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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, January 30, 2016

“A Ramble in St. James’s Park”, Bronte’s Mr. Rochester, & Dorimant and Mr. Darcy, the Men of Mode

In my 01/06/16 post entitled “Jane’s ramble in St. James’s Park: X-rated allusion dancing in plain sight in Pride & Prejudice!”…  I showed that P&P, Jane Austen’s most famous, popular and romantic novel, contains a shocking, covert, extensive allusion to one of the most famous and scandalous pornographic poems in the English language, written a century before JA’s birth by John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester.

If you didn’t read it before, or if you did but have forgotten what you read, I suggest you read my above-linked earlier post, in which I went into great textual-analytical detail. Only then will my post today be seen in its full context as an unexpected amplification of my earlier findings.

I say unexpected, because I found it while checking to see if Charlotte Bronte had emulated Jane Austen in alluding to “A Ramble in St. James’s Park” in Jane Eyre. I did so, because some earlier research of mine showed me that it is well settled in Bronte studies that Mr. Rochester got his surname from the famous Earl of Rochester, which I had then extrapolated, to find that Bronte’s proud, brilliant, difficult, romantic hero Mr. Rochester is based in no small part on JA’s proud, brilliant, difficult, romantic hero Mr. Darcy.

And sure enough, I found one very interesting narrative passage in Chapter 9 of  Jane Eyre, in which Jane describes, in unsettlingly sunny terms, her own experience as one of the uninfected inmates of Lowood—unsettling because of the wave of consumptive death washing over the place at that very point in the story!:        “…the sweetbriars gave out, morning and evening, their scent of spice and apples; and these fragrant treasures were all useless for most of the inmates of Lowood, except to furnish now and then a handful of herbs and blossoms to put in a coffin. But I, and the rest who continued well, enjoyed fully the beauties of the scene and season; they let us RAMBLE IN THE WOOD, LIKE GIPSIES, FROM MORNING TILL NIGHT; WE DID WHAT WE LIKED, went where we liked: we lived better too.  Mr. Brocklehurst and his family never came near Lowood now: household matters were not scrutinised into; the cross housekeeper was gone, driven away by the FEAR OF INFECTION…”

So, what in the world did C. Bronte mean by subliminally echoing “A Ramble in St. James’s Park”, and the “fear of infection” by VD which the participants in the Park orgies (like the Earl himself, who died of syphilis) might have felt, and also echoing the Earl’s well known penchant for exotic disguise, in a tragic section of her novel filled with the deaths of innocent girls and young women? I don’t have an answer to that Brontean puzzle today, but I mention all of the above, because of what I read in the go-to article about the connection between the real-life Rochester and the fictional Rochester: "John Wilmot and Mr. Rochester." By Murray G.H. Pittock, in Nineteenth-Century Literature 41 (1987): 462-9.
Pittock observed thusly: “George Etherege had depicted the Earl [of Rochester] as the proud and sardonic Dorimant in his popular and enduring comedy, The Man of Mode.”

I had heard that title before, but knew nothing else about the play, so I quickly learned what Wikipedia has to say about Etherege’s most famous play, and its connection to Wilmot/Rochester:

The Man of Mode or, Sir Fopling Flutter, widely considered the best comedy of manners written in England before the days of Congreve, was acted and printed in 1676, and enjoyed an unbounded success. This may be attributed to the belief that it satirises, or at least references, well known contemporaries of London. Sir Fopling Flutter was a portrait of Beau Hewit, the reigning exquisite of the hour, Dorimant a reference to the Earl of Rochester, and Medley a portrait of Etherege himself (or, equally plausible, of his fellow playwright and wit Sir Charles Sedley); while even the drunken shoemaker was a real character, who made his fortune from being thus brought into public notice. Etherege was part of the circle of John Wilmot; both men had a daughter by the unmarried actress Elizabeth Barry. All three are characters in the 2005 film The Libertine based on a play by Stephen Jeffreys.”

So, knowing that Charlotte Bronte was a closet Janeite of huge proportions …   ...I couldn’t help but wonder whether Bronte had been inspired, in part, to allude to “A Ramble in St. James’s Park”, by her having previously detected JA’s veiled allusion to that same X-rated poem in P&P? And, if that were so, I had a hunch that Austen also had Etherege’s famous play on her radar screen as well. That hunch turned out to be spot–on, as you will now see. First, look at a key excerpt from my 01/06/16 post:

“Puts an interesting X-rated spin on the following exchange in Chapter 6 of P&P between Sir William Lucas and Darcy:
"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; "and I doubt not that you are an adept in the science yourself, Mr. Darcy."
"You saw me dance at Meryton, I believe, sir."
"Yes, indeed, and received no inconsiderable pleasure from the sight. Do you often dance at St. James's?"
"Never, sir."
"Do you not think it would be a proper compliment to the place?"
"It is a compliment which I never pay to any place if I can avoid it."
"You have a house in town, I conclude?"
Mr. Darcy bowed.
"I had once had some thought of fixing in town myself—for I am fond of superior society; but I did not feel quite certain that the air of London would agree with Lady Lucas."
He paused in hopes of an answer; but his companion was not disposed to make any…”
My personal favorite? “Do you often dance at St. James’s?” ----Sir William, the sly rogue, is hinting to Darcy that he knows Darcy is part of that large crowd in St. James’s Park when he’s in London! “

What I discovered today, after I read through Etherege’s playtext, is that Jane Austen placed, in the  immediately preceding and the immediately following text in that very same scene at Lucas Lodge, several allusions to The Man of Mode!

First, here is the preceding text in P&P:

“Mr. Darcy stood near them in silent indignation at such a MODE of passing the evening, to the exclusion of all conversation, and was too much engrossed by his thoughts to perceive that Sir William Lucas was his neighbour, till Sir William thus began….

In addition to the above, there are two other linkages of Darcy to the word “mode”----both in the first proposal scene in Chapter 34, and both of them in Eliza’s rejection speeches directed at Darcy:

"In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established MODE to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned.…You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the MODE of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner."

But that’s just the appetizer to the “entrĂ©e” of my analysis: the following text in P&P:

“ "My dear Miss Eliza, why are you not DANCING? Mr. Darcy, you must allow me to present this young lady to you as a very desirable partner. You cannot refuse to DANCE, I am sure when SO MUCH BEAUTY is before you." And, taking her hand, he would have given it to Mr. Darcy who, though extremely surprised, was not unwilling to receive it, when she instantly drew back, and said with some DISCOMPOSURE to Sir William:  "Indeed, sir, I have not the least intention of DANCING. I entreat you not to suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for a partner."
Mr. Darcy, with grave propriety, requested to be allowed the honour of her hand, but in vain. Elizabeth was determined; nor did Sir William at all shake her purpose by his attempt at persuasion.
"You excel so much in the DANCE, Miss Eliza, that it is cruel to deny me the happiness of seeing you; and though this gentleman dislikes the amusement in general, he can have no objection, I am sure, to oblige us for one half-hour."
"Mr. Darcy is all politeness," said Elizabeth, smiling.
"He is, indeed; but, considering the inducement, my dear Miss Eliza, we cannot wonder at his complaisance—for who would object to such a partner?"
Elizabeth looked archly, and turned away….”

Did you spot the textual smoking gun in that passage, which points like a laser beam straight back nearly a century and a half from 1813 to the following passages which follow close upon each other in Act 3 Scene 2 of The Man of Mode:

LADY TOWNLEY: Wit, I perceive, has more power over you than beauty, Sir Fopling, else you would not have let this lady stand so long neglected.
SIR FOPLING: [to EMILIA:]. A thousand pardons, madam; some civilities due, of course, upon the meeting a long absent friend. The ECLAT of SO MUCH BEAUTY, I confess, ought to have CHARMED me sooner.
EMILIA:  The brilliant of so much good language, sir, has much more power than the little beauty I can boast.


DORIMANT: Grimace and affection. You will see her i’ th’ Mall to-night.
SIR FOPLING: Prithee let thee and I take the air together.
DORIMANT: I am engaged to Medley, but I’ll meet you at ST. JAMES’S and give you some information upon the which you may regulate your proceedings.
SIR FOPLING: All the world will be in the Park to-night: ladies, ’twere pity to keep SO MUCH BEAUTY longer within doors and ROB the Ring of all those CHARMS that should ADORN it.

In this scene, the hero Dorimant proposes to new wing-man Sir Fopling (“fopling” is such a great word to describe Sir William Lucas!) to meet at St. James’s, and he sure does not mean St. James’s Court (winked at via the alias “Courtege” which Dorimant assumes in the Park), he means St. James’s Park where the Earl of Rochester and half of London “rambled” so notoriously and orgiastically.

And surely every Janeite familiar with P&P hears in Sir Fopling’s last quoted speeches above, about “so much beauty”, and robbing the ring of participants of charms that ought to adorn them, the unmistakable echo of the following bloated words of Sir William Lucas:

Ch. 14: "Has she been presented? I do not remember her name among the ladies at court."
"Her indifferent state of health unhappily prevents her being in town; and by that means, as I told Lady Catherine one day, has DEPRIVED the British court OF ITS BRIGHTEST ORNAMENT.


Ch. 60: He could even listen to Sir William Lucas, when he complimented him on CARRYING AWAY THE BRIGHTEST JEWEL OF THE COUNTRY, and expressed his hopes of their all MEETING FREQUENTLY AT ST. JAMES'S, with very decent composure. If he did shrug his shoulders, it was not till Sir William was out of sight.

So, to sum up, as I see all of the above, the veiled allusions to St. James’s Park in both Etherege’s 1676 play, and in Rochester’s poem from nearly the same time late in Rochester’s short life, were both on JA’s radar screen as she wrote P&P --- what does it mean?

Seems to me that, at the very least, JA meant to have her readers think of Darcy as both Dorimant and his real-life model, the Earl of Rochester; and then, thirty five years later, Charlotte Bronte meant for her readers to think of the Earl of Rochester’s X-rated poem as well.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Pride, Prejudice, Zombies…..and alternative sexualities!

In Janeites and Austen-L, the topic of the impending film release of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies was discussed by Diane Reynolds and Ellen Moody:

Diane wrote: “...My students (again!) this semester are telling me what a great book it is as we read P&P (the real one). I simply CANNOT bring myself to read the zombies version. I wish I could "get" it."

Ellen replied: “…What bothers me most about P&P[&Z] is it is a deliberate travesty of P&P, it's meant to be a crude mock of heterosexual sex as presented in the book. When I've said that to people privately, they acknowledge it's a gay attack mode as mash-up. The same was done to Anna Karenina. But I don't see this in print. So we are left to wonder if the students realize what they are enjoying or laughing at.  Popular culture is so hard to fathom because so little is articulated.”

To start with, I have not read P&P&Z—I browsed it once online, was not impressed, and never revisited it. But….

….after reading Ellen’s comment, above, and given that I’ve believed/blogged for some time that there is substantial lesbian and gay subtext in JA’s novels (e.g., Charlotte in love with Eliza, and Mary in love with Fanny), a gay subtext in P&P&Z would actually make P&P&Z very interesting to me. I’d want to see whether Grahame-Smith was picking up on JA’s actual subtextual hints at alternative sexualities, or if he was just shooting wildly in the dark on a lucky, uninformed guess.

In light of all of the above, the following recent online interview of Matt Smith, who plays Mr. Collins in P&P&Z, is therefore VERY interesting, as Smith tells of his own decision to play Mr. Collins as being secretly in love with Mr. Darcy—I had always thought of Bingley, Wickham and Colonel Fitzwilliam as Darcy’s possible gay paramours, but never saw Mr. Collins as gay. Rather I saw him as a neuter, who would therefore not have a problem with a largely sexless marriage with a lesbian like Charlotte. But Matt Smith got my attention with the following:

…When Matt Smith walked out on stage for the P&P&Z panel at San Diego Comic-Con, it was like the audience was cheering for a rock star. That’s a fair comparison for the former “Doctor Who” star, who after his four years on the show is a fan-favorite among SDCC’s nerdy attendees. Like “Who,” P&P&Z is a special project for Smith. In it he stars alongside many of his real-life friends — Douglas Booth, Sam Riley and Jack Huston — as well as his  girlfriend Lily James. Smith plays Mr. Collins in the zombie-filled reimagining of “Pride and Prejudice,” but with a twist: His version of the character is a not-so-secret admirer of Riley’s Mr. Darcy.

QUESTION: In the  P&P&Z footage shown at the panel, your Mr. Collins brings in a lot of humor. Is that your main function in the movie?:
ANSWER: I think that’s probably what I ended up doing, because it’s just the way I enjoyed doing it. When I looked at the character, I just thought it would be really interesting if what if actually he’s secretly in love with Darcy.

QUESTION: Is that really something you added to the role?:
ANSWER: I don’t know if it’s actually in the movie, but it’s what I played throughout the movie is that actually he’s in love with Darcy. [laughs] He doesn’t want to marry any of them; he just wants to be around Darcy.

QUESTION: Did you know Sam Riley beforehand? Is that coming out of a bromance between you two?:
ANSWER: I did know Sam, and also Sam is an incredibly attractive, lovely man. It’s not hard. I think with anything, especially a story like this — for me, as an actor — you’ve got to find an interesting way into it. It’s a genuine thing. I said, “Look, I’m up for it if we can sort of play it like this.” And he was like [in a deeper voice] “Cool, man. That sounds real cool. I like that.” Maybe no one will even know, but there’s a few little glimpses where you go, “Should he be getting married to a woman?” I think he just wants someone to love him….” 

So, taking Matt Smith at his word, did he come up with this gay subtext for Mr. Collins on his own?; or did he pick up on subtext n P&P and/or in P&P&Z, or a little bit of all of those possibilities? No matter which, I am now officially intrigued!

And… that I think about it a bit more, Matt Smith’s reading of Mr. Collins would create an amazing symmetry and synergy with my longstanding belief that Charlotte’s in love with Eliza. It would mean that Charlotte and Mr. Collins BOTH knowingly entered into a sham marriage with each other –--either on terms of total mutual transparency, or (even greater irony) with neither being aware that the other was also pretending!

And, similarly, it would mean that Charlotte and Mr. Collins would have cooperated (again, either knowingly or unwittingly) in generating the false rumor about Darcy and Elizabeth being engaged, so as to trigger the climactic cascade of events which ends up with Mr. & Mrs. Collins living very close to Pemberley—where they BOTH would then be in close proximity to their respective “true loves”---Darcy and Eliza---I really love all of this!

So… it appears I will be reading P&P&Z after all, and also seeing it in the theater, to satisfy my curiosity on all these points!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, January 29, 2016

Andrew Davies, sexer-upper? No, spot-on subtextual scholar! (& Tolstoy the closet Janeite!)

I first heard about Andrew Davies’s new miniseries of War and Peace a month ago from online preview articles, and I’ve watched the first two episodes (the last two will air soon) on American cable. As per my Subject Line, I’ve long believed Tolstoy was a great closet Janeite, ever since I read a little-known but extraordinary article by (the late author) Harold Brodkey, entitled “Henry James and Jane Austen”, which appeared in The Threepenny Review, No. 33 (Spr., 1988), pp. 3-7. In it, the eccentric Brodkey modestly claimed he was not a scholar, but his article is filled with brilliant insights, especially as to JA’s writing, but also as to James’s and Joyce’s. But it was Brodkey’s passing comment about Tolstoy and Austen that first alerted me to Tolstoy’s covert but intense interest in JA’s novels:

“…Austen accepts the unknowability and accidental and contingent nature of things in a rather pragmatic way, rather like Tolstoy-who got it from her, perhaps. The degree of the reality of the time sequences, the way the events seem to happen in real time, is interestingly similar in Austen and Tolstoy. Austen is extremely difficult to write about. She is the first and most direct of the unfated or free will writers of the industrial era; and who wants to argue about free will or the industrial era? She is among the elect, among the writers of surprise and of real-time amatory events. Her lovers make their own fates. They are active and dramatic entities. Tolstoy steals a scene from her, from Persuasion, to represent realistic and actual love in Anna Karenina: the proposal scene between Kitty and Levin is taken in great detail from that of Anne Elliot and Wentworth….” END QUOTE FROM BRODKEY

When I went back and reread that passage from Anna Karenina (in Book IV, Chapter 13) for the first time in decades, I saw that Brodkey was spot-on in perceiving the great textual detail of Levin and Kitty as Wentworth and Anne at the White Horse Inn. It was as if Tolstoy wanted to both pay homage to, but also amplify and Russify, JA’s most romantic scene.

Based on that dense allusive “smoke”, in 2010 I went on to read articles about, and also identify on my own, a number of other covert but, to me clear, allusions to several of JA’s novels, which are significant in both War and Peace and Anna Karenina. I will in my book be devoting a significant section to this topic, alongside my findings about C. Bronte, Pushkin, Twain, Conan Doyle, Joyce, S. Aleichem, Nabokov, and others in the distinguished roster of closet Janeites, whose fiction supposedly was not influenced by hers, but actually was.

My personal favorite veiled Tolstoy allusion to JA is the identity of the unnamed English novel which Anna Karenina reads on the train, which appears to contain four distinct plot elements:

“…[Anna] had too great a desire to live herself. If she read that the heroine of the novel was nursing a sick man, she longed to move with noiseless steps about the room of a sick man; if she read of a member of Parliament making a speech, she longed to be delivering the speech; if she read of how Lady Mary had ridden after the hounds, and had provoked her sister-in-law, and had surprised everyone by her boldness, she too wished to be doing the same. But there was no chance of doing anything; and twisting the smooth paper knife in her little hands, she forced herself to read.  The hero of the novel was already almost reaching his English happiness, a baronetcy and an estate…”

John Sutherland’s identification of the unnamed English novel, working from an initial suggestion by A.N. Wilson, is that Anna is reading “all of them, and none of them”—i.e., “a variety of Trollope’s novels, with a dash of Yonge”.  However, I gather from Sutherland’s discussion that no one of Trollope’s or Yonge’s novels contains distinct references to all four of those specific plot elements, whereas I have now identified not one, but two English novels which do!:

Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park:
Tom Bertram is nursed by Fanny after her return to Mansfield Park;
Sir Thomas is a member of Parliament, and Fanny loves to listen to him orate;
Mary Crawford rides with boldness, which provokes Fanny, and Fanny almost becomes Mary’s sister in law;  &
Edmund is one step removed from the baronetcy and mastery of Mansfield Park as the novel ends.


Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s 1862 best-seller Lady Audley’s Secret :
Lady Audley nurses her sick husband, a baronet with a large estate;
Robert, the hero, imagines being “pushed into Parliament”;
Alicia, Lady Audley’s stepdaughter, engages in bold horseback riding; &
Robert, the hero, will one day soon succeed his uncle the old, sick baronet.

PLUS…It’s well established in Tolstoy studies that Leo. T alluded intentionally to Braddon’s potboilers, to the chagrin of Tolstoy purists. But now I can explain Tolstoy’s curious interest in an apparently non-literary novelist. I.e., a great deal of Braddon’s appeal to Tolstoy must have been that Tolstoy recognized how influential Austen’s novels were on Braddon’s fiction, and how surprisingly well Braddon saw beneath the surface of JA’s novels. And Tolstoy therefore celebrated his recognition of that hidden literary lineage in the above-quoted novel-reading scene on the train in Anna Karenina! 

And, to back that up, I will shortly followup on those two (surprisingly connected) sources for Anna Karenina‘s novel-reading, by writing about:
(1) the elaborate veiled allusions to Sense & Sensibility and Mansfield Park in Lady Audley’s Secret, and  
(2) Arthur Conan Doyle’s veiled allusions to both Lady Audley’s Secret as well as (per my posts last month) to Sense & Sensibility, with a soupcon of Tolstoyan allusion for good measure!

But for the remainder of this post, I’ll zero in on one specific Tolstoy allusion to JA’s writing relevant to Davies’s adaptation. As my Subject Line indicates, Andrew Davies is “at it again”—or so sing the chorus of TV critics who’ve accused him of sexing up Tolstoy’s saga, by inserting PG-13 incest scenes they say are not actually there in the oft-translated text of Tolstoy’s epic ----just as Davies was accused, two decades ago, of sexing up his mega-successful 1995 miniseries adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, by gratuitously (so say the naysayers) inserting that world-famous scene of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in a clinging wet blouse after cooling off in a Pemberley pond, a scene which definitely was most definitely not included in the novel:

I’ve previously suggested many times that all the critics of Davies’s dripping Mr. Darcy are themselves all wet—because it’s clear to me that Davies picked up on the very real, dense concentration of sexual subtext and imagery in the words describing Elizabeth Bennet’s awed (indeed, nearly orgasmic) reaction to the triple KO combo of seeing Pemberley and its grounds, then Darcy’s portrait, then Darcy himself in the flesh (wet or not). So, even though there is no literal description in P&P of Darcy taking a dip on a hot day, then emerging like an erotic Neptune, that scene is the perfect translation of the proverbial thousand words of “sextuality” into a powerful, erotic, cinematic picture.

And…don’t forget that Davies also caught the same unjustified flak in 2007, when his Sense & Sensibility began with Willoughby in bed with the seduced young Eliza Williams-even though that seduction is strongly implied by the narrative. And yet again in 2008 with his depiction of Catherine’s sexual dreams in Northanger Abbey, as though he too knew what I discovered several years ago—i.e., that Jane Austen gives us a very broad hint in the following narration…..
“They danced again; and, when the assembly closed, parted, on the lady's side at least, with a strong inclination for continuing the acquaintance. Whether she thought of him so much, while she drank her warm wine and water, and prepared herself for bed, as to dream of him when there, cannot be ascertained; but I hope it was no more than in a slight slumber, or a morning doze at most; for if it be true, as a celebrated writer has maintained, that no young lady can be justified in falling in love before the gentleman's love is declared, it must be very improper that a young lady should dream of a gentleman before the gentleman is first known to have dreamt of her.”
…that Catherine is going to have a sexual dream about her future husband on what just happens to be, in the chronology of NA, the Eve of St. Agnes---which is when a single girl is obliged by tradition to “prepare herself for bed” by not eating and then stripping to her birthday suit!
And now I’m ready to get to what I found a few weeks ago, which, to me, is convincing evidence that Tolstoy did indeed mean for his sharp elf readers to infer the occurrence of actual incest between Anatole and Helene in War and Peace. I believe Tolstoy thereby meant to allude to the incestuous brother-sister pair who had inspired him to create his diabolical pair: Henry and Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park!

And it’s not just those two parallel devilish sibling pairs. What I haven’t yet seen in Davies’s first two episodes, is any sign that Davies has picked up on the much subtler incestuous charge that Tolstoy also intentionally created between Nicholas and Natasha Rostov----who are, I suggest, an amalgam of Fanny and Edmund, but also Fanny and William, in Mansfield Park!

Two Tolstoy scholars (George Clay in 1998 & Juliet Mitchell in 2013) have written about Tolstoy intending to suggest incestuous feelings in both brother-sister pairs, the diabolical Kuragins and the squeaky-clean Rostovs. What I am still waiting and hoping to read, is an English translation of the original manuscript draft of W&P which survived Tolstoy, and which supposedly contains explicit incestuous scenes between Helene and Anatole, strong stuff that Tolstoy apparently lopt and cropt out of his text, leaving only hints. So Davies is standing on solid ground in his explicit depiction of Helene and Anatole as lovers.

They are each halves of a Satanic whole, whose mission seems to be, in part, to corrupt the virtuous young heroine Natasha. And so it’s no coincidence that Anatole decides to try to seduce Natasha, and nearly succeeds, just like Henry Crawford almost gets to the finish line with Fanny. And Anatole’s and Helene’s father is the embodiment of the spoken-of but never seen vicious uncle Admiral Crawford. And
Mary Crawford with her harp is like Helene, and both are based on Helen of Troy as well as Circe and the  Sirens. And then we have Nicholas Rostov whose huge gambling debts hobble the family fortune, just as do Tom Bertram’s!

MP and W&P in some other ways seem totally different as novels. Tolstoy embraces the “Big Bow Wow strain” with his vast sections about Napoleon and the war that tore Europe apart. But it’s clear from cutting edge Austen studies of the past 30 years that JA was also very much interested in that Big Picture,  in particular as to the Napoleonic Wars that engulfed England (and two of JA’s brothers) during half of JA’s lifetime. But she chose to wink and hint at it. So, again, we find Tolstoy standing at JA’s literary canvas, and filling in JA’s blanks from the faintly visible shadows she delicately sketched, and this time from Napoleon’s rear, eastern flank.

As for siblings Natasha and Nicholas, consider the scene in Book 7, Ch. 7, of W&P, after the refined Natasha has amazed the room with her spirited and earthy Old Russian country dancing. Near the end of Episode 2 of Davies’s miniseries, he places cousin Sonia (another Fanny Price figure) in the carriage ride home on a snowy moonlit night. But Tolstoy actually wrote a scene with Natasha and brother Nicholas sharing a confusingly and disturbingly romantic tete a tete:

“After nine o'clock two traps and three mounted men, who had been sent to look for them, arrived to fetch Natasha and Petya. The count and countess did not know where they were and were very anxious, said one of the men.  Petya was carried out like a log and laid in the larger of the two traps. Natasha and Nicholas got into the other. "Uncle" wrapped Natasha up warmly and took leave of her with quite a new tenderness. He accompanied them on foot as far as the bridge that could not be crossed, so that they had to go round by the ford, and he sent huntsmen to ride in front with lanterns.
….What was passing in that receptive childlike soul that so eagerly caught and assimilated all the diverse impressions of life? How did they all find place in her? But she was very happy. As they were nearing home she suddenly struck up the air of As 'twas growing dark last night—the tune of which she had all the way been trying to get and had at last caught.
"Got it?" said Nicholas.
"What were you thinking about just now, Nicholas?" inquired Natasha.
They were fond of asking one another that question.
"I?" said Nicholas, trying to remember. "Well, you see, first I thought that Rugay, the red hound, was like Uncle, and that if he were a man he would always keep Uncle near him, if not for his riding, then for his manner. What a good fellow Uncle is! Don't you think so?... Well, and you?"
"I? Wait a bit, wait.... Yes, first I thought that we are driving along and imagining that we are going home, but that heaven knows where we are really going in the darkness, and that we shall arrive and suddenly find that we are not in Otradnoe, but in Fairyland. And then I thought... No, nothing else."
"I know, I expect you thought of him," said Nicholas, smiling as Natasha knew by the sound of his voice.
"No," said Natasha, though she had in reality been thinking about Prince Andrew at the same time as of the rest, and of how he would have liked "Uncle." "And then I was saying to myself all the way, 'How well Anisya carried herself, how well!'" And Nicholas heard her spontaneous, happy, ringing laughter. "And do you know," she suddenly said, "I know that I shall never again be as happy and tranquil as I am now."
"Rubbish, nonsense, humbug!" exclaimed Nicholas, and he thought: "How charming this Natasha of mine is! I have no other friend like her and never shall have. Why should she marry? We might always drive about together!"
"What a darling this Nicholas of mine is!" thought Natasha.
"Ah, there are still lights in the drawing-room!" she said, pointing to the windows of the house that gleamed invitingly in the moist velvety darkness of the night.

“invitingly in the moist velvety darkness of the night”??   George Clay was spot-on in 1998: this is very suggestive. But I go a big step further, and see this scene as Tolstoy wishing us to recognize that there’s much less of a gap between the worldly Kuragin siblings and the innocent Rostov siblings than the latter would like to believe. But it would not surprise the worldly socialite, who makes the following sage comments while watching mousy Sonia blush in jealousy of cousin Nicholas early in the novel:

"How plainly all these young people wear their hearts on their sleeves!" said Anna Mikhaylovna, pointing to Nicholas as he went out. "Cousinage—dangereux voisinage;" she added. [Cousinhood is a dangerous neighborhood.]
"Yes," said the countess when the brightness these young people had brought into the room had vanished; and as if answering a question no one had put but which was always in her mind, "and how much suffering, how much anxiety one has had to go through that we might rejoice in them now! And yet really the anxiety is greater now than the joy. One is always, always anxious! Especially just at this age, so dangerous both for girls and boys."
"It all depends on the bringing up," remarked the visitor.
"Yes, you're quite right," continued the countess. "Till now I have always, thank God, been my children's friend and had their full confidence," said she, repeating the mistake of so many parents who imagine that their children have no secrets from them. "I know I shall always be my daughters' first confidante, and that if Nicholas, with his impulsive nature, does get into mischief (a boy can't help it), he will all the same never be like those Petersburg young men."

Mrs. Norris and Sir Thomas, anyone? Still think I am imagining it all?  ;)

And I’ll conclude by promising that, in yet another post, I’ll explain how this dark, ironic connection of Tolstoy’s innocent and worldly siblings appears to me to have actually spotted by Vladimir Nabokov long before 1998—in fact, nearly nine decades ago, but he wrote about his discovery not in a scholarly treatise, but, indirectly, in his early, proto-Lolita novella, fittingly entitled…. Laughter in THE DARK.

Cheers, ARNIE
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