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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Colonel Brandon in the Second Mysore War & Some More Pointed Hints about Circumcision in Sense & Sensibility

In response to the suggestion that Jane Austen did not deliberately place Brandon in India during the Second Mysore War (1780-84) , so as to suggest that Colonel Brandon was one of the British soldiers imprisoned, brutalized, and circumcised during their captivity, as Linda Walker claimed was clear in her 2013 Persuasions Online article…
…I have two prongs of counterargument which both bolster Linda’s claims:


I point out first the incontrovertible related fact that JA was in composing her novels acutely aware of the calendar vis a vis British wars.

The best example I know of was first pointed out by Jocelyn Harris in A Revolution Beyond Expression, to wit: JA began writing Persuasion right after Napoleon was sent packing to St. Helena, and the end of the action in Persuasion coincides with Napoleon’s first exile to Elba.

Anyone who believes those two factoids to be an unintentional coincidence may also wish to explain why JA chose to copy out Byron’s famous poem imagining Napoleon seeking to recapture past glory for France and himself, and (as I was the first to discover in 2008) for JA to change several words in Byron’s poem, words and phrases which just happen to be key words and phrases in Persuasion!
So, for JA to place Brandon in India during the precise duration of the Second Mysore War strikes me as being in exactly the same vein as the above-described military calendar coordination of Persuasion. I.e., JA, from the beginning to the end of her publication history, showed the same extremely meticulous attention to the calendar of British military and naval history, all conveyed in her usual subliminal manner, so that the dates will only pop out to a reader who knows about the dates of the Second Mysore War, and who also attends to her subtle dating clues.

In this regard, it’s really ironic that in the following blog…
…we read what I call a Trojan Horse Moment about Brandon and the Mysore Wars in an address given earlier this year by a gentleman with the very Austenesque name of Rupert Willoughby, who clearly had read neither Linda’s article nor Ellen Moody’s calendar for S&S when he wrote the following interesting observations:

“So, far from being heedless of contemporary events, Jane Austen reveals herself to have an intricate grasp of them. Jane had earlier portrayed a soldier of quite a different type. Colonel Brandon of Sense and Sensibility had by the age of 30 a considerable amount of active service under his belt, some of it in India. During those years of service Brandon had been a comfortably-off younger son but when the unexpected death of his brother had left him the master of Delaford he had retired. Details in the novel are scant. ‘I was with my regiment in the East Indies,’ says Brandon, ‘having procured my exchange.’ This he had done in the wake of his unhappy love affair with a view to getting as far away from England as possible….Most commissions in that period were obtained by purchase. Under the purchase system a would-be officer bought his first commission in the lowest officer rank, that of ensign in the infantry or cornet in the cavalry, and he would then buy his way up the ranks as suitable vacancies arose, chiefly when the existing holders were willing to sell them.
The transactions were in theory between the individual and the government but in practice a hefty premium was paid through an agent to the officer who was relinquishing his commission. Incidentally, Jane Austen’s brother Henry became just such an agent himself in 1801. The amounts of money involved were considerable. ….Brandon’s reason for exchanging – to heal a broken heart – may not have been an uncommon one.
Fierce wars were being fought in India in this period. For example, we had the Third Mysore War in 1790-2 and the Fourth Mysore War in 1799 and that’s the one which toppled Tipu Sultan, but the novel actually falls between these dates so Brandon was not involved.” END QUOTE

So, Rupert Willoughby must have been using the calendar for S&S that was proposed by another scholar prior to our Ellen Moody’s 2000 article on that topic, but I find Ellen’s argument for dating S&S as if written in 1797-8 rather than in 1810-11 very persuasive. I will reach out to Mr.Willoughby and see what he thinks, and let you know if he replies, but I believe, from reading the above, that he would be pleased to know that it is plausible to argue that Brandon COULD have been involved in one of the Mysore Wars after all!


I want to devote the rest of this post to expanding textually upon an important section in Linda’s article:

“Austen’s pointed hints: No other Austen novel bristles with as many references to cutting and the instruments used to do so.  Sense and Sensibility is full of needles, scissors, and pins. Austen’s own scissors are felt in the omission of Brandon’s first name and of any conversation between him and Marianne, and Marianne in turn excises his rank in the one comment she directly addresses to him.  In a game of Casino, Elinor is cut in and cut out of a rubber.  Marianne says goodbye to the trees at Norland but declares that “‘you will continue the same’”—until, that is, John Dashwood, the sisters’ half-brother, cuts down all the walnut trees.  Children are cut off from their homes and parents with great cruelty and consequences.  Brandon is sent away, apparently with no support, forcing him to join the army; Edward’s mother cuts him off as a son and an heir when his engagement to Lucy is revealed; Mrs. Smith temporarily cuts off the wayward Willoughby.  In the only funny passage in the book, whose humor dims as its fateful consequences become apparent, John Dashwood’s proposed gift of £3000 to his half-sisters, which, he predicts, “‘would [have been] enough to make them completely easy,’” and even if reduced to £1500 would have ensured that “‘If they marry, they will be sure of doing well,’” is cut to annual gifts of fish and game.
 Nobody is as aptly named as Lucy Steele with her “sharp quick eye” (120), “little sharp eyes”, “sharp reprimand”, and a name synonymous with a dueling blade (OED).  And of course, there is her sister’s friend, Martha Sharpe.  Thaler, who also has taken note of the “sharps” and Lucy’s dueling with Elinor, points out that duels at the time of Austen’s writing were usually conducted with pistols.  She reminds us, however, that Andrew Davies used swords in his staging of the duel in the 2008 BBC dramatization with Brandon and Willoughby.  Perhaps by making no reference to the way the duel was conducted, Austen invites us to imagine the drama of flashing steel. There is even a dagger:  every word Marianne wrote Willoughby was a “‘dagger to my heart’”.
 In Sense and Sensibility, pins and scissors are associated with physical pain or illicit behavior.  A pin in Lady Middleton’s headdress scratches her three-year-old daughter, who sobs until soothed by apricot marmalade .  The Steeles have their “knives and scissars stolen away” by the Middleton children.  Willoughby and Marianne defy convention when he cuts a lock of her hair:  “‘[T]hey were whispering and talking together as fast as could be,’” Margaret, the youngest Dashwood sister, tells Elinor, “‘and he seemed to be begging something of her, and presently he took up her scissars and cut off a long lock of her hair, for it was all tumbled down her back; and he kissed it, and folded it up in a piece of white paper, and put it into his pocket-book’”.
 If there were no references to sharp things or acts of cutting, there would still be one of the most contrived and unnatural scenes, so explicit in its construction that it would seem to establish Austen’s intention to bring circumcision to mind.  Edward Ferrars tells the Dashwoods that his brother, Robert, has married, with the attendant implication that he is now free to marry Elinor.  Insecure and agitated, he uses his hands restlessly and destructively and, in so doing, mimics circumcision: “He rose from his seat and walked to the window, apparently from not knowing what to do; took up a pair of scissars that lay there, and while spoiling both them and their sheath by cutting the latter to pieces as he spoke. . . .”
 Had this action been attributed to a woman, it would have been less contrived, less noticeable.  A scene of a man “cutting” a “sheath”—synonymous then as now for “foreskin”—is about as explicit a reference to circumcision as Austen could incorporate without a literal description.

I 100% concur with all of Linda’s arguments, above, and I present the following additional passages in S&S which, subliminally, add significantly to the examples provided by Linda:

" "But, indeed, Elinor, it is Marianne's. I am almost sure it is, for I saw him cut it off. Last night after tea, when you and mama went out of the room, they were whispering and talking together as fast as could be, and he seemed to be begging something of her, and presently he took up her scissors and cut off a long lock of her hair, for it was all tumbled down her back; and he kissed it, and folded it up in a piece of white paper; and put it into his pocket-book."
For such particulars, stated on such authority, Elinor could not withhold her credit; nor was she disposed to it, for the circumstance was in perfect unison with what she had heard and seen herself. "

"What immediately followed is known. They passed some months in great happiness at Dawlish; for she had many relations and old acquaintances to cut..."

The passage Linda mentioned briefly when Elinor and Lucy discuss cutting out a gift for dear Annamaria Middleton also involves cutting something in paper (what was done with the British foreskins by their Indian captors?) And “rubbers” in JA’s day, as well as our own, had a phallic meaning as well…

"Mrs. Jennings on her side treated them both with all possible kindness, was solicitous on every occasion for their ease and enjoyment, and only disturbed that she could not make them choose their own dinners at the inn, nor extort a confession of their preferring salmon to cod, or boiled fowls to veal cutlets."

"...If you CAN pity me, Miss Dashwood, pity my situation as it was THEN. With my head and heart full of your sister, I was forced to play the happy lover to another woman!—Those three or four weeks were worse than all. Well, at last, as I need not tell you, you were forced on me; and what a sweet figure I cut!—what an evening of agony it was!..."

All of the above are classic Austen subliminal sexual innuendoes. Standing alone, none of them would be probative, but in the context of everything  Linda Walker argued in her article, these passages, deliberately hidden from conscious notice by context (exactly as with the clues in a very hard crossword puzzle) become the filler that subliminally provide a richer setting for the allusion to Brandon’s surviving the Second Mysore War.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode onTwitter

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