because Harriet is indeed a fortune-hunter, but Harriet’s marital prey is not the small fry Mr. Martin, it’s the “whale” Mr. Knightley! 😉

Aside from that, it bears repeating that Harriet’s statement is what alerts us to the Michaelmas subtext in Emma, which satirically echoes the war between Archangel Michael and Satan. And, in that vein, I realize now that such Michael-Satan subtext also ties in perfectly with the Charles Lamb poem and the Cruikshank caricature of the “Prince of Whales”, both of which depict Satan as a whale, in overtly alluding to Milton’s Paradise Lost!

Your interesting interpretation also alerted me to do something else I had failed to do earlier ---you made me realize that I needed to go back and reread that entire passage in Chapter 4, to discern the full context and possible meanings of the gift of the goose. And it turns out to be a revelation (ha ha, re the war in heaven) in a variety of ways, as you’ll see. Here are what I consider the relevant portions of that passage:

“…the Martins occupied [Harriet’s] thoughts a good deal; she had spent two very happy months with them, and now loved to talk of the pleasures of her visit, and describe the many comforts and wonders of the place. Emma encouraged her talkativeness—amused by such a picture of another set of beings, and enjoying the youthful simplicity which could speak with so much exultation of …their having eight cows, two of them Alderneys, and one a little Welch cow, a very pretty little Welch cow indeed; and of Mrs. Martin’s saying as she was so fond of it, it should be called her cow…
…Harriet was very ready to speak of the share he had had in their moonlight walks and merry evening games; and dwelt a good deal upon his being so very good-humoured and obliging. He had gone three miles round one day in order to bring her some walnuts, because she had said how fond she was of them, and in every thing else he was so very obliging. He had his shepherd’s son into the parlour one night on purpose to sing to her. She was very fond of singing. He could sing a little himself. She believed he was very clever, and understood every thing. He had a very fine flock, and, while she was with them, he had been bid more for his wool than any body in the country….
“And when she had come away, Mrs. Martin was so very kind as to send Mrs. Goddard a beautiful goose—the finest goose Mrs. Goddard had ever seen. Mrs. Goddard had dressed it on a Sunday, and asked all the three teachers, Miss Nash, and Miss Prince, and Miss Richardson, to sup with her.”
“…And I know he has read the Vicar of Wakefield…”

Do you see what I see? First, apropos Maggie Lane’s suggestion that Harriet is (metaphorically) a goose, we see Harriet’s micro-details on another farm animal, Mrs. Martin’s cows. In that regard, Susan Jones, in her 2016 Persuasions Online article, explains how the cows can be seen as a symbol for Harriet herself:

“Like Harriet, the breeds in question have their own semiotics of origin…Jersey cattle were sometimes referred to as Alderneys, confusing the origins of the cattle completely. Likewise, the Welch cow belonged to a breed that varied widely in description and conformation.  A breed standard was not set up for the Welch cow until the late 19th century, long after Austen’s death. So, like the Alderneys, the Welch cow had no background or lineage that could be determined. “Welch cow” could be a name for any one of a number of mixed breed of cattle. Thus, the relationship between Harriet, “the natural daughter of somebody”, and the cows is highlighted, and more than one critic has commented on the cows. Seeber tells us that “Gifts of food enact power relations,” and she further suggests that Austen links “agriculture and marriage as systems in which nature and women are born to submit”. The gift by which the Welch cow is said to be Harriet’s cow confers an agricultural gift of potential food in the form of milk. Critics have suggested that Harriet is being added to the Martin “herd,” with the prospect of motherhood (like the dairy cows) in her future, or even that the cows and Harriet share some common identity.  In a very specific sense, they may. The cows that Harriet mentions with such favor and the cow that will be called her cow are all cows of indeterminate background, like Harriet herself.  In spite of this, they are valued and cared for by the Martins….” 

And one last discovery, this one my own. The above quote passage also refers to Robert Martin going out of his way to give walnuts to Harriet, and further that he has read The Vicar of Wakefield. Guess what? It turns out that Goldsmith’s vicar describes his farm in idyllic terms that are eerily similar to Harriet’s account of her idyllic summer at Abbey Mill Farm (with a dash of Emma’s pastoral musings while gazing out at the Abbey Mill Farm from Donwell Abbey much later in the novel), including in particular the cracking and eating of nuts in church on Michaelmas Eve!:

“A proof that even the humblest fortune may grant happiness, which depends not on circumstance, but 
constitution.” The place of our new retreat was in a little neighbourhood, consisting of farmers who tilled their own grounds, and were equal strangers to opulence and poverty. As they had almost all the conveniences of life within themselves, they seldom visited towns or cities in search of superfluity. Remote from the polite, they still retained a primaeval simplicity of manners, and frugal by long habit, scarce knew that temperance was a virtue. They wrought with chearfulness on days of labour; but observed festivals as intervals of idleness and pleasure. They kept up the Christmas carol, sent true love knots on Valentine morning, eat pancakes on Shrovetide, shewed their wit on the first of April, and religiously CRACKED NUTS ON MICHAELMAS EVE. Being apprised of our approach, the whole neighbourhood came out to meet their minister, drest in their finest clothes, and preceded hy a pipe and tabour: a feast also was provided for our reception, at which we sat chearfully down; and what the conversation wanted in wit, we made up in laughter.
Our little habitation was situated at the foot of a sloping hill, sheltered with a beautiful underwood behind, and a prattling river before; on one side a meadow, on the other a green. My farm consisted of about twenty acres of excellent land, having given an hundred pounds for my predecessor's goodwill. Nothing could exceed the neatness of my little inclosures: the elms and hedgerows appearing with inexpressible beauty.” 

And, of course, the likelihood that this was an intentional allusion by JA to Goldsmith’s novel is further confirmed by the later, famous, explicit allusion thereto in the account of Mrs. Churchill’s death (“when lovely woman stoops…”).

