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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, March 12, 2012

Broad Hints of Pride & Prejudice Hidden in Once Upon A Time


While watching the latest episode of Once Upon A Time (OUAT) last night (Episode #15, "Red-Handed"--see spoiler alert, above), and paying close attention to character names, I stood up and took close notice when, in the Fairy Tale world, Red Riding Hood's grandmother was referred to (I forget by whom) as "the widow LUCAS".

Why did this name catch my attention? After all, Lucas is a very common surname in English-speaking countries, so this would hardly seem a noteworthy choice of character name.

However, based on the high density of Austen-related names (clustered heavily in Austen's novel Emma) which I have previously detected in OUAT's characters.....

...I am on high alert for character names in OUAT that resonate back to Jane Austen's novels. And so, I immediately thought of Charlotte Lucas, who of course is the best friend of the heroine Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, and is also the woman who (to the shock of Elizabeth AND most readers of Pride & Prejudice) decides to marry the odious Mr. Collins rather than face the difficult life of a dependent spinster.

And I had one additional reason to be alert to a character name from Pride & Prejudice in particular, because, as part of my research last week, I came across the following line spoken by Rumpelstiltskin to Hordor in Episode #8 of OUAT:

Rumpelstiltskin: We have some wool to sell at the fair at Longbourn.

Now, to anyone not familiar with Pride & Prejudice, this name "Longbourn" would hold no special meaning, and would just seem to be a good name for an English town in the Middle Ages. However, the name "Longbourn" should immediately light up like a Christmas tree in the mind of every Janeite, because that is the name of the Bennet family estate, the very one which, as Mrs. Bennet misses no opportunity to mention, Mr. Collins will inherit one day when Mr. Bennet dies, due to the infamous entail in Mr. Collins's favor which encumbers Longbourn! For example:

[Mrs. Bennet] "A great deal of good management, depend upon it. Yes, yes. they will take care not to outrun their income. They will never be distressed for money. Well, much good may it do them! And so, I suppose, they often talk of having Longbourn when your father is dead. They look upon it as quite their own, I dare say, whenever that happens."

[Elizabeth] "It was a subject which they could not mention before me."

[Mrs. Bennet] "No; it would have been strange if they had; but I make no doubt they often talk of it between themselves. Well, if they can be easy with an estate that is not lawfully their own, so much the better. I should be ashamed of having one that was only entailed on me." END QUOTE

And I need not point out that, unlike Lucas, Longbourn is not a common name at all. So isn't it rather suspicious that we have these two names, Lucas and Longbourn, which are so intimately connected in Pride & Prejudice, appearing, seemingly at random, in OUAT?

I found it extremely suspicious! So, after Episode #15 was over, I started thinking, what ELSE about it reminded me of Pride & Prejudice? And I thought of two things straightaway.

First, in the Storybrooke real world, we have Ruby telling off her grandmother and quitting her waitressing job at the restaurant, her first baby steps toward finding her own way as a young adult. And that reminded me of Elizabeth Bennet telling off Lady Catherine de Bourgh at the end of Pride & Prejudice--also a young passionate woman declaring her independence of attempts to control her life:

"I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me."

Sounds a LOT like Ruby in OUAT, doesn't it?

And then second, I thought of some wonderful thematic wordplay in Episode #15, exactly the sort of wordplay that Jane Austen herself used everywhere in her writing. The title of Episode #15 is, not coincidentally, I claim, "Red-Handed", and in particular, we learn from the widow Lucas (aka Red's grandmother) that the way to immunize Red from turning into a murderous wolf is to have her wear a red cloak. So it is fair to say that the idea of a red cloak (or coat) is central in the action of Episode #15.

And what does that have to do with Pride & Prejudice? Only this:

[Mrs. Bennet] "My dear Mr. Bennet, you must not expect such girls to have the sense of their father and mother. When they get to our age, I dare say they will not think about officers any more than we do. I remember the time when I liked a RED COAT myself very well—and, indeed, so I do still at my heart; and if a smart young colonel, with five or six thousand a year, should want one of my girls I shall not say nay to him; and I thought Colonel Forster looked very becoming the other night at Sir William's in his regimentals."


Till Elizabeth entered the drawing-room at Netherfield, and looked in vain for Mr. Wickham among the cluster of RED COATS there assembled, a doubt of his being present had never occurred to her.

So the symbol of a red coat is significant in BOTH Pride & Prejudice AND OUAT!

And finally, correct me if I am wrong, but I am pretty sure I heard Red Riding Hood referred to as "Eliza" somewhere in Episode #15---did I imagine that, or did it happen? If it did, then that only adds to the veiled depiction of Elizabeth Bennet in the character of Red/Ruby in Episode #15!

Either way, I believe the above is sufficient evidence to make any viewer of OUAT very suspicious that the writers of the show are once again strongly hinting at Jane Austen's fictional worlds, for reasons as yet unknown to the rest of us!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


I don't know why it only occurred to me now, several days after posting all of the above, that there is another way in which the conjunction of the names "Longbourn", "Lucas" and "Eliza" has a startling alternative connotation in Pride & Prejudice, a way which, when you think about it, might just be a theme lurking in the shadows of Once Upon A Time:

In the above linked post, I suggest that Jane Austen intended us to perceive Charlotte Lucas as a closeted lesbian who marries a man for cover and security, but who covertly maneuvers matters so as to wind up living close by her true (if unrequired) love, Elizabeth Bennet. Is it possible that the relationship of Ruby and Emma, even if it is entirely platonic, might just turn out to be more than just friends? We shall see!

By the way Ruby wears plaid (which I understand is what many lesbians wear as a statement?), and Granny says Ruby looks like a drag queen.

And, now that I think about this some more, another famous 20th century literary critic (besides Wayne Booth) was Edmund Wilson who very famously suggested 60 years ago that Emma Woodhouse had unconscious lesbian feelings toward her young friend Harriet Smith!

Curiouser and curiouser.....

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