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Friday, February 12, 2010

Games (like Quadrille) that People Play

In response to a post in Austen L and Janeites, I wrote the following today:

Anielka’s analysis of the mathematics of the acrostics in the “courtship” charade in Chapter 9 of Emma is both first-rate and spot-on. Indeed, the probability that such an elaborate structure could have arisen by chance is (less than) zero. But, in my opinion, that certainty was already previously established, given the already understood complexity and aptness of all the hidden meanings of that charade, as they pertain to the novel as a whole. But it is very tasty icing on the cake nonetheless!

As cool as the mathematical aspects of the charade are, the significance of the concept of “quadrille” for our understanding of the shadows of Emma is much greater still. There is a great deal more going on than acrosticking.

To begin…there are those who say that Wikipedia is an unreliable resource, but I think Jane Austen, and one of her alter egos, Mrs. Bates, would have violently disagreed, if they could have read the following, as I did, this morning:


Wikipedia first tells us that this word, in Jane Austen's time, not only referred to a card game, it also referred to a dance. And it should be no surprise that the description of that dance provided at Wikipedia (no citation is given, but I would imagine the description is accurate) corresponds uncannily closely to the poetic structure that Anielka so precisely outlined:

“Thus the quadrille was a very intricate dance. The standard form contained five different parts, and the Viennese lengthened it to six different parts. The following table shows what the different parts look like, musically speaking:
• part 1: Pantalon (written in 2/4 or 6/8)
theme A – theme B – theme A – theme C – theme A
• part 2: Été (always written in 2/4)
theme A – theme B – theme B – theme A
• part 3: Poule (always written in 6/8)
theme A – theme B – theme A – theme C – theme A – theme B – theme A
Part 3 always begins with a two-measure-introduction
• part 4: Trénis (always written in 2/4)
theme A – theme B – theme B – theme A
• part 5: Pastourelle (always written in 2/4)
theme A – theme B – theme C – theme B – theme A
• part 6: Finale (always written in 2/4)
theme A – theme A – theme B – theme B – theme A – theme A
Part 6 always begins with a two-measure-introduction
All the themes are 8 measures long.” END OF WIKIPEDIA SECTION RE DANCE

Which means, I would think, unless I am missing something, that JA’s charade, if it were set to music, would function nicely as the LYRICS to a quadrille that could be danced to it! Anyone with a musical bent want to compose the tune of a quadrille? ;)
But what could this mean for understanding the action in the novel itself? The safe and standard interpretation, that would fit beautifully, would be that the novel is a representation of a courtship “dance” in which four couples (the Eltons, Emma and K, Harriet and Robt Martin, and Jane and Frank) go through the motions of courtship and wind up wedded. Mr. Elton’s charade would thus be a diabolically clever representation of that overarching structure of the novel.

A more alarming interpretation I choose to make, however (which relates to what our soon-to-be guest Jill Heydt Stevenson discusses in her chapter on the “Felicities of Rapid Motion”, although, as far as I can see, she did not connect the dots to the “quadrille”), is that the “quadrille” described in the charade is a dance around the maypole, i.e., the “steps” taken by all eight of those participants, as they changed partners repeatedly, were, shall we say, less than chaste.

Still more alarming, though, is the oblique suggestion I perceive, which is that the evenings of ‘tea and quadrille” at Hartfield were perhaps a “whole” lot more lively among Mr. Woodhouse and his three “come-atable” female friends, than might at first have been suspected. In that regard, Diana, as for your lovely fantasy about that redoubtable quartet of worthies, I would not be so wicked as to suspect you of two VERY arch puns when you referred to “sweetbreads” and to things “slipping out” without the awareness of the participants! ;)

Now, if some hardened skeptic raises a demand for evidence that JA was aware of the quadrille as a dance, the Jane Austen Centre website tells us the following:
“First imported from France by Lady Jersey in 1815, the Quadrille was a shorter version of the earlier cotillions. Figures from individual cotillions were assembled into sets of five or six figures, and the changes were left out, producing much shorter dances. By the late 1810's, it was not uncommon to dance a series of quadrilles during the evening, generally consisting of the same first three figures combined with a variety of different fourth and fifth figures. Jane Austen's niece Fanny danced quadrilles and in their correspondence Jane mentions that she finds them much inferior to the cotillions of her own youth. By the late 1810's, under siege from the Quadrille, dancing masters began to invent "new" forms of country dance…”

So the quadrille was imported to England (by Lady Jersey, who was, by the way, as Nancy and some others of you will already have noticed, one of the Prince Regent’s most notorious mistresses!) precisely at the moment when JA was editing Emma! As Arte Johnson would say, VERRRRRRY interesting!

