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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Riot of the Prince Regent's Gratifications: The Low Plot of High Born Boys

In response to my last post re James Stanier Clarke as a real life Malvolio…

…which itself was a followup to my post last week about Clarke as various fools from Shakespeare’s plays, and how Jane Austen alluded to them in Emma….

… Diane Reynolds, in Janeites & Austen-L, was generous enough to take the time to read both of those posts all the way through, and here are some of her insightful comments, and my further replies to same.

Diane: "I  was very glad you included the scene from Clarke's biography,  where as a joke he is forced to drink too much and then led to bed where  a live donkey has been placed, all trussed up. Again overtones of A Midsummer's Night Dream (not to mention cruel to the donkey). This casting of Clarke as Bottom does point to him as seen as getting above himself. It also shows graphically, behind the polite words we usually get about the Prince Regent's court as bawdy, how very out of control and cruel it was. As you point out, this episode with Clarke and his disoriented, frightened reaction, was widely publicized, apparently in a way that ridiculed him rather than attacked the PR. No wonder JA despises the PR and balked at dedicating her novel to such a complete callous asshole. What a jerk the man was."

Yes, as I suggested in my earlier post about Knightley's spiked spruce beer receipt, the Shakespeare-savvy Prince (recall that when he was young, he styled himself Florizel to Mary Robinson's Perdita from The Winter's Tale) not only obtained a "command performance" from Clarke at Petworth not only as Bottom, but also as Christopher Sly from the Induction frame story in The Taming of the Shrew.  Had this occurred in  2014, the Prince would surely have taped it all on his IPhone, and put  it up on YouTube before the night was over.

Callous asshole does seem the right description--it was something out of  The Sopranos. No wonder JA wrote to Martha Lloyd that she HATED the Prince Regent. He didn't just treat his wife abominably, he spread the suffering around, and I would not be surprised to learn of other examples of where unfortunate underlings of his were made to suffer public humiliation when for whatever reason the impulse seized the Prince.

Which suddenly makes me connect the dots between Clarke's involuntary Petworth Frolicks (the title of the Cruikshank caricature) and the following speech by Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park:

"...Henry Crawford, to whom, in all the riot of his gratifications it was yet an untasted pleasure, was quite alive at the idea. "I really believe," said he, "I could be fool enough at this moment to undertake any character that ever was written, from Shylock or Richard III down to the singing hero of a farce in his scarlet coat and cocked hat. I feel as if I could be anything or everything; as if I could rant and storm, or sigh or cut capers, in any tragedy or comedy in the English language.
Let us be doing something. Be it only half a play, an act, a scene; what should prevent us? Not these countenances, I am sure," looking towards the Miss Bertrams; "and for a theatre, what signifies a theatre? We shall be only amusing ourselves. Any room in this house might suffice."  "

JA published Mansfield Park in 1814--the incident at Petworth occurred in October 1813. Don't you see, Henry Crawford in this moment is the Prince Regent himself, always in search of " an untasted pleasure" "in all the riot of his gratifications"! But it wasn't just any room at  Petworth that sufficed that fateful night, it was the bedroom Clarke  slept in at Petworth!

And yet somehow it is still mainstream Austen scholarship that JA was flattered in a modest way that the Prince wanted her to dedicate Emma to him?  What other evidence would it take to prove it, if this doesn't?

Diane:  "However, given that JA was a compassionate person who disliked the Miss Bates of the world ridiculed by those above them, would this episode with the donkey have made JA more sympathetic towards Clarke, rather than less? I think that there is a strong sense that she doesn't quite know how to deal with him--deal with him she must, but I wonder if she's simply keeping him at a distance. Is she not sending him the same disingenuous boiler plate she sends to the Countess of Morley? At first I was taking it seriously, but now I wonder if her over-the-top worries about Emma's reception are a deliberate overplaying of her hand. "

I agree with you that Clarke was not a true villain in JA's eyes, but he was most definitely a clown and a fool in her estimation, and therefore worthy of sharp satire. It's clear to me that she felt a strong contempt for him, precisely because he WAS such a hypocrite, such a toady, so willing to go beyond all bounds of self respect, in order to please the Big Boss.  Hypocrisy in a toady was a moral "felony" in JA's eyes,  albeit a felony in the third degree---whereas the Prince's wrongful actions, given his enormous power, were all felonies of the first degree.

I forgot to reemphasize one point that epitomizes Clarke's impossibly deep lack of integrity and self respect. Did you notice that he actually mentions Petworth in Letter 132(A) to JA?:

"On Monday I go to Lord Egremonts at Petworth - where your Praises have long been sounded as they ought to be."

Think about how abject Clarke's self loathing must have been, for him to go out of his way to boast to JA about his access to the very same place where, only 2 years earlier, he had suffered what had to have been the worst humiliation of his life, in front of the entire English nation yet! Did he think that JA lived in a cave and had not read or heard about that incident?

Whatever sympathy she felt for Clarke was, I think, overpowered by her contempt for his obsequious willingness to do his master's bidding, his staggering blindness to how he appeared to others.

