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

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Hare & Many Friends: Jane F. & Fanny P. as female Actaeon/Caesar…but not Hare-Yet Smith!

Diane wrote: “I do see Harriet as one who runs with the hounds, not with the hare--she is always looking up to those above her to curry and appreciate favor, and not one to notice those beneath her. She focuses, for example, on the kindness (dubious as we might find it) of the petty tyrant Miss Nash allowing her to peek through the blinds at Mr. Elton, but has no interest in the Abbots who are left out of the invitation.”

Diane, you are as usual spot-on, that is a brilliant observation!

I can’t resist asking---is your “Harriet as one who runs with the hounds, not with the hare” your sly way of winking at what I wrote 4 months ago about the explicit allusions in BOTH Northanger Abbey and Emma to Gay’s famous poem “The Hare and Many Friends”?:
As my Subject Line today evidences, it was only in responding to you that I realized—DOH!!—that the name “Harriet” is pretty darned close to the word “hare”! So add Hare-Yet Smith to the list of homophonic puns (hare, Eyre, heir, eyer, air) that Jane Austen (and Charlotte Bronte) played with, as I outlined 3 years ago:

And that’s just the start, as my Subject Line also indicates--I am so glad you’ve brought this point up now, because this time, because of the research I did leading up to my JASNA AGM talk in October, I now am able to connect the dots to another rich Shakespearean/mythological node layer in Jane Austen’s multi-tiered cake of literary allusion in Mansfield Park & Emma, which I will get to in due course.

But first some necessary recap. As I summarized in that August 2014 post, Mrs. Elton alludes both to Gay’s poem “The Hare and Many Friends” and also to Gray’s even more famous Elegy, in order to broadly and menacingly hint at Jane Fairfax’s unmarried concealed pregnancy. I.e., Mrs. Elton is the proverbial woman scorned who carries on a vendetta against Jane, whom she blames for Frank –the “abominable puppy who gives her the acrostic which is actually the “courtship’” charade---deciding to abruptly jilt the then Miss Hawkins several months earlier on Valentine’s Day. And that is why she right from the start takes such an otherwise mysteriously strong and insistent interest in Jane’s “welfare”. She keeps hinting ominously, in code, at Jane needing to get a late-term abortion (“abolition”) when she goes to work as a “governess” (i.e., prostitute) at Mrs. Smallridge’s (i.e, in a brothel), a la Fanny Hill, all in order to avoid the social ruination that would arise if Jane’s pregnancy were exposed by Mrs. Elton to the gossips of Highbury and London. And Mrs. Elton’s blackmail almost works, but then Miss Bates and Mrs. Weston save Jane at the last minute, by pulling the strings necessary to give Jane a safe, loving placement for her baby without public detection. And so Mrs. Elton’s final appearance in the novel is the equivalent of a veiled version of  “Curses, foiled again!”. And of course, Emma knows NOTHING about any of this, so the passive reader also does not.

But, now getting back to Diane’s point--before that miraculous salvation at the end of the novel, Jane is most definitely the “hare” of Highbury, the “poor animal” who is dependent on at least some of her friends in Highbury to save her from the hounds like Mrs. Elton (and her husband) who are indeed hounding and tormenting Jane during her final trimester, when concealment has become extremely difficult.

Now Harriet, on the other hand, as you so correctly point out, has a very different strategy for setting herself up for (as Emma thinks of it in Chapter 9) “the evening of life”. Harriet is the illegitimate daughter of powerful people in Highbury who are not about to fess up to their neighbors that they are the biological parents of Harriet. Harriet is a pragmatist, like Lucy Steele, and she knows that she can’t sit back and hope for a miracle---so she decides that there is no future for her among the hares, she must set her sights on the biggest hound in Highbury---Mr. Knightley!---and if she mates with him, that will, by the law of the jungle, automatically convert her and her future children from the status of hares to hounds. And so she realizes that Emma is the perfect stepping-stone for Harriet to get close to Knightley, and that is why she shows up at Hartfield in Chapter 3, once Mrs. Weston is no longer there 24/7 to watch out for Emma. But Harriet, like Mrs. Elton, is ultimately foiled as well, as she has to settle for Robert Martin, who, as a prosperous farmer is a kind of mythological hybrid beast out of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, half hare and half hound.  ;)

And…speaking of Ovid, your post also made me realize that Jane Austen would have also been aware of a mythological source underlying Gay’s famous poem, who appears in Ovid and several other ancient sources—Actaeon:
“In the version that was offered by the Hellenistic poet Callimachus, which has become the standard setting, Artemis was bathing in the woods when the hunter Actaeon stumbled across her, thus seeing her naked. He stopped and stared, amazed at her ravishing beauty. Once seen, Artemis got revenge on Actaeon: she forbade him speech — if he tried to speak, he would be changed into a stag — for the unlucky profanation of her virginity's mystery. Upon hearing the call of his hunting party, he cried out to them and immediately was changed into a stag. At this he fled deep into the woods, and doing so he came upon a pond and, seeing his reflection, groaned. His own hounds then turned upon him and tore him to pieces, not recognizing him. In an endeavour to save himself, he raised his eyes (and would have raised his arms, had he had them) toward Mount Olympus. The gods did not heed his actions, and he was torn to pieces. An element of the earlier myth made Actaeon the familiar hunting companion of Artemis, no stranger. In an embroidered extension of the myth, the hounds were so upset with their master's death, that Chiron made a statue so lifelike that the hounds thought it was Actaeon.”

I haven’t begun to think through a solid interpretation of how the above precis about Actaeon fits into Emma, but it’s clear to me that it is part of the mix, both re Jane Fairfax as the pursued human prey, but also in the way Harriet (supposedly) is set upon by Gypsies outside Highbury and then is rescued by Frank. That fits with my longstanding sense that Harriet has made this whole incident up, and in reality she had trysted with Frank outside Highbury but things got out of control, and so a cover story had to be made up to account for Harriet’s tumbled appearance. Sorta like the ambiguous situation between Artemis and Actaeon.

And….I had Actaeon on my mind as a source for Jane Austen in the first place, because of my recent talk about the hidden Shakespeare in Mansfield Park, in which I first quoted the following passage in Chapter 34 of MP….

“Here Fanny, who could not but listen, involuntarily SHOOK her head, and Crawford was instantly by her side again, entreating to know her meaning; and as Edmund perceived, by his drawing in a chair, and sitting down close by her, that it was to be a very thorough attack, that looks and undertones were to be well tried, he sank as quietly as possible into a corner, turned his back, and took up a newspaper, very sincerely wishing that dear little Fanny might be persuaded into explaining away that SHAKE of the head to the satisfaction of her ardent lover; and as earnestly trying TO BURY every sound of the business from himself in murmurs of his own, over the various advertisements of "A most desirable Estate in South Wales"; "To Parents and Guardians"; and a "CAPITAL SEASON’D HUNTER."”

…and then pointed out Jane Austen’s sophisticated wordplay (in all caps) all pointing to the assassination of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s eponymous tragedy, and to the myth of Actaeon:

“And note that at this moment of virtual surrender by Fanny, Jane Austen briefly allows us into Edmund’s mind, and shows us his thoughts and observations as he tries NOT to notice Fanny being seduced by Henry, but his subconscious jealousy leaks through, as the words remind us of that hole in the heart of Julius Caesar, with the first of what will be several references to a “shake” (as in Shakespeare) of Fanny’s head, and Edmund’s trying  “to bury” the sounds of Crawford’s attack, which recalls Antony’s coming to bury Caesar, and Edmund’s murmurs to himself about that ad for a “Capital season’d Hunter”.
“Capital” puns homophonically on the word Capitol;
“season’d” puns homophonically on the name Caesar (who of course was stabbed in the Capitol, as Hamlet reminds Polonius); and
“hunter” refers to the hounds who tear the mythological Actaeon to pieces, a myth which it is certain Shakespeare clearly had in mind, as per James O. Woods,  “Intimations of Actaeon in Julius Caesar”.  Shakespeare Quarterly, 24, 1, (Winter 1973): 85-88.”  END QUOTE FROM MY JASNA TALK EXCERPT

So, the fact that Jane Austen had Actaeon so clearly on her radar screen with the character of Fanny (in whose heart/hart Henry Crawford, with his hunters, wishes to make a hole) makes it that much more likely that she has Mrs. Elton invoke Gay’s “Hare and Many Friends” with Jane Fairfax as another Regency Era Actaeon as well. And..we also see Jane as a latter day Caesar and hare, both of whom found out that in crunch time, you may just find out that some of your “friends” will turn on you, and all you may be able to say is “Et tu, Mrs. Elton?”

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

No comments: