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

Monday, November 28, 2016

The reason why Willoughby say he stops at MARLBOROUGH in particular on his way to CLEVELAND

At the end of Ch. 43 and the beginning of Ch. 44 of Sense & Sensibility, we read the following brief passage describing Willoughby’s shocking arrival at Elinor’s door:

“At seven o'clock, leaving Marianne still sweetly asleep, she joined Mrs. JENNINGS in the drawing-room to tea. Of breakfast she had been kept by her fears, and of dinner by their sudden reverse, from eating much;—and the present refreshment, therefore, with such feelings of content as she brought to it, was particularly welcome. Mrs. JENNINGS would have persuaded her, at its conclusion, to take some rest before her mother's arrival, and allow her to take her place by Marianne; but Elinor had no sense of fatigue, no capability of sleep at that moment about her, and she was not to be kept away from her sister an unnecessary instant. Mrs. JENNINGS therefore attending her up stairs into the sick chamber, to satisfy herself that all continued right, left her there again to her charge and her thoughts, and retired to her own room to write letters and sleep.
[skip 4 paragraphs] ………
"No, sir," she replied with firmness, "I shall not stay. Your business cannot be with me. The servants, I suppose, forgot to tell you that Mr. PALMER was not in the house."
"Had they told me," he cried with vehemence, "that Mr. PALMER and all his relations were at the devil, it would not have turned me from the door. My business is with you, and only you."
"With me!"—in the utmost amazement—"well, sir,—be quick—and if you can—less violent."
"Sit down, and I will be both."
[skip more paragraphs and dialog] ….
"Mr. Willoughby, I advise you at present to return to Combe—I am not at leisure to remain with you longer.—Whatever your business may be with me, it will be better recollected and explained to-morrow."
"I understand you," he replied, with an expressive smile, and a voice perfectly calm; "yes, I am very drunk.— A pint of porter with my cold beef at MARLBOROUGH was enough to over-set me."
"At Marlborough!"—cried Elinor, more and more at a loss to understand what he would be at.
"Yes,—I left London this morning at eight o'clock, and the only ten minutes I have spent out of my chaise since that time procured me a nuncheon at MARLBOROUGH."
The steadiness of his manner, and the intelligence of his eye as he spoke, convincing Elinor, that whatever other unpardonable folly might bring him to CLEVELAND, he was not brought there by intoxication…”

I write this post not to comment on the action depicted in the above scene (although I do have a response in the works to Diana re: Willoughby’s cryptic ‘half hour’), but to note a sly, remarkable, quadruple conjunction of four historical names, hidden in plain sight within those 1000+ words, which comprise less than 2/3 of a percent of the entire length of S&S. To wit:

JENNINGS (3x), then PALMER (2x),  then MARLBOROUGH (3x), then CLEVELAND (1x)!

Those who know English history pretty well will have already spotted the conjunction, which can also be accessed by everyone else simply by Googling those four names together. The first Google hit is the Wikipedia page for Sarah Churchill, Duchess of MARLBOROUGH, nee Sarah JENNINGS. And the reason why those four names lead there can be found in the body of the Wikipedia article: the cousin of Sarah JENNINGS’s famous war hero husband (John Churchill, Duke of MARLBOROUGH) was the well-known woman with whom he had a pre-marital affair --his own cousin Barbara PALMER, Duchess of CLEVELAND!  

While I believe the above is the first complete articulation of this quadruple, localized name conjunction in S&S, it has been a while coming. So, here’s a short history of the scholarly detection of aspects of it (in case you were wondering, Frank Churchill’s surname in Emma as a wink at John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, was first detected way back in the early 1980s, but as far as I can tell, no one made the mental leap over to include S&S as well, until the following):

In Feb. 2006 in Janeites, Elissa took the first baby step in this direction, by connecting Sarah Jennings to JA’s fiction:
“…there is much precedent for "pretty," conventionally feminine but politically active and strong women in England from Elizabeth I to Sarah Jennings Churchill, first Duchess of Marlborough…”

Then, in Sept. 2010, also in Janeites, Elissa went much further, connecting Sarah Jennings to S&S:
This is not the only time, it seems to me, that JA invokes resonances of past English social-political-religious history to comment on the position of women vis-a-vis men, the gender power difference, and matters of autonomy and calls her reader's attention to it by use of name. I am thinking of Mrs. Jennings (given name??), who, interestingly appears in a novel where some women have a good deal of power and autonomy that they have attained by virtue of money and force of personality, generally combined…The name Sarah Jennings, later Mrs. Churchill, later Duchess to the Duke of Marlborough during reign of Queen Anne, then during and following the succession of William of Orange and Mary, a beautiful and extremely powerful politically adroit woman springs to mind and cannot help but reverberate in JA's novel.”

In June 2014 in Janeites, I brought Barbara Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland, into the mix:  
"Sarah JENNINGS was born on 5 June 1660...Sarah became close to the young Princess Anne in about 1675, and the friendship grew stronger as the two grew older. In late 1675, when she was still only fifteen, she met John CHURCHILL, 10 years her senior, who fell in love with her. Churchill…had previously been a lover of Charles II’s mistress, Barbara PALMER, Duchess of CLEVELAND…If anyone thinks it is merely a coincidence that the names CHURCHILL, JENNINGS, PALMER & CLEVELAND are all connected to one real life person, as well as to JA's novels, then...nothing I write will ever convince you of anything.”

However, it was only this week, while working on the mystery of Willoughby’s trip to Cleveland that I noticed those two sly winks at Willoughby stopping for a porter/meat nuncheon at “Marlborough”, and that led me to recognize that the above-quoted passage in S&S is Ground Zero for JA’s four-name game.

By the way, Janine Barchas missed this one in her otherwise remarkably thorough trawling of English historical references in JA’s fiction in her recent Matters of Fact in Jane Austen; and Margaret Doody, who apparently doesn’t read in Janeites (and didn’t Google and find my blog version of my above June 2014 post), wrote about the lives of both Sarah Jennings Churchill and Barbara Palmer in her 2015 Jane Austen’s Names, but as you can see, she was late to our party.

So, where does that take us? I think the concentration of those four names within that very short span late in Ch. 44, in perhaps the most dramatic scene in the novel, was deliberate on JA’s part. JA could have chosen any of a few dozen other place names for the highway stop where Willoughby takes his nuncheon, and so I see her choice of “Marlborough”, in such close proximity to those other three names, as no accident. At a minimum, I take it as a sign that we should focus on that scene, and ask hard questions about it, like those I’ve brought up this past week, as to which I have received so many excellent responses. It’s analogous to the quadruple arrival of three suitors and an aunt in Meryton, all focused, seemingly independently, on Elizabeth Bennet. Not a coincidence!

Before I close, there are three other noteworthy Austen connections to Sarah Jennings Churchill:

First, in Wikipedia, we read:
“Sarah had a rival for Churchill in Catherine Sedley, a wealthy mistress of James II and the choice of Churchill's father, Sir Winston Churchill, who was anxious to restore the family's fortune. It is likely that John hoped to take Sarah as a mistress in place of the Duchess of Cleveland, who had recently departed for France; but surviving letters from Sarah to John show her unwillingness to assume that role. In 1677, Sarah's brother Ralph died, and she and her sister, Frances, became co-heirs of the Jennings estates in Hertfordshire and Kent. John chose Sarah over Catherine Sedley, and they were secretly married in the winter of 1677, publicly on 1 October 1678.”

The Austen connection here is that Catherine Sedley was the paternal grandmother of the very same Mrs. Pole (aka the widow of Erasmus Darwin) who wrote glowing and perceptive praise for JA’s experimental observations of her social world. I wonder whether Mrs. Pole and JA ever chatted about Mrs. Jennings as a wink at Mrs. Pole’s grandmother!

Second, Amanda Foreman in The Duchess [of Devonshire], wrote this about Georgiana’s father, John Spencer, who was the younger of the two grandsons of Sarah & John Churchill:
“His father, the Hon. John Spencer, was in fact a younger son and, given the law of primogeniture, had always expected to marry his fortune or live in debt. However, his mother was the daughter of the first Duke of Marlborough, and the Marlboroughs had no heir. To prevent the line from dying out the Marlboroughs obtained special dispensation for the title to pass through the female line. John’s older brother Charles became the next Duke. John, meanwhile, became head of the Spencer family and subsequently inherited Althorp. Charles had inherited the title but, significantly, he had no right to the Marlborough fortune until his grandmother Duchess Sarah, the widowed Duchess of Marlborough, died. Except for Blenheim Palace, she could leave the entire estate to whomever she chose. Sarah had strong political beliefs and she was outraged when Charles disobeyed her instruction to oppose the government of the day. In retribution she left Marlborough’s £1 million estate to John, with the sole proviso that neither he nor his son should ever accept a government post.”

So, Sarah Jennings Churchill wound up doing something remarkably similar to her grandsons, as Mrs. Churchill probably threatened to do to Frank Churchill in Emma, and as Mrs. Ferrars actually did to her sons in S&S – i.e., she disinherited the elder of the two brothers, because the elder brother took an action she violently disapproved of!

And finally, read this from my 2014 post re the parallel between Sarah Jennings Churchill and the “Galigai for ever and ever” whom JA mentioned in her letter 159 to Anne Sharp:

“And in that same vein, I believe, after reading up a good deal today about the relationship between Maria de Medicis and Eleonora Galigai de Concini, that at least a part of the widespread hatred & demonization of Galigai—the horrible cry of “Burn the witch!” repeated in countless varied ways a thousand times, over millennia, all over the world, against women who in any way transgressed, or seemed to transgress, against the cruelly unfair restrictions imposed on their gender--was due to the perception that Galigai was not merely manipulating Maria, who was after all mother of the King of France, for gain and power, but the added extra inciting factor that her manipulation was believed to be at least partly based on a lesbian relationship between them.
And that would be strikingly similar to another royal scenario that played out in England less than a century after Galigai was put to death, and, in that regard, I leave it to an 1844 commentator to give you part one of the explanation of that connection….
Notice of Windsor in Olden Times by John Stoughton, at p. 222: “No reader of English history can fail to associate with the reign of Anne the name of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, whose history is also linked to the locality of Windsor by several interesting incidents. There, in her palmy days, she gave examples of the marvellous influence which she had acquired over her royal mistress, an influence which it has been well remarked, was the same as the sorcery which Leonora Galligai avowed to her judges over Mary de Medicis— "the power of a strong upon a weak mind." She was appointed by the queen ranger of Windsor Park, an appointment which she greatly valued, and had a residence there appropriated for her use, to which she was much attached. The lodge of the park, she remarks, was a very agreeable residence; and "Anne had remembered, in the days of their friendship, that the duchess, in riding by it, had often wished for such a place." The castle was the scene of many a visit from "Queen Sarah," as she was popularly called, till her influence was undermined by the intrigues of the famous Mrs. Masham, that singular personage in English history.”

One way or another, it’s utterly clear to me that Sarah Jennings Churchill was a very big deal in JA’s fiction and life, and so it behooves us to pay the closest attention to her namesake, S&S’s Mrs. Jennings, who, despite her seeming a mere kind hearted, foolish gossip and busybody, increasingly takes on the aspect of the oracle of S&S.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

No comments: