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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Jane Austen’s Veiled Courtship & Matrimony Allusions to Lovers Vows in Pride & Prejudice

Last week, I discovered a major and significant veiled allusion to Cottager’s Wife in Lovers Vows in Mrs. Reynolds’s comments about Wickham and Darcy at Pemberley in Pride & Prejudice. It occurred to me the other day that where there’s such intense smoke, there must be more fire, i.e., there must be other significant echoes of Lovers Vows in Pride & Prejudice.

Well, I looked into it, and I am confident you will agree that I found several Austenian blazes in the following passage in Act 3, Scene 1 of Lovers Vows, in which Anhalt and Amelia, the unacknowledged lovers, spar their way toward love in ways that tepidly aspire toward Much Ado, and which, as you will see, JA used as a springboard to the wittiest and most sparkling dialog since Much Ado.

For ease of reference, I will intersperse my comments at certain key points in this passage, to best explain how I believe Jane Austen played around with this passage in several remarkable and subtle ways in scenes bearing on not one but two famous proposals in Pride & Prejudice:  

ANHALT [to himself] Oh! Heavens! [to Amelia] I--I come from your father with a commission . --If you please, we will sit down. [He places chairs, and they sit.]  Count Cassel is arrived.
AMELIA.  Yes, I know.
ANHALT.  And do you know for what reason?
AMELIA.  He wishes to marry me.
ANHALT.  Does he? [hastily] But believe me, the Baron will not persuade you--No, I am sure he will not.
AMELIA.  I know that.

[So, Anhalt is exactly like Mr. Bennet who has been given a commission by Mrs. Bennet to push Lizzy to accept Mr. Collins’s repulsive proposal, but who of course has no intention of fulfilling it. Of course, every Janeite knows how Mr. Bennet goes about sabotaging his commission, but Anhalt is obviously in a very different position, being the patriarch’s employee, not the patriarch]

ANHALT.  He wishes that I should ascertain whether you have an inclination ----
AMELIA.  For the Count, or for matrimony do you mean?
ANHALT.  For matrimony.
AMELIA.  All things that I don't know, and don't understand, are quite indifferent to me.
ANHALT.  For that very reason I am sent to you to explain the good and the bad of which matrimony is composed.

[And every Janeite also knows that the way Mr. Bennet sabotages his commission, which is by presenting Elizabeth with the most famous “good news, bad news” joke in the history of literature: 
"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do."
But that’s only the beginning of Austen’s alchemical transformations…..]

AMELIA.  Then I beg first to be acquainted with the good.
ANHALT.  When two sympathetic hearts meet in the marriage state, matrimony may be called a happy life.  When such a wedded pair find thorns in their path, each will be eager, for the sake of the other, to tear them from the root.  Where they have to mount hills, or wind a labyrinth, the most experienced will lead the way, and be a guide to his companion. Patience and love will accompany them in their journey, while melancholy and discord they leave far behind.-Hand in hand they pass on from morning till evening, through their summer's day, till the night of age draws on, and the sleep of death overtakes the one. The other, weeping and mourning, yet looks forward to the bright region where he shall meet his still surviving partner, among trees and flowers which themselves have planted, in fields of eternal verdure.
AMELIA.  You may tell my father--I'll marry.  [Rises]
ANHALT [rising] This picture is pleasing; but I must beg you not to forget that there is another on the same subject. When convenience, and fair appearance joined to folly & ill-humour, forge the fetters of matrimony, they gall with their weight the married pair. Discontented with each other--at variance in opinions--their mutual aversion increases with the years they live together.  They contend most, where they should most unite; torment, where they should most soothe.  In this rugged way, choaked with the weeds of suspicion, jealousy, anger, and hatred, they take their daily journey, till one of these also sleep in death.  The other then lifts up his dejected head, and calls out in acclamations of joy--Oh, liberty!  dear liberty!
AMELIA.  I will not marry.

[And reading Amelia’s terse, flipflopping responses to Anhalt’s verbose portraits of a very happy, and then a very unhappy, marriage, gives us a unique window into JA’s creative process—if  you’ve ever wondered, as I have, how JA came up with the idea for Mr. Bennet’s famous bon mot, now we can see the germ of the idea. She started from Inchbald’s comic reversal. But it shows us the true Shakespearean-level comic genius of Jane Austen’s mind—Inchbald’s setup is droll, it draws a smile, it’s passably good comic theater—but  JA takes the ordinary silver plating of Inchbald’s dialog, and turns it into 24 karat solid comic gold! Which in a nutshell explains why Austenmania is at an all time high in 2014, while Inchbald and Kotzebue are remembered today only because Jane Austen, in effect, “slept there” in their play!]

ANHALT.  You mean to say, you will not fall in love.
AMELIA.  Oh no!  [ashamed] I am in love.
ANHALT.  Are in love!  [starting]  And with the Count?
AMELIA.  I wish I was.
ANHALT.  Why so?
AMELIA.  Because he would, perhaps, love me again.
ANHALT [warmly] Who is there that would not?
AMELIA.  Would you?
ANHALT.  I--I--me--I--I am out of the question.
AMELIA.  No; you are the very person to whom I have put the question.
ANHALT.  What do you mean?
AMELIA.  I am glad you don't understand me. I was afraid I had spoken too plain. [in confusion]
ANHALT.  Understand you!--As to that--I am not dull.
AMELIA. I know you are not--And as you have for a long time instructed me, why should not I now begin to teach you?
ANHALT.  Teach me what?
AMELIA.  Whatever I know, and you don't.
ANHALT.  There are some things I had rather never know.

[And now we see the germ of yet another line of dialog in Pride & Prejudice, one which I have written about many times, but which has never even made it into a P&P film adaptation, because
of its aphoristic paradoxical syntax and meaning:
JANE: "But why should you wish to persuade me that I feel more than I acknowledge?"
LIZZY: "That is a question which I hardly know how to answer. We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing. Forgive me; and if you persist in indifference, do not make me your confidante."
Note the indisputable close parallelism of situation and motivation. In P&P, after Bingley has visited Longbourn again, Lizzy is trying to provoke Jane into admitting that Jane and Bingley still love each other. So Lizzy thinks outside-the-box, and says, in Buddhist-oid code, that Lizzy cannot find the words to teach Jane to recognize Jane’s own love for Bingley. In Lovers Vows, Amelia is invoking a similar paradoxical tactic—she would turn the tables, and be the student who instructs the teacher about the teacher’s love for the student, a love that (as far as she can tell) he is blind to.
It’s especially clear from this example how deeply engaged JA already was with Lovers Vows  as she was writing P&P, which makes her allusion to Lovers Vows in JA’s very next novel, even more significant—as if JA was undercover in her allusion in P&P, but then devised a tactic for bringing  Lovers Vows back for an Austenian encore in plain sight in MP, but under cover of seeming to disapprove of it!]

AMELIA.  So you may remember I said when you began to teach me mathematics.  I said I had rather not know it--But now I have learnt it gives me a great deal of pleasure--and [hesitating] perhaps, who can tell, but that I might teach something as pleasant to you, as resolving a problem is to me.
ANHALT.  Woman herself is a problem.
AMELIA.  And I'll teach you to make her out.
ANHALT.  You teach?
AMELIA. Why not? none but a woman can teach the science of herself: and though I own I am very young, a young woman may be as agreeable for a tutoress as an old one.--I am sure I always learnt faster from you than from the old clergyman who taught me before you came.
ANHALT.  This is nothing to the subject.
AMELIA.  What is the subject?
ANHALT.  ---- Love.
AMELIA [going up to him].  Come, then, teach it me--teach it me as you taught me geography, languages, and other important things
ANHALT [turning from her]  Pshaw!
AMELIA.  Ah! you won't--You know you have already taught me that, and you won't begin again.
ANHALT. You misconstrue--you misconceive every thing I say or do. The subject I came to you upon was marriage.
AMELIA.A very proper subject from the man who has taught me love, and I accept the proposal [curtsying].
ANHALT. Again you misconceive and confound me.

[And here we have the origin of the following exchange between Lizzy and Darcy in their memorable verbal jousting early in P&P:
"There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil—a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome."
"And your defect is to hate everybody."
"And yours," he replied with a smile, "is willfully to misunderstand them."
I can’t help thinking that the smile on Darcy’s face is in part Jane Austen’s own subliminal Mona  Lisa smile about this wonderful send-up of Inchbald’s dialog—I think it best to leave it to each reader to decide what to make of JA’s subtle transformation—but again, what’s obvious is that JA takes passable but unmemorable dialog and turns it into an exchange as memorable as the best sparring between Beatrice and Benedick in JA’s first tier allusive sources, the comedies of Shakespeare]

AMELIA. Ay, I see how it is--You have no inclination to experience with me "the good part of matrimony:"  I am not the female with whom you would like to go "hand in hand up hills, and through labyrinths"--with whom you would like to "root up thorns; and with whom you would delight to plant lilies and roses."  No, you had rather call out, "O liberty, dear liberty."
ANHALT.  Why do you force from me, what it is villanous to own?--I love you more than life--Oh, Amelia!  had we lived in those golden times, which the poets picture, no one but you ---- But as the world is changed, your birth and fortune make our union impossible--To preserve the character, and more the feelings of an honest man, I would not marry you without the consent of your father--And could I, dare I propose it to him.
AMELIA.  He has commanded me never to conceal or disguise the truth. I will propose it to him.The subject of the Count will force me to speak plainly, and this will be the most proper time, while he can compare the merit of you both.

[I hear in “had we lived in those golden times, which the poets picture” a broad wink to Rosalind  and Orlando in the love-drenched Forest of Arden, and I hear in the low-status Anhalt’s “your birth and fortune make our union impossible” JA’s turning Inchbald topsy-turvy when the high status Darcy tells Lizzy "Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?—to congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?" ]

ANHALT.  I conjure you not to think of exposing yourself and me to his resentment.
AMELIA.  It is my father's will that I should marry--It is my father's wish to see me happy--If then you love me as you say, I will marry; and will be happy--but only with you.--I will tell him this.--At first he will start; then grow angry; then be in a passion--In his passion he will call me "undutiful:"  but he will soon recollect himself, and resume his usual smiles, saying "Well, well, if he love you, and you love him, in the name of heaven, let it be."--Then I shall hug him round the neck, kiss his hands, run away from him, and fly to you; it will soon be known that I am your bride, the whole village will come to wish me joy, and heaven's blessing will follow.

[And my only comment to add as to this last exchange between the two lovers struggling their way toward making their vows to each other, except that Jane Austen makes the struggle a hundred times more interesting, compelling  and romantic before she allows Lizzy and Darcy to exchange vows of love]

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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