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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 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.

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