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Monday, March 11, 2013

The Riveting Spectacle of Jane Austen & Joseph Addison in a Clinching CONUNDRUM

This post is in followup to my several posts yesterday in which I claimed that Jane Austen, both in her youthful History of England, and also in Emma, covertly but strongly alluded to the following passage written by the great essayist Joseph Addison about James the First in his 4th Paper on Wit, published in The Spectator #61, 05/10/1711:

"...the age in which the pun chiefly flourished was in the reign of King James the First. That learned monarch was himself a tolerable punster, and made very few bishops or Privy Councillors that had not some time or other signalised themselves by a clinch, or a conundrum. It was, therefore, in this age that the pun appeared with pomp and dignity..."

My posts (collected here....

...focused on the covert, sexual punning meaning of "clinch", and included the following comment by me:

"Of the various synonyms that Addison could have used for punning vis a vis James the First’s patronage, Addison chose one [i.e., "clinch"] which was rich in alternative meanings, i.e., itself very ripe for punning. Whereas, by contrast, he also chose “conundrum”, which is barren of such possibilities."

Well, I'm here today to announce that I underestimated the audacity and brilliance of both Addison AND Jane Austen, when I referred to "conundrum" of being barren of punning, sexual possibilities. You really won't believe your eyes, when you read the following, thanks to the pioneering research of  Joseph H. Marshburn & Alan R. Velie, in Blood and knavery: a collection of English Renaissance  pamphlets, 1973, at P. 119, regarding a collection of songs from 1652 entitled A Pill to Purge Melancholy: [I was unable, as yet, to access the full text, but I will soon!]

"...and went up with her frosty lover; the fire being kindled, and wine brought up, as soon as the drawer had voided the room, the lawyer began afresh to court his mistress, and to kiss and hug her close to him, proffering TO FEEL HER CONUNDRUM, etc., all which she patiently suffered; but while he was busied that way, she was not unmindful of Hind’s...."

Needless to say, Marshburn (and several slang lexicographers citing him with approval) cite the above as evidence of "conundrum" as slang for the female sexual organ, which of course would fit perfectly with Addison's reference to James the First's demanding access to his "privy" councillors's "conundrums" as the "price" for their admission to the ""privy" council (and by the way, James's lovers Carr, Villiers and James's older French cousin Esme d'Aubigny, were ALL admitted to his Privy Council!)

And Marshburn has an intriguing footnote for a word in another part of that song I couldn't access which reads "n 8: Darling, minion. Term rarely used to describe a female lover; normally it meant catamite [i.e., sodomite]", which strongly suggests to me that the 1652 song has its own homophobic subtext, which would tie in even more closely with James the First's homosexual sex life.

But now the best part---in my posts yesterday, I claimed the spectacle rivets scene in Emma was a veiled allusion to Addison's sly sexual punning in Spectator 61. Now, I realize that was only the first half of Jane Austen's homage in Emma to Addison's punning. Now that I've recognized the sexual meaning of "conundrum", all I need do is copy, below, the other, even more amazing, half of that homage, also having Miss Bates at its center:
Miss Bates, deceived by the mock ceremony of her manner, did not immediately catch her meaning; but, when it burst on her, it could not anger, though a slight blush showed that it could pain her.
    "Ah! well -- to be sure. Yes, I see what she means, (turning to Mr. Knightley,) and I will try to hold my tongue. I must make myself very disagreeable, or she would not have said such a thing to an old friend."
    "I like your plan," cried Mr. Weston. "Agreed, agreed. I will do my best. I am making a CONUNDRUM. How will a CONUNDRUM reckon?"
    "Low, I am afraid, sir, very low," answered his son; "but we shall be indulgent, especially to any one who leads the way."
    "No, no," said Emma, "it will not reckon low. A CONUNDRUM of Mr. Weston's shall clear him and his next neighbour. Come, sir, pray let me hear it."
    "I doubt it's being very clever myself," said Mr. Weston. "It is too much a matter of FACT, but here it is. What two letters of the alphabet are there, that express perfection?"
    "What two letters! express perfection! I am sure I do not know."
    "Ah! you will never guess. You," (to Emma), "I am certain, will never guess. I will tell you. M. and A. Em-ma. Do you understand?"
    Understanding and gratification came together. It might be a very indifferent piece of wit; but Emma found a great deal to laugh at and enjoy in it: and so did Frank and Harriet. It did not seem to touch the rest of the party equally; some looked very stupid about it, and Mr. Knightley gravely said,
    "This explains the sort of clever thing that is wanted, and Mr. Weston has done very well for himself; but he must have knocked up every body else. Perfection should not have come quite so soon."

I will leave it for my next post to present some of my ideas for how Mr. Weston's answer, and Mr. Knightley's grave response, connect to Addison's puns and Jane Austen's youthful Sharade (and also the "courtship" charade in Emma itself).

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