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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A heretofore undetected (and very disturbing) veiled allusion by Lydia Bennet

 Today, while doing word searches for my immediately preceding post about hidden meanings of the words “light”, “bright” and “sparkling” in P&P, I incidentally was reminded of a line of dialog spoken by Lydia, which I first saw in an entirely new “light” in 2012. See if you can spot it, too:

"Mamma," cried Lydia, "my aunt says that Colonel Forster and Captain Carter do not go so often to Miss Watson's as they did when they first came; she sees them now very often standing in Clarke's library."
Mrs. Bennet was prevented replying by the entrance of the footman with a note for Miss Bennet; it came from Netherfield, and the servant waited for an answer. Mrs. Bennet's eyes sparkled with pleasure, and she was eagerly calling out, while her daughter read….

What I had been looking for was the part about Mrs. Bennet’s eyes which “sparkled with pleasure”, but what I was reminded of in addition thereto was something else entirely. Scroll down for my answer….

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The phrase that caught my eye again was “Clarke’s library”---I am quite certain that it is a witty allusion to the most famous library in all of England when JA was publishing her novels---the Prince Regent’s library, the domain ruled from 1799 onward by James Stanier Clarke, with whom Jane Austen famously corresponded immediately prior to publication of Emma.

I’ve previously written extensively about James Stanier Clarke in regard to several Austen topics, including not only the publication of Emma, its satirical dedication to the Prince Regent, and Mr. Elton as a harshly satirical representation of James Stanier Clarke. But I am certain that “Clarke’s library” in P&P refers to James Stanier Clarke, because it is also my firm longstanding belief that this same real life Mr. Clarke was also represented by not one but two pompous fools in Pride & Prejudice ---Sir William Lucas and Mr. Collins!

It was only today that I connected the dots between that passing reference by Lydia to “Clarke’s library” and that same two-headed allusion to James Stanier Clarke. And it is apparent that recognizing this additional wink at the court librarian only adds humor to the earlier passage when Mr. Collins frowns on novel-reading and opens Fordyce’s sermons, whereupon Lydia gapes widely and changes the subject. I.e., it’s fitting in an ironic way that Lydia is therefore the one who refers to “Clarke’s library”.

But, noteworthy as that all is, there’s even more to “Clarke’s library” than that….I also perceive a deeper layer of sexually subversive meaning in Lydia’s passing comment. To wit: I’ve long believed that Miss Watson’s and Clarke’s library are both houses of knowledge of a different kind than is normally dispensed by a circulating library—I refer not to literary knowledge but to carnal knowledge! I.e., I believe Lydia spends time in Clarke’s “library” not as a borrower of books—this is Lydia Bennet, right?---but as a lender of temporary use of her own body to eager virile young militiamen---for a substantial fee, of course!  And that, I maintain, is why Lydia refers both to those young men “coming” and also to them “very often standing” while there. And those are also part of why we hear about Lydia’s “claims to reputation” later on in the novel.

And all of the above casts the following repartee at Netherfield in an entirely new and disturbing light as well:

"In nursing your sister I am sure you have pleasure," said Bingley; "and I hope it will be soon increased by seeing her quite well."
Elizabeth thanked him from her heart, and then walked towards the table where a few books were lying. He immediately offered to fetch her others—all that his library afforded.
"And I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit; but I am an idle fellow, and though I have not many, I have more than I ever looked into."
Elizabeth assured him that she could suit herself perfectly with those in the room.
"I am astonished," said Miss Bingley, "that my father should have left so small a collection of books. What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!"
"It ought to be good," he replied, "it has been the work of many generations."
"And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books."
"I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these."

Does Caroline Bingley, in her reference to Mr. Darcy’s library at Pemberley, suggest that she knows more about Darcy’s sex life while in Lambton than many Janeites would like to believe?

What I do believe is a coincidence with the above, is that in Letter 132(A), written by James Stanier Clarke to Jane Austen nearly three years after the publication of P&P, he makes the following offer to her: “Pray, dear Madam, remember, that beside my cell at Carlton House, I have another which Dr. Barne procured for me at No. 37 Golden Square, where I often hide myself. There is a small library there much at your service, and if you can make the cell render you any service as a sort of halfway house when you come to Town, I shall be most happy. There is a maid servant of mine always there.”

Oh, how Jane Austen must have roared with laughter at James Stanier Clarke’s unwitting revisiting of Lydia Bennet’s report about goings-on at the fictional “Clarke’s library” in Meryton with his real life invitation to the creator of that fictional library to visit his real life library of the same name in London!

And finally, Diane, I have also long wondered whether Gone with the Wind’s Belle Watling derives her surname from Meryton’s Miss Watson, who was engaged in the same venerable profession of brothel madam. ;)

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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