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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lady Gordon, Mrs. Pole, Lady Robert Kerr, Anna Austen..and the Opinions about Mansfield Park

And this is the next stage of the evolution of my thinking about Jane Austen's 1817 mention of the race of Pagets; hating the daughter for the sins of her parents; Derrick's bringing forward the "smoking gun" of the anecdote about the Duchess of
Gordon; and my recollection of the allusion by JA to all of this vis a vis Mrs. Harrison at Godmersham.

All of that reminded me of something _else_ from the world of Jane Austen--the Opinions of Mansfield Park which Jane Austen collected. I am now able to connect yet another important set of dots, and reveal _several_ other previously unsuspected connections of Jane Austen to the rich and famous of her day. And, Nancy, it turns out that I _do_ have a further round of evidence to toss in your direction,
regarding Jane Austen's attitude toward sexually transgressive women. Read on.....

The myth that Henry Austen began feverishly propagating before Jane was cold beneath the floor of Winchester Cathedral, that JA led a retired life with minimal personal connections to the elite of her world, is dealt a devastating blow by what you will read, below. And, as you will see, we know that Henry was a bald-faced liar, because _HE_ was the one who introduced Jane to many of those same connections! Read on, and gape (not in boredom but in wonder), as I did, this morning..... ;)


First, I have previously pointed out, beginning in 2007, at each of my 3 public presentations about the shadow story of _Emma_ that the "Mrs. Pole" who lavishes such extravagant yet deeply insightful praise on Mansfield Park....

"There is a particular satisfaction in reading all Miss A----'s works -- they are so evidently written by a Gentlewoman -- most Novellists fail & betray themselves in attempting to describe familiar scenes in high Life; some little vulgarism escapes & shews that they are not experimentally acquainted with what they describe, but here it is quite different. Everything is natural, & the situations & incidents are told in a manner which clearly evinces the Writer to belong to the Society whose Manners she so ably delineates." Mrs. Pole also said that no Books had ever occasioned so
much canvassing & doubt, & that everybody was desirous to attribute them to some of their own friends, or to some person of whom they thought highly. -- "

...was actually not only the illegitimate daughter of an Earl, but also the second wife of Erasmus Darwin (to whom he addressed his turgid botanical verses!), and, last but certainly not least, the stepgrandmother of Charles Darwin. Mrs. Pole (her first husband had been a military man named Pole), after Erasmus's death, became the family matriarch of the Darwin clan, who I believe was the kindler of Charles
Darwin's lifelong love of Jane Austen:

See in particular the single footnote in the above Persuasions Online article by Liz Bankes, which reads as follows:

"This connection [of Mrs. Pole to Mansfield Park] was pointed out by Arnie Perlstein at the New Directions in Austen Studies 2009 conference and also featured in his [unpublished] paper, “The charade, the acrostic, the abominable puppy and Mr Elton.”

And by the way, the most recent edition of the Cambridge Edition of Jane Austen's Works _completely_ misses the boat on this one, speculating that Mrs. Pole might have been someone else---whereas I have collected a variety of powerful bits of evidence that point toward the Darwinian Mrs. Pole, which I will outline in my book. discoveries vis a vis Mrs. Pole established that JA reached into the highest echelons of English society for some of these Opinions she collected, and did not limit herself to her circle of family and close friends, as has always been assumed until now.

But until today, I had no clear idea of just how far JA's high connections reached---but that is a second major serendipity of Derrick's posting about the Duchess of Gordon.


The Opinion of Mansfield Park which _immediately precedes_ that of Mrs. Pole is attributed to someone JA calls "Lady Gordon":

"In most novels you are amused for the time with a set of Ideal People whom you never think of afterwards or whom you the least expect to meet in common life, whereas in Miss A----'s works, & especially in M. P. you actually live with them, you fancy yourself one of the family; & the scenes are so exactly descriptive, so perfectly natural, that there is scarcely an Incident, or conversation, or a person, that you are not inclined to imagine you have at one time or other in your Life been a witness to, borne a part in, & been acquainted with."

First, isn't it interesting that both Mrs. Pole _and_ Lady Gordon _both_ focus on the verisimilitude of Jane Austen's depictions of real life among families like the Bertrams? Their Opinions are as strikingly similar to each other as they are strikingly dissimilar to all the _other_ Opinions Jane Austen collected, except one other, which I will mention at the end of this message.

Now, JA _does_ mention a Lady Gordon in Letter #45 dated 8/24/05: "Our visit to Eastwell was very agreable, I found Lady Gordon's manners as pleasing as they had been described, & saw nothing to dislike in Sir Janison, excepting once or twice a sort of sneer at Mrs. Anne Finch."

Lord Brabourne explains that "Lady Gordon and Miss Anne Finch were the sisters of the owner of Eastwell Park, the former of whom married Sir Jenison William Gordon, K. C. B., and the latter died unmarried."

To the best of my knowledge, after diligent search, no Austen scholar who has looked at the Opinions of MP collected by JA has _ever_ delved into the question as to the identity of Lady Gordon, and in particular whether it was the same Lady Gordon whom JA met in 1805.

Here is my take, I would like to suggest not one but _two_ possible candidates, although my clear preference is for the second one:

First and most likely, the Lady Gordon whom JA met and described in her 1805 letter was connected by marriage to the family of the great Lord Mansfield, as follows: Lady Gordon's brother, George Finch-Hatton, married the grandniece of Lord Mansfield, and we know from JA's letters that JA met that same grandniece, and _her_ daughter, at Godmersham, on more than one occasion. So it would be more than plausible to suspect that this was the same Lady Gordon who rendered that favorable opinion of Mansfield Park, as JA would surely have encountered this Lady Gordon again at Godmersham, at one of the same social functions where JA met Lady Gordon's niece.

However, the second possible candidate, which occurred to me after my previous message about the Pagets, etc., is the Duchess of Gordon herself, the very one who JA covertly alluded to in that letter to Fanny Knight in 1817!

[Correction added 1/22/11: I should have written, the daughter of the Duchess of Gordon! The rest of my inferences remain unchanged]

Given that great Lady's brash and outspoken wit, as evidenced by the famous anecdote remembered by Samuel Rogers, it would not have surprised me in the slightest to learn that [the daughter of] this same Duchess of Gordon would have read Mansfield Park and been impressed by its unflinching and highly satirical depiction of hypocrisy in the world she so adeptly maneuvered in. After all, Rogers's anecdote, when you read it attentively is extraordinarily funny and highly memorable. It plays on the stupidity of her [other] daughter's future husband by vouching for her [other] daughter's not being crazy by (implicitly) avowing instead her [other] daughter's illegitimacy!

And,by the way, take a second look at JA's fantasy about what she'd tell Mrs. Harrison in JA's 1813 letter---what JA was talking about was the sanity of Anna Austen, who was, everyone believes, the daughter of James Austen and his first wife, and here again is what JA wrote:

"My dear Mrs. Harrison," I shall say, "_I am afraid the young man has some of your family madness, and though there often appears to be something of madness in Anna too, I think she inherits more of it from her mother's family than from ours._" That is what I shall say, and I think she will find it difficult to answer me."

If JA was aware of the Duchess of Gordon's tour-de-force, then she was surely clever enough to understand the unspoken but powerful implication that the Duchess of Gordon's daughter was illegitimate.

And then, in light of Anielka's _Anna Austen- => "Ann Awe-ston" => "Anna Weston" discovery of 3 years ago, after I told Anielka about Jane Fairfax giving her baby to Mrs. Weston in the shadow story of _Emma_, this suggests to me that JA is, in this 1813 letter, unmistakably pointing toward _Anna Austen's_ illegitimacy as exculpation from charges of madness. The exquisite center of that construction is the reference to the madness being inherited "from her mother's family than from ours". The big question is, who really was Anna's mother!?

Now, I can already hear Nancy, in addition to being appalled at my suggestion in the preceding paragraph, also pointing out that I have not provided any evidence whatsoever that JA would have known the Duchess of Gordon at all, let alone sufficiently intimately to have been successful in soliciting such a glowing Opinion about Mansfield Park.

Well, you remember that, earlier in this message, I mentioned that there was a _third_ Opinion of Mansfield Park, which was very similar to those presented by Mrs. Pole and Lady Gordon. Well, here it is:


Lady Robert Kerrwrote --"You may be assured I read every line with the greatest interest & am more delighted with it than my humble pen can express. The excellent delineation of Character, sound sense, Elegant Language & the pure morality with which it abounds, makes it a most desirable as well as useful work, & reflects the highest honour &c. &c. -- Universally admired in Edinburgh, by all the /wise ones/. -- Indeed, I have not heard a single fault given to it."

And I will not tarry, and speed straight to my "checkmate move"--Lady Robert Kerr was none other than (exactly like the Duchess of Gordon herself) the daughter in law of Lady Louisa Kerr!

Which means that the supposedly genetic Gordon insanity that the Duchess of Gordon so adeptly sidestepped would, if valid, have had as its fountainhead that very same Lady Louisa Kerr! I.e., Lady Robert Kerr and Lady Gordon were married to first cousins!

And.....that JA received these glowing Opinions from both the [daughter of the] Duchess of Gordon _and_ her cousin in law by marriage suggests to me that these ladies actually were in excellent relations with each other,and that the Duchess of Gordon's improvisation about her own adultery was actually a charade, not factual, and was solely an expediency, the way to get her daughter married !

Mrs. Bennet would have been impressed.

And that all led Derrick Leigh to respond thusly:

[Derrick] "I'm not sure whether to thank you yet Arnie. Perhaps I should
read the book first:-)."

Derrick, you are a sly one! ;)

"However, if you would like to heap further irony on this subject, you could add that Lady Charlotte Gordon, mother of 5th Duke of Richmond was a descendant of both Catherine and Henry Carey, the children of Mary Boleyn. There was some noted conjugal infidelity there, I think."

I think so, too. And of course Lady Charlotte Gordon married into the Lennox family, which we all know was at the very epicenter of the English aristocracy and government in the 18th century!

And finally, how about this one----do you know the maiden name of Lady Louisa Kerr's mother?

Lady Caroline Darcy! (I kid you not, I would _not_ lie about a thing like that!)

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.--There is ONE MORE POST in this series, which is really the payoff, so please read on.....

1 comment:

Bill Jenson said...

How can Mrs Elizabeth Chandos Pole be the Mrs Pole of the Mansfield Park opinions? If she married Erasmus Darwin in 1781, she would therefore have been known as Mrs. Darwin until her death in 1832.