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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Marianne’s “sensibility…without bounds”: Why the Prince Regent bought S&S

This is in followup to my post yesterday  in which I speculated that the Prince Regent bought the first copy of Sense and Sensibility not for his own reading pleasure, but as a cautionary tale as to the grave dangers of excess sensibility, to be “administered” to his “Marianne Dashwood”-like 16 year old daughter Princess Charlotte, as a “cure” for that same “disease”.

In my earlier post, I wondered “how would the Prince have known enough about the story and characters of S&S when he bought that first copy of it in October 1811, to know that Marianne Dashwood would make an ideal Exhibit B for his daughter to learn about the perils of over-sensibility?
I have no solid answer at present, but can speculate about it. Perhaps Jane Austen and/or her publisher Egerton wished for the Prince Regent to have some advance inside info about S&S, so as to tempt him to buy it, as he did? If so, how would either of them have managed to get that inside info communicated to the Prince? Egerton had accepted S&S for publication a year before it was actually published, so there was time during which some summary of S&S might have somehow reached the Prince?”

When I awoke today, I realized that the answer was fairly obvious after all. The fact that the first review of S&S (in the Critical Review) wasn’t published till Feb.1812, doesn’t mean that this reviewer had not read an advance copy of S&S prior to October 1811 – that’s certainly the custom with newly published books today, and I’d imagine it was back then as well. If so, then the Prince could very well have been informed ahead of first public sale as to the extensive portions of that first review, which focused on Marianne’s excess of sensibility. And if so, it makes perfect sense that he’d have exercised his royal privilege, and made sure he had the very first copy in hand, as a special gift for his daughter –but a gift granted with ulterior motives.

If Egerton were going to put out feelers for S&S among the literati, it would’ve been canny marketing on his part to make sure that the Prince was the first to be made aware of how closely S&S fit with the Prince’s concerns about his daughter that were on the tip of many tongues. And if word spread about the Prince’s purchase of the first copy of S&S, that would seem to be a pretty good launch buzz for S&S. And so it was that shortly after that review was published, the buzz did begin, including the well known gossip speculating about the identity of the anonymous “Lady” who wrote S&S, gossip which Princess Charlotte participated in!

With that background, then, I quote for you, below, those portions in that first review which relate to Marianne, and suggest that as you read them, imagine how they would have been eagerly seized upon by the Prince and his minions as a tool to rein in his daughter’s Marianne-ness – especially if that cautionary message was being amplified and reinforced by Mercer Elphinstone, who, as my prior post indicated, was thought by many to be the Prince’s “double agent” passing intel about Charlotte back to him –and also, notice the comments about the character of Mrs. Dashwood, and think about how they would resonate with the Prince’s assertions that his wife the supposedly out of control Princess Caroline was exactly the wrong parent to be able and willing to restrain Charlotte’s impulsivity:

