In this followup post to my earlier ones (responding to Ellen Moody’s initial post) about the allusion in Austen’s Persuasion to Matthew Prior’s Henry and Emma, I’m now ready, after further scholarly delving and reflection, to confidently explain the full significance of Austen’s allusion, to wit: Austen’s revised ending of Persuasion, with its memorable debate between Anne and Harville about male-dominated literature’s denial of female constancy, is part of Austen’s complex response to Prior’s famous poem; with the crucial additional insight that Austen filtered her response to Prior through Sarah Fielding’s protofeminist Remarks on (Richardson’s) Clarissa, which illuminates an intertextual matrix that includes Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale (and the Wife of Bath’s Tale), and one of Shakespeare’s great comedies as well!
Within that overview, I see Austen as having particularly engaged in a variety of subtle ways with Richardson’s complex, tragic dyad of Clarissa and Lovelace, in constructing the relationship between her own couple, Anne and Wentworth; and having left several key textual hints in Persuasion pointing in that direction. That’s a lot to unpack, so I’ll get right to it.
I: AUSTEN ALLUDES TO SARAH FIELDING’S REMARKS ON CLARISSA: I begin with Austen’s allusion to Prior: the key that turned the lock that concealed all of the above was Austen’s sly wink at Fielding’s take on Clarissa and Prior’s poem in plain sight, for those with eyes to see it. Fielding’s midrash on Clarissa is an extended fictional conversation about Richardson’s heroine’s character, and in particular her capacity to love. In the following quoted passage, Fielding’s alter ego, Miss Gibson, defends Clarissa: “if I can guess any thing of the Author's intention by what is already published, I fancy, when we have read the conclusion of this story, we shall be convinced that love was the strongest characteristic of Clarissa's mind."
Bellario answered, with that candor, which is known to be one of the most distinguishing marks of his Character by all who have the pleasure of his Acquaintance, 'That if it proved so, he should have the greatest Esteem and highest Veneration for Clarissa, and would suspend his Judgment till he saw the remaining Part of the Story.'
But all the Company were not so candid, for Mr. Dellincourt said, 'He was sure Clarissa could not in the remaining Part of the Story convince him, that her Characteristic was Love; for nothing less than the lovely Emma's Passion for Henry would be any Satisfaction to him, if he was a Lover.'
Miss Gibson said. 'She had often been sorry that the Poem of Henry and Emma had not been long ago buried in Oblivion; for (continued she) it is one of those Things which, by the Dress and Ornaments of fine Language and smooth Poetry, has imposed on Mankind so strong a Fallacy, as to make a Character in itself most despicable, nay I may say most blameable, generally thought worthy Admiration and Praise: For strip it of the dazzling Beauties of Poetry, and thus fairly may the Story be told.” END QUOTE
Miss Gibson then goes on to summarize, with many details, the awful, sadistic sexism of Prior’s Henry.
I assert that Austen seized upon Mr. Dellincourt’s statement that
“nothing less than the lovely Emma's Passion for Henry would be any Satisfaction to [Lovelace], if he was a Lover",”
and tweaked it into noticeably parallel phraseology in Anne Elliot’s passing thoughts in Persuasion:
"Without emulating the feelings of an Emma towards her Henry, she would have attended on Louisa with a zeal above the common claims of regard, for [Wentworth's] sake."
By this wink, Austen alerted her observant readers to approach the lurching rebirth of Wentworth’s and Anne’s love through the lens of Fielding’s Remarks on Clarissa, in particular the lengthy section which Austen so subtly tagged as I’ve shown above. Miss Gibson specifically and methodically decimates Prior’s poem, and provides prime testimony in support of Anne Elliot’s refusal to allow male-written literature like Prior’s poem as evidence of women’s inconstancy (you can read the relevant excerpt at ppg 19-22 of Fielding’s essay here): https://www.gutenberg.org/files/27744/27744-h/27744-h.htm
The main point of this echoing by Austen is that she isn’t merely alluding to Prior’s poem, she’s also, and far more significantly, pointing to Richardson’s Clarissa, and behind them both, to Chaucer.
II: BASSIL’S “THE FACES OF GRISELDA”: And that brings me to the point of happily acknowledging my primary inspiration and scholarly source for a number of the above claims: an article amazing for its ingenuity, thoroughness, and its being written entirely in plain, jargon-free English!: “The Faces of Griselda: Chaucer, Prior, and Richardson” by Veronica Bassil in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Summer 1984), 157- 182.
While I urge you all to read Bassil’s entire article in JSTOR, for now I’ll just quote the intro, which outlines Bassil’s “big picture”. As you go, note her passing reference to Austen’s allusion to Prior, which I’ve extended, as implied by my above Subject Line, by adding Austen (and Shakespeare) to the list of authors who address the male obsession with women’s constancy. Austen alluded to those prior sources as a unified intertextual matrix, most of all as she revised the ending of Persuasion:
[Bassil article intro] “Matthew Prior's dramatic poem Henry and Emma (1709), although deprecated by later critics, was in its own time extremely popular. Praised by Cowper as an "enchanting piece" and acknowledged by Johnson to be ‘the greatest of all his amorous essays’ the poem was reprinted through out the century…Indeed, writing Persuasion in 1815-16, Jane Austen could include a reference to Emma's love for Henry in full confidence of her readers' recognition. While Prior's "rococo version" of a medieval ballad no longer excites the interest it once did, it continues to claim our attention, not perhaps as poetry but as an important link between two undeniably significant literary works- Chaucer's Clerk's Tale (1393-1400) and Richardson's Clarissa (1747-59).
Certainly the works in question are all deeply concerned with the same central action- the rigorous testing which a virtuous maiden undergoes at the hands of a harsh and deceitful husband or suitor. In each case moreover, the heroine is presented as an almost allegorical model of piety and faith; thus, the Clerk eulogizes Griselda's "pacience" and recommends it to "every wight, in his degree," Prior praises Emma as a "bright Example," and Richardson proposes Clarissa as "an examplar to her sex."
In this light, Henry and Emma may be regarded as a "missing link" in the evolution of the Griselda story from its medieval phase to the remarkably developed version found in Clarissa; as a transitional phase which facilitates not only the full novelistic treatment but also the psychological and sexual exploration of the Griselda theme.
Prior modeled his poem on The Not-Browne Mayd (or Nut Browne Mayd), a ballad which he encountered in the June 1707 issue of the Muses Mercury and which had been copied, via Pepys's collection of ballads from an older collection called Customs of London.…
[A]lthough The Not-Browne Mayd might have incorporated elements of traditional folk ballads, there is considerable evidence to suggest that it was strongly influenced by Chaucer's Clerk's Tale. The narrative action of these two tales is, as we have noted above, remarkably similar. In both cases the heroine's assertion that she would die rather than lose her lover is tested by a series of psychological rather than physical trials; hence, the knight of the ballad merely pretends to be an outlaw, "a banyshed man," and to have found a fairer love, just as Walter [as in Sir Walter Elliot!-A.P.] pretends to kill his children and to select a younger, more noble bride to replace Griselda.
Moreover, each tale climaxes the various tests with the same pièce de résistance- the introduction of a victorious rival; once the heroine demonstrates, even here, her humble and cheerful acquiescence, all trials cease, and her lover, undisguised, is restored to her. Both tales consider the issue of women's status, that is, the question of whether "womans faith is . . . / All utterly decayd"; both uphold the heroine as an example of feminine virtue… and both, as we shall see, conclude by advocating obedience to God….”
END QUOTE FROM THE BEGINNING OF BASSIL ARTICLE
I claim that Austen saw that “big picture” as she wrote Persuasion, and that’s why she explicitly alluded to Prior’s poem in that early scene in which Anne (the poetry lover) gets a bit of a shiver when she thinks of Henry’s Emma, as she volunteers to care for her romantic rival Louisa, in what feels to her like a kind of test of her love for Wentworth. Austen surely wanted us to hear Anne’s comment ironically, as we recall her private ruminations about Benwick in the immediately preceding chapter of Persuasion:
“…[Benwick] repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read only poetry, and to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.”
Indeed, “emulating the feelings of an Emma for her Henry” seems to be an emotionally risky path for Anne to travel down, being the same road previously trod by Chaucer’s Griselda, Prior’s Emma, and Richardson’s Clarissa.
III: ANNE ELLIOT & CLARISSA HARLOWE: I’ve found no evidence, after much searching online the past week, that any Austen scholar before myself has seen in Anne Elliot more than a trace of Richardson’s Clarissa Harlowe, but the above parallelism is what confirmed to me that Jane Austen did indeed wish us to be strongly reminded of Clarissa as we accompany Anne on her journey from gloom back to bloom.
For starters, there’s a significant, obvious resemblance in life situation. Each is a daughter in a dreadful nuclear family, the members of which uniformly treat her terribly, and as if her own wants and needs were nothing; and each has a loving older female friend and mentor, who watches out for, and cousels, her (Lady Russell and Anna Howe).
But by pointing to Prior’s Henry and Emma, and the matrix behind it, Jane Austen is alerting her literate readers to see more, and particularly to compare the subtle, mutual game of cat and mouse, in doubting each other’s constancy, that Anne and Wentworth engage in throughout Persuasion, as analogous to the tragic duel in that vein between Clarissa and Lovelace that goes on at great length in Richardson’s novel.
As for the Henry and Emma and Clarissa in Persuasion, I see now that it was foregrounded by Austen when she rewrote the romantic climactic scene of Persuasion at the White Hart Inn, and included Anne’s debate with Harville about female constancy. In the canceled chapters, we saw clear evidence of clumsy, overt stage management by the Crofts of the romantic climax of Wentworth and Anne; but what has not been recognized by Janeites in the revised ending, is that there is also romantic stage management at the White Hart Inn, involving several of the characters in the room with Anne and Wentworth, but far subtler and entirely covert, as I last summarized here: https://tinyurl.com/y8kde466
Just as I’ve previously noted in the above linked post that the covert matchmakers of Persuasion are based in part on those of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, so too I read in “Richardson's Repetitions” by Morris Golden in PMLA, Vol. 82, No. 1 (Mar., 1967), pp. 64-67 that “at various times Lovelace stages scenes (particularly with his creature Thomlinson) for Clarissa and others to overhear; and in the last novel Richardson's exhausted ingenuity serves up enough eavesdropping sequences for several burlesques of Much Ado About Nothing.” And, as Velma Richmond notes in Shakespeare, Catholicism, and Romance (2015): “Claudio is in the tradition of men who cannot believe or simply accept the virtues of a good woman, like Walter in the Clerk's Tale who compulsively tests Griselda.”
The Clerk’s Tale, which is the bookend to the Wife of Bath’s Tale, is about a marquis named Walter,
a bachelor who is asked by his subjects to marry to provide an heir. He assents and decides he will marry a peasant, named Griselda. Griselda is a poor girl, used to a life of pain and labour, who promises to honour Walter's wishes in all things. Jane Austen with her sharp feminist irony, flips that script, and has Mrs. Clay as a low born woman who is suspected of using guile to attempt to marry Sir Walter, and thereby take over Kellynch. I suggest we ought to make a great deal of ado about this covert matchmaking in Much Ado, Clarissa, and Persuasion, in particular because, among all of Shakespeare’s plays, Much Ado is the very one which harps most incessantly on the theme of…….constancy!!
IV: THE TWO WHITE HART INNS: And speaking of “stage management of romance at the White Hart Inn”, would you believe that I am the first literary scholar to notice that this phrase can refer not only to the climactic scene in Persuasion, but also to….Clarissa? Check out this passage from a letter written by Lovelace, talking about Clarissa and her horrid family: “…as my intelligencer acquaints me, her implacable relations are resolved to distress her all they can. These wretches have been most gloriously raving, it seems, ever since her flight; and still, thank Heaven, continue to rave; and will, I hope, for a twelve-month to come. Now, at last, it is my day! Bitterly do they regret, that they permitted her poultry-visits, and garden-walks, which gave her the opportunity they know she had (tho' they could not find out how) to concert, as they suppose, her pre-concerted escape. For, as to her dining in the Ivy-bower, they had a cunning design to answer upon her in that permission, as Betty told Joseph her lover. They lost, they say, an excellent pretence for more closely confining her, on my threatening to rescue her, if they offer'd to carry her against her will to old Antony's moated house. For this, as I told thee at the Hart, and as I once hinted to the dear creature herself, they had it in deliberation to do; apprehending, that I might attempt to carry her off, either with or without her consent, on some one of those connived-at excursions….”
“As I told thee at the Hart”? What could Lovelace be referring to? It took me but a single Google search to be brought to this earlier Lovelace letter to Belford, where I confirmed my suspicion:
“Thou wilt find me at a little alehouse, they call it an inn; The White Hart, most terribly wounded (but by the weather only), the sign: in a sorry village within five miles from Harlowe Place. Everybody knows Harlowe Place, for, like Versailles, it is sprung up from a dunghill, within every elderly person’s remembrance. Every poor body particularly knows it: but that only for a few years past, since a certain angel has appeared there among the sons and daughters of men. The people here at The Hart are poor, but honest; and have gotten it into their heads that I am a man of quality in disguise; and there is no reining-in their officious respect. Here is a pretty little smirking daughter, seventeen six days ago. I call her my Rosebud. Her grandmother (for there is no mother), a good neat old woman as ever filled a wicker chair in a chimney-corner, has besought me to be merciful to her…”
So, is it just a coincidence that the White Hart Inn happens to be the very spot where Lovelace stays when he stage-manages the tricking of Clarissa into leaving her family home under his so-called protection? As Lovelace recalls in Volume 5: “To look a litter farther back: Canst thou forget what my sufferings were from this haughty beauty in the whole time of my attendance upon her proud motions, in the purlieus of Harlowe-place, and at the little White Hart, at Neale, as we called it?—Did I not threaten vengeance upon her then (and had I not reason?) for disappointing me of a promised interview?”
This is no coincidence!! Jane Austen, as she revised her ending of Persuasion, wanted her Richardson-savvy readers to think of Lovelace’s stage management at an inn with that identical name: “White Hart”.
V: THE TWO “REPULSIVELY’S”: And there’s still more that unites Persuasion and Clarissa. Please now read the following excerpt from Jocelyn Harris’s A Revolution Almost Beyond Expression (2006):
“In the 1818 text [of Persuasion], Anne’s eloquence contrasts vividly with her silence in the manuscript. When Wentworth meets Anne in Union Street, it is he who ‘said nothing- only looked,’ while Anne ‘could command herself enough to receive that look, and not repulsively’, meaning in a repelling manner. Perhaps Austen recalled Clarissa here, for that compulsive neologist Samuel Richardson seems to have invented the word for a scene where the heroine, discomposed by abduction from her father’s house to a St. Alban’s inn, shows ‘uneasiness’ before the curious servants: ‘She cast a conscious glance, as she alighted,’ and ‘repulsively, as I may say, quitted my assisting hand, and hurried into the house.’ In a typical challenge to her mentor, Austen makes Charles Musgrove incurious and Anne glad rather than disgusted by her suitor’s advances. Those readers who were familiar with Richardson, like Cassandra Austen, would understand that Anne acts in pointed denial of Clarissa’s revulsion from Lovelace when she signals to Wentworth her willingness to walk with him and accepts the offer of his arm. Also, instead of occurring at an early stage of the relationship, as with Clarissa and Lovelace, Austen’s scene occurs in the 1818 text only after Anne speaks out to refute all the old, misogynistic arguments about woman’s inconstancy, after she offers herself implicitly as an example of a faithful woman.”
Here’s the full passage in Persuasion: “They were on Union Street, when a quicker step behind, a something of familiar sound, gave her two moments' preparation for the sight of Captain Wentworth. He joined them; but, as if irresolute whether to join or to pass on, said nothing, only looked. Anne could command herself enough to receive that look, and not REPULSIVELY. The cheeks which had been pale now glowed, and the movements which had hesitated were decided. He walked by her side.”
And here is the parallel passage in Lovelace’s letter: “At their alighting at the inn at St. Alban's on
Monday night, thus [Lovelace] writes: ‘The people who came about us, as we alighted, seemed by their jaw-fallen faces, and goggling eyes, to wonder at beholding a charming young lady, majesty in her air and aspect, so composedly dressed, yet with features so discomposed, come off a journey which had made the cattle smoke, and the servants sweat. I read their curiosity in their faces, and my beloved's uneasiness in hers. She cast a conscious glance, as she alighted, upon her habit, which was no habit; and repulsively, as I may say, quitting my hand, hurried into the house…’
Harris’s sharp ear has alerted her to a parallel which takes on tenfold greater meaning, when it is viewed in the context of all the parallels between Clarissa and the Persuasion scene at the White Hart Inn.
VI: THE THREE HEAD INJURIES: And I conclude this post with yet another intertextual gem, a motif that appears in Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale, Clarissa, and Persuasion. In the 1775 edition of the Canterbury Tales, we find a famous passage in the Wife of Bath’s Tale which Jocelyn Harris cited in 1986 as a source for Louisa Musgrove’s fall in Persuasion. The Wife of Bath describes how she pretends to fall and seriously injure her head. To those two instances, now I add a third from (where else?) Clarissa!!!!
Once again, I turn to that Hamletian Machiavel, Lovelace, as described in “A Critical Exploration of Jane Austen’s Persuasion” by Carroll Ann Goon (1983):
“[Lovelace] plays with the workings of his own mind, and enjoys seizing upon a traditional emblem or symbol and perverting its usual meaning. This attitude is evident in Lovelace's image of the fairground ride, which is used in pictorial art as an emblem of greedy folly and insecurity. Lovelace adapts this emblem as an image of sexual conquest and subverts the intent of the emblem. He pictures himself as a mere employee at the fair and Clarissa a "pretty little Miss," "delighted and delighting," who grows giddy and FALLS OFF THE RIDE. "And if," Lovelace asks, "after two or three ups and downs, her pretty head turns giddy, and she throws herself out of the coach when at its elevation, and so DASHES OUT HER PRETTY LITTLE BRAINS, who can help it?— And would you hang the poor fellow, whose professed trade it was to set the pretty little creature a flying?". Lovelace uses this emblem to justify himself and to throw the blame on Clarissa: he, as a rake, is socially acceptable as such— and if Clarissa falls for him and gets hurt, she herself (or her society which accepts such activities) is to blame, not Lovelace….”
So now you know why “the Faces of Griselda” include not only those created by Chaucer, Prior, and Richardson, but also Shakespeare’s and Austen’s, too!
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Thank you so much for this. It’s brilliant! Love how you revealed Austin’s deliberate revisions and reworking of Richardson’s Clarissa. Wow!!
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