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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Breechin' and whippin' and Wishin' and Hopin' and Wadham Knatchbull's Breeches

And this is the last of my little triptych inspired by Jane Austen's Letter 5 dated September 1796:

[Nancy Mayer] "Ellen, breeching -- putting a boy into his breeches instead of a shirt coat or gown ---did not ritually include a whipping."

I believe it was not unheard of Chez Wallop aka Lord Portsmouth. ;)

But, in a more serious vein....I remain completely agnostic as to whether or not young Edward Knight was _actually_ chastised physically or not, upon this momentous rite of passage in being potty trained. In my opinion, it might entirely be a fabrication; it could be a hyperbolic expansion of a less severe event which actually happened; or it could be a fairly accurate reworking of a cruel event. With JA, all three are possible, I believe, depending on her mood while writing. I think she felt free to report or invent, and I think she counted on CEA to be able to discern the difference, based on the rich unspoken knowledge of the
people involved that they shared and so JA did not need to spell it all out.

I checked to see if JA ever used any form of the word "breech" again in her letters, and I found one-- a strange passage in Letter 89 dated 9/23-24/13 in which JA wrote to CEA from Godmersham:

"The Mr. Ks [Knatchbull] came a little before dinner on Monday, & Edward went to the Church with the two Seniors--but there is no Inscription yet drawn up. They are very goodnatured you know & civil and all that--but are not particularly superfine; however, they ate their dinner & drank their Tea & went away, leaving their lovely Wadham in our arms--& I wish you had seen Fanny & me running backwards & forwards with his Breeches from the little chintz to the White room before we went to bed, in the greatest of frights lest he should come upon us before we had done it all--There had been a mistake in the Housemaids Preparations & _they_ were gone to bed.--He seems a very harmless sort of young Man--nothing to like or dislike in him;--goes out shooting or hunting with the two others all the morning--& plays at whist & makes queer faces in the evening."

What I gather is as follows, but I would love to hear other interpretations:

The two elderly Knatchbulls, both brothers of Mrs. Knight who had recently died (hence the reference to there being "no Inscription yet drawn up", presumably for the monument) went off to Church with Edward Austen Knight, leaving the 19 year old Wadham Knatchbull [son of the
younger of the two Knatchbull "Seniors", who was, by the way, a merchant who did business on _Gracechurch Street_ (!!!) ] with JA and the 20 year old Fanny.

But what in the world does JA mean by this vignette about Wadham Knatchbull's Breeches? What exactly were the preparations that the Godmersham maids erred in doing, which JA and Fanny had to correct? Or is it all another wild fantasy? If this were an event taking place today, would this be involving the young man's boxer underwear? There is something strangely satirical about all of this, and part of it is fed by JA describing Wadham being left in the arms of JA and Fanny, as if he were a two year old!

And finally, what's also interesting is that Fanny Knight, seven years later, married the rich powerful cousin of Wadham Knatchbull.

And to conclude, I also just had an off-the-wall association to the Sixties hit sung by Dusty Springfield (which, to my surprise, was apparently written by Burt Bacharach):

Wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin' Plannin' and dreaming each night of his charms That won't get you into his arms

So if you're lookin' to find love you can share All you gotta do is Hold him and kiss him and love him And show him that you care

Show him that you care just for him And do the things he likes to do Wear your hair just for him, 'cause You won't get him Thinkin' and a-prayin' Wishin' and a-hopin'

So, here's a fun game--whose theme song is this in JA's novels? I'd say it's Charlotte Lucas's, with Lucy Steele singing backup! Anyone have any other suggestions?

And....maybe it's not such an off-the-wall association after all, if there is anything to my suspicion that JA has been sent to Rowling to keep her away from Tom Lefroy or some other love interest back in Steventon. In that event, JA might indeed have been "wishin' and hopin'
'plannin' and dreaming!

I welcome replies to any or all of the above!

Cheers, ARNIE

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