As for her overplaying her hand, I don't agree. I'd say that Twelfth Night shows what it means to really overplay one's satirical hand. Look at what Maria & Co do to Malvolio in Twelfth Night--They don't just yuck it up by observing him make a fool of himself in courting his boss the Countess Olivia.  They waste no time and proceed to ratchet up from leaving the fake letter for him to find, about five levels, to where they falsely imprison him in the dark, and try their best to make him believe he is insane. To the point where Olivia, at the end of the play, when she becomes aware of what the pranksters have all done to Malvolio, expresses real dismay.

And of course Malvolio curses them roundly. But Clarke never said to the Prince anything resembling "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you." And I think JA thought that somehow, he ought not to have continued to fawn on the Prince as he did, both before and after that dreadful experience.

But, in contrast to what happens to Malvolio in Twelfth Night, JA clearly stopped at the first stage---her joke on Clarke was a private joke, of which he was, as far as we can know, never even aware---he can hardly suffer today from the world's realizing in the 21st century the full extent of JA's joke at his expense-just as Mr. Collins never knows that Mr. Bennet has been getting his jollies letting him make a fool of himself.

That's what takes what JA did out of the realm of true cruelty, for me. She knew she had stumbled upon a real life man who made Mr. Collins look like an amateur, because whereas Collins only got next to Lady Catherine, Clarke had succeeded in getting himself close to the most powerful person in England. So he became the King of the Toadies, if you will.

She simply could not resist the challenge of constructing the matrix of satire that I have now fleshed out. For those who had eyes to read the Jane Austen Code, this was her message, saying, being powerless does not mean you have to surrender all self-respect.

Diane: "As for Clarke, the letter he sends to Austen, which I take as sincere, also does have the fawning quality of a professional courtier. He may be one these people who can only understand people as above him or below him, never as equal humans. That would irritate Austen ... I have to think more about this. My tendency would be to think her feelings about him are not black and white, and that while she might well doublespeak to him, perhaps mirroring back a bit of his fawning in her own over-the-top self-effacement, I don't think that she would mimic the PR's cruelty."

As I suggested above, her joke was a private joke, I don't see any sign that she felt the need to let any of the targets of her often savage satire know that they had been "shot".  It reminds me of the line from Steve Winwood's great Traffic song, The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys:

But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn't make any noise
But it wasn't the bullet that laid him to rest was
The low spark of high-heeled boys

Jane Austen's satirical guns did not make any noise (except to the "dogs", i.e., the sharp elves, who could hear the "frequency" her satirical messages were transmitted on).

Diane: "Twelfth Night, a night of carnival, as well as Midsummer's Night, another night of carnival, both provide a good context for understanding Emma, which with JA's sleight of hand, is both completely realistic and yet can be read completely upside down as a fantasy in which women do reign supreme, especially if Miss Bates is pulling all the strings. Your contextualizing of the lines from the courtship riddle about woman reigning supreme as a commentary on the Twelfth/Midsummer's Night theme of the novel works quite well. "

Thank ye!

Diane: "Now, as for Mr. Elton. I do--and have in the past-- wondered that John Knightley slips into the carriage with Mr. Woodhouse, leaving Mr. Elton and Emma alone together. I am sure he does this on purpose--but to what purpose? It is possible he has encouraged Mr. E to get drunk on spruce beer, and he certainly has quickly figured out that Mr. E is interested in Emma, not Harriet. But might he contrive this carriage encounter out of mercy--to get the proposal over with and hence put Mr. E out of his misery, as Emma has made it clear she is not in the least interested in Mr. E? That would make sense to me. "

The primary purpose, in my opinion, was Step One in George Knightley's very systematic campaign which he first articulated, in part, to Mrs. Weston:

"She always declares she will never marry, which, of course, means just nothing at all. But I have no idea that she has yet ever seen a man she cared for. It would not be a bad thing for her to be very much in love with a proper object. I should like to see Emma in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do her good. But there is nobody hereabouts to attach her; and she goes so seldom from home."

The part Mr. K did NOT make explicit to Mrs. Weston, however, was that his own covert (and very deceitful) goal was to make Emma marry HIM! In order to do that, she had to be broken down, step by step, so that her (healthy, self-protective) independent streak would gradually be dismantled, brick by brick. And in the end she would been melted down helpless in a puddle on the ground, only too grateful, in her fear and panic at getting abandoned by everyone she knew at Highbury alone with her father,  to have herself scooped up and rescued by the a white Knight(ley)---ALL puns intended!

And so Knightley seized on the fortuitous opportunity presented by Emma's obsession with matchmaking Harriet with Elton, when Knightley knew perfectly well that Elton had his eye on Emma all along.

The Christmas dinner carriage ride was Step One--to scare the living c-p out of Emma, and take her down a few pegs in the process. And it worked.

The Final Step, as i bet you've now already anticipated, was Harriet's calmly telling Emma that SHE (Harriet) was going to marry Knightley.  That's when Emma melted into that puddle.

And that's when Knightley acquired his " cash cow" .

Remember the Auden poem......

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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