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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Jane Austen’s “Carpet” Sharade on James 1st & Cleland’s “carpet road” passage in Fanny Hill: Part Three

In Part  Two of this series of three posts about the above-titled topic….

….I  began to answer the question  posed to me  by the highly skeptical Nancy Mayer, as to how in the world the 15 year old Jane Austen could  plausibly have read about those “scandalous” rumors about James the first which seem to be satirized  in Jane Austen’s Sharade in her irreverent  History of England?

A quick search on Google Books led me first to essays by Prof. David Bergeron, a very thorough  scholar who compiled a  comprehensive  list of historical sources for the meme of James  I's homosexual relationships  with his male courtiers, in which Bergeron had led me first to a 1753  Life of James I  (i.e., published only a few years  after Fanny Hill!) written by William Harris, which included the following passage about  James I:

“And from his known love of masculine beauty, his excessive favour to such as  were possessed of it,
and unseemly Caresses of them, one would be tempted to think, that he  was not wholly free from a vice most unnatural.”

Would Jane Austen have had  access to a copy of Harris’s Life of James I, 40 years  later?  Perhaps, but also perhaps not, I don’t believe Harris was a famous historian whose books would have been commonly held  in private English libraries such as Reverend Austen’s  at Steventon.

But then Bergeron led me to another source, whose name made my eyes widen in amazement and delight: Catharine Sawbridge Macaulay’s  History of England, published in sequential volumes  during the 1760’s.

Now, why exactly did Macaulay’s  History of England give me such amazement and delight? Here’s why:

Because just over a year ago, I wrote a series of posts which detailed the ways  that Jane Austen, in her own satirical History of England, specifically alluded to Macaulay’s famous and serious multivolume history  (the first ever written by an English woman), and I also detailed the many close family connections between Macaulay and Jane Austen, with only one degree of separation:

So, I was amazed and delighted the other day to learn from Bergeron’s excellent historical scholarship that Macaulay’s History covered, in a thinly veiled manner, the sexual proclivities of James the First! Already knowing that Jane Austen’s History of England had alluded to Macaulay’s in other  ways, it struck me as beyond coincidence  that I should, by an  entirely different train of textual evidence, once again find  myself staring at  another allusion to Macaulay’s History in JA’s irreverent parodic History!

I have collected all the relevant excerpts I could find in Macaulay’s History, not having  been able to view the entire entry for James I in Macaulay’s first volume, where perhaps there  are still more. You be  the judge as to whether they provided sufficient background on James’s relationships with his male court favourites, so as  to induce Jane  Austen to learn more about Robert Carr.

Here first are the two most telling excerpts:

"The unrivalled Villiers now shone forth in all the gaudy plumage of royal favour. James found in the disposition of the youth an unbounded levity, and a ductile licentiousness, which promised as glorious a harvest as vice and folly could desire."

A “ductile licentious” and “harvest as vice” leave  little to the reader’s imagination as to what Macaulay is hinting  at  so strongly.


“All his [James’s] letters to his favourite Villiers  are written in a style fulsomely familiar, many of them indecent, with very unusual expressions of love and fondness”

And here a canny 15-year  old would need no decoder book to infer  from “indecent” and “very unusual”  that the “love and fondness” was hardly platonic!

And here is another passage in Macaulay that pointed toward  a personal relationship beyond friendship:

“His familiar conversation, both in writing and in speaking, was fluffed with vulgar and indecent phrases. Though proud and arrogant to his temper, and full of the importance of his station, he descended to buffoonry, and suffered his favourite to address him in the most disrespectful terms of gross familiarity.”

Macaulay (who clearly really did not  like James the First!) also made the following, more general negative comments about James’s character and behavior:

“In March 1615, the king [James I] going to Newmarket, according to his usual custom, to take the diversion of hunting, the students of Cambridge invited him to see a comedy called Ignoramus. At this play it was contrived that Villiers should appear with all the advantages which his mother could set him off with; and the king no sooner cast his eyes upon him, than he became confounded with admiration”


“His character, from the variety of grotesque qualities that compose it, is not easily to be delineated. The virtues he possessed were so loaded with a greater proportion of their neighbouring vices, that they exhibit no light to set off the dark shades; his principles of generosity were tainted by such a childish profusion, that they left him without means of paying his just obligations, and subjected him to the necessity of attempting irregular, illegal, and unjust methods of acquiring money. His friendship, not to give it the name of vice, was directed by so puerile a fancy, and so absurd a caprice, that the objects of it were ever contemptible, and its consequence attended with such an unmerited profusion of favours, that it was, perhaps, the most exceptionable quality of any he possessed.”

Now, even though Macaulay did not specifically mention Carr in these passages, Jane Austen, having read the above, would have been strongly motivated to find out more about James’s favourites from other readily available historical sources, and to also perhaps  draw upon the most valuable resource of all, all within the confines of her Steventon rectory home, i.e., her elder  brothers and all the older  boys who were being tutored by the Austens at that time. PLUS….perhaps most of all, cousin Eliza Hancock de Feuillide, who, being  a model for Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park, would perhaps have been all too eager  to initiate her precocious young cousin into English history, told from the point of view of well  informed women!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode  on Twitter

Jane Austen’s “Carpet” Sharade on James 1st & Cleland’s “carpet road” passage in Fanny Hill: Part Two

In my previous  post on this topic…

….I made the  case for  the 15-year old Jane Austen’s “Carpet” Sharade as a deliberate, learned, sly allusion to the famous gay sex scene in Cleland’s Fanny Hill. In a nutshell, Jane Austen picked up on rumors  that had swirled  around King James I  and his intimate relationships with at least  three of his courtiers for nearly two centuries, and connected them to the  controversial passage in  Cleland’s controversial masterpiece, and showed her extraordinary erudition at  such a very young age, and also her sophistication to formulate out of those two sources her own extraordinary original, witty wordplay.

Those who’ve been reading along in this blog  for a while will recall that this is not the first time I have claimed that Jane Austen alluded to Cleland’s notorious novel in her own writing. Here  are some of my earlier essays on this general topic, which, collectively present a multi-faceted, powerful cumulative argument that Fanny Hill was very much on Jane Austen’s mind while writing Emma at age 39:

What I am writing in my two post now  show that Jane Austen’s interest in Fanny Hill dates back to when she was only 15, and continued until she was 39. I’d say that was a lot of interest, and therefore this subject of Cleland’s influence on Jane Austen’s writing should be a pretty big deal in Austen studies, and I  hope to entice  other Austen  scholars to look into  it!

But change does not come easily and so the rest of this post is about a challenge to my claims, and how I rebutted it.

My favorite friendly adversary, Nancy Mayer, refusing to believe that the 15 year old Jane Austen could have had access to Fanny Hill, but also to information about the historical rumors  about James 1st's  homosexual behavior, wrote the following:

"I would like to have the name of some book written before Jane was 14 in which it states definitely in plain words that Car was the king's lover and not just a favorite. Even in the 20th century, some grew up in less than ideal conditions without ever learning that homosexuals existed."

At first, I replied as follows:

Nancy, you know your wish is my command. Plus, whenever I hear the sound of a challenge being tossed on the ground in front of me, I simply cannot resist rising to the bait.

And it took me, literally, 40 seconds, to generate a very promising lead pointing toward what you demanded. Courtesy of Wikipedia, here it is--I really couldn't have made this up if I had tried to design a more perfect validation of the claim that historically knowledgeable, enlightened English people living in the late 18th century were perfectly well aware of King James's "complicated" attitude toward his own bisexuality:

"James adopted a severe stance towards sodomy using English law. His book on kingship, Basilik√≥n Doron, (Greek for "Royal Gift") lists sodomy among those horrible crimes which ye are bound in conscience  never to forgive. He also singled out sodomy in a letter to Lord Burleigh giving directives that Judges were to interpret the law broadly and were not to issue any pardons, saying that "no more colour may be left to judges to work upon their wits in that point….."

And here's the kicker!

"…However, nearly two centuries later, Jeremy Bentham, in an unpublished manuscript, denounced James as a hypocrite after his crackdown: "[James I], if he be the author of that first article of the works which bear his name, and which indeed were owned by him, reckons this practise among the few offences which no Sovereign ever ought to pardon. This must needs seem rather extraordinary to those who have a notion that a pardon in this case is what he himself, had he been a subject, might have stood in need of." END QUOTE

[Me again] So Bentham believed, in no uncertain terms, that James I was a monstrous hypocrite when it  came to male homosexuality, he was as would say today, a self-hating gay man.

Now, if Bentham had published his thoughts, I would have already honored Nancy’s wish. I'd say that what he wrote, above, clearly meets the test of plain English she set. And Bentham was extremely
famous. And, curiously, Bentham wrote those words in his journal a scant  six years before the teenaged Jane Austen wrote her Sharade. So the timing is perfect, too.

But...apparently, Bentham didn't dare publish his enlightened thoughts about the barbarism of homophobia in his own country, for fear of himself being accused in the general witchhunt and being hung. And yet, Bentham found out about that hidden history in some way, didn't he?

I finished  responding to Nancy at the time with this challenge of my own:

So, what do you think the chances are that I will be able, in the next week, to figure out a plausible connection between Bentham's private impassioned screed in favor of what we today would call 'gay rights', and some published material about James I's sexuality (because surely Bentham did not manufacture that history about James I out of thin air)  which would have been accessible in a decent English home library in 1791? As another Arnold said, I'll be back (when I have the smoking gun in hand)!

That was Monday, and by Wednesday, I had  actually found  that published source, and  I will tell you all about it (or should I say, her)  in Part Three…..

Read on…..

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

Jane Austen’s “Carpet” Sharade on James 1st & Cleland’s “carpet road” passage in Fanny Hill: Part One

In Janeites on Sunday, Nancy Mayer wrote the following, attempting to rebut my and others's claims that Jane Austen's Sharade on James I……

“His Majesty was of that amiable disposition which inclines to Freindship, and in such points was possessed of a keener penetration in discovering Merit than many other people. I once heard an excellent Sharade on a Carpet, of which the subject I am now on reminds me, and as I think it may afford my Readers some amusement to FIND IT OUT, I shall here take the liberty of presenting it to them.

My first is what my second was to King James the 1st, and you tread on my whole.
The principal favourites of his Majesty were Car, who was afterwards created Earl of Somerset and whose name perhaps may have some share in the above mentioned Sharade, and George Villiers afterwards Duke of Buckingham...."  END QUOTE

…was indeed an intentional dirty joke on the part of the 15 year old Jane Austen:

Nancy: "We tried to discuss Unbecoming Conjunctions n this list some time ago. I think the only thing on which we agreed is that if we  believe Heydt  Stevenson, the books are forever changed and one would have to make an effort to keep them out of the hands of children. They would be more  akin to Fanny Hill and Peyton Place than stories suitable for all ages."

Nancy’s reference to Fanny Hill rang a distant bell in my memory in relation to Jane Austen’s Sharade, and now I have had a chance to check back in my files, and I find that  several years ago, it occurred to me to check to see whether Jane Austen  just might have been making one of her patented covert literary  allusions when she chose to have "carpet" be the answer to her Sharade.

Sure enough, I had hit a bull's eye a long while back, when I came across the following famous passage in Cleland's Fanny Hill:   [ALERT! The following passage is typical Cleland  stylish euphemism vividly describing  sexual acts]

"Slipping, then, aside the young man's shirt, and tucking it under his cloaths behind, he shewed to the open air those globular fleshy  eminences that compose the Mount Pleasants of Rome, and which now, with  all the narrow vale that intersects them, stood displayed and exposed to his attack nor could I without a shudder behold the disposition he made  for it. First, then, moistening well with spittle his instrument,  obviously to make it glib; he pointed, he introduced it, as I could  plainly discern, not from its direction, and my losing sight of it, but  by the writhing, twisting, and soft murmured complaints of the young sufferer; but at length, the first straights of entrance being pretty well got through, everything seemed to move and go pretty currently on, AS ON A CARPET ROAD, WITHOUT MUCH RUB OR RESISTANCE; and now, passing  one hand round his minion's hips, he got hold of his red-topped ivory toy, that stood perfectly stiff, and shewed, that if he was like his mother behind, he was like his father before; this he diverted himself with, whilst with the other he wantoned with his hair, and leaning forward over his back, drew his face, from which the boy shook the loose curls that fell over it, in the posture he stood him in, and brought him towards his, so as to receive a long breathed kiss; after which, renewing his driving, and thus continuing to harass his rear, the height of the fit came on with its usual symptoms, and dismissed the action."  END QUOTE

This passage is famous, at least among literary scholars, because it is the "climactic" part of THE most notorious passage in Fanny Hill, i.e.,   it is the scene in which an older man has his way with a younger man, as Fanny covertly observes in horrified fascination. There is a fascinating story about this passage, in terms of the uproar that it caused in 1750, and Cleland's editing it out of a subsequent edition, if memory serves me right.

Anyway, it does not require any leap at all to see how this passage relates to Jane Austen's Sharade on James I--in fact, the parallels could not be closer! It is obvious that the 15 year old Jane Austen was
already very familiar with the above passage in Fanny Hill, and she tailor-made her Sharade in order to capitalize on the totally random correspondence between "Carr" and "carpet", and to bring to the mind of a close reader of Fanny Hill this exact parallel!

And so once again, Nancy, you have provided me with an invaluable service, by reminding me of the most probative part of my argument in favor of Jane Austen's youthful Sharade being about James I's sexual relationship with his favourite Carr.  Jane Austen knew that those  reading her Sharade could wonder, is it possible this teenaged girl is writing such a dirty Sharade? And, because she always played fair with her readers, she provided a giant wink---the thinly veiled allusion to Cleland's "carpet road"---in order to confirm to the knowing reader that, yes, this was indeed entirely intentional!

Now, please read on to Part Two….

… for significant additional corroboration of my claim of intentional allusion by the youthful Jane Austen to Cleland’s Fanny Hill.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S. Jane Austen, with her characteristic principle of "deniability", provided a rationale for understanding the answer of "Carpet" to her Sharade with a PG rating, so to speak, because  there was an expression, "carpet knight" with Elizabethan origins (Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night refers to Sir  Andrew  Aguecheek as being "on carpet consideration", and here is how an 1862 Notes & Query entry defines the term:

"The carpet knight is a term characteristically applied to those who obtained their honours "with unhacked rapier and on carpet consideration"... amidst the holiday gifts of their sovereign, rather than bravely acquired on the field of battle, or boasting a prescriptive claim by proving victorious at a tournament."

So, Robert  Carr was a carpet  knight in that sense, but also in the sexual sense that Jane Austen so clearly hinted  at.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hilary Mantel Wields Jane Austen's Quill Pen

Near the  end of the first of my two recent posts about Hilary Mantel's controversial article  about Kate Middleton and the other British Royals.....

....I drew the following parallel between Mantel's article and Jane Austen's satirical writing:

"...[M]ost obvious[ly], "The pen is in our hands." [in Mantel's article] is a direct echo of Anne Elliot's stirring feminist call to arms: "Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything." "  END QUOTE

Now, I'd bet that notwithstanding my own high level of confidence that Mantel had Persuasion's Anne Elliot specifically in mind while writing that sentence in her article, more than a few of those reading my comments were skeptical of my certainty, thinking that such a phrase could easily have been reinvented a number of times by creative writers over the centuries. 

Being aware of such likely skepticism, I was determined to find out what, if anything, Mantel had ever written about Jane Austen in published form, which might shed light on this question. 

So imagine my anticipation, yesterday, when Google led me to Mantel's entry about.....(who else?)  Jane Austen in Joseph Epstein's 2007 collection entitled Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define  English & American Literature.

Today, I was able to swing by the library and pick up a copy of that book, and then imagine my delight and sense of vindication when I was reading through Mantel's relatively short entry and came upon the following

"...[Austen's stories] seem to be telling us something tough, enduring, and valuable about how power  is negotiated, exercised, yielded. In Austen's books, history is not written by the winners, and society is not described by its overlords. Anne Elliot in Persuasion  tells us,  "Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story....The pen has been in their hands."...  "  END QUOTE

As they say in math class, Q.E.D. 

Even though Mantel is clearly not a passionate Janeites (she misspells Knightley as Knightly, and does not know that JA's "poor animal" quote is not merely about "some woman", it is about niece and psychological daughter Anna Austen Lefroy!), I nonetheless strongly recommend Mantel's entry about Jane Austen

Perhaps some of you were put off by reading Elsa Solender's pretty negative review of Mantel's piece in Persuasions Online a few years  ago. It's obvious why Solender didn't like Mantel's taking a satirical swipe at uncritical idolatry of  the romance in Austen's novels, Mantel does not pull punches, that's for sure. But she takes on Austen's writing, and the culture of Janeites, the same way she took on the Royals in her recent article, and I gotta admire that. 

Here  are two brief quotes that might tantalize  some of you to give it a read in its entirety:

"It was time for someone [like JA}to write, without constraint, about the constraints of private lives and about the constraints of women's lives in particular: to redefine private life and make it into art."

"In one of her two attested portraits, she wears what may be an incipient smile: a mere, ambiguous flicker. In the other, she turns her back to the viewer. It is only genius that can say, make of me what you like."

Love her, hate her, Mantel lays it all on the line. 

I want to read one of her novels--any recommendations from anyone who has read her fiction?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, February 22, 2013

P.S re Hilary Mantel & Duchess Kate

In response to my first post about Hilary Mantel's controversial recent article about Duchess Kate and the Royal Family, my friend Diana Birchall wrote: "You're probably right, Arnie, it was short-sighted of me not to see that  Mantel isn't a compilation of brilliant effects and a couple of misjudged duds,  she was doubtless orchestrating it all the way. "

Diana, not short sighted at all,  it was actually your accurate comments about how strange it was that Mantel would so misjudge the reaction that instantly made me wonder if she actually had exactly anticipated, indeed desired, the reaction.

It is a gambit we see everywhere in Shakespeare's plays and JA's novels, both overtly and covertly, a clever manipulator "accidentally" provoking a self-revealing reaction from a naive reactor. And it's not just the Iagos, there can be good manipulators, too. I think Mantel is one of the latter, just as I think JA was also. I would love to chat with Mantel about Jane Austen.

Mantel in her article, viewed in context with the reaction to it, demonstrates the mighty power of the pen, when wielded by a brilliant, strategic satirist. She makes her direct points in her article, and she glosses those points by the reaction she provokes.

Of course, I don't know Hilary Mantel, and perhaps greed and desire for greater fame could be motivators for her writing this article. But my bet is that she did this for all the right reasons, she wanted to provoke a real and wide discussion about these sensitive issues, she was bravely willing to put her own body and face into play (just look at all the cruel and nasty comments about her appearance that have been lobbed in her direction) and she has admirably succeeded in getting a lot of people to think about this subject.

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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