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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How Lucy Steele Schemed to Become Lucy Ferrars aka Lucifer(a) in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and also "Queen of the Ferrars’ " in Sense & Sensibility

If you want to read a quintessential example of Jane Austen’s amazing art of covert but significant literary allusion, this is the one!


In 2005, I was the first to discover the hidden code in the all-caps signature in Lucy’s final letter to Edward near the end of Sense & Sensibility:


What was clear to me in 2005, and remains clear today, is that one huge implication of this word game in S&S is how perfectly it functions as a clue that goes to the heart of the story in S&S. I.e., it points unmistakably to my prior, independently arrived-at discovery that Lucy, by provoking big-mouthed sister Nancy into “blurting out” that Edward has been engaged to Lucy all along, thereby diabolically and deliberately provoked Mrs. Ferrars into a rage, during which that matriarch disinherited Edward and vested everything in Robert. And Lucy has set this all up over a period of time, such that, not coincidentally, this was the very outcome that Lucy desired, as she by then already had Robert in her complete power, unbeknownst to anyone else. That scheme is the very essence of Lucy’s Satanic indirect action, as she gets what she wants by preying on the greatest weaknesses of Mrs. Ferrars, her pride and greed, to accomplish Lucy’s goal for her, which Lucy otherwise was powerless to accomplish.

Since 2005, I’ve periodically revisited and explored the many implications of that wordgame hidden in plain sight in S&S, including looking at “Lucifer” both as an allusion by JA to prior works of literature, and also as allusions to JA in later works of literature.

I have also tried to think outside the box about tweaks of the above wordplay, that might shed further light on JA’s cryptic authorial intentions. In late 2007, when I shared this wordplay with Anielka Briggs, she cleverly asserted that “Lucifer errs” was a better solution. And in 2009, an anonymous poster at my blog had, in response to my claims about Lucy Ferrars as “Lucifer”,  suggested “Lucifer’s Arse” as another possible solution, drawing upon the long rich history of that symbol in Dante’s Inferno and elsewhere.

The above is all background to what I am writing about today, which is the great serendipity that arose at the Ft. Lauderdale/Miami-Dade JASNA event that we held three days ago at Nova Southeastern University’s Library in honor of the bicentennial of Pride & Prejudice.

Specifically, in addition to the Library’s graciously providing several expert musicians and a Regency Era dance expert to provide dancing instruction and fun for our participants, there were also two speakers on substantive Austen topics, myself and Prof. Lynne Barrett from Florida International University. Lynne gave a firstrate, engrossing talk about P&P analyzed from the perspective of a professional writer, looking at various aspects of the genius with which JA subtly organized her storytelling.

Then, after a break, it was my turn, and Lynne remained as part of my audience. When I led off with the above wordgame on “Lucifer” in S&S, Lynne popped out another possible solution which I had previously been utterly unaware of, i.e., that Jane Austen might well have also been pointing to “Lucifera” from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene!

To make a very long story very short, I’ve since had the chance to followup on Lynne’s wonderful catch, and I want to give you now a summary of at least some of the major implications which it has led me to. At another time, I will bring forward the detailed textual evidence I’ve been assembling and organizing during the past few days, but today I will just give you an outline of some of my conclusions and inferences—and that will already be a long haul—but worth it, I hope you’ll agree!

Although I had never previously studied The Faerie Queene in any comprehensive way, I was aware that several Austen scholars (including not only Stephen Derry and Juliet McMasters, but also, in passing, myself, Anielka Briggs and Elissa Schiff in Austen L and Janeites) have at different times suggested and speculated that Jane Austen alluded to Spenser’s famous and influential epic poem in Emma and in Catherine or The Bower.

However, after diligent search, I could only find one scholar, Jocelyn Harris, who had ever connected Spenser’s epic poem to S&S. Prof. Harris did so, in passing, as follows, in the following passage in her seminal 1985 book, Jane Austen’s Art of Memory, a book which I’ve cited a hundred times, which was so crucially influential on the direction of my Austen allusion studies when I first read it in 2005:

P. 82: “When Marianne’s ‘mind’ is not to be controlled, when Willoughby proves to be everything that her ‘fancy had delineated’, when her ‘imagination’ deludes her that a tender and contrite letter will appear from Willoughby and be followed by his eager self, when ‘the same eager fancy’ which led her into an extreme of indulgence, and repining introduces excess into her scheme of self-control, S&S borrows from The Faerie Queene words and values used of [for] Marianne’s lack of moderation: fancy, imagination, excess, reason, wandering, and error. Fancy is dangerous here.”  END QUOTE

However, as a result of my research the past 3 days, I am here to present three additions to Jocelyn Harris’s lonely example of allusion to The Fairie Queene in S&S:


First, here, in Lynne Barrett’s own words, is her crucial extension of “Lucifer” to “Lucifera”:

“In The Faerie Queene, Lucifera is the "maiden queen" who has a Court of Pride and a dungeon full of prisoners. She is one of several figures in the allegorical poem who stand for Elizabeth I, with Gloriana being the most positive one.  And I can't resist noting that in The History of England (Henry IV-Charles I), the young Jane Austen criticizes Elizabeth I for her treatment of Mary Queen of Scots.  I think she would have known who Lucifera was.”

I could not agree more with Lynne, and now that I’ve studied the portion of Book One, Canto Four of The Faerie Queene which tells the story of Lucifera, I can confirm with high confidence that Lucifera is indeed a key source for the character of Lucy Ferrars in S&S. For those of you not familiar with The Faerie Queene, here is an excellent description of Lucifera and her House of Pride that I found here at SparkNotes:

“Meanwhile, the real Redcrosse has been led by Duessa to a wonderful palace--the House of Pride. It is beautiful and lavish, with a wide entrance, but it is built weakly on a poor foundation. Redcrosse and Duessa are brought in and marvel at the richness. They are welcomed by the whole court but especially by Lucifera, the Queen of the palace. Full of pride, Lucifera shows off for the knight by calling her coach, which is pulled by six beasts upon which ride her six counselors. They are: Idleness, Gluttony, Lechery, Avarice, Envy, and Wrath, their appearances appropriate to their names.
…The House of Pride is a collection of ancient and medieval thought about sin and evil. Christian theology holds that pride is the greatest sin, from which all other vices come. Pride was the sin of Satan, which caused his fall from Heaven; thus, the Queen of Pride is associated with Lucifer by her name. The parade of the seven major vices, each with some prop or costume to indicate their nature (Pride holds a mirror, for she is vain), was a common feature of medieval morality plays--Spenser borrows it for this scene in Canto iv. The Queen, however, is not simply an allegory for Pride; she also has a political meaning. Spenser intentionally contrasts her with the true Queen, to whom the poem is dedicated: Queen Elizabeth. The poet notes that Lucifera "made her selfe a Queene, and crowned to be, / Yet rightfull kingdome she had none at all, / Ne heritage of native soveraintie / But did USURPE with wrong and tyrannie / Upon the scepter (I.iv.12)." This is in contrast to Elizabeth, who held her power lawfully, ruled with justice and "true religion," and was descended from a noble race (as Spenser will later establish). “

While it would take pages of intricate textual analysis to illustrate, take my word that JA’s clever pervasive thematic wordplay in S&S, in particular on the words “pride” and “nobility” and “justice”, demonstrates very clearly, to those versed in the Jane Austen Code, that JA has, in S&S, given us the story of how Lucy Steele managed to usurp the “throne” of the House of Pride known as the Ferrars family, by incessant brilliant manipulation of the fatal flaws of the Ferrars family –its monstrously unjust pride and greed.  In the end, they all get exactly the karmic punishment they deserve—to be ruled by Lucy Ferrars, who will, upon the death of Mrs. Ferrars, succeed her on the “throne”! Thus, as per my Subject Line, we may fairly say that Lucy Ferrars has become the Queen of the Ferrars’!!!!

And so there is absolutely no question that JA treated the Lucifera story in Spenser’s poem as a key allusive source for this major arc of the shadow story of S&S!

But that’s only one third of the story—read on!


On a hunch that proved to be spot-on, I searched the name “Lucy” in The Faerie Queene, and to my amazed delight, it brought me to a completely different section of Spenser’s poem—Book V, Canto IV, the short but famous tale of Amidas & Bracidas, as to which I am again indebted to SparkNotes for an excellent brief summary:

“Arthegall is a true knight of Justice not only for his wisdom, but for his physical strength. Justice isn’t easy to uphold. He and Talus leave the wedding and passed by the sea. There he sees a large chest, two knights, and two ladies. The ladies are trying to stop the knights from fighting. They are the sons of Milesia, masters of two nearby islands. One is large and the other is small. The elder brother, Bracidas, recounts their story: He was given an island of equal size with his younger brother Amidas’ island. He loved a lady named Philtera, who had a “goodly doure”. Amidas loved a lady named Lucy, who was poor in worldly wealth, but virtuous. Sadly, the ocean began to swallow up Bracidas’ island until he had very little land left. His girl left him and went to Amidas instead. Lucy threw herself into the sea in despair. While drowning, she caught hold of a chest that was floating and hung on until she washed ashore on Bracidas’ land. She decided to marry him. When they opened the chest, they found treasure! However, Philtera now claims it is her dowry that was lost in a shipwreck en route to Amidas. Arthegall’s judgement is that the treasure belongs to Bracidas and Lucy, since the sea had taken away what belonged to Amidas just as it had previously taken away what had belonged to Bracidas. Of course half of them are displeased with this, but Arthegall pays no mind and rides off. “  END QUOTE

Again, while I could take up several more pages of intricate textual analysis demonstrating all the ways that Jane Austen cleverly demonstrated her focus on this one short inset tale in The Faerie Queene, I will merely state my claim that Jane Austen chose the name “Lucy” for her diabolical anti-heroine, Lucy Steele Ferrars, not only because it would point to all the Lucifers of prior literature, and to Spenser’s Lucifera, as well as to some literary Lucys as well--see, e.g., Lucy in Sarah Fielding’s The Governess (as I’ve previously blogged). I am now claiming that JA chose Lucy as a Christian name for her arch-schemer, so that it would point even more directly to the lucky (or resourceful) Lucy of Spenser’s Book V, Canto IV tale-who just happens to be a Lucy who throws herself into the sea in despair (or in deception?), only to “miraculously” wind up as the wife of a different brother than her original fiancé—two brothers who also just don’t get along!---and with the windfall of a great treasure as a dowry!

And…as an uncanny footnote to the above discovery re Spenser’s Lucy washing up onshore with a treasure chest , in the Emma Thompson S&S, after Marianne survives her bout of near fatal illness, Brandon reads to Marianne from....(you guessed it!) Book V of The Faerie Queene. Does this suggest that Emma Thompson saw some resonance there, and it was not just a random choice on her part? After all, the excerpt Brandon reads to Marianne is also from Book V, although not from Canto IV. Perhaps one day I will be able to ask Emma Thompson that question myself!

Meanwhile, quickly on to my third claim!


Purely by coincidence, ten weeks ago……
….I posted at length about the allusion that I claim Mrs. Jennings kept making, repeatedly, near the end of S&S, to the Biblical St. Michael ejecting Lucifer from Heaven. I had no idea then that Lynne Barrett would suggest that JA was alluding to The Faerie Queene in S&S, but once she did, the second thing I thought of was that in the climactic battle of Book I (in Cantos 11 & 12) of The Faerie Queene,  Redcrosse slays the dragon that has laid waste to Eden.

Suffice to say that I find it very very curious that Mrs. Jennings should be making a veiled allusion to the Biblical ejection of Lucifer from Heaven, in the same novel, S&S, as JA has alluded very pointedly to Lucifera in Canto IV in Book I of The Faerie Queene, only a stone’s throw, so to speak, from Cantos XI & XII in which Spenser’s Redcrosse slays a demonic dragon.


I leave you with one tantalizing question: 

Anielka Briggs and other Austen scholars have speculated about the meaning of the following allusion to Queen Mab by Willoughby in S&S:

"But, Marianne, the horse is still yours, though you cannot use it now. I shall keep it only till you can claim it. When you leave Barton to form your own establishment in a more lasting home, Queen Mab shall receive you."

Of course Queen Mab is famously referred to by Mercutio as the "fairies's midwife" in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.

My tantalizing question is: What connection might there be between Shakespeare’s “fairies’s midwife” and The Faerie Queene of Spenser’s eponymous poem? And, even more to a Janeite  point: Did Jane Austen mean to make a connection between Shakespeare’s Queen Mab and Spenser’s Faerie Queene, when she chose that name for Willoughby’s horse, knowing that she had already covertly alluded to The Faerie Queene all over the place in S&S, as I have described above?

This is a particularly interesting question, in light of Maurice Hunt’s fantastic scholarship in his recent book Shakespeare's As You Like It, in Chapter One entitled “Wrestling for Temperance: AYLI and TFQ, Book 2”. In that chapter, Prof. Hunt makes a powerful case for Shakespeare having extensively and significantly alluded, in As You Like It, to the theme of temperance in Book II of The Faerie Queene. Given that I have argued not long ago that Chapter 2 of S&S (when Fanny and John Dashwood whittle down the bequest to the Dashwood women to a pittance) alludes even more specifically to the confrontation between Orlando and Oliver in 1.1 of As You Like It than to the more famous scenes in King Lear when Goneril and Regan whittle down their father’s retinue, I think it quite possible that JA herself understood that Shakespeare was alluding to Spenser, as Hunt outlines.

I’ve argued that S&S’s Austen family subtext is that of the unfairness of how the Austen family wealth came to be so unevenly divided amongst the Austen siblings, with Edward Austen Knight in particular making off like a bandit, while JA and her sister lived on the uneven charity of their brothers their whole lives. Both As You Like It and The Faerie Queene are significantly concerned with those very same issues of fairness in inheritance, and on the kind of temperance that an heir who gets the shaft would have to struggle to achieve, when faced with utter unfairness.  

Anyway, I will stop now, but I’d love to hear someone take this chain of discovery one giant step further in any of the directions I’ve pointed!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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