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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Complex Concealed Allusion to Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT in Jane Austen’s SENSE & SENSIBILITY

The other day, I made what I consider an extraordinary discovery in my literary sleuthing, and I reported then that it met several precise specifications. Now I will reveal those specifications, briefly (a much more detailed analysis to be included in my book) of that discovery, which the title of this post now reveals:

SPEC #1: “Mainstream Austen scholars recognize an allusion in one of Jane Austen’s novels to another well known work of literature.” 

In Chapter 2 of Sense & Sensibility, Fanny & John Dashwood reduce the size of the deathbed precatory bequest by John’s father to his widow  and 3 daughters, in a piecemeal manner strikingly reminiscent of the way Ragan and Goneril reduce their father King Lear’s retinue while visiting them after his having just divided his kingdom between the two of them via an inter vivos (living) gift.

For additional context, see the following optional background:  (Act 1, Scene 3, of King Lear)   (Act 1, Scene 4, of King Lear)  (Emma Thompson’s marvelous version of Chapter 2 of S&S, watch from 2:10 to 4:00)

SPEC #2: “I have previously written about that recognized allusion in connection with Jane Austen’s real life.”

I refer to what I call the Massacre of Steventon, when James & Mary Austen in effect plundered the assets of the Austen rectory from the rest of the Austen family. In the above-linked blog post from a year ago, I  wrote, inter alia:  “…surely, by May 1801, after an eternity lasting nearly six months (it would be very much the exaggerating mindset of a grasping, greedy usurper to refer to a time period of five months and four days as "nearly six months") that would try anyone's patience, Mary Austen was indeed quite anxious to have her tiresome in-laws gone from Steventon already. After all, who knew what sort of horrid, malicious rumors these overstaying-their-welcome ingrate in-laws might spread about Mary's attempts to feather her new nest properly, if they continued to be so inconveniently impolite as to remain physically present in Steventon to bear accurate witness to the details of the Massacre…”

Now, Spec #1 and Spec #2 are  “old news” to those who’ve been following my research over these past few years, but they set the stage for what I discovered the other day.

SPEC #3: “…my sleuthing…led me to recognize a much more apt allusion in that same Austen novel to that same prior author, which more-apt allusion has NOT been recognized, as far as I can discern, by any other Austen scholar prior to me.”

The author of  King Lear is of course William Shakespeare, and the other allusion by Jane Austen hidden in plain sight in Chapter 2 of S&S, besides the well recognized allusion to the tragedy King Lear is to the comedy As You Like It (abbreviated as “AYLI”)—specifically to Act 1, Scene 1:

In this introductory scene, we read how Oliver, the eldest brother and therefore heir to his deceased father, has failed to discharge his promise to his dying father to educate his younger brother (the hero of the play) Orlando.

There are a half dozen ways in which this scene in is specifically alluded to in Chapter 2 and elsewhere in S&S, which I encourage you to see for yourself, and which I will write about another time, but I wish to emphasize the Big Picture on this point.  

I.e., that Act 1 Scene 1 of AYLI is in one crucial sense much more closely tracked by S&S Ch. 2 than King Lear 1.3& 1.4, most obviously because in both S&S and in AYLI we have an elder brother, the legal heir, screwing his younger sibling out of a fair share of a join inheritance from a dead father who wished to be fair but could not control the outcome from beyond the grave. In King Lear, it is a living father who becomes the one who gets screwed out of largesse which originated in himself, and it is he himself who (ironically) disinherits his third and good daughter, Cordelia.

In short, from King Lear, JA took the motif of piecemeal rationalization/reduction of a family gift, and from As You Like It, the motif of an elder brother cheating a younger sibling. Together, these subtly linked Shakespearean allusions form a powerful and synergized subtext for John Dashwood’s sins toward his step-relatives in S&S.

And of course, this veiled allusion to two Shakespeare plays also adds enormous additional power to the veiled biographical condemnation by Jane Austen of her eldest brother,  James & second wife Mary, in Chapter 2 of S&SKing  Lear shines a bright light on the cheating of James’s still living parents, AYLI on the cheating of James’s two sisters.  Again, a synergy of moral condemnation of an unworthy son and brother, written by his bitter  and brilliant younger  sister, in practically the first words she ever published!

So….how is it that I am apparently the first scholar to ever (as far as I can ascertain via diligent checking) take note of this (in hindsight obvious) allusion to AYLI in Chapter  2 of S&S?  Food for thought, especially because what I’ve written above is only one of several important thematic resonances between As You Like It and S&S which I’ve spent the past day detecting and analyzing.

My personal favorite amongst them at this moment is the repeated motif of “liking”, and the distinction between “liking” and “love” which I believe Jane Austen detected in AYLI, and which she expanded into nearly two dozen different references throughout  S&S, most memorably in the scene in which Marianne Dashwood castigates her sister (we can all see Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson in our mind’s eyes):

"Esteem him! LIKE him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise. Use those words again, and I will leave the room this moment."

And, in her characteristic thrifty use of one bit of wordplay to serve multiple thematic purposes, what better way for Jane Austen to keep tickling her reader’s subconscious  than by repeatedly emphasizing a word, “like”, which is the only substantive word in Shakespeare’s title!  It’s as though Jane Austen, like Milton’s Satan, keeps whispering in our sleeping ears, “As You LIKE It” is everywhere in this novel!   

So, let’s move on to the next Spec, the fun is not quite  over yet!

SPEC # 4: “…as icing on my sleuthing cake, this heretofore unrecognized Austen allusion turns out to be a companion of allusions by Austen in two of her other  novels,  to that same allusive source! And I have not long ago written about those other two allusions as well”.
The Complex Hidden Allusion to Shakespeare’s As You Like It in Jane Austen’s Emma
Lionel Trilling’s Massive Trojan Horse Moment about Emma and As You Like It

And, in addition to the AYLI allusion in S&S and  Emma, I have previously pointed out in passing elsewhere, the resonance to AYLI that has been detected by some Austen scholars in both P&P and MP, although on nowhere near the scale that it echoes through Emma and S&S. Still, that makes (at least) four Austen novels all pointing to As You Like It, each with a different spin on Shakespeare’s play.

From all of the above, one begins to see the depth and breadth of Jane Austen’s enormous engagement with Shakespeare, both with his tragedies and his comedies, reflecting the depths  of tragedy lurking just beneath the surface of JA’s supposedly comic novels.  

And there’s a lesson here in jumping to dismissive conclusions about this sort of veiled allusion, which I have perspective on, as a result of the extended time I have taken in my research, not stopping too soon.

I first detected, back in 2005, the following wordplay that Jane Austen hid in plain sight in Emma, in Mrs. Elton’ comment to Mr. Darcy about their upcoming outing:

“That's quite unnecessary; I see Jane every day: -- but AS YOU LIKE. IT is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite a simple thing...."

Most reactions I received from other Janeites about the above was that it was probably intentional on Jane Austen’s part, but otherwise just some clever wordplay and not to be considered of much importance. Then last year I realized  about the  complex allusion  to AYLI in Emma which I have linked to above. And only as of yesterday did I realize that there was an equally complex allusion to AYLI in S&S as well.

Which puts Mrs. Elton’s wordgame in a whole new perspective, as it can be understood as Jane Austen’s attempt to bring to the consciousness of her attuned readers the  allusions to AYLI in her novels which (I think it’s safe to assume) had not been detected by her family and friends reading her novels. That’s my guess, at least. And I will have more to write about Mrs. Elton’s wordgame in a followup post to come later today. Stay tuned…

SPEC #5: “And finally, two gratuitous bonuses: There is a color-coding aspect to all of this, a la the Orange Admiral Croft“:

As a result of my unpacking the implications of JA’s allusion to AYLI in S&S, and in particular revisiting Mrs. Elton’s wordplay on “as you like it”, my eye was caught by something  else Mrs. Elton says in that same passage:

“I shall wear a large bonnet, and bring one of my little baskets hanging on my arm. Here,—probably this basket with PINK RIBBON. Nothing can be more simple, you see. And Jane will have such another. There is to be no form or parade—a sort of gipsy party.”

Although it warrants a whole blog post of its own, I will only briefly outline the color coded connection between Mrs. Elton’s pink bonnet, on the one hand, and the following two passages:

Sense & Sensibility  Ch. 38: “I am monstrous glad of it. Good gracious! I have had such a time of it! I never saw Lucy in such a rage in my life. She vowed at first she would never trim me up a new bonnet, nor do any thing else for me again, so long as she lived; but now she is quite come to, and we are as good friends as ever. Look, she made me this BOW to my hat, and put in the feather last night. There now, YOU are going to laugh at me too. But why should not I wear PINK RIBBONS? I do not care if it IS the Doctor's favourite colour. I am sure, for my part, I should never have known he did LIKE IT better than any other colour, if he had not happened to say so. My cousins have been so plaguing me! I declare sometimes I do not know which way to look before them."  


Mansfield Park Ch. 19:   Mrs. Norris was by no means to be compared in happiness to her sister. Not that she was incommoded by many fears of Sir Thomas's disapprobation when the present state of his house should be known, for her judgment had been so blinded that, except by the instinctive caution with which she had whisked away Mr. Rushworth's PINK SATIN CLOAK as her brother-in-law entered, she could hardly be said to shew any sign of alarm….”
Suffice to say that the previous speculations of some Janeites (including myself) about what Nancy Steele means about pink being her Doctor’s  “favourite colour” , and  of other Janeites (also including myself) about Mr. Rushworth’s pink satin cloak are implicated.

In that regard—and this is really amazing---I only realized yesterday that Mrs. Norris’s “instinctive caution” can be interpreted in an ENTIRELY different way than as fear of Sir Thomas becoming aware of the Lovers Vows preparations, i.e., as her concern that Sir Thomas might realize that Mr. Rushworth’s choice of pink was symbolic of an important preference that would anger the very conservative and  probably quite bigoted Sir Thomas already concerned about the bona fides of his eldest daughter’s marriage to him, and his ability and/or desire to fulfill his conjugal duties.

All of which makes me wonder why Sir Walter Elliot did not pun on the theme of a pink admiral…   ;)

SPEC #6: And…there is even a connection to my claim about the feminist animal imagery picked up on by Jane Austen in the Dorset poem which I discussed in my two recent posts.”

Shortly said, we have Orlando making the same symbolic connection between beasthood and victimization, that I claim is present in all of Jane Austen’s novels, in 1.1 of AYLI:  

“…for my  part, he keeps me rustically at home, or, to speak more properly, stays me here at home unkept; for call you that keeping for a gentleman of my birth, that differs not from the stalling of an ox? His horses are bred better; for, besides that they are fair with their feeding, they are taught their manage, and to that end riders dearly hired: but I, his brother, gain nothing under him but growth...”

And now look at the resonance of Orlando’s complaint to Sir John’s conflating canine female with human female:  

"And is that all you can say for him?" cried Marianne, indignantly. "But what are his manners on more intimate acquaintance? What his pursuits, his talents, and genius?"
Sir John was rather puzzled.
"Upon my soul," said he, "I do not know much about him as to all THAT. But he is a pleasant, good humoured fellow, and has got the nicest little black BITCH of a pointer I ever saw. Was she out with him today?"
But Marianne could no more satisfy him as to the COLOUR of Mr. Willoughby's pointer, than he could describe to her the shades of his mind.

And that brings me to the close of this post, which shows the true depth of (a) Jane Austen’s vast engagement with Shakespeare, and (b) her enduring anger and bitterness toward her brother James, (c) her sensitivity to gender preference, and much much more. 

And one thing I do know is that I like it all…a lot!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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