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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, July 26, 2015

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

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