(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, July 5, 2010

LUCY FERrars's HELL-BORN Cousins

"These cousins may be mentioned in Volume 3, the chapter where Elinor encounters Nancy Steele in Kensington Gardens and Nancy refers to the Richardsons as people she is staying with. I'm not sure that it's specified the Richardsons are these cousins from Holborn."

Thank you very much for your reply, Ellen, indeed you zeroed in on the very passage in Ch. 38 where we have several references both to the Holborn cousins and to the Richardsons. As I read that passage, I think it is clear from Anne Steele's speaking about BOTH the Richardsons AND her cousins in the same sentence on two occasions, that the Richardsons are NOT Anne Steele's cousins, but are instead a family closely connected to those cousins. Otherwise, Anne would not only be a gossipping, inane ditz, she would be so MONSTROUSLY stupid as to TWICE refer to the same people in two different ways in the same sentence. Anne even refers at one point to her cousin RICHARD--which seems JA's very sly way of confirming that he is not a Richardson, because then his name would be the ridiculous "Richard Richardson", and why on earth would JA want to even hint at such a silly name!

"I offer the idea that Austen has not worked out the details of these outer rings of the world of S&S -- who the cousins are, for example; rather she has imagined these cousins sheerly as the sort of people who rent in Holborn. It's probably a snobbish slur (in effect). Austen's implied narrator looks down on the Steeles; both are given a language that stigmatizes them; Mrs Ferrars would much prefer even Elinor (comparatively broke as she is) to Lucy. Despite the venom (justified) Austen's portrait of Mrs Ferrars reeks with, we see here she did not altogether repudiate Mrs Ferrars's values."

With all due respect, Ellen, I think you are completely offbase---as my Subject Line for this message suggests, I realized yesterday after I sent my message asking for further info re Lucy's cousins, that all of the above is connected to the "Lucy Ferrars" ==> Lucifer allusion to Paradise Lost and the Bible, which I discovered 5 years ago, but as to which I am STILL finding additional wrinkles every so often. Please read along to see the zigzag, exciting path I took in realizing this.

My starting point was my hunch, based on successful hunches in the past, that the reference to Lucy's Holborn cousins was not gratuitous. Serendipity almost always seems to come my way because I believe in my hunches, and also because I am so persistent in my searching of Internet resources, following my hunches. It is one of my fundamental tenets of Austen interpretation that ALL the character and place names have multiple, but covert, allusive meanings.

So I searched "Holborn" in the Janeites and Austen L archives, and I came upon a message from 10 years ago written by our very own Nancy Mayer, in which Nancy presented some excerpts from Fanny Burney's diaries, in which Samuel Johnson and Mrs. Thrale were teasing Fanny Burney about the "Holborn beau" of Burney's first very famous heroine, Evelina.

I was struck by the joinder of "Holborn" to "beau", and immediately thought about Anne Steele's harping on her "beau" the Doctor, and I realized, of course, JA by placing Lucy's and Anne's cousins in Holborn, was slyly pointing her readers to Evelina! It turns out that Dr. Johnson was playfully referring to Mr. Smith, a character in Evelina who is specifically referred to as a "beau" in the novel itself. So I knew I was onto something good here, but how far would it lead me?

I became curious to see what the significance of Holborn was in Evelina, and that's when I found out that Evelina stays with her social-climbing cousins, the Branghtons, who live in the undesirable neighborhood of--where else?--Holborn! Lucy Steele stays with cousins in Holborn, Evelina stays with cousins in Holborn. Bingo!!!

And then I did some quick checking, and sure enough, there have been several Austen scholars (including you, Ellen!) who have perceived S&S as alluding to Evelina. Which is no surprise when we recall not only that JA was, famously, a subscriber to Burney's novels, and but also that Reverend Austen's November 1797 letter to Cadell enclosed a novel written by JA which "comprised in three Vols about the length of Miss Burney's Evelina." It has often been speculated that the novel was First Impressions, and there's no doubt that there are many obvious echoes of Evelina in P&P, as well as in S&S--but based on what I write about in this message, I think it is equally possible that the novel Reverend Austen sent to Cadell was Elinor and Marianne. In either case, the reference to Evelina in his letter is, I would argue, a sly one, in that the reason the enclosed novel is "about the length" of Evelina is that it ALLUDES to Evelina so pervasively! I hear the playful ironic sense of humor of JA behind that seemingly innocuous description, and my (of course unprovable) hunch is that JA playfully pushed her father to make that reference to Evelina in exactly that way.

But there's more.....I also had recalled from my prior research that one of the most significant allusive sources for Burney in Evelina was Paradise Lost, with Evelina's name being an obvious pun on "Eve", the innocent who is subject to strenuous efforts by more than one male "Satan" to corrupt her sexually before she ends up happily with her "Adam", i.e., Lord Orville.

And although of course Holborn was an actual neighborhood in London in JA's day, it came to me this morning that Holborn was also a pun on "Hell-Born" (a phrase Milton uses in Paradise Lost, of course to refer to Satan--or Lucifer!), and how apt that pun was to Evelina with its Paradise Lost allusions, and also to S&S with its Lucy-Ferrars Paradise Lost allusions!

And then, when I read your reply this morning, Ellen, it was the icing on the allusive cake--of course JA's tossing the surname "Richardson" in was no more gratuitous than any of the other sly jokes and puns I've been outlining above. Of course the other novelist who was himself obsessed with Paradise Lost (could there be a more definitive portrait of Milton's Satan than Richardson's Lovelace?) was Samuel Richardson--the novelist who was a huge influence on both Burney and Austen!

There's much more going on, but I will not flesh it all out in this message. Suffice to say that this is a paradigmatic example of how I have been able to find so much material that has lain hidden in plain sight for 200 years, and which others--including truly brilliant and encyclopedically learned scholars like yourself-- have not perceived. The serendipitous bouncing from one connection to the next which I have described, above, is comparable to 1,000 prior experiences I have had with JA's novels over the past 5 1/2 years. These seemingly throwaway, peripheral, random, atmospheric names and characters are actually bearers of very significant, but COVERT, meanings, which go to the heart of JA's shadow stories.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: It's no accident that Elinor "accidentally" encounters Anne Steele in Kensington GARDENS! ;)

No comments: