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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Jacob & Esau in Tom Jones & Pride & Prejudice (& The School for Scandal & Bridget Jones’ Diary, too!)

In response to my preliminary suggestion yesterday that Jane Austen deliberately but covertly  alluded to the Genesis story of the sibling rivalry of Jacob vs. Esau in her depiction of Darcy vs. Wickham in the shadow story of P&P, Jane Fox wrote the following earlier today in Janeites:
“In the Bible story, Jacob and Esau have the same mother and the same father, so I think you need a different pair for your analogy. Were you perhaps thinking of [Isaac] and Ishmael?”

Jane, thank you for your tact, but I was not thinking of them. While Ishmael and Isaac do, like Wickham and Darcy in the shadow story of P&P, share a father but not a mother, there is no other “smoke”  in their Biblical tale that parallels what happens in either Tom Jones  or Pride & Prejudice. I.e., there’s no competition for a birthright between the brothers—Ishmael is never in the running to succeed Abraham in his covenant with God, and there’s really nothing at all in Genesis about Ishmael as an adult---- except…one curious little detail I had never noticed before, which relates ironically to your question—in Genesis Chapter 28, when Esau goes off to make his own fortune after selling his birthright to the opportunistic, manipulative Jacob, Esau then does what actually makes perfect sense--- he chooses to go to his uncle Ishmael, and there he takes as an additional wife one of Uncle Ishmael’s daughters—i.e., one of his own first cousins!—that’s as Austenesque as you can get—just ask Fanny and Edmund!  ;) 

But, all joking aside, as for my claim that Jacob & Esau was alluded to by JA in P&P, and your raising as an objection their being full rather than half brothers, I am glad to have the opportunity to rebut that objection.  I’ve long considered it an unduly rigid requirement, in order for a literary allusion to be recognized as intentional by the author, to insist that there be parallelism on all or even most major points, between the characters and situations alluded to, on the one hand, and the characters and situations alluding to them, on the other.  What I’ve found is that this just isn’t the way great authors operate, and it’s easy to see why. The purpose of a worthy, interesting allusion is not to pay an empty homage, nor is it to show off erudition, but it’s for a higher artistic purpose, i.e., to reflect illumination into shadowy aspects of the later story. So, to insist on exact repetition of all major elements of the prior story would be to shackle the later author to a slavish, dead imitation.

I learned early on to take each allusion on a case by case basis, and to use my judgment as to the gestalt of the allusion—it’s a smell test, based on imagination and common sense. After first gathering all relevant textual and extratextual evidence, and synthesizing it all using imagination does it seem significantly more likely than not that it was intentional. In the case of the Jacob and Esau allusion in the relationship of Darcy and Wickham, the latter being half brothers doesn’t matter. What matters, as is made crystal clear by both Darcy and Wickham in their respective accounts to Elizabeth, is that they were RAISED JUST LIKE BROTHERS:

Wickham: "Yes—the late Mr. Darcy bequeathed me the next presentation of the best living in his gift. HE WAS MY GODFATHER, and excessively attached to me. I cannot do justice to his kindness. He meant to provide for me amply, and thought he had done it; but when the living fell, it was given elsewhere."

Darcy: “"…on George Wickham, who was [Mr. Darcy Sr.’s] godson, his kindness was therefore liberally bestowed. My father supported him at school, and afterwards at Cambridge—most important assistance, as his own father, always poor from the extravagance of his wife, would have been unable to give him a gentleman's education. My father was not only fond of this young man's society, whose manners were always engaging; he had also the highest opinion of him, and hoping the church would be his profession, intended to provide for him in it.”

Wickham: “"We were born in the same parish, within the same park; the greatest part of our youth was passed together; inmates of the same house, sharing the same amusements, objects of the same parental care.”

And Wickham a moment later explains the motive for Darcy’s animus toward him, which comes straight out of the sequential tales of bitter sibling rivalry that are THE MAIN THEME of the Book of Genesis, from Cain and Abel to Jacob and Esau to Joseph and his brothers: 
"A thorough, determined dislike of me—a dislike which I cannot but attribute in some measure to jealousy. Had the late Mr. Darcy liked me less, his son might have borne with me better; but his father's uncommon attachment to me irritated him, I believe, very early in life. He had not a temper to bear the sort of competition in which we stood—the sort of preference which was often given me."

Lest you think it was only deep in the past, recall that Wickham’s portrait STILL hangs on the walls at Pemberley when Lizzy visits there. And by the way, in passing, I just noticed for the first time another very subtle and very ironic textual parallel between Wickham and Darcy in that last-quoted speech by Wickham, which also surely is intentional on JA’s part:

Wickham: “Had the late Mr. Darcy LIKED ME LESS, his son might have borne with me better.”
Lizzy: “"You might have talked to me more when you came to dinner."
Darcy:  "A man who had FELT LESS, might."

In short, Darcy and Wickham may as well have been full brothers, for all relevant purposes. And now, I will briefly summarize why I believe the layered allusion by JA in P&P to a combination of Tom Jones and the Genesis 25 tale of Jacob and Esau meets the smell test, in spades. In a nutshell, the Jacob & Esau story is a source for both Tom Jones and Pride & Prejudice, in that all three stories involve foregrounding of (at least) the following THREE elements:

ONE: Major sibling rivalry between brothers
TWO: One of the brothers feels himself cheated out of his proper inheritance of the family birthright by the other
THREE: The cheated brother has a red coat, and is generally associated with the color red, while the cheating brother is associated with the color white.

Literature and history are filled with examples which have both ONE and TWO-- indeed they are built in to the history of the human race, going back to our primate ancestors. So it would be foolish of me to assert an allusion based solely on the presence of such two elements in two different stories being compared. However, it’s the third one, on a seemingly throwaway detail pertaining to red coats, and a contrast between the colors red and white, which collectively are the textual bread crumbs which Jane Austen strewed in her reader’s path, which led me from strong suspicion of allusion to virtual certainty.

First, the source passages in Genesis 25 re Jacob & Esau:

25:25 And the first came out RED, all over LIKE AN HAIRY GARMENT; and they called his name Esau.

25:30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with THAT SAME RED POTTAGE; for I am faint: therefore was HIS NAME CALLED EDOM.

So Esau/Edom ‘s (nick)name, if you will, is “Red”; whereas the color “white” is associated with Jacob, and that coloristic wordplay centers on the trick that Jacob plays on his (double) father in law Laban (which, by the way, means “white” in Hebrew!) when Jacob uses his own devious ingenuity to foil Laban’s attempt to cheat Jacob out of what he has earned thrice over:

Genesis 30:35-43 : And [Laban] removed that day the he goats that were ringstraked and spotted, and all the she goats that were speckled and spotted, and every one that had SOME WHITE IN IT, and all the brown among the sheep, and gave them into the hand of his sons. And he set three days' journey betwixt himself and Jacob: and Jacob fed the rest of Laban's flocks. And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chesnut tree; and PILLED WHITE STRAKES IN THEM, and MADE THE WHITE APPEAR which was in the rods…. And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive, that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods. But when the cattle were feeble, he put them not in: so the feebler were Laban's, and the stronger Jacob's. And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.”

And now carefully observe how that theme of red and white plays out in two telltale passages in Tom Jones:

Book 7, Chapter 14: “ As soon as the serjeant was departed, Jones rose from his bed, and dressed himself entirely, putting on even HIS COAT, which, as ITS COLOUR WAS WHITE, showed very visibly the STREAMS OF  BLOOD which had flowed down it; and now, having grasped his new-purchased sword in his hand, he was going to issue forth, when the thought of what he was about to undertake laid suddenly hold of him, and he began to reflect that in a few minutes he might possibly deprive a human being of life, or might lose his own.
The clock had now struck twelve, and every one in the house were in their beds, except the centinel who stood to guard Northerton, when Jones softly opening his door, issued forth in pursuit of his enemy, of whose place of confinement he had received a perfect description from the drawer. It is not easy to conceive a much more tremendous figure than he now exhibited. He had on, as we have said, A LIGHT-COLOURED COAT, COVERED WITH STREAMS OF BLOOD. His face, which missed that very blood, as well as twenty ounces more drawn from him by the surgeon, was pallid. Round his head was a quantity of bandage, not unlike a turban. In the right hand he carried a sword, and in the left a candle. So that the bloody Banquo was not worthy to be compared to him. In fact, I believe a more dreadful apparition was never raised in a church-yard, nor in the imagination of any good people met in a winter evening over a Christmas fire in Somersetshire.”
Book 8, Chapter 13: "The day preceding my father's journey (before which time I scarce ever left him), I went to take my leave of some of my most intimate acquaintance, particularly of Mr Watson, who dissuaded me from burying myself, as he called it, out of a simple compliance with the fond desires of a foolish old fellow. Such sollicitations, however, had no effect, and I once more saw my own home. My father now greatly sollicited me to think of marriage; but my inclinations were utterly averse to any such thoughts. I had tasted of love already, and perhaps you know the extravagant excesses of that most tender and most violent passion."—Here the old gentleman paused, and looked earnestly at JONES; WHOSE COUNTENANCE, WITHIN A MINUTE’S SPACE, DISPLAYED THE EXTREMITIES OF BOTH RED AND WHITE. Upon which the old man, without making any observations, renewed his narrative. “

So much for Henry Austen’s lie in his Biographical Notice, when he wrote, with a straight face:

“She did not rank any work of Fielding quite so high [as Richardson's Grandison]. Without the slightest affectation she recoiled from every thing gross. Neither nature, wit, nor humour, could make her amends for so very low a scale of morals.”

Yeah, right……and where on the scale of morals does telling a lie about your dead sister, which plays a pivotal role in causing the world of those who love her novels to harbor such a deep false conception about her literary allusions?  Talk about a jealous and greedy sibling deliberately concealing the true character of a sibling infinitely his superior!

But back to business—with those textual excerpts in front of you for ready comparison, now, please carefully observe how JA repeatedly word-plays with Darcy and Wickham as red and white, and also drops in some references to Esau-esque soup and porridge for good measure!:

Ch. 6: And [Lizzy] gravely glancing at Mr. Darcy, "There is a fine old saying, which everybody here is of course familiar with: 'Keep your breath to cool your PORRIDGE'; and I shall keep mine to swell my song."

Ch. 7: [Mrs. Bennet re the militia in Meryton] “…I remember the time when I liked A RED COAT myself very well—and, indeed, so I do still at my heart…”

Ch. 11: "If you mean Darcy," cried her brother [Bingley], "he may go to bed, if he chooses, before it begins—but as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made WHIITE SOUP ENOUGH, I shall send round my cards."

Ch. 13: It was next to impossible that their cousin [Mr. Collins] should come in A SCARLET COAT, and it was now some weeks since they had received pleasure from the society of A MAN IN ANY OTHER COLOUR.

Ch. 15: Mr. Darcy corroborated it with a bow, and was beginning to determine not to fix his eyes on Elizabeth, when they were suddenly arrested by the sight of the stranger, and Elizabeth happening to see the countenance of both as they looked at each other, was all astonishment at the effect of the meeting. BOTH CHANGED COLOUR, ONE LOOKED WHITE, THE OTHER RED. Mr. Wickham, after a few moments, touched his hat—a salutation which Mr. Darcy just deigned to return. What could be the meaning of it? It was impossible to imagine; it was impossible not to long to know.

Ch. 18: Till Elizabeth entered the drawing-room at Netherfield, and looked in vain for Mr. Wickham among the cluster of RED COATS there assembled, a doubt of his being present had never occurred to her.

Ch. 34: Mr. Darcy, who was leaning against the mantelpiece with his eyes fixed on her face, seemed to catch her words with no less resentment than surprise. His complexion became PALE WITH ANGER, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature.

Ch. 41: [Lydia] saw all the glories of the camp—its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and DAZZLING WITH SCARLET; and, to complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once.

Ch. 51: However, I did not hear above one word in ten, for I was thinking, you may suppose, of my dear Wickham. I longed to know whether he would be married IN HIS BLUE COAT."

Now, if all of the above is still (as we Jews sing at Passover) not enough….to at least garner a strong “maybe it’s true” from you, I’ve saved some icing to apply to the top of this rich allusive layer cake, to put you over the top:

First, we know for 100% certain that JA was specifically focused on the symbolism of Tom Jones’s red coat, because JA made it explicit in her very famous Letters 1 and 2, which she wrote when she was (no coincidence) exactly the same age as Elizabeth Bennet—“not one and twenty”:

1/9-1/10/1796: “…we received a visit from Mr. Tom Lefroy and his cousin George. The latter is really very well-behaved now; and as for the other, HE HAS BUT ONE FAULT, which time will, I trust, entirely remove -- it is that HIS MORNING COAT IS A GREAT DEAL TOO LIGHT. HE IS A GREAT ADMIRER OF TOM JONES, AND THEREFORE WEARS THE SAME COLOURED CLOTHES, I imagine, WHICH HE DID WHEN HE WAS WOUNDED.”
1/16/1796: “Our party to Ashe to-morrow night will consist of Edward Cooper, James (FOR A BALL IS NOTHING without him), Buller, who is now staying with us, and I. I look forward with great impatience to it, as I rather expect to receive an offer from my friend in the course of the evening. I SHALL REFUSE HIM, HOWEVER, UNLESS HE PROMISES TO GIVE AWAY HIS WHITE COAT.
…Friday. -- At length the day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this it will be over. My tears flow as I write at the melancholy idea. “

Here is the passage in Tom Jones which JA was covertly alluding to—and you can be sure that the priggish Tom Lefroy was no more of an admirer of Tom Jones than Darcy was an admirer of Wickham!:

Book 4, Chapter 8: “Having scoured the whole coast of the enemy, as well as any of Homer's heroes ever did, or as Don Quixote or any knight-errant in the world could have done, he returned to Molly, whom he found in a condition which must give both me and my reader pain, was it to be described here. Tom raved like a madman, beat his breast, tore his hair, stamped on the ground, and vowed the utmost vengeance on all who had been concerned. He then PULLED OFF HIS COAT, AND BUTTONED IT ROUND HER, put his hat upon her head, wiped the BLOOD from her face as well as he could with his handkerchief, and called out to the servant to ride as fast as possible for a side-saddle, or a pillion, that he might carry her safe home.
Master Blifil objected to the sending away the servant, as they had only one with them; but as Square seconded the order of Jones, he was obliged to comply.
The servant returned in a very short time with the pillion, and Molly, having collected her rags as well as she could, was placed behind him. In which manner she was carried home, Square, Blifil, and Jones attending.
Here Jones HAVING RECEIVED HIS COAT, given her a sly kiss, and whispered her, that he would return in the evening, quitted his Molly, and rode on after his companions.

As Darcy correctly pegged Elizabeth, Jane Austen “[found] great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact [were] not [her] own"!!!

Now, beyond the above textual evidence, I submit to you the following scholarly support:

As I briefly mentioned in my previous post, Jennifer Preston Wilson’s 2004 Persuasions article proceeds from an orthodox Janeite perspective, with no awareness of the shadow story of P&P I claim exists, and nonetheless identifies a clear allusion to Jacob & Esau in P&P.

In a 2011 Persuasions article by Joyce Kerr Tarpley, she makes a mainstream argument that JA had Jacob & Esau in the back of her mind as she wrote S&S, her first novel, published right before JA lopt and cropt P&P for publication.

In several prior posts over the past few years, I have written about Jane Austen’s allusions to Jacob’s son Joseph (with his famous bloody red coat) and his harrowing experiences with fraternal jealousy which are, of course, recounted right after the Jacob-Esau tale in Genesis.

And if you STILL think this is all just my imagination, then here’s one last little chart for good measure. Without reciting the substantial evidence that supports it, because it would double the length of this post, I claim that there are several clearly defined layers of allusion involving rivalry between brothers bouncing down the years:

ONE:       Jacob & Esau               Genesis Ch. 25, The Yahwist   800 BCE   The Root Source
TWO:      Tom Jones & Blifil      Tom Jones, Henry Fielding      1749          Alludes to Two
THREE:   Charles & Joseph         School for Scandal, Sheridan  1777          Alludes to One&Two  
FOUR:     Wickham & Darcy       Pride & Prejudice, JaneAusten 1813         Alludes to #1, 2 &3
FIVE:       Cleaver & Mark Darcy  Bridget Jones’ Diary,          1996             Alludes to #2 & 4
                                                            Helen Fielding

I may write more about the above five-layer cake of literary allusion another time, but for today I wanted to conclude by giving a snapshot of the kind of layered allusive games that JA and other great, playful, and knowledgeable authors have played through the centuries.

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1 comment:

katidragon said...

I landed here from searching for any references to Ishmael & Isaac as Tom & Edmund Bertram, along with Hagar & Sarah as Mrs. Norris & Lady Bertram - I cannot find you have commented along those lines anywhere?

I have yet to pick out all the details but it does feel like there is something there, in the way Hagar supplies a son for Sarah & Abraham, treats Sarah harshly, is pushed out, told to return and serve and so on, though I do not think I would have noticed if it were not for your posts about baby-trading in MP. If you have explored this in your blog somewhere, I would love to read - if not, I shall simply have to keep teasing out the threads myself to see if they are my imagination or not!