(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Notorious 3rd Duke of Dorset in the subtext of 3 Jane Austen novels (along with Garrick's disturbing Riddle & Joshua Reynolds's disturbing "Cupid as Link-Boy")

[Here is the full text of the guest blog post I wrote last Friday for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog--because I wrote it for a wider readership not  necessarily familiar with Jane Austen's writing, it also functions as a good introduction to my shadow story theories]

 Hi, my name is Arnie Perlstein, and I’m a Jane Austen obsessive. I’m here today to give all of you (even those unfamiliar with her novels) a sense of my unorthodox interpretations of her fiction—but also, what I hope will be of special interest to all you history buffs (I’m obviously one too!) who frequent this endlessly informative blog, which is the crucial, pervasive, but still largely unrecognized function of historical allusion in Jane Austen’s subtle, multifaceted literary artistry. And my ‘’ punch line”, if you will, will be my explanation as to why I’m 100% convinced that Jane Austen had the above, very disturbing painting (just take a minute and look at it very closely!) ---or “Fancy Picture” as its famous creator, Sir Joshua Reynolds, called them---especially in mind when she wrote Emma.

But first, if you’ll indulge me, some necessary background on my approach to my ‘literary sleuthing”. The Janeites among you may have heard of me, if you’ve seen some of my Austen prosings in various Internet venues since 2000-especially, since 2010, in my mostly daily blogging at

I've also been profiled in Among The Janeites, by Deborah Yaffe (her chapter about me is entitled “The Jane Austen Code”, which, not coincidentally, is my Twitter handle: @JaneAustenCode).  (Deborah doesn't agree with my theories, by they way). And I suspect and almost am flattered, but cannot prove, that I was the inspiration for the unpleasantly pompous windbag intellectual poseur, whose murder just after the beginning of Tracy Kiely's Murder Most Austen provides the mystery for that whodunit, Austen-style. My theories seem to arouse strong reactions, both negative and positive, among Janeites.

(and, in all seriousness, for more in-depth discussion of many of the concepts and arguments I will only touch on very briefly in this prologue, I refer you to the Search function at this blog—there are over 1,200 of my posts here, the vast majority of which concern Jane Austen’s writings and biography).

When I said “unorthodox interpretations”, I was understating things. Actually, since 2002, I’ve become the Arch Heretic of Jane Austen studies, an independent scholar approaching her novels and life story from far outside the “proper” litcrit box. I’ve been the staunch (and often lonely) originator of, and advocate for, a seemingly preposterous theory about Jane Austen’s fiction, which is that each one of her six published novels is actually a double story, and that Jane Austen was actually a radical feminist, far more so than has previously been recognized.

By “double story”, I mean that Austen’s novels are anamorphic, i.e., they can each be read as depicting two parallel fictional universes---one which I call the “overt story”, being the reality that most readers of her novels perceive, by uncritically assuming the narration to be straightforward and objective. But the other reality, which I call the “shadow story”, is accessed by reading much of the narration of the novel against the grain, realizing much of it is subjective, i.e., from the prejudiced, flawed point of view of the young and often clueless heroine-and not just Emma Woodhouse, either. Actually, in the topsy turvy reversed reality of Austen’s shadow stories, I’ve found that it’s her youngest heroine, Catherine, in Austen’s (supposedly) lightest novel, Northanger Abbey, who sees most clearly.

Jane Austen masterfully exploited the potential of a severely restricted point of view, forcing readers to work to spot what is “really” happening under the noses of her highly intelligent, yet clueless, heroines. And the primary purpose of Jane Austen’s shadow stories, beyond the artistic satisfaction in pulling off such an amazing literary stunt six times, was the covert venting, to those capable of decoding her shadow stories, of Austen’s radical feminist outrage at how women were so casually and unreflectively treated like domesticated farm animals or pets. The cover of deniability provided by the shadow story structure—an analog of Jane Austen’s brilliant surface ironic wit-- kept Jane Austen personally safe from detection by disapproving male eyes who might smear her, as they smeared the reputation of Mary Wollstonecraft after her death, if they understood.

Today I will give you a single, in-depth example, selected from among more than a thousand I’ve collected during the past decade, which illustrates the critical role of history in Jane Austen’s allusive artistry---or what Jocelyn Harris, in her groundbreaking 1986 analysis of Austen’s novels, so aptly called Jane Austen’s Art of Memory.

While Harris didn’t realize (as I did, in 2002) that Austen’s novels contain parallel fictional universes, Harris’s brilliant unpacking of Austen’s complex veiled allusions to Shakespeare, Richardson, etc., made me realize that these allusions were crucial tools or clues that Jane Austen provided to her readers.

I.e., Austen constructed these allusions to function as reflecting “mirrors”, to illuminate the shadow story transpiring just outside her heroine’s awareness. So she drew upon her well-informed readers’ knowledge of parallel situations and personages drawn from history and literature for that purpose.

And now, finally, on to today’s topic, a great example of the existing Ballkanization of Austen studies, in which one narrow-focused scholar has no idea about the work of another such scholar, and vice versa. No prior Austen scholar seems to have realized there’s a “Big Picture” waiting to be assembled into a coherent whole from dozens of seemingly unrelated small discoveries. I think I find these things because I am, alas, the only one looking—but maybe you’ll be inspired to do it, too!


Only days ago I assembled the puzzle pieces of a single, particularly significant, historical/literary allusion, which Jane Austen spread across several of her novels—the Sackvilles of the great estate Knole in Kent, with her special focus on the notorious John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset (1745-1799):,_3rd_Duke_of_Dorset (take a quick skim now)

I will today provide only a sketch of different aspects of this complex allusion, and the role I assign to it in each Austen novel in which it occurs. However, I will be more than happy to provide further detail to anyone reading this post, who wishes to go deeper on any particular point.

But now I will (finally) begin by showing you the multilayered allusion to the Duke of Dorset and his Kentish estate Knole, in Jane Austen’s third published (but fourth written) novel, the dark brooding masterpiece, Mansfield Park.


In 2004, Julie Wakefield, then part of the Republic of Pemberley team, wrote an extraordinary post…

…in the latter half of which she summarized the essential facts of the adulterous elopement of young Lady Derby (wife of the 12t Earl of Derby) with the rakish 3rd Duke of Dorset, and then concluded:

“Can you not see the parallels with the plot of Mansfield Park? Is it not possible for the Earl of Derby to be the role model for Mr Rushworth? Lady Betty the prototype for Maria? The Duke of Dorset Henry Crawford? The stories certainly have many other echoes of each other…The Wonder by Centilivre; the use of “Richmond House” (it was at Richmond of course, where Henry Crawford stayed while paying court to Mrs Rushworth).And finally, the association with Mrs Inchbald. And remember this all took place but 2 years after Jane Austen’s brother performed The Wonder in their theatre/ barn with the dashing cousin Eliza. You may draw your own conclusions but I feel sure JA knew of this scandal (her theatrically obsessed brothers would surely have talked about it. They must surely have read all about it.) and she included it all or rather, elements of it in Mansfield Park. I can't be certain but the coincidence of circumstance and names are compelling to me. But I remind you all (before you all jump down my throat) that all we can do is name possibilities, however tempting they may seem..;-)”

My personal favorite from Julie W’s argument is this passage:
“However, the Earl of Derby refused to grant her a divorce. Indeed, when he heard of rumours circulating about the possibility that he would divorce Lady Derby to enable her and the Duke to be married, the Earl of Derby stated: ”Then, by God, I will not get a divorce; I will not give her the opportunity of using another man so ill as she has done me” END QUOTE

I cannot tell from her having quoted that real life statement by the Earl of Derby, whether Julie W realized consciously that Jane Austen was alluding to that statement when she wrote the following description of Sir Thomas Bertram’s thoughts about his daughter Maria, the “Lady Derby” of the novel, in Chapter 48 of Mansfield Park:
“Maria had destroyed her own character, and he would not, by a vain attempt to restore what never could be restored, by affording his sanction to vice, or in seeking to lessen its disgrace, be anywise accessory to introducing such misery in another man's family as he had known himself.”

That’s such a close paraphrase, it’s virtually a quotation of the real life Earl’s famous statement! If that’s not proof, especially when combined with the dozen other significant parallels she described, then what is? Do we really need a notarized affidavit from Jane Austen that she intended this allusion?

What it is most astounding to me in Julie W’s above exegesis is not her brilliant discovery and explication of this allusion. Astounding as that was to me when I first read it years ago, what astounds me more is that a clearly spot-on, significant discovery like that has, nearly ten years after it appeared on the Internet, not even been publicly acknowledged by a single other Austen scholar other than myself! And trust me, I’ve searched all the relevant databases, all the places it should have been noticed, but it hasn’t. This is indicative—no, emblematic---of at least two major problems in Austen literary studies:

ONE: The failure of academic scholars to monitor non-academic websites. This is huge, because (I could easily show) a lot of the best Austen scholarship of the past 15 years has been put out there by independent scholars like Julie W and myself on the Net!

TWO: Even worse than ONE, above, is the absurdly high level of “proof” required in order to obtain widespread recognition from mainstream literary critics of an outside-the-box interpretation. The gatekeepers are not interested in publishing or even reading such arguments! That Julie W felt the need to apologize at the end, and practically beg her readers not to get angry at her for suggesting such a scandalous subtext in an Austen novel, speaks volumes about the power of the Myth of Jane Austen—the 2-centuries-old fairy tale that is believed by most Janeites, both amateur and academic, which tells us that Jane Austen would not write such a thing in one of her novels, in particular about a man, the 3rd Duke of Dorset, whose Kentish estate was located not that far from Godmersham, the great estate of Jane’s brother, Edward.

And another, even closer Austen family Kentish connections to the Duke of Dorset is coming below….

But first it’s now time to roll out some more of the allusion to the Duke of Dorset in Mansfield Park.


The scenic park at the Duke of Dorset's great, ancient estate, Knole, located at Sevenoaks in Kent, is described here at the National Trust website:
“At Knole today: There are fine, but over-mature sweet and Spanish chestnut avenues on the south-eastern edge of the park. There is also a long avenue of oaks known as the Duchess Walk, which was devastated in the 1987 storm, along with many other large specimen trees.”

I suggest to you that we take our cue from the allusion to Henry Crawford as the Duke of Dorset that Julie W unpacked, above, and realize further that Jane Austen, with her love of puns and wordplay, winked at her readers about “Knole” at “Sevenoaks” in the following passages in Mansfield Park which describe the great, ancient fictional estate Sotherton, using the words “knoll” and “oak” (both of which are otherwise almost never used in Austen’s fiction)

Ch. 8: "Yes, it is exactly behind the house; begins at a little distance, and ascends for half a mile to the extremity of the grounds. You may see something of it here—something of the more distant trees. It is OAK entirely."

Ch. 10: "Or if we are, Miss Price will be so good as to tell him that he will find us near that KNOLL: the grove of OAK on the KNOLL."

You might be inclined to consider that apparent punning as a mere coincidence, and if viewed in isolation, it should be. But we can’t logically view it in isolation, when we’ve just read about the Duke of Dorset’s seduction of Lady Derby! We must connect that to these above-quoted passages, which are all about---what else?---the seduction of Maria Bertram by Henry Crawford in the wilderness! Or, upping the ante still further, let’s also connect this allusion to seductions at Knole and Sotherton to the extensive allusion to Milton’s Paradise Lost in Mansfield Park, where Maria is Eve and Henry is Satan.

Now you begin to understand, I hope, how significant the real life allusion to the 3rd Duke of Dorset is in terms of the care which Jane Austen so evidently took to weave that allusion deep into the fabric of Mansfield Park.

So, perhaps better to refer to Sotherton’s wilderness as Jane Austen’s Garden of Eden, and the oak trees and Spanish chestnuts as the trees of painful knowledge of the real sexist world which awaits Maria Bertram at the end of the novel. And we begin to see that Jane Austen considered the Duke of Dorset as a real life Satan/ Henry Crawford, who stole the heart and soul of a na├»ve wife, Lady Derby, in search of “the riot of his gratifications’!

But speaking of oaks and Spanish chestnut trees, that actually provides the perfect segue to the next Austen novel in which, I claim, the Duke of Dorset makes an appearance in disguise, but this time not as Henry Crawford, but…..Mr. Darcy!


In his 2006 edition of Pride & Prejudice, Pat Rogers, an elder statesman of Austen studies, made a very persuasive argument for the 1779 diary entries of the 26 year old novelist Fanny Burney describing two of her road trips in Kent, as having been a source for not one but two major plot elements in P&P. Here are Rogers’s own words:

”On their return in 1779, [Fanny Burney’s] party stops at Sevenoaks and visits nearby Knole, home of the Duke of Dorset-for whom Jane's great uncle, Francis Austen worked at this date. The duke is absent, but they are allowed to go round his collection of family portraits; they also seek the park and are told by an informative gatekeeper that it is seven miles in circumference. The similarities to Elizabeth's visit to Pemberley hardly need any emphasis…Further examples abound: the main point is that the Brighton of around 1780, as experienced by Burney and the Thrales, exactly corresponds with what the episode in Austen's story calls for. All this suggests that…P&P is rooted in the manners and events of a slightly earlier epoch." END QUOTE

Recall now that Pride & Prejudice was, after extensive and famous “lopping and cropping”, published in early 1813, and that Jane began writing Mansfield Park shortly thereafter. From this proximate chronology, if Jane Austen alluded to the Duke of Dorset in 1814 in Mansfield Park, it should not surprise us that she’d have done the same in 1813 in her immediately preceding published novel, P&P.

But how to get around the thorny question as to how Jane Austen could have known the details of Fanny Burney’s diary, if that diary was not published for the first time until 1842, nearly 30 years after the publication of P&P? No conclusive proof exists of any direct contact between them.

All I can say is that it’s clear from the uncanny parallels in P&P to Burney’s road trips that it did happen, the only real question is “How?” And the easy, logical answer is, via the one degree of separation between Jane Austen and Fanny Burney that actually existed. Jane Austen’s mother’s first cousin, Mrs. Cooke, as has previously been well established by Austen scholars, was a longtime neighbor of Fanny Burney at Great Bookham in Surrey, including during 1813. So that story of Fanny Burney’s outings uncannily mirrored by those of Elizabeth and Lydia Bennet, respectively, would have been as easy for Jane Austen to obtain as any gossip obtained by Mrs. Bennet in P&P!

And I leave you with the veiled allusion to Knole in the description of Pemberley at Chapter 46 of Pride & Prejudice: “Convinced as Elizabeth now was that Miss Bingley's dislike of her had originated in jealousy, she could not help feeling how unwelcome her appearance at Pemberley must be to her, and was curious to know with how much civility on that lady's side the acquaintance would now be renewed. On reaching the house, they were shown through the hall into the saloon, whose northern aspect rendered it delightful for summer. Its windows opening to the ground, admitted a most refreshing view of the high woody hills behind the house, and of the beautiful OAKS and SPANISH CHESTNUTS which were scattered over the intermediate lawn.

But I will leave for another time the disturbing implications of the following syllogism: If Knole is Pemberley, does that mean the devilish Duke of Dorset is Mr. Darcy? Shocking!


As Pat Rogers noted, the Duke of Dorset was intimately involved during his entire lifetime with Jane Austen’s great uncle, Francis Austen, and also with his son, Francis-Motley Austen, both attorneys and local men of substance. They were lifetime residents of Sevenoaks, and in many ways the role that both Francis and his son played for the Sackvilles of Knole seems to have been uncannily similar to the role played in the backstory of P&P by the senior Mr. Wickham who was steward to Mr. Darcy’s father at Pemberley.

Again, as with the Duke of Dorset as Darcy (and I just noticed the names Dorset and Darcy even sound alike!) make of it what you will, my point is that knowing this close personal connection between Jane Austen and the Duke of Dorset only makes all the allusions to him in the novels that much more likely, but also that much more subversive, as surely many members of Jane Austen’s family would not have been too thrilled to know that Jane Austen was skewering the greatest patron of her great uncle in not one but several of her novels! Now you begin to understand why Jane Austen would have concealed these subtexts as she did!


And now I will conclude by giving you a taste of the indirect, yet powerful, allusion to the 3rd Duke of Dorset that I see in Emma. I began to unpack that connection in my most recent blog post here:

“In the subtext of Emma: Garrick’s Riddle, Reynolds’ Cupid, Darwin’s Step Grandmama, Granddaughter of a Royal Mistress” as the latest in a series of posts by me at my blog about Garrick’s Riddle in the subtext of Emma.

In short, I read that allusion in Emma to Garricks’s Riddle as Jane Austen’s pointing to its very disturbing sexual subtext, specifically the horrific practice (still common in parts of the world even today) of men afflicted with venereal disease having sex with young virgins, so as to “cure” the men (rapists) of their disease. What I just discovered this week was that there is the Duke of Dorset connection.

The official answer to Garrick’s Riddle is supposed to be “chimney sweep”. However, I now see a crucial additional hint that both Garrick, and also Jane Austen interpreting Garrick, had in mind another class of young victims of sexual abuse during the 18th century, who also got very dirty working with flames needing quenching, and that was the “link boys” who roamed the city streets providing illumination at night for city traffic.

Know also that David Garrick (the great Shakespearean thespian), the Duke of Dorset, and Joshua Reynolds (the great portraitist) were bosom buddies. Now you know why I posted that image at the top of this post, because I believe Jane Austen meant to hint that Mr. Woodhouse was struggling to remember, in addition to Garrick’s Riddle, both the “Cupid as Link-Boy” painting by Reynolds, and also the satirical poem by the 3rd Duke’s ancestor published in 1713. It’s now clear to me that it is no coincidence that Reynolds painted this disturbing picture, he was asked to do so by the 3rd Duke, as a perverse send up of his ancestor’s satirical poem—and also a kind of 18th century porn, an image intended to arouse a very disturbing “riot of gratifications” in the 3rd Duke, the buyer who commissioned the picture, and also a close friend of the artist, Reynolds.

Which puts a whole different spin on Elizabeth Bennet and the Gardiners being shown through the portrait gallery at Pemberley by Mrs. REYNOLDS!

And I conclude this section by pointing out that we can now better understand one of the more cryptic and disturbing comments from among the approximately 150 letters written by Jane Austen which survive, this passage being from Letter 84 dated May 20, 1813, in which, writing from London and describing a girl’s parlour school she had visited, she wrote: “if it had not been for some naked Cupids over the Mantlepiece, which must be a fine study for Girls, one should never have smelt instruction.”

And then, a mere 4 days later, Jane Austen went to see the major Joshua Reynolds exhibition right after that, as she describes her playful search for a portrait of Jane Bennet Bingley, of course the sister of the heroine in Pride & Prejudice, in Letter 85: “..I may find her in the Great Exhibition which we shall go to, if we have time—I have no chance of [Mrs. Bingley] in the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Paintings which is now shewing in Pall Mall, & which are also to visit…”

Given Reynolds’ obsession with poor, defenseless young subjects (especially later in life, right when Garrick published that disturbing Riddle, and the Duke of Dorset was anticipating Henry Crawford), for what are called his “Fancy Pictures”, including the “Cupid as Link Boy” painting which he sold to the Duke of Dorset, along with another, only somewhat less disturbing portrait of “Mercury as a Pickpocket”, it’s all quite disturbing. But so history can and should be, when some disturbing event in the past is revealed, even if that revelation takes more than 2 centuries to occur. I believe Jane Austen wanted us to be disturbed. And such abuse continues today, all over the world, as we all know.

And there, my patient readers, I will end, and await your reactions!

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