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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

O Titania! Diana Birchall's latest Eltonian dream & Mrs. Elton as TITANIA aka Caroline LAMB

My good friend and fellow Janeite Diana Birchall has just written the latest in her informal series (over more than 15 years!) of vignettes involving Mrs. Elton from Jane Austen’s Emma, and introduced it as follows:

“I'm so delighted that today my "Mrs. Elton's Donkey" is up. This is the piece I wrote for Sarah Emsley's varied and rich celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Emma, "Emma in the Snow," and I hope you enjoy it!:   

Please read and enjoy it first, and then come back here to read my gloss on it….


As usual, the great treat of your latest short dramatization of the Eltons' "ass-inine" tete a tete (rendered more difficult by his very big ears) is your acutely fine and witty ear for Austenesque dialog. I will tell you once again that  in my opinion you are on the very short list of Austen-inspired fiction writers who really get the tone and nuance of that sort of writing just right. And there's nothing worse than trying to read Austen fanfic with awkward, pretentious tone that is like a lamp to JA's sunshine. But your writing always emits an abundance of natural sunlight---so, bravo to you and don't wait too long before the next one!

Reading your piece brought right to mind what Colleen Sheehan first revealed in her 2007 Persuasions Online article…. …about the second remarkable secret in the structure of Mr. Elton's charade in Chapter 9 of Emma.

To briefly recap, the first secret that lasted undetected for 2 centuries is that there is a second answer to the charade that Mr. Elton gives Emma and Harriet:

M  My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
L   Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
A   Another view of man, my second brings,
B   Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!

B   But ah! united, what reverse we have!
M   Man's boasted power and freedom, all are flown;
L   Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,
A   And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.

That secret answer is the "Prince of Whales", of course a sharp satire on the Prince Regent (and as Anielka Briggs and I have later shown, there are even more secret answers).

But the second secret that Colleen discovered is equally significant in a different and related way. It is that each of the two stanzas of the charade, as you can see, above, have the same 4-letter anagram acrostic on the letters M, L, A and B---which can spell "BALM", but more likely JA's intent was to spell "LAMB", as in:

Charles LAMB, the author of "The Triumph of the Whale", which refers to the Prince Regent as the Prince of Whales, and which was obviously one of two key sources for JA's charade (the other being the Cruikshank caricature which I was the first to connect to the charade, and which you can see, above, that I use as my blog masthead image);  AND ALSO

Lady Caroline LAMB, the proverbial woman scorned, whom I've written about repeatedly as a key source for Mrs. Elton. In particular, that is why Mrs. Elton refers so significantly but cryptically to the "abominable puppy" who gave her an "acrostic on her name" at Christmastime ---I realized in 2008 that the mysterious puppy was none other than Frank Churchill, and that the "acrostic" was actually that same charade! This tells us that Mr. Elton and Frank Churchill were, unbeknownst to Emma, wing men on the courtship circuit, and that Frank was the "friend" who gave Mr. Elton the "used" charade to give to Emma, after Frank had already given it to Augusta Hawkins!

Diana's drawing on the Midsummer Night's Dream subtext of Emma provides me a reminder to also mention the Shakespearean basis I see for those two anagram-acrostics on LAMB:

I.e., the scene in Midsummer Night's Dream when Bottom awakens lying next to Titania (after who knows what has occurred between them), and the Fairy Queen utters the following famous speech:

O  Out of this wood do not desire to go:
T   Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no.
I     I am a spirit of no common rate;
T   The summer still doth tend upon my state;
AN  And I do love thee: therefore, go with me;
I      I'll give thee fairies to attend on thee,
A     And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep,

And sing while thou on pressed flowers dost sleep;

The late Eugene McDonnell first made me aware in 2005 of the "O Titania" acrostic (which I've made visible by separating it from the horizontal lines) in that speech, and I later traced that discovery back to an early 20th century Baconian Shakespeare nut (from the famous Booth family that spawned both famous Hamlets and an infamous assassin) who filled his book with nonexistent alleged Baconian acrostic signatures, but nonetheless was clever enough to find this true acrostic jewel (indeed, the letters are a kind of acrostic "crown") hidden in plain sight on the surface of the text of Titania's loving verbal caress of Bottom's hairy....face.

That "O, Titania!" acrostic is, I claim, the inspiration and source for the 2 anagram acrostics on "LAMB" in Mr. Elton's charade in Emma:

And it all fits perfectly on a thematic level as well, as Mrs. Elton is a Titania in her pretensions to regal rusticity, but she is also a Lady Caroline Lamb (who by the way once deliberately dressed down in the costume and persona of a simple country lass) in her jealous seeking of revenge against the woman she sees as her romantic rival--Jane Fairfax--and the Byronic man who spurned her--Frank Churchill!

So in all those closely interwoven metaphorical senses, the "courtship" charade in Emma is indeed an "acrostic on her name", and Frank is, as we all know by the end of Emma, a very "abominable puppy" indeed!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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