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

Monday, July 30, 2012

Betrayed Beyond an Accident: Fanny Cage and Louisa Musgrove

In Janeites, in response to my post (about Letter 73).....

 ....which included a reference to the sexual meaning of "accident" in relation to Mrs. Knight, someone named Terry sharpened matters by pointing out the recognized euphemism of "accident" for "miscarriage" in JA's era.  I responded as follows:

Terry, glad you were prompted to write the above by my post about Aunt Leigh-Perrot and Mrs. Knight as unwitting "victims" of "accidents" in JA's wickedly satirical imagination. You have in turn prompted me to revisit this whole question, with fruitful results!

In my longstanding reading of that passage from JA's 1801 letter about Mrs. Knight's "accident", I had always focused on the absurd aspect of a pregnancy outside wedlock of a woman past childbearing years. In that focus, I had always glided past the _specific_ euphemistic replacement of "accident" for miscarriage. But your post prompted me to look more closely at "accident" for the first time---i.e., I did a global search of the word "accident" in JA's writings.

In addition to some usages of interest, I found not one but two _very_ interesting (and, as you will, closely and significantly interrelated) passages that fit perfectly with that sexual euphemism in a way that hints at a hushed-up scandal in JA's extended family.

First the following passage from Letter 87 dated Sept. 15-16, 1813:

"Now for Bath. Poor F. cage has suffered a good deal from her ACCIDENT. The noise of the White Hart was terrible to her. They will keep her quiet, I dare say. She is not so much delighted with the place as the rest of the party; probably, as she says herself, from having been less well, but she thinks she should like it better in the season. The streets are very empty now, and the shops not so gay as she expected. They are at No. 1 Henrietta Street, the corner of Laura Place, and have no acquaintance at present but the Bramstons."

Fanny Cage was the orphaned first cousin of Fanny Knight, and was in 1813 twenty years old, the same age as Fanny K.

No Janeite can read that passage, with its various details about an accident and a stay at the White Hart, without immediately thinking of Louisa Musgrove's fall down the steps on the Cobb in Lyme in Persuasion. I would have expected Le Faye (ever the enemy of unpleasant parallels between real life and JA's fiction) to be especially intent upon ignoring those parallels. However, Le Faye could not very well ignore them in this instance, because Chapman had already let the cat out of the bag decades earlier! So Le Faye was forced to acknowledge them in fn 19 to Letter 87, by quoting Chapman's footnote:

"The combination of the White Hart and susceptibility to noise reminds us of Louisa Musgrove's accident and subsequent nerves. I can find no report of the accident in the Bath newspapers."

I would suggest that the reason Chapman could find no report of the "accident" in the Bath newspapers is that Fanny Cage's misfortune was precisely the sort of "accident" that commentators like Valerie Grosvenor Myer (who discussed the alternative meaning of "accident" in 1995, long before Jones did so in 2009) took note of, but that respectable families did all they could to keep _out_ of the newspapers! I.e. I suggest that there was no more likelihood of Chapman finding that report in the Bath newspapers than there was of Le Faye's finding a real-life dyer in Southampton named "Mr. Floor" (the one, you'll recall, who was _low_ in JA's estimation!).

Once again, we have JA indulging in creative metaphor and wordplay in her letters as well as her novels! And, speaking of her novels ....what I also realized is that my longstanding interpretation of Louisa Musgrove as having "fallen" (sexually) to Wentworth's masculine charms and became pregnant prior to the excursion to Lyme, needed to be amended to take into account the further, specific innuendo that Louisa miscarried in Lyme! And, further, that JA had chosen to memorialize Fanny Cage's 1813 "accident" forever in one of the most dramatic scenes in Persuasion!

Here are the two passages in Persuasion where JA delicately brings the scandalous subtext an inch from the surface, using the word "accident" in its euphemistic sense of "miscarriage", without allowing it to break through to clear visibility:

"There was a little awkwardness at first in their discourse on another subject. They must speak of the _accident_ at Lyme. Lady Russell had not been arrived five minutes the day before, when a full account of the whole had _burst_ on her; but still it must be talked of, she must make enquiries, she must regret the imprudence, lament the result, and Captain Wentworth's name must be mentioned by both. Anne was conscious of not doing it so well as Lady Russell. She could not speak the name, and look straight forward to Lady Russell's eye, till she had adopted the expedient of telling her briefly what she thought of the attachment between him and Louisa. When this was told, his name distressed her no longer. Lady Russell had only to listen composedly, and wish them happy, but internally her heart revelled in angry pleasure, in pleased contempt, that the man who at twenty-three had seemed to understand somewhat of the value of an Anne Elliot, should, eight years afterwards, be charmed by a Louisa Musgrove."

When something "bursts" on someone in a Jane Austen novel, you can be sure the powerful watery imagery is entirely intentional, and is meant to convey the raw physicality of events pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth.

"The sad _accident_ at Lyme was soon the prevailing topic, and on comparing their latest accounts of the invalid, it appeared that each lady dated her intelligence from the same hour of yestermorn; that Captain Wentworth had been in Kellynch yesterday (the first time since the _accident_), had brought Anne the last note, which she had not been able to trace the exact steps of; had staid a few hours and then returned again to Lyme, and without any present intention of quitting it any more. He had enquired after her, she found, particularly; had expressed his hope of Miss Elliot's not being the worse for her exertions, and had spoken of those exertions as great. This was handsome, and gave her more pleasure than almost anything else could have done. As to the sad catastrophe itself, it could be canvassed only in one style by a couple of steady, sensible women, whose judgements had to work on ascertained events; and it was perfectly decided that it had been the consequence of much thoughtlessness and much imprudence; that its effects were most alarming, and that it was frightful to think, how long Miss Musgrove's recovery might yet be doubtful, and how liable she would still remain to suffer from the concussion hereafter! The Admiral wound it up summarily by exclaiming--"Ay, a very bad business indeed. A new sort of way this, for a young fellow to be making love, by breaking his mistress's head, is not it, Miss Elliot? This is breaking a head and giving a plaster, truly!""

Indeed, Admiral Croft, you witty rogue!

And the above interpretation also sheds fresh light on the critical practical importance of the question of who would care for Louisa during the critical days at Captain Harville's home---perhaps Mary's histrionics, demanding priority over Anne as caretaker, followed later that same day by Mary's being entirely displaced by Mrs. Harville who assumed exclusive control over the nursing of Louisa, was not accidental, and not merely evidence of Wentworth's esteem for Anne's capableness, Mary's selfish jealousy toward Anne, and Mrs. Harville's ultimate assumption of exclusive control, but was actually evidence of subtle manipulation by certain watchful, concerned persons who wished at all costs to take Anne's sharp, insightful eyes far far away from witnessing things which it would be, shall we say, devastating for her to see, terrible things which even Anne's enduring love could not survive.

My personal favorite bit of wordplay in all of this is JA's comment about Fanny Cage: "They will keep her quiet, I dare say." In context, it seems to mean that the Bridges family will keep Fanny Cage in a quiet room where her nerves will be soothed by quiet. However, a plain alternative meaning, which takes on a very droll, even cynical, connotation, is that the Bridges family will convince their young (and perhaps Romantic) niece of the dire necessity for keeping permanently quiet, i.e., keeping her mouth shut, about the true nature of her "accident"! Did they succeed?

Fanny Cage, in case you were wondering, did not marry until age 41. One wonders whether her "accident" in 1813 had anything to do with her not marrying during childbearing years. And while we know nothing about Fanny Cage's taste for romantic poetry, we do know that she liked P&P a lot, liked Emma somewhat less, and liked MP less still.....but oh, wouldn't you like to know what Fanny Cage thought about Louisa Musgrove's "accident" in particular?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: Several comments in Janeites, responding to the above, strongly objected to the notion of Wentworth being so unheroic as to engage in sexual relations with Louisa Musgrove and then compound matters by not marrying her. I responded to their objections as follows:

Such an interesting sampling of reactions to my claim about Wentworth and Louisa--which claim, I reiterate, I did not invent out of thin air, I followed the "bread crumbs" in the text, including the particularly telling one about "accidents" as "miscarriages". And I will take a moment to turn your attention to my earlier post from several years back in which I presented a great deal of textual evidence about "the dear old Asp" which first alerted me to Wentworth and Louisa, and in particular the persistence of Wentworth's bitter anger toward Anne:

It took me several years _after_ I first understood the doubleness of all of Jane Austen's novels to realize the answer to the problem of the Austen hero who does unheroic things. It's quite simple, elegant, and powerful, to wit:

By giving us romantic, intelligent, powerful heroes like Wentworth, JA taps into the natural wellspring of female fantasy. showing us, in the shadows, a version of Wentworth which seems completely inconsistent with that romantic fantasy--a version which even the perceptive, intelligent, pragmatic heroine, Anne, cannot detect, JA provides the reader with the ultimate cautionary tale, the necessary corrective to the romantic fantasy. So instead of trying to blend the heroic and unheroic sides of Wentworth into one "grey" character, I suggest that JA instead gives us Wentworth in bright "white", but, simultaneously, Wentworth in dark "black"! The Wentworth who acts in an ungentlemanly way is one possibility--and the Wentworth who does everything right in the second half of the novel is another possibility---JA is saying, to the female reader who can see both versions of Wentworth--be careful, don't be overly romantic and don't be overly cynical---strive for the clearest possible vision unclouded by either fantasy or cynicism, be as alert as you can to subtle cues that may hold elusive truth about human nature, and in the end, make the best judgment you can as to the "Wentworth" in your own life, and try to get it right, because (in Jane Austen's era, at least) your very life may well depend on getting it right! 

Jane Austen's Letter 73: The Mystery of "MY name is Diana..."

I did not read Jane Austen's Letter 73 all the way through yesterday, having had all my attention absorbed by the suggestive innuendoes about Aunt Leigh-Perrot (that I noted in my immediately preceding blog post) at the very beginning of Letter 73. However, a passing comment in Janeites by Christy Somer about "My name is Diana" as a passage later in Letter 73 intrigued me, I could not imagine what she was referring to.

But now that I have carefully studied the section near the end of Letter 73 from which she quoted the last sentence, I find it all quite extraordinary, mysterious, and even a little bizarre---and therefore certainly worthy of much more than passing consideration (I cannot find that any Austen scholar has ever taken a stab at explaining it).

Here it is in toto----it is a passage that describes JA's social encounters over the course of one day and one night in the vicinity of Chawton with a visiting entourage consisting of various members of the interrelated Terry and Harding families:

"I have not much to say of ourselves.....we were called upon to meet Mrs. and Miss Terry the same evening at the Digweeds; and, though Anna was of course invited too, I think it always safest to keep her away from the family lest she should be doing too little or too much. Mrs. Terry, Mary, and Robert, WITH MY AUNT HARDING AND HER DAUGHTER, came from Dummer for a day and a night -- all very agreeable and very much delighted with the new house and with Chawton in general. We sat upstairs and had thunder and lightning as usual. I never knew such a spring for thunderstorms as it has been. Thank God! we have had no bad ones here. I thought myself in luck to have my uncomfortable feelings shared by the mistress of the house, as that procured blinds and candles. It had been excessively hot the whole day. Mrs. Harding is a good-looking woman, but not much like Mrs. Toke, inasmuch as she is very brown and has scarcely any teeth; she seems to have some of Mrs. Toke's civility. Miss H. is an elegant, pleasing, pretty-looking girl, about nineteen, I suppose, or nineteen and a half, or nineteen and a quarter, with flowers in her head and music at her finger ends. She plays very well indeed. I have seldom heard anybody with more pleasure. They were at Godington four or five years ago. MY COUSIN, FLORA LONG, WAS THERE LAST YEAR. MY NAME IS DIANA...."

Before grappling with the two most puzzling excerpts (which I've shown in all caps) in which JA momentarily but unmistakably shifts away from her own point of view, it is helpful to visualize the family trees involved. The unifying "limb" of this particular family tree is that of the three married sisters born of Sir Bourchier Wrey:

1.. Mrs. Dionysia (Diana) Harding, with her daughter of the same name;

2. Mrs. Florentina Long, with her daughter Flora [neither of them present at Chawton]; and

3. Mrs. Anna-Maria Toke [also not present at Chawton].

The other "limb" associated with the above passage is Mrs. Elizabeth Terry, who was the sister of Mr. Harding (husband, of course, of the above-described Mrs. Harding). So now we can begin to decipher the above passage. The visitors were Mrs. Elizabeth Terry with two of her adult children, Mary and Robert, accompanied by Mrs. Diana Harding and her young adult daughter--in a nutshell, two sisters in law traveling with some of their respective adult children. Le Faye seems to think it sufficient to provide a footnote to "MY name is Diana" as follows: " JA is presumably quoting Miss Harding". But as I will now demonstrate, that is a totally inadequate analysis.

First, why does JA write "with MY Aunt Harding and her daughter"? Among those present that day, this can only be from the point of view of either Mary Terry or Robert Terry--it cannot be Miss Diana Harding, because Mrs. Harding is _her_ own mother, not her aunt! Then within a few sentences, we have descriptions of Mrs. Harding, Mrs. Toke, and Diana Harding which must be from the point of view of Jane Austen herself. And _then_ we have a reference to "my Cousin, Flora Long", which could be from the point of view of any of Mary Terry, Robert Terry, or Diana Harding. And then the section ends with "MY name is Diana", which _must_ be the younger Miss Diana Harding.

By the emphasis on the word "my", it suggests to me that JA has very consciously been playing around with shifting point of view in the above-quoted excerpt. And all of the above makes me wonder whose point of view is being expressed by the following experiential observations:

"We sat upstairs and had thunder and lightning as usual. I never knew such a spring for thunderstorms as it has been. Thank God! we have had no bad ones here. I thought myself in luck to have my uncomfortable feelings shared by the mistress of the house, as that procured blinds and candles. It had been excessively hot the whole day."

Are these JA's own thoughts, or is JA reporting the words of one (or more) of her young visitors? There is a breathless Harriet Smithish quality in these ejaculations which sounds distinctly un-Austen-like, in sharp contrast to the keen Austenian descriptions of Mrs. Harding, Mrs. Toke and Miss Harding---JA is always especially attentive to family resemblances--or, as in the case of the sisters Mrs. Harding and Mrs. Toke, the curious _lack_ thereof. Is JA intimating that perhaps Mrs. Toke and Mrs. Harding are really not biological sisters after all? In short, what in the world is going on here?

I think the key to the answer is that JA is having some quasi-authorial fun, deliberately playing with confusion of point of view, for the enjoyable puzzlement of her sister, who, I would suspect, was JA's favorite audience for such wordplay games. And what I am reminded of most of all is the famous strawberry-dashes scene at Donwell Abbey in _Emma_, as to which the conventional wisdom is that it is only Mrs. Elton whose voice we are hearing (filtered through Emma's drowsy ears), but I have previously opined that several speaker's voices are confusingly mixed together:

Is it just a coincidence that the above passage in Letter 73 includes the observation (by someone) that "It has been excessively hot the whole day", in curious synchrony with " glaring sun — tired to death — could bear it no longer — must go and sit in the shade." in the Donwell Abbey scene. And....note that the visit of the Terry-Hardings includes a visit to the home of one of the Digweed brothers---and the Digweed brothers were the closest thing to the Knightley brothers in JA's real life--a set of brothers who did largescale agriculture in the immediate neighborhood of JA's neighborhood of origin---so is it just a coincidence that Donwell Abbey is where we have the strawberry scene?

And finally the date of Letter 73 is May 29, whereas the al fresco Gypsy party to Donwell Abbey takes place in the third week of June in 1814---not that far apart, calendrically speaking.

So....was the younger Diana Harding, whose playing gave JA such pleasure to listen to, in some way an inspiration for Jane Fairfax, whose playing gave Mr. Knightley such pleasure to listen to? Questions, questions, and still more questions---but even if we are left with speculation, it is far preferable to sweeping the entire passage under the proverbial rug, and pretending that it is not a very very strange passage indeed to find in a letter?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, July 27, 2012

Jane Austen’s Letter 73: “I had forgot there were but eight already”/“Die two months ago, and not forgotten yet?”

As we resume our group read of Jane Austen’s letters (after a refreshing 3 month hiatus), we find Letter 73 right in the middle of a dense trove of 6 letters all written to Cassandra by Jane during a 6 week period.  My comments in this post are limited to the very _beginning_ of Letter 73, which, as I will spell out, means much more than it seems to at first:

“It was a mistake of mine, my dear Cassandra, to talk of a tenth child at Hamstall. I had forgot there were but eight already.
Your enquiry after my uncle and aunt were most happily timed, for the very same post brought an account of them. They are again at Gloucester House enjoying fresh air, which they seem to have felt the want of in Bath, and are tolerably well, but not more than tolerable. My aunt does not enter into particulars, but she does not write in spirits, and we imagine that she has never entirely got the better of her disorder in the winter. Mrs. Welby takes her out airing in her barouche, which gives her a headache-a comfortable proof, I suppose, of the uselessness of the new carriage when they have got it. “

That first sentence find JA right back on her hobby horse about serial pregnancy, which, as I have argued 100 times, is the one completely unvarying, repeated motif in her surviving letters, a few dozen times over a period of 2 decades. My inference: JA was consistently _appalled_ by serial pregnancy.

JA is being sarcastic in that first sentence, disingenuously acknowledging CEA’s correction of JA’s immediately preceding (missing) letter in which JA stated that cousin Cooper’s wife was expecting a _tenth_ child. Le Faye’s bio index reflects that CEA was indeed correct, in that as of 1811, the Coopers did have “only” eight surviving children (although they probably had several more miscarriages or infants who had NOT survived).  

Mrs. Cooper was 37 in April 1811, and had not borne a surviving child since 1805, after running a harrowing gauntlet of (at least) eight pregnancies over an 11 year period during her twenties. So it sounds like Mrs. Cooper, in 1811, has been “betrayed beyond an Accident at the utmost”, so to speak—an unexpected pregnancy.  

I see JA’s mistake-as-sarcasm in that exact same category of absurdist irony that Hamlet so famously deploys in regard to the rapidity of his mother’s remarriage to his uncle:

Just as Hamlet deliberate understates the time lapse between funeral and wedding, to make his point that  two months may as well be two hours, as _both_ constitute a shockingly short interval, so too in Letter 73’s missing predecessor, JA deliberately exaggerates the number of Cooper children, to make the point that it doesn’t really matter if it’s 9 or 10—either way, it sounds like it’s cows and ewes instead of women that we are talking about.

But here’s the best part of JA’s barbed wit. I suggest that JA does _not_ dismount from her hobby horse after that first sentence. Instead, it is no accident that JA segues immediately into a discussion of what superficially appears to be a new subject, i.e., the latest complaint of her Aunt Leigh Perrot, i.e., that great lady’s “headache” due to riding in a “new carriage”.  But it’s anything but a change of subject.
To understand JA’s coded meaning, and how it connects straight back to Mrs. Cooper’s litter of babies, read that paragraph about Aunt Leigh Perrot alongside JA’s infamous wit pertaining to _another_ post-childbearing-age relative, Mrs. Knight, in a letter from JA to CEA written ten years earlier when Mrs. K was widowed and age 48:

"I cannot think so ill of her however in spite of your insinuations as to suspect her of having lain-in. I do not think she would be betrayed beyond an Accident at the utmost"

In venting her spleen about Mrs. Cooper’s late pregnancy (which apparently miscarried, as Le Faye does not list any surviving child from after 1805), JA has been reminded of JA’s earlier absurdist deployment of ironic wit, in suggesting an accidental pregnancy suffered by the _post-menopausal_ Mrs. Knight. But this time, in Letter 73, JA transplants the joke onto the ever tempting target of Aunt Leigh-Perrot (age 64).

Think I’m stretching things? Well….read that second paragraph of Letter 73 more closely. JA speculates that her Aunt has never entirely gotten the better of her disorder in the _winter_. Letter 73 is dated May 29. So do the math—apparently her Aunt’s “disorder” began at least 5 _months_ earlier---how many “disorders” afflicting women last that long? One comes to mind immediately, and it is pregnancy:

If you read the above-linked post of mine from 2 years ago (or if you’ve heard any of my JASNA presentations since May 2010), you are aware that Aunt Percival’s description of a “cold” in JA’s juvenilia Catharine and the Bower is actually a veiled description, month by month, of a _pregnancy_!:

"...How could I be so forgetful as to sit down out of doors at such a time of night? I shall certainly have a return of my rheumatism after it—I begin to feel very chill already. I must have caught a dreadful Cold by this time--I am sure of being lain up all the winter after it--' Then reckoning with her fingers, 'Let me see; This is July; the cold weather will soon be coming in--August--September-October-November-December-January-February-March-April—Very likely I may not be tolerable again before May. I must and will have that arbour pulled down--it will be the death of me; who knows now, but what I may never recover--Such things have happened....It is unknown how many people have died in consequence of catching Cold!...."

That I am the first (and only) Austen scholar to ever identify Aunt Percival’s “Cold” as a pregnancy is perhaps the best example I know, of how unreceptive Austen scholarship has been to the very notion that JA, at age 17, could possibly have hidden such an outrageous sexual innuendo in plain sight!

So just as Aunt Percival might not have been “tolerable” again before May, so, too, Aunt Leigh Perrot is ”not more than tolerable” after her stint at Bath. And, in closing---for Aunt Percival’s “catching Cold”, JA has, in Letter 73, just substituted, for a “Cold”, _another_ one of JA’s many fictional code words for pregnancy—“headache”.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: JA’s famous “Headache” poem was dated only a few months after Letter 73 in 1811 (read it now with new eyes):

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pride & Prejudice's Astonishing Connection to the REAL LIFE Marriage of Two Austen Ancestors

 Congratulations to Ron Dunning for the official unveiling yesterday of his magnum opus…..

