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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Just enough to make one good sort of WOman

After all the interesting responses to my posts about Mary Bennet as an alter ego for Jane Austen herself, which I responded to in my immediately preceding blog posts, the most fruitful response in Janeites came from Elissa Schiff in Janeites:
"...What I find most disturbing is that Lizzie, in her own way, participates in this familial psychodrama. That Lizzie is the character we most identify with the alter-ego of our author makes this even more disturbing. With respect to Arnie's multi-tiered and nuanced interpretation of both Mary B. and the various people, ideas, etc. she represents for JA, there is much to be said for where this all leads. But I do not think the endpoint is as neat as you would have it be Arnie."

Elissa, thank you for your very interesting comments (and I enjoyed Christy's comments as well, I just like to be clear about the sequence of how ideas develop in conversation).

JA's (and Lizzy's) attitude toward Mary Bennet _is_ indeed the heart of the matter. And I claim that the only way P&P does not come across as a hopeless artistic muddle--half feminist & half anti-feminist, lurching back and forth--is to see Lizzy's unconscious hostility toward Mary as entirely intentional on JA's part. Indeed, it is a brilliant achievement on JA's part, and is the core of the shadow story of the novel--and now I see that Lizzy is even more like Emma, in her bewitching cluelessness, than even I had previously argued.

And MP comes in, to. Just as Fanny Price and Mary Crawford may be seen as two halves of a fractured female personality, so too can Mary and Lizzy Bennet. In each case, if you were to combine the best and healthiest of each half, you'd have one truly spectacular young woman in each instance.

And JA, so artfully, plants the seed of that very image of personality mix and match in our minds when she has Lizzy say, about Darcy and Wickham:

""This will not do," said Elizabeth; "you never will be able to make both of them good for anything. Take your choice, but you must be satisfied with only one. There is but such a quantity of merit between them; just enough to make one good sort of man; and of late it has been shifting about pretty much.

JA is whispering at the top of her lungs, I think, about the tragedy of women in her anti-female era who found it nearly impossible to develop into fully integrated healthy female personalities. Mary and Lizzy are each broken, but if they could only teach each other their own wisdom, then they could both become whole.

Elissa again: "Perhaps Mary is a complicated character - and represents an alter-ego of some aspects of the author, the energetically smart girl, the girl who reads a lot, who isn't considered terribly pretty or glamorous, who is put upon by her siblings, chided by her parents, and who gets angry and resentful at times over this. Certainly we have seen these aspects of JA from the letters. And yes, the name Mary may well be a call-out to "rebellious" protofeminist Mary W."

Yes, that is exactly what I claim.

"But it may also be a reference to Queen Mary, the bitter, jealous, and unfertile Queen, half-sister of Elizabeth I. "

Excellent, brilliant, I love it! That fits perfectly with, and richly extends, what I have been suggesting above, Mary and Lizzy each being complex mixtures of good and bad, each needing the other to be healed.

Plus....the allusion suggests a feminine power struggle in the Bennet family, but, instead of a bloody civil war on a national scale over religion, we have a domestic cold war over the best way for a young woman to achieve personal fulfillment.

And of course we have the extraordinarily provocative and suggestive parallel between two fathers with several daughters desperately obsessed with producing a male heir---Henry VIII and Mr. Bennet---the mind reels!

"Or, it may be just a name, for we know that in about half the cases names in JA's novels are indeed simply the commonly used names."

No, that is the one thing I am sure is _not_ the case! You just proved that, Elissa, because of the rich lode of allusive ore you just uncovered, which I will be mulling over the rest of today, because it seems so promising!

Cheers, ARNIE

Jane Austen the radical but covert feminist Part 268

My earlier post about Mary Bennet as Jane Austen's alter ego also prompted the following response from Christy Somer in Janeites:

[Christy] "I was just attempting to maneuver through the various (three in this post) "claims" you keep discovering your `treasures' in.~~~~:-) "

Christy, I'll make it very easy for you---the following part of my last post is my unequivocal bottom line about the depiction of Mary Bennet in P&P, and the parallel to the depiction of Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey:

"I suggest to you that there is one more turn of the ironic screw here, which is that while on the surface JA's narrator does seem scornful of Mary, that flipflops when you read the narrator as a reflection of Lizzy's subjective perceptions. Then what you have is Mary Bennet as JA's covert self portrait! JA has led the reader down the garden path, seeing if we will take the bait and join with the rest of the Bennet family in unjustly and at times cruelly scorning Mary, but hoping that we will struggle with our inner Mr. Bennet and instead realize that we've been guilty of a wrong first impression of Mary, and reconsider.

So we have a surface parody of Mary, but a veiled anti-parody which vindicates Mary (who I claim is named after Mary Wollstonecraft). And I claim exactly the same sort of anti-parody in Northanger Abbey which has a surface parody of Catherine, but a covert anti-parody which vindicates Catherine's keen perceptions."

And now, to paraphrase Lizzy Bennet, comment on that if you dare! ;)

[Nancy] "All the conduct books reminded the girls that modesty and humility were to be their beauty aids. Austen's readers would have know that and seen Mary as rudely seeking attention."

Nancy, I suggest that you actually make my point for me. It is clear to me for many reasons that JA felt nothing but scorn and contempt for such conduct books and their female-UNfriendly "advice" (which is really suppression in thin disguise).

I was just yesterday reading the following witty ditty written by Mary Wortley Montagu 44 years before JA was born, which sums up in two lines the gist of such "advice" to women:

"Be plain in Dress and sober in your Diet
In short my Dearee, kiss me, and be quiet."

So how ironic and sad that even Lizzy Bennet, who thrills us as readers when she so pluckily breaks the conduct-book rules which frown on a young woman assertively speaking out ("Upon my word," said her ladyship, "you give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person."), unwittingly channels those same books when they suppress _Mary's_ attempts at public artistic expression. Lizzy is a _totally_ unconscious hypocrite. Even though Lizzy does feel genuine empathy for Mary when Mr. Bennet maliciously "disconcerts" Mary, Lizzy, when push comes to shove, does not
understand the meaning of female solidarity. That is why Lizzy ignores the mysterious whisperer (who I claim is actually Mary) at Longbourn who whispers to Lizzy:

"The men shan't come and part us, I am determined. We want none of them; do we?"

By that time, Lizzy is so deep into Darcy that she is not even listening.

And this sad irony re artistic accomplishment is closely aligned with the treatment of intellectual accomplishment in P&P which I touched on yesterday, vis a vis extensive reading. Lizzy effortlessly dismantles Caroline Bennet's shallow anti-intellectualism, but then unwittingly acts Caroline's role vis a vis Mary, cavalierly dismissing Mary's genuine intellectual accomplishments (as I've written before, Mary's comments in the novel are actually based directly on the writings of Hume, Adam Smith, Wollstonecraft, and other intellectual titans) as a sterile, egotistical self indulgence and waste of time.

And finally, the parallel of Emma's jealousy of Jane to Lizzy's jealousy of Mary is a strong one, I claim. Lizzy, like Emma, as a musician, gets by on charm more than genuine artistic and intellectual accomplishment. And we all know that Emma loves to make long lists of books to read, but does not love to actually read those books.

Again, where Emma has Mr K to puncture her ego on these points, and force her to acknowledge Jane's genuine superiority, Lizzy has only Mr. Bennet who inflates her ego to an alarming degree, even as he cruelly crushes every one of Mary's attempts to fly.

And finally, the parallel to JA in real life, as reflected in JA's late 1798 letters we've been discussing the past 2 months, is also quite striking.

In short, all of the above is prime evidence of Jane Austen the radical but covert feminist.

Cheers, ARNIE

Lady Catherine & Mary Bennet on piano playing

My earlier post about Mary Bennet as an alter ego for Jane Austen triggered the following response from Elissa Schiff in Janeites: " Interesting that both Mary Bennett and Lady Catherine both consider themselves "great proficients" at playing the pianoforte."

I responded thusly:

The connection via classical piano playing is interesting, but there is a big
difference between Lady C and Mary.

Here is Lady C: "Of music! Then pray speak aloud. It is of all subjects my delight. I must have my share in the conversation if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient ...pray tell [Georgiana] from me, that she cannot expect to excel if she does not practise a great deal...I assure It cannot be done too much; and when I next write to her, I shall charge her not to neglect it on any account. I often tell young ladies that no excellence in music is to be acquired without constant practice. I have told Miss Bennet several times that she will never play really well unless she practices more...."

So lady C claims a Hypothetical proficiency at piano-playing, which is the ultimate narcissism.

What about Mary?

In contrast, As far as I recall, she never boasts about her piano playing, but we know she is a very serious student, who not only practices technique, but also studies music theory (thorough bass), which indicates a very high level of commitment to developing her talent.

So who is to say that Mary has an overinflated egotistical sense of her own musical ability? What we can safely say is that Lizzy does not like it when Mary plays--but could it be that Lizzy has no Mr. K around to suggest to her that she is perhaps jealous of a more practiced and talented performer?

"[Lizzy's] performance was pleasing, though by no means capital. After a song or two, and before she could reply to the entreaties of several that she would sing again, she was eagerly succeeded at the instrument by her sister Mary, who having, in consequence of being the only plain one in the family, worked hard for knowledge and accomplishments, was always impatient for display. Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than she had reached. Elizabeth, easy and unaffected, had been listened to with much more pleasure, though not playing half so well; and Mary, at the end of a long concerto, was glad to purchase praise and gratitude by Scotch and Irish airs, at the request of her younger sisters, who, with some of the Lucases, and two or three officers, joined eagerly in dancing at one end of the room. "

Just as with the narrative description of Mary's whisperings to Lizzy, the above passage may plausibly be read as Lizzy's very jaundiced and jealous and self-serving negative attitude toward Mary's piano playing.

It may well be that the provincial tastes which prevail at Longbourn do _not_ appreciate truly superior musicianship, but instead see it as vanity and lacking taste.

And it is Lizzy again who later asks her father to make Mary stop playing, which (as I posted a while ago) "disconcerts" Mary both literally and figuratively.

I cannot recall any point where Mary boasts about her playing, but she does seek public recognition.

And I say, what's wrong with that?


P.S.: The above post led to further discussion in Janeites, which I will post another blog entry for shortly.

P.S re Jane Austen's mysterious adverttisement for Northanger Abbey

In response to my above captioned post, Nancy Mayer, in Janeites, challenged my claims regarding Henry Austen: "I don't think Henry is being anything except a devastated brother..I acquit Henry of deliberately foisting a false picture of his sister onto the public. If he had been as perceptive as Arnie about what she was rteally saying, he never would have published the last two novels and would have dine his best to see that the others were destroyed and never published again."

I responded thusly:

I am glad to clarify my thoughts about Henry--I believe she had a very different relationship with each brother, and I believe her relationship with Henry was the most complex and paradoxical.

On the one hand, I think he was the most mercurial, sly, and artistic of all her brothers, and therefore the most likely to have been aware of her shadow stories. And he was the London brother, the one who opened up that decadent Byronic world of
literati and glitterati to Jane. And it's no accident that Eliza, with her own large and complex personality, chose _him_ and not James, as her second husband.

But the analogy to Mansfield Park shows that JA knew her brothers well. Mary Crawford (a representation, in part, of Eliza Hancock de Feuillide Austen) is much more in her own milieu with mercurial brother Henry (representing Henry Austen) than with clergyman Edmund Bertram (representing James Austen).

Anyway, that is why JA and Henry were on a similar wavelength in some important ways, but.....I also think that JA's inner Fanny Price could not approve of brother Henry's alarming amorality, his lack of a strong moral compass.

And so I see Henry as making up a Big Lie about his recently dead sister, in a shrewd opportunistic way, judging (perhaps correctly) that it was the only way to get NA and Persuasion published quickly.

I think it was James and Edward who would have been just as happy if sister Jane's embarrassing writing, which skewered them and their wives so bitingly, had simply faded away.


Jane Austen's mysterious adverttisement for Northanger Abbey

In Austen L and Janeites, Anielka Briggs wrote: "I'm reading the writings as we read the letters and have become entranced by Northanger Abbey and what we know of it as it is supposed to be Austen's earliest work. "

I have been entranced with Northanger Abbey (NA) to an alarming degree for about 2 years now, ever since I realized that Mrs. Tilney's mysterious fatal fever is childbed fever in the shadow story of the novel. And so I took the opportunity to respond to Anielka's comments thusly:

Anielka, "supposed to be" are the operative words. Actually none of the published novels is really an early work, because I believe she extensively rewrote not only S&S and P&P after the age of 35, but also NA. My research has taught me that they are all mature works, all reflecting fully finished and coherent shadow stories, all deploying all the same techniques of hiding in plain sight.

Anielka again: "It was originally called "Susan". Loads of changes must have been made! Going through every age and crossing out "Susan" and replacing it with 'Catherine' for a start! And then there' the fact that the mangled quote was taken from Egerton Brydges work of 1807. "

A great deal has been written on the subject of the speculated changes JA made over the years, but my book will give what I claim will be the most complete and compelling explanation. Knowing the shadow story is the key to understanding the changes she would gave made, particularly in regard to the characters of General and Mrs. Tilney.

Anielka again: "What on earth is the purpose of that advertisement? An advertisement that mentions an advertisement for a book that was never published? Not much of an advertisement. And why would I as a reader need to know that certain opinions had changed in thirteen years?"

I believe that once she had achieved her latest success with Emma, she did hope to live to see NA published as well. My guess is that Murray for whatever (bad) reason had turned NA down, to her surprise, and that was why she wrote what she did to Fanny in 1816. But I don't think she ever gave up hope, because she knew NA was equal to the 4 other already published masterpieces.

My best guess is that she realized that the feminism was too close to the surface in NA, and so she realized she might have to wait a long time till the intellectual climate in England might shift and be receptive to that feminism. She must have loved the feminism of NA so much, it was so personal a statement of her core values as a feminist, that she could not even consider rewriting it-- the surgery would have killed the "patient"!

After her death, Henry solved that marketing problem in his usual manipulative, amoral way by writing that absurd Biographical Notice, creating the myth of dear, sweet, unthreatening, little Aunt Jane, something JA obviously refused to do.--but she was now "mouldering" in the grave, and could not stop Henry from doing that.

And I guess we should be grateful, because god forbid NA and Persuasion might somehow have not gotten published and somehow might have gotten lost.

Anielka one last time: " Why change the name?"

You who are so aware of her allusive ways should know that answer already. Because her character names were always significant, usually in multiple ways, and she had since 1809 learned some history which made the heroine's new name much more interesting on multiple levels.

In my address to the JASNA AGM last November, I explained the significance of the surname Morland for the death in childbirth shadow story theme in NA--it is spectacular in its hiding in plain sight aspects, even for JA.


Jane Austen's Pleasure in Many Things and Mary Bennet's Whispers

And this was the post of mine in Janeites that preceded the one I just posted here a moment ago, in which I responded to a very interesting post in Janeites by Diana Birchall on the topic of Jane Austen's personality, in particular on the question asked by some as to whether Jane Austen was "always angry".

As usual, an interesting (and wide) range of opinion expressed by Diana, and those who've responded to her this morning, re: JA's personality (and it would be even more interesting, if even a few more folks would join in!).

I mostly agree with Diana's seeing JA's personality as a balanced one, and I wish to expand on what I think is Diana's sharpest observation:

"I think the key to that question is the word "mostly." I don't think she had a dark and depressive nature. I'm sure she did feel every one of those things at various times; but her sanity, balance and humor kept her from sinking into habitual misery. "

Because of my own harping on the darker side of her letters, in terms of veiled (and sometimes not so veiled) expressions of anger, frustration, contempt, cynicism vis a vis the behavior of family and friends, I have often noted that some misunderstand me to be claiming that JA was _always_ angry, frustrated, contemptuous and/or cynical.

That is _not_ how I see Jane Austen, not at all. I harp on these alternative readings because they have been neglected for 2 centuries, and I want to give them their proper place in the sun in Austen-related discussions. But they are not _all_ that JA was about as a writer or as a person.

Yes, I do think was a permanent stance that JA adopted early on, as that of social and psychological critic vis a vis the people in her life. She was filling a void, because others around her were not expressing such views, and as a result, I perceive that she regularly expressed her negative feelings when she felt justified.

And I am completely convinced that she saw her writing as her calling, a sacred duty to tell the truth as she saw it, to pierce the stupidity, hypocrisy, and foolishness of "common sense" in a misogynistic society.

But...even prophets take time off from their ministry, and enjoy themselves, and there is no question in my mind that JA enjoyed her good times when she had them--the exhilaration expressed in her Emma-era letters, written while living her dream in London, finally getting the recognition she had been struggling to achieve for 25 years, is palpable. We see Jane Austen high on life, little realizing that death lurks around the corner to prevent her from living to enjoy the fruits of her labors.

And one more point about the idea of "mostly" as opposed to "totally", when talking about a person's personality or behavior. Among the manifold targets of JA's irony in P&P is the very common human silliness of exaggeration in how we characterize other people who behave in ways that unsettle us (something that JA, the sharp poker, did to many people she met).

Look at how Caroline Bingley engages in this, when she, being a person who has never developed her own mind by extensive reading, is unnerved by seeing Lizzy (gasp!) reading one book:

"Miss Eliza Bennet," said Miss Bingley, "despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else."

Caroline's exaggeration betrays her own insecurity. She finds the idea of Lizzy reading even _one_ book so troubling, in vivid contrast to her own _never_ being seen with a book in hand in a group setting, that her psychic defenses kick in immediately. She paints a caricature of Lizzy as a grotesque nerd who _always_ hates having fun with less intellectual pursuits. This caricature is an unconscious attempt to reduce the anxiety Caroline feels over her own lack of intellectual achievement.

But Lizzy, in her usual quick charming epigrammatic way, utterly undoes Caroline's absurd exaggeration in a single sentence:

"I deserve neither such praise nor such censure," cried Elizabeth; "I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things." is where JA's deeper layer of irony kicks in---Lizzy fails to realize that she herself is guilty, in a more complicated way, of exactly the same offense as Caroline Bingley, in her own misjudgment of sister Mary! Lizzy, unwittingly aping her father's own misogyny toward Mary, can only see Mary as a nerd who always has her nose buried in a book, but who fails to derive wisdom from her reading.

As I have written on numerous occasions during the past year, and also spoke about at the recent Austenmania event at FIU, Mary Bennet is actually a veiled self-portrait by Jane Austen, her way of skewering those around her who looked at her (JA's) bookishness and judged it to be nerdy sanctimoniousness.

If Lizzy had taken the trouble to find out what sister Mary has actually been reading, and had actually listened to her sister, she would have been shocked to learn that Mary understood Lizzy's life a lot better than Lizzy did herself!

And because Lizzy's enduring impression of Mary is so offbase, so too is that of most Janeites--and this misjudgment is epitomized in the way all the film adaptations of P&P depict Mary as preaching to the entire Bennet family about the brittleness of female reputation, when actually Mary _whispers_ this warning to Lizzy, because Mary is not talking about Lydia's reputation, but Lizzy's......

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: The above post by me led to an even more interesting thread of conversation with various folks, which I will post highlights from later today.

More about Mary Bennet as Jane Austen's alter ego

During the past few months, I have written on several occasions about Mary Benet as a veiled self-portrait by Jane Austen. I recently rekindled that topic in Janeites, and it led to an interesting thread which I will give the highlights of, below.

First, Nancy Mayer questioned my claim that Mary Bennet whispers her most famous speech about the brittleness of female reputation to Elizabeth, and does not blare her opinion to the entire Bennet family:

[Nancy]: "Mary whispers once. The other times she speaks out."

Here's the actual text, which is clear that Mary whispers and then "added" and "continued", which I believe is most fairly read as _also_ being whispers. As for the narrative judgments on Mary's speaking, they can either be read as objective (as you read them) or as strongly colored by Lizzy's _subjective_ thoughts about Mary (as I claim is a valid and plausible _alternative_ reading):

"As for Mary, she was mistress enough of herself to _whisper_ to Elizabeth, with a countenance of grave reflection, soon after they were seated at table -- "This is a most unfortunate affair; and will probably be much talked of. But we must stem the tide of malice, and pour into the wounded bosoms of each other the balm of sisterly consolation."

Then, perceiving in Elizabeth no inclination of replying, she added, "Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable -- that one false step involves her in endless ruin -- that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful -- and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex."

Elizabeth lifted up her eyes in amazement, but was too much oppressed to make any reply. Mary, however, continued to console herself with such kind of moral extractions from the evil before them."

Lizzy _feels_ like she is being oppressed by Mary, and that Mary is narcissistically indulging in preaching, but what if that is not what Mary is doing at all, but is only one more misjudgment of people by Lizzy? She certainly spends most of the novel misjudging others.

I see a perfectly valid alternative reading in which Mary warns Lizzy against Lizzy's hubris in thinking herself so different from Lydia, but actually being in danger of unwittingly following Lydia's example, by being vulnerable to seduction. After all, Wickham had Lizzy wrapped around his finger, until _he_ abandoned _her_ to go after Miss King. It was not Lizzy who saw Wickham for who he was. And Aunt Gardiner warns Lizzy too--Mary is being a concerned proactive sister here, telling Lizzy what she does not want to listen to...but should.

Maybe Mary, like Charlotte, foresees what is coming between Lizzy and Darcy, and is worried for her sister.

