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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The ‘Lucifer Geese’ of S&S & Emma vis-a-vis Jane Austen’s Michaelmas/S&S 1813 letters

Since 2002, I’ve written numerous times about Lucy Ferrars as the “Lucifer” of Sense & Sensibility -- the satanic, behind-the-scenes Prime Mover of the resolution of the novel’s various romantic arcs. In 2013, I summarized that as follows:     “Lucy tricks Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny Dashwood into disinheriting Edward, only when Lucy already knows that she's got Robert in her pocket. That’s the precise moment when Lucy Steele (soon to be Lucy Ferrars or Lucy-Fer) stages her own eviction from Heaven (Fanny's London residence) by prompting her bigmouth sister into blabbing about Edward and Lucy. In effect, Lucy turns Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny D. into comic parodies of St. Michael, because they hurl Lucifer down from Heaven. But then, after a short time in ‘hell’, Lucy-Fer climbs right back up, and within a short time establishes herself not just as the favorite, but as the ruler of Heaven!
I see Lucy as not actually evil, because the ripple effect of her scheme is to leave Elinor married to Edward and Marianne married to Colonel Brandon—so she has, beneficently, taken care of Elinor and Marianne just as much as she has taken care of herself! Lucy is a secret schemer who deliberately sets up the dominoes to fall in such a way as to leave her ultimately in firm control of the Ferrars family (who richly deserve poetic justice) and with a career as the Lady Catherine of the Ferrars family in her future.”

I wrote that summary in 2013, invoking the Biblical war in heaven between the Archangel Michael and Satan, as part of a post in which I detailed Mrs. Jennings’s mysterious obsession with Michaelmas as a prophetic marital deadline -- mysterious mainly because it appears not once but four times in S&S:

FIRST, in Chapter 32, we find Mrs. Jennings abandoning the expectation that Colonel Brandon would marry Marianne, but instead beginning to expect that the Colonel would marry Elinor instead, and, furthermore, would do it right after Michaelmas;
SECOND, in Chapter 37, Mrs. Jennings reports to Elinor that Mrs. Ferrars has disinherited Edward, and in Chapter 40 Mrs. Jennings learns that Elinor and Colonel Brandon are not actually planning to marry as Mrs. Jennings mistakenly believed;
THIRD, Mrs. Jennings is then echoed in this expectation in Chapter 41 by Lucy herself; &
FOURTH, in Chapter 50, after Edward and Elinor are married, Mrs. Jennings’s prediction is fulfilled.

In my 2013 post, I went on as follows:     “Indeed, Mrs. Jennings’s prophecies “though rather jumbled together, were chiefly fulfilled”, and we may wonder why we are reminded of the ironic prophecies regarding Oedipus in Oedipus Rex, where the true significance of a similarly cryptic prophecy is not understood till it is fulfilled (in Sophocles, tragically, but in S&S, happily)…. I say that Mrs. Jennings is not a latter day Tiresias, she does not have the gift of prophecy, but she was able to accurately ‘predict’ the outcome of the marital quadrille in S&S, because she actually was a benevolent co-conspirator all along with Lucy Steele, working covertly to bring about this desirable outcome. The biggest clue to Mrs. Jennings’s involvement in Lucy’s scheme is Mrs. Jennings’s repeated references to Michaelmas.”


I’m revisiting the above Michaelmas/Lucifer subtext of S&S today, because I only just realized that it is connected to what Maggie Lane, in 2003, wrote in Jane Austen and Food about a seemingly passing comment by Jane Austen to sister Cassandra in Letter 91 dated October 10-11, 1813:

“In 1807 Robert Southey published a book which JA is known to have read. Entitled Letters from England…it provides us with some useful insights into the customs of her times. ‘On the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, everybody must eat goose for dinner…’ Southey wrote. Goose was traditional at Michaelmas…An old proverb went, ‘Who eats goose on Michael’s day Shan’t money lack his debts to pay’. … Jane Austen, having eaten goose at Godmersham on Michaelmas day 1813, remembered this saying and wrote to Cassandra: ‘I dined upon Goose yesterday, which I hope will secure a good Sale of my 2nd Edition.’
The goose which Mrs. Martin sends as a present to Mrs. Goddard at the end of Harriet’s visit to Abbey Mill Farm is a Michaelmas goose…Harriet of course is a goose; and it is perhaps a little joke at her expense that Harriet should have something to relate about a goose - a goose which features in a double act of generosity. First Mrs Martin makes a gift of it to Mrs Goddard, and then Mrs Goddard shares the eating of it with her employees. Harriet tells Emma, 'Mrs Martin was so very kind as to send Mrs Goddard a beautiful goose: the finest goose Mrs Goddard had ever seen. Mrs Goddard had dressed it on a Sunday and asked all the three teachers, Miss Nash, Miss Prince and Miss Richard son, to sup with her.'  “

The “2nd edition” to which JA referred in that Letter (#91 dated Oct. 11-12, 1813) on Old Michaelmas Day, was of course that of S&S; and Lane’s citation of the proverb (which appeared in the British Apollo periodical in 1708) drew upon annotations by Chapman and Le Faye.

I was led to take my first notice of the Michaelmas subtext of JA’s goose dinner, by reading a recent article, “Jane Austen’s Literary Ego as Revealed in her Letters: References to her Primary Works” by  Juan de Dios Torralbo-Caballero, who provided a further gloss of JA’s wink at that proverb:

“[JA] made her family circle aware of the publication of the second edition of her novel and of her desire for its sale. On November 3, she again wrote to Cassandra stating that she owed her beloved Henry a little money for the printing, which tells us that the author herself covered the costs of this second edition.”

On the surface, JA’s wink at that proverb is likely a mask for her worry about her debt to Henry, which she incurred so as to achieve publication of S&S’s 2nd edition. Just let that sink in; for S&S to reach a wider audience, JA had to pay for it herself! So of course JA’s fingers are crossed that this 2nd edition will sell, so as to fund repayment of her debt to Henry --- hence her invocation of the proverb about goose-eating for that very purpose! But there’s much more to her wink at the proverb even than that.


I suggest that Jane invokes that witty proverb not only vis a vis her ability to repay Henry; she is also reminding her sister of what I wrote at the beginning of this post --- that, in S&S, Lucy reverses the Biblical (and Paradise Lost) battle of St. Michael vs. Satan. JA covertly presents Lucy as a bold female who, starting from a seemingly powerless position at the bottom of the gentry, uses Satan-like tactics and strength of mind, and overcomes the odds to remedy patriarchal oppression. And, what’s more, JA didn’t forget Michaelmas after writing S&S and then Letter 91 – I also see the veiled hint to the Michaelmas goose in Emma, that Lane noted, as a further clue to JA’s knowing readers as to the striking similarity between Lucy in S&S, and Harriet Smith, as I briefly described in my 2017 JASNA AGM presentation:

“In the shadow story of Emma, Harriet is the opposite of what she seems to Emma –Harriet is a worldly-wise, calculating, intrepid young woman with no education (very much like Fielding’s Shamela and also S&S’s Lucy Steele), who is determined to use her uncommonly strong mind to even the courtship playing field that is so heavily tilted against her by a hypocritical, unjust, sexist, classist society. And the weak minded individual in this equation is Emma! I.e., it is Emma, whom the shadow Harriet plays like a drum -- by sucking up to Emma, playing on Emma’s narcissism with never-ending faux deference for 46 long chapters, all in order to get and stay close to Harriet’s true target, which from Day One of the novel, I suggest, has been……marriage to Knightley!”


And I assert there’s even more to the Michaelmas/Lucifer subtext of S&S, which throws shadows on the character of Colonel Brandon. Take a closer look at what Mrs. Jennings, “with all her natural hilarity”, tells Elinor about his great estate:   “Delaford is a nice place, I can tell you; exactly what I call a nice old fashioned place, full of comforts and conveniences; quite shut in with great garden walls that are covered with the best fruit-trees in the country; and such a MULBERRY TREE in one corner! Lord! how Charlotte and I did stuff the only time we were there!”

I wonder whether she is hinting at the following, R-rated tidbits about Satan, berries and Michaelmas:
[Wikipedia] “Michaelmas…In Christian angelology, the Archangel Michael…is honored for defeating Satan in the war in heaven...Old Michaelmas Day falls on 11 October…It is said that the Devil fell out of Heaven on this date, and fell into a BLACKBERRY BUSH, cursing the fruit as he fell. According to an old legend, blackberries should not be picked after this date. In Yorkshire, it is said that the devil had spat on them [whereas in] Cornwall…the saying goes that the devil urinated on them.”

I quoted Mrs. Jennings’s take on Delaford, because I’ve long been of the same opinion as Gideon Polya (1998); i.e., that the real life model for Delaford was Daylesford, the estate of Warren Hastings. I was reminded of Hastings by the following statement in Torralbo-Caballero’s article about another letter JA wrote not long before her reference to her Michaelmas goose dinner:  “On September 16 of [1813], Jane expressed her interest in sending [S&S] to third parties, such as Warren Hastings, in a letter to her sister Cassandra.” And here is what JA wrote:  “And Mr. Hastings-I am quite delighted with what such a Man writes about [P&P]—Henry sent him the Books [i.e., both P&P and S&S] after his return from Daylesford – but you will hear the Letter too.”

What Torralbo-Caballero failed to pick up on, however, is that, later in that same Sept. 16, 1813 letter, composed over two days, JA also wrote the following:  “Nothing has been done as to S&S. The Books came to hand too late for [Henry] to have time for it, before he went. Mr Hastings never hinted at Eliza in the smallest degree….”

I don’t think that JA’s comment about Hastings’ failure to hint at Eliza “in the smallest degree” has ever been adequately explained. That line tells me that Austen’s primary purpose in wanting Hastings to read S&S, and then to have Henry find out what the great man thought of S&S, was that she wanted to know whether he saw himself in the character of Colonel Brandon; and if Hastings saw her cousin Eliza in the character of the younger Eliza Williams (whom Mrs. Jennings hints is Brandon’s illegitimate daughter, victimized by Willoughby).

Curiosity about Hastings’s reaction to S&S reveals that JA was not merely eager to pay her publishing debt to Henry and make money in general from her writing -- it was equally, if not more, important to her, that those culpable wrongdoers in the real world, whom she had skewered in her novels, should read them and see themselves in the mirror! So she wanted to know whether Hastings was prompted (like Claudius watching the Murder of Gonzago in Hamlet) into a guilty acknowledgment of having fathered Eliza (who had died only months earlier in 2013), and perhaps into helping her brother Henry (Eliza’s widower) financially.

In exactly the same “catching the conscience of a king” vein, I’ve argued that JA was so eager to confront James and Mary Austen with the unflattering portrait in Chapter 2 of S&S of what I’ve called their “rape of Steventon” in 1801. That was when James and Mary bought out JA’s parents for a song, which is enacted in John Dashwood’s clueless hypocrisy in being led by the nose by his greedy wife Fanny in the very first scene in her published fiction. JA was confronting her eldest brother and his wife with their wrongdoing, but I doubt she ever received the desired apology.

And also in that same vein, we’ve known since 2007 that JA, in 1815, embedded in Mr. Elton’s charade the most excoriating satire of the Prince Regent (the “Prince of Whales”, as depicted in Charles Lamb’s “Triumph of the Whale”, per Colleen Sheehan, & Cruikshank’s “The Fisherman at Anchor”, per myself) in the very same novel, Emma, which JA contrived to dedicate to His Royal Whalen-- (I mean, Highness).


And speaking of Emma, that brings me full circle back to Maggie Lane’s catch that the goose which Mrs. Martin sends to Mrs. Goddard is a Michaelmas goose, which I also hadn’t know till yesterday. Here is the relevant passage in Emma, Chapter 4:  
[Harriet to Emma] ‘And when she had come away, Mrs. Martin was so very kind as to send Mrs. Goddard a beautiful goose-the finest goose Mrs. Goddard had ever seen. Mrs. Goddard had dressed it on a Sunday, and asked all the three teachers, Miss Nash, and Miss Prince, and Miss Richardson, to sup with her.’

I suggest there are two Michaelmas connotations of that gift of a goose. First, it suggests that Mrs. Martin is reminding Mrs. Goddard of the debt that Mrs. Goddard owes to Mrs. Martin, perhaps for their having taken Harriet off Mrs. Goddard’s hands for the previous summer. I wonder whether this is a hint that Mrs. Martin mistrusts Harriet’s intentions toward her son Robert, and so is hinting that Mrs. Goddard should send Harriet elsewhere? This may well account for why Mrs. Goddard chooses that particular moment to send Harriet over to Hartfield to become Emma’s “pet” – is it really just the recent departure from Hartfield by Miss Taylor? Or is it JA’s way of pointing out to the knowing reader that Harriet Smith is a lot more like Lucy (Lucifer) Steele than has previously been recognized?

Food for thought---or rather, geese for dining-- on this late January day, in a post in which I celebrate the brilliance and infinite depths of Jane Austen’s artistry and moral purpose, and acknowledge my debt to her for an infinite quantity of reading pleasure and edification!

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

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