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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Damon & Defenestration: the 12 year old Jane Austen’s shocking, savvy Biblical & classical allusions

Earlier today, I posted a link to an article about Enchantments (a new modernized film version of Emma with a Wiccan lesbian twist, which I’m eager to see), which prompted me to search for Jane Austen’ usages of the word “enchantment” in her writing. I was curious as to whether JA, arch punster, might’ve used “enchant” punningly, too, so as to covertly allude to the dreadfully serious subject of “witches” (i.e., powerful women) burnt at the stake in early modern times. I already knew this to be a subject in which Jane took an eager interest—from Joan La Pucelle (in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 1), to poor English women subjected to witch trials, to Maria de Medici’s “particular friend” Eleanor de Galigai.

It was only after noticing, two months ago, the veiled allusion in P&P to the Bard’s brash, spirit-conjuring Joan, that I also grasped for the first time the deep emotion hidden just beneath the surface of the 16 year old Jane’s “casual” take on Joan in Jane’s History of England:   “It was in [Henry VI’s] reign that Joan of Arc lived & made such a row among the English. They should not have burnt her — but they did.”

But they did---three words carrying three tons of anger (so much for the nonsense about Jane the English patriot mistrusting everything French—her allegiance was to her fellow women). And I had also noticed that Shakespeare made much of Joan’s “enchantment”: she is tagged with this witchy pun twice in Henry VI, Part 1, both of them tellingly focused on the power Joan exerts through words:

It’s so easy to see how Jane Austen, among the most powerful female wielders of words in history, would identify with Shakespeare’s Joan, who was so famously and fatally “condemned” by men. So I had high expectations of finding the mature published author Jane using “enchantment” similarly; but, to my disappointment, I found only three usages in her published novels---one in NA, two in Emma---and not a one of the three was punny.  A swing and a big miss.

Little did I suspect that vindication of my hunch was in the on-deck circle. The next search in my queue was, as always, in her Juvenilia (separate search engine), and there I found a handful. And all of them were also insignificant….except the one that turned out to be the mother lode—and in the most unlikely place---in “Frederic & Elfrida” (“F&E” for short), written by Jane Austen when she was ONLY TWELVE YEARS OLD! In other words, the very earliest surviving writing of JA!

Specifically, I am talking about the passage in “Chapter the Second” of F&E, where we read about the welcome of the young hero & heroine into the home of their new neighbors, the Fitzroys: 

“On being shewn into an elegant dressing room, ornamented with festoons of artificial flowers, they were struck with the engaging Exterior & beautifull outside of Jezalinda the eldest of the young Ladies; but e'er they had been many minutes seated, the Wit & Charms which shone resplendant in the conversation of the amiable Rebecca, ENCHANTED them so much that they all with one accord jumped up & exclaimed. Lovely & too charming Fair one, notwithstanding your forbidding squint, your greasy tresses & your swelling back, which are more frightfull than imagination can paint or pen describe, I cannot refrain from expressing my raptures, at the engaging Qualities of your Mind, which so amply atone for the HORROR, with which your first appearance must ever inspire the unwary visitor."
"Your sentiments so nobly expressed on the different excellencies of Indian & English Muslins, & the judicious preference you give the former, have excited in me an admiration of which I can alone give an adequate idea, by assuring you it is nearly equal to what I feel for myself."
Then making a profound Curtesy to the amiable & abashed Rebecca, they left the room & hurried home.
From this period, the intimacy between the Families of Fitzroy, Drummond, and Falknor, daily encreased till at length it grew to such a pitch, that they did not scruple to kick one another out of the window on the slightest provocation…”

I hope it is obvious that what confirms the punning meaning of “enchantment” as referring to witches is…..practically everything in that passage! (but I’ll spell it all out anyway). We have an unusually  detailed  description of “the amiable Rebecca”, the new girlfriend who “ENCHANTED” them, was “too CHARMING”, had a “forbidding SQUINT”, “GREASY tresses”, and a “SWELLING back”, all of which are “FRIGHTFULL” and inspire “HORROR” in “the unwary visitor”.  In a half dozen ways, that passage screams a caricature of a “witch”—like the portrait of Queen Elizabeth that Cassandra drew for Jane’s History four years later---without ever having to write the word “witch” itself!

And that would have been enough----but I soon discovered that those vivid descriptors were only the periphera of the allusion to witchcraft that the extraordinary genius12 year old Jane Austen hid behind that short passage. And my next clue that led me to that further discovery turned out to be the name of Rebecca’s elder sister-----Jezalinda. Did it catch your eye too?

At first, I thought I was reminded of the name of one of those witches from Wicked, but Google promptly disabused me of that suspicion: they were Elphaba, Glinda, and Nessarose—not a Jezalinda in sight. But then I thought—might Jane have had the Biblical JEZebel in mind? That sounded promising, as I knew enough about Kings to know that Jezebel was an arch villainess in the eyes of the Israelite priestly writers, because she had in some way led her husband, Ahab, King of Israel, down the road to corruption—sorta like a witch, right?

I was ready to go to the Bible to find out more about Jezebel, but first I took a quick segue to Google, and searched “Jezebel Austen Jezalinda”, thinking that perhaps some Austen scholar had already seen the Jezebel connection to Jezalinda, and had beaten me to the punch. And a few hits did pop up. Margaret Doody, in her new book Jane Austen’s Names, wrote:
“ ‘Jezalinda’ is pure invention, in affectionate mockery of Mrs. Smith’s ‘Ethelinde’ combined with ‘Jessica’ and ‘Jezebel’”, and then Doody cited Peter Sabor.  
I then saw that Peter Sabor had previously written pretty much the same thing a few years earlier:  
“Jezalinda: a nonce name, combining the biblical Jezebel with ‘Ethelinde’, the name of the eponymous heroine of Charlotte Smith’s novel…”

But no others worth noting. Sure, there had been several prior scholarly notings of the name “Jezalinda”--by Mudrick, Castellanos, Small, Lynch, and Poplawski, among others— but each was only in passing. No Austen scholar had apparently ever thought of Jezebel as a name chosen by JA for a reason besides Sabor and Doody. So it seemed like virgin scholarly acreage waiting to be tilled.

So my next stop was the Bible, to quickly get up to speed on the story of Jezebel, and see if anything popped out at me that might somehow connect to that “witchy” passage about Jezalinda and Rebecca. Are you ready for a lightning quick tour of Jezebel in the Bible?:

1 Kings 16:31 Ahab marries princess Jezebel and worships her father’s god, Baal.

1Kings 18  When Jezebel cuts off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah takes 100 prophets, and hides them in a cave, and feeds them. Elijah then confronts Ahab, challenges Baal’s prophets (who eat at Jezebel’s table) with God’s, and---no big surprise!-- things go badly for the Baalim.

1 Kings 19: 1-4: And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there [where God sends angels to feed and encourage Elijah].

1 Kings 21: Jezebel incites Ahab to glom Naboth’s desirable vineyard writes letters and hires two sons of Belial to bear false witness against Naboth for blasphemy, whereupon Naboth is stoned to death and Ahab gets his vineyard. Whereupon, God sends Elijah with his version of a horse’s head in bed:
“Thus saith the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.”
And of JEZEBEL also spake the Lord, saying, The dogs shall eat JEZEBEL by the wall of Jezreel.”
Ahab repents whereupon God shows mercy:
Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son's days will I bring the evil upon his house.”

Then a gap till the right point in the reign of Ahab’s son, Joram:

2 Kings 9: Elisha sends a message to Jehu that he is the future king of Israel, plus:
”And thou shalt smite the house of Ahab thy master, that I may avenge the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord, at the hand of Jezebel.”
Jehu eventually heads out to fulfill his destiny. Joram spots him, sends messengers twice to ask if Jehu comes in peace, gets no answer. Then:
21-23: And Joram said, Make ready. And his chariot was made ready. And Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah went out, each in his chariot, and they went out against Jehu, and met him in the portion of Naboth the Jezreelite. And it came to pass, when Joram saw Jehu, that he said, Is it peace, Jehu? And he answered, What peace, so long as the whoredoms of THY MOTHER JEZEBEL AND HER WITCHCRAFTS are so many?”
Jehu slaughters Joram in Naboth’s vineyard—Biblical poetic justice.

And all of that was just prelude to the part that Jane Austen must have read with ESPECIALLY eager interest. So I suggest that you do the same, and look for the part that Jane hid in plain sight in F&A:

30-37: And when Jehu was come to Jezreel, JEZEBEL heard of it; and she painted her face, and tired her head, and looked out at a window. And as Jehu entered in at the gate, she said, Had Zimri peace, who slew his master? And he lifted up his face to the window, and said, Who is on my side? who? And there looked out to him two or three eunuchs. And he said, THROW HER DOWN. So THEY THREW HER DOWN: and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall, and on the horses: and he trode her under foot.
34 And when he was come in, he did eat and drink, and said, Go, see now this cursed woman, and bury her: for she is a king's daughter. And they went to bury her: but they found no more of her than the skull, and the feet, and the palms of her hands. Wherefore they came again, and told him. And he said, This is the word of the Lord, which he spake by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, In the portion of Jezreel shall dogs eat the flesh of JEZEBEL: And the carcase of JEZEBEL shall be as dung upon the face of the field in the portion of Jezreel; so that they shall not say, This is JEZEBEL.

So NOW you know why the 12 year old Jane Austen wrote “they did not scruple to kick one another out of the window on the slightest provocation”. It wasn’t that she was a silly preteen giving vent to her overactive Gothic imagination. She was confirming to her learned readers that “witch-like” Rebecca (another Hebrew Biblical female name) and her sister Jezalinda were supposed to remind us in some way of the most evil witch of the Bible---Jezebel, who infamously had the unique Biblical status of being thrown out of a window—or, as they said it in JA’s day—defenestrated—hence my Subject Line.

 By the way, as a Christian P.S. to the above Hebrew narrative, we do hear about Jezebel one last time in Revelation 2:20-23:

“Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.”

The unrepentant Jezebel we hear about there sounds a LOT like Joan La Pucelle at the end of Henry VI, Part 1, and Eleanor de Galigai, too---all thumbing their female noses at overwhelming male brute force, even in the face of an imminent tortured death. And so I leave off my interpretation there, I am sure those who are interested will want to reflect on all of the above, and come up with your own explanation of the meaning of Jane Austen’s veiled allusion to Jezebel.

But before I close, think about how it comes to be that I am the first Austen scholar to ever take note of any of the above. What it shows you, yet again, I suggest, is the extraordinary passivity and lack of imagination in interpreting Jane Austen’s writing---from her juvenilia to her surviving letters to her published novels----that seems to still be the universal default mode for Austen scholarship, as it has been for two centuries.

What’s most ironic in that, I think, in this particular instance, is that even Peter Leithart (who has made a cottage industry in recent years out of generating exegeses of safe, unthreatening—and, in my view, totally invalid---Christian Biblical allusions in JA’s writing) actually quoted the passage in F&A about intimate friends tossing each other out of windows, without recognizing that this was the 12 year old Jane Austen’s massive wink at the fate of Jezebel in the Bible. How strong is the blindness that arises from the unshakable belief that Jane Austen could not write something like that—it is a blindness which no spectacles, even those of Mrs. Bates, can correct.

And that, my fellow Janeites, is only the Biblical part of the allusions in “Frederic & Elfrida”. Stand by tomorrow for my followup post, in which I will lay out the classical allusions, which are almost as amazing.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"Oh, Oh, OH, Mr. Darcy....not every a--- has a heart of gold

 This little song is really excellent, and it bears repeated listens!

The unintended irony of the song is that in the shadow story of P&P, even Mr. Darcy HIMSELF remains an a---hole with a heart of stone, not gold, at the end of the novel.

For further evidence of the shadow Darcy’s persistent a—holeness:

A truth RARELY acknowledged: 20 shades of Austen’s Byronic/Miltonic hero/villain Mr. Darcy

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sunday, July 26, 2015

"To yield readily—easily—to THE PERSUASION OF A FRIEND (i.e,. Quakerism!) is no merit with” Mr. Darcy (the Anglican Church)!

Diane, thanks for your reply, which I just saw as I was getting ready to post this followup of my own. Let me clarify one important point re the theological allegory I see operating in P&P with Wickham representing Quakers and Darcy Anglicans---I am not suggesting that Wickham himself should be viewed as a Quaker, merely that his small scale situation as an individual character in P&P mirrors that of the Quakers on a larger scale in key ways—and the same with Darcy, who surely is an Anglican—Darcy, in his arrogant crushing of “dissidents” from his “edicts’ behaves with the casual cruel arrogance exhibited by the Anglican church toward its much smaller and less powerful theological rivals, in their competitive courtship of English souls (Elizabeth).

Now on to my original followup to my two recent posts about the Wickham-Darcy Quaker-Anglican subtext of P&P. It occurred to me this morning to do a word search of “Society of Friends” and “Brotherly Love”, two key phrases of course associated with Quakerism since prior to JA’s era, and it turned out to be a gold mine of allusions hidden in plain sight.

As you go through the following textual excerpts from P&P, where I’ve put in ALL CAPS those keywords to help you spot them, please focus in particular on what I believe is Ground Zero of this Quaker allusion in P&P, the excerpts from the scene when Wickham first tells Eliza the story of how Darcy screwed him over. And that in turn relates back to the conversation at Netherfield about Bingley’s handwriting that morphs into a discussion of persuasion. That conversation provided My Subject Line as the best example of the novel’s Quaker subtext, because it puns in a masterfully clever way on the double meaning of “persuasion”. I.e., besides its ordinary meaning of “convincing someone to change an opinion”, it also was often used in JA’s era, and is still sometimes used today, to refer to one’s religious denomination. That meaning was used most famously in the 1945 novel The Friendly Persuasion, later made into a famous movie saga starring Gary Cooper about—what else?-a Quaker family!

And that entire conversation between Eliza and Wickham can be viewed as a very specific allegory about the dilemma of an English Christian trying to pick between mainstream Anglicanism and dissident Quakerism. And finally, as you read the several references to Wickham’s discussion of Darcy’s fraternal pride (aka “Brotherly Love”), consider the curious fact, perhaps a coincidence, that the 1709 Anglican tract A Confutation of Quakerism, written by Thomas BENNET, just happens to take on the topic of “brotherly love” head-on!

So, without further ado, here are the textual excerpts which clinch the deal on the Quaker subtext of P&P.

"What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy! There is nothing like dancing after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished SOCIETY."
"Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished SOCIETIES of the world. Every savage can dance."
Sir William only smiled. "Your FRIEND performs delightfully," he continued after a pause, on seeing Bingley join the group…

"I am sure," she added, "if it was not for such good FRIENDS I do not know what would become of her, for she is very ill indeed, and suffers a vast deal, though with the greatest patience in the world, which is always the way with her, for she has, without exception, the sweetest temper I have ever met with….”

“…you must remember, Miss Bennet, that the FRIEND who is supposed to desire his return to the house, and the delay of his plan, has merely desired it, asked it without offering one argument in favour of its propriety."
"To yield readily—easily—to THE PERSUASION OF A FRIEND is no merit with you."
"To yield WITHOUT CONVICTION is no compliment to the understanding of either."
"You appear to me, Mr. Darcy, to allow nothing for the influence of FRIENDSHIP and affection. A regard for the requester would often make one readily yield to a request, without waiting for arguments to reason one into it. I am not particularly speaking of such a case as you have supposed about Mr. Bingley. We may as well wait, perhaps, till the circumstance occurs before we discuss the discretion of his behaviour thereupon. But in general and ordinary cases BETWEEN FRIEND AND FRIEND, where one of them is desired by the other to change a resolution of no very great moment, should you think ill of that person for complying with the desire, without waiting to be argued into it?"

Mr. Denny addressed them directly, and entreated permission to introduce HIS FRIEND, Mr. Wickham, who had returned with him the day before from town, and he was happy to say had accepted a commission in THEIR CORPS.

"Oh! no—it is not for me to be driven away by Mr. Darcy. If he wishes to avoid seeing me, he must go. We are not on FRIENDLY terms, and it always gives me pain to meet him, but I have no reason for avoiding him but what I might proclaim before all the world, a sense of very great ill-usage, and most painful regrets at his being what he is. His father, Miss Bennet, the late Mr. Darcy, was one of the best men that ever breathed, and THE TRUEST FRIEND I ever had; and I can never be in company with this Mr. Darcy without being grieved to the soul by a thousand tender recollections….”

Mr. Wickham began to speak on more general topics, Meryton, the neighbourhood, the SOCIETY, appearing highly pleased with all that he had yet seen, and speaking of the latter with gentle but very intelligible gallantry.
"It was the prospect of constant SOCIETY, and good SOCIETY," he added, "which was my chief inducement to enter the ——shire. I knew it to be a most respectable, agreeable corps, and my FRIEND Denny TEMPTED me further by his account of their present quarters, and the very great attentions and excellent acquaintances Meryton had procured them. SOCIETY, I own, is necessary to me. I have been a disappointed man, and my spirits will not bear solitude. I must have employment and SOCIETY. A military life is not what I was intended for, but circumstances have now made it eligible. THE CHURCH ought to have been my profession—I was brought up for THE CHURCH, and I should at this time have been in possession of a most valuable living, had it pleased the gentleman we were speaking of just now."

"How strange!" cried Elizabeth. "How abominable! I wonder that the very pride of this Mr. Darcy has not made him just to you! If from no better motive, that he should not have been too proud to be dishonest—for dishonesty I must call it."
"It is wonderful," replied Wickham, "for almost all his actions may be traced to PRIDE; and PRIDE had often been HIS BEST FRIEND. It has connected him nearer with virtue than with any other feeling. But we are none of us consistent, and in his behaviour to me there were stronger impulses even than PRIDE."
"Can such abominable PRIDE as his have ever done him good?"
"Yes. It has often led him to be liberal and generous, to give his money freely, to display hospitality, to assist his tenants, and relieve the poor. Family PRIDE, and filial PRIDE—for he is very proud of what his father was—have done this. Not to appear to disgrace his family, to degenerate from the popular qualities, or lose the influence of the Pemberley House, is a powerful motive. HE HAS ALSO BROTHERLY PRIDE, which, with  SOME BROTHERLY AFFECTION, makes him a very kind and careful guardian of his sister, and you will hear him generally cried up as the most attentive and BEST OF BROTHERS."

"I am astonished at his intimacy with Mr. Bingley! How can Mr. Bingley, who seems good humour itself, and is, I really believe, truly amiable, be in friendship with such a man? How can they suit each other? Do you know Mr. Bingley?"

Jane pictured to herself a happy evening in the SOCIETY OF her two FRIENDS, and the attentions of their brother; and Elizabeth thought with pleasure of dancing a great deal with Mr. Wickham, and of seeing a confirmation of everything in Mr. Darcy's look and behaviour.

"Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his MAKING FRIENDS—whether he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain."
"He has been so unlucky as to lose YOUR FRIENDSHIP," replied Elizabeth with emphasis, "and in a manner which he is likely to suffer from all his life."

"I do not pretend to regret anything I shall leave in Hertfordshire, except your SOCIETY, my dearest FRIEND…”

…it was not to be supposed that their absence from Netherfield would prevent Mr. Bingley's being there; and as to the loss of their SOCIETY, she was persuaded that Jane must cease to regard it, in the enjoyment of his.
"It is unlucky," said she, after a short pause, "that you should not be able to see your FRIENDS before they leave the country. But may we not hope that the period of future happiness to which Miss Bingley looks forward may arrive earlier than she is aware, and that the delightful intercourse you have known as FRIENDS will be renewed with yet greater satisfaction as sisters? Mr. Bingley will not be detained in London by them."

Sir William's ALLUSION TO HIS FRIEND seemed to strike him forcibly, and his eyes were directed with a very serious expression towards Bingley and Jane, who were dancing together.

“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. As for myself, it is many, many years since I first began to think of him in a very different manner. The vicious propensities—the want of principle, which he was careful to guard from the knowledge of his best FRIEND, could not escape the observation of a young man of nearly the same age with himself, and who had opportunities of seeing him in unguarded moments, which Mr. Darcy could not have…”

Wickham the charismatic Quaker heretic & Darcy & Lady C the angry Anglican defenders

Peter Know-Shaw, in his 2004 Jane Austen & The Enlightenment, wrote about Fanny Price as very Quaker-like: “If Thomas Clarkson’s Portraiture of Quakerism (1807) reveals a similar profile, and one that bears an uncanny resemblance to Fanny’s, that goes to show just how representative a character she is. Though the taboos against theatre, music, and dancing are all very much softened in Fanny’s case (and are carefully mediated, too, by Clarkson’s commentary), the praise of stillness and quietness, the stress on subjugating the passions, and the suspicion of self gratification are all of a piece with her temperament. So also is the attitude of reverence attaching to all living creatures and especially to the unspoilt countryside. Fanny….is foreshadowed at almost every point by the Quaker portrait…”

I had no idea about any Quaker subtext in JA’s writing until Diane raised the issue 5 years ago in Janeites and Austen, with several interesting points about Fanny Price, and I responded as follows:

Now fast forward to yesterday, when Diane inspired me to write a post about the theme of “dark” Darcy and angel of “light” Wickham. At the end of yesterday, as I reread what I had written, and kept seeing the word “light”, suddenly the proverbial “light bulb” went on in my memory, and I wondered —could there be a Quaker subtext in P&P (of course published a year before MP) as well, focused on the “light” motif (ha ha) I had just explicated?

Long story short—it didn’t take me long to locate a fantastic scholarly article,  “Accusations of Blasphemy in English Anti-Quaker Polemic, C.1660-1701” by David Manning, in Volume 14 #1 Quaker Studies 2010, which, as I’ll outline for you below, provided all sorts of support for my hypothesis. I’ll quote some excerpts from same, with comments by me as to each regarding the connections I see to P&P:

Manning: “In this paper I want to take an alternative approach that will move away from critiques of criminal blasphemy and focus on the accusation of blasphemy as a symptom of theological division between Quakers and Protestant non-Quakers. Many non-Quakers took such exception to the theological precepts of Quakerism, particularly its Christology vis-a-vis the doctrine of the Trinity, that they became anti­Quakers who openly challenged the validity of Quakerism and labelled it inherently WICKED.” 

As I noted yesterday, Wickham is three times associated with the word “wicked” in P&P. Not a big deal by itself, but in the context of the other stuff, below, it becomes so.

Manning: “BUGG's aggressive stance would have been an embarrassment to many irenical clergy; nevertheless, he enjoyed the patronage of the bishop of Norwich, John Moore (1646-1714), as well as more general support from several Norfolk clergymen. [They included: Henry MERITON (d. 1707), rector of Oxborough; his son, John MERITON (1662-1717), rector of Boughton...]”    

Francis Bugg was an early Anglican enemy of Quakerism—and I can’t help but be reminded not only of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but also Rudyard Kipling’s corruption of same into “de BUGG” in “The Janeites”. Plus, I am pretty sure that it is no coincidence that two of Bugg’s early anti-Quaker clergyman supporters were a father and son named “Meriton”? As in the single sentence in all of P&P which is at the heart of the veiled Quaker subtext: “All MERYTON seemed striving to blacken the man, who, but three months before, had been almost an ANGEL OF LIGHT.”

Manning: “According to St Augustinian, speculative blasphemy was a denial of self-evident and unquestionable divine truth, a lie about God himself that was caused and perpetuated by human PRIDE. The ability to believe a lie about God and to propagate it as truth, for example in the form of heresy, was the consummate skill of a FALSE PROPHET….”    

How about, pride, false prophets, and the prejudice of Anglicans against Quakers?

Manning: “The foundation of Quaker theology was a belief in the LIGHT within, the immediate inspiration of God in the believer. Once established, Quakers believed that the LIGHT within became the primary authority in all matters of faith, taking precedence over mediated authorities such as the words of creeds or Scripture: the premise being that the Apostles had not read texts in order to establish a relationship with God.”      

In addition to the “light” subtext which pervades the Darcy-Wickham axis in P&P which I laid out yesterday, my strong sense of JA’s own religiosity is that she was intensely individualistic, and would have been irresistibly drawn to a strand of Christianity which validated and nurtured that inner light—in her case, that inner light was a blazing bonfire of genius, creativity, and emotional connection to others, and she fought to her dying day (see “Winchester Races” and “Galigai for ever and ever”) to defend her right and moral imperative to protect her own inner fire, and to refuse to be “burnt at the stake” for her “bewitching” beliefs.

Manning: “In 1696,..Charles Leslie (1650-1722) unleashed a polemical tour-de-force against Quakerism: The Snake in the Grass: Or; Satan Transform'd into an Angel of LIGHT. The title of the work was inspired by St Paul's warning to the Corinthians about the diabolism of 'false apostles' (2 Cor. 11:13-14); and the content was no less confrontational. Leslie lambasted 'our Present Obstinate Quakers', who 'Fearlessly go on, and pretend themselves to the same Extraordinary Commission, of immediate Divine Revelation', dismissing such notions as 'nothing short of Blasphemy; Rank, Wild Blasphemy!' The blasphemous enthusiasm of Quakerism was 'more dangerous than Atheism', for it 'steals away many Devout and Well-meaning Persons'.”     

And I don’t think, at this point, that I even need to explain how this last excerpt relates to the line in P&P about Wickham being transformed into an “angel of light” by “all of Meryton”!

I recommend your reading Manning’s entire article for a full understanding of the history of the Anglican-Quaker “war of words” which raged a century before JA’s writing career began. I now strongly believe that she, being anything but an ignorant and prejudiced historian, was fully cognizant of that history, and wove it deeply into the fabric not only of Fanny Price in MP, but also the intense rivalry and dynamic between Darcy (joined by Lady Catherine de “Bugg”) and Wickham.

How amazing to add to all the other subtexts of P&P the notion that it’s also an allegory of the theological struggle between the powerful entrenched Anglican orthodoxy (Darcy, Lady C) and the upstart, seductive, individualistic Quaker “heresy” (Wickham)—with Elizabeth Bennet as the confused and ambivalent English people, whose heart, soul, and mind the Anglicans and the Quakers struggled with each other to win.

Diane (and perhaps others), I am sure there is MUCH more to say on this topic, I have only scratched the surface, and have shone a flashlight on that shadowy theological allegory in P&P. I am eager to hear your reactions.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter