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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, May 5, 2014

Jane Austen’s TWO Allusions to the Shakespearean Subtext of Lover’s Vows: Part Two, The Allusion Which is NOT in Mansfield Park!

In my immediately preceding post, I explained how JA used veiled Shakespearean quotations to tag Mrs. Norris as Cottager’s Wife, and Sir Thomas Bertram as the middle-aged Baron Wildenhaim, of course, both in Mansfield Park.  I concluded as follows:  “So, please go on to Part Two to find out which other Austen novel I am referring to, and which Austen character in that other novel wears a mask to conceal the face of the young Baron Wildenhaim!”

Now in Part Two I will explain about  the “something else” I saw in the text of Lover’s Vows, which pointed me directly to another Austen novel---I saw a SECOND allusion by Inchbald to that very same famous speech of Hamlet which begins “What a piece of work is man”.

The first one, which I specified in Part One, was in the scene when Cottager and his blunt-spoken Wife takes Agatha in and revive her from the door of death. The second one (which does NOT appear in Plumptre’s translation of Kotzebue’s play, and so appears to have been Inchbald’s own invention) comes soon after the first, when the revived Agatha, concealing from her hosts her identity and tragic life story, subtly questions them about Baron Wildenhaim:

COTTAGER’S WIFE. …It is almost five weeks since the Baron and all his family arrived at the castle.
AGATHA.  Baron Wildenhaim?
COTTAGER’S WIFE.  Yes, Baron Wildenhaim.
AGATHA.  And his lady?
COTTAGER.  His lady died in France many miles from hence, and her death, I suppose, was the cause of his coming to this estate--For the Baron has not been here till within these five weeks ever since he was married.  We regretted his absence much, and his arrival has caused great joy.
COTTAGER’S WIFE [addressing her discourse to Agatha.]  By all accounts the Baroness was very haughty; and very whimsical.
COTTAGER.  Wife, wife, never speak ill of the dead.  Say what you please against the living, but not a word against the dead.
COTTAGER’S WIFE.  And yet, husband, I believe the dead care the least what is said against them--And so, if you please, I'll tell my story.  The late Baroness was, they say, haughty and proud; and they do say, the Baron was not so happy as he might have been; but he, bless him, our good Baron is still the same as when a boy.  Soon after Madam had closed her eyes, he left France, and came to Waldenhaim, his native country.
COTTAGER.  Many times has he joined in our village dances.  Afterwards, when he became an officer, he was rather wild, as most young men are.
COTTAGER’S WIFE.  Yes, I remember when he fell in love with poor Agatha, Friburg's daughter:  WHAT A PIECE OF WORK THAT WAS--It did not do him much credit.  That was a wicked thing.
COTTAGER.  Have done--no more of this--It is not well to stir up old grievances.
COTTAGER’S WIFE.  Why, you said I might speak ill of the living.  'Tis very hard indeed, if one must not speak ill of one's neighbours, dead, nor alive.
COTTAGER.  Who knows whether he was the father of Agatha's child?  She never said he was.
COTTAGER’S WIFE.  Nobody but him--that I am sure--I would lay a wager--no, no husband--you must not take his part--it was very wicked!  Who knows what is now become of that poor creature?  She has not been heard of this many a year.  May be she is starving for hunger.  Her father might have lived longer too, if that misfortune had not happened.   [Agatha faints.]

Note that it is precisely when Agatha learns about the marriage of the Baron after he abandoned her to bear and raise their illegitimate child, that Cottager’s Wife AGAIN channels Hamlet, but this time with opposite meaning. I.e., before she used the phrase “a piece of work” to minimize the credit due herself and her husband for their mercifully taking in the penniless and near-dying Agatha. But then, soon thereafter, when they speak with Agatha about the very circumstances, two decades earlier, which led Agatha to the desperate state she was now in, the Wife uses that same flexible phrase to emphasize the gravity of the moral turpitude of Baron Wildenhaim’s cruel, selfish abandonment of Agatha.

So as we are now talking about the young Baron Wildenhaim, you may reasonably ask, what does that aristocratic young cad have to do with another Austen novel besides Mansfield Park? Well, if you pored over that passage as carefully as I did, your Janeite eyes should have paused and then widened several times with recognition at the following statements by Cottager and his Wife, in describing the young Baron Wildenhaim:

First, Cottager, who tries to put a positive spin on the Baron’s behavior and so says: “…We regretted his absence much, and his arrival has caused great joy … when he became an officer, he was rather wild, as most young men are…….

And second, Cottager’s Wife, who feels guilty about glossing over ugly truths about the Baron, even as she still loves him. So, under pressure from her  husband, she first says: “…he, bless him, our good Baron is still the same as when a boy….”  But then, overriding her husband’s censorship—he perhaps fearing reprisal from his master, the Baron--she courageously follows her conscience and blurts out her true feelings:
“Yes, I remember when he fell in love with poor Agatha, Friburg's daughter:  WHAT A PIECE OF WORK THAT WAS--It did not do him much credit.  That was a wicked thing…. it was very wicked!”

Do you hear the Austenian echoes now? I think they’re obvious! But if not, just compare the above quoted snippets spoken by Cottager’s Wife in particular to the following statements made by ANOTHER plain spoken old woman of low status living near a great estate, whose words, unlike Cottager’s Wife’s, you probably know by heart:

"He is now gone into the army," she added; "but I am afraid he has turned out very wild."

["Is your master much at Pemberley in the course of the year?" ] "Not so much as I could wish, sir; but I dare say he may spend half his time here…”

"I have never known a cross word from him in my life, and I have known him ever since he was four years old…But I have always observed, that they who are good-natured when children, are good-natured when they grow up; and he was always the sweetest-tempered, most generous-hearted boy in the world."

Of course these are all the famous words of Mrs. Reynolds in P&P, and I think you will agree that there are just too many points of correspondence between Cotttager’s Wife’s words and Mr. Reynolds’s words to be a coincidence, ESPECIALLY when we take into account that Mrs. Norris speech shows us that JA was alert to usages of Hamlet’s famous phrase in Lover’s Vows, and so would have actually read the above quoted descriptions provided by Inchbald.

For  starters, Mrs. Reynolds is speaking to Lizzy who has just arrived in the vicinity of Darcy’s great estate, just as Agatha is then for the first time in twenty years within a stone’s throw (as in the stone  Frederick threatens to cast at the inhospitable landlord).

But….what’s very VERY strange indeed is that Cottager’s Wife descriptions of the Baron which I have quoted above seem to correspond to Mrs. Reynolds’s descriptions of BOTH Darcy AND Wickham!

So why did JA go out of her way to have Mrs. Reynolds, like some master Chef in Wonderland, cut the character of the Baron in half, and sprinkle the good parts on Darcy, but the bad ones on Wickham? The very absurdity of that image made me realize that I had been reminded (and I am sure, NOT coincidentally) of the following two very famous comments by Lizzy about Darcy and Wickham:

"This will not do," said Elizabeth; "you never will be able to make both of them good for anything. Take your choice, but you must be satisfied with only one. There is but such a quantity of merit between them; just enough to make one good sort of man; and of late it has been shifting about pretty much. For my part, I am inclined to believe it all Darcy's; but you shall do as you choose."

"There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it."

JA might just as well have added the name “Baron Wildenhaim” to both of these epigrams, it’s so clear that they are her winks in his specific direction!

And I promise this is not the last you will hear from me on this subject, and in particular my explanation for why Mrs. Reynolds seems to speak about BOTH the Darcy and the Wickham in the wicked Baron Wildenhaim (or should I have written WICKenHAM?) –to say nothing about the Frederick Wentworth in Frederick Fribourg!  ;)

I could go on for pages setting forth my own interpretations of the significance of this lopping and cropping of Cottager’s Wife’s speeches about the Baron. However, beyond making the simple point that I consider this to provide extraordinarily strong support for my claim that P&P (like all of JA’s novels) is a double story, for now I will leave it to let you, gentle readers, to draw your own inferences.

And in conclusion, a final word where I started in Part One, about Mansfield Park:

Nancy also wrote about Lover’s Vows: "The story is of a woman who had been abandoned by her lover who had borne a child out of wedlock and that man's legitimate daughter who boldly chose her own husband-- not  subjects most parents would want to introduce into a household of unmarried females”.

Well, Nancy, speaking of MP, what if the (aristocratic) father, Sir Thomas, had in his wild youth emulated the notorious Don Giovanni, and abandoned his credulous lover (Mrs. Norris?), who was then forced to bear a child out of wedlock, and to manage to place that illegitimate child (Fanny?) with (secret) adoptive  parents (the Prices) of lesser status?

Then that father would want to burn all evidence of same, don’t you think?   ;)

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode onTwitter

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