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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Topsy-Turvy Elizabeth Bennet as the Bewitching Slave Girl of Pride & Prejudice

Diana Birchall wrote the following brilliant observation today in Janeites & Austen-L:
“Enjoyed your student's interesting mashup of P & P and Uncle Tom's  Cabin, Diane - I'm sure such a thing has never been attempted before, and  it was imaginatively done.  However, I read the last line, Elizabeth saying  "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man of fortune must be in
want of a wife," as, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man of fortune must be in want of a SLAVE." Perhaps that's the truth that we get from a P & P/UTC mashup?”

Yes, Diana, that was indeed precisely the hidden truth that Stowe saw in Pride & Prejudice! Diane was spot-on in spotting the connection, and that’s all I needed to take her catch and run with it and flesh out her brilliant intuition.

In regard to fleshing out (if you’ll forgive another pun), I’ve been working on a followup post re UTC and and P&P, in which I go one step further beyond my claim that St. Clare is Mr. Bennet, and his wife is Mrs. Bennet.

Here’s the kicker---- UTC’s slave girl Topsy is…… Elizabeth Bennet, the Creole!!!

I’ve felt for some time that Elizabeth Bennet was a Creole, but never realized till this past week that Stowe picked up on this in UTC. First, let’s recap the passages in P&P that suggest Lizzy’s being biracial. When we read this passage about Darcy moving past his initial negative first impression of Elizabeth at the Meryton assembly…

“But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she HARDLY HAD A GOOD FEATURE IN HER FACE, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of HER DARK EYES.”

….this is code for Darcy learning to look past her Creole features (which would be unattractive to a racially prejudiced white man), and it reminds us of a passage in another Austen novel where exactly the same code is used to describe white observers learning to like the looks of a dark skinned person of the opposite sex:

“Her brother was not handsome: no, when they first saw him he was absolutely plain, black and plain; but still he was the gentleman, with a pleasing address. The second meeting proved him not so very plain: he was plain, to be sure, but then he had so much countenance, and his teeth were so good, and he was so well made, that one soon forgot he was plain; and after a third interview, after dining in company with him at the Parsonage, he was no longer allowed to be called so by anybody. He was, in fact, the most agreeable young man the sisters had ever known, and they were equally delighted with him. Miss Bertram's engagement made him in equity the property of Julia, of which Julia was fully aware; and before he had been at Mansfield a week, she was quite ready to be fallen in love with.”

Of course this is Henry Crawford, whom I have long considered to be biracial. But…I only noticed this time around the sharp irony of the line “made him in equity the property of Julia”---- a human being as “property” indeed—Jane Fairfax’s sale of human flesh!

And that same ironic joke is played upon in the other direction in P&P in a much more famous iteration of it: “he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.” That is the idea behind Lady Catherine’s accusing Lizzy of bewitching Darcy, taking possession of his soul and body by “black” magic!

And….that’s just the beginning—all of the teasing of Darcy by Caroline Bingley can readily be read as racist innuendo, all circling around Lizzy’s “dark eyes” as code for “dark SKIN”.

"I am afraid, Mr. Darcy," observed Miss Bingley in a half whisper, "that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes."
"Not at all," he replied; "they were BRIGHTENED by the exercise."

In other words, Darcy’s saying that Elizabeth’s skin color looks WHITER, as in the racist expression “That’s white of you.”

And Carolyn misses no opportunity to emphasize Lizzy’s dark skin coloration:

”How very ill Miss Eliza Bennet looks this morning, Mr. Darcy," she cried; "I never in my life saw anyone so much altered as she is since the winter. She is grown SO BROWN and coarse! Louisa and I were agreeing that we should not have known her again."
However little Mr. Darcy might have liked such an address, he contented himself with coolly replying that he perceived no other alteration than her being rather tanned, no miraculous consequence of travelling in the summer.
"For my own part," she rejoined, "I must confess that I never could see any beauty in her. Her face is too thin; her COMPLEXION has no brilliancy; and her features are not at all handsome. Her nose wants character—there is nothing marked in its lines. Her TEETH are tolerable, but not out of the common way; and as for her eyes, which have sometimes been called so fine, I could never see anything extraordinary in them. They have a sharp, shrewish look, which I do not like at all; and in her air altogether there is a self-sufficiency without fashion, which is intolerable."

This is the language of the slave auction!

And finally, all the references to the “mud” on Lizzy’s shoes and petticoat, which I demonstrated last year were code for feces (human and animal), fit perfectly with the white racist conflation of black skin color with the color of waste. Crude, disgusting, abhorrent racism---and exactly what many white people of that era believed!

And this is definitely what Stowe picked up on in P&P, and (as I will be posting in the near future) gave us Topsy to show her awareness----and, last but not least, that also goes for the other transformation of Elizabeth Bennet in a very famous later 19th century novel, a character created nearly 3 decades after Topsy, by a close friend of Harriet Beecher Stowe--- Louisa May Alcott’s topsy-turvy Jo March in Little Women!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

If HE were a Rothschild: the proof that Downton Abbey alludes to Sidonia in Disraeli’s Coningsby

Yesterday I posted about my discovery of the veiled allusion to Benjamin Disraeli’s 1842 novel Coningsby in the Jewish subplot in Season Five of Downton Abbey --- Rose’s romance with, and marriage to, Atticus Aldridge, heir to the Sinderby (aka Rothschild/Sidonia) fortune. Little did I imagine that with a little more digging, I’d be able to connect the dots between that allusion by the clever Fellowes, and some real life Highclere Castle history, as the following book blurb reveals:

“Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey tells the story behind Highclere Castle, the real-life inspiration and setting for…Downton Abbey, and the life of one of its most famous inhabitants, Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon. Drawing on a rich store of materials from the archives of Highclere Castle, including diaries, letters, and photographs, the current Lady Carnarvon has written a transporting story of this fabled home on the brink of war. Much like her Masterpiece Classic counterpart, Lady Cora Crawley, Lady Almina was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, Alfred de ROTHSCHILD, who married his daughter off at a young age, her dowry serving as the crucial link in the effort to preserve the Earl of Carnarvon's ancestral home.  Throwing open the doors of Highclere Castle to tend to the wounded of World War I, Lady Almina distinguished herself as a brave and remarkable woman…..”

“…Widely believed to be the illegitimate daughter of industrialist Alfred de Rothschild and his French mistress, Marie Wombwell, Almina married George Herbert, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, in 1895, when she was just nineteen. In Lady Carnarvon’s telling, it was a felicitous match romantically and financially. Dubbed “the Pocket Venus,” diminutive Almina was a renowned beauty, reportedly besotted with her new husband, a budding Egyptologist. More important, perhaps, Almina brought to her marriage the cash desperately needed to run Highclere. Lady Carnarvon’s book focuses on the tumultuous years of World War I, when Almina converted her palatial estate into a convalescent hospital for wounded officers, and ends rather abruptly in 1924, shortly after the Earl’s untimely death. Downton Abbey fans will note the striking parallels between Almina’s life and that of her fictional counterpart, Lady Cora Crawley. This is hardly an accident: Lady Carnarvon and her husband, the eighth Earl of Carnarvon, affectionately known as Geordie, have been friends with Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes for more than a decade. Though Lady Carnarvon calls Fellowes a “genius,” she’s too involved with the show to call herself a fan. “It’s too much of a bloody muddle,” she says.”

So is Julian Fellowes “telling” us that Cora is an illegitimate heiress of her family’s fortune?

And….just to tie the knot even tighter to Disraeli’s Coningsby, check out this factoid, courtesy of  :

“Disraeli was an intimate friend—both financially, socially and politically—of the Rothschilds. In fact, he once considered marrying a Rothschild daughter and only shrank back because it would undermine his career. He was hounded enough as a Jew, and could not "afford" to identify himself openly with the Jewish religion. He was attracted to Baron Lionel de Rothschild, in part because like himself, a Rothschild was an "outsider" in English society.”

You guessed it—Lionel de Rothschild was the FATHER of Alfred de Rothschild, and therefore was the grandfather of Almina. And…a final irony: Alfred was born in 1842, the very same year that Disraeli wrote Coningsby!

And I’ll conclude with a tangential tile of the complicated mosaic underlying Fellowes’s incorporation of this Disraeli-Rothschild subtext into Downton Abbey:

“One of the first girls I went out with was a Jewish girl,” Fellowes said. “It was sort of my first experience of not being desirable. She belonged to one of the great Jewish families. I won’t name them. They certainly didn’t want a Catholic in the family.”

So, I hope your enjoyment of DT is enhanced by having this glimpse of the huge iceberg of “juicy” (if you’ll forgive my pun) allusion hidden beneath its Season Five Jewish subtext!

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, February 27, 2015

Downton Abbey’s Lord Sinderby as Sidonia, the most Rothschildian man in the world….of Disraeli’s Coningsby!

Now that I’ve been finding more and more veiled literary and historical allusions in Downton Abbey, I’m paying attention to every unusual character name, waiting for another one to pop up—and one just did, in Season 5’s Episode 8 that aired last Sunday in the U.S.. My Subject Line gives it away---here is the dialog from Episode 8, in which Susan, Rose’s anti-Semitic mother, attempts to insult her future in-laws during a dinner for Atticus and his parents at Downton Abbey:

Cora: Do come in. How lovely to see you.
Rose: Daddy, Mummy. This is Atticus.
Susan: How do you do? What a peculiar name.
Robert: What made you choose Yorkshire? Was it a historic reason? Not really.
Lady Sinderby: I used to go there as a girl and of course it's beautiful.
Susan: Do you have any English blood?
Lord Sinderby: We only date from the 1850s, but Lady Sinderby's family arrived in the reign of King Richard III.
Susan: Really? I think of you as nomads, drifting around the world.
Violet: Talking of drifting round, is it true you're starting your honeymoon at the Melfords' in CONINGSBY?
Atticus: Lady Melford is Mother's cousin.
Violet: Is she? I never knew that.

And then after the dinner we watch the tense tete-a-tete between Rose’s parents, as he gives her what-for:
Shrimpie: Did you enjoy this evening?
Susan: Not really, no. In fact, I hated it. Having to play act in front of those people is so degrading.
Shrimpie: It's not for much longer.
Susan:  Did you know that Anne Melford was Jewish?
Shrimpie: I neither knew nor didn't know. What difference does it make?
Susan: No need to parade your pseudo-tolerance here. We are quite alone.
Shrimpie: I don't feel as you do about it.
Susan: Or about anything else.
Shrimpie: Either way I want no more of your tricks. Is that clear?

The name “Coningsby” rings few bells in 2015, but it would definitely have meant something to Shrimpie, Violet, Robert,  Carson, Molesley, Tom, and Miss Bunting, among other characters in the show.  It was the title of one of the most well known of the many novels written by Benjamin Disraeli, who of course is famous even today for having been the Prime Minister of Great Britain twice between 1868 and 1880.

And what tells us that this was not just a coincidence, because Coningsby sounds like such a good name for an English estate, is that Disraeli created in Coningsby a character, SIDONIA (sounds a LOT like SINDERBY), who was in part inspired by the real life Baron de Rothschild, but who was also a mouthpiece for many of the 38-year old Disraeli’s own ideas, in 1842, about Jewish emancipation, superiority, and the pivotal role of Jews in the ancient and modern worlds.

So, when Violet politely changes the subject from Susan’s crude anti-Semitic nastiness, and asks Atticus whether he plans to honeymoon at Coningsby, this is Julian Fellowes invoking the rich subtext of Disraeli, both as great Tory politician of a vanished Victorian Era and as staunch defender of the right of Jews to sit at the great dinner tables—and to marry the daughters of—the great Christian families of England!

And my joking Subject Line about Sidonia being “the most Rothschildian man in the world” is based on what every reader of Disraeli’s novel would discern in a second, which is that Sidonia is almost a superman among men—he has so many talents and insights, and his presence is so utterly desirable at any social function he deigns to grace therewith, that he may as well be the guy in the Dos Equis Beer commercials!

But the mention of horses and impossibly attractive men is not accidental on my part, as the following comments virtually leapt off the screen during my followup reading of a 1979 scholarly article by Robert O’Kell about, inter alia, Sidonia in Disraeli’s Coningsby:

“…some critics would argue that the extravagant characterization of Sidonia is satirical. But it seems as much mistaken to judge the absurdity of his accomplishments by the test of verisimilitude as to restrict oneself to a literal definition of autobiography. It is clear that the two-fold essence of Sidonia's character, in both respects contrasting sharply with that of Coningsby [the young Gentile protagonist whom Sidonia helps at the end of the novel, VERY much like what Colonel Brandon does for Edward Ferrars at the end of Sense & Sensibility- so very like that I believe Disraeli was nodding to Jane Austen in that motif],  is that [Sidonia] is an outsider and that he is powerful. Consequently, he should be interpreted as an equally idealized counterassertion. Perhaps the conclusive proof of this ambivalence is the allegorical steeplechase in Book IV, Ch. 14, where Coningsby, mounted on the best of his grandfather's stud, aptly called "Sir Robert," comes in second behind Sidonia on his gorgeous Arab "of pure race," again symbolically named "The Daughter of the Star" (Bk. III, Ch. 1 & Bk. IV, Ch. 14). …”

So…the horse race that we watched only two weeks earlier in Episode 6, in which Atticus competes while his parents watch, is, we now see, a very sly wink by Fellowes at the steeplechase race in Coningsby , and is every bit as allegorical as to the characters in DT as it was in Disraeli’s novel!  And you gotta LOL at a horse named “Sir ROBERT’ being the stud whom Coningsby rides, which comes in second to Sidonia’s “pure race” Arab!—especially when we note that Lord Sinderby, like Disraeli’s Sidonia, is even more concerned about preserving the purity of the Jewish genes than Rose’s mother!

I conclude with the invitation to consider the broader implications of Fellowes’s bravura veiled allusion to Disrael and his fictional creature Sidonia---does it suggest that in Season Six of DT, in some way as yet unforeseeable, the Sinderbys will save Downton Abbey, the way Sidonia boasts to Coningsby about his coming to the financial rescue of the British government’s creditworthiness? 

One thing is absolutely for sure--you don’t have to be Jewish to like—no, LOVE--- Fellowes’s seamless blend of erudition and entertainment.

Shabbat shalom,
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Learian Fools of Downton Abbey

I ended my previous post, about the comprehensive allusion to Shakespeare’s King Lear hidden in plain sight by Julian Fellowes for five seasons in Downton Abbey, with the following:

“My parting question is, “Who is the Fool of Downton Abbey?”—(that’s not a trick question, I really can’t think of who it is).”

Well, I soon found the answer….on Twitter! I searched in Twitter for any Tweets that included the words “Tom” and “fool” and was brought to this 1/12/14 Tweet by Matthew Brian Beck aka @Beck:  

“Tom is a fool. Fool, fool, fool. According to Tom.”

That was all the prompting I needed! I now see very clearly that Tom Branson plays the “Fool” in Downton Abbey in several senses of the word:

He is just like Lear’s Fool, in that he speaks truth to power—he has never been afraid to tell Robert what he thinks, from the time he was a chauffeur, to when he married Sybil, to when he became a second “son” to Robert after Sybil’s death. And Robert loves him like a son.

But Tom Branson is also a fool in the sense that Edgar (Poor Tom) is fooling Lear by dressing in disguise and speaking crazily, to disguise his own true identity.

And…I also now see that Robert is like Lear in his own foolish arrogance, and at times Rober, like Lear, shows awareness of this.

And….last but not least, I now see that Violet is most the Fool of Downton Abbey, because Fellowes consistently gives to her the best lines, the zingers that have just that ironic, witty aphoristic quality that we know and love in the speeches given by Lear’s Fool.

So, now for the remainder of this post, I invite you to peruse the  following quotations from Downton Abbey, which all involve the word “fool”, especially those pertaining to “Poor Tom” Branson:

Season 1, Episode 7:
Robert: If it had been left to that bloody FOOL Branson You should see what he reads. It's all Marx and Ruskin and John Stuart Mill. I ask you.
Mary: Papa prefers the servants to read the Bible and letters from home (!)
Mrs. Hughes: There are sandwiches for Mr Crawley in the dining room, Lady Mary.
Mary: Thank you, Mrs Hughes.

Season 2, Episode 8:
Sibyl: Thank you, Granny. Yes, we do have a plan. Tom's got a job on a paper. I'll stay until after the wedding; I don't want to steal [Mary & Lavinia’s] thunder.  But after that, I'll go to Dublin.
Cora: To live with him? Unmarried?
Sibyl: I'll live with his mother while the bans are read. And then we'll be married... And I'll get a job as a nurse.
Violet: What does your mother make of this?
Branson: If you must know, she thinks we're very FOOLISH.

Violet:  So at least we have something in common.
Robert: I won't allow it! I will not allow my daughter to throw away her life!
Sibyl:  You can posture it all you like, Papa, it won't make any difference!
Robert: Oh, yes, it will.
Sybil: How? I don't want any money and you can hardly lock me up until I die! I'll say goodnight. But I can promise you one thing, tomorrow morning nothing will have changed. Tom.
Robert: How much will you take to leave us in peace?
Tom: What?
Robert: You must have doubts. You said your own mother thinks you FOOLISH.
Tom: Yes, she does.
Robert: Then yield to those doubts and take enough to make a new life back in Ireland. I'll be generous if we can bring this nonsense to an end.
Tom: I see. You know, your trouble, milord, you're like all of your kind. You think you have the monopoly of honour.

Season 3, Episode 6:
Robert: Has Matthew told you about his latest plans for Downton? I know he wants to change things.
Cora: Doesn't he just? You mustn't let him upset you.
Robert: He more or less told me I've let the estate fall to pieces.
Cora: I'm sure he didn't mean that.
Robert: Didn't he? A FOOL and his money are soon parted. I have been parted from my money, so I suppose I am a FOOL.

Season 4, Episode 3:
Mary: How are you enjoying the party?
Tom: I look like a FOOL. I talk like a FOOL. I am a FOOL.
Mary: Alfred said you were dancing.
Tom: With an old bat who could be my granny and thinks I grew up in a cave. My clothes deceive no one.
Mary: Don't be so hard on yourself.
Tom: I'm a fish out of water and I've never felt it more than today.

Season 5, Episode 5
Tom: Look, I am very grateful to you and this family. But my vision of this country is different from yours.
Robert: But not from Miss Bunting's?
Tom: I believe in reform and the moral direction of the Left, and when I'm with her, I don't feel like a freak or a FOOL, devoid of common sense.

What we may wonder is whether, in Season Six, Tom Branson will disappear from the action as the Fool does in King Lear, or if he will (like Edgar) come out of disguise and take over stewardship of Downton Abbey (perhaps married to Edith or Mary????) if Robert happens to die or abdicate his authority?

Food for thought!!!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter