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

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Shakespearean source for Wickham’s bit lips, Mrs. Gardiner’s phaeton & coarse Eliza’s brown skin

In my post last week, I provided several hints all pointing to a particular Shakespeare play which I believe Jane Austen intentionally tagged in a variety of passages in Pride & Prejudice, including the seemingly trivial detail that Wickham “bit his lips” when Eliza challenged his version of the conflict between him and Darcy.  Now I am ready to reveal the answer to this latest literary quiz of mine:

The play---which to my knowledge has, with one offhand exception, never been connected by any literary scholar to Pride & Prejudice ---is Henry VIII, the very play which---not coincidentally, is explicitly alluded to in a complex, significant manner in Mansfield Park, the novel JA wrote next after P&P, most of all of the following passage in MP:

“To good reading, however, [Fanny] had been long used: her uncle read well, her cousins all, Edmund very well, but in Mr. Crawford's reading there was a variety of excellence beyond what she had ever met with. THE KING, THE QUEEN, BUCKINGHAM, WOLSEY, CROMWELL, all were given in turn; for with the happiest knack, the happiest power of jumping and guessing, he could always alight at will on the best scene, or the best speeches of each; and whether it were dignity, or pride, or tenderness, or remorse, or whatever were to be expressed, he could do it with equal beauty. It was truly dramatic. …
…."That play must be a favourite with you," said [Edmund]; "you read as if you knew it well."
"It will be a favourite, I believe, from this hour," replied Crawford; "but I do not think I have had a volume of Shakespeare in my hand before since I was fifteen. I ONCE SAW HENRY THE EIGHTH ACTED, or I have heard of it from somebody who did, I am not certain which. But Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is a part of an Englishman's constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them everywhere; one is intimate with him by instinct. No man of any brain can open at a good part of one of his plays without falling into the flow of his meaning immediately."

Although Henry VIII is currently one of Shakespeare’s least popular plays, it was very popular during Jane Austen’s lifetime. Therefore, JA had reason to expect her more literate contemporary readers of P&P in 1813 to discern her implicit allusion to Henry VIII in P&P. However, when that didn’t happen, because, I believe, the allusion was subliminal, that’s why she then made sure, as she wrote MP later in 1813, to make her interest in Henry VIII explicit in MP.

But what does her allusion to Henry VIII in P&P mean? How does it add to our understanding of P&P?

I’ve been saying for years that the shadow story of P&P involves a Mr. Darcy who does not reform and repent after his unsuccessful first proposal to Elizabeth Bennet. Instead, the shadow Darcy is a powerful, narcissist, who cannot take no for an answer when he is thwarted, especially by a woman; and so he uses his considerable resources to subtly coerce Elizabeth into feeling first gratitude, and then love, toward him—most of all, by wowing her with his “palace”, Pemberley, and the prospect of her becoming “mistress” (or might we say, Queen?) of his “realm”?

It’s therefore very interesting, I suggest, to think about Mr. Darcy as a Regency Era Henry VIII, and Elizabeth as an Anna Bullen. Many parallels spring to mind as soon as you consider this unlikely parallel, and I’ll lead off with the words of an Austen scholar, Janet Todd, who almost scooped me (in her entry in the 2013 The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen) on this discovery:

“When one woman [Elizabeth] manages, in her own words, to cheat this man [Darcy] of ‘premeditated contempt’, he falls in love and then blames her for his predicament; he has been ‘bewitched’—for all the world as if he were Henry VIII contemplating Anne Boleyn. Now he grows obsessive, even more silent, and conflicted…” 

Todd did not make the leap to this being an intentional allusion on Jane Austen’s part---that’s what I was able to do, assisted (as is so often the case in my literary sleuthing, based on the textual clues that Jane Austen left, like so many bread crumbs, in the text of P&P, which led me to Henry VIII.

First, to amplify Todd’s sharp intuition, note that strong romantic sparks do indeed fly between Darcy and Elizabeth as they meet at a dance, just as they fly between Henry and Anna at a masque arranged by Wolsey.

And just as Elizabeth initially confides to worldly-wise older friend Charlotte Lucas that she has no interest whatsoever in marrying Darcy, regardless of his wealth and desirability to other women, so too does Anna initially confide to the old female court attendant pretty much the same sort of disdain about Henry’s interest in her. In both cases, the older, wiser friend, schooled by life in human nature, expresses strong skepticism, and is proved to be correct by the end of each story.

And, in general, there is a strong theme in both P&P and in Henry VIII –in the latter, explicit, in P&P implicit, of the notion of “trials”, and the difficulty of ascertaining the truth in a society riddled with rumors, lies, and innuendoes.

And there’s also a larger perspective here vis a vis the classification of plays within the Shakespeare canon. Although Henry VIII, for obvious reasons is generally included among the history plays, scholars have pointed out that it also partakes of some of the same elements as are found in his late romances, in particular the royal romances, The Winter’s Tale and Cymbeline. But it is way outside the box to think about P&P, the quintessential romantic comic novel, which has its strongest Shakespearean antecedents in the Bard’s romantic comedies --- Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It --- as also drawing upon Shakespeare’s final history play as if it were a romantic comedy

There’s much more to say about this allusion generally, but I’ll leave that for future posts—for now, I will run through the clues I presented, and indicate how they fit with the above summary:

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

As I stated earlier, there are 4 references to lips bitten in anger in Shakespeare, but the one I believe JA particularly had in mind was the following speech in Henry VIII, while writing Wickham’s lip-biting. It is spoken by the wily Norfolk to Henry VIII, who poisonously describes Wolsey’s attitude toward the king who is already suspicious of Wolsey’s intentions:

NORFOLK ……My lord, we have Stood here observing him: some strange commotion Is in his brain: HE BITES HIS LIP, and starts; Stops on a sudden, looks upon the ground, Then lays his finger on his temple, straight Springs out into fast gait; then stops again, Strikes his breast hard, and anon he casts His eye against the moon: in most strange postures We have seen him set himself.

That made me wonder whether Shakespeare intended his audience to see Wolsey as a fall guy, and I found the following blog discussion of the historical Wolsey in that regard:

BanditQueen 12/02/13: Cardinal Wolsey is one of Henry’s servants that I feel gets at least in media films a poor press; and is portrayed as someone who does not come over as one of history’s good guys. Certainly he had enough enemies at court to bring him down on charges that amounted to embezzlement and treason, but they had the power to persuade the King that Wolsey in his career had mishandled funds and monies that allegedly should have gone to the treasury were being used for his two pet foundations: the schools and colleges at Cambridge and Oxford Universities. The pamphlets that they put about probably made even more obscure claims about him in order to bring him down…I feel sorry for Wolsey as he had been close to the King, worked hard in his cause, done almost everything with his master’s approval and his desire always seemed to serve the King. His enemies cashed in if you like on his failure to get Henry the verdict he desired at Blackfriars in 1529; and with Henry turning against Wolsey bit by bit because of that failure; they were able to use what evidence they could find or plant to get Henry to move against his former first minster. I am of the personal opinion that WOLSEY WAS SOMETHING OF A FALL GUY to allow a new regime to take the place of him as Henry’s advisors.”

And speaking of taking falls, here’s Wolsey’s very famous speech, the one that many suspect is read aloud, to great effect, by Henry Crawford in the Mansfield Park salon:

So farewell to the little good you bear me. Farewell! a long farewell, to all my greatness!
This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth The tender leaves of hopes; to-morrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honours thick upon him; The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,
And, when he thinks, good easy man, full surely His greatness is a-ripening, nips his root,
And then he falls, as I do. I have ventured, Like little wanton boys that swim on bladders,
This many summers in a sea of glory, But far beyond my depth: my high-blown pride
At length broke under me and now has left me, Weary and old with service, to the mercy
Of a rude stream, that must for ever hide me. Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye:
I feel my heart new open'd. O, how wretched Is that poor man that hangs on princes' favours!
There is, betwixt that smile we would aspire to, That sweet aspect of princes, and their ruin,
More pangs and fears than wars or women have: And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer,
Never to hope again.

And, speaking of Lucifer, Wickham is indeed a poor man who spends his life hanging on Darcy’s favors, a man as to whose Luciferian fall into notorious disgrace we read (which also answers my Clue FIVE):

“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; and even Jane, who believed still less of it, became almost hopeless, more especially as the time was now come when, if they had gone to Scotland, which she had never before entirely despaired of, they must in all probability have gained some news of them.”

I also think of Wickham when we read about Wolsey as “a man of an unbounded stomach, ever ranking himself with princes” --- and it would certainly add an interesting twist to the next portion of Elizabeth’s jousting with Wickham, as Diane Reynolds’s colleague Tom Flynn described, regarding Wickham as a prospective country clergyman (a parody of Wolsey as a cardinal):

“[Wickham] asks if she had visited the village when she toured Pemberley.  She states that she had not; he reflects, “I mention it, because it is the living which I ought to have had. A most delightful place!—Excellent Parsonage House! It would have suited me in every respect. “
Elizabeth’s response here is perhaps my favorite line in the novel, revealing her wit, her knowledge of her opponent and her condemnation of his behavior.
“How should you have liked making sermons?” 
Had he any self-knowledge or integrity, Wickham could not make an honest affirmative answer to this question. Austen, through Elizabeth, has put him in checkmate. Wickham’s attempt to ruin Georgiana Darcy, his success in poisoning Elizabeth’s opinion of Darcy, his willingness to ruin Lydia, his greed in marrying Lydia solely for the money that Darcy offers him, all demonstrate that all his sermons would be grounded in hypocrisy. 
Wickham’s response is a wonderful comic stroke of character illustration, exemplifying his thorough lack of self -knowledge.
He declares that he would have liked making sermons “Exceedingly well.  I should have considered it part of my duty, and the exertion would soon have been nothing.  One ought not to repine; ---but, to be sure, it would have been such a thing for me! The quiet, the retirement of such a life would have answered all my ideas of happiness!” END QUOTE FROM FLYNN POST

So I see number of Wickham’s characteristics originating in the wily manipulative Wolsey. But that’s only the beginning. A bit later in the play, we hear Queen Katharine’s sympathetic eulogy for Wolsey who died a broken, yet strangely humble, almost saintly death—and I hear in the saintly Queen Katharine’s remarkably forgiving remarks about Wolsey the saintly Jane Bennet’s remarkably charitable  remarks about Wickham late in P&P:

So may he rest; his faults lie gently on him! Yet thus far, Griffith, give me leave to speak him,
And yet with charity. He was a man Of an unbounded stomach, ever ranking
Himself with princes; one that, by suggestion, Tied all the kingdom: simony was fair-play;
His own opinion was his law: i' the presence He would say untruths; and be ever double
Both in his words and meaning: he was never, But where he meant to ruin, pitiful:
His promises were, as he then was, mighty; But his performance, as he is now, nothing:
Of his own body he was ill, and gave The clergy in example

CLUE 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."

In 5.3 of Henry VIII, the wily royal counsellor Gardiner (more about him re Clue EIGHT, below), attempts to take down Cranmer, an attempt which will be firmly rebuked by the King later in the scene:

GARDINER  My lord, my lord, you are a sectary, That's the plain truth: your painted gloss discovers,
To men that understand you, words and weakness.
CROMWELL  My Lord of Winchester, you are a little, By your good favour, too sharp; men so noble,
However faulty, yet should find respect For what they have been: 'tis a cruelty To load a falling man.
GARDINER  Good master secretary, I cry your honour mercy; you may, worst Of all this table, say so.
CROMWELL  Why, my lord?
GARDINER  Do not I know you for a favourer Of this new sect? ye are NOT SOUND.
CROMWELL  Would you were half so honest! Men's prayers then would seek you, not their fears.
GARDINER  I shall remember this bold language.
CROMWELL    Do. Remember your bold life too.

It is no coincidence that the sole usages of the phrase “not sound” in the respective canons of Austen and Shakespeare appears in these two passages. And it’s also no coincidence, as I will explain re clue EIGHT, below, that the counsellor trying to sandbag Cranmer has the identical name as Elizabeth Bennet’s aunt and uncle Gardiner!

CLUE 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."

I believe JA had in mind the following sharp exchange between Wolsey and Surrey, right before Wolsey takes his Luciferian fall:

CARDINAL WOLSEY Till I find more than will or words to do it, I mean your malice, know, officious lords, I dare and must deny it. Now I feel OF WHAT COARSE METAL YE ARE MOULDED, envy: How eagerly ye follow my disgraces, As if it fed ye! and how sleek and wanton Ye appear in every thing may bring my ruin! Follow your envious courses, men of malice; You have Christian warrant for 'em, and, no doubt, In time will find their fit rewards. That seal, You ask with such a violence, the king, Mine and your master, with his own hand gave me; Bade me enjoy it, with the place and honours, During my life; and, to confirm his goodness, Tied it by letters-patents: now, who'll take it?
SURREY  The king, that gave it.
CARDINAL WOLSEY It must be himself, then.
SURREY  Thou art a proud traitor, priest.
CARDINAL WOLSEY Proud lord, thou liest: Within these forty hours Surrey durst better Have burnt that tongue than said so.
SURREY  Thy ambition, Thou scarlet sin, robb'd this bewailing land Of noble Buckingham, my father-in-law: The heads of all thy brother cardinals, With thee and all thy best parts bound together, Weigh'd not a hair of his. Plague of your policy! You sent me deputy for Ireland; Far from his succor, from the king, from all That might have mercy on the fault thou gavest him; Whilst your great goodness, out of holy pity, Absolved him with an axe.
CARDINAL WOLSEY This, and all else This talking lord can lay upon my credit, I answer is most false. The duke by law Found his deserts: how innocent I was From any private malice in his end, His noble jury and foul cause can witness. If I loved many words, lord, I should tell you You have as little honesty as honour, That in the way of loyalty and truth Toward the king, my ever royal master, Dare mate A SOUNDER MAN than Surrey can be, And all that love his follies.
SURREY By my soul, Your long coat, priest, protects you; thou shouldst feel My sword i' the life-blood of thee else. My lords, Can ye endure to hear this arrogance? And from this fellow? if we live thus tamely, To be thus jaded by a piece of scarlet, Farewell nobility; let his grace go forward, And dare us with his cap like larks.
CARDINAL WOLSEY All goodness Is poison to thy stomach.
SURREY  Yes, that goodness Of gleaning all the land's wealth into one, Into your own hands, cardinal, by extortion; The goodness of your intercepted packets You writ to the pope against the king: your goodness, Since you provoke me, shall be most notorious. My Lord of Norfolk, as you are truly noble, As you respect the common good, the state Of our despised nobility, our issues, Who, if he live, will scarce be gentlemen, Produce the grand sum of his sins, the articles Collected from his life. I'll startle you Worse than the scaring bell, WHEN THE BROWN WENCH LAY KISSING IN YOUR ARMS, lord cardinal.
CARDINAL WOLSEY  How much, methinks, I could despise this man, But that I am bound in charity against it!
NORFOLK Those articles, my lord, are in the king's hand: But, thus much, they are foul ones.
CARDINAL WOLSEY So much fairer And spotless shall mine innocence arise, When the king knows my truth.

And Surrey’s reference to the “brown wench” sheds light on a deeper, darker slander inherent in Caroline Bingley’s demeaning comment about Elizabeth’s skin color. Check out this entry in Gordon Williams’s A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature:

“Brown as indicator of wantonness (cf nut-brown maids) is marked in Heywood, Golden Age (1609- 11)… Marlowe’s Ovid (1580s) II.iv.40 claims that ‘nut-brown girls in doing have no fellow’; so Shakespeare alludes to Cardinal Wolsey’s amorousness…The colour indicates pubic hair in ‘BROWN MADAM, or MISS BROWN. The monosyllable.’ (Grose 1788). A phrase now used in sodomy denotes sexual confrontment in Unconscionable Gallant (c.1690; Pepys Ballads, V 236) where the gallant tells a mercenary lady that he is unwilling ‘To give more than a Crown for a bit of the Brown.’…”

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

That of course is Henry VIII himself, who runs through wives like Kleenex in search of a male heir.

CLUE FIVE: [As answered, above, Wickham = Wolsey]

CLUE 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.”

In a 2015 post of mine written without any idea of Henry VIII being alluded to in P&P, I wrote:

“…JA slipped yet another subtle Shakespearean allusion into Love&Freindship for good measure, when Laura abruptly turns philosophical after witnessing the phaeton accident which carries off her lover:    
"What an ample subject for reflection on the uncertain Enjoyments of this World, would not THAT PHAETON and THE LIFE OF CARDINAL WOLSEY afford a thinking Mind!" said I to Sophia”Jane Austen wrote those words for Laura for the benefit of the “thinking mind” of her erudite readers, who might recognize that her burlesque of a hero’s fatal phaeton fall was a witty reference not only to the real life Prince of W(h)ales, as I discussed in the preceding section, but also to Cardinal Wolsey who gives the… famous tragic speech in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII about his own “fall” from political grace….”

CLUE 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.

As I’ve already written, above, that is Henry VIII smitten by Anna Bullen. And in that regard, here’s what the 15 year old Jane Austen wrote about Anna Bullen in her History of England:

this amiable Woman was entirely innocent of the Crimes with which she was accused, and of which her BEAUTY, her ELEGANCE, and her SPRIGHTLINESS were sufficient proofs, not to mention her solemn protestations of Innocence, the weakness of the Charges against her, and the King’s Character.”

The 37 year old Jane Austen wrote something very resonant about Elizabeth Bennet in a letter to her sister right after P&P was finally published:        “…she really does seem to admire Elizabeth. I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.”

CLUE 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.

As I already stated above, that would be GARDINER, the shifty advisor to Wolsey and Henry VIII, who winds up getting sternly rebuked by the King when Gardiner tries to do a hatchet job on Cranmer.

I’ve long believed that Mr. Gardiner is actually a secret agent acting on behalf of Mr. Darcy during the latter half of P&P, in particular, with the crucial task of bringing Elizabeth to Pemberley “accidentally” so that she can be overwhelmed by Pemberley, Mrs. Reynolds, and Mr. Darcy’s insincere “reformation”
(all puns intended vis a vis Henry VIII). And that gives enormous ironic meaning to the final line of the novel:
“With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them.”

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

No comments: