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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Brandon’s Brother’s Pleasures, Charlotte’s Opinion of Matrimony, Mrs. Grant’s Manners, Emma’s Object of Interest, Catherine’s Feelings, & Elizabeth’s Affection: Jane Austen’s Parallel Indirections in All Six Novels About Same-Sex Love

 In this post, as my Subject Line states very directly, I point out the striking resonance between passages in all 6 Austen novels, which all have to do with same-sex love subjected to scrutiny in an indirect way.

FIRST, in Chapter 31 of S&S, Colonel Brandon reveals some sad family history to Elinor about his brother’s mistreatment of Eliza, Sr.: “My brother had no regard for her; his PLEASURES were NOT what they OUGHT TO HAVE BEEN, and from the first he treated her unkindly.”

SECOND, in Chapter 22 of P&P, first the narrator (or are these Lizzy’s thoughts?) speaks of Charlotte Lucas’s motives for marrying Mr. Collins: “Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want”

Then this topic is revisited later that same chapter in a similar vein, this time clearly reflecting Lizzy’s thoughts: “She had always felt that Charlotte's OPINION OF MATRIMONY was NOT EXACTLY LIKE HER OWN, but she had not supposed it to be possible that, when called into action, she would  have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage.”

THIRD, in Chapter 7 of MP, Fanny and Edmund debrief the propriety of Mary’s “rears and vices” speech about her uncle the Admiral:
"Do not you think," said Fanny, after a little consideration, "that this impropriety is a reflection itself upon Mrs. Crawford, as her niece has been entirely brought up by her? She cannot have given her right notions of what was due to the Admiral."
"That is a fair remark. Yes, we must suppose the faults of the niece to have been those of the aunt; and it makes one more sensible of the disadvantages she has been under. But I think her present home must do her good. Mrs. Grant's MANNERS are JUST what they OUGHT TO BE. She speaks of her brother with a very pleasing affection."

FOURTH, in Chapter 5 of Emma, Mrs. Weston and Mr. Knightley joust about the good and bad of Emma’s rapidly progressing friendship with Harriet:
“I do not know what your opinion may be, Mrs. Weston," said Mr. Knightley, "of this GREAT INTIMACY between Emma and Harriet Smith, but I think it A BAD THING."
"A bad thing! Do you really think it a bad thing?—why so?"
"I think they will neither of them do the other any good."
"You surprize me! Emma must do Harriet good: and by supplying her with a new object of interest, Harriet may be said to do Emma good. I have been seeing their intimacy with the greatest pleasure. How very differently we feel!—Not think they will do each other any good!”

FIFTH, in Chapter 25 of Northanger Abbey, Henry encourages Isabella to investigate her own feelings about losing Isabella’s friendship:
“ "Your brother is certainly very much to be pitied at present; but we must not, in our concern for his sufferings, undervalue yours. You feel, I suppose, that in losing Isabella, you lose half yourself: you feel a void in your heart which nothing else can occupy. Society is becoming irksome; and as for the amusements in which you were wont to share at Bath, the very idea of them without her is abhorrent. You would not, for instance, now go to a ball for the world. You feel that you have no longer any friend to whom you can speak with unreserve, on whose regard you can place dependence, or whose counsel, in any difficulty, you could rely on. You feel all this?"
"No," said Catherine, after a few moments' reflection, "I do not—OUGHT I? To say the truth, though I am hurt and grieved, that I cannot still love her, that I am never to hear from her, perhaps never to see her again, I do not feel so very, very much afflicted as one would have thought."
"You feel, as you always do, what is most to the credit of human nature. Such FEELINGS OUGHT TO BE investigated, that they may know themselves."
Catherine, by some chance or other, found her spirits so very much relieved by this conversation that she could not regret her being led on, though so unaccountably, to mention the circumstance which had produced it. “

And finally SIXTH, in Chapter 2 of Persuasion, the narrator describes Lady Russell’s longstanding frustration as would-be advisor to Elizabeth Elliot:
“Elizabeth would go her own way; and never had she pursued it in more decided opposition to Lady Russell than in this selection of Mrs Clay; turning from the society of so deserving a sister, to bestow her AFFECTION and confidence on one who OUGHT TO HAVE BEEN nothing to her but the object of distant civility. From situation, Mrs Clay was, in Lady Russell's estimate, a very unequal, and in her character she believed a very dangerous companion; and a removal that would leave Mrs Clay behind, and bring a choice of more suitable intimates within Miss Elliot's reach, was therefore an object of first-rate importance.”

I was prompted to connect all of the above passages by reading a post in another online Austen venue this morning, where the following astute comment was made after a suggestion that Brandon’s brother’s clearly seemed to be gay: “JA made other references to unacceptable behavior with the same sort of phrases.”

I started to think about what sort of phrases JA used to refer to unacceptable behavior, and that’s when I instantly recalled Lizzy’s thoughts about Charlotte’s opinions of matrimony, which I had blogged about within the last year. And then, realizing that indeed there had to be more such winks, I searched the phrase “OUGHT TO BE” or “OUGHT TO HAVE BEEN” in JA’ s novels, and immediately found the above passages from MP, Persuasion, and NA—and then the passage in Persuasion reminded me of the passage in Emma. 

In each case, I suggest that the “ought” (and in Emma, the directly expressed negative opinion) is about a same-sex relationship that is hinted at in a negative way.

Colonel Brandon seems unwilling to be explicit about his brother’s “pleasures”, as to which, going back at least 30 years, some Janeites, including myself, believe this is an oblique reference to the Colonel’s brother being gay.

Lizzy doesn’t consciously register what I claim her unconscious is whispering to her about the deeper basis of Charlotte’s opinion of matrimony…
….which is that Charlotte is a lesbian who marries an unattractive man because a man’s attractiveness is not relevant to her choice, and who instead finds a discreet way to pursue her true inclinations in love.

Mary’s “rears and vices” remark is ambiguous as to whether it points to illicit heterosexual cheating by her Uncle and his friends, and/or to gay sex, and thus Edmund’s comment about Mrs. Grant’s “manners” is his discreet (or unconscious) way of saying that Mary’s lesbianism (and I believe she is a lesbian…
….will find no encouragement from her proper and straight older sister.

Knightley’s disapproval of Emma’s and Harriet’s “intimacy” of course connects directly to Edmund Wilson’s famous observation sixty years ago about Emma being unconscious about her lesbian attraction to Harriet.

Henry’s advice to Catherine is the most interesting and mysterious, he seems (to me) to be encouraging Catherine to reflect about her own feelings toward Isabella, and to ask whether they might be romantic. Why would he encourage this line of self-examination? And why did Catherine feel better after she took his advice? Food for thought, my friends!

And finally Lady Russell’s frustration about being unable to separate Elizabeth from Mrs. Clay strikes me as a copy of Knightley’s outright hostility to Emma and Harriet’s getting close, with the exception that Knightley being a man, he has license to say exactly what he thinks, whereas Lady Russell adopts feminine indirection and discretion.

So, in all these instances, from the beginning of JA’s novelistic career to its end, we find exactly the same pattern of verbal indirectness associated with hints toward a gay or lesbian inclination of a character in the novel.

Therefore, the above collectivity is a striking additional validation of each of the six individual interpretations of gay or lesbian subtext. I.e., JA using this same sort of language in reference to all these possibly gay or lesbian characters makes it that much more likely that each one really is what it seems to be, because what are the chances of the same very specific pattern of winking repeat itself in all  six consecutive novels?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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