And finally, I read at the following remarkably relevant factoid:
“In Surrey, [Michaelmas Eve] is known as Crack Nut Day and nuts are cracked and eaten in churches

So, it turns out that even Robert Martin’s walnut gifts are part of the Michaelmas matrix that envelops Harriet Smith like the armor that Satan and his hellish horde wear into battle with Michael & the godly angels.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The ‘Lucifer Geese’ of S&S & Emma vis-a-vis Jane Austen’s Michaelmas/S&S 1813 letters

Since 2002, I’ve written numerous times about Lucy Ferrars as the “Lucifer” of Sense & Sensibility -- the satanic, behind-the-scenes Prime Mover of the resolution of the novel’s various romantic arcs. In 2013, I summarized that as follows:     “Lucy tricks Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny Dashwood into disinheriting Edward, only when Lucy already knows that she's got Robert in her pocket. That’s the precise moment when Lucy Steele (soon to be Lucy Ferrars or Lucy-Fer) stages her own eviction from Heaven (Fanny's London residence) by prompting her bigmouth sister into blabbing about Edward and Lucy. In effect, Lucy turns Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny D. into comic parodies of St. Michael, because they hurl Lucifer down from Heaven. But then, after a short time in ‘hell’, Lucy-Fer climbs right back up, and within a short time establishes herself not just as the favorite, but as the ruler of Heaven!
I see Lucy as not actually evil, because the ripple effect of her scheme is to leave Elinor married to Edward and Marianne married to Colonel Brandon—so she has, beneficently, taken care of Elinor and Marianne just as much as she has taken care of herself! Lucy is a secret schemer who deliberately sets up the dominoes to fall in such a way as to leave her ultimately in firm control of the Ferrars family (who richly deserve poetic justice) and with a career as the Lady Catherine of the Ferrars family in her future.”

I wrote that summary in 2013, invoking the Biblical war in heaven between the Archangel Michael and Satan, as part of a post in which I detailed Mrs. Jennings’s mysterious obsession with Michaelmas as a prophetic marital deadline -- mysterious mainly because it appears not once but four times in S&S:

FIRST, in Chapter 32, we find Mrs. Jennings abandoning the expectation that Colonel Brandon would marry Marianne, but instead beginning to expect that the Colonel would marry Elinor instead, and, furthermore, would do it right after Michaelmas;
SECOND, in Chapter 37, Mrs. Jennings reports to Elinor that Mrs. Ferrars has disinherited Edward, and in Chapter 40 Mrs. Jennings learns that Elinor and Colonel Brandon are not actually planning to marry as Mrs. Jennings mistakenly believed;
THIRD, Mrs. Jennings is then echoed in this expectation in Chapter 41 by Lucy herself; &
FOURTH, in Chapter 50, after Edward and Elinor are married, Mrs. Jennings’s prediction is fulfilled.

In my 2013 post, I went on as follows:     “Indeed, Mrs. Jennings’s prophecies “though rather jumbled together, were chiefly fulfilled”, and we may wonder why we are reminded of the ironic prophecies regarding Oedipus in Oedipus Rex, where the true significance of a similarly cryptic prophecy is not understood till it is fulfilled (in Sophocles, tragically, but in S&S, happily)…. I say that Mrs. Jennings is not a latter day Tiresias, she does not have the gift of prophecy, but she was able to accurately ‘predict’ the outcome of the marital quadrille in S&S, because she actually was a benevolent co-conspirator all along with Lucy Steele, working covertly to bring about this desirable outcome. The biggest clue to Mrs. Jennings’s involvement in Lucy’s scheme is Mrs. Jennings’s repeated references to Michaelmas.”


I’m revisiting the above Michaelmas/Lucifer subtext of S&S today, because I only just realized that it is connected to what Maggie Lane, in 2003, wrote in Jane Austen and Food about a seemingly passing comment by Jane Austen to sister Cassandra in Letter 91 dated October 10-11, 1813:

“In 1807 Robert Southey published a book which JA is known to have read. Entitled Letters from England…it provides us with some useful insights into the customs of her times. ‘On the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, everybody must eat goose for dinner…’ Southey wrote. Goose was traditional at Michaelmas…An old proverb went, ‘Who eats goose on Michael’s day Shan’t money lack his debts to pay’. … Jane Austen, having eaten goose at Godmersham on Michaelmas day 1813, remembered this saying and wrote to Cassandra: ‘I dined upon Goose yesterday, which I hope will secure a good Sale of my 2nd Edition.’
The goose which Mrs. Martin sends as a present to Mrs. Goddard at the end of Harriet’s visit to Abbey Mill Farm is a Michaelmas goose…Harriet of course is a goose; and it is perhaps a little joke at her expense that Harriet should have something to relate about a goose - a goose which features in a double act of generosity. First Mrs Martin makes a gift of it to Mrs Goddard, and then Mrs Goddard shares the eating of it with her employees. Harriet tells Emma, 'Mrs Martin was so very kind as to send Mrs Goddard a beautiful goose: the finest goose Mrs Goddard had ever seen. Mrs Goddard had dressed it on a Sunday and asked all the three teachers, Miss Nash, Miss Prince and Miss Richard son, to sup with her.'  “

The “2nd edition” to which JA referred in that Letter (#91 dated Oct. 11-12, 1813) on Old Michaelmas Day, was of course that of S&S; and Lane’s citation of the proverb (which appeared in the British Apollo periodical in 1708) drew upon annotations by Chapman and Le Faye.

