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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pemberley as Elizabeth Bennet’s Fool’s Paradise (Hall) Lost & Regained

In my post earlier this week… …I made the case that Jane Austen, whose genius gave us her unforgettable comic depiction of the nerves, tremblings, and vexations of Mrs. Bennet, also used that same comic figure, Mrs. Bennet, for a much more serious purpose. I.e., Austen wished to  subtly point to the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet uttering the following line to the Capulet servant Peter about Mercutio’s sexually provocative remarks about her:   
“Now, afore God, I AM SO VEXED, THAT EVERY PART ABOUT ME QUIVERS. Scurvy knave! …”

I ended that post with the following summation: 
“I see Elizabeth’s married life with Darcy as a parody of Juliet’s tragic death, because it will be no walk in the park for her to be married to the dark Darcy of the shadow story, who does not actually repent and reform after she rejects his first proposal, but merely pretends to do so, because he is a man who cannot take no for an answer, and who does not hesitate to use his considerable resources to stage an extended experience for Elizabeth during the latter half of P&P, which destroys her (healthy) resistance to him.”

However, it was only today that I took a second look at the rest of that speech by Juliet’s Nurse, and, as you’ll see below, that led me right to a scholar’s paradise: Jane Austen’s three-tiered allusion in Pride & Prejudice, to (chronologically in literary history) Romeo & Juliet (1599), Paradise Lost (1667), and Tom Jones (1749)! It takes my breath away, much as Elizabeth’s breath is taken away by her first views of Pemberley –except mine is not a “fool’s paradise”, it’s for real----I hope you’ll agree!

PART ONE: Pride & Prejudice (1813) Allusion to Romeo & Juliet (1599):

To begin, here’s the rest of the Nurse’s speech, when she abruptly shifts from addressing Peter, to issuing a stern warning to the amorous Romeo:
 “…but first let me tell ye, if ye should lead her into A FOOL’S PARADISE, as they say, it were a very GROSS kind of behavior, as they say: for the gentlewoman is young; and, therefore, if you should DEAL DOUBLE with her, truly it were an ill thing to be offered to any gentlewoman, and very weak dealing.”

In other words, watching out for Juliet, the fiercely maternal Nurse warns Romeo to love Juliet faithfully, and not to break her 12-year old heart. I now suggest that when Mrs. Bennet (to Elizabeth’s great distress and bewilderment) repeatedly makes hostile jabs at Darcy in the Netherfield salon, she’s actually giving him a similar maternal warning not to try to exploit his high status and lead any Bennet girl into a fool’s paradise. She does this because, as I’ve previously suggested, Mrs. Bennet and Darcy (but not Elizabeth)  know that Darcy is the unnamed suitor who wrote a sonnet while six years earlier wooing the then 16-year old Jane Bennet in London.

However, Elizabeth’s ear is not tuned to the frequency of her mother’s warning, and so, when Elizabeth first sees Pemberley, she indeed enters a “fool’s paradise”. I.e. its Edenic majesty mesmerizes Elizabeth, with such powerful effect that she later jokes to sister Jane (but the joke is actually on Elizabeth) about dating her own falling in love with Darcy from her “first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.”

And, once we think about Pemberley as a “fool’s paradise” for Elizabeth, we find that the idea of a single female’s reactions to being wooed as being “foolish”, is a motif that pops up at key points during P&P.

First, we read this exchange between Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins, in which Elizabeth is called “foolish” by both of them, for rejecting his proposal:
"But, depend upon it, Mr. Collins," she added, "that Lizzy shall be brought to reason. I will speak to her about it directly. She is a very headstrong, FOOLISH girl, and does not know her own interest but I will make her know it."
"Pardon me for interrupting you, madam," cried Mr. Collins; "but if she is really headstrong and FOOLISH, I know not whether she would altogether be a very desirable wife to a man in my situation, who naturally looks for happiness in the marriage state….”

Then, we read these contradictory comments regarding the foolishness of Miss King’s flip flop in responses to Wickham’s sudden courtship:

[first, to Mrs. Gardiner, when Miss King appears receptive toWickham’s advances]
"Well," cried Elizabeth, "have it as you choose. He shall be mercenary, and she shall be FOOLISH."
[then, after Miss King rejects Wickham’s proposal]
"And Mary King is safe!" added Elizabeth; "safe from a connection imprudent as to fortune."
[Lydia] "She is a great FOOL for going away, if she liked him."

And then, after Elizabeth rejects Darcy’s first proposal, we read this description of her struggle to make sense of what she reads in Darcy’s letter. The word “fool” does not appear, but the Nurse’s references to “gross” and “double dealing” are distinctly echoed. Elizabeth does not wish to be fooled, but doesn’t at that moment know who is trying to fool her, Darcy or Wickham:

“What Wickham had said of the living was fresh in her memory, and as she recalled his very words, it was impossible not to feel that there was GROSS DUPLICITY on one side or the other; and, for a few moments, she flattered herself that her wishes did not err….”

And finally, here are Elizabeth’s private thoughts as she steals glances at Darcy at Longbourn, after she has already fully and irreversibly entered the “fool’s paradise” while at Pemberley:

"If he does not come to me, then," said she, "I shall give him up for ever."
The gentlemen came; and she thought he looked as if he would have answered her hopes; but, alas! the ladies had crowded round the table, where Miss Bennet was making tea, and Elizabeth pouring out the coffee, in so close a confederacy that there was not a single vacancy near her which would admit of a chair. And on the gentlemen's approaching, one of the girls moved closer to her than ever, and said, in a whisper:  "The men shan't come and part us, I am determined. We want none of them; do we?"
Darcy had walked away to another part of the room. She followed him with her eyes, envied everyone to whom he spoke, had scarcely patience enough to help anybody to coffee; and then was enraged against herself for being so silly!
"A man who has once been refused! How could I ever be FOOLISH enough to expect a renewal of his love? Is there one among the sex, who would not protest against such a weakness as a second proposal to the same woman? There is no indignity so abhorrent to their feelings!"

Despite the feminist warnings of the unnamed whisperer (whom I identified 6 years ago as Elizabeth’s sister Mary!), Elizabeth by this point is so far lost wandering in her fool’s paradise, that she now defines being “foolish” as holding out hope for a second proposal from Darcy she now desperately yearns for.

So there you have a brief tour of Jane Austen’s veiled allusion to the fool’s paradise of Elizabeth’s conversion to loving Darcy, which, I suggest, is the very same fool’s paradise that the Nurse warned Romeo against.  Now, let’s dig another layer deeper.

TWO: Pride & Prejudice Allusion to Paradise Lost (1667)/Romeo & Juliet (1599)

I’ve written on various occasions since 2014 about the allusion to Romeo & Juliet, such as here….    ….that Milton wove into the deepest fabric of Paradise Lost, most strikingly of all in the “SATAN” acrostic in Book 8, which I claim points to the “SATAN” acrostic in Friar Laurence’s speech to Juliet.

Today, I see that the Nurse’s warning reference to a “fool’s paradise” was also alluded to by Milton in plain sight in Book 3 of Paradise Lost, in the description of Satan’s journey leading up to his arrival in Eden. The following-quoted passage not only contains “The Paradise of Fools”, it’s also peppered with scathing insulting descriptions of Catholicism, particularly Franciscan friars ---like “SATAN” Friar Laurence in R&J—whom Satan encounters in his Danteesque journey:

So, on this windy sea of land, the Fiend
Walked up and down alone, bent on his prey;
Alone, for other creature in this place,
Living or lifeless, to be found was none;
None yet, but store hereafter from the earth
Up hither like aereal vapours flew
Of all things transitory and vain, when sin
With vanity had filled the works of men:
Both all things vain, and all who in vain things
Built their fond hopes of glory or lasting fame,
Or happiness in this or the other life;
All who have their reward on earth, the fruits
Nought seeking but the praise of men, here find
Fit retribution, empty as their deeds;
All the unaccomplished works of Nature's hand,
Abortive, monstrous, or unkindly mixed,
Dissolved on earth, fleet hither, and in vain,
Till final dissolution, wander here;
Not in the neighbouring moon as some have dreamed;
Those argent fields more likely habitants,
Translated Saints, or middle Spirits hold
Betwixt the angelical and human kind.
Hither of ill-joined sons and daughters born
First from the ancient world those giants came
With many a vain exploit, though then renowned:
The builders next of Babel on the plain
Of Sennaar, and still with vain design,
New Babels, had they wherewithal, would build:
Others came single; he, who, to be deemed
A God, leaped fondly into Aetna flames,
Empedocles; and he, who, to enjoy
Plato's Elysium, leaped into the sea,
Cleombrotus; and many more too long,
Embryos, and idiots, eremites, and FRIARS
White, black, and gray, WITH ALL THEIR TRUMPERY,   [as in Donald Trumpery!]
Here pilgrims roam, that strayed so far to seek
In Golgotha him dead, who lives in Heaven;
And THEY, WHO to be sure of Paradise,
Dying, put on the weeds of Dominick,
They pass the planets seven, and pass the fixed,
And that crystalling sphere whose balance weighs
The trepidation talked, and that first moved;
And now Saint Peter at Heaven's wicket seems
To wait them with his keys, and now at foot
Of Heaven's ascent they lift their feet, when lo
A violent cross wind from either coast
Blows them transverse, ten thousand leagues awry
Into the devious air: THEN MIGHT YE SEE
COWLS, HOODS, AND HABITS, with their wearers, tost
And fluttered into rags; then RELIQUES, BEADS,
The sport of winds: ALL THESE, upwhirled aloft,
Into a Limbo large and broad, since called
THE PARADISE OF FOOLS, to few unknown
Long after; now unpeopled, and untrod.
All this dark globe the Fiend found as he passed,
And long he wandered, till at last a gleam
Of dawning light turned thither-ward in haste
His travelled steps: far distant he descries
Ascending by degrees magnificent
Up to the wall of Heaven a structure high….

In short, then, I believe that the above was yet another clue left by Milton in Paradise Lost, telling us that he recognized that Friar Laurence was the SATAN whose meddling actually brings about fatal consequences for Juliet far worse even that the Nurse feared when she warned Romeo!

And, I believe Jane Austen, brilliant literary scholar that she had to have been, spotted and understood Milton’s profound engagement with Shakespeare, and then showed it, by weaving both Paradise Lost and Romeo & Juliet into the subtext of Pride & Prejudice, most of all via her portrayal of Elizabeth as Juliet/Eve, and Darcy as Romeo/Friar Laurence/Satan. And the Nurse’s speech is one key linchpin which unites these three of the greatest works in English literature.  But guess what, there’s a fourth, too!

Pride & Prejudice Allusion to Romeo & Juliet (1599) /Paradise Lost (1667)/Tom Jones (1749):

In this section, I’ll explain how I see Jane Austen layering Tom Jones on top of R&J and Paradise Lost  in the subtext of P&P.

First, there are several overt references to Paradise Lost by Henry Fielding’s intrusive narrator in Tom Jones, most notably:
“And now having taken a resolution to leave the country, [Tom Jones] began to debate with himself whither he should go. The world, as Milton phrases it, lay all before him; and Jones, no more than Adam, had any man to whom he might resort for comfort or assistance.”

And, to add a deeper layer, here is an excellent, orthodox unpacking of the veiled allusion to Tom Jones in Pride & Prejudice, courtesy of Jo Alyson Parker in her article “Pride & Prejudice: Jane Austen’s Double Inheritance Plot” (1988):
“Austen’s Pride & Prejudice serves as Austen’s revision of Tom Jones from a woman’s perspective, with Elizabeth filling the Tom Jones role and Pemberley serving as Austen’s version of Paradise Hall. Just as the fact of his bastardy, coupled with the machinations of Blifil, deprives Tom Jones of any claim to Paradise Hall, so does the Longbourn entail cut Elizabeth off from what may seem to be her ‘rightful’ inheritance. And Elizabeth’s state of dispossession, like Tom’s, causes her to embark on what will become a quest for self knowledge and position. Elizabeth is not, like Tom Jones, an actual foundling, but the romantic aura of that condition nevertheless clings to her.
…The family setup at Pemberley bears a curious affinity to the setup at Paradise Hall, so much so that we might regard such allusions as deliberate. In his first appearance early in the novel, Darcy, with his coldness and reserve, might almost be mistaken for Blifil. He is responsible for banishing Wickham from the family estate, just as Blifil is responsible for getting Tom banished. Although legitimate, Wickham is, like Tom Jones, a foster son; Darcy’s father treated him like one of his own children…Wickham also resembles Fielding’s hero in appearance…We come to find out that Wickham shares another quality with Fielding’s hero-an ungoverned sexuality …In eloping with Lydia, he displays a disregard for sexual restraint worthy of the unreformed Tom Jones.
Unlike Tom Jones, however, Wickham does not reform…As Elizabeth discovers, he is prodigal, mercenary, revengeful and mendacious. Murray Krieger points out that Austen turns the TJ model on its head: “Wickham is not permitted to make it: it is as if, in Tom Jones, Blifil turned out to be the good guy. For it is Darcy, the wealthiest and most highly placed character in the novel, who is its hero and who gets the girl … Wickham does not, like Tom Jones, make the discovery which makes him the worthy hero; rather, the discovery is made about him to make him the worthless villain.’
In regards to the respective fates of her two leading men, Austen certainly rewrites the plot of Tom Jones, even to the extent that the worthless Wickham ends up, like Blifil, permanently banished from ‘paradise.’
….the rewriting is also a decentering, Austen’s real focus being not on the heroes but on the heroine. In effect, Elizabeth replaces Wickham as the Tom Jones figure….”  END QUOTE FROM PARKER

I call the above excellent analysis “orthodox” because Parker lacked the outside-the-box perspective on P&P that I have, which is that it is a double story. While her explanation is very plausible for the overt story of P&P, my understanding provides a powerful explanation for what puzzled Parker—i.e., why “Darcy, with his coldness and reserve, might almost be mistaken for Blifil” ---my answer is that, in the shadow story of P&P, Darcy really is Blifil, and Wickham really is Tom Jones!

In any event, what Parker does not get into, but I will now, is to first point out that Tom Jones also points to (what a surprise!) Romeo and Juliet:

Per Fredson Bower in his 1975 edition of Tom Jones:
“Sophia’s situation at this point in the novel recalls that of Shakespeare’s heroine in R&J. As Juliet loves Romeo but is intended by her family for Paris, so Sophia loves Jones while her family arranges her marriage to Blifil. With the present scene between Honour and Sophia, compare, in particular, R&J 3.2: when the Nurse brings news that Romeo has been banished for killing Tybalt, Juliet at first condemns her faithless lover, then reproves her companion for echoing her sentiments.”


While it all may take a while to absorb, if you reread the above a few times over a few days, the dazzling superstructure of layered Shakespeare/Milton/Fielding allusions upon which Pride & Prejudice rests will, I hope, come more and more into focus for you.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

 P.S.: My Subject Line ends with Paradise Regained, because of my earlier claim that Elizabeth Bennet is actually the true heiress of Pemberley, who (like Tom Jones) was banished.

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