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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Anna Austen Lefroy’s Novella Mary Hamilton as Shakespearean Midrash on Mrs. Smith aka Miss Hamilton & her Mrs. Speed from Aunt Jane’s Persuasion

As soon as I wrote the following a few minutes ago…

“And, by the way, did you notice the name of one of the women whom Anne Elliot names as the person who opened the door to her the day before? It's Mrs. SPEED---as in Speed, the shifty, Machiavellian servant who plays both sides of the game in the scheming among the suitors Valentine and Proteus in Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona?
Wheels within wheels within wheels! “

…I remembered something else of significance from my earlier research which I now see, upon revisiting, is even more deeply embedded inside this same matrix of literary sleuthing connected to Nurse Rooke in Persuasion than I at first understood.

Mrs. Smith, we are told several times in Chapter 17 of Persuasion, was previously Miss Hamilton. We never learn her Christian name, but is it possible that Anna Austen Lefroy thought it was (or should be) Mary?  Indeed, is that at least one important reason why Anna chose the name “Mary Hamilton” as the name of the heroine of her 1833 novella, i.e., published a mere 16 years after her beloved Aunt Jane’s death, and  then also used (as Anielka pointed out in Janeites in 2010) an epigraph from Two Gentlemen of Verona?

Here’s what I wrote in 2009 in AustenL about Mary Hamilton:

“Diana, I have read Mary Hamilton and although of course it does not approach JA's fiction in quality, it is nonetheless very nicely done. It shows good taste, restraint and intelligence, but what is most endearing about it to Janeites is that it demonstrates on every page that Anna had read, and understood on a deep level, all of JA's fiction, and Mary Hamilton is a quiet, subtle celebration of all of JA's novels (for starters, it's not a coincidence that Persuasion's Mrs. Smith's maiden name was Hamilton!).

And, here’s what Anielka also wrote in 2010 in Janeites about Mary Hamilton, after first exploring various specific textual curiosities in Anna’s novella:

“And if you really think there's no subtext, have a look at the quote from Shakespeare that prefaces the story; it's taken from Two Gentlemen of Verona. Those of you who know the play will instantly be reminded of Proteus being split from his Julia and will be surprised that the quote is not from Proteus, Valentine, Silvia or Julia but an exchange between Launce and Speed. Launce has a great deal to say about dogs being taken with him on a journey and the tears a dog does not shed at parting. "the dog is me, and I AM MYSELF. ...............Now the dog all this while sheds not a tear nor speaks a word!" The very last words of Mary Hamilton are "I am myself".

FYI, here is the epigraph to Mary Hamilton:

Speed.—But shall she marry him?
Speed.—How then, shall he marry her?
Launce.—No, neither.

When I now connect the dots between my own and Anielka’s earlier speculations, and then factor in Nurse Rooke and Mrs. Speed as further veiled allusions to Two Gentlemen’s Speed in Persuasion, I believe this supports a further extrapolation, which is that Anna Austen Lefroy understood that veiled allusion to Shakespeare in Persuasion, and winked at it in this way in her novella, all to the greater glory of Aunt Jane. After all, the whole point of Mrs. Smith’s manipulation of Anne by slandering Cousin Elliot is to stop Anne from marrying Cousin Elliot, as she fears she is about to do, and instead to push her toward Captain Wentworth (a scheme, by the way, in which Mrs. Smith is not going rogue, but is in cahoots with other characters in Persuasion, most notably the Crofts and—believe it or not—Mary Musgrove and Mrs. Clay!)

So, add a few more wheels within those other wheels within wheels. This is getting to be a veritable literary matryoshka!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter  

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