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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Frank's 'aircut (and Austen, DIckens, & Kipling all play the "hand-organ" for all it's worth)

Nearly two years ago, I wrote the following PS in a post:

It was Rudyard Kipling who coined the term "Janeite" and so it is only fitting that Twain lovers be called "Twainites", when we read the following about Kipling's idolization of Twain, and it makes me wonder what secrets about Jane Austen the two men shared during their encounter:
"In 1889, having published six short-story collections in a one-year period, the 23-year-old Rudyard Kipling left India for a tour of America and Europe. His travels brought him to New York and Connecticut, where he hoped to locate and "shake hands with" Mark Twain, the "man I had learned
to love and admire fourteen thousand miles away." His recollection of that encounter was published in newspapers from Allahabad to New York. "An Interview with Mark Twain" is more than a transcription of his conversation with the author of Tom Sawyer; Kipling also recounts the humorous story of how he hunted down his idol, his awe at actually meeting him, and Twain's genteel demeanor to a stranger arriving unannounced at the door. When Rudyard Kipling traveled to England the following year and soon became a literary celebrity, Mark Twain did not immediately connect the young visitor with the rising star of English letters--but Twain's daughter Susy, enamored with the idea that anyone could hail from such an exotic locale, had kept Kipling's calling card with its address in India. Twain then read Plain Tales from the Hills and wrote to a friend, "whereas Kipling's stories are plenty good enough on a first reading they very greatly improve on a second." Mark Twain later recalled his initial encounter with Kipling: "I believed that he knew more than any person I had met before, and I knew that he knew that I knew less than any person he had met before--though he did not say it, and I was not expecting that he would. . . . He was a stranger to me and to all the world, and remained so for twelve months, then he became suddenly known, and universally known."
Well, today, I have a PS to that PS, that shows that Kipling shared with Twain an intense, but covert, love for Jane Austen's writing:
In Janeites and Austen L, Elissa Schiff responded to my recent post about Frank Churchill's "heir cut" in Emma as follows:
“...on the matter of Frank's haircut or, as we have it in Kipling's story told by a hairdresser, his "aircut."  Like Austen, Kipling is obviously using a multiple layer of irony here by giving us the tale told to one man by another with an extremely limited point of view.  So what is our Mason/hair dresser/ head-wounded sole survivor of a hideous WW I battalion attack really saying about Frank and the reason for his "aircut"??  [Clearly he believes Frank did have his hair cut in London and seems unaware of the piano purchase.]  What is Kipling really saying to us, the readers, about Frank's "haircut" as an excuse??”

I will answer in a slightly roundabout way. First, I will say that it happens that the reason why I revisited Frank’s tonsorial adventure six days ago was that the day before, i.e. ,last Sunday, I attended a very interesting reading group session of the JASNA chapter in Portland which I’ve been enjoying since moving here a few months ago. The session….
….was primarily on the topic of how Jane Austen novels have been read during past wars, and still are read during wartime today---which of course meant that Kipling’s short story “The Janeites” was an important part of the discussion mix.

In doing my own preparation for the session, I reread “The Janeites” for the first time in a good while, and as I read Humberstall say, “it brings it all back–down to the smell of the glue-paint on the screens. You take it from me, Brethren, there’s no one to touch Jane when you’re in a tight place”, it reminded me of my initial reaction to that phrase when I first read it, which is that it is exactly the same sort of winking, Mary Crawfordesque daring-you-to-wonder-if-it’s-intentional sexual innuendo!

But this time around, knowing what I now know both about Jane Austen’s sexual innuendoes, and also the innuendoes of great writers who have paid her covert homage during the past 2 centuries, I went back and re-read Kipling’s story again through the lens of the hypothetical “what if Kipling’s main point had nothing to do with the fighting of war, but everything to do with gay camaraderie during war?”

And sure enough, I can now tell you that Humberstall’s famous above quoted bon mot  is only (so to speak) the tip of the iceberg. Everything in the story is pointing to this same theme of same-sex love—including the names of all the phallic artillery, such as “De Bugg”.

I then did some scholarly research, and noted that the likes of the well known Claudia Johnson and the unknown Vincent Quinn  have previously pointed out some aspects of the intense homosocial vibe of Kipling’s story. And I also noted that there has been serious scholarly speculation about Kipling’s own sexual orientation. But I don’t believe any of them was able to make the greater leap to realizing that Kipling was saying, in Masonic-like code, that there is gay love depicted in Jane Austen’s novels.

And, having come full roundabout, I am now ready to answer Elissa’s question--- my answer is that Humberstall’s comment about Frank’s ‘aircut”  implies the same thing that Amy Heckerling’s Clueless makes explicit, which is that Frank Churchill is, if not gay, at least bisexual. Which is one of the reasons why I have been so confident since June 2007 that Frank was not the father of Jane’s baby—because he’s really NOT that into Jane, because she’s a woman!

I then responded to a further comment by Diane Reynolds as follows: 

Diane: "I recently reread Kipling's Janeites with the idea of assigning it in class--subtexts or no, it's a terrific story. I decided not to use it because the Cockney slang is so difficult. I had not thought of it as having a gay subtext, but it makes sense."

Diane, what's really wonderful is that Kipling goes about it in an absolutely Austenesque way--a couple of VERY suggestive usages (De Bugg, tight place), supported by a penumbra of less suggestive phallic winks. So there is complete deniability, while at the same time it can all be read campily--the gay subtext lights up like a Christmas tree only when you read against the grain, through the gay lens. That was Jane Austen's technique in a nutshell. Point of view is everything. 

Diane also wrote: "Henry James and Kipling apparently were friends, and we know now that James was probably queer. I also have the idea lodged in my mind that William Dean Howells and Kipling were friends--my 10 second web search can't confirm it, but I do have that idea. Is this so? And according to Elaine's book, Howells and James probably had an affair at Harvard (if I remember correctly)." 

I didn't know Howells and James were buds, thanks for alerting me! That's particularly interesting, because Howells was so tight (so to speak) with Mark Twain--it was Howells whom Twain put on with his faux-hatred of Jane Austen's writing! And the full scope of Twain's sexuality has also been wondered about, and rightly so. And it also fits with Kipling's and Twain's mutual admiration society that I noted in 2013.

Diane also wrote: " A gay subtext, especially buried under impenetrable dialect, is not at all implausible. James's overt dismissals aside, I think they were all secret Janeites. What I don't understand is Frank's haircut--haircut is street slang for gay sex in that period?" 

Per Jill Heydt Stevenson, it was slang for a secret romantic assignation. While it perhaps began in a heterosexual context, it is not implausible that it would be appropriated by gay and/or lesbian writers like JA and Kipling. And I almost forgot to mention one other really cool aspect of the gay subtext of "The Janeites"---- a short while ago, you may recall that I wrote about the over-the-top endlessly repeated sexual joke in Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit on Tom Pinch's 'organ" as in part an homage to Fanny Price listening to the street music on his 'hand-organ". Well, guess what, I think Kipling noticed Dickens's joke, and sent it up in The Janeites. 

Just search for the word 'organ" in "The Janeites" and you will see exactly what i mean! 

Cheers, ARNIE 
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

 Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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