(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A quiz about Wickham’s bit lips, Mrs. Gardiner’s fantasy phaeton, & coarse Eliza’s brown skin

A few days ago, my friend Diane Reynolds shared a post at her blog Jane Austen & Other Writers   by her colleague Professor EmeritusTom Flynn…  
…about his own personal Jane Austen journey. My eye was caught by something he wrote about Elizabeth Bennet’s and Mr. Wickham’s final encounter in Pride & Prejudice, after Wickham has just married Lydia:

“Elizabeth’s economical and layered response both condemns him and also permits him to save face, should he choose to do so. She reports that the housekeeper said “That [Wickham] had gone into the army, and she was afraid had—not turned out well.  At such a distance as that, you know, things are strangely misrepresented.”
Austen reports that Elizabeth intends this information to silence Wickham, and he does bite his lip. Yet Wickham emerges from this first encounter relatively unscathed.  He has not been so wounded that he considers retreating; rather, he adopts the dangerous strategy of returning to one of his earlier misrepresentations.”  END QUOTE FROM FLYNN POST

What caught my eye was that Wickham “bites his lip”. Jane Austen is typically sparing in such nonverbal details, and so I checked the context of that usage in P&P, to get a hang on this unusual detail (only one other Austen character bites her lip: Lucy Steele in Sense & Sensibility --in anger at her sister). Was this a clue to a covert allusion by to some prior literary work in which lips are bitten?:

“…And so, my dear sister, I find, from our uncle and aunt, that you have actually seen Pemberley."
She replied in the affirmative.
"I almost envy you the pleasure, and yet I believe it would be too much for me, or else I could take it in my way to Newcastle. And you saw the old housekeeper, I suppose? Poor Reynolds, she was always very fond of me. But of course she did not mention my name to you."
"Yes, she did."  "And what did she say?"
"That you were gone into the army, and she was afraid had—not turned out well. At such a distance as that, you know, things are strangely misrepresented."
"Certainly," he replied, BITING HIS LIPS…. "

What emotion was Wickham leaking? Was it anger, like Lucy (who, you’ll recall, becomes Lucy Ferrars à Lucifer, after she marries), or anxiety, or a combination of the two? I was also reminded of the angry thumb-biting of Montague at Capulet in the first scene of Romeo & Juliet:

SAMPSON  Nay, as they dare. I will bite my thumb at them; which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it.
ABRAHAM Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?  SAMPSON I do bite my thumb, sir.
ABRAHAM Do you bite your thumb at us, sir? SAMPSON [Aside to GREGORY] Is the law of our side, if I say ay?
GREGORY No. SAMPSON No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir.

That encouraged me to check to see if any Shakespeare play in which a character bit his/her lips---as opposed (ha ha) to their thumbs--and I found four of them. After looking them over, and sleuthing things out, I’ve now concluded that one of them is indeed a Shakespeare play which JA intentionally tagged, when she wrote the seemingly trivial detail that Wickham bit his lips. 

For those of you who enjoy my literary quizzes, I give the following NINE hints (this is a very solvable quiz, ladies and gentlemen!); but, in all events, as usual, I’ll reveal my answer and give my analysis, within the next two days:

ONE: There is a character in the Shakespeare play who, like Wickham, bites his lips in anger.

TWO: There is a character in the play who twice calls another character “not sound”, just as Eliza says the following to BFF Charlotte Lucas: 
[Charlotte] “…it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life."
"You make me laugh, Charlotte; but it is NOT SOUND. You know it is NOT SOUND, and that you would never act in this way yourself."

THREE: There is in an exchange in the play which is specifically echoed by Miss Bingley’s withering criticism of Eliza’s suntanned appearance:
"How very ill Miss Eliza Bennet looks this morning, Mr. Darcy," she cried; "I never in my life saw anyone so much altered as she is since the winter. She is grown SO BROWN and COARSE! Louisa and I were agreeing that we should not have known her again."

So far, these hinted echoes may sound trivial, but the remaining hints make clear that this is not a casual allusion, it goes to the heart of Pride & Prejudice, specifically how we are to think about Elizabeth, Darcy, Wickham, and another major character in P&P to be named later—see Hint EIGHT, below.

FOUR: There is a character who, like Mrs. Bennet, is on a determined quest for a male to preserve the family “inheritance”.

FIVE: There is a charismatic, manipulative character in the play who takes a precipitous—dare I say, Satanic?---fall from grace, because of some shady financial and other dealings, very much like that described in the following passage about Wickham in P&P:
“All Meryton seemed striving to blacken the man who, but three months before, had been almost an ANGEL OF LIGHT. He was declared to be in debt to every tradesman in the place, and his intrigues, all honoured with the title of seduction, had been extended into every tradesman's family. Everybody declared that he was the wickedest young man in the world; and everybody began to find out that they had always distrusted the appearance of his goodness. Elizabeth, though she did not credit above half of what was said, believed enough to make her former assurance of her sister's ruin more certain…”

SIX: That same character described in Hint FIVE, above, is explicitly named in one of Jane Austen’s juvenilia, in a passage that is significantly echoed by this letter from Mrs. Gardiner to niece Elizabeth Bennet: "Pray forgive me if I have been very presuming, or at least do not punish me so far as to exclude me from P[emberley]. I shall never be quite happy till I have been all round the park. A low PHAETON, with a nice little pair of ponies, would be the very thing.”

SEVEN: There is a very powerful, noble male character in the play who casts his eye on one particular young lady, who is described as having a vivacious, charismatic personality—and by the end of the play, they have indeed married, and that young lady gets to be “mistress” of a real life “Pemberley” -albeit, not for very long.

EIGHT: There is an enigmatic character in the play who has exactly the same name as a key character in P&P, and who (according to my reading of the shadow story of P&P) plays a similarly crucial behind the scenes role in both the play and in P&P.

NINE: (For those diligent souls who go so far as to do a Shakespeare word search) The play is NOT Coriolanus, Taming of the Shrew, & Richard III --- it’s the fourth one!   ;)

Happy sleuthing, y’all- --- as I said, I’ll be back….in two days with my best explanation as to what it all means!

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, May 27, 2016

Joe F.O.X. & Mr. D.A.R.C.Y. make offers that Kathleen & Elizabeth cannot refuse

I ended my post last week about Mr. Bennet’s “independence” with my take on his comments about Mr. Darcy as a kind of Regency Era Don Corleone: 

“ "Well, my dear," said he, when she ceased speaking, "I have no more to say. If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not hiave parted with you, my Lizzy, to anyone less worthy.” You really have to wonder about Mr. Bennet’s never daring to refuse Darcy anything that he “condescended to ask”— it drips with euphemistic irony, and is the kind of “polite” statement that could most aptly have been made about Don Corleone, the Godfather!

This very famous scene in The Godfather Part I comes specifically to mind:
MICHAEL: We’re all proud of you…   JOHNNY: Thank, Mike.
MICHAEL: Sit down, Johnny— I want to talk to you…The Don is proud of you.  JOHNNY: Well I owe it all to him. 
MICHAEL: Well, he knows how grateful you are. He wants to ask a favor of you.  JOHNNY: Mike, what can I do?
MICHAEL: [Asks for the specific favor, then]  FREDO: Hey, Mike, are you sure about that? Moe loves the business, he never said nothin’ to me about sellin’.    

And so the idea that Mr. Bennet has been on Darcy’s payroll all along, as a result of Darcy’s having preyed on the financial vulnerability of the Bennet family, and therefore Darcy’s “request” for Mr. Bennet’s consent truly is a proverbial offer he cannot refuse, is very appealing to me.”  

Today, I return to this curiously striking similarity between the Darcy and Corleone “families”, in order to acknowledge that I’m actually not the first Austen scholar to see Darcy’s Godfatherliness — I was beaten to the punch two decades ago by the subtle brilliance of the late, great Nora Ephron in her sneakily erudite romcom You’ve Got Mail. This is a tale of authorial genius that you can’t refuse to read!

I’ve previously blogged on several occasions…
…about the veiled allusion in You’ve Got Mail to Shakespeare’s great “romcom” Much Ado About Nothing that is best viewed through the lens of Ephron’s not-so-veiled allusion to Pride & Prejudice.  And, because of that undisguised evocation of P&P in You’ve Got Mail, I’d guess that a pretty large number of Janeites have seen You’ve Got Mail, and therefore are familiar with the three scenes in which The Godfather is explicitly mentioned, even if they’ve never paid those mentions any particular attention. Now I will show you how significant those “passing” references actually are.

In the first such scene, Kathleen suddenly realizes that the nice guy who brought kids to her bookstore is actually her business nemesis, Joe Fox, heartless bookstore magnate. Thereupon, she immediately confronts him: 

KATHLEEN    Fox?  Your last name is Fox?
Joe spins around, looks at her.
JOE     F-O-X.
KATHLEEN God, I didn't realize.  I didn't know who you--
JOE   -- were with. (quoting) "I didn't know who you were with."
KATHLEEN  Excuse me?
JOE   It's from The Godfather.  When the movie producer realizes that Tom Hagen is the emissary of Vito Corleone --
Kathleen is staring at him.
JOE -- just before the horse's head ends up in his bed--never mind --
KATHLEEN  You were spying on me, weren't you? You probably rented those children.
JOE     Why would I spy on you?
KATHLEEN   I am your competition.  Which you know perfectly well or you would not have put up that sign saying "Just around the Corner."
JOE    The entrance to our store is around the corner.  There is no other way to say it. It's not the name of our store, it’s where it is.  You don't own "around the corner."

Kathleen’s justifiable suspicion that Joe has been spying on her iconic “village” bookstore in order to crush it, and her witty, sarcastic “suspicion” that he rented two children to make him appear kind and humane, is uncannily in synch with my longstanding suspicion that in the shadow story of Pride & Prejudice, Mr. Darcy similarly stage-manages a completely inauthentic, faked performance of himself as the generous, benevolent patron of Pemberley, who “accidentally” shows up just as Elizabeth (not coincidentally) is brought there by her uncle and aunt.

In the midst of being bowled over by the Pemberley Experience, Elizabeth slides right by her perceptive observation of the ambiguity of Darcy’s power:  “As a brother, a landlord, a master, she considered how many people's happiness were in his guardianship!—how much of pleasure or pain was it in his power to bestow!—how much of good or evil must be done by him!”  

Elizabeth doesn’t pay any attention to the “evil” side of that ambiguity, nor does she realize that the “adoring servant” Mrs. Reynolds is just as much of a role as the two “fake children” that Kathleen mockingly suspects Joe has rented for the occasion. But rest assured that Nora Ephron understood this very well indeed!

We know this in part because Ephron has Joe Fox in effect boast about his own omnipotence by invoking The Godfather. Like Donald Trump, Joe is so arrogant and certain of his power that he indirectly boasts about it by implicitly comparing himself to Tom Hagen, the outwardly friendly face of the murderous Corleone family. And we find explicit authority on that category of boast in this speech by Mr. Darcy, which fits very well indeed with Joe Fox’s real pride of his rapacious business career:

"My ideas flow so rapidly that I have not time to express them—by which means my letters sometimes convey no ideas at all to my correspondents."
"Your humility, Mr. Bingley," said Elizabeth, "must disarm reproof."
"Nothing is more deceitful," said Darcy, "than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast."
"And which of the two do you call my little recent piece of modesty?"
"The indirect boast; for you are really proud of your defects in writing, because you consider them as proceeding from a rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which, if not estimable, you think at least highly interesting….”

So far, then, we can already see Ephron weaving P&P and The Godfather together via the character of Joe Fox. But this is only the beginning.

In the second such scene, Joe and Kathleen, who’ve been trading instant messages on AOL without knowing each other’s identities, discuss (in IMs) Kathleen’s business woes dealing with….Joe!:

JOE   I'm a brilliant businessman.  It's what I do best.  What's your business?
KATHLEEN  No specifics, remember?
JOE   Minus specifics, it's hard to help. Except to say, go to the mattresses.
JOE  It's from The Godfather.  It means you have to go to war.
KATHLEEN (to herself) The Godfather?
KATHLEEN  What is it with men and The Godfather?
JOE  The Godfather is the I Ching.  The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom.  The Godfather is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation?  "Leave the gun, take the cannoli."  What day of the week is it? "Maunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday.” And the answer to your question is "Go to the mattresses.”….You're at war.  "It's not personal, it’s business.  It's not personal it’s business."  Recite that to yourself every time you feel you're losing your nerve. I know you worry about being brave, this is your chance.  Fight.  Fight to the death.

Once again, Joe reveals his true (and ugly) self via his Godfather-mania, yet Kathleen is not quite able to consciously connect the dots (“What is it with men and The Godfather?”) between Joe’s invocation of same, and her online “friend”’s. This is also Ephron counterbalancing Joe’s worship of The Godfather with Kathleen’s worship of Pride & Prejudice. But, by the end of You’ve Got Mail, it’s also Ephron’s sharp irony: since Kathleen does not grasp the dark shadow story of P&P, in which Darcy does not actually reform, but merely pretends to reform, she is doomed to repeat Elizabeth’s error—believing that, in real life, a narcissistic man of power can receive an “instant message” that instantly transforms his character completely!

And that brings me to the third such scene, which occurs much later in the film, after Joe knows who Kathleen is, but she does not. This carries the implicit message that Joe still believes that it’s perfectly okay to retain complete control of his relationship with a woman he wishes to manipulate into loving him, by concealing that he is the same man as her dear online friend, and by showering her with apparent love and kindness.

And a prime example of this is when Joe talks with Kathleen about his own online persona:

JOE   Come on, I'm not going to write him.  Is that what you think?                                                
JOE    One five two.  One hundred fifty two. Very interesting.  He's 152 years old. He has 152 hairs remaining on his head. He's had 152 moles removed and now he has 152 pockmarks.
JOE    His combined college board scores.
JOE    The number of women he's slept with.
KATHLEEN   The number of times he's seen The Godfather.
JOE     That's the first good thing I've heard about him.

Note how subtly brilliant is Ephron’s dialogue there. Once more Kathleen inadvertently and subconsciously connects Joe and NY152 by bringing up male Godfather obsession, and Joe clearly enjoys validating it –safely, because he still conceals that he and NY152 are the same man. And only while writing this post today did I get a brief chill wondering whether Joe got a special charge out of telling the truth when he wrote “The number of women he’s slept with.”

Perhaps he is indeed the kind of man who keeps that kind of score. It’s not unrealistic, given that Ephron has subtly set the stage for this dark side of Joe’s character by letting us see his father and grandfather, both of them board-certified represensible serial lechers and cocksmen.

And once again we see Joe enjoying the narcissistic thrill of daring to hide it in plain sight (as an apparent joke) to Kathleen, because he feels so confident she would never suspect him of such a horrid thing.

It was only on my third or fourth viewing of You’ve Got Mail that I began to realize that the happy ending of You’ve Got Mail was every bit as tainted by strong doubt as that of P&P – in effect, Ephron has showed me, in several different but related ways, that she understood that P&P was a double story, with a romantic fantasy of an overt story masking a cautionary tale of a shadow story. And Ephron did this the way great storytellers do: not by heavy handed imitation, but by the subtlest kind of emulation of her literary models.

Most brilliant of all, Ephron confronts her audience with the same puzzle that JA presented her readers with — to show the heroine falling in love with a man who does not hesitate to manipulate her, to spy on her, to plan an elaborate ruse in order to get a second romantic chance with her, all the while controlling the entire situation, knowing everything about her, while allowing her to know nothing about his disguise until after her resistance to him has been reduced to nothing—and still, despite all these undisguised actions, Ephron manages to make the audience fall in love with Joe F.O.X. by the end, right along with poor motherless storeless Kathleen.

And, speaking of Kathleen’s mother, and thinking about that very poignant scene when Kathleen, standing and sadly looking at her now empty store, vividly recalls herself as a young girl dancing with her young mother, it makes me wonder whether Ephron had in mind the scene at Longbourn only a very short time before Darcy proposes a second time. Elizabeth is sitting and fretting about Darcy’s ignoring her, and then a young woman (as I’ve written before, I believe it is actually sister Mary Bennet) whispers this in Elizabeth’s ear: "The men shan't come and part us, I am determined. We want none of them; do we?"

Unfortunately for Elizabeth, she doesn’t hear this feminist whisper. And unfortunately for Kathleen, whose female world at her store inherited from her mother has been shattered by Joe’s having gone to the mattresses against her, she doesn’t hear this “instant message” from her long-dead mother, and allows herself to be abducted into Joe’s world – as we hear the romantic strains of “Somewhere over the rainbow”, if we pay really close attention, we might just hear Nora Ephron whispering to us “Don’t believe it, Kathleen has just put herself entirely into the hands of the Wizard of Oz, but this time it’s Kathleen whose still asleep at the switch, romantically speaking.”

And, finally, Ephron brought The Godfather into the mix, I think, most of all because she recognized that Michael Corleone, in his dreadful cold, narcissistic, compulsion to control his wife, was a perfect match for the Mr. Darcy of the shadow story, who will, I fear, treat Elizabeth at Pemberley much the same way that Michael treated his wife, making her a prisoner of his bloated ego and refusal to take no for an answer—because, after all, their idea of marriage was as an offer that no woman could refuse.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Marianne’s galloping dream, Queen Mab, Eve of St. Agnes (& Shakespeare, Jonson, Milton, & Keats!)

A great satisfaction of the past 2 years of my 14-year AustenQuest has been the accelerating interconnection of different discoveries which I previously had no idea were connected. It’s like the last stage of solving a diabolical crossword puzzle, when the entire pattern becomes clear, and I can’t write fast enough to fill the rest in, after the initial square by square struggle. This post is a great example of this rewarding late-stage process.

Way back on 11/23/10, I posted about one of Jane Austen’s multiple veiled allusions to the religious/folk idea behind the Eve of St. Agnes, in relevant part, as follows:

“Per Wikipedia, “Saint Agnes is the patron saint of young girls; folk custom called for them to practice rituals on Saint Agnes' Eve (20–21 January) with a view to discovering their future husbands.” These rituals include getting into bed naked and dreaming about their future husbands….Marianne Dashwood in London gets her really good night’s sleep on the Eve of St. Agnes, even though Elinor drinks the wine that Mrs. Jennings brought for Marianne—because, you see, Mrs. Jennings wants Marianne to dream about a future husband to REPLACE Willoughby! And that’s why she sounds a LOT like John Thorpe the wooer when she invokes another proverb: “One shoulder of mutton drives down another”, although, when you think about that proverb as a metaphor for “Marianne will find another man to marry”, it’s a pretty darned vulgar turn of phrase-but that’s ol’ Mrs. Jennings for ya!…” END QUOTE

In that post 5 1/2 years ago, I pointed out that Jane Austen had, with Marianne D. (as well as Catherine M. and Fanny P.) repeatedly alluded to both John Gay’s The Wife of Bath and Samuel Foote’s later The Maid of Bath, both of which turn on that same Eve of St. Agnes theme. And I thought that was the full extent of that allusion. 

It was only yesterday that I recognized another clue alluding to the Eve of St. Agnes theme, hidden in plain sight in S&S — and, as you’ll see, below, it’s like the tape on the doors left after the Watergate break-in; i.e., it leads everywhere in a multilayered literary layer cake—-a benign literary “conspiracy” over centuries, involving not only Austen, Gay, and Foote, but also Shakespeare, Jonson, Milton & Keats! 

Before I cut to the chase, let me first give you one more key clue to keep in mind, also courtesy of Wikipedia, about the details of the Eve of St. Agnes ritual:  “[The young virgin] would go to bed without any supper, undress herself so that she was completely naked and lie on her bed with her hands under the pillow and looking up to the heavens and not to look behind. Then the proposed husband would appear in her dream, kiss her, and feast with her.”

So…in my 2010 post, I quoted the passage in Chapter 30 of S&S when Mrs. Jennings, on the Eve of St. Agnes (according to JA’s implicit calendar for S&S), brings the broken-hearted Marianne a bottle of wine to help her sleep; and then (as inferred by the reader aware of the Eve) hopefully to dream about a lover to replace Willoughby in her heart.  

Now, here are the relevant portions of the passage in Chapter 12 of S&S, which I finally “got” the full significance of the other day (pay special attention to the words in ALL CAPS):  

“As Elinor and Marianne were walking together the next morning the latter communicated a piece of news to her sister, which in spite of all that she knew before of Marianne's imprudence and want of thought, surprised her by its extravagant testimony of both. Marianne told her, with the greatest delight, that Willoughby had given her a HORSE, one that he had bred himself on his estate in Somersetshire, and which was exactly calculated to CARRY A WOMAN. Without considering that it was not in her mother's plan to keep any horse, that if she were to alter her resolution in favour of this gift, she must buy another for the servant, and keep a servant to ride it, and after all, build a stable to receive them, she had accepted the present without hesitation, and told her sister of it in raptures.
"He intends to send his groom into Somersetshire immediately for it," she added, "and when it arrives we will ride every day. You shall share its use with me. Imagine to yourself, my dear Elinor, the delight of a GALLOP on some of these downs."
Most unwilling was she to AWAKEN FROM SUCH A DREAM OF FELICITY to comprehend all the unhappy truths which attended the affair; and for some time she refused to submit to them…I have not known him long indeed, but I am much better acquainted with him, than I am with any other creature in the world, except yourself and mama. It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy;—it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others. I should hold myself guilty of greater impropriety in accepting a horse from my brother, than from Willoughby. Of John I know very little, though we have lived together for years; but of Willoughby my judgment has long been formed."
…when Willoughby called at the cottage, the same day, Elinor heard her express her disappointment to him in a low voice, on being obliged to forego the acceptance of his present. The reasons for this alteration were at the same time related, and they were such as to make further entreaty on his side impossible. His concern however was very apparent; and after expressing it with earnestness, he added, in the same low voice,—"But, Marianne, the horse is still yours, though YOU CANNOT USE IT NOW. I shall keep it only till you can claim it. When you leave Barton to form your own establishment in a more lasting home, QUEEN MAB SHALL RECEIVE YOU."
This was all overheard by Miss Dashwood; and in the whole of the sentence, in his manner of pronouncing it, and in his addressing her sister by her Christian name alone, she instantly saw an intimacy so decided, a meaning so direct, as marked a perfect agreement between them. From that moment she doubted not of their being engaged to each other; and the belief of it created no other surprise than that she, or any of their friends, should be left by tempers so frank, to discover it by accident.”

A hundred Austen scholars, academic and amateur alike, have noted that Willoughby’s naming the gift horse (ala the Trojan Horse as well) “Queen Mab” was an allusion to Mercurio’s famous speech to Romeo just before he meets Juliet. Here’s the relevant exchange, in which Mercurio spins his Queen Mab fantasy in response to Romeo’s report of having just dreamt a significant dream:

ROMEO I dream'd a dream to-night.
MERCUTIO And so did I.
ROMEO  Well, what was yours?
MERCUTIO That dreamers often lie.
ROMEO In bed asleep, while they do dream things true.
She is the fairies' midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men's noses as they lie asleep;
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o' mind the fairies' coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers' brains, and then they dream of love;
O'er courtiers' knees, that dream on court'sies straight,
O'er lawyers' fingers, who straight dream on fees,
O'er ladies ' lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are:
Making them women of good carriage…

It’s a sign of the threadbare thinness of so much existing Austen scholarship that the Queen Mab R&J allusion in S&S has been noted so often, yet in almost all of them, the allusion receives minimal or no explanation of its meaning - as if Jane Austen were a literary poseur who showed off that she had read Shakespeare by an obvious quotation. But there have been a few welcome exceptions.

To start, Anielka Briggs has at various times in the past several years referred to Willoughby’s Queen Mab as referencing several possible subtexts, including Shelley's 1813 [date corrected 12/29/2016] poem of that title. 

A number of years ago, John Dussinger, in his 1990 article “Madness and Lust in the Age of Sensibility”, speculated as follows about Willoughby’s mare as JA’s allusion to Fuseli’s famous 1782 painting “The Nightmare”:

“Other than folklore and traditional religious accounts of dreams, rational explanations in the classical period show little interest in what Fuseli so vividly reveals about the mind—its demonic cravings and humiliations that appear uninvited in the darkness…Medical literature stressed simply the bad effects of sleeping on one’s back; according to Dr. John Bond, in one of the first English works on the nightmare, the condition ‘general seizes people sleeping on their backs…” …In this context, Robert Anthony Bromley ridiculed “The Nightmare” as offering instruction to young people about how to lie in their beds: “Don’t lie on your back, my dear, and no harm will come to you.”…Although both sexes are subject to dreams and nightmares, folk legends tended to emphasize the woman’s susceptibility, as in Mercutio’s speech in R&J…Willoughby, in JA’s S&S, alludes to this legend after the Dashwoods decline his gift….As if associating Queen Mab and the gift horse with Fuseli’s traumatic scene, Elinor quite properly believes that Willoughby’s sexual innuendoes must indicate a secret engagement to her sister. Erasmus Darwin, Fuseli’s friend, included an engraving of The Nightmare  in The Loves of the Plants …and interpreted its significance in doggerel verse…. “ END QUOTE

Then, in her 2006 book Unbecoming Conjunctions, Jill Heydt-Stevenson presented this excellent, detailed analysis:
“Willoughby's desire to give Marianne a horse named Queen Mab provides a prime example of the risks she faces and the careful ways Austen uses Shakespeare to establish Willoughby's motives and complicate the seeming idyll of their short courtship ... The Queen Mab allusion from Romeo and Juliet is well known… In this scene Mercutio chides Romeo for thinking he is in love… and concludes that Queen Mab has visited his sleeping friend. Queen Mab, a mischievous spirit that provides a dream of fulfillment of one's less noble longings… gallops over “ladies's lips, who straight on kisses dream”… So for Mercutio, rather like Willoughby, love has less to do with an intimate connection, a position both Romeo and Maryanne share, that with the immediate fulfillment of "vain fantasy". Stephen Derry cites this allusion to indicate that "Marianne's hopes of future happiness with Willoughby will have all the substances of dreams, and then they will come to nothing". Recalling Mercutio's admission that "dreamers often lie" Derry insists that "dream lovers like Willoughby… can lie."
I agree with Derry that the reference accentuates Willoughby’s deceit but go further in noting the clear parallels established respectively between Willoughby and Mercutio and Romeo and Marianne. Further the allusion implicates Willoughby's baser motives insofar as it insinuates that this midwife to the fairies, this ‘hag’, will teach a class in sex education to Marianne since she is the one who "when maids lie on their backs"... John Dussinger’s idea that Elinor might have "associated Queen Mab and the gift horse with… the traumatic scene [in Fuseli’s The Nightmare]” is tantalizing, but he does not develop the disturbing implications of such an association, only concluding that it leads Elinor "quite properly to believe that Willoughby’s sexual innuendos must indicate a secret engagement to her sister". If such a link could be forged, it would (contrary to Dussinger’s argument) diminish the possibility of an engagement and amplify the potential for seduction and ruin; further, it incriminates Marianne, who as possessor of the animal, plays Queen Mab, delighting in the fantasy of "a gallop on some of these Downs". Marianne metonymically becomes the seductress who incites Willoughby to dream of love as "she gallops night by night through lovers brains". In giving her Queen Mab, Willoughby links Marianne with the seduced Eliza Williams, whom he describes as reproachable for her excess and lack; a woman of "violent passions and weak understanding".
Again, a look at the slang is revealing. The name “Mab" was standard English for a “slattern, a loose moral’d woman” … Unlike Eliza, Marianne declines the "horse", though Willoughby promises her that “Queen Mab will receive you.”
Is this the Queen Mab who, angry that the ladies “breathes with sweetmeats tainted are”, “blisters” their lips? Here one bawdy novelist alludes to a bawdy playwright. As this discloses, Shakespeare's Queen Mab passage is quite vulgar, since sweetmeat referred to the male member and to “a mere girl who is a kept Mistress”. Perhaps since Austen conjoins Marianne with Eliza and the mother who becomes a prostitute she suggests that the Queen Mab who “receives” Marianne would potentially also blister her lips – that is, see that she contracts venereal disease.… Austen’s allusion to the scene from Romeo and Juliet still allows her to foreshadow the novels conclusion, reinforce the ubiquity of such seductions, express how vulnerable Marianne is to fantasies of erotic fulfillment, and establish the danger to Marianne's physical and emotional body. Finally the fact that Shakespeare’s Queen Mab is a miniature… reinforces how in the novel Austen has "draw a team of little atomies" that allow her to enact several roles at once. First she is a kind of Queen Mab herself, fiction’s “midwife”, bringing dreams to life for her characters and playing with cultural fantasies of true love. Her performance as Queen Mab thus undercuts her position as potential didact. Moreover, the high literary allusion which in itself embeds a rich trove of indelicate images) and the low slang surrounding the word Mab intimate that if Austin plays pedagogue here, her lesson plan devolves from the desire to alert her readers to the hazards and dangerous of male seducers rather than to correct feeling. I do not think that Austen concentrates on correcting rather than liberating this anarchic energy.… I want to stress that Austen promulgates an open and liberal (and, so ironic) “conduct book” of female sexuality.” END QUOTE

I do not suggest that any of the above speculations or analyses are wrong, today I bring forward a deeper allusion which readily includes these other earlier interpretations within its wide ambit. Specifically, none of Anielka, Dussinger, nor Heydt-Stevenson was aware of the key that unlocks the primary meaning of Queen Mab in S&S, which is the Eve of St Agnes when single girls literally follow Mercurio’s prescription, and lie on their backs in order to (metaphorically) feast with their future husband. Willoughby’s gift mare is a living breathing symbol of that dream, and so its name is a perfect fit.

And therefore we can now see Mrs Jennings's attempt to nurse Marianne's broken heart via the Eve of St. Agnes Method as the ironic bookend to the earlier Eve of St Agnes-infused romance with Willoughby which turned into romantic nightmare for Marianne.

In a nutshell (or, to channel Mercutio, an atomie), that is the main reason why JA had Willoughby name the gift mare Queen Mab. But that only fulfills half of the discoveries promised by my Subject Line. Aside from the above Austen subtexts, there’s much more allusive ore to be mined, in regard to the Eve of St. Agnes/Queen Mab meme.

It is now obvious to me that it wasn't just Austen (and Gay and Foote) who had embedded the religious/folk significance of the Eve of St.Agnes in their storytelling. For starters, when Mercutio speaks about the maids on their backs, this is, in no small part, Shakespeare's way of confirming that Mercutio has that exact same subtext in mind as he counsels Romeo. I.e., that allusion to the folk/religious tradition is reinforced by the final example Mercutio gives of Queen Mab’s varied subversions. In effect, Mercutio is telling Romeo that he is about to meet a young virgin who has been dreaming about him!

I will leave for another day the unpacking of the significance of the Eve of St. Agnes subtext of Romeo & Juliet, and quickly move on chronologically to the next famous author who has alluded to the Eve of St. Agnes —only a few years after Shakespeare—Ben Jonson. Please now read the following excerpt I found online, in which some modern scholar (I cannot find a name) quoted from Ben Jonson’s 1603 Satyr—-please note the final speech by the Satyr, which explicitly connects the Eve of St. Agnes to Queen Mab vis a vis bringing dreams to virgins seeking a husband or lover:

“The next poet, in point of time, who employs the Fairies, is worthy, long-slandered, and maligned Ben Jonson. His beautiful entertainment of the Satyr was presented in 1603, to Anne, queen of James I. and prince Henry, at Althorpe, the seat of Lord Spenser, on their way from Edinburgh to London. As the queen and prince entered the park, a Satyr came forth from a "little spinet" or copse, and having gazed the "Queen and the Prince in the face" with admiration, again retired into the thicket; then "there came tripping up the lawn a bevy of Fairies attending on Mab, their queen, who, falling into an artificial ring, began to dance a round while their mistress spake as followeth:"
Hail and welcome, worthiest queen!
Joy had never perfect been,
To the nymphs that haunt this green,
Had they not this evening seen.
Now they print it on the ground
With their feet, in figures round;
Marks that will be ever found
To remember this glad stound.
She can start our Franklin's daughters
In her sleep with shouts and laughters;
Feed them with a promised sight
Some of HUSBAND, some of LOVERS,


That scholar also noted: “Whalley was certainly right in proposing to road Agnes. This ceremony is, we believe, still practised in the north of England on St. Agnes' night. See Brand, i. 34.”

But there’s still more. To find out if any other Shakespeare scholars had ever noticed Shakespeare’s allusion to the Eve of St. Agnes, when I Googled "Eve of Saint Agnes" and "Romeo and Juliet", I was shocked to find that the only hits that came up, and there were many, were all pointing to the poem written in 1821 by John Keats entitled (fittingly) “The Eve of Saint Agnes”!

It would take me a great deal of virtual ink to unpack the manifold significances of the Eve of Saint Agnes ritual, and Romeo & Juliet, in Keats’s poem, but I wish to end this long post shortly, so I must move on to the final link in the chain, which is John Milton’s Paradise Lost. In another nutshell: 
It has often been noted by literary scholars that Keats’s poem draws heavily on the dreaming motif in Paradise Lost.  And I have shown last year that Paradise Lost draws heavily on Romeo & Juliet, that extensive borrowing epitomized in the SATAN acrostics in both.

But no one has ever noted that all of the above cited literary works — by Shakespeare, Jonson, Milton, Gay, Foote, Austen, and Keats—- are all united by a common grounding in the Eve of St. Agnes religious/folk tradition of virgins sleeping naked on their backs in order to dream about their future husband.

So, when I referred to the literary layer cake of the Eve of Saint Agnes, you can now taste all its rich flavors!

[Added later on May 24]

As I Tweeted a few hours ago about my above post, I came across an interesting blog post here ....
....which stated the following:

"The second [custom] is Scottish in origin. It states that for a young woman to see her future husband she must leave the house at midnight the night before St Agnes’s feast day, go into a field and scatter grain while reciting the following incantation: ‘Agnes sweet, and Agnes fair, hither, hither, now repair; Bonny Agnes, let me see the lad who is to marry me.’ Her future husband would then appear to her."

Although Marianne and Margaret don't go out in the Devon countryside at midnight, doesn't it sound like JA is winking at the above-described variant on Eve of St. Agnes customs, when Marianne is rescued by Willoughby in the rain during her walk?

It first perfectly with what I realized a few years ago, which is that while Willoughby is indeed stalking Marianne, she already has noticed this, and that is precisely why she puts herself in the position to be rescued by "her future husband"!

Only one small problem from the Eve of St. Agnes angle---I don't believe Marianne is still a virgin when this occurs......

@JaneAustenCode onTwitter

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Mr. Darcy’s “request” that the (in)dependent Mr. Bennet cannot refuse

I’ve engaged in an offlist exchange of emails with a sharp elf Janeite the past 2 days about my most recent claim, that Kitty Bennet is subliminally depicted as going through childbirth during the time Lydia is in Brighton and London. I’ve again urged her to join these two groups and contribute her excellent insights, and the latest one she wrote me is the following remarkable speculation about Mr. Bennet's possible source of income other than from Longbourn's operations:

"Somewhere in the novel a rather long paragraph was dedicated to the non-existence of economy in the household and that they would indeed have been in trouble if Mr. Bennet didn't 'love his independence' so much.."

I immediately recognized this as brilliant, because "independence" is exactly the sort of ambiguous abstract noun which JA clearly relished punning on in a variety of sophisticated ways. I will now take a preliminary stab at fleshing out her insight here, and hopefully she will show up soon and add more to this thread, and hopefully to many others to come.

First of all here’s the passage she was recalling:

“[Mr B] was seriously concerned that a cause of so little advantage to anyone should be forwarded at the sole expense of his brother-in-law, and he was determined, if possible, to find out the extent of his assistance, and to discharge the obligation as soon as he could. When first Mr. Bennet had married, economy was held to be perfectly useless, for, of course, they were to have a son. The son was to join in cutting off the entail, as soon as he should be of age, and the widow and younger children would by that means be provided for. Five daughters successively entered the world, but yet the son was to come; and Mrs. Bennet, for many years after Lydia's birth, had been certain that he would. This event had at last been despaired of, but it was then too late to be saving. Mrs. Bennet had no turn for economy, and her husband's love of independence had alone prevented their exceeding their income.”
I hadn’t previously focused on that last curious reference to Mr. Bennet’s “love of independence”, and so first I had to decode its somewhat obscure surface meaning, before addressing the shadowy pun that my correspondent had spotted. After a few minutes, it became clear to me that the idea was that Mr. Bennet hated the idea of owing anything to anyone (like Mr. Gardiner), and that was the only reason why he periodically dragged himself out of his beloved library and forced himself to pay enough attention to keeping Mrs. Bennet’s expensive taste in financial check, so they didn’t incur debt.

So far, so good, JA always got a kick out of forcing readers to stay alert and be ready to parse her deliberate gaps and elisions. But now for the pun — it’s also clear to me that she repeatedly deployed, in both narration and dialog, the now archaic meaning of “independence” as a kind of annuity or source of regular income. To give just three out of a number of examples:

[Emma] : [Mr. Weston] had received a good education, but, on succeeding early in life to a small independence, had become indisposed for any of the more homely pursuits in which his brothers were engaged, and had satisfied an active, cheerful mind and social temper by entering into the militia of his county, then embodied.

"Six years hence! Dear Miss Woodhouse, he would be thirty years old!” "Well, and that is as early as most men can afford to marry, who are not born to an independence. …”

[P&P]: “…You have deprived the best years of his life of that independence which was no less his due than his desert…” 

In short, an independence was akin to a “living”, but it was a legal entitlement to a regular stream of vested payments having nothing to do with clerical services.

So….was JA suggesting, in her usual sly elliptical way, and as my correspondent noted, that Mr. Bennet was receiving a stream of income from a benefactor? I believe JA was doing exactly that, and I again applaud my correspondent for this catch. The use of this word “independence” in relation to Mr. Weston is particularly probative, because 12 years ago I first noted how the following legalistic language from the law of property was a giant clue that he had sold young Frank to the Churchill: 

“Some scruples and some reluctance the widower-father may be supposed to have felt; but as they were overcome BY OTHER CONSIDERATIONS, the child was given up to the care and the wealth of the Churchills, and he had only his own comfort to seek, and his own situation to improve as he could.”

And now I will reveal who my correspondent had in mind as Mr. Bennet’s secret benefactor — none other than the bountiful Mr. Darcy — but trust me, most of you don’t want to know why he’d be paying money to Mr. Bennet all along, so I will leave that for another post!

Anyway, I love the idea of Mr. Darcy (and perhaps, before him, Mr. Darcy Sr?) as having provided crucial backup for the Bennet family finances, because it just happens to dovetail very nicely with a few things I had spotted in P&P a very long time ago, prompted initially by something Kishor Kale mentioned in the Janeites group, about the following comment that Mr. Bennet makes to Lizzy about Darcy when she reaffirms to him that she really does love Darcy:

“…If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to anyone less worthy."

Kishor sees this ambiguous figure-ground statement as JA’s inadvertent, unintended suggestion that Mr. Bennet is warning Lizzy that Darcy is the most UNworthy man she could possible have chosen, whereas I believe JA’s ambiguity was completely deliberate….and brilliant! And I’ve believed for a very long while that Mr. Bennet and Mr. Darcy have somehow known each other for a very long time completely outside Lizzy’s awareness. But i never connected that dots to Mr. Bennet’s “love of independence”!

You can see a further hint at this when you read the full context of the above-quoted sentence:

"Lizzy," said her father, "I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse anything, which he condescended to ask. I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life. You know not what you are about."
Elizabeth, still more affected, was earnest and solemn in her reply; and at length, by repeated assurances that Mr. Darcy was really the object of her choice, by explaining the gradual change which her estimation of him had undergone, relating her absolute certainty that his affection was not the work of a day, but had stood the test of many months' suspense, and enumerating with energy all his good qualities, she did conquer her father's incredulity, and reconcile him to the match. 
"Well, my dear," said he, when she ceased speaking, "I have no more to say. If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to anyone less worthy."

You really have to wonder about Mr. Bennet’s never daring to refuse Darcy anything that he “condescended to ask”— it drips with euphemistic irony, and is the kind of “polite” statement that could most aptly have been made about Don Corleone, the Godfather! This very famous scene in The Godfather Part I comes specifically to mind:

MICHAEL: We’re all proud of you…   JOHNNY: Thank, Mike. MICHAEL: Sit down, Johnny— I want to talk to you…The Don is proud of you.  JOHNNY: Well I owe it all to him.  MICHAEL: Well, he knows how grateful you are. He wants to ask a favor of you.  JOHNNY: Mike, what can I do? MICHAEL: [Asks for the specific favor, then]  FREDO: Hey, Mike, are you sure about that? Moe loves the business, he never said nothin’ to me about sellin’    MICHAEL: Yeah, well, I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse

And so the idea that Mr. Bennet has been on Darcy’s payroll all along, as a result of Darcy’s having preyed on the financial vulnerability of the Bennet family, and therefore Darcy’s “request” for Mr. Bennet’s consent truly is a proverbial offer he cannot refuse, is very appealing to me.
Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The little “great” alteration that Lydia notices in the Longbourn sitting room

While I do the overwhelming majority of my literary sleuthing online and on my computer, I still sometimes have occasion to delve into actual tangible books I hold in my hands (I have three whole shelves of books by and about Jane Austen), and yesterday I spent an enjoyable stretch browsing and rereading essays in Donald Gray’s Norton Critical Edition of P&P, for the first time in several years. My first reaction was to salute Gray and the Norton Critical Editions people for including extended excerpts from 4 or 5 essays about P&P which make, at least in part, what I consider to be excellent subversive readings of important aspects of P&P. I’ll write about each of them in the coming week, and today I’ll begin by talking about something remarkable I was prompted to discover after reading something in Nina Auerbach’s 1978 essay “Waiting Together: Pride and Prejudice”.

Auerbach’s major point that resonated most strongly with me is summed up by her here: 
“The acknowledged center of power in the novel is the shadowy Darcy…Elizabeth is overcome by a kind of social vitalism…like the shadowy ‘Duke of dark corners’ in Measure for Measure, he moves behind the scenes and secretly arranges the marriages of the three Bennet girls.” 

Those pithy comments anticipate my full-fledged vision of the Machiavellian Darcy of the shadow story of P&P, and I heartily recommend the rest of her essay to you all. However, today I want to focus on a small snippet of it, in which Auerbach discusses the strange insubstantiality of Longbourn as a place, due to JA’s dearth of physical description thereof in Chapter 51 of P&P:

“When the unregenerate Lydia return[ed] to make everyone miserable as the family’s first bride, and look[ed] ‘eagerly round the room, took notice of some little alteration in it, and observed, with a laugh, that it was a great while since she had been there”, it matters to nobody what the little alteration might be.” END QUOTE FROM AUERBACH ARTICLE

My eyes widened at the tantalizingly vague word “alteration”, which I had identified years ago as one of the many euphemistic words (others include ‘borne’, ‘expectation’, ‘interesting condition’, and ‘swelled’) by which JA subliminally hinted at concealed pregnancies in all her novels. All my experience of JA’s cryptic clueing was telling me that this was a clue to something like that; not, as Auerbach seemed to think, a trivial moving of a sofa from one part of the room to the other that no reader had any reason to care about. I quickly retrieved the full relevant excerpt to try to glean some more clues: 

“Lydia was Lydia still; untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and fearless. She turned from sister to sister, demanding their congratulations; and when at length they all sat down, looked eagerly round the room, took notice of some little alteration in it, and observed, with a laugh, that it was a great while since she had been there.”

That full excerpt showed me that Auerbach had not thought far enough outside the box to grasp that the “little alteration” was not in the furnishings of the room, but in someone — “in it”—i.e. a little alteration in one of Lydia’s sisters! The key to solving this little mystery is to pay close attention to the physical details that Jane Austen actually provides, rather than looking in vain for the physical details she does not. In this case, we are told that Lydia turned from sister to sister (a lot of turning, since she has 4 sisters!), and then JA takes care to repeat the placement of the 4 other sisters within the space of the room, now seated around Lydia. I’m reminded (not coincidentally, I suggest) of Elizabeth’s playful allusion to Gilpin earlier in the novel, in the Netherfield shrubbery, except this time it’s Lydia who is laughing at others, not Eliza: “No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly grouped, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Good-bye."

And here’s the key—I see in Lydia’s laughing observation a giant hint as to what sort of alteration she notices — it is indeed that Lydia is having some uncharitable fun at the expense of one of her sisters, whose physical appearance has altered during Lydia’s months away — altered, that is, by having given birth to a child in the interim!

That hint is that Lydia laughs first and then says that she has been gone “a great while”. Lydia is slyly making the point that one of her sisters had been “great” — with child, that is — when Lydia left around May 10, and was now, over three months later, in late August, no longer “great” with child. But which sister?

At first, not thinking carefully, I thought it was Jane Bennet, since I’ve been saying since 2010 that Jane is secretly pregnant when the action of the novel begins (e.g., it is her morning sickness, not getting caught in the rain, which is the actual “illness” that forces her to spend most of her visit to Netherfield in bed). But I quickly realized, today, that it can’t be Jane to whom Lydia is referring, since the chronology is all wrong. I recalled that I had figured out a while ago that Jane Bennet goes to London to stay with the Gardiners so she can have her illegitimate child under the cloak of the anonymity of the great metropolis, far away from the probing eyes of sister Elizabeth and also the gossip hothouse known as Meryton. But Jane is already back at Longbourn before Lydia leaves for Brighton, so it can’t be Jane who has altered during Lydia’s absence. 

That brought me up short. I hadn’t previously considered the possibility that yet another Bennet sister might be pregnant, but which one? It certainly wasn’t Eliza, and I already knew from prior close readings that there was nothing in the small number of lines spoken by Mary, or in the small amount of narration about her, that in any way hinted in that direction. By process of elimination, that left only Kitty! I decided to investigate that possibility, in deference to Sherlock Holmes’s famous credo:  “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

So I began to think about Kitty Bennet as an (improbable, but possible) unmarried pregnant girl in the shadow story of P&P, and the first thing I recalled, promisingly, was my finding, several years ago, that Kitty has depths unsuspected by Elizabeth, through whose eyes we experience Kitty. I knew that Kitty’s sarcastic coughing at the beginning of the novel, when Mr. and Mrs. Bennet engage in their famous repartee about his contacting Mr. Bingley, showed that Kitty had a sharp mind and wit. 

But were there any textual clues elsewhere in the novel hinting at a much more significant hidden life of Kitty’s—of her being in a family way? 

I quickly collected a number of passages that seem relevant, and will go through them with you, below, in order, except that I will first present the one I found that really knocked my socks off. It’s the following passage in Chapter 42, by the light of which a heretofore “dark corner” of Kitty’s life was shockingly illuminated:

“By the middle of June, Kitty was SO MUCH RECOVERED as to be able to enter Meryton WITHOUT TEARS”

I don’t deny that the context of the above in the overt story is clear— that Kitty took over a month to get over herself regarding not being allowed to go with Lydia to Brighton. Not a big deal. But if we read that quoted sentence against the grain, what pops out at us (so to speak) from the ALL CAPS verbiage is extraordinary, when combined with Lydia’s laughing comment 9 chapters (and over 2 months) later. Everyone knows that the period of time for mothers to recover from childbirth can vary, depending on how easy the delivery is. 

And that’s where JA’s punning mastery comes in — while we overtly read “without tears” to mean that Kitty no long cries tears (rhymes with ‘tiers’), there is also a pun in the word “tears”, which, when pronounced to rhyme with “fares”,  refers to rips, rents, or slits in fabric, paper, or. ….. human flesh! You see now where I’m going with this — one of the events which can occur during delivery which can significantly extend her recovery time is that the mother can suffer unusual injuries (‘tears”), especially in the case of a large newborn being borne by a petite mother.

So, was the above sentence JA’s way of alerting us to look at Kitty as a pregnant mother, who gives birth shortly after Lydia leaves for Brighton? I think so, and now, let’s walk through the other relevant passages I collected from the text of P&P, and I’ll show you the delicate textual palimpsest that JA weaves in this regard.


Ch. 39:   …both KITTY and Lydia looking out of a dining-room up stairs. These two girls had been above an hour in the place, happily employed in visiting an opposite milliner, watching the sentinel on guard, and DRESSING A salad and CUCUMBER.

The sexual innuendo of that “cucumber”, involving both Kitty and Lydia, is strongobvious.

“…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."
With such kinds of histories of their parties and good jokes, did Lydia, ASSISTED BY KITTY’S HINTS and additions, endeavour to amuse her companions all the way to Longbourn. 

And even more so is the sexual innuendo clear in the above passage—and note that Kitty is associated with sexual activity and hints as well as Lydia.

“…As we went along, Kitty and I drew up the blinds, and pretended there was nobody in the coach; and I should have gone so all the way, IF KITTY HAD NOT BEEN SICK…”

And note that Lydia’s R-rated suggestion of sex play needing to be concealed, is prevented because Kitty is “sick”. This would be within a short time before Kitty would give birth.

Ch. 41: "And my aunt Phillips is sure [sea-bathing] would DO ME A GREAT DEAL OF GOOD," added Kitty.

And so, here again is slipped in a subtly veiled implication that Kitty is not well.

"I cannot see why Mrs. Forster should not ask me as well as Lydia," said she, "Though I am not her particular friend. I have just as much right to be asked as she has, and more too, for I am two years older.”

And we may wonder about Kitty’s not being able to go for a very different reason, i.e. that she is about to give birth!


The following passages cover the time period that Lydia is away, and look at what we read right before the above-quoted “smoking gun” about Kitty’s recovery from her tears:

Ch. 42: [Lydia’s] letters were always LONG EXPECTED, and always very short…from her correspondence with her sister, there was still less to be learnt—for her letters to Kitty, though rather longer, were much too full of lines under the words to be made public.

In addition to the pun on “long expected”, we may now wonder whether Lydia’s letters to Kitty had to be written in a kind of code to conceal the portions thereof relating to Kitty’s imminent childbirth ordeal.

After the first fortnight or three weeks of her absence, HEALTH, good humour, and cheerfulness began to reappear at Longbourn. Everything wore a happier aspect. The families who had been in town for the winter came back again, and summer finery and summer engagements arose. 

And once again, subtly, the restoration not merely of good humor and cheerfulness, but of health, is slipped into the narrative.
Now we move ahead a bit in time, to when Lydia elopes.

Ch. 46: To Kitty, however, it does not seem SO WHOLLY UNEXPECTED.

Again, that same pun on expectation and childbirth.

Poor Kitty has anger FOR HAVING CONCEALED their ATTACHMENT; but as it was a matter of confidence, one cannot wonder. 

Ch. 47: “…Mary and Kitty, thank Heaven, are QUITE WELL.”

And yet again, it seems Kitty’s health is always under consideration.  

In the dining-room they were soon joined by Mary and Kitty, who had been too busily engaged in their separate apartments to make their appearance before. One came from her books, and THE OTHER [Kitty] WITH HER TOILETTE. The faces of both, however, were tolerably calm; and no change was visible in either, except that the loss of her favourite sister, or the anger which she had herself incurred in this business, had given MORE OF FRETFULNESS THAN USUAL TO THE ACCENTS OF KITTY. “

And yet again, we are subtly directed to think about Kitty’s body, and her complaints. 

“…Kitty then owned, with a very natural triumph on knowing more than the rest of us, that in Lydia's last letter she had prepared her for such a step. She had known, it seems, of their being in love with each other, many weeks."

"Mary and Kitty have been very kind, and would have shared in every fatigue, I am sure; but I did not think it right for either of them. Kitty is SLIGHT AND DELICATE…”

And here we get another clue — Kitty is given a pass by Jane that is not given to Mary, so as to avoid causing Kitty fatigue, because Kitty is slight and delicate, which connects back to her “tears”.

Ch. 48: "This is a parade," he cried, "which does one good; it gives such an elegance to misfortune! Another day I will do the same; I will sit in my library, in my nightcap and powdering gown, and give as much trouble as I can; or, perhaps, I may defer it till Kitty runs away."
"I am not going to run away, papa," said Kitty fretfully. "If I should ever go to Brighton, I would behave better than Lydia."
"You go to Brighton. I would not trust you so near it as Eastbourne for fifty pounds! No, Kitty, I have at last learnt to be cautious, and you will feel the effects of it. No officer is ever to enter into my house again, nor even to pass through the village. Balls will be absolutely prohibited, unless you stand up with one of your sisters. And you are never to stir out of doors till you can prove that you have spent ten minutes of every day in a rational manner."
Kitty, who took all these threats in a serious light, began to cry.
"Well, well," said he, "do not make yourself unhappy. If you are a good girl for the next ten years, I will take you to a review at the end of them.”

The above passage, which appears to be pure comedy, also carries a dark possible implication - could it be that Mr. Bennet’s unwillingness to allow Kitty to go away is a clue to the identity of the father of Kitty’s illegitimate child?—I.e., Mr. Bennet himself? It would certainly fit with the patriarchal incest theme that comes to the fore in the shadow story of Emma, with Mr. Woodhouse as a latter day Antiochus from Shakespeare’s Pericles.

And that last disturbing suggestion is totally consistent all of the following passages in the final chapters of the novel, which have that same common theme— that Kitty is not going to leave Longbourn anytime soon—and it won’t be for a good reason.

Ch. 55: It was an evening of no common delight to them all; the satisfaction of Miss Bennet's mind gave a glow of such sweet animation to her face, as made her look handsomer than ever. Kitty simpered and smiled, and hoped her turn was coming soon. …Mary petitioned for the use of the library at Netherfield; and Kitty begged very hard for a few balls there every winter.

Ch. 59: "It may do very well for the others," replied Mr. Bingley; "but I am sure it will be too much for Kitty. Won't it, Kitty?" Kitty owned that she had rather stay at home. 

So, in honor of Kitty Bennet, it seems fitting if I end with a cough— because, regarding her coughing at the beginning of P&P, was I correct last year that Kitty was just being sarcastic about her parents’ tired old vaudeville routine? Or, behind that comedy, was there a darker timbre to her coughing, perhaps referring to Kitty’s extreme skepticism that her father will EVER let her get away from Longbourn?

That being said, I hope that the following, final reference to Kitty in the novel suggests that Elizabeth and Jane have taken matters into their own hands, in rescuing Kitty from the need for further coughing. 

Ch. 61: Kitty, to her very material advantage, spent the chief of her time with her two elder sisters. In society so superior to what she had generally known, her improvement was great. She was not of so ungovernable a temper as Lydia; and, removed from the influence of Lydia's example, she became, by proper attention and management, less irritable, less ignorant, and less insipid. From the further disadvantage of Lydia's society she was of course carefully kept, and though Mrs. Wickham frequently invited her to come and stay with her, with the promise of balls and young men, her father would never consent to her going.

Cheers, ARNIE

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