Cheers, ARNIE

James, George, Edward, Henry, William and Charles & John: the history of England's Kings

I think you see where I am going with this. Correct me if I am wrong, but the 6
Austen brothers collectively, either as Christian or middle names, were apparently
named for all the English kings during the 750 years following the Norman Conquest
_other than_ Stephen and the three Richards.

Perhaps that is part of the reason for JA's famous but mysterious stated aversion to
the name Richard, I.e., she was having a little fun with her parents's apparent
obsession with naming their sons after English kings, but avoiding the most
notorious regal name, thanks to Richard III.

When I posted the above in Janeites, I received the following very interesting response from Derrick Leigh:

"Stephen and the three Richards did not produce children who inherited the
throne. In that respect all the others were more fortunate names."

It seems to me not impossible that the literarily-inclined parents of Jane Austen might have actually taken those very factors into account.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Inheritance Tilney Style, Part Two

As a follow to my post yesterday under the same Subject Line, if you enjoyed that one, you will enjoy these even more:

First I woke up today speculating that there might be a connection between the real life Elizabeth Tilney who was the daughter of Sir Frederick Tilney and the granddaughter of Isabel Thorp, and the very famous Edmund Tilney, Queen Elizabeth's Master of the Revels, who was portrayed by Simon Callow in Shakespeare in Love.

Here is Wikipedia detailing how the famous Edmund Tilney was the only son of Elizabeth Tilney's cousin:

"Edmund Tilney was the only son of Philip Tilney (d.1541), Usher of the Privy Chamber to King Henry VIII, and Malyn Chambre. Edmund Tilney's father, Philip, was a younger son of Sir Philip Tilney of Shelley (d.1533), treasurer during the Scottish wars under the command of the Duke of Norfolk. Norfolk's first wife was Sir Philip Tilney's cousin, Elizabeth Tilney; after Elizabeth died in 1547, Norfolk married Sir Philip Tilney's sister, Agnes, later Dowager Duchess of Norfolk."

Why should a Janeite care about these connections? Because the real life Edmund Tilney was not only QE1's Master of the Revels, he was also the author of _A Brief And Pleasaunt Discourse Of Duties in Mariage_, a lively male/female verbal joust about the rights of women in marriage, and their supposed duty of obedience. As I explained in my talk at the JASNA AGM in November, 2010, there is an unmistakable allusion to Edmund Tilney's famous Discourse in the witty and profound banter between Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland riffing on the metaphor between dance and marriage.

And as icing on the cake of this complex web of veiled historical and literary allusion in Northanger Abbey (which once again is shown, for all its apparent lightness, to be extremely dense with literary and historical allusions), here is one additional factoid that draws the web of allusion even more tightly.

Here is the essential poop on a real life _John de Thorp_ who was the great uncle of Isabel Thorp who married Sir Frederick Tilney. I found it in the 1844 book A supplement to The Suffolk traveller by Augustine Page & John Kirby:

P. 398: "The manor called Horham Thorpe Hall...was in the family of Thorpe, of Ashwell Thorp, in Norfolk. Robert Fitz John de Thorp, Baron of the Exchequer in the time of Henry III [sired] John de Thorpe_ [who] settled these manors...on Alice, his 2nd wife... Robert Fitz John de Thorp, their eldest son, died seized of Horham and Hoxne manors, in the 4th of Edward III; and John, son of Robert, held at his death, the 11th of that King, half the manor of Horham.... He, dying without issue, was succeeded by his brother, Edmund de Thorpe; who married Joan, daughter of Robert Baynard, and in 1380, made a settlement of these manors, and died in 1393. Joan, his widow, held them for her life; and on her death, in 1399, Sir Edmund de Thorpe, their eldest son, succeeded to the reversion of Horham cum Stradbrook, Wotton, and other manors, which were held for life by his brother Robert.

This Sir Edmund was killed in Normandy, and left by his wife, Joan, Lady Scales, two daughters, his co-heiresses; the [younger] Isabel, married to Philip Tilney, of Boston, Esq.; in whom, on failure of issue of Joan, the estate vested. From Frederick Tilney, Esq., their eldest son, they came, through his only daughter and heir, Elizabeth (married to Sir Humphrey Bouchier, Knt., and afterwards to Thomas, Duke of Norfolk), to Sir John Bouchier, Lord Berners...The mansion of Thorp Hall (now a farm house), and demesnes, are the property of...Alexander Donovan, Esq. ..."

Cheers, ARNIE

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Inheritance Tilney Style

(I don't recall anyone previously spotting the following choice tidbit in Janeites, Austen L or in any scholarly source. Here is an excerpt from an 1853 book entitled _The royal descent of Nelson and Wellington_ by George Russell French:

"The Earl of Surrey, who was...created Duke of Norfolk after the battle of Flodden Field, had for his first wife, Elizabeth, widow of Lord Berners, daughter and sole heir of Sir Frederick Tilney, the last of a long and illustrious line of knightly ancestors, of whom we find honourable mention in Fuller's Worthies, ....a companion in arms of Coeur de-Lion.... Blomefield states that Sir Frederick Tilney... "inherited all the Thorps," through the marriage of his father Sir Philip Tilney with Isabel, daughter and co-heir of Sir Edmund de Thorp. By Elizabeth Tilney the Earl of Surrey, or, as he afterwards ranked, the Duke of Norfolk, had several
children... the third son was Sir Edmund Howard... afterwards Lord Edmund, was the father of Catherine Howard, who became the fifth Queen-consort of Henry the Eighth..."

It cannot but delight a Janeite heart to know that the "ignorant and prejudiced historian" who as a teenager wrote her own brilliantly absurdist version of The History of England, later subtly carried on her own subversive historical tradition by slyly alluding, in Northanger Abbey, to a real life soldier Frederick Tilney whose (perhaps greedy) soldier father married a rich heiress named Isabel Thorp and thereby came into a rich inheritance, and who was the ancestor of a Queen of England.

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, March 24, 2011

For want of a (horseshoe) nail......

As a followup to my two seemingly unrelated posts yesterday, regarding Warren Hastings and Edward Austen Knight's lucky horseshoe nail, I respond, below, to a reply from Derrick Leigh in the Janeites group which connected them in an unexpected and interesting way:

[Derrick] "Daylesford was connected to the Hastings family from around 1166, and was sold to Jacob Knight of Westbury, Gloucestershire in 1715. It was bought back from the Knights, and reconstruction there was complete by 1798. It's quite an impressive estate. I don't know of any connection with the Chawton Knights, but it all sounds very Knightley. "

It does sound like the kind of massive rehab that Knightley appears to have been supervising for some time at Donwell Abbey (remember the road to nowhere that Emma admires from a distance).

[Derrick] "Didn't knights have a use for horseshoes?"

Especially in situations like this:

"It was now the middle of June, and the weather fine; and Mrs. Elton was growing impatient to name the day, and settle with Mr. Weston as to pigeon-pies and cold _lamb_, when a _lame carriage-horse_ threw every thing into sad uncertainty. It might be weeks, it might be only a few days, before the horse were useable, but no preparations could be ventured on, and it was all melancholy stagnation."

And maybe it was the lucky application of a new horseshoe nail that led to the following:

"In the meanwhile the lame horse recovered so fast, that the party to Box Hill was again under happy consideration..."

Before that suspiciously lucky turn of events, perhaps we might even have heard Knightley mutter, "A horse, a horse, my party for a horse!"

Which might have caused Mr. Woodhouse to recall a few lines from the Richardian proverb:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail./


And segueing smoothly from Warren Hastings and the Donwell Abbey alfresco party back to the questions raised by Jane Odiwe which were brought to our collective attention yesterday regarding alleged sightings of horseshoe nails in two Austen family portraits.....

I thank Jane Odiwe for sending me two enlarged images of those two portraits, so I was able to take a much closer look at those two images (of the "bunch of grapes" family portrait and Edward Austen Knight's Chawton House portrait) and I now revise my earlier comments as follows:

In the "bunch of grapes" picture, I now can see a horizontal line about the length of the little girl's pinky, sticking out from her left hand, just above her thumb. The line is very straight and has a small bulge at the end--What it is is still unclear--but if it is not a slit in the canvas, then it must be something intentionally placed there by the portraitist, and a horseshoe nail (if they were about about an inch in length) would be as good a guess as any, except....that it would have to be a _magic_ nail, because the little girl is not holding it, so it must be floating in the air next to her hand in defiance of gravity. But perhaps that is exactly what the artist intended?

As for the Edward Austen Knight portrait, in the blowup, there is _unquestionably_ a small object which, to my eye, does indeed look exactly like a nail with a head, as has been claimed.

So......I am "there" regarding the nail in Edward's portrait, but am agnostic about the nail in the 1781 family portrait. ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Warren Hastings and Frank Churchill

I have just read the following interesting account of the early life of Warren Hastings in the book by Gideon Polya which I cited a few months ago when I wrote a series of posts about Warren Hastings vis a vis Phila & Eliza Hancock:

"Hastings (1732-1818) came from an old landed family dating back to William the Conqueror. His mother died giving birth to him at Churchill and his father disappeared after leaving Warren and his sister Anne in care of a village foster mother Mary Ellis. The father, Penyston Hastings, a clergyman, remarried two further times, firstly to the daughter of a tradesman and then to a lady in Barbados, where he died. The grandfather, Penyston Hastings, was the rector of Daylesford. The family home Daylesford had been sold by Warren's greatgrandfather in 1715, and it was subsequently demolished. His childhood was spent in his grandfather's home in the care of his aunt Elizabeth Hastings and he was aware of the Daylesford lands that he dreamed in his youth might one day return to him..."

I had previously noted the striking resonances between Hastings and Colonel Brandon, but had never realized that there is a great deal of resonance as well between Hastings and Frank Churchill.

First, Churchill is the name of the village where Hastings was born.

Second, each one's mother died when he was very young.

Third, each one's biological father survived but did not raise him, and instead and fourth, left him to be raised by his aunt.

Fifth each had a great estate in his family history which he eventually became owner of.

And perhaps a sixth is to be found in the following seemingly trivial description of Frank Churchill's itinerary upon his first return to Highbury, which may be a veiled description of Hastings's very early childhood foster mother, and also of his strong lifelong nostalgia for Daylesford:

"Some of the objects of his curiosity spoke very amiable feelings. He begged to be shewn the house which his father had lived in so long, and which had been the home of his father's father; and on recollecting that an old woman who had nursed him was still living, walked in quest of her cottage from one end of the street to the other..."

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: You can search in this blog to read any or all of my previous posts about Warren Hastings.

Bunch of Grapes: the alleged 1781 Austen family portrait

The following is my first reaction to the following interesting blogpost:

Let me start by saying that I would love to think that this portrait is of the Austen family. However, I have a couple of problems. First, I’ve zoomed in on the portrait image, and I see nothing in the little girl’s left hand, just the five fingers of her open hand grasping toward the bunch of grapes (but as previously noted by someone in this current thread, being restrained by her elder sister). And the little girl’s right hand is on the table, next to something that vaguely resembles an actual horseshoe, but surely is not.

So where is the horseshoe nail supposed to be?

Second, I see nothing on the ground pointing to Edward Austen’s feet in his famous portrait (which I saw myself at Chawton House). I looked at the closeup on his feet, and I don’t see any nail. What am I missing?

As for the symbolism of the bunch of grapes held aloft by the boy, I strongly agree with the symbolic interpretation made by Mr. Roberts, whoever that boy is, the portrait does seem to be an allegorical depiction of his good fortune.

To that interpretation I add the following:

In Numbers, Chapter 13,prior to the entry by the Israelites into Canaan, Moses, as commanded by God, sends spies from every one of the tribes to go into Canaan and check it out in every way, including to see where good food might be found. In verses 23 & 24, we then read:

“And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs. The place was called the brook Eshcol, because of the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut down from thence.”

So there is in those Biblical verses, as in Herbert’s 16^th century pre-Shakespeare poem, the notion of abundance being discovered. In that same vein we might see Edward Austen as the “spy” sent by Moses, i.e., Revd. Austen, into “Canaan”, i.e., the world of English aristocratic wealth, which for Edward certainly (and eventually and much lessremuneratively, for the Austen women) was a promised land of milk and honey.

Of course, I think that JA saw Edward as a grown man as a Pharoah, and herself as one of the enslaved Israelites, but that is another story.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: And I am sure it is just a very curious coincidence that in the completion of Sanditon by “Another lady”, we find the following passage right after JA’s fragment ends:

“[Charlotte, the heroine] moved her eyes to Clara [Brereton, the mysterious Jane Fairfaxian character] and saw that, with an air of indifference towards Sir Edward [Denham, the Frank Churchillian character], she was entertaining little Mary and helping her to a bunch of /grapes/. Charlotte had observed this studied lack of interest in Sir Edward….”

P.P.S:And for the heck of it, I mention also that The Bunch of Grapes is the name of Mistress Overdone’s brothel in Measure for Measure, which is the subject of conversation in the drolly comic scene in which a complaint is made to the local magistrate against a man named Froth by a goofy guy named Elbow, alleging that Froth had committed some sort of assault against the very pregnant Mrs. Elbow, in a fracas arising out of a dispute over some stewed prunes. Does this suggest that the painting also carries _that_ allegorical significance, e.g., raising a question as to the boy's legitimacy? That is another question entirely.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hanging Jane Austen

Diana Birchall wrote the following about Jane Austen's predilection for referring to hanging in her letters:

"It's in context there, but what about all the other numerous timesJane Austen uses the phrase in her letters?Most of them have nothing atall to do with the sea. It really is a joke she makes all the time, and throughout her life. She seems to find hanging so extreme as to be grotesquely funny.Here are a few, I haven't time to look up more, butit's clear she doesn't only use the expression in a seagoing context.It'snot a ladylike thing to say, of course, and she doesn't use it in any of thenovels. Odd, therefore, that she uses it not just in family correspondence, but also to Stanier Clarke."

I think that JA was well aware of _both_ the common practice of hanging sailors at sea as well as the equally common practice of hanging all sorts of petty criminals on dry land.

As I am sure you know, Susannah Fullerton has a whole chapter in _JA and Crime_ on the topic of hanging in JA’s era, in particular the imposition of capital punishment by hanging for all sorts of acts which today would be misdemeanors, and also the leaving of hung highwaymen on roads that everyone had to ride by when travelling. Fullerton mentions the hanging of Sukey in the Juvenilia Jack & Alice, and also the passing reference in the Sanditon fragment to the family of a man recently hung at the York Assizes--that spans JA’s entire writing career.

And she also points out that the court records in Highbury recording the judicial decisions of a magistrate like Mr. Knightley would, by the age of 37, have contained a "long footnote" on the large number of petty criminals he would by then have condemned to hang by the neck until dead.

There are three more references to hanging in her letters in addition to those that Diana listed. I note that JA refers to hanging both in a suicidal sense and also in the punitive sense we see in the letter to Clarke, but also in another 1816 letter, this one to nephew JEAL.

The one in the Clarke letter is the most interesting, because it does seems _so_ out of place in a letter to the Prince's librarian. I assert that this dicey reference is entirely deliberate on her part, it goes with her comment two sentences earlier about "saving her life", and it reflects the audaciousness of her satire of Clarke in her correspondence with him, and also her satire of the PR in Emma itself: in the faux praise of the Dedication, in the "Prince of Whales" secret answer to Mr. Elton's charade, and also in the shadow story of the novel as a whole.

What makes this satire so audacious is that it might have alerted even the clueless Clarke that she was putting him and his boss on in a massive way--mocking them outrageously. I have claimed since 2006 that JA asked brother Henry to set bait, via his London connections, to lure Clarke to her so that she would be asked to dedicate Emma to the PR. But if the Prince of Whales secret answer had been discovered----then she really was in danger, if not of being hung, of at least suffering imprisonment as Leigh Hunt did for a single sharply critical editorial about the PR.

JA was pushing the envelope, almost flaunting her contempt for Clarke and the PR, but also believing (correctly, as it turned out) that she was protected by their own macho obliviousness, taking her faux humility as sincere. If they had been perceptive, they would have realized how much JA was treating them as objects of amused derision in exactly the same way that Mr. Bennet treats Mr. Collins--her correspondence with Clarke eggs him on, plays to his vanity, and drives him to even greater heights of absurdity in his further replies.

But back to JA's "tic" on the idea of hanging. I also think that JA enjoyed, in her letters, letting her inner Falstaff loose, and it is no accident that Henry IV, Parts 1&2 is filled with references to hanging for theft, and as exclamations like “go hang”, particularly among Falstaff and his disreputable crew.I also think she’d have taken note of the following ribald ditty sung by the drunken Stephano in The Tempest

The master, the swabber, the boatswain and I, The gunner, and his mate, Lov'd Mall, Meg, and Marian, and Margery, But none of as car'd for Kate: For she had a tongue with a tang, Would cry to a sailor, Go, hang: She lov'd not the savour of tar nor of pitch, Yet a tailor might scratch her where'er she did itch .- Then to sea, boys, and let her go hang.

"For she...would cry to a _sailor_, Go, hang" sounds very much like what Ellen is saying.

And the ribaldry of Stephano's song corresponds closely with JA’s playing with the sexual connotations of the word “hung” and “hang” in her novels---which, as Jill Heydt Stevenson first described, permeate Mr. Thorpe’s boasting about the hangings on his curricles, and also the discussions about “well hung” curtains which point indirectly to Captain Wentworth’s virile masculinity. By the way, JHS failed to note the following additional passage which is the other side of the coin of that same veiled sexual innuendo in Persuasion:

“[Sir Walter] did justice to [Mr. Elliot’s] very gentlemanlike appearance, his air of elegance and fashion, his good shaped face, his sensible eye; but, at the same time, "must lament his being very much under-HUNG, a defect which time seemed to have increased; nor could he pretend to say that ten years had not altered almost every feature for the worse.”

I was puzzled as to what Sir Walter was referring to, but Google Books quickly taught me that “under-hung” was referring to Mr. Elliot’s protruding lower jaw. That is the “cover story” for the sexual innuendo, in which “under-hung” is the opposite of “well-hung”.

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Frightened childbearing mothers in JA's Letter 10 and Richard III

(for those of you who follow this blog, who might wonder at my sudden silence after so many months of more or less continuous posting here, I have been much engaged in a very unexpected and yet very fruitful line of literary sleuthing, which has greatly enhanced the depth and beauty of the discoveries I've previously described here, and I hope to bring something to public view within the near future to show what I've been up to. In the meantime, I encourage you to browse in my blog and look at any of the hundreds of prior posts in this blog, as a number of you seem to be doing recently, for which I thank you! But I do have a new tidbit today...)

Here is what Lady Ann says in grieving soliloquy over the corpse of Henry VI (freshly murdered by Richard III at a crucial stage in the War of the Roses), little realizing that the "ugly and unnatural" Richard will deploy all his charm in seducing her very shortly thereafter:

If ever [Richard] have child, abortive be it,
Prodigious, and untimely brought to light,
Whose ugly and unnatural aspect
May _fright_ the hopeful mother at the view;
And that be heir to his unhappiness!
If ever he have wife, let her he made
A miserable by the death of him
As I am made by my poor lord and thee!

As I was just reading the above passage, I could not help but be reminded of the following passage in JA's Letter 10 which raised such strong reactions during our discussions of Letter 10 a month ago:

"Mrs. Hall of Sherbourn was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, oweing to a _fright_.--I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband."

This parallelism in the notion of a husband's ugliness or a child's ugliness causing a severe fright to the mother of that child, suggests to me that JA, who was, I believe, already very familiar with Richard III, thought Revd. Hall was not the handsomest man in the world. But more important, it also suggests to me that JA was thinking of Richard III's Lady Ann as a symbol of every Englishwoman, who, because of the combination of poor education for women, plus the legally and socially inferior status of women, was vulnerable to the "charms" even of a Richard III or a Revd. Hall.

I think this can help explain the shocking quality of JA's wit in this instance--if it is a coded allusion shared between literarily sophisticated sisters, then there is some context for what otherwise seems to some to be a cruel eruption of malice.

And incidentally, it also suggests a plausible explanation for JA's famous mysterious comments about "Richard" being a terrible name--I am sure that Richard III, the scheming chameleon who charms his audience into complicity with his horrible crimes, was a literary character who triggered in JA the same reaction she described herself as having to another male character of that same type in Letter dated Sept. 15, 1813:

"Fanny and the two little girls... revelled last night in Don Juan, whom we left in hell at half-past eleven. ... The girls... still prefer Don Juan; and I must say that I have seen nobody on the stage who has been a more interesting character than that compound of cruelty and lust."

While on the outside Don Juan was handsome, and Richard was deformed, they both shared a disturbing power over women, and so such description of "compound of cruelty and lust" perfectly fits Richard III as well!

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The OED won't tell you that Mary Bennet read Adam Smith

A comment I made about the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) being an anachronism....

"If you use Google Books to read books from JA's era, you can go directly to the source, and bypass the OED, a 20th century tool"

...led Diana Birchall to ask the following:

"That's interesting, Arnie. I've always used the OED...[but] if it is no longer the thing for JA research, I'm very intrigued to know more about your method! I notice you are consulting an 1822 glossary by David Nares. Is this your main source, or have you other favorites? How
do you find them?"

I am happy to answer you publicly, Diana.

I will intersperse Nancy Mayer's answer with my own additional comments:

[Nancy] "Google Books is fantastic for finding books published within 5 years of Jane Austen's birth and death."

When my son Henry first made me aware of Google Books in 2006, it revolutinized my research, because it removed the middleman, i.e., sources like the OED--you could simply enter search words and see what came up. I have never stopped using it, I use it every single day.

The "advanced search" function allows you to search in specific date ranges, beginning (appropriately for Janeites) in 1776, and for exact phrases, and to omit certain words, etc--so you can be very precise in seeking material out, and not having to wade through thousands of "hits" to find what you suspect might be there.

So when I got the idea that "nidgetty" might be based on the word "nidget", it took me about 5 minutes to ascertain what a nidget was on a farm, to look at an image of one, and to see who had written about nidgets in JA's era. That is how I found that 1822 book, it was one of
the "hits" for the word "nidget" from that era!

[Nancy] "One has to double check, of course, that a book supposedly dated 1805 isn't really 1865. Books published before 1811 usually have the long s (sort of like f). Also, even if Google dates a book as 1808, it might be 1888 if Queen Victoria or the married woman's property act is mentioned."

Yes, I learned that early as well, i.e., that Google Books regularly produces "hits" which turn out to be outside the date range, especially with volumes of periodicals. So I always check the front of the book to see the actual printed date (it also gives a lot of practice in reading Roman numerals!).

"Even if I grant that she was one who had a compulsion to read just about everything that came her way-- I don't have to agree that she knew everything or read everything."

I have a perfect example, Nancy--the other night, I gave my brief talk at the local Austenmania event that was put on at Florida International University, about Mary Bennet as an alter ego for Jane Austen, and one of my strongest points was quoting from parallel passages from Mary's speeches and from Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations, to show that Mary Bennet is actually voicing a strong critique of the allure of wealth to those who are not wealthy, i.e., a veiled warning to Elizabeth Bennet to be careful not to be seduced by the grandeur of Pemberley.

And there are other famous sources in addition to Smith that JA shows us as having been read by Mary Bennet.

So, I _always_ back up my claims that JA read various sources with actual textual parallels which make it very probable that JA read these sources, and was pointing to them by these parallelisms.

Cheers, ARNIE

Letter 14 Miscellany

Some further miscellaneous comments on Jane Austen's Letter 14 written when she was 23:

"Charles begins to feel the Dignity of Ill Usage" --- I detect in this comment JA's in effect saying about Charles: "Welcome to the club!" I.e., this is the sort of INdignity, of having to constantly beg for favors, which unmarried sisters have to endure every day of their lives, such as CEA having to beg for a ride home to Steventon after being trapped interminably at Godmersham! Perhaps Charles, in his kind but clueless way, has previously not really grasped this concept previously, but now JA suggests that Charles will know what it feels like on his own skin to be beholden to the caprice of men who have power over your life!

In exactly this same vein, the following usage of that identical mocking reference to dignity is from Letter 10 written nearly two months earlier, and also fits with the mocking comments about the elegance of Mrs. Austen's hypochondria.

"I am very grand indeed; I had the dignity of dropping out my mother's laudanum last night."

And speaking of Mrs. Austen's hypochondria, Diana, JA has been mocking her mother's Mrs. Bennetishness in nearly every one of these letters so far, it is a constant drumbeat of these letters, second only to the even more pronounced drumbeat about the serial pregnancies all around her. In particular, what seems to irritate JA is that, unlike Mrs. Bennet whose "nerves" have become everyone's "old friends", Mrs. Austen seems to have taken this many unpleasant steps further, by making her own "bowels" and "effusions" everyone's "old friends". In the 21st century, we have a very apt phrase for this--- "too much information!" But it is telling, Mrs. Austen is a narcissist who thinks that her own bodily functions ought to be extremely interesting to everyone else, no matter how disgusting some of them may be!

JA's focus, it seems to me, is rarely far away from the female body, and in particular women's health issues, and that is what unites these two classes of repeated comments by JA--the "injured" female body. Perhaps we all owe Mrs. Austen a special debt of gratitude, for having given JA a prolonged "education" on this topic!

There was some discussion of the sentence about the new circulating library. I found the following comment particularly interesting:

"May subscribes too, which I am glad of, but hardly expected."

Note that JA, having just clearly defined the Austens as a family of readers, turns her attention to the newest adult member of the family, i.e., Mary. JA apparently did not think of Mary Austen as a reader, but I think JA is genuinely glad to be wrong, in no small part because Mary is going to be raising Anna, and JA wants Anna to be raised in a bookish home, where it won't only be James, but also Mary whom the child will see reading.

But then, negativity creeps back in immediately, as I suspect that JA does include Mary Austen in the last part of her comment about Mrs. Martin's library emphasizing its NONfiction collection:

" it was necessary, I suppose, to the self-consequence of half her subscribers."

There is a snobbery there, and the cynical thought has occurred to JA that Mary is not a novel reader at all, but has subscribed to the library despite, not because of, its novelistic selections. I am also suddenly reminded of Mary Musgrove, another pretentious "sister" Mary whose husband is more fond of shooting birds than of helping raise children. Self-consequence is a term which JA uses in the novels with a very negative connotation, clearly referring to pretension, putting on airs.

I notice that she refers to Mr. Holder as being one of "our two lively Neighbours",which reminds me that in upcoming Letter 25 written about two years after Letter 14, JA will famously refer to Mr. Holder making "some infamous puns". It's clear to me that she liked Mr. Holder a lot for making infamous puns, because she herself made them all the time! I'd have loved to be a fly on the wall at a ball where the two of them were having a good time matching satirical wits.

"Martha sends me word that she is too busy to write to me now, and but for your letter I should have supposed her deep in the study of medicine preparatory to their removal from Ibthorp."

This is unmistakably an echo of the satirical reference to Mary Bennet being "deep in the study of thorough bass and human nature". If you read Le Faye's footnote to this sentence, you see that "but for your letter" was a replacement for something else that JA "heavily cancelled"---which suggests to me that JA's initial satirical edge was, upon rereading, a little too sharp and had to be obliterated---a little self-censorship by JA.

Cheers, ARNIE

Jane Austen the True Christian

The discussion of Jane Austen's letters continues in Janeites:

Diane Reynolds wrote: "None of this means either that JA hated her family, the weak or people or that she was in some way defective: she hated the cruelty wrought on people and the hypocrisy about it. She skewers the cruel, the blind, the selfish, the arrogant, the mean."

Diane, I would rewrite the above by taking out the words "her family":

[Diane] "None of this means either that JA hated the weak or people or that she was in some way defective: she hated the cruelty wrought on people and the hypocrisy about it. She skewers the cruel, the blind, the selfish, the arrogant, the mean."

I took out the words "her family" because someone being in her family did _not_ give them an exemption from being the butt of her satire, outrage, sarcasm, etc., when they behaved in a cruel, hypocritical, blind, selfish, arrogant, mean, or "ungentlemanly" manner. At different
times in these letters, and equally so in her novels, she skewers each of her parents (especially her mother), each of her brothers (especially Edward and James), their wives (especially Elizabeth and Mary), and often puts on a flattering false front in her letters to Fanny Knight, because Fanny, budding social snob, did not earn JA's honesty. And she
depicts CEA as being not so much blind as intentionally turning a blind eye to such wrongs. And JA did this because JA felt strongly that it was wrong to allow these social sins to pass unchallenged. Meek stoic acceptance of injustice was not JA's way.

Ellen Moody wrote: "People will say outrageously insulting and painful things to one another, humiliate one another and no one does anything about it. They all sit there as if it's just fine. Well to Austen it was not just fine. None of this was just fine. "

That is exactly correct, in my opinion, but JA took that stance not only about verbal sins of this kind, but also about society-wide mores and laws such as serial pregnancy in marriage. Henry Tilney's famous rant against Catherine Morland's overactive imagination is _not_ meant to be taken literally, but as massively ironic! To JA's feminist eye, it is _Henry_ who is clueless, it is Henry who thinks it's just fine that women were treated so terribly in ordinary English marriage and, in Ellen's words "no one does anything about it". It is Catherine who (unwittingly, just by being herself) awakens Henry from his deep moral
coma, and into a realization that a good husband is proud of his wife's reading Gothic novels and of using her imagination to grasp complex social realities, and to question those which are based on cruelty, selfishness, and blindness.

JA is showing that it did not require a university education in order to see what is in front of one's nose. That so few Janeites, even today, are aware of this crucial irony underlying Henry's rant, is part of the reason why JA's letters have rarely been read deeply enough to detect the same rich vein of social criticism.

My understanding of the Jesus of the Gospels is that he was fearless in exposing the cruelty, hypocrisy, blindness, selfishness, arrogance and meanness of powerful people in his world, and that is what gave him such power that even the mighty feared him. " “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” I think JA aspired, in a literary realm, to the same power. She recognized that the power of the pen was enormous, and she strove to exercise her enormous literary gifts in service of a socially conscious vision, that was particularly
protective of women. Hence I see her novels as a kind of female Torah.

Cheers, ARNIE

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bob Brown’s “Great Coat” Redux

A few weeks ago, I discussed the following line at the end of one of JA's 1798 letters to her sister:

"Ask little Edward whether Bob Brown wears a great coat this cold weather."

Today, posts by Christy and Elissa in Janeites induced me to take a second look at the above line from JA’s letter, which I previously identified as having nothing to do with a real person named Bob Brown......

....but which I otherwise did not take as anything more than a joke name made up for little nephew Edward.

Now today, I still think that, on the surface, this was very much a joke name repeated to the 5 year old Edward Knight, Jr., which could very well have referred to a snowman (although I would rather think it would be a scarecrow), but…..connecting Bob Brown’s great coat to the numerous great coats of Northanger Abbey made me immediately connect the dots between the pervasive sexual innuendoes in NA and the above phrase, a connection which of course was a private joke between JA and CEA.

It took me one minute with Google Books to find the following confirmation of my intuition that a “greatcoat”, when used on the street, meant something very different from its literal meaning:

Wayne Andersen: _Phobic raptures: wicked family histories_, 1991:

P. 53:“The condom originated in London in the 18th century— was referred to in France as a British equestrian jacket (nowadays la capote anglaise or _'military great coat’_)— but was expensive and over a century later was still rarely used.”

Perhaps this is why Mrs. Allen, in Chapter 11 of NA, says to Catherine:

“Anybody would have thought [it would not rain] indeed. There will be very few people in the pump–room, if it rains all the morning. I hope Mr. Allen will put on his greatcoat when he goes, but I dare say he will not, for he had rather do anything in the world than walk out in a greatcoat; I wonder he should dislike it, it must be so comfortable.”

This passage is closely akin to the solicitude that everybody expresses over Jane Fairfax going out to the post office in the rain—which I claim is a veiled reference to the sort of “rain” which falls only on women and which it is indeed very dangerous for a young lady, being a “delicate plant”, not to use an “umbrella” to keep one’s stockings from getting wet. And perhaps Mr. Allen is a representative of every selfish man who has ever allowed his dislike of wearing condoms to force a female partner to risk "getting wet". Behind the humor, rain,
pollination, all of them are metaphors drawn from nature to veiledly refer to the sometimes stark realities of human female sexuality.

And the “greatcoat” is part of this very same metaphor.

And the above quoted passage in NA is, as Christy suggested, only the beginning of an extended riff. Look at Catherine’s excited reactions upon first seeing the “very fashionable–looking, handsome young man, whom she had never seen before...She looked at him with great admiration,
and even supposed it possible that some people might think him handsomer than his brother..."

It’s no wonder that Catherine’s imagination turns immediately to “the three villains in horsemen’s greatcoats, by whom she will hereafter be forced into a traveling–chaise and four, which will drive off with incredible speed.”

Horses...being forced into a carriage...and being driven off with incredible speed? Of course this is sexual innuendo! This is one of many passages which illustrates that both Northanger Abbey film adaptations have been spot-on, and actually rather restrained, in their depictions
of Catherine’s Gothic sexual fantasies.

A few chapters later in NA we read:

[The general’s] greatcoat, instead of being brought for him to put on directly, was spread out in the curricle in which he was to accompany his son…. At last, however, the door was closed upon the three females, and they set off at the sober pace in which the handsome, highly fed
four horses of a gentleman usually perform a journey of thirty miles…”

And there is the ironic counterpoint to Catherine’s fantasy—the general’s greatcoat is spread out in the curricle, and here we have three _females_ being driven at a _sober pace_ by a team of four horses. It is not just the spirits of the general’s children which are being
depressed, but Catherine’s herself! For all that she hated Thorpe abducting her and driving at high speed, Catherine liked it when she liked the man she was with in the carriage!

And then we have Henry in _his_ greatcoat, and this time it is the (gasp!) “open carriage” which triggers Catherine’s libido:

“The remembrance of Mr. Allen’s opinion, respecting young men’s open carriages, made her blush at the mention of such a plan, and her first thought was to decline it; but her second was of greater deference for General Tilney’s judgment; he could not propose anything improper for
her; and, in the course of a few minutes, she found herself with Henry in the curricle, as happy a being as ever existed. A very short trial convinced her that a curricle was the prettiest equipage in the world; the chaise and four wheeled off with some grandeur, to be sure, but it was a heavy and troublesome business, and she could not easily forget its having stopped two hours at Petty France. Half the time would have been enough for the curricle, and so nimbly were the light horses disposed to move, that, had not the general chosen to have his own carriage lead the way, they could have passed it with ease in half a minute. But the merit of the curricle did not all belong to the horses; Henry drove so well — so quietly — without making any disturbance, without parading to her, or swearing at them: so different from the only gentleman–coachman whom it was in her power to compare him with! And then his hat sat so well, and the innumerable capes of his greatcoat looked so becomingly important! To be driven by him, next to being dancing with him, was certainly the greatest happiness in the world….”

And we reminded of the above a few chapters later at the Abbey itself when we hear about “a dark little room, owning Henry’s authority, and strewed with his litter of books, guns, and greatcoats.”

And the final installment in this elaborate game of Freudian symbolism is a few chapters further:

“A ball itself could not have been more welcome to Catherine than this little excursion, so strong was her desire to be acquainted with Woodston; and her heart was still bounding with joy when Henry, about an hour afterwards, came booted and greatcoated into the room where she and Eleanor were sitting, and said, “I am come, young ladies, in a very moralizing strain, to observe that our pleasures in this world are always to be paid for, and that we often purchase them at a great disadvantage, giving ready–monied actual happiness for a draft on the future, that may not be honoured….”

This fits perfectly with my repeated assertions that JA was working on both P&P and NA as she wrote these late 1798 letters. She was obviously consumed with her writing at this point, so no wonder that she had so little patience for her mother's hypochondria. In fact, I wonder if Mrs. Austen's "illnesses" were exacerbated when Mrs. Austen observed Jane trying to quietly sneak off to her private workspace to write--like Lady Catherine wanting to be in on the conversation between Darcy and Lizzy at Rosings, I think that Mrs. Austen was wondering just what Jane was writing, and whether it just might have some unpleasant associations to
Mrs. Austen herself?

Thinking of Lady Catherine and Mrs. Bennet as two sides of the same real life woman--a frightening thought!

Cheers, ARNIE

Letter 14: More astonishing echoes of Pride & Prejudice

Because of my claims that Letters 10 through 13, these late 1798 letters, contain deafening echoes of P&P, I was already primed to start looking for them in Letter 14, too--but even I did not expect to find so many more, and such obvious ones,, including the first dramatic climax of P&P, so definitively echoed in Letter 14, beginning right at the start, in the first 4 sentences of Letter 14, best shown by simply aligning the parallelisms alongside each other:

First we have the parallel re delays in receipt of letters from a dearly beloved sister:

Letter 14: "Your letter came quite as soon as I expected, and so your letters will always do, because I have made it a rule not to expect them till they come, in which I think I consult the ease of us both."

Those words could easily have been written by Lizzy to Jane Bennet. And they remind me of the following lines from Ch. 46 of P&P:

"They had just been preparing to walk as the letters came in; and her uncle and aunt, leaving her to enjoy them in quiet, set off by themselves. The one mis-sent must be first attended to; it had been written five days ago. The beginning contained an account of all their little parties and engagements, with such news as the country afforded; but the latter half, which was dated a day later, and written in evident agitation, gave more important intelligence. It was to this effect.

"Since writing the above, dearest Lizzy, something has occurred of a most unexpected and serious nature...."

But, you may well object, so far this is a tenuous parallel at best, and I would agree with you, were it not for the next two sentences in Letter 14:

"It is a great satisfaction to us to hear that your business is in a way to be settled, and so settled as to give you as little inconvenience as possible. You are very welcome to my father's name and to his services if they are ever required in it."

I would think all Janeites would hear the unmistakable echo of two related passages in P&P:

First, Mr. Bennet's comments about Lydia's going to Brighton with the Forsters:

Ch. 41: "Lydia will never be easy till she has exposed herself in some public place or other, and we can never expect her to do it with so little expense or inconvenience to her family as under the present circumstances."

And second, the narration after the astonishing news of Wickham's and Lydia's marriage is received at Longbourn:

Ch. 50: "[Mr. Bennet] had never before supposed that, could Wickham be prevailed on to marry his daughter, it would be done with so little inconvenience to himself as by the present arrangement. He would scarcely be ten pounds a year the loser by the hundred that was to be paid them; for, what with her board and pocket allowance, and the continual presents in money which passed to her through her mother's hands, Lydia's expences had been very little within that sum. "

It almost seems as if JA has written this introductory section of Letter 14 as a parody of Lydia's escapades with Wickham, casting Cassandra in the role of Lydia, and Revd. Austen, of course, as Mr. Bennet, but also, as to the writing of letters reporting such events, Cassandra as Jane B. the letter writer and Jane A. as Lizzy the letter recipient.

But I think more likely there has been a fairly innocent event which involved some sort of monetary transaction, which may nor many not have involved a payment of 10 pounds (notice that is the exact amount that Mr. Bennet mentions!) to each of Cassandra and Jane, and JA, whose head is overflowing with P&P, immediately and playfully relates the one to the other.

And this makes perfect sense, because it would be impossible to write the words spoken by Lizzy Bennet in P&P, unless JA were in precisely that same mood of witty, penetrating banter---so of course when JA was done being Lizzy Bennet for the morning, she would remain in that same character as she began writing to Cassandra!

Even I am not prepared to claim, based only on the evidence of these lines in Letter 14, that Cassandra and/or Jane really were involved in some Lydiaesque intrigues with young, worthless men, as to which Revd. Austen would have to make his "name and services" available (exactly the way Mr. Bennet expects will be required for him to fix the Lydia fiasco--and note the witty irony of "services", which would mean, fighting a duel!)

And note a third parallel, to the very next two sentences in Ch. 50 of P&P:

"That it would be done with such trifling exertion on his side, too, was another very welcome surprise; for his chief wish at present was to have as little trouble in the business as possible. When the first transports of rage which had produced his activity in seeking her were over, he naturally returned to all his former indolence.

Mr. Bennet thinks of Lydia's elopement as "the business", and that is precisely why, I claim, JA refers to CEA's "Business!

But the P&P parody goes on in Letter 14:

"I shall keep my ten pounds too, to wrap myself up in next winter."

So here we have JA's imaginism at full tilt. JA thinks of this imaginary ten pound note she may be receiving as if it were a shawl or tippet, to be wrapt around JA to keep her warm next winter (already an absurdity, because she is writing Letter 14 in the midst of the _current_ winter!).

And this personifying image is not a trivial one---there is that characteristic Austenian cynicism about money that Auden famously noted, in the same vein as the song "Diamonds are a girl's best friend", as we think about Fanny Price freezing in her attic as a paradigm of the impecunious woman of JA's day being "out in the cold" because she lacks the money to keep her warm! Is there some suggestion that JA herself may one day find herself, like Fanny, being given the Catch 22 of either marrying a man for money, or else being frozen into submission?

And this particular "episode" in Letter 14 ends with a further personification of an actual article of clothing metamorphosed into a person:

"I took the liberty a few days ago of asking your Black velvet Bonnet to lend me its cawl, which it very readily did, & by which I have been enabled to give a considerable improvement of dignity to my Cap, which was before too nidgetty to please me. I shall wear it on Thursday, but I hope you will not be offended with me for following your advice as to its ornaments only in part. I still venture to retain the narrow silver round it, put twice round without any bow, and instead of the black military feather shall put in the coquelicot one as being smarter, and besides coquelicot is to be all the fashion this winter. After the ball I shall probably make it entirely black."

I am sure CEA did not mind JA borrowing her bonnet's cawl (what is that, exactly? I can't find a definition of "cawl"-the closest thing seems to be the rare newborn's "caul" which was kept as an heirloom), but even in this passage, we have perhaps the strongest echo of P&P yet, this one pointing unmistakably to Lydia Bennet _again_, in Ch. 39:

"And we mean to treat you all," added Lydia; "but you must lend us the money, for we have just spent ours at the shop out there." Then, shewing her purchases -- "Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it up any better."

And when her sisters abused it as ugly, she added, with perfect unconcern, "Oh! but there were two or three much uglier in the shop; and when I have bought some prettier-coloured satin to trim it with fresh, I think it will be very tolerable. Besides, it will not much signify what one wears this summer, after the -- -- shire have left Meryton, and they are going in a fortnight."

And, by the way, I am not the first to detect the echo about bonnets between Letter 14 and P&P. Another close reader who understands the parallels between letters and novels is Jill Heydt Stevenson, who was the first to detect it, in her insightful discussion of it in "Animated Ideology in P&P", which I found in Harold Bloom's recent edition of P&P.

What all of the above tells us is not only was JA's head full of P&P as she wrote this letter, we can even be more precise and pinpoint that she had been, that very morning, working on Chapters 39, 41, 42, 46, and 50, and _every single one of them_ having to do with Lydia!

None of this is coincidental!

Think of all the critics who have suggested that these letters are trivial and can tell us little about JA as a writer, and think about all the other critics who have taken at face value JA's famous comments in her letters to Anna Lefroy and to James Stanier Clarke, in which she deprecates her writing, makes it sound insignificant. They have all missed the point entirely!

Instead, Lydia Bennet is once more our surprising guide for how to look in JA's letters for insight into her writing of her novels, when in Ch. 42 of P&P we read that Lydia's letters are "much too full of lines under the words to be made public".

Ten months ago, I discussed that bit of suggestive narration here....

...and today I now understand, additionally, that JA is pointing to _her own_ letters as also being "too much full of lines under the words to be made public"!

Cheers, ARNIE

Letter 14: Jane Austen's Nidgetty Cap

In Letter 14, JA writes "....[by borrowing Cassandra's cawl] I have been able to give a considerable improvement of dignity to my Cap, which was before too _nidgetty_ to please me."

What did she mean by this? According to Eileen Sutherland, writing in the 1984 Persuasions, "Nidgetty" was a rare word which meant "trifling". Later Catherine Kenney added that the OED credited JA with inventing this word. And then in the Winter 2003 issue of Verbatim, Barry Baldwin defined nidgetty as pertaining to midwives.

I found those definitions unsatisfactory, the matter still seemed very murky to me, and worthy of a little investigation with the help of Google, starting on the assumption that something "nidgetty" would probably resemble a "nidget", which I suspected might be the Regency Era word for what we today call a "widget" or a "gadget".

And sure turns out there was such a device in Jane Austen's time. In _The rural economy of the southern counties;: comprizing Kent, etc._, William Marshall in 1798, at p. 63, wrote:

"Another implement, which is peculiar I believe to Kent, is the "Stricking Plow," with which channels, grooves, or seed seams are struck, drawn, or opened, in broken or fallow ground. The principle of construction is still that of the turn-wrest plow; the operating parts being long pieces of wood, resembling the chip or keel of the plow: these are generally two in number; sometimes three: in some cases only one. The beam or beams, with which these keels are connected, rest on a gallows, or cross piece, similar to that of the common plow, but lighter. The method of using this instrument will appear in its place.

Another implement, which is likewise peculiar, I believe, to this country, is the "Nidget," or horse hoe of many triangular shares, fixed, horizontally, at the lower ends of tines, or coulters. These are fastened in a somewhat triangular frame of wood work; and in cross bars, morticed into the outer pieces of the frame. At the angle, or narrowing part of the implement, by which it is drawn, is a wheel, to give the hoes their proper depth.

It is observable, that the construction of the Kentish Nidget and the Tormentor of West Devonshire (see West Of England) are in effect the same: the latter, probably, having been copied from the former; and increased in size, so as to suit it to the intended purpose."

Closely parallel with that description was Arthur Young's _Annals of agriculture and other useful arts_, Volume 6 (1786), at P.20:

"...and then missing three for an interval sufficient for the nidget which I designed should assist the plough in cleaning it. Beans will come up through the furrow on almost any land, except on lays..."

So, I suggest that JA, who has often been accused of being lacking in visual imagination because she gives so little description of appearances in her novels, had a very perceptive eye, and saw, in her own Cap, a sort of sharp helmet-like shape which she found unstylish, and which needed a fashion upgrade by accessorizing with CEA's cawl (whatever that might be). And with her interest in the whole natural world, including agriculture, she would have been interested in farm gadgets like nidgets.

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, March 3, 2011

O Titania!: The Brave New World of Shakespeare’s Thematic Acrostics Part Two: The Rest of them (for now)

In the above linked Part One, I gave the background on the above topic, and also explained the two Shakespearean acrostics which Jane Austen discovered, and paid homage to in Chapter 9 of Emma, a hundred years before William Stone Booth rediscovered and described them in his 1925 book on Shakespeare’s acrostics.

Now I move on to the other acrostic “jewels” I have fetched “from the deep”, i.e., from the deep freeze inside Booth’s forgotten book where they have rested since 1925.

As I left off in Part One describing two “lamb” acrostics in Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet, respectively, it is only fitting that I move on to another Shakespearean acrostic animal.


In Richard III, Act 5, Scene 3, lines 184-187 various ghosts appear to Richard in his horrid nightmare before his death, and lines 184-87 from the dire comments by the Ghost of Buckingham, who not long before has met an untimely death thanks to Richard, tell Richard what Buckingham _really_ thinks about his erstwhile leader:

Ghost Of Buckingham
183. The last was I that helped thee to the crown;
184. The last was I that felt thy tyranny:
185. O, in the battle think on Buckingham,
186. And die in terror of thy guiltiness!
187. Dream on, dream on, of bloody deeds and death:
188. Fainting, despair; despairing, yield thy breath!
189. I died for hope ere I could lend thee aid:
190. But cheer thy heart, and be thou not dismay'd:
191. God and good angel fight on Richmond's side;
192. And Richard falls in height of all his pride.

Richard famously rues the absence of a horse at a critical moment on the battlefield, but who ever saw a “toad” riding a horse anyway? And isn’t a toad an animal particularly apt for representing Richard’s physical deformity? Perhaps because Richard III is an early play, Shakespeare was worried that his acrostic might be missed. So, by making sure it is not lost on any of the other characters in the play, I suspect he wished to give his readers their best shot of not missing it either:

In Act, 1, Scene 2, Lady Anne: Never hung poison on a fouler toad. Out of my sight! thou dost infect my eyes.

In Act 1, Scene 3. Queen Margaret: “….The time will come when thou shalt wish for me To help thee curse that poisonous bunchback'd toad.

In Act 4, Scene 4. Queen Elizabeth: "O, thou didst prophesy the time would come That I should wish for thee to help me curse That bottled spider, that foul bunch-back'd toad!

...and also the Duchess of York: "Thou toad, thou toad, where is thy brother Clarence?"

And it also fits with the psychology of Richard—he has been called a “toad” so many times by the end of the play, that it’s only logical that the acrostic will slip into his final dream, as a kind of unconscious psychological overtone!


To show how Booth’s obsession with Bacon blinded him (and his fellow Baconians reading his book) to what might be obvious to ordinary readers of Shakespeare, consider that Booth sees the acrostic in lines 134-138, below, as an anagram of “Nasta” rather than the better answer, which I have already given away in the title of this section!

In Act 2, Scene 2 of Henry V, the young king confronts the plotters who have sought to betray him, but who have been caught just in time. It is a long speech, and the anagram acrostic appears near the very end, so, to save space, I will first merely quote all the phrases earlier in the speech which all point toward Satan in so many words:

“Ingrateful, savage and inhuman creature!.... one spark of evil… two yoke-devils…whatsoever cunning fiend it was…the voice in hell of all other devils …If that same demon that hath gull'd thee thus Should with his lion gait walk the whole world, He might return to vasty Tartar back, And tell the legions 'I can never win A soul so easy as that Englishman's.”

And now here is the anagram acrostic itself (NASAT => SATAN):

134 Not working with the eye without the ear,
135 And but in purged judgment trusting neither?
136 Such and so finely bolted didst thou seem:
137 And thus thy fall hath left a kind of blot,
138 To mark the full-fraught man and best indued

And here the climax of the speech, with one last pointer to the revolt against God by the original fallen angel, Satan:

With some suspicion. I will weep for thee; For this revolt of thine, methinks, is like Another fall of man. Their faults are open: Arrest them to the answer of the law; And God acquit them of their practises!

It seems likely to me that Milton,with his own love of thematic acrostics, was aware of this one in his master, Shakespeare! Take this one, identified by PJ Klemp in 1977:

with her who bore
Scipio the highth of Rome. With tract oblique
At first, as one who sought access, but feard
To interrupt, side-long he works his way.
As when a Ship by skilful Stearsman wrought
Nigh Rivers mouth or Foreland, where the Wind
Veers oft, as oft so steers, and shifts her Saile;
So varied hee, and of his tortuous Traine Curld many awanton wreath in sight of Eve,
To lure her Eye. (IX. 509-18)


And there has been another “Satan” in Henry V’s life, or at least a man he chooses to call a Satan, although at one time he was more of a father:

In the final scene of The Merry Wives of Windsor – Act 5, Scene 5, the other characters have all collaborated to make Falstaff, in his own words, as an ass, and he has been wearing a buck’s head that reminds us even more of Bottom from Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ford refers to him as being “as slanderous as Satan”.

And then in Henry IV, Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4, we have Prince Hal saying it too:

445. That villanous abominable misleader of youth,
446. Falstaff, that old white-bearded Satan.

And this leads us to another of the acrostics, in that same vein, in Henry VI, Part 1, a Messenger at one point speaks ill of Falstaff and embedded in the five indented lines is the epithet "cheat"!:

A Talbot! a Talbot! cried out amain
And rush'd into the bowels of the battle.
Here had the conquest fully been seal'd up,
If Sir John Fastolfe had not play'd the coward:
He, being in the vaward, placed behind
With purpose to relieve and follow them,
Cowardly fled, not having struck one stroke.
Hence grew the general wreck and massacre;
Enclosed were they with their enemies:
A base Walloon, to win the Dauphin's grace,
Thrust Talbot with a spear into the back,
Whom all France with their chief assembled strength
Durst not presume to look once in the face.

It is no accident that a preponderance of the references to "cheaters" in the Shakespeare canon are spoken by or in close proximity to Falstaff!

And while we are still mucking about in the Henriad, here is an acrostic that goes to the heart of the character of Prince Hal's biological, as opposed to his psychological, father:


Booth once again spots a valid acrostic, but misreads it, when he finds the foreign phrase
“atos bos” in a speech by Bolinbroke in Act 1, Scene 1 of Richard II, when he should see the thematically appropriate word “boast”!

The play begins with Bolingbroke’s accusations against Mowbray, and includes the following polemic by Bolingbroke, in which Bolingbroke refuses the King’s request that he revoke his challenge to Mowbray to mortal combat, and in so doing, engages in the very act of boasting which is revealed by the anagram acrostic “bsota” which transforms to “boast”, in lines 192-196:

Henry Bolingbroke
189. O, God defend my soul from such deep sin!
190. Shall I seem crest-fall'n in my father's sight?
191. Or with pale beggar-fear impeach my height
192. Before this out-dared dastard? Ere my tongue
193. Shall wound my honour with such feeble wrong,
194. Or sound so base a parle, my teeth shall tear
195. The slavish motive of recanting fear,
196. And spit it bleeding in his high disgrace,
197. Where shame doth harbour, even in Mowbray's face.

The word “boast” has already been used by Mowbray earlier in that same first scene…:
“Let not my cold words here accuse my zeal: 'Tis not the trial of a woman's war, The bitter clamour of two eager tongues, Can arbitrate this cause betwixt us twain; The blood is hot that must be cool'd for this: Yet can I not of such tame patience boast As to be hush'd and nought at all to say…”

And then in Act 1, Scene 3, Bolingbroke twice more uses the word “boast”(and note also the metaphor of “jewels” which reminds us of Titania’s acrosticked speech with its “jewels from the deep”):

John Of Gaunt
268. The precious jewel of thy home return.

Henry Bolingbroke
269. Nay, rather, every tedious stride I make
270. Will but remember me what a deal of world
271. I wander from the jewels that I love.
272. Must I not serve a long apprenticehood
273. To foreign passages, and in the end,
274. Having my freedom, boast of nothing else
275. But that I was a journeyman to grief?

Henry Bolingbroke
307. Then, England's ground, farewell; sweet soil, adieu;
308. My mother, and my nurse, that bears me yet!
309. Where'er I wander, boast of this I can,
310. Though banish'd, yet a trueborn Englishman.

And it is worth noting that Richard II also contains a very famous speech by Bushy in Act 2, Scene 2, in which Shakespeare makes an unmistakable wink at alternative meanings to be discerned in his plays:

“ Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows Like perspectives, which rightly gaz'd upon, show nothing but confusion-eyed. Awry, distinguish form.”

That sounds like a very nice description of Shakespeare’s thematic acrostics (as well, of course, of other techniques that Shakespeare deployed to create alternative meanings in his plays.

Now we move on to another acrostic which reminds us of "Want My Baby" in The Comedy of Errors, a resonance which reaches across the entire time span of Shakespeare's writing career:


In The Comedy of Errors, we saw the acrostic of “Want my baby” in regard to a child separated from his father as a baby. That same theme of child mismatched to father is, in the setting of jealousy rather than reunion, is also the subject of a thematic acrostic in The Winter's Tale – Act 1, Scene 2. Lines: 73-76. Hermione, at Leontes’s urging, has joined in persuading Polixenes to extend his visit in Sicilia another week, and is all too successful (because her success raises Leontes’ nightmarish jealousy) when she reminds Polixenes of his childhood bond with Leontes, and her explicit reference to them as “boys” is echoed subliminally by the acrostic on the word “boy” in lines 73-75:

Hermione Not your gaoler, then,
73. But your kind hostess. Come, I'll question you
74. Of my lord's tricks and yours when you were boys:
75. You were pretty lordings then?

Thereafter, the word “boy” appears with unusual frequency in this play, referring at times to Mamillius the prince but also to Hermione’s unborn child, and also as the name the Shepherd calls his son, and also calls Autolycus. Suffice to say that the idea of male offspring is a dominant theme in the play.

And now we turn from the first stage of man to the last, dying:


In A Midsummer Night's Dream – Act 5, Scene 1, at the climax of the play within a play, Quince, as Thisbe, finds Pyramus dead. Her feelings are echoed in the acrostic in lines 326-329:

315. Asleep, my love?
316. What, dead, my dove?
317. O Pyramus, arise!
318. Speak, speak. Quite dumb?
319. Dead, dead? A tomb
320. Must cover thy sweet eyes.
321. These My lips,
322. This cherry nose,
323. These yellow cowslip cheeks,
324. Are gone, are gone:
325. Lovers, make moan:
326. His eyes were green as leeks.
327. O Sisters Three, Come, come to me,
328. With hands as pale as milk;
329. Lay them in gore,
330. Since you have shore
331. With shears his thread of silk.
332. Tongue, not a word:
333. Come, trusty sword;
334. Come, blade, my breast imbrue:
335. And, farewell, friends;
336. Thus Thisby ends:
337. Adieu, adieu, adieu.

Her speech, prior to her taking her own life in wild grief, is a kind of “howl”, and so it could not be more fitting that the acrostic “howl” should appear in the midst of her speech, at lines 326-330, and in the acrosticked verses Thisbe appeals to “Sisters Three” who sound like a blend of the Weird Sisters (as a representation of the Three Fates) and Lady Macbeth whose conscience will not allow her to wash the gore from her own pale hands.

And Shakespeare apparently found this howl in grieving for a lost loved one so compelling that he returned to it years later in writing King Lear, for the climactic scene of that play, where the tragedy is no longer a play within the play, but is the play itself. In a scene that is closely parallel, as Carol Chillington Rutter has pointed out, Lear mourns his “love”, Cordelia, and here the “howl” is so powerful that it bursts through from the unconscious to the spoken word, and is spoken four times by Lear:

Act 5, Scene 3.

King Lear
302. Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones:
303. Had I your tongues and eyes, I'ld use them so
304. That heaven's vault should crack. She's gone for ever!
305. I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
306. She's dead as earth. Lend me a looking-glass;
307. If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,
308. Why, then she lives


And now we come full circle, and see that Shakespeare has chosen to link these various thematic acrostics across the boundaries of the plays. We began with the Titania acrostic, spoken to Bottom; and we’ve had Falstaff who has been made a Bottom-like ass, and this connects to Prince Hal’s calling Falstaff a “Satan” but also veiledly calling the traitors “Satan” as well.

And now we have yet another marvelous link in this complex chain, in Act III, Scene 1 of Measure for Measure, when Duke Vincentio gives the following famous and fatalistic advice to Claudio, who stands condemned to die by the covert action of the Duke, whose stance toward Claudio is uncomfortably similar to the one that Oberon takes toward Bottom and Titania:

Be absolute for death; either death or life
Shall thereby be the sweeter. Reason thus with life:
If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing
That none but fools would keep: a breath thou art,
Servile to all the skyey influences,
That dost this habitation, where thou keep'st,
Hourly afflict: merely, thou art death's fool;
For him thou labour'st by thy flight to shun
And yet runn'st toward him still. Thou art not noble;
For all the accommodations that thou bear'st
Are nursed by baseness. Thou'rt by no means valiant;
For thou dost fear the soft and tender fork
Of a poor worm. Thy best of rest is sleep,
And that thou oft provokest; yet grossly fear'st
Thy death, which is no more. Thou art not thyself;
For thou exist'st on many a thousand grains
That issue out of dust. Happy thou art not;
For what thou hast not, still thou strivest to get,
And what thou hast, forget'st. Thou art not certain;
For thy complexion shifts to strange effects,
After the moon. If thou art rich, thou'rt poor;
For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows,
Thou bear's thy heavy riches but a journey,
And death unloads thee. Friend hast thou none;
For thine own bowels, which do call thee sire,
The mere effusion of thy proper loins,
Do curse the gout, serpigo, and the rheum,
For ending thee no sooner. Thou hast nor youth nor age,
But, as it were, an after-dinner's sleep,
Dreaming on both; for all thy blessed youth

35 Becomes as aged, and doth beg the alms
36 Of palsied eld; and when thou art old and rich,
37 Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty,
38 TO Make thy riches pleasant. What's yet in this

That bears the name of life? Yet in this life
Lie hid moe thousand deaths: yet death we fear,
That makes these odds all even.

Did you see it? The acrostic is on the name “Bottom” and appears on lines 35-38. What makes it hard to see at first is that the last three letters come on line 38. Among all the acrostics that Booth found and that I bring forward today, this one might at first seem the most speculative, because of having the final three letters on one line, making it seem less probable that this was intentional.

However, those reasonable doubts are quickly dispelled when the following points are noted:
First, we have the Titania acrostic itself, which is contained in a speech spoken to Bottom himself;

Second, the second half of Vincentio’s speech is riddled with variations on the idea of a person’s rear end, or, as the English call it, a person’s “bottom”. We have “the moon”, we have “an ass”, we have “death unloads thee” (excretion of feces, it was well known from public executions, is exactly happens at the moment of death), we have “thine own bowels” and finally “effusion of thy proper loins”. This is one long “bottom” joke!;

Third, the reference to a dream is, along with the acrostic on “bottom” a direct allusion to that very same scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and

Fourth, as with the “Want my baby” acrostic in A Comedy of Errors, we have the last three letters of the word “bottom” presented as, visually,the bottom of the word “bottom”, a self referential game of the kind that Shakespeare exploited in all his plays, but particularly plays with Machiavellian “playwrights” like Oberon and Vincentio.

Incredibly, Booth did NOT connect the above to the Titania acrostic which he described several pages earlier in his book, so deeply is he focused on the Baconian that he cannot see the purely Shakespearean.


I conclude with the observation that this post has presented only those acrostics which were discovered by Booth nearly a century ago, and have been gathering dust ever since. Now that I have pulled them out of the shadows and shone a bright light on them, I hope that I will inspire other Shakespeareans to go back into the text of the plays and the sonnets, and see which others eluded Booth’s obsessive search.

I suspect there are many of them scattered across all the plays, because we find them in Shakespeare’s earliest plays such as The Comedy Of Errors, and we find them in his latest plays such as The Winter’s Tale, and in plays written throughout his career. So if these were found by someone with Bacon on the brain, imagine all the others which would be visible to readers who could care less about Bacon.

I myself at first thought I found one that Booth missed at the very beginning of Antony and Cleopatra, when Philo says:

NAY, but this dotage of our general's
O'erflows the measure: those his goodly eyes,
That o'er the files and musters of the war
Have glow'd like plated Mars, now bend, now turn,
The office and devotion of their view Upon a tawny front: his captain's heart, Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst The buckles on his breast, reneges all temper, And is become the bellows and the fan To cool a gipsy's lust. Look, where they come: Take but good note, and you shall see in him. The triple pillar of the world transform'd Into a strumpet's fool: behold and see.

Everything seemed to point toward this being an intentional acrostic on Shakespeare’s part. It was early in the play, part of the initial setting of the stage for the entire play, and it is a speech about Mark Antony himself containing an anagrammed acrostic on what at first seemed like a close variant of Antony’s own name! That is very like the Titania acrostic spoken by Titania, and there also seems to be a pointing back to the acrostic in Duke Vincentio’s speech in Measure for Measure by the reference to the dotage of Antony which “o’erflows the measure,” and also visually by having three of the letters at one “end” of the acrostic.
But….in the end of the day, there are TWO n’s in Anthony (an alternative spelling of his name that appears in Julius Caesar), not one as in this speech, and so, unless there is some ingenious explanation for that gap, it does not rise to the standard I would impose.

So, it’s time to leave off, but if anyone is inspired by these arguments of mine to search for Shakespearean acrostics, and then you actually find any others, please bring them here!

Cheers, ARNIE