….an Austen genealogy that spreads its threads far and wide over the mists of time, with Jane Austen at the center of the web he has so painstakingly constructed! And special thanks as well to Deb Barnum for her excellent and thorough interview of Ron in this regard:

I wrote the word “official” because it happens that six weeks ago to the day, in the midst of my own research, I came across Ron’s Rootsweb website (in what I now gather must have been in its final stages of completion) entirely by accident. The happy result of the crossing of the paths of our respective obsessions,  as you will read below, was pure synergistic magic! I had not planned to reveal, prior to publication of my book, what I found that day, but…. in the light of the auspicious official debut of Ron’s website, it now seems like a most fitting time to bring this one jewel forward---so read on for something astonishing.

On June 10, I was whiling away 5 hours by myself in an airport with my mini-laptop and the luxury of free wi-fi, but I had no pending “hot lead” to sleuth out at that moment, nor did I have any of my countless Word files with me which are so integral to my ability to effectively process “grist” through my sleuthing “mill”.  

So, as I usually do in such instances, I decided to make the best of those hours by revisiting a prior discovery, to see if anything new had popped up on the Internet with regard to same since the Spring of 2011 when I first made that particular discovery. The Internet is ever growing larger and larger, and so revisiting a topic even after as a short a span as one year has often yielded fresh grist for my mill. I am an obsessive retrace of my steps, because my obsessive retracing has so often been rewarded. And boy did that prove to be so that day in the airport!

Without being specific, that 2011 discovery pertains to the shadow story of Pride & Prejudice,  and it will be one particularly convincing part of my overall argument, but I have never previously written publicly about it, nor do I intend to prior to my book. It’s something really special.

So, I Googled various combinations of searches of certain names and words relating to that discovery, and by this means within only a few minutes, I struck unexpected gold, and stumbled upon a remarkable historical factoid that relates, as will be immediately obvious, to Pride & Prejudice:

I.e., there had been, in Ireland, in the early 14th century, a “Lord DARCY” who married a “Joan DE BURGH”! That “Lord Darcy” turned out to be one “John Darcy”.

Coincidence, some might say? After all,  “de Burgh” was not “de Bourgh”, “John” was not “Fitzwilliam”, nor was “Joan” “Catherine”. Well, sitting in that airport, I knew it was no coincidence, because I knew that I had been led to that factoid by my 2011 discovery, which, you will have to take my word for now, had absolutely no business leading me to an actual historical marriage between families with surnames virtually identical to the names of the families “Darcy” and “de Bourgh”, whose intermarriage is at the center of the drama in Pride & Prejudice---but it did anyway!

And here’s the best part that brings us to Ron’s genealogy trove, a further discovery, which, on completely independent grounds, reduces the possibility of coincidence in the usage of these surnames by Jane Austen in Pride & Prejudice to zero.  

The very next day, when I was back home seated at my desktop, with all my files at my fingertips, I quickly went into intensive followup on this exciting tidbit, to mine all the rich ore I just knew in my gut (from so many prior experiences) it would contain, but even I was not then prepared for what I found when I Googled “Darcy” and  “De Burgh”.

Here it is:

It took me a few seconds to process the significance of what I had found, when I saw Ron’s name on the webpage, and realized it was his Austen genealogical database, and then I realized that this meant that my 2011 discovery which led me to the 14th century marriage of a Darcy to a de Burgh was also connected to Jane Austen’s own ancestry!!!

I.e., if Ron’s scholarship is accurate, and I have absolutely no reason to believe otherwise, then it means that Jane Austen, in depicting a marriage between a “Darcy” and a “de Bourgh” in Pride & Prejudice, in significant part was doing so because she was thereby pointing a literary, genealogical laser beam nearly 5 centuries back in time to the marriage of two of her own ancestors of virtually the same surnames!

The explanation of the full significance of the manifold connections between this discovery and my 2011 discovery—which prove that JA’s using names of ancestors in her novels had nothing to do with any sort of Sir Walter Elliot-like obsession with ancestry---will be in my book. But, for now, I conclude with a repetition of my thanks to Ron for being so thorough in his work as to go back five centuries in Jane Austen’s ancestry, and thereby to provide this genealogical connection which validates what I found in 2011!  

Yes, it’s also very very cool that Ron’s research reveals Owen Glendower and several other illustrious figures of English history scattered among Jane Austen’s ancestors, but to me, it does not begin to match the coolness (and importance, as I will show in my book, for understanding the shadow story of Pride & Prejudice) of Jane Austen actually being descended from a marriage of a de Burgh to a Darcy!  ;)

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Jane Austen & Sex: REDUX

As some of you also surely noticed, there have been not one but two columns published in the online version of The Independent this week pertaining to the new sexploitation line of adaptations of Austen, Bronte, Conan Doyle & other classic novels under the name "Clandestine Classics":

The latter column was written by Harold Jacobson, recent winner of the Booker Prize, and a man with the audacity (although some might uncharitably call it chutzpah) to refer to himself as "the Jewish Jane Austen":

Here is my reply to two of Mr. Jacobson's comments:

Jacobson: "There are few scenes in literature which are at one and the same time so painful and so thrilling, so precarious and, yes, all right, so arousing, as those in Persuasion in which Captain Wentworth lays hands on Anne Elliot for the first time since their estrangement. In one, he relieves her of the burden of a troublesome child, pulling him off her back, unplucking his hands from around her neck – a tactual performance of consideration that leaves her "perfectly speechless", at the mercy of the "most disordered feelings"; in another, seeing that she is tired, he assists her, again wordlessly, into a carriage. If submission to a man's will is your bag, then here it is – "Yes – he had done it. She was in the carriage and felt that he had placed her there, that his will and his hands had done it." END QUOTE

My only quibble with the above is that Howard Jacobson did not acknowledge that David Lodge, in his 1975 novel Changing Places, has his protagonist Professor Morris Zapp quote that same exact passage from Persuasion to a classful of students, and then finish with the comment: "If that isn't an orgasm, what is it?" Sounds like Lodge was (famously) there first.

JACOBSON: "Among the reasons for Jane Austen's extraordinary popularity with readers of all types is the heat her lovers generate, the unbearable frustrations they suffer when misunderstandings keep them apart, the rhapsodies of happiness they experience when all barriers to their felicity are removed. And if you say, "Ah, yes, but that's just love without the sex," then you are wrong on every count: wrong about the nature of love, wrong about the nature of sex, and wrong about Jane Austen, who knew as well as anybody the havoc desire wreaks on our affections, our loyalties and our intelligences."

And with that comment I am in entire agreement, as illustrated by the following sample of posts from my blog during the past few years:

and...particularly relevant to the passage quoted by Lodge (and then, 35 years later) Jacobson:

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Jane Austen the Daughter of Korah

In Janeites, Nancy Mayer posted a link today, the 195th anniversary of Jane Austen’s tragically premature death, to a post at austenonly.  

I have previously posted my thoughts about Jane Austen’s interment in Winchester Cathedral, mostly in relation to JA’s final (and intensely subversive) poem, Winchester Races….

…but I had been unaware of the following tidbit revealed in the austenonly blog post Nancy linked to:

“In 1898 a request for donations by way of public subscription, with an individual limit of 5 guineas, was made in a letter to The Times, and it was signed  by the Earl of Selborne, Lord Northbrook, W.W B Beach and Montague G. Knight of Chawton, in order that a memorial window could be erected in Jane Austen’s memory in addition to the two existing memorials. This window  was designed by Charles Ea[m]er Kempe,  and was installed in the north wall directly above Jane Austen’s memorial tablet:
The imagery in the window is astounding, and I should imagine, for many visitors to the Cathedral, difficult to interpret today.  At the head of the window is a figure of St. Augustine, whose name in its abbreviated form is St Austin. It is therefore a visual pun on Jane Austen’s surname. The central figure in the top row of the window is King David playing his harp. Directly under him is St John, who displays his Gospel, opened at the first words: “In the beginning was the Word…”  A Latin inscription to Jane Austen is also included, and this can be  translated as follows: Remember in the Lord Jane Austen who died July 18th A.D. 1817.
The figures in the four remaining lights are the sons of Korah who each carry a scroll upon which are inscribed sentences in Latin which allude to the religious nature of Jane Austen’s character. How interesting that even in this window the references to her genius are oblique by today’s standards. And I do often wonder how many visitors to her grave notice the window, for there is only a small notice to the side of the brass tablet which explains it significance. How fascinating to see how, as her fame rose, the memorials to her got greater in size, but were not necessarily plain acknowledgments of her genius.”

I became curious to know the text of those four “inscribed sentences in Latin which allude to the religious nature of Jane Austen’s character” and Google quickly led me to the following passage in  Geraldine Mitton’s 1905 bio, Jane Austen and Her Times, at p. 321-2, which not only supplied that text, it also _clearly_ was the (completely unacknowledged —tsk tsk) primary source for austenonly’s description:

“In 1900 a memorial window was inserted as the result of a public subscription; it was designed and executed by C. E. Kemp. In the head of the window is a figure of St. Augustine whose name in its abbreviated form is St. Austin. In the centre of the upper row of lights is David with his harp. Below his figure, in Latin, are the words, "Remember in the Lord Jane Austen who died July 18, A.D. 1817." In the centre of the bottom row is the figure of St. John, and the remaining figures are those of the sons of Korah carrying scrolls, with sentences in Latin, indicative of the religious side of Jane Austen's character, namely, " Come ye children, hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord." "Them that are meek shall He guide in judgement, and such as are gentle them shall He teach His way." "My mouth shall speak of wisdom and my heart shall muse on understanding." "My mouth shall daily speak of Thy righteousness and Thy salvation."

Some quick  Googling showed that the remaining figures (other than David and “St. Austin”) are holding, respectively, Latin versions of Psalms 34:11, 25:9, 49:3, and 71:15, and still more confirmed to me that the Bible has indeed long ascribed these Psalms (as well some others)  to the four sons of Korah.

The name “Korah” caught my eye from my earliest days of literary sleuthing in 1998-9, when I first read Richard Elliot Friedman’s  Who Wrote the Bible? & The Hidden Book in the Bible, in which Friedman made a (to my mind) compelling argument (adapted from the heyday of the “Documentary Hypothesis” in 19th century Germany) for the centrality of the Yahwist strand of the Torah.  

Friedman also speculated that the Yahwist might have been a woman, and Harold Bloom took that idea of Friedman’s and ran (wild) with it in The Book of J. So, as I progressed in my Austenian sleuthing, and became aware of more and more veiled Biblical allusions in Jane Austen’s writing, I fancied that JA was aware of the early strands of the Documentary Hypothesis wafting about in the free air of England during her lifetime, and that she intuited that there was a distinctly female and subversive voice hiding in plain sight in the Torah, which the later priestly writers had coopted but had not destroyed. I also believe that she emulated the Yahwist in her own novelistic “Heptateuch”, which, as I have argued countless times, are a kind of female Torah, covertly and highly subversive of the hypocritical Anglican church hierarchy and dogma of her day.

And so…that last thought led me to the Torah tale of the rebellion of Korah in Numbers 16.  Wikipedia’s summary is as good as any:

“The Korah who fought against Israel was the…great-grandson of Levi, the third son of Jacob born to Leah who became the progenitor of the tribe of Levi (Num.16:1; Gen. 29:31-35). …They resisted Moses' leadership and as a result were swallowed by the earth along with many of their households. However the children of Korah were spared and remained alive (Numbers 26:11) and later wrote some Psalms…”

So…why did the designers of 1900 memorial include windows for the 4 Psalmist sons of Korah in addition to the window for the greatest Psalmist of them all, David? Was this suggesting that Jane Austen was a kind of literary Psalmist? Or was this suggesting that Jane Austen was, like the sons of Korah (who got out of Dodge in the nick of time, before the earth moved), a survivor, who was willing to generate superficially conformist writing---but who, unlike those sons, was meticulous in her creation of subversive subtext, challenging religious orthodoxy, like Korah, but subtext that was (safely) accessible only by those who could learn to read off-center?

Now…is it possible that Charles Eamer Kempe, a century ago, might have had any of this in mind as he constructed these windows?  On the anniversary of JA’s death, it is intriguing to speculate about it!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S. I realized as I wrote the above post that the death of Don Juan/Giovanni in the grip of the Stone Guest must have been inspired, in part,  by the tale of Korah, and that in turn reminded me of JA’s comments after seeing a performance  of a Don Juan pantomime in London:

I must say that I have seen nobody on the stage who has been a more interesting Character than that compound of Cruelty & Lust.”

That is my view of Jane Austen herself, except that she was, unlike Don Juan and Korah, too pragmatic and tricky to so openly rebel—had Korah been like Jane Austen, he’d have created a covert satire of Moses instead of openly challenging him—JA knew that overt rebels tend to get swallowed up in the earth.

P.P.S.: My friend Prof. Diane Capitani, who, as I reported last Fall, gave a brilliant presentation at the Ft. Worth JASNA AGM about allusions to St. Augustine  in S&S, will be interested, I am sure, to hear about the sixth window devoted to “St. Austin”, if Diane did not already know about it…