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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, March 14, 2016

MARTHA (Lloyd & Anne) SHARP(E) hiding in THE closet…with Jane Austen!

I ended my last post earlier today as follows:

Ellen wrote: "In the case of Martha Lloyd and Jane Austen as far as we can tell Jane called Martha Martha and Martha Jane Jane. I don't think I jump to conclusions when I at least repeatedly point to what it seems the Austen world wants to ignore about the depth and continuity of this relationship. I'm persuaded that in Charlotte Lucas we have a reflection of that friendship"

And I replied: And this is another one of those rare occasions when Ellen and i agree about a subtextual interpretation of JA's writing, as I have also previously stated that Charlotte Lucas is in some way a portrait of Martha Lloyd, Jane Austen's beloved (in more than purely platonic ways) particular friend.”

A few hours later, thinking some more about names in JA’s novels, in particular about Martha Lloyd as a source for some of JA’s non-heterosexual female characters, something tickled the edges of my memory, and led me to search to see whether there might have been a “Martha”, a minor character, somewhere in her novels—and sure enough, I found the following passage in Chapter 38 of Sense & Sensibility, when Nancy Steele accosts Elinor and starts telling her all about a conversation between Edward and Lucy about their future life together:

"I do not understand what you mean by interrupting them," said Elinor; "you were all in the same room together, were not you?"
"No, indeed, not us. La! Miss Dashwood, do you think people make love when any body else is by? Oh, for shame!—To be sure you must know better than that. (Laughing affectedly.)—No, no; they were shut up in the drawing-room together, and all I heard was only by listening at the door."
"How!" cried Elinor; "have you been repeating to me what you only learnt yourself by listening at the door? I am sorry I did not know it before; for I certainly would not have suffered you to give me particulars of a conversation which you ought not to have known yourself. How could you behave so unfairly by your sister?"
"Oh, la! there is nothing in THAT. I only stood at the door, and heard what I could. And I am sure Lucy would have done just the same by me; for a year or two back, when Martha Sharpe and I had so many secrets together, she never made any bones of hiding in a closet, or behind a chimney-board, on purpose to hear what we said."
Elinor tried to talk of something else…

My eyes widened when I beheld the one and only  “Martha” in all of JA’s six novels combined: it was a name which I must have registered subliminally before, but which today took on its full significance, in the light of my and Ellen’s shared opinion about Martha Lloyd as a lesbian allusive source for JA’s fiction. 

When I read what Nancy Steele said about Martha Sharpe, as my Subject Line suggests, I realized that “Martha Sharpe” had to be a blending of the first name of one, and the last name of the other, of the two women I have long believed were Jane Austen’s real life Charlotte Lucases ---- MARTHA Lloyd and Anne SHARP!

I then immediately wondered whether any other Austen scholar had ever taken notice of the name “Martha Sharpe”. I found only three who had ever mentioned it other than in passing. 

The first was Margaret Doody, in her 2015 book about names in Jane Austen’s novels, but her comment showed no awareness whatsoever of the personal Austenian significance of that name:
“That Nancy has an equally mannerless friend named “Martha Sharpe” (a New Testament first name already demoted) clarifies her lower middle class milieu.”

The second was my good friend Linda Robinson Walker, in her recent Persuasions article about Colonel Brandon as a survival of circumcision while in the Subcontinent, picked up on a possible pun in “Margaret Sharpe:: “And of course, there is her sister’s friend, Martha Sharpe.  Thaler, who also has taken note of the “sharps” and Lucy’s dueling with Elinor, points out that duels at the time of Austen’s writing were usually conducted with pistols. “

But, as far as I can tell, only our own Ellen Moody noted the following in September 2012 in a blog post:
“Martha is found in Austen’s novels in a minor character. Nancy Steele mentions eavesdropping on her sister, Lucy….”When Martha Sharpe and I had so many secrets together.”…Jane has conflated her two favorite women, Martha Lloyd and Anne Sharpe. In this scenario, she is Nancy …More seriously, alas, we don’t know enough about Martha’s inward character accurately described to try to discern which of Austen’s characters might have some of her traits, unless aspects of Nancy Steele caricature Martha.”

However, Ellen, having gotten so close, and having already recognized that Martha was a source for the lesbian Charlotte Lucas in P&P, failed to make clear that Martha and Anne were more than JA’s “favorite women”—they were women with whom JA had a strong romantic connection. Which tells us that Martha Lloyd had already made this “cameo” appearance  in S&S, before she made a full fledged appearance in the significant role of Charlotte Lucas in P&P two years later.

What seals the deal, I think, is the way Nancy Steele describes “Martha Sharpe”---could JA be more sexually suggestive than to have the crude, vulgar Nancy Steele say, “when Martha Sharpe and I had so many secrets together, she never made any bones of hiding in a closet, or behind a chimney-board…”. So many secrets together? Hiding in a closet? Hiding behind a chimney-board?

Where have we heard such crude sexual innuendo coming out of the mouth of a vulgar female Austen character? Of course, you know the first passage that came to my mind:

“…Dear me! we had such a good piece of fun the other day at Colonel Forster's. Kitty and me were to spend the day there, and Mrs. Forster promised to have a little dance in the evening; (by the bye, Mrs. Forster and me are such friends!) and so she asked the two Harringtons to come, but Harriet was ill, and so Pen was forced to come by herself; and then, what do you think we did? We dressed up Chamberlayne in woman's clothes on purpose to pass for a lady, only think what fun! Not a soul knew of it, but Colonel and Mrs. Forster, and Kitty and me, except my aunt, for we were forced to borrow one of her gowns; and you cannot imagine how well he looked! When Denny, and Wickham, and Pratt, and two or three more of the men came in, they did not know him in the least. Lord! how I laughed! and so did Mrs. Forster. I thought I should have died. And that made the men suspect something, and then they soon found out what was the matter."

And don’t forget Miss Bates’s memorable turn in a similar Freudian vein:

“'Oh,' said he, 'wait half a minute, till I have finished my job;'—For, would you believe it, Miss Woodhouse, there he is, in the most obliging manner in the world, fastening in the rivet of my mother's spectacles.—The rivet came out, you know, this morning.—So very obliging!—For my mother had no use of her spectacles—could not put them on. And, by the bye, every body ought to have two pair of spectacles; they should indeed. Jane said so. I meant to take them over to John Saunders the first thing I did, but something or other hindered me all the morning; first one thing, then another, there is no saying what, you know. At one time Patty came to say she thought the kitchen chimney wanted sweeping. Oh, said I, Patty do not come with your bad news to me. Here is the rivet of your mistress's spectacles out. Then the baked apples came home….”

Secrets between female friends, hiding in closets and chimneys--- and to find them explicitly connected to a character named for JA’s two intimate female friends. It doesn’t get any more suggestive than that!

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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