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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Emma, Twelfth Night & Jane Austen's Letters 125(D), 132(D) & 138(D): James Stanier Clarke as Malvolio

We have almost reached the final spiral of JA's brief correspondence with James Stanier Clarke between November 1815 and March 1816, which will consist of Letters 138(A) and Letters 138(D) to be addressed by us next week. However, as JA's attitude toward Clarke in these letters has again been mentioned by several in Austen L and Janeites this week as being sympathetic and sincere, I will again take this quick opportunity to summarize my unqualified claims....
...that Jane Austen, in her 1815-1816 correspondence with James Stanier Clarke, in every possible way she could devise with her great satirical ingenuity, was insincerely mocking the Prince’s toady. In some ways, as I crystallize my thought s about this today, this might even be the pinnacle of her satirical genius. Let’s see if I win any converts today.

To wit: in her three flattering, faux-confessional letters to Clarke, JA has, to a tee, in several key particulars, emulated Shakespeare's arch-satirist Maria, in Twelfth Night, as Maria is cheered on by her madcap allies Sir Toby, & Aguecheek, in the Box Tree scene.

Recall first that Maria entraps Malvolio…
… with a single pseudo-flattering letter, but JA ups the ante threefold. As if fulfilling Frank Churchill’s request for not one, not two, but  “THREE things very dull indeed, and [Emma] engages to laugh heartily at them all.",  JA sends Clarke not one, not two, but THREE pseudo-flattering letters -- 125(D), 132(D) & 138(D)!  This epistolary triptych, culminating  on April Fool’s Day, 1816, collectively spark in Clarke, the Prince's pretentious literary "steward", a massive narcissistic ecstasy of absurd ambition and deep delusions of grandeur. Is this not, with uncannily precise parallelism, exactly what Malvolio experiences?

The only possible response, along with hearty laughter, must be acknowledgment of the genius who orchestrated all of this—Miss Bates----or her alter ego, Jane Austen! And I have no doubt, in particular, that part of the explanation of JA’s giddy pleasure which oozes out from every pore of her correspondence about her brief  relationship with the apothecary Haden which occurs during that same exact time period as her correspondence with Clarke, is that she clued Haden into this ongoing joke on Clarke. Perhaps, in celebration of JA’s success in gulling Clarke, she and Haden might even have enjoyed staging an impromptu reading of the Box Tree scene from Twelfth Night, maybe even enlisting Fanny Knight’s participation (but of course without clueing her clueless niece in on the scandalous joke).

But that’s only the beginning. The Box Hill resonance of JA’s correspondence with Clarke is omnipresent. E.g.,as a special wink toward this outrageously daring prank, note that JA chooses for the title of the novel which she dedicates to the Prince Regent as per Clarke's instructions during this very same, brief  correspondence—of  course, that title  is the name "Emma", which, as Mr. Weston takes pain to point out (where else but at BOX Hill?), is a homophone of the initials "M.A.":

"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?" 

And why, you ask, is this title, as glossed by Mr. Weston, a special wink at Malvolio? Anyone familiar with the BOX Tree scene in Twelfth Night could answer that question in a heartbeat. Look at what Malvolio says at one point in his attempts to decode the forged letter that Maria, like a wicked fairy, drops for Malvolio to find:

M, O, A, I, doth sway my life.

And as Malvolio tries to solve this riddle, he says to himself:

Just as M.A. not only is a homophone for “Emma”, these  two letters  are of course also 3 of the 4 letters contained in the name “Emma”,  and therefore are easily “crushed” into it!

But that’s only the half of JA’s quadrophonic satire of James Stanier Clarke and his boss.
As my above linked recent blog post also spelled out in rich detail, behind this layer of real life epistolary satire are (1) the fictional satires of Clarke in the character of Mr. Elton the pretentious gull of Highbury, and also (2) the real life enacted satire of Clarke by his aristocratic tormentors at Petworth in 1814, both of which inhabit the subtext of Emma, the very novel which the Prince (via Clarke) has demanded dedication of to himself.

So when you step back far enough, and look at the big picture, as I've summarized it, above, you have  the wide  perspective required in order to see that JA has, like J.S. Bach writing six part harmony, seamlessly woven together a rich tapestry of satire, moving  seamlessly between real life and fiction, all in the service of her majestic comic  vision of the follies and flaws of clownish men like James Stanier Clarke and the Prince Regent.

Which, as I reflect on it now, is indeed the final Twelfth Night twist in all of this. I.e. this twist subsumes all of JA’s satirical superstructure in Emma and the accompanying correspondence about the publication of Emma.

What JA is saying, in so many words, and in deadly seriousness beneath all the surface laughter, is that everything is topsy turvy in Regency Era England. I.e., it is the clowns, the fools, the monsters—men like Clarke and the Prince Regent, who are in charge 364 days of the year, and who get to practice “courtship”  (in all its meanings) in the most misogynistic, inept, narcissistic ways imaginable, with impunity, and nobody having the power to stop them.

It’s only during the single day of the topsy-turvy festival Twelfth Night, of which Emma, the novel, is really a fictional embodiment, that the gifted and good people of the world, the “lovely women” like Miss Bates and Jane Austen, the ones who really deserved good fortune, would reign:

  But ah! united, what reverse we have!
      Man's boasted power and freedom, all are flown;
    Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,
      And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.

Tragically, after Emma was published in early 1816: (1) JA was dead in her crypt at Winchester Cathedral a scant 18 months later, and (2) the Prince of Whales rose to the throne of England 2 ½ years  after that tragic event.

And, in 2014, when one looks around at the likes of the selfish, cruel, narcissistic, reactionary, misogynistic men abusing the privileges of power around the world---the Tea Party in the US, Putin in Russia, the Ayatollah in Iran, Kim Jong-Un in North Korea, the Army in Egypt, Assad in Syria, Al Qaeda, the leaders of China, etc. etc., JA would have no doubt been torn between ironic laughter and bitter tears to note that the modern day Malvolios, Clarkes, Prince Regents, and other male fools and clowns are still running things 364 days of the year.

She’d have laughed, and she’d have cried, but I don’t think she’d have been surprised. She learned early in life that the good, powerless people have to be content with small, often secret victories, as they use guile to provoke the strong to turn the controls in less destructive ways, allowing some happiness to trickle down, notwithstanding the Fanny Dashwoods of the elite.

In Time After Time, Jack the Ripper disillusions the idealist H.G. Wells about the “Utopia” Wells imagined would prevail by the latter part of the 20th century, as he flips TV channels depicting unspeakable violence:

“...I belong here completely and utterly. I'm home. It's you who do not belong here. You, with your absurd notions of a perfect and harmonious society. Drivel. The world has caught up and surpassed me. Ninety years ago, I was a freak. Today, I'm an amateur. You go back. The future isn't what you thought. It's what I am.”

JA was no H.G. Wells, as W.H. Auden well understood, and so she’d have predicted that the One Percenters would always be contemptuous of the Forty Seven Percenters:

You could not shock her more than she shocks me,
Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me most uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of the middle class
Describe the amorous effects of ‘brass,’
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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