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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wentworth & Sidney Parker: Austen’s interesting Lovelacean isomeric compounds of cruelty & lust??

Yesterday, I claimed that Jane Austen, in her picturesque description of “Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks” during the Lyme episode in Persuasion, deliberately slipped in the words “lovely is” as a homophone for “Lovelace”, the villain in Richardson’s Clarissa. I then argued that Austen’s favorable comparison of Lyme’s Pinny to the “resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight” was a further, provocative wink at Lovelace’s violent fantasy of perpetrate a treble gang rape against Anna Howe, her mother, and her servant during a voyage by these women to the Isle of Wight, which Lovelace would’ve lured them into.

I didn’t try to explain what this disturbing veiled allusion to Lovelace’s vile fantasy might mean, within the context of the overall allusion in Persuasion to Lovelace and Clarissa that I outlined in my second preceding post. But even as I made my case, I knew that even those who ordinarily find my subtextual speculations plausible, would think that I had gone too far in this case, in attempting to leap across a subtextual chasm too wide.

Well, it was while rereading my last post, and following up on loose ends, that I was reminded that there actually is ironclad evidence that, only months after Austen revised the ending of Persuasion and thereby amped up her veiled allusion to Clarissa throughout her novel, she thereafter remained strongly focused on Lovelace’s awful, rationalizing misogynies and predations on women, both real and imagined.

I am referring to the explicit and extensive allusion to Lovelace in the Sanditon fragment, begun by Austen only months after she completed Persuasion, in which her absurd creation Sir Edward Denham repeatedly speaks in reverential tones to the heroine Charlotte about Richardson’s Lovelace. He is so over-the-top absurd in his adulation for Lovelace, that (as several Austen scholars have essentially noted) it is almost as if Clarissa were a courtship manual for him, and Lovelace was the ultimate exemplar of what a man ought to do to win a woman’s love – a truly scary thought!

If anyone doubts my characterization, just read the scenes in Chapters 7 and 8 of the Sanditon fragment, and you’ll see that I haven’t exaggerated at all—Sir Edward proudly presents himself as a sexual predator in training; and no small part of this, as has also been pointed out repeatedly, is that the woman he more than once refers to as the object of his seduction schemes is Clara (a shorter form of Clarissa) Brereton, who is a rival with him for inheritance from his aunt, the imperious Lady Denham.

So, for those who thought I was seeing a textual phantom, when I claimed “lovely is” was Jane Austen’s code for “Lovelace”, does not the above, overt allusion to Lovelace in Sanditon make my claim about Lovelace in Persuasion more plausible? But that’s just the start. With a very little digging, I quickly uncovered two more textual clues in Sanditon, which suggest to me that while Sir Edward is making all this Lovelace wannabe noise, Austen is subtly linking Lovelace to another male character in Sanditon, Sidney Parker.

Sidney is the young man whom some Austen scholars have speculated would’ve been the romantic hero destined to marry the heroine Charlotte Heywood, had Austen lived to finish Sanditon. Certainly, among the Parker siblings, he seems to be the only “normal” one! In that context, then, first please read the following passage in Sanditon, when Tom Parker is reading aloud a letter from his sister Diana, in which Sidney’s arrival in Sanditon is subtly prepared for:

“…I have heard nothing of Sidney since your being together in town, but conclude his scheme to the ISLE OF WIGHT has not taken place or we should have seen him in his way.”
…."Well," said Mr. Parker, as he finished. "Though I dare say Sidney might find something extremely entertaining in this letter and make us laugh for half an hour together, I declare I, by myself, can see nothing in it but what is either very pitiable or very creditable. With all their sufferings, you perceive how much they are occupied in promoting the good of others!”

Is it just a coincidence that Diana refers to Sidney as having (like Lovelace) a “scheme to the Isle of Wight”? Of course Diana seems to be referring to an innocent tourist visit by Sidney to the scenic Isle of Wight, a trip which apparently has not occurred, freeing Sidney up to come to Sanditon; but now just try reading Tom Parker’s jocular comments if they were actually a darkly ironic hint at Lovelace’s rape fantasy which I quoted in my preceding post. From that point of view, there then emerges the blackest of black humor for such a “scheme” of gang rape to be “extremely entertaining” and so funny as to cause a “half an hour” of laughter!

I am now confident that JA was ironically foreshadowing that Sidney Parker (who when he shows up in Sanditon dazzles Charlotte with his good looks and manners) may well turn out to be a Lovelace -- but not, like Sir Edward, zeroed in on Clara, but toward Charlotte herself—Charlotte, who, like many an Austen heroine, is so focused on Sir Edward’s grotesque ravings that she might let her guard down and fall for the seeming “nice guy”, Sidney, even though that might ultimately be unwise?

That dark subliminal implication of Charlotte as potential romantic prey for Sidney is furthered when we read the following passage, in which Diana Parker, by now arrived in Sanditon, rambles on to Charlotte about the lengths that need to be gone to, to bring new business to Sanditon:

“…I had a letter 3 days ago from my friend Mrs . Charles Dupuis which assured me of Camberwell. Camberwell will be here to a certainty, & very soon. — That good Woman (I do not know her name) not being so wealthy & independant as Mrs . G.–can travel & chuse for herself. –I will tell you how I got at her. Mrs. Charles Dupuis lives almost next door to a Lady, who has a relation lately settled at Clapham, & attends some of the girls of the Seminary, to give them lessons in Botany & who actually attends the Seminary and gives lessons on Eloquence and Belles Lettres to some of the Girls. ‐ I got that Man a Hare from one of Sidney's friends ‒ and he recommended Sanditon…”

Here Diana Parker sounds a good deal like Miss Bates, doesn’t she? She provides copious details that seem utterly tangential to her main point, while the heroine listens politely. We gather that Diana’s brother Sidney has a (probably rich) friend with a spare hare (hares being rare, it seems), and that Sidney, at Diana’s request, has done his part in a convoluted chain of influence, all for the grand Parker family purpose of luring one more tourism customer to visit Sanditon.

I’ve long been of the party that reads Miss Bates’s ‘yada yada’ as actually providing the reader with a multitude of clues about what is really happening offstage in Emma. And so, I read Diana Parker in that same way, and do not find it to be just a coincidence that her reference to the ‘hare’ just happens to have a counterpart in Clarissa. There, a hare is referred to by (who else?) Lovelace, as he rationalizes one of his youthful “indiscretions” ---his actual luring on false pretenses, and then seduction, of a single woman!

Lovelace impregnated her, he recounts, resulting ultimately in her death in childbirth, as to which Lovelace sheds copious crocodile tears, all the while dodging any responsibility. But he cannot avoid leaking his sociopathy, as he analogizes his kidnapping of his female victim to “coursing” (when the poor prey is hunted for sport with greyhounds by sight rather than scent) after a “winding hare”.

So now, as you read, below, Lovelace’s grotesque rationalizations about “a youthful frolic” of his own, please note the surname of the young woman, Betterton, and recall that Sir Edward Denham’s Lovelace-like,  boasted seduction schemes are directed explicitly against a woman with a name that is virtually the same—Miss Clara Brereton!:

“The affair of Miss BETTERTON was a youthful frolic. I love dearly to exercise my invention. I do assure you, Joseph, that I have ever had more pleasure in my contrivances, than in the end of them. I am no sensual man: but a man of spirit—one woman is like another—you understand me, Joseph.—In coursing, all the sport is made by the winding HARE—a barn-door chick is better eating—now you take me, Joseph.
Miss BETTERTON was but a tradesman's daughter. The family, indeed, were grown rich, and aimed at a new line of gentry; and were unreasonable enough to expect a man of my family would marry her. I was honest. I gave the young lady no hope of that; for she put it to me. She resented—kept up, and was kept up. A little innocent contrivance was necessary to get her out. But no rape in the case, I assure you, Joseph. She loved me—I loved her. Indeed, when I got her to the inn, I asked her no question. It is cruel to ask a modest woman for her consent. It is creating difficulties to both. Had not her friends been officious, I had been constant and faithful to her to this day, as far as I know—for then I had not known my angel.
I went not abroad upon her account. She loved me too well to have appeared against me; she refused to sign a paper they had drawn up for her, to found a prosecution upon; and the brutal creatures would not permit the midwife's assistance, till her life was in danger; and, I believe, to this her death was owing.
I went into mourning for her, though abroad at the time. A distinction I have ever paid to those worthy creatures who died in childbed by me.
I was ever nice in my loves.—These were the rules I laid down to myself on my entrance into active life:—To set the mother above want, if her friends were cruel, and if I could not get her a husband worthy of her: to shun common women—a piece of justice I owed to innocent ladies, as well as to myself: to marry off a former mistress, if possible, before I took to a new one: to maintain a lady handsomely in her lying-in: to provide for the little one, if it lived, according to the degree of its mother: to go into mourning for the mother, if she died. And the promise of this was a great comfort to the pretty dears, as they grew near their times.
All my errors, all my expenses, have been with and upon women. So I could acquit my conscience (acting thus honourably by them) as well as my discretion as to point of fortune. All men love women—and find me a man of more honour, in these points, if you can, Joseph. No wonder the sex love me as they do!
But now I am strictly virtuous. I am reformed. So I have been for a long time, resolving to marry as soon as I can prevail upon the most admirable of women to have me. I think of nobody else—it is impossible I should. I have spared very pretty girls for her sake. Very true, Joseph! So set your honest heart at rest—you see the pains I take to satisfy your qualms.
But, as to Miss Betterton—no rape in the case, I repeat: rapes are unnatural things, and more are than are imagined, Joseph. I should be loth to be put to such a streight; I never was. Miss BETTERTON was taken from me against her own will. In that case her friends, not I, committed the rape.”
So, why would Jane Austen, via seemingly tow, seemingly totally unrelated references to a “scheme to the Isle of Wight” and a “Hare”, associate Sidney Parker with two of Lovelace’s worst sexual wrongs against women? It sure sounds to me like a broad hint that Sidney is going to be a dangerous suitor for Charlotte to be “hunted” by!

And I conclude with two other passages I’ve now located in Persuasion, which now also seem to be associated with the “lovely is” wink at “Lovelace” in the picturesque description of Pinny at Lyme:

Chapter 20: "The last hours were certainly very painful," replied Anne; "but when pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure. One does not LOVE a place the LESS for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering, which was by no means the case at LYME.

Chapter 23: He had imagined himself indifferent, when he had only been angry; and he had been unjust to her merits, because he had been a sufferer from them. Her character was now fixed on his mind as perfection itself, maintaining the LOVELIESt medium of fortitude and gentleness; but he was obliged to acknowledge that only at Uppercross had he learnt to do her justice, and only at LYME had he begun to understand himself. 

We have “love-less” and “lovelies”, both in passages explicitly recalling Lyme, and, more remarkably, both referring to “suffering” for love—which is Lovelace’s specialty, in inflicting suffering on women by his “courtship”.  So, what does Jane Austen mean, by repeatedly linking Wentworth with Lovelace? Is she referring to Anne’s agonized emotional suffering in uncertainty during the first 22 chapters of the novel? or, perish the thought, is this a suggestion of what Anne will experience after she is married to Wentworth? Or perhaps you have another interpretation?

In all events, I hope that I’ve now rendered far more plausible my claim that Jane Austen, in the final year of her writing career, was extremely focused on the larger than life villain of Clarissa, Lovelace. It reminds me strikingly of what she wrote in September 1813 about the character of Don Juan she had just seen onstage in London in a pantomime:  “I must say that I have seen nobody on the stage who has been a more interesting Character than that compound of Cruelty & Lust.”

I’d suggest that Jane Austen found the character of Lovelace so interesting a compound of cruelty & lust that she put him in the wings of her final two fictional works not long before her tragic early death.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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