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

Friday, October 16, 2015

More on the veiled scatology in Austen’s satire of the Prince in Northanger Abbey

Nancy Mayer responded to my latest post about the scatological satire of the Prince of Whales in Northanger Abbey with the following passionate rebuttal:

“All the caricaturists loved to show women falling out of carriages or off horses or down staircases showing naked bottoms. The wearing of drawers by women wasn't yet uniformly common. Austen revised NA after she retrieved it in 1805. At that time, no one probably even remembered that the Prince had had an accident in 1788 when Jane was what-- 13. You think a 13 year old -- genius or not-- made that much of a cartoon she probably didn't even see? Also, it is easier to see these things looking back when one can look at what was in print or being spoken of at the time. However, there is no reason to believe that Austen made the same connections or that she even saw the drawings. It is also not at all certain that the English of the day referred to two different pieces of anatomy as cheeks. One needs to do more to place the pictures and the definitions into an 18th century rectory and the hands of a young lady. Just because people today loved to find scatological meanings in everything doesn't mean that Austen did. To say that Austen thought a mention of a type of carriage in her work would remind readers instantly of a caricature of one is far fetched. Respectable women didn't waste their money on such vulgar drawings. I doubt there was a shop in Steventon that carried them. They were not published in the newspapers. Even today with almost widespread and instant availability of news and gossip people would be wrong to assume every one saw or heard something on TV. In Austen's day without such easily available access it was even more doubtful. That is what bugs me the most about such conjectures. The mindset seems to be that if it was in existence at the time Austen was alive that she definitely saw it, made such and such a connection and thought all the females she knew would also have seen it and made the same connection. That is illogical. People have made a name for themselves and some money by writing books attributing all sorts of weird stuff to Jane Austen.  At present Austen's name sells. At present much foolishness is accepted as scholarship.”

Nancy,  you honor me with the detail of your rebuttal, and, beneath your usual radical skepticism, there are, also as usual, a couple of very good questions lurking, to each of which I will accord the compliment of rational opposition:

Question One: Why should we believe that Jane Austen was interested in strongly satirical political caricature?

Her History of England, written in 1791 when Jane was not yet 16, contains a dozen political miniature political caricatures of English royals of the past,  skilfully drawn by sister Cassandra---caricatures which, as Annette Upfal has brilliantly demonstrated, are ALSO veiled portraits of members of the Austen family (most notably the witch-like Queen Elizabeth I as Mrs. Austen, and the angelic Mary Queen of Scots as JA herself). So there, for starters, you have the strongest possible evidence that the teenaged Jane Austen was already extremely interested in strongly satirical political caricature---and 1791 was Gillray's prime, when his public fame was at its highest, and that was only 3 years after his scatological carriage accident caricature. So there can be little doubt that this is no coincidence, and that Jane and Cassandra were actually inspired by Gillray’s famous caricatures.

Now, fast forward ahead 21 years to 1812, and we find Cruikshank's famous images of the Prince of Whales (including the one I found in 2006 and which is the masthead of my blog, which depicts the Prince Regent as a giant whale/Satan from Paradise Lost, which was obviously produced in tandem with the contemporaneous satirical poem "The Triumph of the Whale" penned by Charles Lamb), and both coming out at exactly the same moment when Jane Austen writes to Martha Lloyd of her hatred of the Prince. And so, it can come as no surprise to anyone that when JA began writing Emma shortly thereafter, the charade that Jane Austen wrote herself for Chapter 9 has, as its principal secret answer, "Prince of Whales", as Colleen Sheehan brilliantly showed.

So there, from 1791 and 1813, you have the strongest possible evidence of Jane Austen's continuing and extremely strong interest in political caricature of English royals over two decades after she wrote her History of England. These are not frivolous speculations, based on flimsy assumptions--these are hard facts leading to very plausible inferences. And these are all very suggestive of exactly the sort of interpretations made by Jocelyn Harris and myself re Gillray's 1792 caricature of the carriage accident (and for that matter, of the caricature of women as meat on sale on Bond Street that was shown by Rachel Brownstein at the AGM, that Mrs. Jennings winks at in S&S, as I wrote earlier this week).

Question Two: You also were skeptical that the 13 year old Jane Austen would have seen that particular Gillray 1788 caricature, and somehow remembered it and then ultimately worked it into Northanger Abbey?

I think it perfectly plausible that the author of The History of England and her drawing sister Cassandra would have been keeping a very close eye long prior to 1791 on all the political news in the aftermath of the French Revolution. I’ve already demonstrated in previous posts that even the early Juvenilia is fraught with sexual innuendoes. But, for argument's sake, what if you’re right, and Jane and Cassandra had missed or forgotten that one?

Did you know that Gillray's prints remained a VERY hot commodity during the entire Regency Era and beyond! First, here’s what Rachel Brownstein wrote in her blurb for her plenary at this latest AGM:

“When Austen began writing, graphic satires by Gillray, Newton, Rowlandson, and others were wildly popular in her world. For the most part gentlemen bought or rented them, but genteel women dabbled in caricaturing their neighbors; in London, heterogeneous crowds gaped at the latest exhibitions in print -shop windows; and Hannah Humphrey, Gillray’s publisher, was one of several women (colorists and businesswomen) who flourished in this area of print culture. “

And here's what our own Diana Birchall wrote 10 years ago in Janeites, as she was enthusing about an extraordinary exhibition she saw at the NY Public Library about high profile women during JA's lifetime:

"...more and more witty and grotesque Gilrays.  I learned that "Gilly" lived with his publisher Hannah Humphrey from 1799 to his death, and he was completely mad during the last 8 years. There were
prints of Hannah playing cards, and one showing a shop where Gilray's pictures were displayed and sold, including the one of the card playing:  it was interesting to imagine what such shops were like."

And then read here for still more:
“Hannah Humphrey opened up her own print shop on Old Bond Street in London, which grew into the most successful print shop in the city. Humphrey remained an independent and self-sufficient woman throughout her entire life, a business owner at a time where it was very uncommon for a female to have her own shop. Often, she went by “Mrs.” instead of “Miss” to protect her reputation and cover the fact that she never married from becoming scandalous.
In 1791, James Gillray began to work exclusively for Humphrey- and even took up residence in one of the apartments above her shop. As business grew she relocated the shop twice–first to New Bond Street and then St James Street–followed in both cases by Gillray. Because Humphrey was his exclusive publisher, the only way to buy or see a Gillray print at that time would be to visit her shop. In the Gillray piece below, we see an outside view of Humphrey’s print shop, where she hung the prints in the window for advertisement and entertainment.”

Did you catch the part that Hannah Humphrey had her shop where his prints were sold on....Old Bond Street—the very same location of the human “meat” market caricature that Rachel Brownstein brought up at her plenary, and I connected to Mrs. Jennings’s vulgar “mutton” witticism! 

Which all strongly suggests to me the plausible inference that Jane Austen, during her lengthy stays with brother Henry (and Eliza till her death) in London through early 1816, would have been a regular patron window-shopping (if not buying) at Humphreys's shop---and also perhaps actually a friend of the fiercely loyal, independent old woman. Extrapolating one step further outside the box, maybe, just maybe, Mrs. Jennings is a representation of Hannah Humphrey? What a wonderful tribute that would have been!

In short, even though  JA could not afford to buy any of Gillray's old prints, I am sure she'd have been permitted to look them over carefully enough to enable her to skilfully and subtly allude to them in her novels!

So, your Jane Austen would have had to be a cultural ostrich NOT to notice those caricatures –and we know from the extraordinary breadth and depth of allusion by her to every stratum and aspect of life in her world, over her entire writing career, that she actively collected these sorts of allusive sources and consciously worked them all into her own writing.

But now that brings us to…

Question Three: What about my claim that Isabella Thorpe’s cheeks are a sexual double entendre, especially the latter one when Isabella flirts with Captain Tilney using her butt cheek?

Let me repeat the quotation here for ease of reference:

"My heart, indeed! What can you have to do with hearts? You men have none of you any hearts."
"If we have not hearts, we have eyes; and they give us torment enough."
"Do they? I am sorry for it; I am sorry they find anything so disagreeable in me. I will look another way. I hope this pleases you" (turning her back on him); "I hope your eyes are not tormented now."
"Never more so; for the edge of a blooming cheek is still in view—at once too much and too little."

Nancy, you question whether anyone in Regency Era England would have used “cheek” as a sexual double entendre. I will now show you that Jane Austen had the very best teacher, who showed her how to tease at the “edge” of this very same sort of sexual innuendo—Shakespeare!

For starters, pay close attention to Hamlet’s exact verbiage when he confronts his mother (in the famous bedroom scene in 3.4) about Claudius’s taking sexual liberties with her body:

Let the bloat King tempt you again to bed;
PINCH WANTON ON YOUR CHEEK; call you his mouse;

Do you really think Hamlet was hinting that Claudius, in tempting Gertrude to bed, was giving an asexual pinch to her facial cheek—the kind of chaste gesture of affection that a parent would give to a child? Of course not! Claudius’s “pinch” would only be “wanton” if it was the universal gesture of the wolfish sexually dominating male—the pinch on a woman’s nether cheek! Given that this scene is indisputably a major emotional climax in the play, double entendre doesn’t get any better than that!

And, even though more scatological than sexual, I think Shakespeare hid some very subversive black humor in King Lear’s famous tragic lines wandering in the storm on the heath---as you read this passage, just think about what those “winds” so often signify in Shakespeare’s bawdy lexicon, and how that suggests that the metaphorical “cheeks” being “cracked” were not facial!:

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulph'rous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o' th' world,
Crack Nature's moulds, all germains spill at once,
That makes ingrateful man!

Only Shakespeare could write words which are simultaneous the apex of tragic poetry of the darkest night of the human soul, and also suggestive of gross human bodily functions like flatulence, urination, and excretion!

But most apt of all to Isabella’s flirtation with Captain Tilney is the following very famous speech of Romeo as he amorously gazes up at Juliet on the balcony:

What if HER EYES were there, they in her head?
The brightness of HER CHEEK would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; HER EYES in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
See, how she leans HER CHEEK upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,

This is both the predecessor, in Shakespeare’s career arc, of Hamlet’s angry double entendre, and also Jane Austen’s primary allusive source for the flirting repartee between Isabella and Captain Tilney. Unlike the incestuous overtones of Hamlet with his mother, the famous balcony scene involves two lovers who are engaged in a sexually supercharged flirtation, and explicit reference is made both to cheek and eyes in both passages—this is no random coincidence or unconscious remembrance on JA’s part!

And note that Juliet coyly picks up on Romeo’s double entendre in her reply:

But the best evidence of all that Jane Austen took particular note of Romeo’s suggestive speech in Isabella’s flirtation with Captain Tilney, is that JA had already alluded to that same speech of Romeo’s in Emma! Note that when Harriet and Emma have this little chat…

"Oh! if I could but play as well as you and Miss Fairfax!"
"Don't class us together, Harriet. My playing is no more like her's, than A LAMP IS LIKE SUNSHINE."

…Emma is slyly alluding to the first part of that excerpt I quoted above about Juliet’s beauty:

The brightness of HER CHEEK would shame those stars,

And if you were to suggest that this was just a huge coincidence or unconscious and chaste remembrance of that passage by JA, consider further that there is an explicit (slight mis)quotation in Emma from yet another speech by Romeo in which he speaks of cheeks!:

"Much, indeed!" cried Emma feelingly. "If a woman can ever be excused for thinking only of herself, it is in a situation like Jane Fairfax's.—Of such, one may almost say, that 'the world is not their's, nor the world's law.'"

Here is what the desperate Romeo says to the apothecary in order to convince him to hand over the poison:

Note Shakespeare’s cleverness, in that famine would show not only in gaunt facial cheeks, but also in shriveled butt cheeks as well—and those cheeks are anatomically the closest neighbors of “thy back”!

And finally, given that these two passages in Emma are about the “Juliet” of the novel, Jane Fairfax, it should come as no surprise that we have not one but two suggestive references to Jane Fairfax’s cheeks, both of which, suggestively, also have to do with Frank’s mysterious dream about Mr. Perry:

“She was sitting by Mr. Knightley, and turned to him for help. The word was blunder; and as Harriet exultingly proclaimed it, there was a blush on JANE’S CHEEK which gave it A MEANING NOT OTHERWISE OSTENSIBLE. Mr. Knightley connected it with the DREAM; but how it could all be, was beyond his comprehension.”

"Such an extraordinary DREAM of mine!" [Frank] cried. "I can never think of it without laughing.—She hears us, she hears us, Miss Woodhouse. I see it in HER CHEEK, her smile, her vain attempt to frown. Look at her. Do not you see that, at this instant, the very passage of her own letter, which sent me the report, is passing under her eye—that the whole blunder is spread before her—that she can attend to nothing else, though pretending to listen to the others?"

To suggest that all of the above would happen by chance is simply absurd.

So, thanks as usual, Nancy, for prompting me to give this “cheeky” defense of my argument!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: My above argument about Isabella Thorpe's buttcheek being modeled on Juliet's is strongly supported by the following excerpt from an excellent 2005 article by Dickey and Watson:

"…Romeo’s plea “that I were a glove upon that hand, / That I might touch that cheek” (2.2.24–25) is generally taken as a lovely moment of exalted courtship, if charmingly puerile. By wishing to be the glove, rather than the invasive hand or phallic finger, Romeo stays a decorous arm’s length from, say, the sardonic De Flores of The Changeling — whose possession of Beatrice’s glove leads him to consider “thrust[ing] my fingers into her sockets here” — or from Shakespeare’s own Tarquin, who seizes Lucrece’s glove on his way to her bedchamber (316–22). But Romeo’s imaginings here are akin to Parthenophil’s increasingly vulgar wishes in Barnabe Barnes’s Sonnet 63 (1593).......Romeo mopes into the vicinity of those degrading analogues in the balcony scene, and at 3.3.30–41, where he details the small creatures, including flies, who will have access to Juliet’s body (from which he himself is banished). And what might we deduce is on Romeo’s mind in his very next speech, when he compares himself to a mortal whose “white-upturned wond’ring eyes . . . gaze on” an angel who “bestrides the lazy puffing clouds, / And sails upon the bosom of the air” (2.2.26–32)? Gazing up at a bestriding form tends to offer an intimate view; two scenes later, the “smock” of the Nurse — who is herself enduring the “ropery” (2.4.146) of Mercutio’s verbal assault — is called “a sail” (102–03).9 These offenses may seem mild, but they raise the question whether Romeo intends to earn or steal the erotic commodities he seeks from Juliet...."

No comments: