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

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Jane Austen didn’t stoop to folly, she rose to artistic conquest, in the backstory of Emma

 In the Janeites group, Jane Fox wrote: "I'm guessing JA read Oliver Goldsmith. I'm also guessing that he meant this, and that this was read, wryly or even as irony. Comments?”

When lovely woman stoops to folly, 
And finds too late that men betray, 
What charm can sooth her melancholy, 
What art can wash her guilt away? 
The only art her guilt to cover, 
To hide her shame from every eye, 
To give repentance to her lover, 
And wring his bosom—is to die.


Jane, it's not a guess, the following narrative comment is right there in the text of Emma, quoting Goldsmith’s famous poem explicitly in relation to Mrs. Churchill's suspiciously sudden death: "Goldsmith tells us, that when lovely woman stoops to folly, she has nothing to do but to die; and when she stoops to be disagreeable, it is equally to be recommended as a clearer of ill-fame."

[I’m just curious--what was it that made you suspect that JA read Goldsmith, if it wasn’t that passage?]

To answer to your question, certainly Goldsmith must have been highly ironic in suggesting that the only option for a woman who’d been betrayed sexually ---i.e., who’d been impregnated outside wedlock--- was to kill herself. What kind of moral monster would Goldsmith have been, had he been serious?

What I think is an even more interesting question is, what did JA mean by this allusion to Goldsmith’s poem? On the surface, her meaning seems straightforward. She ironically adds "disagreeableness" to the list of female follies, the ill-fame of which can only be cleared by death. It’s a biting irony about the cruelly unfair oppression of women in JA’s world, and JA relished such irony in safely venting her righteous feminist anger about this unfairness -- even when the woman who dies is so thoroughly “disagreeable” as Mrs. Churchill! Recall how in 1812, JA was ready to forgive Princess Caroline for her numerous sexual follies, because, JA believed, she had been driven to them by the cruel mistreatment she endured from her husband the Prince Regent.

However, beyond that overt meaning, I now suggest that, within the backstory of Emma, Jane Austen was hinting that the first Mrs. Weston (nee Miss Churchill), Mrs. Churchill’s sister in law, had actually “stooped” to “folly” with a young male betrayer. After all, "ill fame" was a term applied to a woman guilty of sexual indiscretion  And “stoop” is a euphemistic English verb which sounds a lot like—and I suspect is etymologically related to—the very graphic and vulgar Yiddish verb, shtup, meaning to f---k.

I wondered whether “stoop” had once had a similarly vulgar meaning in English, and sure enough, it did! Here is a usage in Thomas Middleton’s 1657 play Women Beware Women:

If I but live
To keep a house, I’ll make thee a great man,
If meat and drink can do’t. I CAN STOOP GALLANTLY
And pitch out when I list; I’m dog at a hole.
I mar’l my guardianer does not seek a wife for me;
I protest I’ll have a bout with the maids else,
Or contract myself at midnight to the larder-woman
In presence of a fool or a sack-posset.

In their 1988 edition, Bryan Loughrey & Neil Taylor gloss the above speech as follows:  “the literal sense of this passage is obscure. Probably ‘stoop’, ‘pitch out’ and ‘hole’ were part of the technical vocabulary of Cat and Trap, and the Ward is bragging of his prowess. HOWEVER, EACH OF THESE TERMS ALSO HAS A BAWDY MEANING: ‘STOOP’ = F—K; ‘pitch out’ = ejaculate; and ‘hole’ = c—t … ’have a bout’ = fornicate.” 

So, it seems clear to me now that JA recognized Goldsmith’s sexual double entendre with “stoop”.  But that’s not all—please read this portion of Wikipedia’s synopsis of Middleton’s play, and you tell me which character in Emma you’re strongly reminded of in the character of Bianca:

Women Beware Women tells the story of Bianca, a woman who escapes from her rich home to elope with the poor Leantio. Fearful and insecure, Leantio requires that his mother lock Bianca up while he is away. While locked up, the Duke of Florence spots Bianca in a window and attempts to woo her with the help of Livia, a widow. When Leantio returns he discovers that Bianca has been corrupted and no longer loves him because he lacks wealth and fortune….as affairs and relationships are exposed, one of the bloodiest Jacobean tragedies is created.”

Doesn’t Miss Churchill fit Bianca to a tee? I.e., like Middleton’s Bianca, Miss Churchill also leaves her rich home to elope with the poor Captain Weston, and then Miss Churchill also no longer is satisfied with Captain Weston, because he lacks wealth and fortune! And finally, she Miss C fills the bill of a woman who “stoops’ to sexual folly in another crucial Goldsmithian aspect—she dies not too long thereafter, fulfilling Goldsmith’s ironic proscription!

So, if JA means us to figure out that Miss Churchill did stoop to such a sexual folly, who was the (then) young man who knocked her up? Given that Frank Weston had to be the product of an illicit liaison in order for folly to have been stooped to, the biological father must be someone other than her husband, Captain Weston. And now I amaze even myself with the seemingly preposterous suggestion that this line of backstory sleuthing dovetails perfectly with another recent post of mine about Emma   … in which I speculated that the biological father of Frank (a latter day Oedipus) was none other than Mr. Woodhouse!

In that recent post, I suggested that Miss Taylor was Frank’s biological mother, but now I wish to switch to Miss Churchill instead, because of these veiled allusions to Goldsmith and Middleton.  And if Frank really is Miss Churchill’s biological son, then it still makes sense that Captain Weston would, after a suitable delay of a couple of years, “sell” Frank back to his maternal aunt and uncle—especially as it appears that Mr. Churchill may have been sterile, given that he and Mrs. Churchill were childless.


But that poem is only the beginning of the Goldsmith I see hidden in plain sight in Emma. We also have the equally explicit reference to Goldsmith’s famous novel, The Vicar of Wakefield, which occurs in this exchange between Emma and Harriet:
"Mr. Martin, I suppose, is not a man of information beyond the line of his own business? He does not read?"
"Oh yes!—that is, no—I do not know—but I believe he has read a good deal—but not what you would think any thing of. He reads the Agricultural Reports, and some other books that lay in one of the window seats—but he reads all them to himself. But sometimes of an evening, before we went to cards, he would read something aloud out of the Elegant Extracts, very entertaining. And I KNOW HE HAS READ THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD. He never read the Romance of the Forest, nor The Children of the Abbey. He had never heard of such books before I mentioned them, but he is determined to get them now as soon as ever he can."

So, why would Harriet recommend Vicar to Robert Martin? Perhaps we may find the answer in the following excerpt from “The Gentleman Farmer in Emma: Agrarian Writing and Jane Austen's Cultural Idealism”  by Robert James Merrett (U. of Toronto Quarterly 77/2, Spr. ’08) . Please in particular see the part of Merrett’s argument that I put in ALL CAPS, and you tell me which character in Emma you are thereby particularly reminded of:

“Two reasons explain why Austen makes Robert Martin's fictional point of reference in Emma Oliver Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield. Firstly, she will have known this romance was the most popular of 18th-century novels. Secondly, she will have appreciated that in his depiction of Squire Thornhill, the vicar's landlord, and of Burchell, the disguised Sir William Thornhill, uncle to the squire, Goldsmith adopts a stance that balances Richardson's optimism with Fielding's pessimism about land tenure. THE SQUIRE IS full of 'high life' and 'fashionable cant'. No farmer, but A THOUGHTLESS HUNTSMAN WHO HIRES PROSTITUTES, HE SEDUCES TENANTS’ DAUGHTERS BY AFFECTING BENEVOLENCE while holding aloof from rural life BY PRETENDING TO BE SUBJECT TO HIS ‘ATTORNEY AND STEWARD’. When Dr Primrose rents one of Thornhill's farms – twenty acres of excellent land consisting of 'little enclosures' neatly defined by 'elms and hedge rows' – things seem idyllic. Local farmers, retaining a 'primeval simplicity of manners,' till their land untouched by urban 'superfluity' . Affectation somewhat impedes the Primroses' adaptation to farm life...Blind to Burchell's authenticity, they subject themselves to the squire's power. When the vicar cannot pay his rent, the steward seizes his cattle, selling them for less than half their value. But Burchell comes to their aid; he works on the Primroses' farm, helping to save 'an after-growth of hay' and to turn 'the swath to the wind'…He saves the vicar from debtors' prison and exposes his nephew.” END QUOTE

Of course I’m referring to Mr. Knightley, who: (1) is the squire of Emma ; (2) appears to benevolently govern his neighbors, (3) prefers the company and is guided by the counsel of his steward William Larkins; and (4) is the landlord to Robert Martin, the tenant farmer whom Harriet has urged to read Vicar. Hmmm……that makes 4 out of 5 very direct and specific links between the roguish Squire Thornhill and the upright Mr. Knightley. Does it make you wonder, as it makes me wonder, about the fifth data point---that part about “hiring prostitutes”! Mr. Knightley, a seemingly virile heterosexual man who has never been married --- what do you think about the possibility that he was like Squire Thornhill in seeking out ladies of the evening (or as Miss Bates drily put it re Mrs. Elton, “queen of the evening”)?  


The above two explicit allusions to Goldsmith in the same Austen novel (and Emma has more explicit allusions scattered throughout its entire length---as opposed to the bunching of explicit allusions at the beginning of Northanger Abbey--- than any other Austen novel, surely because she was frustrated that her implicit allusions were not being recognized by her readers) are still not all the Goldsmith to be mined from Emma. There’s also a third Goldsmith work, the play She Stoops to Conquer, which lurks behind those other two. Please check out this Wikipedia synopsis (and, again, please focus on the ALL CAPS):

“Wealthy countryman Mr. Hardcastle arranges for his daughter Kate to meet Charles Marlow, the son of a rich Londoner, hoping the pair will marry. Unfortunately, Marlow is nervous around upper-class women, yet the complete opposite around working-class women. On his first acquaintance with Kate, the latter realises she will have to pretend to be 'common', or Marlow will not woo her. Thus Kate 'stoops to conquer', by posing as a maid, hoping to put Marlow at his ease so he falls for her. Marlow sets out for the Hardcastle's manor with a friend, George Hastings, an admirer of Miss Constance Neville, another young lady who lives with the Hardcastles. During the journey the two men become lost and stop at an alehouse, The Three Jolly Pigeons, for directions. Tony Lumpkin, Kate's step-brother and cousin of Constance, comes across the two strangers at the alehouse and, realising their identity, plays a practical joke by telling them that they are a long way from their destination and will have to stay overnight at an inn. The "inn" he directs them to is in fact the home of the Hardcastles. When they arrive, the Hardcastles, who have been expecting them, go out of their way to make them welcome. However, Marlow and Hastings, believing themselves in an inn, behave extremely disdainfully towards their hosts. Hardcastle bears their unwitting insults with forbearance, because of his friendship with Marlow's father. Kate learns of her suitor's shyness from Constance and a servant tells her about Tony's trick. SHE DECIDES TO MASQUERADE AS A SERVING-MAID (CHANGING HER ACCENT AND GARB) TO GET TO KNOW HIM. Marlow falls in love with her and plans to elope with her but, because she appears of a lower class, acts in a somewhat bawdy manner around her. All misunderstandings are resolved by the end, thanks to an appearance by Sir Charles Marlow. The main sub-plot concerns the secret romance between Constance and Hastings. Constance needs her jewels, an inheritance, guarded by Tony's mother, Mrs. Hardcastle, who wants Constance to marry her son, to keep the jewels in the family. Tony despises the thought of marrying Constance — he prefers a barmaid at the alehouse — and so agrees to steal the jewels from his mother's safekeeping for Constance, so she can elope to France with Hastings. The play concludes with Kate's plan succeeding: she and Marlow become engaged. Tony discovers his mother has lied about his being "of age" and thus entitled to his inheritance. HE REFUSES TO MARRY CONSTANCE, WHO IS THEN ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE HER JEWELS and become engaged to Hastings, which she does.”

As I’ve opined numerous times, I see the Harriet Smith of the shadow story of Emma as an ambitious, clever, manipulator who (much like Lucy Steele in S&S, or Shamela in Fielding’s parody of Pamela) attempts to level the playing field using her guile, in particular her ability to wrap Emma around her little finger by sucking up to the rich but cluelessly naive heiress. In that sense, I see Kate Hardcastle, who adopts a very similar strategy to nab herself a rich husband, as a source for Harriet, who, however, is foiled in her ambition to wed Knightley and is made to settle instead for Robert Martin.

Plus, I see in Constance a source for Jane Fairfax, in particular in regard to the jewels which Jane winds up receiving after Mrs. Churchill’s conveniently sudden death, as Frank whispers to Emma (and JA whispers to the reader):
“You will be glad to hear (inclining his head, and whispering seriously) that my uncle means to give her all my aunt's jewels. They are to be new set. I am resolved to have some in an ornament for the head. Will not it be beautiful in her dark hair?"

And Jane as Constance Neville also fits with the fact that the words “stoop” and “conquer”, which both appear in Emma (stoop actually occurs 7 times in Emma, and only once in all five other Austen novels combined!) actually are most closely associated in Emma with Jane Fairfax:

“…Jane looked as if she did not mean to be CONQUERED; but instead of answering, she began speaking again to Mr. John Knightley...”

“…only objection to gathering strawberries the STOOPING—glaring sun—TIRED TO DEATH—COULD BEAR IT NO LONGER—must go and sit in the shade…."

In Frank’s letter to Mrs. Weston:
“…I dared not address [Jane] openly; my difficulties in the then state of Enscombe must be too well known to require definition; and I was fortunate enough to prevail, before we parted at Weymouth, and to induce the most upright female mind in the creation TO STOOP in charity TO A SECRET ENGAGEMENT.—Had she refused, I should have gone mad….”


I’ve claimed for over 11 years now that Jane’s concealed pregnancy is the driving force of the shadow story of Emma, and that John Knightley is the baby daddy, not Frank, whom Jane throws herself at in Weymouth in order to snag a husband soon enough to legitimize her unborn child. Therefore it fits perfectly for Jane to be associated with Goldsmith’s fiction and poetry about women who are forced to deal with “ill-fame” as best they can—and Jane finds a way, with a LOT of secret help from her friends, not to die, but to survive (and also for her baby to survive, even if the child is to be raised by Mrs. Weston instead of Jane).

And…coming around full circle back to Goldsmith’s poem which led off this post, let me now suggest Jane Fairfax as a second referent for Jane Austen’s allusion to a young woman who stooped to folly, and (in Jane’s case) might have died as a result, but did not. You may recall the account I’ve often told, that 9 years ago, I told Anielka Briggs my theory of the secretly pregnant Jane Fairfax giving her baby to Mrs. Weston to raise as Anna Weston, whereupon Anielka brilliantly upped the ante, by showing that “Anna Weston” was a coded transformation of “Ann Awe-ston”  = “Anna Austen”, who of course was Jane Austen’s niece. What JA meant by this double code is up for grabs as to whether it was JA’s fantasy about a beloved niece, or a real life account of a beloved illegitimate child.

But what I note now, for the first time, is that the toddler Frank Weston was given over by his birth father Captain Weston to Frank’s maternal aunt Mrs. Churchill at almost the same age that Anna Austen was given over by her birth father James Austen (for the three years it took James to remarry) to the primary care of Anna’s paternal aunts Jane & Cassandra Austen.

This suggests to me that Jane Austen spun herself off into three different female characters in Emma who, all stooped to folly:

Miss Churchill, mother of illegitimate Frank;
Jane Fairfax, mother of illegitimate Anna; and
Miss Bates, mother of illegitimate Harriet.

In creating such a beautiful and complex backstory of illegitimacy in Emma, Jane Austen the author did not stoop to folly, she rose to conquer (artistically speaking).

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

No comments: