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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, June 1, 2014

More About Marianne Dashwood as the biracial Dido Elizabeth Belle and "the nicest little black bitch"

After posting this morning about additional “Dido” allusions that JA hid in plain sight in S&S, it occurred to me to follow up by searching in the usual Austen archives and databases for prior comments and insights about Sir John  Middleton’s reference to “the nicest little black bitch of  a pointer”, which I claimed was actually a crude, racist and sexist, coded reference to Marianne Dashwood as a biracial “Dido”, in the same vein as Governor Hutchinson’s crude, racist comments about Dido Elizabeth Belle.

And when I did, I was not entirely surprised to find that the author of the one and only intriguing prior perspective on that passage was Anielka, who in 2011 in Janeites wrote the following: 

“Even Sir John describing John Willoughby "what sort of a young man is he?" "As good a kind of fellow as ever lived, I assure you. A very decent shot, and there is not a bolder rider in England.......and has got the nicest little black bitch of a pointer I ever ......" suddenly reminds me that at the end of the book when Sir John tells Willoughby that Marianne is nearly dying he ends the conversation with reminding Willoughby of a pointer puppy he promised him, of all the things that might be playing on both men's minds whilst Marianne was supposedly ringing down the final curtain, hunting continues to predominate.
"Sir John Middleton,.......told me that Marianne Dashwood was dying of a putrid fever .... when we parted......he reminded me of an old promise about a pointer puppy." I wonder if some day Willoughby was to be similarly reminded of his promise that Queen Mab should receive Marianne at Delaford? “

Anielka subsequently went into a detailed analysis of shadowy subtext in S&S regarding a female dog’s gestation, which I found ingenious but not entirely convincing. But what I did immediately note was Anielka picking up in those comments on a third passage in S&S about Willoughby and hunting dogs, and one which moreover is explicitly, as Anielka suggests, tagged to the first one.

So, now looking at all three of these passages in S&S as if Sir John and Willoughby are speaking in code, and the “black bitch of a pointer”  is actually a human female---specifically, Marianne Dashwood—it casts extremely suspicious light on (1) Sir John’s initial offer to the Dashwood women of a place to live at Barton Cottage, and Sir John’s making a big deal about  Brandon  being interested in Marianne, and (2) Marianne’s winding up marrying Brandon after having no interest in him whatsoever when she first meets and gets to know him.

Among Janeites, I think it safe to say that the eventual marriage of Marianne and Brandon is, along with that of Fanny and Edmund, the least romantic, and least convincing ending among JA’s 6 novels—paling in contrast to the romance that oozes out of the other 4. So, the idea of Marianne being in some sense sold to Brandon is not coming completely from left field, as we Americans say—it fits, in an oddly disturbing way.

And specifically, I am suggesting that Jane Austen is implying that Marianne, like a specially bred pointer—and like an African slave--- has been promised, as in “sold”, to a  very interested buyer —and could that buyer be Colonel Brandon? And, perhaps, Marianne in the end sells herself to save her family from poverty? 

And finally, here is what I wrote a year ago in my post about the veiled allusion to As You Like It in S&S, in which, without realizing the racial subtext, I detected Jane Austen emulating Shakespeare’s Orlando’s drawing a parallel between himself and a farm animal (a metaphor we know JA used in her letters to describe pregnant wives):

“Shortly said, we have Orlando making the same symbolic connection between beasthood and victimization, that I claim is present in all of Jane Austen’s novels, in 1.1 of AYLI:

“for my part, he keeps me rustically at home, or, to speak more properly, stays me here at home unkept; for call you that keeping for a gentleman of my birth, that differs not from the stalling of an ox? His horses are bred better; for, besides that they are fair with their feeding, they are taught their manage, and to that end riders dearly hired: but I, his brother, gain nothing under him but growth...””
And now look at the resonance of Orlando’s complaint to Sir John’s conflating canine female with human female:  [‘black bitch of a pointer’  etc]” 

When the racist subtext is factored in, the metaphor is much more powerful, because JA is clearly bringing into the theme of female subjugation in S&S the subliminal imagery of African slaves, who of course were (tragically) human beings in her world who were LITERALLY bought and sold like nonhuman animals.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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