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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, December 17, 2010

Jane Austen's rearward look at James I and Fanny Hill

The question was raised in Janeites as to what exactly was the 17 year old Jane Austen's intention when she included the following passage in her satirical History of England about James I the first Stuart king of England:

His Majesty was of that amiable disposition which inclines to Freindship, and in such points was possessed of a keener penetration in discovering Merit than many other people. I once heard an excellent Sharade on a Carpet, of which the subject I am now on reminds me, and as I think it may afford my Readers some amusement to FIND IT OUT, I shall here take the liberty of presenting it to them.


My first is what my second was to King James the 1st, and you tread on my whole.

The principal favourites of his Majesty were Car, who was afterwards created Earl of Somerset and whose name perhaps may have some share in the above mentioned Sharade, and George Villiers afterwards Duke of Buckingham...."

Nancy Mayer opined as shown below in quotes, and I responded as indicated:

"People talked about the King's favorites or a king's favorites all the time without meaning any more than that."

Yes, that is certainly true, but what is also well-established historical fact (I have researched this history) is that there was widespread gossip and speculation, both during the reign of James I and also during the nearly 2 centuries following same, about James having been gay, and having had numerous gay lovers, including specifically those "favourites" named by JA.

So if Jane did _not_ know about that history, it either meant she was psychic to include such a "Sharade", or else it was a rather large coincidence.

I think she was a very great genius, but even I don't think she was psychic, nor do I believe in such highly improbable coincidences. I prefer what I believe to be the most plausible and probable explanation, which is that JA meant the "sharade" to refer to the King's gay relationships.

"The worst sorts of descriptions were reserved for homosexual acts-- the nicest term was unnatural act. It was illegal and considered something vile."

Yes, that is certainly true as well, but in my opinion, all that shows is that there have always been many powerful people who held such an attitude toward homosexuality. My idea of Jane Austen is that she was not one of them, and that she did not approve of intolerance masquerading as theology, and so she made the decision, as the courageous satirist that she was, to lampoon that bigotry in this way.

As a teenager writing for a private family audience, she was pretty straightforward. In MP, writing as a mature adult woman for the world, she made it more ambiguous.

And as I pointed out last week in my blog, there is a military/sexual pun on the word "rear" in the famous scene involving gay sexual relations in _Fanny Hill_, which is, in my opinion, strongly resonant with Mary Crawford's naval/sexual pun on the word "rear". Again, putting aside ESP and coincidence, the most probable explanation, in my opinion, is that this was intentional on JA's part.

And when you align what JA wrote in 1793 with what she wrote in 1814, it strongly suggests to me that this was an issue which concerned her during her entire adult life.

Cheers, ARNIE

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