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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Symbols & Syphilis: Shakespeare’s Twin Sonnets 153 & 154 as Major Sources for Garrick’s Riddle & for Mr. Woodhouse’s Demented, Conflated Recollections of Same in Jane Austen’s Emma

This is the followup I promised earlier today…

…in which I said I had another Shakespearean allusive source for Garrick’s Riddle and (of infinitely greater interest to Janeites) for Mr. Woodhouse’s demented, conflated recollections of same, to add to the father-daughter incest riddle of Pericles Prince of Tyre, which I had previously identified as such a source.

So an hour ago, I had a chance to go back in my files and retrieve my findings about that other source, and was surprised to be remindd that I had actually discovered the connections I describe below more than 8 ½ years ago! That was therefore only six months after I started my scholarly research on Jane Austen, and first read Jill Heydt-Stevenson’s mind-blowing article about the syphilis subtext of Garrick’s Riddle as a shocking source for Mr. Woodhouse’s attempted recollections.

So, it seems I’ve been sitting on this whopper since then, but as it’s been nearly 5 years since I stopped being very secretive about my coolest discoveries, and also since I’ve been, over the past month, building up to this reveal anyway in all the posts I’ve written about Garrick’s Riddle and its significance in Emma, I decided earlier today was the day to take this one out of mothballs at long last.

I actually intended, when I started writing this post, to cite liberally from scholarly sources I found in 2005, which make a very strong case for Shakespeare’s Sonnets 153 and 154 having been chock full of thinly veiled symbolism pointing to taking the cure for syphilis in Bath, including the infamous mercury treatments, back in Elizabethan times.

However, as soon as I had taken step one and copied the texts of Sonnets 153 and 154 into this post, and then put in ALL CAPS all the words and symbols which are found both in (1) these two sonnets (notably, the final two in Shakespeare’s original, mathematically arranged, published sequence), and (2) Garrick’s Riddle, it became so clear to me that all that scholarly historical analysis would be window dressing—all you really need to do is read these two final Sonnets and Garrick’s Riddle over and over again, and note the myriad parallels, and then really, nothing else need be said to convince anyone with an open mind.

What staggers me is to think that Garrick’s Riddle was widely disseminated among the English literati beginning in the latter half of the 18th century, and was still being republished throughout the Victorian Era, and yet, among all of these (mostly) men who presumably had all absorbed their Shakespeare by osmosis (as per Henry Crawford), not a single one (as far as I could find after diligent online search) ever noticed these incredibly strong parallels!

So, before turning the page over to the Bard and then the first of the great Bardolators, I simply urge you not to forget to go back to Emma after you familiarize yourself with these three pieces of poetry, and to ask yourself if I am crazy to claim that Jane Austen recognized the full meaning of all of this symbolism about syphilis, and chose to hide it in the plainest sight possible in Chapter 9 of Emma, the Rosetta Stone of her shadowy subtext.


CUPID laid by his brand, and fell asleep:
A MAID of Dian's this advantage found,
And his LOVE-KINDLING FIRE did quickly steep
In a COLD valley-fountain of that ground;
Which borrow'd from this holy FIRE OF LOVE
A dateless lively HEAT, still to ENDURE,
And grew a seething bath, which yet men prove
Against STRANGE maladies a sovereign CURE.
But at my mistress' eye Love's brand new-FIRED,
THE BOY for trial needs would touch my breast;
I, sick withal, the help of bath DESIRED,
And thither hied, a sad distemper'd guest,
But found no CURE: the bath for my help lies
Where CUPID got new FIRE--my mistress' eyes.


THE LITTLE LOVE-GOD lying once asleep
Laid by his side his heart-INFLAMING brand,
Whilst many nymphs that vow'd chaste life to keep
Came tripping by; but in her MAIDEN hand
The FAIREST votary took up that FIRE
Which many legions of true hearts had warm'd;
And so the general of hot DESIRE
Was sleeping by a VIRGIN hand disarm'd.
This brand she QUENCHED in a COOL well by,
Which from Love's FIRE took HEAT perpetual,
Growing a bath and healthful remedy
For men DISEASED; but I, my mistress' thrall,
Came there for CURE, and this by that I prove,
Love's FIRE heats water, water cools not love.


"Kitty, a FAIR, but FROZEN MAID,
Kindled a FLAME I still deplore.
The hood-winked BOY I called in aid,
Much of his near approach afraid,
So fatal to my suit before.

At length propitious to my prayer,
At once he sought the midway air,
And soon he clear'd with dexterous care
The bitter relics of my FLAME.

To Kitty, Fanny now succeeds,
She KINDLES slow, but lasting FIRES;
With care my appetite she feeds;
Each day some willing victim bleeds,
To satisfy my STRANGE DESIRES.
Say by what title or what name,
Must I this youth address?
CUPID and he are not the same—
Tho' both can raise or QUENCH A FLAME —
I'll kiss you if you guess."

I conclude, fittingly, I think, with the following passage from Chapter 9 of Emma, which I hope you’ll read in a wholly new light as a result of reading this post:

"Whatever you say is always right," cried Harriet, "and therefore I suppose, and believe, and hope it must be so; but otherwise I could not have imagined it. It is so much beyond any thing I deserve. Mr. Elton, who might marry any body! There cannot be two opinions about him. He is so very superior. ONLY THINK OF THOSE SWEET VERSES -- 'To Miss -- -- -- -.' Dear me, how clever! Could it really be meant for me?"
"I cannot make a question, or listen to a question about that. It is a certainty. Receive it on my judgment. It is A SORT OF PROLOGUE TO THE PLAY, a motto to the chapter; and will be soon followed by matter-of-fact prose."
"It is a sort of thing which nobody could have expected. I am sure, a month ago, I had no more idea myself! The STRANGEST things do take place!"
"When Miss Smiths and Mr. Eltons get acquainted -- they do indeed -- and really it is STRANGE; it is out of the common course that what is so evidently, SO PALPABLY DESIRABLE -- what courts the pre-arrangement of other people, should SO IMMEDIATELY SHAPE ITSELF INTO THE PROPER FORM. You and Mr. Elton are by situation called together; you belong to one another by every circumstance of your respective homes. Your marrying will be equal to the match at Randalls. There does seem to be a something in the air of Hartfield which gives love exactly the right direction, and sends it into the very channel where it ought to flow.
The course of true love never did run smooth --

I mean, really, could Jane Austen possibly wink more broadly at Sonnets 153 & 154, and at Garrick’s Riddle, than that? Note in particular the exquisite touch of the repetition of the word “strange” in the same sentence as the word “desirable”, which subliminally suggests the “strange desires” which the protagonist of Garrick’s Riddle seeks to satisfy via the bleeding of his “willing” victims.

And that’s when the humor Jane Austen has created herein turns a very dark shade of black indeed, and no one is laughing any more, wondering who the “willing victim(s)” might be….in Emma.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter  

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