I was led to take my first notice of the Michaelmas subtext of JA’s goose dinner, by reading a recent article, “Jane Austen’s Literary Ego as Revealed in her Letters: References to her Primary Works” by  Juan de Dios Torralbo-Caballero, who provided a further gloss of JA’s wink at that proverb:

“[JA] made her family circle aware of the publication of the second edition of her novel and of her desire for its sale. On November 3, she again wrote to Cassandra stating that she owed her beloved Henry a little money for the printing, which tells us that the author herself covered the costs of this second edition.”

On the surface, JA’s wink at that proverb is likely a mask for her worry about her debt to Henry, which she incurred so as to achieve publication of S&S’s 2nd edition. Just let that sink in; for S&S to reach a wider audience, JA had to pay for it herself! So of course JA’s fingers are crossed that this 2nd edition will sell, so as to fund repayment of her debt to Henry --- hence her invocation of the proverb about goose-eating for that very purpose! But there’s much more to her wink at the proverb even than that.


I suggest that Jane invokes that witty proverb not only vis a vis her ability to repay Henry; she is also reminding her sister of what I wrote at the beginning of this post --- that, in S&S, Lucy reverses the Biblical (and Paradise Lost) battle of St. Michael vs. Satan. JA covertly presents Lucy as a bold female who, starting from a seemingly powerless position at the bottom of the gentry, uses Satan-like tactics and strength of mind, and overcomes the odds to remedy patriarchal oppression. And, what’s more, JA didn’t forget Michaelmas after writing S&S and then Letter 91 – I also see the veiled hint to the Michaelmas goose in Emma, that Lane noted, as a further clue to JA’s knowing readers as to the striking similarity between Lucy in S&S, and Harriet Smith, as I briefly described in my 2017 JASNA AGM presentation:

“In the shadow story of Emma, Harriet is the opposite of what she seems to Emma –Harriet is a worldly-wise, calculating, intrepid young woman with no education (very much like Fielding’s Shamela and also S&S’s Lucy Steele), who is determined to use her uncommonly strong mind to even the courtship playing field that is so heavily tilted against her by a hypocritical, unjust, sexist, classist society. And the weak minded individual in this equation is Emma! I.e., it is Emma, whom the shadow Harriet plays like a drum -- by sucking up to Emma, playing on Emma’s narcissism with never-ending faux deference for 46 long chapters, all in order to get and stay close to Harriet’s true target, which from Day One of the novel, I suggest, has been……marriage to Knightley!”


And I assert there’s even more to the Michaelmas/Lucifer subtext of S&S, which throws shadows on the character of Colonel Brandon. Take a closer look at what Mrs. Jennings, “with all her natural hilarity”, tells Elinor about his great estate:   “Delaford is a nice place, I can tell you; exactly what I call a nice old fashioned place, full of comforts and conveniences; quite shut in with great garden walls that are covered with the best fruit-trees in the country; and such a MULBERRY TREE in one corner! Lord! how Charlotte and I did stuff the only time we were there!”

I wonder whether she is hinting at the following, R-rated tidbits about Satan, berries and Michaelmas:
[Wikipedia] “Michaelmas…In Christian angelology, the Archangel Michael…is honored for defeating Satan in the war in heaven...Old Michaelmas Day falls on 11 October…It is said that the Devil fell out of Heaven on this date, and fell into a BLACKBERRY BUSH, cursing the fruit as he fell. According to an old legend, blackberries should not be picked after this date. In Yorkshire, it is said that the devil had spat on them [whereas in] Cornwall…the saying goes that the devil urinated on them.”

I quoted Mrs. Jennings’s take on Delaford, because I’ve long been of the same opinion as Gideon Polya (1998); i.e., that the real life model for Delaford was Daylesford, the estate of Warren Hastings. I was reminded of Hastings by the following statement in Torralbo-Caballero’s article about another letter JA wrote not long before her reference to her Michaelmas goose dinner:  “On September 16 of [1813], Jane expressed her interest in sending [S&S] to third parties, such as Warren Hastings, in a letter to her sister Cassandra.” And here is what JA wrote:  “And Mr. Hastings-I am quite delighted with what such a Man writes about [P&P]—Henry sent him the Books [i.e., both P&P and S&S] after his return from Daylesford – but you will hear the Letter too.”

What Torralbo-Caballero failed to pick up on, however, is that, later in that same Sept. 16, 1813 letter, composed over two days, JA also wrote the following:  “Nothing has been done as to S&S. The Books came to hand too late for [Henry] to have time for it, before he went. Mr Hastings never hinted at Eliza in the smallest degree….”

I don’t think that JA’s comment about Hastings’ failure to hint at Eliza “in the smallest degree” has ever been adequately explained. That line tells me that Austen’s primary purpose in wanting Hastings to read S&S, and then to have Henry find out what the great man thought of S&S, was that she wanted to know whether he saw himself in the character of Colonel Brandon; and if Hastings saw her cousin Eliza in the character of the younger Eliza Williams (whom Mrs. Jennings hints is Brandon’s illegitimate daughter, victimized by Willoughby).

Curiosity about Hastings’s reaction to S&S reveals that JA was not merely eager to pay her publishing debt to Henry and make money in general from her writing -- it was equally, if not more, important to her, that those culpable wrongdoers in the real world, whom she had skewered in her novels, should read them and see themselves in the mirror! So she wanted to know whether Hastings was prompted (like Claudius watching the Murder of Gonzago in Hamlet) into a guilty acknowledgment of having fathered Eliza (who had died only months earlier in 2013), and perhaps into helping her brother Henry (Eliza’s widower) financially.

In exactly the same “catching the conscience of a king” vein, I’ve argued that JA was so eager to confront James and Mary Austen with the unflattering portrait in Chapter 2 of S&S of what I’ve called their “rape of Steventon” in 1801. That was when James and Mary bought out JA’s parents for a song, which is enacted in John Dashwood’s clueless hypocrisy in being led by the nose by his greedy wife Fanny in the very first scene in her published fiction. JA was confronting her eldest brother and his wife with their wrongdoing, but I doubt she ever received the desired apology.