I just checked Le Faye’s edition of the letters, and found a reference to a card game of quadrille in Letter 57 to CEA dated 10/7-9/08 (“We found ourselves tricked into a thorough party at Mrs. Maitlands, a quadrille & a Commerce Table, & Music in the other room”) but the reference to the quadrille dance that the Jane Austen Centre alluded to was in Letter 151 to Fanny dated 2/20-1/17 (“Much obliged for the Quadrilles, which I am grown to think pretty enough, though of course they are very inferior to the Cotillions of my own day.”)

The above is a cornucopia of hidden meanings embedded in the “courtship” charade---but wait, it’s only half of the story that Wikipedia has to tell us!


As I suggested above, Wikipedia can be a wickedly useful tool, because look at what else that entry had to say, under the title “Stately Quadrille”:

“The mechanics of the dance, that of constantly shifting partners, led it to be compared to the European political system in the eighteenth century. What became known as the Stately quadrille saw the forming of fresh alliances with different partners in order to maintain the balance of power in Europe.”

A click of the mouse led me to the Wikipedia entry for “Stately Quadrille” which began with the following elaboration of that definition:

“The Stately Quadrille is a term popularly used to describe the constant shifting alliances between the Great Powers of Europe during the 18th century. The ultimate objective was to maintain the Balance of Power in Europe, and to stop any one alliance or country becoming too strong. It takes its name from the Quadrille, a dance where the participants constantly swap partners.”

As some of you already know, there have been numerous scholars (but most notably and expansively, Roger Sales) who have made the argument, in one way or another, that “Highbury” is a representation of the English nation as a whole, an argument that took on even greater force when Colleen Sheehan demonstrated the savage satire on the Prince Regent concealed in the “courtship” charade. I believe the above definition perfectly describes the cat and mouse games of courtship “diplomacy”, “espionage” and “intrigue” that are played by all the characters in the novel. So I would argue, therefore, that Jane Austen was well aware of this latter definition of “quadrille”.

But for those same hardened skeptics who do not find that argument persuasive, I refer you to a poem I discovered this morning, written by John Gay. It appeared in Samuel Johnson’s Works of the English Poets (in the 1810 edition at p. 489), but that identical poem was published as early as 1742 in a collection of writings by Gay, Pope, Swift and Arbuthnot. Some of you may recall that Gay also just happens to be the author of ANOTHER poem, which Mrs. Elton just happens to quote from late in the novel. Here is Gay’s magnum opus:


When as corruption hence did go, And left the nation free; When Ay said ay, and No said no, Without or place or fee; Then Satan, thinking things went ill, Sent forth his spirit, call'd Quadrille. Quadrille, quadrille, &c.
Kings, queens, and knaves, made up his pack, And four fair suits he wore; His troops they were with red and black All blotch’d and spotted o'er; And every house, go where you will, Is haunted by this imp Quadrille, &c.
Sure cards he has for every thing, Which well court-cards they name, And, statesman-like, calls in the king, To help out a bad game; But, if the parties manage ill, The king is forc'd to lose codille, &c.
When two and two were met of old, Though they ne'er meant to marry, They were in Cupid's books enroll'd, And call'd a partie quarree, But now, meet when and where you will, A partie quarree is quadrille, &c.
The commoner, and knight, and peer, Men of all ranks and fame, Leave to their wives the only care To propagate their name; And well that duty they fulfil, When the good husband's at quadrille, &c
When patients lie In piteous case, In comes the apothecary; And to the doctor cries, " Alas! Non debes quadrillare:" The patient dies without a pill: For why ?—The doctor's at quadrille, &c.
Should France and Spain again grow loud, The Muscovite grow louder; Britain, to curb her neighbours proud, Would want both ball and powder; Must want both sword and gun to kill: For why ?—The general's at quadrille, &c.
The king of late drew forth his sword, (Thank God, 'twas not in wrath !) And made, of many a 'squire and lord, An unwash'd knight of Bath: What are their feats of arms and skill? They're but nine parties at quadrille, &c.
A party late at Cambray met, Which drew all Europe's eyes; 'Twas call'd in Post-boy and Gazette The Quadruple Allies; But somebody took something ill, So broke this party at quadrille, &c.
And now God save this noble realm, And God save eke Hanover; And God save those who hold the helm, When as the king goes over; But let the king go where he will. His subjects must play at quadrille, Quadrille, quadrille, &c. END OF GAY’S BALLAD

Here are my observations:

The second and third stanzas illustrate that in a deck of cards, the honors, i.e., the king, queen, and jack, are all members of a “court”.

In the third from last stanza, we have a reference to the Order of Bath. The parenthetical (“Thank God, ‘twas not in wrath”) suggests, to me at least, a lewd connotation of what the King might have done with his sword to the anatomy of those ‘squires and lords had he acted in anger. I am distinctly reminded of the modern reference to certain parts of the anatomy that become more interesting when “angry”! That suggests to me that Gay, like JA, saw the possibilities of sexual innuendo in the metaphor of “dance”.

In the penultimate stanza, we have an explicit reference to the political situation described in Wikipedia, which prompted the term “Stately Quadrille”—I wonder whether Gay’s poem was itself the originator of the term, or was his poem a reaction to a term already widely in usage? Either way, it was quite satirical toward George the Second, just as Colleen Sheehan showed that the Chapter 9 charade in Emma is quite satirical toward the Prince Regent, the future George IV.

The phrase “when Ay said ay” in the second stanza reminds me of all of Miss Bates’s archaic “ayes”!

The fourth and fifth stanzas allude pretty broadly to courtship and marital hanky-panky, and there is Cupid, who, as Jill Heydt Stevenson pointed out, makes his appearance in the unquoted portion of Garrick Charade that Mr. Woodhouse has forgotten.

The sixth stanza ‘s references to an apothecary and to a patient dying without a pill—might this connect to Mr. Perry and to the death of Mrs. Churchill?
And finally, and most relevant to the “courtship” charade in Emma, note that the last stanza, which contains an explicit naval motif. It refers to Hanover (the”monarch” of English, who was, in 1742, George the Second, the grandfather of George the Third, who of course was king during JA’s entire lifetime) holding the helm (i.e., the “monarch of the seas” holds the helm of a “ship”), but it is rather caustic, suggesting that George II would go overboard (like Jane Fairfax rescued by Frank), leaving the English people to play quadrille.

I think, all in all, that there is little doubt that JA had Gay’s wickedly clever and complex ballad in front of her, alongside Charles Lamb’s “Triumph of the Whale” (which Colleen identified) and Cruikshank’s caricature “The Prince of Whales or the Fisherman at Anchor” (which I myself identified), and, no doubt, a few more texts as yet unidentified, as she composed the “courtship” charade.

Now, does anyone want to take a crack at the meanings which have been dissolved into Mrs. Bates’s “tea”? ;)


P.S.: Circling all the way around back to the mathematics of the “courtship” charade, I thought some more about its mathematical structure, and how I was reminded of game theory in general, and a quick bit of Googling led me to Volume 2 of the Second Edition of a recent book entitled “Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays”, by Elwyn R. Berlekamp, John H. Conway, and Richard K. Guy.

In it we find Chapter 12 entitled “Games Eternal-Games Entailed” with the lead epigraph being, very curiously, Mrs. Bennet’s “If it was not for the entail, I should not mind it”. If you don’t recognize the name, Conway famously invented the cellular automaton for the Game of Life, which is the most famous of the mathematical games in the field of what is commonly called “artificial life”, where seemingly lifelike patterns are created from the repetitive application of purely mathematical formulae.

I mention all this because I would argue that JA, in her own unfathomably brilliant way, created, in Emma, a literary equivalent of artificial life, an imaginary world which yet has a perpetual life of its own, realer than real to those of us who love that world.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

how could you be so educated and not know what a quadrille was? And then relied on wiki junk instead of searching for a film of one?