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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Highbury Tradesman

I have written on several occasions in this blog and in Janeites and Austen L about the Harriet Smith of the shadow story of _Emma_ as being the precise opposite of the commonly understood Harriet Smith of the overt story. E.g, I mention it in the context of Jane Austen’s Christianity, in the following post:

There are numerous aspects to the shadow Harriet as being “knowing” in both the cognitive _and_ the carnal senses of that word, which I will be spelling out in detail in my book. Today I bring forward one such aspect, because it directly and powerfully relates to my recent posts about allusions I claim that JA made to Cleland’s _Fanny Hill_ and also to the real life of JA’s aunt Phila Austen Hancock, which are all united around characters named Mrs. Cole and also around millinery shops as covers for brothels.

The most famous millinery business in JA’s fiction is, of course, Ford’s in Highbury, in _Emma_.

Without further preparation or ado, I now present to you the relevant passages in _Emma_ which pertain to Ford’s, with certain excerpts underscored for emphasis. I suggest that if you read these passages _as if_ Ford’s is, covertly, a house of prostitution, in addition to its official millinery business, you may be surprised at how well the “glove” of that interpretation fits the “hand” of the quoted text!

At the end of this post, my P.S. will briefly tie this all together in a pretty bow that would have caught Harriet’s eye, by revealing the significance of the title of this post, and how it _also_ relates directly to the veiled, but omnipresent, theme of sexuality in the shadow story of _Emma_:

Ch. 21: The shower was heavy, but short; and it had not been over five minutes, when in came Harriet, with just the heated, agitated look which hurrying thither with a full heart was likely to give; and the "Oh! Miss Woodhouse, _what do you think has happened!_" which _instantly burst forth_, had all the evidence of _corresponding perturbation_. As _the blow_ was given, Emma felt that she could not now shew greater kindness than in listening; and Harriet, unchecked, ran eagerly through what she had to tell. "She had set out from Mrs. Goddard's half an hour ago -- she had been afraid it would rain -- she had been afraid it would _pour down_ every moment -- but she thought she might get to Hartfield first -- she had hurried on as fast as possible; but then, _as she was passing by the house where a young woman was making up a gown for her, she thought she would just step in and see how it went on_; and though she did not seem to stay half a moment there, soon after she came out it began to rain, and she did not know what to do; so she ran on directly, as fast as she could, and _took shelter at Ford's." -- Ford's was the principal woollen-draper, linen-draper, and haberdasher's shop united; the shop first in size and fashion in the place. "_ And so, there she had set, without an idea of any thing in the world, full ten minutes, perhaps -- when, all of a sudden, _who should come in_ -- to be sure it was so very odd! but _they always dealt at Ford's_ -- who should come in, but Elizabeth Martin and her brother! Dear Miss Woodhouse! only think. I thought I should have fainted. I did not know what to do. I was sitting near the door -- Elizabeth saw me directly; but he did not; _he was busy with the umbrella_. I am sure she saw me, but she looked away directly, and took no notice; and they both went to quite the farther end of the shop; and I kept sitting near the door! Oh! dear; I was so miserable! I am sure I must have been as white as my gown. I could not go away you know, because of the rain; but I did so wish myself any where in the world but there. Oh! dear, Miss Woodhouse -- well, at last, I fancy, he looked round and saw me; for _instead of going on with their buyings, they began whispering to one another. I am sure they were talking of me; _ and I could not help thinking that he was persuading her to speak to me -- (do you think he was, Miss Woodhouse?) -- for presently she came forward -- came quite up to me, and asked me how I did, and seemed ready to shake hands, if I would. _She did not do any of it in the same way that she used; I could see she was altered; _ but, however, she seemed to try to be very friendly, and we shook hands, and stood talking some time; but I know no more what I said -- _I was in such a tremble!_ I remember she said she was sorry we never met now; which I thought almost too kind! Dear, Miss Woodhouse, I was absolutely miserable! By that time, _it was beginning to hold up_, and I was determined that nothing should stop me from getting away -- and then -- only think! _I found _he was coming up towards me too_ -- slowly you know, and as if he did not quite know what to do; and _so he came_ and spoke, and I answered -- and I stood for a minute, feeling dreadfully, you know, one can't tell how; and then I took courage, and said it did not rain, and I must go; and so off I set; and _I had not got three yards from the door, when he came after me, only to say, if I was going to Hartfield, he thought I had much better go round by Mr. Cole's stables, for I should find the near way quite floated by this rain. Oh! dear, I thought it would have been the death of me!_ So I said, I was very much obliged to him: you know I could not do less; and then _he went back to Elizabeth, and _I came round by the stables_ -- I believe I did -- but _I hardly knew where I was_, or any thing about it. Oh! Miss Woodhouse, I would rather done any thing than have had it happen: and yet, you know, there was a sort of satisfaction in seeing him behave so pleasantly and so kindly._ And Elizabeth, too! Oh! Miss Woodhouse, do talk to me and make me comfortable again."

[We may well wonder what “happened” when Harriet “came round by” Mr. Cole’s “stables” that gave Harriet “a sort of satisfaction”, such that she “hardly knew where” she was!]

Ch. 23: A reasonable visit paid, Mr. Weston began to move. "He must be going. He had business at the Crown about his hay, and _a great many errands for Mrs. Weston at Ford's;_ but he need not hurry any body else."

[We may well wonder why Mr. Weston might have so many “errands” for his wife at Ford’s.]

Ch. 24: "Well," said Emma, "there is no disputing about taste. At least you admire her, except her complexion."

He shook his head and laughed. "I cannot separate Miss Fairfax and her complexion."
"Did you see her often at Weymouth? Were you often in the same society?"
At this moment they were approaching Ford's, and he hastily exclaimed, "Ha! this must be the very shop that every body attends every day of their lives, as my father informs me. He comes to Highbury himself, he says, six days out of the seven, and has always business at Ford's. If it be not inconvenient to you, pray let us go in, that I may prove myself to belong to the place, to be a true citizen of Highbury. I must buy something at Ford's. It will be taking out my freedom. I dare say they sell gloves."
"Oh! yes, gloves and every thing. I do admire your patriotism. You will be adored in Highbury. You were very popular _before you came_, because you were Mr. Weston's son; but _lay out half-a-guinea at Ford's, and your popularity will stand upon your own virtues."_
They went in; and _while the sleek, well-tied parcels of "Men's Beavers"_ and "York Tan" were bringing down and displaying on the counter, he said -- "But I beg your pardon, Miss Woodhouse, you were speaking to me, you were saying something at the very moment of _this burst of my amor patriae. Do not let me lose it. I assure you the utmost stretch of public fame_ would not make me amends for the loss of any happiness in private life."
"I merely asked, whether you had _known much_ of Miss Fairfax and her party at Weymouth."
"And now that I understand your question, I must pronounce it to be a very unfair one. It is always the lady's right to decide on the degree of acquaintance. Miss Fairfax must already have given her account. I shall not commit myself by claiming more than she may chuse to allow."
"Upon my word! you answer as discreetly as she could do herself. But her account of every thing leaves so much to be guessed, she is so very reserved, so very unwilling to give the least information about any body, that I really think you may say what you like of your acquaintance with her."
"May I indeed? Then I will speak the truth, and nothing suits me so well. I met her frequently at Weymouth. I had known the Campbells a little in town; and at Weymouth we were very much in the same set. Col. Campbell is a very agreeable man, and Mrs. Campbell a friendly, warm-hearted woman. I like them all."
_"_You know Miss Fairfax's situation in life, I conclude; what she is destined to be."
"Yes -- "(rather hesitatingly) -- "I believe I do.
_" _
_"You get upon delicate subjects, Emma," said Mrs. Weston smiling,_ "remember that I am here. Mr. Frank Churchill hardly knows what to say when you speak of Miss Fairfax's situation in life. I will move a little farther off."

[We may well wonder why Mr. Weston is so obsessed with Ford’s, and about Frank’s “burst of amor patriae”, and, more important vis a vis Jane Fairfax, why Frank hesitates when speaking about Jane F’s “situation in life” and “what she is destined to be”, and also why Mrs. Weston smiles when she refers to these as “delicate subjects”.]

Ch. 27: "She said he was very agreeable the day he dined there. He sat by her at dinner. Miss Nash thinks either of the Coxes would be very glad to marry him."
"Very likely. I think they are, without exception, the most vulgar girls in Highbury."
_ Harriet had business at Ford's._ Emma thought it most prudent to go with her. _Another accidental meeting with the Martins was possible, and, in her present state, would be dangerous._
Harriet, tempted by every thing and swayed by half a word, was always very long at a purchase; and while she was still hanging over muslins and changing her mind, Emma went to the door for amusement. ….A mind lively and at ease, can do with seeing nothing, and can see nothing that does not answer.

[We may wonder what business Harriet had at Ford’s, why a meeting with the Martins “would be dangerous”, and most of all we can safely say that in the shadow story of the novel, Emma indeed “can do with seeing nothing” of what is actually going on all around her right under her upturned nose.]

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: The title of this post is a spin on a best seller from 1747 entitled _The London Tradesman_, written one year after Phila Austen began her apprenticeship with the “milliner” Mrs. Cole in Covent Garden, the “garden” of earthly pleasures in London, and three years before publication of _Fanny Hill_. The author of that book devotes significant attention to the millinery profession as a cover for prostitution, and it should not surprise anyone to learn that the name of the author of that book was Robert _Campbell_--whether he was a Colonel, I have yet to ascertain.

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