And also in that same vein, we’ve known since 2007 that JA, in 1815, embedded in Mr. Elton’s charade the most excoriating satire of the Prince Regent (the “Prince of Whales”, as depicted in Charles Lamb’s “Triumph of the Whale”, per Colleen Sheehan, & Cruikshank’s “The Fisherman at Anchor”, per myself) in the very same novel, Emma, which JA contrived to dedicate to His Royal Whalen-- (I mean, Highness).


And speaking of Emma, that brings me full circle back to Maggie Lane’s catch that the goose which Mrs. Martin sends to Mrs. Goddard is a Michaelmas goose, which I also hadn’t know till yesterday. Here is the relevant passage in Emma, Chapter 4:  
[Harriet to Emma] ‘And when she had come away, Mrs. Martin was so very kind as to send Mrs. Goddard a beautiful goose-the finest goose Mrs. Goddard had ever seen. Mrs. Goddard had dressed it on a Sunday, and asked all the three teachers, Miss Nash, and Miss Prince, and Miss Richardson, to sup with her.’

I suggest there are two Michaelmas connotations of that gift of a goose. First, it suggests that Mrs. Martin is reminding Mrs. Goddard of the debt that Mrs. Goddard owes to Mrs. Martin, perhaps for their having taken Harriet off Mrs. Goddard’s hands for the previous summer. I wonder whether this is a hint that Mrs. Martin mistrusts Harriet’s intentions toward her son Robert, and so is hinting that Mrs. Goddard should send Harriet elsewhere? This may well account for why Mrs. Goddard chooses that particular moment to send Harriet over to Hartfield to become Emma’s “pet” – is it really just the recent departure from Hartfield by Miss Taylor? Or is it JA’s way of pointing out to the knowing reader that Harriet Smith is a lot more like Lucy (Lucifer) Steele than has previously been recognized?

Food for thought---or rather, geese for dining-- on this late January day, in a post in which I celebrate the brilliance and infinite depths of Jane Austen’s artistry and moral purpose, and acknowledge my debt to her for an infinite quantity of reading pleasure and edification!

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The earliest published FEMALE response to Austen’s fiction hidden in plain sight in Henry Austen’s 1832 Revision of the 1817 Biographical Notice

Several weeks ago, I wrote the following in one of my posts in the thread I started on the above topic, about one particular section that was added by Henry Austen’s 1832 revision of what I claim to have been James Edward Austen (JEAL)’s (not Henry’s) 1817 Biographical Notice:

“…even as Henry felt compelled to add his regrettably excessive special pleading about Jane as an orthodox Christian, he also added a section about her fiction which shows the deep insight Henry had into the secrets of his sister's genius, insight that went light years beyond nephew's JEAL's condescending, clueless, sexist assessment. Here's what Henry added that is a brilliant encapsulation of Jane as a true savant of human nature --- perhaps even more insightful than Sir Walter Scott's 1816 praise (in his famous "Bow Wow strain" review ):

"The secret is, Miss Austen was a thorough mistress in the knowledge of human character; how it is acted upon by education and circumstance; and how, when once formed, it shows itself through every hour of every day, and in every speech to every person. Her conversations would be tiresome but for this; and her personages, the fellows to whom may be met in the streets, or drank tea with at half an hours’ notice, would excite no interest; but in Miss Austen’s hands we see into their hearts and hopes, their motives, their struggles within themselves; and a sympathy is induced, which, if extended to daily life, and the world at large, would make the reader a more amiable person; and we must think it that reader’s own fault who does not close her pages with more charity in his heart towards unpretending, if prosing, worth; with a higher estimation of simple kindness, and sincere good-will; with a quickened sense of the duty of
bearing and forbearing, in domestic intercourse, and of the pleasure of adding to the little comforts even of persons who are neither wits nor beauties,-who, in a word, does not feel more disposed to be benevolent. In the last posthumous tale ('Persuasion') there is a strain of a higher mood; there is still the exquisite delineation of common life, such life as we hear, and see, and make part of, with the addition of a finer, more poetic, yet equally real tone of thought and actions in the principals. If Miss Austen was sparing in her introduction of nobler characters, it was because they are scattered sparingly in life...'”

Isn't that lovely and brilliant at the same time? It shows that Henry Austen really loved reading and rereading Jane's novels very closely, and that he spent time thinking about what he read. It also shows that he wished to particularly rebut the common complaint of dull elves about Jane's fiction: "Nothing happens in her stories, they're so boring". In effect, he provided a gloss on Elizabeth Bennet's brilliant and telling retort to Darcy about the never ending alterations of character even in a confined country
neighborhood. I particularly love that last line, about the rarity of nobler characters in her fiction, because of their rarity in real life -talk about a classic Austenian ironic aphorism - that's a line Jane herself would have been proud to write, and perhaps we also get a taste here of the kind of high-grade repartee that Jane and Henry must have enjoyed with each other. Just as Fanny Price cannot help but smile at Henry Crawford’s witty brilliance, so too, I believe Henry could hold his own with Jane in witty exchanges, something they had a great deal of opportunity to engage in during the crucial extended visits she paid to him (both when cousin Eliza was still alive, and afterwards as well). Most valuably of all, Henry hammers home that Jane Austen was, at the deepest level, all about the realest of real life, and so now I must now echo Jane who fondly wrote "Such a Henry!" “  END QUOTE FROM MY EARLIER POST

I can’t recall if I mentioned in one of my followup posts that I subsequently realized that the above quoted passage had actually not been written by Henry Austen at all, it was an extract from a longer, anonymous 1831 article in The Athenaeum literary periodical.

What I learned only a couple of days ago was that my Googling last month had failed to detect what has been known to a couple of Austen scholars for several years, but which has not reached the attention of the mainstream -- which is that the author of that anonymous Athenaeum article about Jane Austen was actually a woman! And, what’s more, not just any woman, but a woman who died tragically young in her early thirties, but who had already made a name for herself by then --- the author and critic Maria Jane Jewsbury!

And, what’s also been known only to those few Austen scholars, is that the next new, short section of the 1832 revision, which I also praised last month….

“Miss Austen has the merit (in our judgment most essential) of being evidently a Christian writer: a merit which is much enhanced, both on the score of good taste and of practical utility, by her religion being not at all obtrusive. She might defy the most fastidious critic to call any of her novels (as Coelebs was designated) a dramatic sermon. The subject is rather alluded to, and that incidentally, than studiously brought forward and dwelt upon. In fact, she is more sparing of it than would be thought desirable by some persons; perhaps even by herself, had she consulted merely her own sentiments, but she probably introduced it as far as she thought would be generally profitable; for when the purpose of inculcating a religious principle is made too palpably prominent, many readers, if they do not throw aside the book with disgust, are apt to fortify themselves with that respectful kind of apathy with which they undergo a regular sermon, and prepare themselves as they do to swallow a dose of medicine, endeavouring to get it down in large gulps, without tasting it more than is necessary."

…was actually drawn by Henry Austen from Bishop Whatley’s very famous 1821 article about Jane Austen!

And…Bishop Whately, in referring to Hannah More’s Coelebs in Search of a Wife turns out (as yet some other scholars have noted) also took, without explicit acknowledgment, that phrase “dramatic sermon” from Sydney Smith’s 1809 widely noted deprecation of More’s novel, a review which Jane Austen surely read at the time she wrote to Cassandra her witty bon mot about Coelebs:  “You have by no means raised my curiosity after Caleb; – My disinclination for it before was affected, but now it is real; I do not like the Evangelicals. – Of course I shall be delighted, when I read it, like other people, but till I do I dislike it.”

There’s much much more to this intricately tangled web of unacknowledged quotations over decades in the 19th century than I have outlined, above--- including Henry Lewes’s very famous 1859 paean to Jane Austen, which picks up on several of these earlier sources in a very confusing way--than has ever been succinctly and clearly explained in one summary, which I will write up at a future time.

However, at the very least, in the interim, I wanted to get this clarification of my earlier posts out there, because it illustrates so vividly the sad irony, that the most insightful early reaction to Jane Austen’s fiction (which was published anonymously during JA’s lifetime), in terms of the psychological verisimilitude of her characterizations, and her subtle approach to moral education, was written (anonymously) by another woman! – It speaks volumes about why Jane Austen was misunderstood for so long – because not enough women held the pen during those first crucial decades when the public persona of the late Jane Austen was being set in stone.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

More about the Clarissa and the Sir Charles Grandison in Austen’s Persuasion

Nancy Mayer in Janeites: “All in all, I don't think anyone has such toxic relatives as Anne.”

Nancy, as you gathered, I was struck by your above statement, because the female character in English literature who more closely fits your above description than Anne Elliot is Clarissa Harlowe – Clarissa, who has far more toxic siblings, and who is not simply ignored, but is actively harassed and preyed on by those closest to her, for various sinister motives.

Nancy: "Clarissa is not among the novels Jane Austen wrote."

But I persist in claiming that it is most definitely one of the few novels which Jane Austen wove into pretty much all of her own novels (including Sanditon), in a powerful and thematically significant way, as I will now elaborate further.

What I was going to post yesterday is that with further research, browsing and reading various additional articles, book chapters, and dissertations, I now add the following claims to those I asserted last week regarding Richardson's fiction and Austen's Persuasion:

1. It turns out that in Persuasion, Jane Austen also included an extraordinarily detailed and complex, but covert, allusion to Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison  (SCG), as well as to Clarissa. Since I previously was so unfamiliar with the elaborate plot of SCG, I was unaware of those extensive parallels.

At first blush, I find the most intriguing aspect of that allusion to be the parallel between the relationship of paterfamilias Sir Thomas Grandison with Mrs. Oldham, on the one hand, and the relationship of paterfamilias Sir Walter Elliot and Mrs. Clay, on the other. It is explicit in SCG that Sir Thomas G. sires two illegitimate children on his mistress, Mrs. Oldham.

As I am not the first to observe, that obviously leads to the fascinating question of what that might tell us about the fathering of Mrs. Clay's two children whom we never see, and many have wondered about –does knowing what happens in SCG suggest that the intimate relationship between Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay that Anne fears so much is actually a longstanding one that she has cluelessly been unaware of? And perhaps those two children are girls, and therefore, even though sired by Sir Walter, they stand in line behind Cousin Elliot, so their existence does not constitute a problem for Cousin Elliots inheriting Kellynch-hall?

2. When I commented in one of my earlier posts that the complex parallel between Clarissa H. and Anne E. includes their parallel state of repression of intense sexuality which nonetheless makes its presence known, I did not yet recognize that this parallel is foregrounded by the repeated references to Wentworth's "pen" in the White Hart Inn scene --- it turns out, as I previously had blogged about in the context of writing about the sexual heat between Anna Howe and Clarissa, that this exact same phallic pun on "pen" is repeatedly used by Richardson in Clarissa

So, in a remarkable way, that scene in the White Hart Inn can now be seen as a brilliant, profound, telescoped microcosm of the many pages of Clarissa, in that both Richardson's novel and Austen's chapter involve letter writing, sexual tension, and a debate on constancy, and both occur in the specific context of Prior’s poem “Henry and Emma”.

And so, how ironic and telling in this regard that it was SCG which Jane Austen burlesqued in a super-short juvenile playlet. It would seem that Jane Austen enjoyed turning Richardson's gargantuan novels into smaller versions of her own - much as she did with the ponderous tomes of history that she telescoped down to a matter of a handful of pages in her History of England.

3. And finally and speaking of “Henry and Emma”, I became aware only today, courtesy of a brilliant article by Emily Friedman, that Sarah Fielding's Remarks on Clarissa contains the following remarkable passage, which explicitly suggests that “Henry and Emma” is totally ambiguous as to its fundamental meaning:

“But had the Poet thought proper, that Henry should have turned out the Murderer, the Vagabond, the insolent and ungrateful Scorner of her Love he represented himself to be; had her Father's Sorrow for her Fate shortned his miserable Days; had she been abandoned by the Wretch she had so much Reason to expect the worst of Treatment from, and, between Rage, Despair, and a thousand conflicting Passions, been led by a natural Gradation from one Vice to another, till she had been lost in the most abandoned Profligacy; instead of being proposed for an Example, her Name would have been only mentioned to deter others from the like rash Steps. That this was the natural Consequence of her Actions is very apparent: Nor do I think from her Behaviour, that Henry had the least Reason to be convinced that she would not leave him for the first Man who would try to seduce her, provided the Colour of his Complexion suited her Fancy.”

In other words, it’s not clear whether the reader is meant to believe in Emma’s constancy. So, just as Sarah Fielding's famous brother Henry picked up on Richardson’s ambiguous Pamela and made the shadow Pamela Shamela, so too in the above comment does Sarah Fielding’s wise reader Miss Gibson makes explicit the strong ambiguity of Prior’s Emma as she compares to Clarissa!

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Sidney Parker, Lovelace, & Richardson’s interest in the Magdalen Hospital

As a final angle on Sidney Parker in Sanditon as having a strange resonance with Lovelace from Richardson's Lovelace, my eye was also caught by the following comments by Tom Parker about his brother Sidney Parker in Chapter 4:

“There—now the old House is quite left behind.”
“What is it, your Brother Sidney says about it’s being a HOSPITAL?’ 
‘Oh! my dear Mary, merely a Joke of his. He pretends to advise me to make a HOSPITAL of it. He pretends to laugh at my Improvements. Sidney says any thing you know. He has always said what he chose of and to us, all. Most Families have such a member among them I believe Miss Heywood.—There is a someone in most families privileged by superior abilities or spirits to say anything.—In ours, it is Sidney; who is a very clever Young Man,—and with great powers of pleasing…’

It certainly sounds to me like Sidney Parker is making a droll joke about his family’s hypochondria, when he suggests to his brother Tom that the Parker family ancestral estate in Sanditon, a place which the Parker family is so dedicated to developing as a medical mecca, should be converted to a hospital.

But when I checked to see whether Richardson's Lovelace had any connection to any sort of hospital, guess what? I found an article entitled "Redemptive Spaces: Magdalen House and Prostitution in the Novels and Letters of Richardson" by Martha J. Koehler in Eighteenth Century Fiction 22/2, in which Koehler wrote about correspondence between Samuel Richardson and Lady Bradshaigh, which was published prior to JA’s writing Sanditon, regarding Richardson and the Magdalen House for former prostitutes.

“It is in the midst of these arguments concerning sexuality, representativeness, and narrative structure that a rhetorical Magdalen House is erected. Richardson picks up an earlier thread from the long letter, concerning the importance of “testing” Clarissa’s virtue; he has argued that for the “sake of the Moral” it is imperative for Lovelace to abuse Clarissa as he does, to show “that there was one strictly virtuous Woman in the Sex.” This strand comes together with the arguments about seduced women and reparation as he imagines all those who would fail such a test: “‘What a fine time of it,’ as Lovelace says on this very Subject, ‘would the Women have, if they were all to be put to the Test,’ as he puts Clarissa! My Hospital in this Case were it to extend over half a County, I doubt would not be long in filling.”

Later in that article, Koehler writes:  “Various constructions and themes in Samuel Richardson's novels and his early letters to Lady Bradshaigh, examined in the context of mid-century reformist writings about prostitution, such as the Magdalen narratives, reveal his ambivalent treatment of fallen women. These constructions include the distinction between seduced and hardened women in Pamela as well as the undoing of that distinction in Clarissa, the irreducible nature of women's partiality for libertines and its corollary, the desexualization that becomes the condition for Clarissa's paragon status, and the distinctively female vice of moral indignation against women in Sir Charles Grandison. In this essay, I show that Richardson's sympathetic and progressive impulses towards Magdalens could not keep pace with those impulses that were traditional and misogynistic.”

What I take away from the above is that this is yet another seemingly trivial reference in Sanditon to Sidney Parker by his siblings, which carries a Lovelace resonance. Each one alone (the Isle of Wight scheme, the Hare, and now the Hospital) might just be a random unintended echo by Austen – but taken altogether, and placed alongside the covert Lovelace echoes in Persuasion, it seems far more likely that this is an intentional pattern created by Jane Austen, in order to throw shadows on the character of Sidney Parker, despite his family’s descriptions of him as a great guy.

And, by the way, I surveyed all published Austen scholarship regarding the character of Sidney Parker, and the general consensus is that while he does seem the most likely candidate to have become the man with whom the heroine Charlotte will fall in love, there is an almost as wide consensus that Sidney has more than a whiff of Austen’s inconstant charmers, like Willoughby, Wickham, Henry Crawford, and Frank Churchill – and those echoes of Lovelace are very congruent with those earlier scholarly opinions .

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wentworth & Sidney Parker: Austen’s interesting Lovelacean isomeric compounds of cruelty & lust??

Yesterday, I claimed that Jane Austen, in her picturesque description of “Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks” during the Lyme episode in Persuasion, deliberately slipped in the words “lovely is” as a homophone for “Lovelace”, the villain in Richardson’s Clarissa. I then argued that Austen’s favorable comparison of Lyme’s Pinny to the “resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight” was a further, provocative wink at Lovelace’s violent fantasy of perpetrate a treble gang rape against Anna Howe, her mother, and her servant during a voyage by these women to the Isle of Wight, which Lovelace would’ve lured them into.

I didn’t try to explain what this disturbing veiled allusion to Lovelace’s vile fantasy might mean, within the context of the overall allusion in Persuasion to Lovelace and Clarissa that I outlined in my second preceding post. But even as I made my case, I knew that even those who ordinarily find my subtextual speculations plausible, would think that I had gone too far in this case, in attempting to leap across a subtextual chasm too wide.

Well, it was while rereading my last post, and following up on loose ends, that I was reminded that there actually is ironclad evidence that, only months after Austen revised the ending of Persuasion and thereby amped up her veiled allusion to Clarissa throughout her novel, she thereafter remained strongly focused on Lovelace’s awful, rationalizing misogynies and predations on women, both real and imagined.

I am referring to the explicit and extensive allusion to Lovelace in the Sanditon fragment, begun by Austen only months after she completed Persuasion, in which her absurd creation Sir Edward Denham repeatedly speaks in reverential tones to the heroine Charlotte about Richardson’s Lovelace. He is so over-the-top absurd in his adulation for Lovelace, that (as several Austen scholars have essentially noted) it is almost as if Clarissa were a courtship manual for him, and Lovelace was the ultimate exemplar of what a man ought to do to win a woman’s love – a truly scary thought!

If anyone doubts my characterization, just read the scenes in Chapters 7 and 8 of the Sanditon fragment, and you’ll see that I haven’t exaggerated at all—Sir Edward proudly presents himself as a sexual predator in training; and no small part of this, as has also been pointed out repeatedly, is that the woman he more than once refers to as the object of his seduction schemes is Clara (a shorter form of Clarissa) Brereton, who is a rival with him for inheritance from his aunt, the imperious Lady Denham.

So, for those who thought I was seeing a textual phantom, when I claimed “lovely is” was Jane Austen’s code for “Lovelace”, does not the above, overt allusion to Lovelace in Sanditon make my claim about Lovelace in Persuasion more plausible? But that’s just the start. With a very little digging, I quickly uncovered two more textual clues in Sanditon, which suggest to me that while Sir Edward is making all this Lovelace wannabe noise, Austen is subtly linking Lovelace to another male character in Sanditon, Sidney Parker.

Sidney is the young man whom some Austen scholars have speculated would’ve been the romantic hero destined to marry the heroine Charlotte Heywood, had Austen lived to finish Sanditon. Certainly, among the Parker siblings, he seems to be the only “normal” one! In that context, then, first please read the following passage in Sanditon, when Tom Parker is reading aloud a letter from his sister Diana, in which Sidney’s arrival in Sanditon is subtly prepared for:

“…I have heard nothing of Sidney since your being together in town, but conclude his scheme to the ISLE OF WIGHT has not taken place or we should have seen him in his way.”
…."Well," said Mr. Parker, as he finished. "Though I dare say Sidney might find something extremely entertaining in this letter and make us laugh for half an hour together, I declare I, by myself, can see nothing in it but what is either very pitiable or very creditable. With all their sufferings, you perceive how much they are occupied in promoting the good of others!”

Is it just a coincidence that Diana refers to Sidney as having (like Lovelace) a “scheme to the Isle of Wight”? Of course Diana seems to be referring to an innocent tourist visit by Sidney to the scenic Isle of Wight, a trip which apparently has not occurred, freeing Sidney up to come to Sanditon; but now just try reading Tom Parker’s jocular comments if they were actually a darkly ironic hint at Lovelace’s rape fantasy which I quoted in my preceding post. From that point of view, there then emerges the blackest of black humor for such a “scheme” of gang rape to be “extremely entertaining” and so funny as to cause a “half an hour” of laughter!

I am now confident that JA was ironically foreshadowing that Sidney Parker (who when he shows up in Sanditon dazzles Charlotte with his good looks and manners) may well turn out to be a Lovelace -- but not, like Sir Edward, zeroed in on Clara, but toward Charlotte herself—Charlotte, who, like many an Austen heroine, is so focused on Sir Edward’s grotesque ravings that she might let her guard down and fall for the seeming “nice guy”, Sidney, even though that might ultimately be unwise?

That dark subliminal implication of Charlotte as potential romantic prey for Sidney is furthered when we read the following passage, in which Diana Parker, by now arrived in Sanditon, rambles on to Charlotte about the lengths that need to be gone to, to bring new business to Sanditon:

“…I had a letter 3 days ago from my friend Mrs . Charles Dupuis which assured me of Camberwell. Camberwell will be here to a certainty, & very soon. — That good Woman (I do not know her name) not being so wealthy & independant as Mrs . G.–can travel & chuse for herself. –I will tell you how I got at her. Mrs. Charles Dupuis lives almost next door to a Lady, who has a relation lately settled at Clapham, & attends some of the girls of the Seminary, to give them lessons in Botany & who actually attends the Seminary and gives lessons on Eloquence and Belles Lettres to some of the Girls. ‐ I got that Man a Hare from one of Sidney's friends ‒ and he recommended Sanditon…”

Here Diana Parker sounds a good deal like Miss Bates, doesn’t she? She provides copious details that seem utterly tangential to her main point, while the heroine listens politely. We gather that Diana’s brother Sidney has a (probably rich) friend with a spare hare (hares being rare, it seems), and that Sidney, at Diana’s request, has done his part in a convoluted chain of influence, all for the grand Parker family purpose of luring one more tourism customer to visit Sanditon.

