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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Jane’s ramble in St. James’s Park: the X-rated allusion dancing in plain sight in Pride & Prejudice!

I posed a quiz on Monday about two shockingly connected famous stories, which have each retained a very different sort of fame for centuries, both of which stories remarkably shared eight specific elements. I am sure it didn’t take Janeites more than 30 seconds to realize that one of the two stories was Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice – but only readers familiar with another English author, who still has good name recognition, but whose slim literary output is unknown to most readers of English literature, would guess the title of the other literary work.

Instead of naming that other work, and its author, I will tease you first by advising you to use Google to get the answer yourself!  Just Google….  
“St. James” ramble park
….and all the hits on the first page of results will lead you to the same place:

…… (scroll down)




And the answer is…..”A Ramble in St. James’s Park” by John Wilmot, better known as the infamous Earl of Rochester.....,_2nd_Earl_of_Rochester  --and now you know why my Subject Line referred to a “shocking” connection---just take a very brief “ramble” in the text of “A Ramble in St. James’s Park”, and you will know why!!!!!

Although I will in future posts elaborate on various implications of the mind-bending, veiled allusion to Wilmot’s X-rated poem that I see in P&P, for today, I will give a summary of the key textual parallels which, in aggregate, in my opinion, make my interpretation unassailable:

ONE: They both involve one or more “rambles” in “parks” during which encounters occur between romantically involved couple(s): 
In P&P, Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Austen’s greatest walker, seems to be perpetually having encounters while “rambling” in parks/gardens---with the Bingley sisters and Darcy at Netherfield, with Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam at Rosings, with Darcy at Pemberley, and then with Lady C. at Longbourn.  
In Wilmot’s Ramble, it seems that a wide, never-ceasing cross section of London, from King Charles II down to the humblest commoners, “encounter” each other carnally, day and night, in St. James Park.

TWO: They both involve one or more “balls” which (of course) involve “dancing”.
In P&P, the balls at the Meryton assembly and the Netherfield ball, and which Lydia presumably attends at Brighton, are front and center, coupled with the repeated references to the Court of St. James which is Sir William Lucas’s obsession.
In Ramble, St. James’s Park is of course the site of the sexual carnival which Wilmot so graphically describes.
And would you like to know what else the 2nd Earl of Rochester was infamous for, in terms of “balls”?:

First, here’s a quote from Blazing Star: The Life & Times of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester  (2014) by Alexander Larman:
“The so-called ‘MERRY gang’ of Rochester, Buckingham, Sedley, Buckhurst and Savile, as well as various good-time members, charged around the taverns and brothels of London, brawling, drinking, and whoring until their bodies wilted with exhaustion and disease. In Rochester’s case, this torrid activity came about as he founded a secret club known as the “Ballers”, the purpose of which was to enjoy orgies of sex and exuberant consumption of imported French wine. The nickname literally meant ‘those who attended balls’, but the innuendo was obvious. It was commonly enough known for Pepys to be familiar with it, and in one diary entry he referred to their ‘dancing naked, and all the roguish things of the world’ and called them a ‘loose, cursed company’, although he did allow that they were ‘full of wit’, and he took delight at having been present at their gathering of ‘mad bawdy talk’ in late May.”

Puts an interesting X-rated spin on the following exchange 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!

THREE: The man at the center of both stories has a complex personality and is from a noble family.
Obviously, these are the real-life 2nd Earl of Rochester and the fictional Mr. Darcy.

FOUR: That man’s wife is named Elizabeth, whose maiden name is 6 letters long, with the middle 2 letters a repeated consonant, and the last two letters “et”.
The real life John Wilmot married a very rich heiress with the maiden name Elizabeth Mallet, and the fictional Mr. Darcy married Elizabeth Bennet!

FIVE: They both refer several times to St. James.
As stated above, that is Sir William Lucas’s favorite topic, but my second favorite line in that regard is the narrator’s wry comment at the end of the penultimate chapter of P&P, which shows us that Sir William is not letting up on Darcy even as the novel comes to a close:

“[Darcy] 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.”

SIX: There is an overt or covert reference in both stories to “much ado”.
I’ve argued countless times that perhaps the most significant, rich and varied literary allusion in P&P is to Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
In Ramble, I wonder if Wilmot also had Shakespeare’s dark comedy, with its own famous romantic encounters in the park, when he included this stanza in his poem, describing the three suitors with whom the poet’s ladylove is cheating on him:

One, in a strain 'twixt tune and nonsense,
Cries, "Madam, I have loved you long since.
Permit me your fair hand to kiss";
When at her mouth her c----- cries, "Yes!"  [it’s easy to fill in the last 3 letters of that dashed dirty word!]
In short, without MUCH more ADO,
Joyful and pleased, away she flew,

And with these three confounded asses
From park to hackney coach she passes.

SEVEN: In both stories, there is a social event with an in-your-face sexually transgressive person at its center, at which the guests make “merry”.
In P&P, of course Lydia Bennet is that transgressor, and Mrs. Bennet uses the word “merry” three times to describe Lydia’s anticipated “merry” wedding
As Larman informed us, above, the 2nd Earl’s band of manwhores was called the “Merry Gang” as well as the “Ballers”!

EIGHT: In both stories, someone named Jane Bennet plays a key supporting role in all of the above.
In P&P, of course the modest, sweet, Pollyannish Jane Bennet is the loving sister of our heroine Eliza.
Although Wilmot’s Ramble does not mention anyone named Jane Bennet, he did not need to—here’s perhaps the most shocking part of all in Jane Austen’s complex allusion to the life and works of the 2nd Earl of Rochester in P&P.
First here is the very very famous Diary of Samuel Pepys, who was living in London at the same time as Wilmot:
“30 May, 1668: “And here I first understood by their talk the meaning of the company that lately were called Ballers; Harris telling how it was by a meeting of some young blades, when he was among them, and my Lady Bennet and her ladies; and their there dancing naked, and all the roguish things in the world.’
The Ballers, as I stated above, was the 2nd Earl’s libertine posse. But who was “my Lady Bennet and her ladies”? Check these two quotes out:

Anthony Cronin on the short life of the Earl of Rochester, courtier, poet and organiser of a famous nude ball  [in Cronin’s review of The Satyr By Cephas Goldsworthy]
“In 1682 a fashionable English dramatist, Nathaniel Lee, wrote a play in which one of the principal characters, Duke Nemours, declares his belief that "the two nearest ways to enter the closet of the Gods and be even with the Gods themselves, are fury and sleep. Therefore the fury of wine and the fury of women possess me waking and sleeping. Venus be my star, whoring my house, and death I defy thee!"
The character of Duke Nemours was a portrait of John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, a courtier, a poet and a leading spirit of the group of witty young men who surrounded the King, Charles 11, and were known as, "the BALLERS." This was supposed to be because they had organised a NUDE BALL to which Madam or "Lady" Bennet had brought her young ladies, Madam Bennet being a well-known brothel-keeper. Nathaniel Lee's portrait of Rochester has been generally accepted as a good likeness…”

and the following is a fitting culmination of all of the above:

Private vices, public virtues: bawdry in London from Elizabethan Days to the Regency  by EJ Burford & Joy Wotton (1995)   in a section entitled “A Merried Monarch, Scandalous and Poor” at ppg. 43-45: “[King] Charles [II] was not particularly nice in his choice of paramours, wandering from the most exquisite Court lady to the commonest street-walker; he would drop into a brothel occasionally or pick up one of the orange-girls at the theatre. With him, it was f--ing for f--ing’s sake—the reaction of a man suffering from satyriasis--he had contempt for all those whom he had seduced. The roll call is like Leporello’s in Don Giovanni…. But far and away the most versatile was Lady Jane Bennett whose outrageous actions created embarrassment to the Court even in that farouche age. Her title was genuine since she was the widow of Sir Richard Leeke, Bt., and a lady of considerable means. Indeed her conduct was so flagitious that when Sir Henry Bennett was offered the title of Lord Bennett, he told the King: ‘he could not have his own name to any title…because he could not have to avoid opprobrium …..Lady Bennett being too infamous.’ (The King obliged him by making him Lord Arlington.)…..Lady Bennett and the infamous noble gang known as the Bailers were involved in a bizarre incident when the gang were trying to import a rather precious item without paying customs duty. The Customs Farmers had seized a Box containing a Dozen Phallick Leather Instruments call’d Dildos…Sir Charles Sedley and Lord Henry Saville [the King’s boon companions] went down to the City to save the dildoes being destroyed, only to be told that..those filthy Things had been burnt without Mercy! Samuel Butler immortalized this incident in his Dildoides…END QUOTE

Put all that graphic and unassailable historical detail about Lady Jane Bennet (aka Madam Bennet) together with what I’ve previously written about (1) the echoing of the Regency Era courtesy Harriette Wilson in P&P’s Jane Bennet, and (2) the slandering of P&P’s Jane Bennet as a prostitute by Lady Lucas, picked up on by Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam, and I’d say that maybe a rethink is called for in how we read the characters of Jane, Lizzy, and Darcy!

In particular, did Jane Austen have John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, the most X-rated poet in English literary history in mind when she wrote this scene in P&P?:

“…I do not like to boast of my own child, but to be sure, Jane—one does not often see anybody better looking. It is what everybody says. I do not trust my own partiality. When she was only fifteen, there was a man at my brother Gardiner's in town so much in love with her that my sister-in-law was sure he would make her an offer before we came away. But, however, he did not. Perhaps he thought her too young. However, he wrote some verses on her, and very pretty they were."
"And so ended his affection," said Elizabeth impatiently. "There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!"
"I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love," said Darcy.
"Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away."
Darcy only smiled…”

Was Darcy smiling as he remembered a “ramble in St. James’s Park” with a beautiful 16-year old Jane Bennet—remembering, that is, both the ramble and the poem of that title?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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