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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, January 8, 2018

‘Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks’: Austen’s take on Lovelace’s sexualized misogyny

Diane Reynolds responded to my post about the iceberg of intertextuality concealed beneath the allusion to Prior’s Henry and Emma as follows:

"Arnie, an interesting post, convincingly supported with dense readings of the scholarship. Inkle and Yarico must be a part of this; we’ve discussed this before, and I went back to the original Steele text in The Spectator: in the first lines, the word constancy appears, establishing this as the theme of that essay, and Arietta strikes me more than ever as a parallel to Anne and Austen (or vice versa)..."

Diane, I am absolutely gobsmacked that I didn’t remember that female constancy was a major theme of Inkle and Yarico, which, as you say, indeed indeed indeed must be part of that intertextual matrix in Persuasion! I just went back to my file from only a few months ago about Mansfield islands which I had compiled after reading your remarkable initial post on that topic, and here's what I was going to write to you then, but then I had way too much material to put in a single post, so I put it aside:

"Diane, when Felsenstein quoted Steele’s Arietta re women reacting to being insulted, he did not realize that Steele’s Arietta provides the most important source for Anne Elliot’s defense of female constancy. When I went back to Steele’s entire text, it became even more obvious..."

This is totally mind-blowing, and yet, with 20:20 hindsight, totally to be expected, that Austen, being the literary packrack that she was, collected ALL the relevant sources for a given theme -- in this case, the collective male literary slander on female constancy! I imagine her wonky pleasure as she, over time, collected each brick in the wall of evidence to support Anne Elliot’s impassioned speech!

My hypothesis is that Austen had an epiphany right after she finished that first version of the ending of Persuasion, on multiple levels – first and foremost, she realized that the first ending was lame from a romantic and novelistic perspective, and needed to be replaced with a powerful ending; but she also realized that, as part of that added power, she needed to hammer home the theme of females under attack as inconstant – so first and foremost, she added the debate between Anne and Harville; but she also, I am guessing, added that sentence explicitly referring to Henry and Emma in Chapter 11 as well. She realized that she had been too implicit, and so she decided to give a giant hint or two to help well-read readers recognize what was going on.

Thanks a million for bringing that forward!!!

I also have a few extra tidbits that I collected this morning: one tiny, one huge:

First the tiny one, re Anne and Wentworth as latter-day, comic-ending Clarissa and Lovelace, here is the wonderfully sensitive reader, Juliet McMaster, in her 2004 book Reading the Body in the Eighteenth-Century Novel: “Like Lovelace and Clarissa, Anne and Wentworth are ‘great watchers of each other’s eyes’; and the eye motions as well as the blushes and pallor, provide their best means of communication.”

Second, here is sly wordplay, which I found with a bit of creative word-searching, hidden in plain sight in the picturesque narrative description of Pinny (the highlight of the Lyme land and seascape described in Chapter 11 of  Persuasion). I suggest that is meant to point to Richardson’s Lovelace – can you spot it? Scroll down when you’re ready, to learn what I see, and why I find it very important.

“…above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest trees and orchards of luxuriant growth, declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again, to make the worth of Lyme understood…”




I know it will seem far-fetched at first, but “lovely is” just happens to be a very close homophone for “Lovelace”. So what? Standing alone, what light would it shed on the allusion to Clarissa in Persuasion? Well, it becomes very interesting when you take a closer look at the rest of that quoted excerpt, in which “the worth of Lyme” in picturesque terms is measured by comparison to “the resembling scenes” in another, more famous, local picturesque spot – the Isle of Wight (which is, by the way, not visible from Lyme, but is located further to the east on the southern English coast).

It becomes more significant because it just so happens, as I found out via a single search within the text of Clarissa, that the Isle of Wight actually plays a small but memorable role in Clarissa, as set forth by Lovelace himself in one of his letters to Belford in Volume 4. In it, Lovelace outlines (as Judith Pascoe put it) his “outrageous flight of malevolent fancy against Clarissa’s best friend Anna Howe. Lovelace plans for his coterie of rakes to carry out a triple rape of Anna Howe, her mother, and their maidservant during a voyage to the Isle of Wight”. To which I respond, “Whoa!”

Here, then, is the full, short text of Lovelace’s sexually violent fantasy, after which I will explain how this fits with that description of the picturesque of Lyme:

“And now, that my beloved [Clarissa] seems secure in my net, for my project upon the vixen Miss Howe, and upon her mother: in which the officious prancer Hickman is to come in for a dash. But why upon her mother, methinks thou askest, who, unknown to herself, has only acted, by the impulse, through thy agent Joseph Leman, upon the folly of old Tony the uncle? No matter for that: she believes she acts upon her own judgment: and deserves to be punished for pretending to judgment, when she has none.— Every living soul, but myself, I can tell thee, shall be punished, that treats either cruelly or disrespectfully so adored a lady.—What a plague! is it not enough that she is teased and tormented in person by me?
I have already broken the matter to our three confederates; as a supposed, not a resolved-on case indeed. And yet they know, that with me, in a piece of mischief, execution, with its swiftest feel, is seldom three paces behind projection, which hardly ever limps neither. [Lovelace then discusses the role of each of his supposed confederates, and then]
The project, in short, is this:—Mrs. Howe has an elder sister in the Isle of Wight, who is lately a widow; and I am well informed, that the mother and daughter have engaged, before the latter is married, to pay a visit to this lady, who is rich, and intends Miss for her heiress; and in the interim will make her some valuable presents on her approaching nuptials; which, as Mrs. Howe, who loves money more than any thing but herself, told one of my acquaintance, would be worth fetching.
Now, Jack, nothing more need be done, than to hire a little trim vessel, which shall sail a pleasuring backward and forward to Portsmouth, Spithead, and the Isle of Wight, for a week or fortnight before we enter upon our parts of the plot. And as Mrs. Howe will be for making the best bargain she can for her passage, the master of the vessel may have orders (as a perquisite allowed him by his owners) to take what she will give: and the master's name, be it what it will, shall be Ganmore on the occasion; for I know a rogue of that name, who is not obliged to be of any country, any more than we.
Well, then, we will imagine them on board. I will be there in disguise. They know not any of ye four—supposing (the scheme so inviting) that thou canst be one. 'Tis plaguy hard, if we cannot find, or make a storm. Perhaps they will be sea-sick: but whether they be or not, no doubt they will keep their cabin.
Here will be Mrs. Howe, Miss Howe, Mr. Hickman, a maid, and a footman, I suppose: and thus we will order it.
I know it will be hard weather: I know it will: and, before there can be the least suspicion of the matter, we shall be in sight of Guernsey, Jersey, Dieppe, Cherbourg, or any where on the French coast that it shall please us to agree with the winds to blow us: and then, securing the footman, and the women being separated, one of us, according to lots that may be cast, shall overcome, either by persuasion or force, the maid servant: that will be no hard task; and she is a likely wench, [I have seen her often:] one, Mrs. Howe; nor can there be much difficulty there; for she is full of health and life, and has been long a widow: another, [that, says the princely lion, must be I!] the saucy daughter; who will be much too frightened to make great resistance, [violent spirits, in that sex, are seldom true spirits—'tis but where they can:] and after beating about the coast for three or four days for recreation's sake, and to make sure work, till we see our sullen birds begin to eat and sip, we will set them all ashore where it will be most convenient; sell the vessel, [to Mrs. Townsend's agents, with all my heart, or to some other smugglers,] or give it to Ganmore; and pursue our travels, and tarry abroad till all is hushed up.”  END QUOTE from Lovelace letter

Wow! Richardson’s Lovelace was one very angry, perverted young man, wasn’t he? But what in the world could Austen have meant by hinting at Lovelace’s violent Isle of Wight fantasy of sexual violence against “the saucy daughter” Anna Howe, of whom, I suggested before, Lovelace is insanely jealous, vis a vis their common beloved, Clarissa?

About 40 years ago, Alethea Hayter was, I believe, the first to suggest that Austen was inspired by and pointing to the following lines in Coleridge’s Kubla Khan:

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:

From “deep romantic chasm” to “green chasms between romantic rocks” is a small jump indeed, and so I do believe Austen meant to paraphrase Coleridge. But why? For the answer to that, I believe that Loraine Fletcher, in “Time and Mourning in Persuasion” (1998) in Women's Writing, 5:1, 81-90, was on the right track regarding Austen’s unstated purpose:   “There may be an echo of Coleridge’s ‘deep romantic chasm’ in Kubla Khan here, and the woody varieties and evolution of the landscape perhaps reveal some interest in The Loves of Plants and other work of Erasmus Darwin, whose influence on the beginnings of Romanticism is only just beginning to be recognised….”

Whether Fletcher meant this or not, when we’re talking about The Loves of Plants, we’re talking about erotic poetry which uses natural imagery drawn from the plant and mineral world in a sexually suggestive way. The Loves of Plants was Erasmus Darwin’s poetic erotic love letter to his future wife, Mrs. Pole (who, as I’ve claimed since 2006, was the very same lady who wrote brilliant praise of Mansfield Park).

So (exactly as I’ve previously claimed regarding the narrative description of Pemberley in P&P and of Sotherton in MP) Jane Austen has subtly amped up the sexual quotient from Coleridge’s lines, when she economically creates a subliminal but clear portrait of the most intimate portion of the female body:
“green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest trees and orchards of luxuriant growth”

That’s language drawn straight from Cleland’s Fanny Hill playbook of sexual landscape imagery. And it fits with startling aptness with Lovelace’s misogynistic fantasy of sexual violence against Anna Howe.  Indeed, given Lovelace’s literary, poetic bent, I am guessing that there is at least one passage somewhere in the massive bulk of Clarissa where Lovelace used comparable erotic landscape imagery.

The Clarissa in Persuasion more and more proves to be a treasure trove of interpretive possibilities, doesn’t it?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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