I’ve long been of the party that reads Miss Bates’s ‘yada yada’ as actually providing the reader with a multitude of clues about what is really happening offstage in Emma. And so, I read Diana Parker in that same way, and do not find it to be just a coincidence that her reference to the ‘hare’ just happens to have a counterpart in Clarissa. There, a hare is referred to by (who else?) Lovelace, as he rationalizes one of his youthful “indiscretions” ---his actual luring on false pretenses, and then seduction, of a single woman!

Lovelace impregnated her, he recounts, resulting ultimately in her death in childbirth, as to which Lovelace sheds copious crocodile tears, all the while dodging any responsibility. But he cannot avoid leaking his sociopathy, as he analogizes his kidnapping of his female victim to “coursing” (when the poor prey is hunted for sport with greyhounds by sight rather than scent) after a “winding hare”.

So now, as you read, below, Lovelace’s grotesque rationalizations about “a youthful frolic” of his own, please note the surname of the young woman, Betterton, and recall that Sir Edward Denham’s Lovelace-like,  boasted seduction schemes are directed explicitly against a woman with a name that is virtually the same—Miss Clara Brereton!:

“The affair of Miss BETTERTON was a youthful frolic. I love dearly to exercise my invention. I do assure you, Joseph, that I have ever had more pleasure in my contrivances, than in the end of them. I am no sensual man: but a man of spirit—one woman is like another—you understand me, Joseph.—In coursing, all the sport is made by the winding HARE—a barn-door chick is better eating—now you take me, Joseph.
Miss BETTERTON was but a tradesman's daughter. The family, indeed, were grown rich, and aimed at a new line of gentry; and were unreasonable enough to expect a man of my family would marry her. I was honest. I gave the young lady no hope of that; for she put it to me. She resented—kept up, and was kept up. A little innocent contrivance was necessary to get her out. But no rape in the case, I assure you, Joseph. She loved me—I loved her. Indeed, when I got her to the inn, I asked her no question. It is cruel to ask a modest woman for her consent. It is creating difficulties to both. Had not her friends been officious, I had been constant and faithful to her to this day, as far as I know—for then I had not known my angel.
I went not abroad upon her account. She loved me too well to have appeared against me; she refused to sign a paper they had drawn up for her, to found a prosecution upon; and the brutal creatures would not permit the midwife's assistance, till her life was in danger; and, I believe, to this her death was owing.
I went into mourning for her, though abroad at the time. A distinction I have ever paid to those worthy creatures who died in childbed by me.
I was ever nice in my loves.—These were the rules I laid down to myself on my entrance into active life:—To set the mother above want, if her friends were cruel, and if I could not get her a husband worthy of her: to shun common women—a piece of justice I owed to innocent ladies, as well as to myself: to marry off a former mistress, if possible, before I took to a new one: to maintain a lady handsomely in her lying-in: to provide for the little one, if it lived, according to the degree of its mother: to go into mourning for the mother, if she died. And the promise of this was a great comfort to the pretty dears, as they grew near their times.
All my errors, all my expenses, have been with and upon women. So I could acquit my conscience (acting thus honourably by them) as well as my discretion as to point of fortune. All men love women—and find me a man of more honour, in these points, if you can, Joseph. No wonder the sex love me as they do!
But now I am strictly virtuous. I am reformed. So I have been for a long time, resolving to marry as soon as I can prevail upon the most admirable of women to have me. I think of nobody else—it is impossible I should. I have spared very pretty girls for her sake. Very true, Joseph! So set your honest heart at rest—you see the pains I take to satisfy your qualms.
But, as to Miss Betterton—no rape in the case, I repeat: rapes are unnatural things, and more are than are imagined, Joseph. I should be loth to be put to such a streight; I never was. Miss BETTERTON was taken from me against her own will. In that case her friends, not I, committed the rape.”
So, why would Jane Austen, via seemingly tow, seemingly totally unrelated references to a “scheme to the Isle of Wight” and a “Hare”, associate Sidney Parker with two of Lovelace’s worst sexual wrongs against women? It sure sounds to me like a broad hint that Sidney is going to be a dangerous suitor for Charlotte to be “hunted” by!

And I conclude with two other passages I’ve now located in Persuasion, which now also seem to be associated with the “lovely is” wink at “Lovelace” in the picturesque description of Pinny at Lyme:

Chapter 20: "The last hours were certainly very painful," replied Anne; "but when pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure. One does not LOVE a place the LESS for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering, which was by no means the case at LYME.

Chapter 23: He had imagined himself indifferent, when he had only been angry; and he had been unjust to her merits, because he had been a sufferer from them. Her character was now fixed on his mind as perfection itself, maintaining the LOVELIESt medium of fortitude and gentleness; but he was obliged to acknowledge that only at Uppercross had he learnt to do her justice, and only at LYME had he begun to understand himself. 

We have “love-less” and “lovelies”, both in passages explicitly recalling Lyme, and, more remarkably, both referring to “suffering” for love—which is Lovelace’s specialty, in inflicting suffering on women by his “courtship”.  So, what does Jane Austen mean, by repeatedly linking Wentworth with Lovelace? Is she referring to Anne’s agonized emotional suffering in uncertainty during the first 22 chapters of the novel? or, perish the thought, is this a suggestion of what Anne will experience after she is married to Wentworth? Or perhaps you have another interpretation?

In all events, I hope that I’ve now rendered far more plausible my claim that Jane Austen, in the final year of her writing career, was extremely focused on the larger than life villain of Clarissa, Lovelace. It reminds me strikingly of what she wrote in September 1813 about the character of Don Juan she had just seen onstage in London in a pantomime:  “I must say that I have seen nobody on the stage who has been a more interesting Character than that compound of Cruelty & Lust.”

I’d suggest that Jane Austen found the character of Lovelace so interesting a compound of cruelty & lust that she put him in the wings of her final two fictional works not long before her tragic early death.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter