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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 “entrée” 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

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