In the above three posts by me posted in my blog during the past two
weeks, I outlined different aspects of my argument that "Mrs. Bingley's
portrait" (as described in detail by Jane Austen in Letter 85 written in
late May, 1813, four months after publication of P&P) was intended by
Jane Austen (1) to wink at Jane Bennet as a representation of both the
notorious Regency Era courtesan Harriette Wilson and also a Mrs. Quentin
(or Quintin), a mistress of the Prince Regent, and also (2) to wink at
Mr. Darcy as a representation of the Prince himself.
[While those three posts will provide interesting background for what I
will discuss, below, it is not necessary to read them first in order to
follow my below argument.]
One point I followed up on after the above 3 posts was to attempt to
"decode" Jane Austen's (to me, obviously) hinting & teasing comments
about colors in that portrait, as follows:
" Mrs. Bingley’s is exactly like herself, size, shaped face, features &
sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a WHITE
gown, with GREEN ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always
supposed, that GREEN was a favorite colour with her. I dare say Mrs.
Darcy will be in YELLOW.”
Everything I've learned over the past decade about what I call "the Jane
Austen Code" was telling me that Jane Austen, somehow, some way, was
hinting and winking to CEA about those colors in an allusive code, i.e.
,where the colors mentioned were clues pointing to some allusive source
known to both Austen sisters, which would, when identified, shed
additional light on the aforementioned subtextual pointing in P&P to the
Prince Regent and two of his illicit sexual partners.
And so, I started Googling various combinations of the words "yellow"
and "green" in conjunction with some of JA's frequent, tried and true,
allusive sources. So it did not take me long to Google the following
search term combination:
yellow + green + Shakespeare
And when I did, look where Google took me on a magic carpet ride at the
speed of light: Twelfth Night Act 2, Scene 4:
Duke Orsino and Viola (cross dressed in disguise as Cesario) are
debating the relative strength of love in men and women, and then we
read the following speech by Viola, in answer to Orsino's question as to
the history of the daughter of Viola's father---of course referring, in
code, to herself:
A blank, my lord. She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,
And with A GREEN AND YELLOW MELANCHOLY
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?
We men may say more, swear more: but indeed
Our shows are more than will; for still we prove
Much in our vows, but little in our love.
Many, if not all, of you reading this will probably respond by pointing
out that this is surely a coincidence, as yellow and green are the
_extremely_ common names of extremely common colors. And, if all I was
relying on were the juxtaposition of the above description of "Mrs.
Bingley" in Letter 85 with the above description of "Viola's daughter"
in Twelfth Night, then I'd be the first to agree with you--that'd be
quite a stretch.
But that is far, far from all I am relying on, and I will briefly
outline for you now what an extraordinarily unlikely coincidence this
juxtaposition actually is:
First, I immediately recognized that the above speech by Viola is one
which JA _explicitly_ alluded to in Northanger Abbey, Chapter 1, where
we read about Catherine Morland's home "library":
"And from Shakespeare she gained a great store of information — amongst
the rest, that —….a young woman in love always looks —“like Patience on
a monument“Smiling at Grief.”
What's noteworthy is that the narrator of NA makes a very misleading
interpretation of Viola's speech, because Viola, in full context, is
saying that only a young woman whose love is _unrequited_ (like her own)
will look this way. JA has deliberately misled the reader here, and does
so by omitting the previous four lines.
Second, I also recalled that many Austen scholars have noted that the
above speech by Viola is also _implicitly_ alluded to in the penultimate
chapter of Persuasion by Anne Elliot in her famous debate with Harville
about the differences between the way men and women love, and surely
those Austen scholars are correct.
So, this establishes first that Jane Austen not only knew the above
speech by Viola very well--well enough to cleverly and deliberately
_mis_interpret it--- it was (if memory serves me right) the only passage
in all of Shakespeare which is alluded to _twice_ in Jane Austen's
novels. So this is not just Shakespeare in JA's constitution, as Henry
Crawford suggested, but Shakespeare in JA's heart of hearts.
And finally, getting back to Jane Bennet, does not "Patience on a
monument, smiling at grief" describe Jane to a "T" (or perhaps better, a
"V"?) during the entire long middle section of the novel? In the
conventional reading of P&P, Jane pines for Bingley's love until all
hope is gone, before it is rekindled. And, to show how obsessively
careful JA was about using particular words to reinforce veiled
allusions, the word "patient" is used to describe Jane in several
instances in P&P, but the word "_im_patient is used numerous times to
describe Lizzy, Lydia and Mrs. Bennet---but _never_ Jane. So, is that
striking parallel between the character of Viola (who does not reveal
her love to Orsino) and Jane (who does not reveal her love to Bingley)
just a coincidence too?
But that's only the beginning.
Next, I immediately recalled that some Austen scholars had preceded me
in noting that there is a _thinly_ veiled allusion to Twelfth Night in
Chapter 9 of P&P:
"And so ended his affection," said Elizabeth impatiently. "There has
been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first
discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!"
"I have been used to consider POETRY AS THE _FOOD_ OF LOVE," said Darcy.
"Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is
strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I
am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away."
Even the tinniest of ears can hear the allusion to the first three lines
in Duke Orsino's speech which is the very first and most famous speech
in Twelfth Night:
If MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
But what those Austen scholars did not realize, but I did several years
ago, was that the allusion to Twelfth Night began in the paragraph
immediately preceding Darcy's and Lizzy's famous exchange:
"I do not like to boast of my own child, but to be sure, Jane—one does
not often see anybody better looking. It is what everybody says. I do
not trust my own partiality. When she was only fifteen, there was a man
at my brother Gardiner's in town so much in love with her that my
sister-in-law was sure he would make her an offer before we came away.
But, however, he did not. Perhaps he thought her too young. However, he
wrote some verses on her, and very pretty they were."
It was several years ago that the idea popped into my head that the
unnamed older suitor of Jane Bennet who "wrote some pretty verses on
her" was none other than.......Mr. Darcy himself! Crazy? So imagine my
delight this past week when I realized that the veiled allusion to
Twelfth Night that I discerned in Letter 85's references to "Mrs.
Bingley's portrait" were so perfectly in alignment with the veiled
allusion to Twelfth Night that I discerned several years ago in Ch. 9 of
But, if veiled allusion be the food of the Jane Austen Code, read
on......because there is even more!
In P&P, Mr. Collins, at least when writing to Mr. Bennet, is
particularly fond of one particular symbol--an olive branch--in two
different letters spread widely apart in the novel:
First, we read the following earlier in the novel:
[Mr. Collins writes to Mr. Bennet] "...As a clergyman, moreover, I feel
it my duty to promote and establish the blessing of peace in all
families within the reach of my influence; and on these grounds I
flatter myself that my present overtures are highly commendable, and
that the circumstance of my being next in the entail of Longbourn estate
will be kindly overlooked on your side, and not lead you to reject the
offered OLIVE-BRANCH...." and then we read: "In point of composition,"
said Mary, "the letter does not seem defective. The idea of the
OLIVE-BRANCH perhaps is not wholly new, yet I think it is well expressed."
Then, much later, Mr. Bennet reports on another letter received from Mr.
"The rest of his letter is only about his dear Charlotte's situation,
and his expectation of a young OLIVE-BRANCH.
So what, you say? Well, is it just coincidence that _Viola_ speaks the
following line to Olivia (yes, OLIV-IA!) in Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene
5, explaining the mission she's come to Olivia for, on Orsino's behalf:
"It alone concerns your ear. I bring no overture of war, no taxation of
homage: I hold THE OLIVE in my hand; my words are as full of peace as
Just coincidence again? Sure, there are _other_ sources for Mr.
Collins's olive branch--in the Bible, in Richardson's novels---but I
have learned that JA was particularly fond of _layered_ allusive
symbols, which echo down through the literary millenia.
So I suggest that JA has here given us a _third_ broad wink and hint
that Twelfth Night is alluded to in a pervasive way in P&P, and the
particular parallel to observe is Viola and Orsino, vis a vis _Jane_ and
And that is a very good place to stop--of course this is only the first
part of a multi-stage argument in support of the intentionality of this
allusion by JA, but I've given enough to those who read literature as I
do, to savor the miracle of the Jane Austen Code.
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter
P.S.: I just checked in my files, and see that Jocelyn Harris wrote the
following in a 2010 article about the great 18th century actress Dorothy
Jordan and the ways Harris believed JA alluded to the great
Shakespearean heroines played by Jordan, including (who else?) Viola
from Twelfth Night:
"[Charles Lamb wrote] There is no giving an account of how she delivered
the disguised story of her love for Orsino. It was no set speech, that
she had foreseen, so as to weave it into an harmonious period . . . but,
when she had declared her sister’s history to be a ‘‘blank,’’ and that
she ‘‘never told her love,’’ there was a pause, as if the story had
ended _ and then the image of the ‘‘worm in the bud’’ came up as a new
suggestion _ and the heightened image of ‘‘Patience’’ still followed
after that, as by some growing (and not mechanical) process, thought
springing up after thought, I would almost say, as they were watered by
her tears. (Hogan 5.1.cxxi)
Like Viola (Shakespeare, Twelfth Night 29.971), Elizabeth cannot tell
her love. Her mother’s attack on Darcy consequently causes her a
‘‘misery of shame’’, Lady Catherine’s visit forces her into ‘‘a little
falsehood’’, and her father’s raillery mortifies her most cruelly (Pride
and Prejudice 337, 359, 363_64). And if the disguised Viola says to
Orsino, ‘‘I am a Gentleman’’ (Twelfth Night 5.554), Elizabeth says to
Lady Catherine, ‘‘I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal’’
(Pride and Prejudice 356). Like Jordan, then, Elizabeth combines the
arch and the serious. She hopes she never ridicules what is wise or
good, even as she teases Mr Darcy (57). Her vivacity is always
underpinned with heartfelt sentiment, like Jordan’s.When Mr Bennet
reminds her that she has always hated Darcy, she replies with tears in
her eyes, ‘‘I do, I do like him’’, and, ‘‘I love him’’ (376)."
I would suggest that Viola is indeed alluded to in the character of
Lizzy in one way of reading P&P, but in the character of _Jane_ in the
other way of reading P&P!
- Deirdre Le Faye & Me: "I am a scholar, she is a scholar: so far we are equal"
- Darcy's "We neither of us perform to strangers": a Radical New Interpretation
- The Hunger Games’s Veiled Allusion to Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus
- August Wayne Booth in Once Upon A Time: Jane Austen Really IS Everywhere in 2012!
- Rick Santorum would have been the worst person in the world to Jane Austen too!
- 20 shades of hero/villain Mr. Darcy
- The Great Gadsby: an overnight lesbian feminist ‘comedy’ sensation 10+ years in the making (& 3 millenia overdue)
- Can Jane Austen forgive Marianne?
- Austenland: The Movie was Fun, but the Novel was Better [SPOILER ALERT as to both]
- The secret codeword Shakespeare devilishly hid in plain sight in Romeo & Juliet that Shakespeare Uncovered DIDN’T uncover—but John Milton (and then I) did!
Thursday, November 15, 2012
The Veiled Allusion to Twelfth Night in Jane Austen's Letter 85....and Pride & Prejudice!: Make of it WHAT YOU WILL
Posted by Arnie Perlstein at 10:27 PM
Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)
Bravo. Excellent. I had honed in immediately to the green and yellow in letter 85 as alluding to something--good job with the sleuthing and teasing out a meaning--I would say "the" meaning, but with JA we usually, as you well know, find layers. A trace back to Shakespeare, however, is always a good idea with her!
A quibble and a question: I think you're stretching things to equate the olive branch directly to Olivia--and you don't need that for your argument. The question: when did Lamb, always so perceptive, write his comments?
I look forward to reading your book.
Diane, I have a good answer to your good question, and will post a new post later tonight.
Post a Comment