Critical Review Feb. 1812 review of Sense and Sensibility:
“…We are no enemies to novels or novel writers, but we regret, that in the multiplicity of them, there are so few worthy of any particular commendation. a genteel, well written novel is as agreeable a lounge as a genteel comedy, from which both amusement and instruction may be derived. Sense and Sensibility is one amongst the few, which can claim this fair praise. It is well written; the characters are in genteel life, naturally drawn, and judiciously supported. The incidents are probable, and highly pleasing, and interesting; the conclusion such as the reader must wish it should be, and the whole, is just doing enough to interest, without fatiguing. It reflects honour on the writer, who displays much knowledge of character, and very happily blends a great deal of good sense with the lighter matter of the piece. The story may be thought trifling by the readers of novels, who are insatiable after something new. But the excellent lesson which it holds up to view, and the useful moral which may be derived from the perusal, are such essential requisites, that the want of newness may in this instance be readily overlooked. The characters of Ellen and Marianne are very nicely contrasted; the former possessing great good sense, with a proper quantity of sensibility, the latter an equal share of the sense which renders her sister so estimable, but blending it at the same time with an immoderate degree of sensibility which renders her unhappy on every trifling occasion, and annoys every one around her….
…Mrs. Dashwood, the mother of these daughters, possessed an eagerness of mind, which would have hurried her into indiscretions, had it not been somewhat checked by her good disposition and affectionate heart. Elinor, the eldest daughter, has a strong understanding and cool judgment, an amiable temper, with strong feelings, which she knew how to govern. Marianne's abilities are equal to Elinor's: she is sensible and clever, but so terribly impetuous in all her joys and all her sorrows as to know no moderation. She is generous, amiable, interesting, and every thing but prudent. Her sensibilities are all in the extreme. The reader will form a judgment of the character of Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne by the following:
‘On Mr. Dashwood's death, Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister's sensibility: but by Mrs. Dashwood it was valued and cherished. They encouraged each other now in the violence of their affliction. The agony of grief which overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it, and resolved against ever admitting consolation in future. Elinor too was deeply afflicted, but still she could struggle, she could exert herself. She could consult with her brother, could receive her sister-in-law on her arrival, and treat her with every proper attention, and could strive to rouse her mother to similar exertion, and encourage her to similar forbearance.'
Such is the difference exhibited between Sense and Sensibility. We will make another extract on the subject of love, and then our fair readers will have a pretty good idea of what is wanting in the person and sentiments of a lover to please such a romantic enthusiast as Marianne Dashwood, of whom we fear there are too many, but without her elegance and good sense, who play with their feelings and happiness till they lose the latter, and render the former perfectly ridiculous and contemptible. Marianne and her mother are speaking of a gentleman who is in love with Elinor: her mother asks her if she disapproves her sister's choice.
‘Perhaps,’ said Marianne, ‘I may consider it with some surprise. Edward is very amiable, and I love him tenderly. But yet-he is not the kind of young man-there is a something wanting-his figure is not striking; it has none of that grace which I should expect in the man who could seriously attach my sister. His eyes want all that spirit, that fire, which at once announce virtue and intelligence. [Janeites are familiar with the rest of Marianne’s speech about Edward’s poetic shortcomings]”
Thus argues this fair enthusiast at the wise age of seventeen. This lover of her sister, whom Marianne thinks wants so much to make him to her mind, is endowed with sense, goodness, and every qualification which renders a man amiable, except that he could not read Cowper and jump through the ceiling with the violence of his feelings. He also had another fault. He thought, that a person might fall in love more than once in his life, which Marianne held an utter impossibility; nor was he any admirer of dead leaves, which excited in the breast of Marianne the most transporting sensations. She exclaims: ‘How have I delighted as I walked, to see them,' (the dead leaves), ‘driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired!’
The gentleman had, at the same time, no knowledge of the picturesque, which Marianne considered an indispensable ingredient in a lover and a husband. He called hills steep, which ought to be bold, ‘surfaces strange and uncouth, which ought to be irregular and rugged, and distant objects out of sight, which ought only to be indistinct through the soft medium of a hazy atmosphere.’ In the jargon of landscape scenery, Elinor's lover was a mere ignoramus; he gave things, objects, and persons, their proper names, a crime which could not be overlooked. . . . .
…In the friendly attentions of this family and the society they meet at Barton Park (the seat of Sir John), Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters regain their cheerfulness, and, in a short time, our fair Heroine of Sensibility meets with a gentleman, who exactly meets her ideas of perfection. Mr. Willoughby, possesses manly beauty, uncommon gracefulness, superior gallantry, and fascinating manners. In short, Marianne and Willoughby are strikingly alike. They are equally enthusiastic, equally romantic. In the portraiture of Marianne’s and Willoughby's attachment, the merit of the novel is principally displayed; and it furnishes a most excellent lesson to young ladies to curb that violent sensibility which too often leads to misery, and always to inconvenience and ridicule. To young men who make a point of playing with a young woman's affections, it will be no less useful, as it shows in strong colours the folly and criminality of sporting with the feelings of those whom their conduct tends to wound and render miserable. Such is the conduct of Willoughby after securing the affections of Marianne; being, as far as he is capable, in love with her, and giving herself and her family every reason to think his attachment honourable and unshaken, he finds it inconvenient, from his embarrassed affairs, to marry a girl who has only beauty, sense, accomplishments, and a heart, glowing with the most ardent affection, for her portion. He leaves her with an idea that he will soon return, but afterwards marries a woman for money, that he may continue to enjoy those luxuries which he cannot find it in his heart to relinquish. The sensibility of Marianne is without bounds. She is. rendered miserable, and in her peculiar temperament, this misery is extravagantly cherished, whilst Elinor, who has her own love-difficulties to encounter and her own-sensibilities to subdue, has the painful task of endeavouring to alleviate her sister's grief, which preys upon her health so much, that she is soon reduced to the brink of the grave. The patience and tenderness of Elinor during the long illness of her sister, and the knowledge of her bearing up in so exemplary a manner against the disappointments and mortifications which she has had to endure, sink deep into the mind of Marianne. Her confinement produces reflection, and her good sense at length prevails over her sensibility. After a time, she marries a most amiable man, who had long loved her, and whom, in the height of her delirium of sensibility, she could not bear even to think on for the very wise reason, that he was five and thirty, and consequently in Marianne's ideas of love, had 'outlived every sensation of that kind. In her notions, at that period, a man, at the advanced age of five and thirty, could not have any thing to do with matrimony.’ Marianne sees the fallacy of all this nonsense, and becomes a good-wife to this old gentleman of thirty-five, even though he declares it was necessary for him to wear a flannel waistcoat to prevent a rheumatic affection in one of his shoulders…”

It is fascinating, then, to think about S&S was seen by some of its early readers as a kind of well-written conduct book, designed to scare young women of a Marianne-like tendency out of their sensibility. That, to me, was the “cover story” of S&S, how Jane Austen managed to get it published, even though, as I’ve often argued, I believe that Marianne, and not Elinor, is Jane Austen’s own true alter ego in S&S, and that on a deeper level, S&S’s primary theme is the hypocrisy of powerful men and their female collaborators, and the heroism of female rebels like Marianne. Of course, had the Prince been aware of that deeper subtext, it would have been the last novel in the world he’d have wished to buy for his daughter to read!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The ‘sence & sencibility’ of the Prince Regent’s daughter, his very own ‘Marianne Dashwood’

Jane Austen made another one of her occasional appearances on the pop culture stage with the following major article in the NY Times Books section:

“Jane Austen’s First Buyer? Probably a Prince She Hated” by Jennifer Schuessler    
JA loathed the Prince Regent, who later became George IV but he might’ve been one of her first readers

Schuessler began as follows:
“Jane Austen’s novels may epitomize Regency England, but she didn’t think much of the man for whom the period was named. Like many of her compatriots, Austen loathed the Prince Regent, once railing in an 1813 letter against the man whose gluttony, profligacy and infidelities scandalized the nation. In 1815, when she was strong-armed into dedicating her fourth novel, Emma, to the future George IV, she produced a tribute so strained that a scholar called it “one of the worst sentences she ever committed to print.” But now, in a delicious irony that Austen herself might have appreciated, it turns out that the man who was counted among her most reviled readers might also have been one of her very first….”

Schuessler goes on to recount the tale of the recent, surprising discovery in the Royal Archives of an October 28, 1811 Bill of Sale, evidencing that the buyer of the very first copy sold of Austen’s very first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, was none other than the Prince Regent! The article is well written and entertaining, with quotes from two of the better Austen scholars abroad today, Devoney Looser and Janine Barchas, both JASNA stalwarts.

I’ve found Schuessler’s occasional articles about Austen to be among the best among the steady stream of such pieces that are published online about Austen. However, like the others, Schuessler also consistently and inadvertently presents to cultured readers in the world at large, as facts, elements of what I call the Myth of Jane Austen. That vast audience, most of whom have never read a word of Austen, and many of whom have not even seen any of the film adaptations, rely heavily on such mass media articles about JA to present accurate, cutting edge information about Austen’s life and works, when that is actually far from the case. In this instance, articles similar to Schuessler’s also have appeared in the Guardian (by Alison Flood), and Jezebel (Kelly Faircloth), and none of them diverges in any significant way from the others.

So, while Schuessler does a good job conveying this latest exciting news tidbit about the Prince Regent, the self-styled “First Gentleman of Europe”, also being Austen’s first “customer”, she nevertheless unwittingly propagates misinformation about Austen. She demonstrates popular culture’s stubbornly persistent blind spot about Austen’s literary artistry, which was actually deeply subversive of the omnipresent, overreaching patriarchal power that in Great Britain was epitomized by the Prince. This news about the Prince Regent’s supposed interest in Austen’s writing is no exception.

PART ONE  The Prince Regent & Emma:

First, the image of Jane Austen at the top of Schuessler’s article is that same tired, fake, Bowdlerized version commissioned by JA’s nephew for his memoir of his aunt a half century after her death. Once again what is passed over is the authentic 1810 sketch by Austen’s sister, which is in display in the National Portrait Gallery. I’d estimate that 90% of such articles do exactly this, setting the readerly expectation from the start that the Jane Austen described will be the sweet docile creature depicted in the fake portrait, instead of the sharp-edged, stern-featured, arms-crossed country woman drawn by her own talented sister.

Second, Schuessler presents the standard orthodox account of how Emma came to be dedicated to the Prince Regent, in which a deferential Austen is seen as bowing to pressure from Clarke, the Court librarian, and others, to flatter the “great man” with an unctuous over the top Dedication. The reality could not be further from that – and the irrefutable evidence thereof has been out there online for over a decade, without being noticed by Schuessler, or her peers. I refer you to Colleen Sheehan’s amazing discovery, as beautifully laid out in a pair of companion articles in the Winter 2006 edition of the JASNA journal Persuasions Online:

While I urge you to read Sheehan’s brilliant discovery and analysis all the way through, the gist of them is that the two-stanza charade which Mr. Elton delivers to Emma and Harriet Smith has at least one secret answer, in addition to the “courtship” answer that Emma blithely assumes is the only one – and that second, secret answer is “Prince of WHALES”, the savagely satirical moniker given to the corpulent Prince Regent by the essayist Lamb and the caricaturist Cruikshank, and others in the surprisingly scandalous tabloids and caricatures of the day.

Since Sheehan’s two articles were published, I’ve written over a dozen posts in my own blog, extending and fleshing out Sheehan’s brilliant discovery in a variety of directions – the bottom line is that, in a dozen ways beyond Austen’s suspiciously toadyish Dedication to the Prince, Emma is actually Ground Zero of Austen’s career-long mocking skewering of the most powerful man in England, the Prince of W(h)ales!

But you get absolutely no sense from Schuessler’s article that Austen’s subservient Dedication of Emma to the Prince might actually be a massive and audacious put-on—a brave “charade” which might well have had dire consequences for Austen personally had it been discovered when it was first published, before fate intervened less than two years later and illness claimed her life.

And it’s not just conventional wisdom about Austen’s supposed meek Dedication to the Prince that is mythological. I’ve also written several posts over the years about how she skewered, in a different way appropriate to her different target, that court librarian James Stanier Clarke, mentioned by Schuessler. The piece de resistance  is Austen’s letter dated (NOT coincidentally) on April Fool’s Day, 1816, which is filled from one end to the other with faux flattery of Clarke’s career in service to the Prince; and which just barely conceals JA’s contempt for his hypocritical, Mr. Collins-esque sucking up. Via a veiled allusion to Corinthians, Austen subliminally sends Clarke up as a self-styled man of God who is actually a man of Mammon! Read this for the gory, hilarious, satirical details:

So….how could the same author who did what Sheehan and I have detailed, be the doe-like creature of the nephew’s fake portrait, and Schuessler’s tale of submission? No, Austen wass actually one and the same as the writer of the famous private expression of undisguised hatred for the Prince that Schuessler did quote. And it’s crucial to understand that such hatred was expressed not to sister Cassandra, to whom Jane rarely expressed an uncharitable remark about other people,  but to the confidante of Austen’s most subversive feelings- Martha Lloyd, the co-habitor (and perhaps more) of Chawton Cottage during most of the time JA lived there.

How could anyone who has taken the time to read and understand this incontrovertible scholarship about a Jane Austen capable of such satire of the Prince and his toady, believe for one second the explanation given in Schuessler’s article? And yet, think of how many people have read that article this week, and believe it presents uncontroversial truth about Austen’s life and work.

PART TWO  The Prince Regent and Sense and Sensibility:

Now I come to my final point, one which relates, in very interesting ways, to the recent discovery reported by Schuessler of evidence showing that the Prince Regent bought, apparently at special “pre-sale” perhaps for his sole and private benefit, the very first sold copy of Sense and Sensibility. Strap in for what I think are the most interesting aspects of this discovery, which I seem to be the first Austen scholar to notice.

Schuessler shows almost no interest in the Prince’s purchase of Sense and Sensibility on October 28, 1811, because she rushes past it, in order to get to the long-famous tale of his interest in Emma more than 4 years later (which I have already debunked, above):

To fevered Janeites (and perhaps Hollywood screenwriters), the discovery of the Prince Regent’s early interest might be the seed of a fanciful historical romantic comedy in which the rakish royal book-stalks the tart-tongued, independent-minded (and never-married) commoner. But the real-life connection between the Prince Regent and Austen is delectably awkward social comedy enough. When Sense and Sensibility appeared in 1811, Austen was a nobody, identified on the title page only as “A Lady.” She wasn’t publicly named as the author of her books until after her death, but as her reputation grew, her identity circulated in some circles.” END QUOTE FROM SCHUESSLER

What Schuessler (and, apparently, all the folks at the Royal Archives) were not familiar with, because it is known only to mostly hardcore Austen scholars, is the following excerpt (which first appeared in print, as least as early as 1949, and perhaps much earlier) from a letter written by the then-16 year old Princess Charlotte  on January 22, 1812 (i.e., less than 3 months after her father, the Prince Regent, purchased that first sold copy of S&S), to her bosom friend Miss Mercer Elphinstone:

Sence and Sencibility I have just finished reading; it certainly is interesting, & you feel quite one of the company. I think Maryanne & me are very like in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, &c, however remain very like. I must say it interested me much.’

When she wrote that letter to her BFF, I’m pretty sure that the Princess was living in her father the Prince’s household. So, I bet you’re with me already in putting the two facts together – doesn’t it sound like the copy of S&S that the Prince bought was actually not bought for himself at all, as Schuessler’s article suggested, but instead was for his daughter to read!? Read on…..

Next, some quick background on the Princess’s correspondent, Mercer Elphinstone. Her full name was Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, she was the only child of Lord Keith, the admiral, and she was seven years the Princess’s senior, a large age superiority at that stage of life. And, most intriguingly of all, the 1889 edition of the Dictionary of National Biography provided this suggestive tidbit about her:
“[She] was introduced at a young age to the circle of the Princess Charlotte of Wales, to whom she became attached and a close confidante; and this position raised a rumour against her (which, however, she was able entirely to refute) that she betrayed the princess's secrets to the Prince Regent.”

It didn’t take me long to seek out some additional detail on this rumored betrayal:
“Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, Princess Charlotte's friend”  Rachel Knowles 05/02/18
“…Margaret, often referred to as Miss Mercer in contemporary documents, became a close and influential companion of Charlotte, Princess of Wales. According to Princess Charlotte’s lady companion, Cornelia Knight, the Princess ‘constantly communicated’ with Margaret. Princess Charlotte’s biographer Coote agreed, stating: “The amiable Miss Elphinstone enjoyed her particular confidence and was continually employed by her to execute her several benevolent commissions.”
Princess Charlotte’s relationship with Margaret was probably encouraged by her father. In 1813, some of the details of the supposedly secret 'Delicate Investigation' into the alleged adultery of Princess Charlotte’s mother, Princess Caroline of Wales, became common knowledge. Princess Charlotte was inclined to take her mother’s part against her father, as did most of the public.
Some people believed that Margaret was being used by the PR to turn Princess Charlotte against her mother. Cornelia Knight wrote: “About this time Miss Mercer Elphinstone came to Town, and Princess Charlotte wrote to ask the Regent’s permission for seeing her; which was granted. It was evident that this had been arranged beforehand, and that the conditions were that Miss Mercer, who had more influence than any one with Princess Charlotte, should open her eyes to her mother’s imprudence, and break the confidential intimacy between them.”

Think about that last sentence in Knowles’s excellent speculations. I wonder if she derived them from that very same comment by Princess Charlotte about Marianne Dashwood: “…I think Maryanne & me are very like in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, &c, however remain very like….”  

Viewed in this context, the Prince’s very early purchase of S&S begins to appear to be the beginning of a scheme of his to give it to his daughter, while at the same time authorizing his “double agent” Mercer Elphinstone, to shape Charlotte’s reaction to Marianne Dashwood. The almost tragic tale of Marianne, with her impulsive and irrational clinging to Willoughby even after he has clearly jilted her, is in the Prince’s eyes, a perfect cautionary tale for his impulsive daughter – and perhaps the loving but overly romantic Mrs. Dashwood was also being suggested to Charlotte as being similar to her own mother Princess Caroline, as being not the best or steadiest parental guide for an impulsive daughter?

But a question may have already occurred to you – how would the Prince have known enough about the story and characters of S&S when he bought that first copy of it in October 1811, to know that Marianne Dashwood would make an ideal Exhibit B for his daughter to learn about the perils of over-sensibility?

I have no solid answer at present, but can speculate about it. Perhaps Jane Austen and/or her publisher Egerton wished for the Prince Regent to have some advance inside info about S&S, so as to tempt him to buy it, as he did? If so, how would either of them have managed to get that inside info communicated to the Prince? Egerton had accepted S&S for publication a year before it was actually published, so there was time during which some summary of S&S might have somehow reached the Prince?

The article (by Lettice Fowler in the November 4 1949 issue of The Spectator ) which was the first to quote from the Princess’s comments about S&S, as part of a review of a new edition of Princess Charlotte’s letters, went on as follows:
“In this observation the Princess showed one of her periodic flashes of perspicacity. For, like Marianne Dashwood, she was destined to be a heroine. She possessed all a heroine’s capacity for entanglement in hopeless love affairs; she devoured the works of Lord Byron; her health was delicate and often gave way; she was consistently misunderstood and occasionally persecuted; she had a confidante to whom she could pour out, in long and almost daily letters, the latest developments in her own affections and in her relations’ plots (Miss Elphinstone indeed, was not unlike Elinor; sensible, calm, urging patience and restraint) and in the end she made a perfectly suitable marriage to an unexceptionable Prince, who was both devoted to her and highly successful in managing her impossible family. " I can only say this," she wrote of her marriage a week after it had taken place, " that the foundation is very reasonable, and therefore there is less chance of its ever being otherwise than with most others; indeed, on the contrary, I am more inclined to think it will improve. I do not see how it can fail to go on well, tho' sometimes I believe it is best not to analyse one's feelings too much or probe them too deeply or nearly." So, surely, might Marianne have written a few days after becoming Mrs. Brandon.” END QUOTE

So, that makes me wonder, wandering further outside the box: Was Marianne Dashwood herself actually a veiled portrait of the young Princess, and Elinor one of Mercer Elphinstone? We know that Jane Austen took a very strong, longstanding interest in the goings on in the Royal Family, and the whole English nation took a very strong interest in the marital “war” waged by the Prince against his wife over a period of years – it is not far-fetched to speculate that Jane Austen knew enough to have woven Princess Charlotte into Marianne Dashwood’s character, such that the Princess’s comments about “Maryann” would actually have been looking in a “mirror” without knowing it!

In that regard, there’s still one last data point to try to fit into this matrix. Let’s go back to that February 1813 letter in which Jane Austen avowed, to her trusted friend Martha Lloyd, her implacable hatred for the Prince, because of his horrid treatment of his wife. That comment was in response to the huge ongoing public scandal and uproar triggered by the Prince’s outrageous and hypocritical denying his wife, Princess Caroline, access to their daughter Charlotte. The Prince’s smear campaign against his estranged wife was based on trumped up charges relating to her unfitness as a mother, for ‘scandalous’ behavior that paled in comparison to his own!

And, it just so happens, that a few sentences earlier in that same February1813 letter, Jane Austen mentioned, of all people, Mercer Elphinstone’s mother, Lady Keith, albeit seemingly only in passing:

“We read of the Pyramus being returned into Port, with interest-& fear Mrs [Dean-Dundas]. will be regretting that she came away so soon. —There is no being up to the tricks of the Sea. — Your friend has her little Boys about her I imagine. I hope their Sister enjoyed the Ball at Lady Keith-tho’ I do not know that I do much hope it, for it might be quite as well to have her shy & uncomfortable in such a croud of Strangers.”

I can’t find that Le Faye or any other Austen scholar has ever claimed to know the identity of Martha Lloyd’s unnamed friend, who had a young unmarried daughter who attended Lady Keith’s ball. It couldn’t be Mrs. Dean-Dundas, named in the prior sentence, because I checked, and Mrs Dundas was under 30 and so could not have had a teenaged daughter attending a ball! But what this passage shows is that Jane Austen’s close friend Martha Lloyd had a married friend, who had a daughter who attended Lady Keith’s ball, and therefore Martha’s friend moved in the same social circle as Lord and Lady Keith, and by extension, Mercer Elphinstone as well! Might this be a possible chain of connection?

All speculative, I freely acknowledge, but at least it suggests a possible personal channel, via a few steps, between Jane Austen and the Prince.  At the very least, this line of speculation should suffice to initiate a scholarly search for the best explanation for the Prince’s early purchase of S&S, other than an uncritical, unfounded assertion of his love of the writing of an author he supposedly had never heard of. There’s more going on here than at first meets the eye.

And so, please keep in mind the next time you read a mainstream pop culture article about Jane Austen, that you will probably be reading some aspect or another of The Myth of Jane Austen. But if you follow my blog, and I’ve also gotten wind of that article, I will do my best to debunk any such mythology, and help you get closer to the elusive truth.

[Added 07/26/18: Here is the link to my followup post: 
"Marianne’s “sensibility…without bounds”: Why the Prince Regent bought Sense & Sensibility"

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Jane and Nanette

The following is a link to my post from a few days ago about an extraordinary worldwide cultural event, that I bet a number of you have already heard about, and some of you have also experienced: the debut a month ago on Netflix of Nanette, the 1-hour "comedy" performance by Hannah Gadsby:

If you Google “Hannah Gadsby”, you'll find 3 dozen articles written in the last month in major ezines, and new ones being published every day, now that her Netflix special has gone completely, wildly viral --and deservedly so. On Twitter you will find hundreds of Tweets every day, including several of her most memorable quotes therefrom, especially from the fiery rhetoric of her closing argument:
“I want my story heard because, ironically, I believe Picasso was right. I believe we could create a better world if we learned to see the world from all different perspectives--as many perspectives as we possibly could. Because diversity is strength. Difference is a teacher- fear difference, you learn nothing. Picasso’s mistake was his arrogance. He assumed he could represent all of the perspectives. And our mistake was to invalidate the perspective of a 17-year-old girl because we believed her potential would never equal his. Hindsight is a gift. Stop wasting my time. A 17-year-old girl is never in her prime. Ever. I am in my prime. Would you test your strength out on me?”

This is an excerpt from the beginning of my post, which I wrote 3 days ago:
“…as Gadsby’s one-hour performance progressed, it grew steadily in power and impact, until, at its emotional crescendo -- to borrow Mark Knopfler’s phrase – it exploded in my heart (and mind)! When it ended, I hit “Restart” and watched it again in its entirety; and that rewarded me with a much better sense of Gadsby’s astonishing rhetorical alchemy. (I’ve since watched it a third time, last night, when I shared the gift of Gadsby, so to speak, with my wife, and I have it on in the background as I write now)."

If any of you have already, or in the near future do, watch Nanette, too, I'd love to talk here about it --in particular, I'd like to explore the extraordinary parallels I now see between Gadsby and Jane Austen. For starters, I suggested the following in my above linked post:
"The Great Gadsby & The Great Austen: I see a crucial, ironic difference between how a great female and great male artists have been romanticized. As Gadsby brilliantly argues, male artists are romanticized by muting and rationalizing his worst character defects, in service of adulation of his artistic reputation; whereas with a female artist, especially one of the past like Jane Austen, it is still all too common to minimize their artistic achievements and aspirations. It might seem to those who haven’t studied Austen that Gadsby’s message and Austen’s message were worlds apart. The prevailing impression of Austen’s stories is that she was the greatest purveyor of  sophisticated heterosexual romance, in which a smart, clear-thinking young heroine winds up with the man she loves despite all obstacles. Turns out that under the official surface, my research has shown me a thousand times that Austen’s ‘shadow stories” are mostly LGBT, that Austen was a connoisseur and collector of female literary voices, even as she satirically deconstructed male narratives.  If Austen were living today, I’d like to think she and Gadsby would collaborate, and rock the world even more together."

And today I woke up wondering about an even more intriguing possible parallel between Austen and Gadsby, suggested to me by reading the following about Gadsby yesterday: "Hannah Gadsby on how Picasso is the Donald Trump of the art world, and why we need to rethink art galleries" by Dee Jefferson
"...While a degree in art history and curatorial studies helped, Gadsby says she also has an advantage when it comes to identifying systemic patterns. "I've got Asperger's. I come at things from sideways," she says"My mind is built to see patterns. And my area of interest is art and history. "So that's why I am able to connect the dots — and why I'm shouting and getting angry about them," she laughs. "I'm like 'Guys! Guys! Have a look! This is terrible!..."

" ‘I broke the contract’: how Hannah Gadsby's trauma transformed comedy" by Jenny Valentish
"Three years ago, she was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. “It’s clarified why the comedy lifestyle is so difficult for me,” she says. “It’s a lot of noise and moving around.” A child wails, as if on cue, and she flinches. Gadsby explains that people with autism have an increased sensitivity to traumatisation due to their difficulty in communicating and regulating emotions. They are also more vulnerable to becoming victims in the first place. A Swedish study this year revealed that women who screened positive for autism are nearly 3 times more likely to have experienced sexual abuse. When the Australian TV celebrity Don Burke was at the centre of #MeToo allegations last year, he blamed autism for his actions – and Gadsby took aim on social media. “If there’s one thing that a spectrum brain is great at, it is identifying patterns,” she wrote....she points out that Nanette was built from her ability to see patterns. “Having the framework of autism boils down to not looking out to the world to see how I should exist, but knowing I don’t actually have to be social, knowing that it exhausts me and that I will get confused and look like an idiot,” she says. “Because I also know that I understand things a lot deeper than a lot of people.”

In a nutshell, the Hannah Gadsby I see on the TV screen in Nanette -- who fires elegantly composed, epigrammatic darts of razor-sharp irony out at her audience -- perfectly, even uncannily, fits the famous, spot-on description of Jane Austen by Mary Russell Mitford in 1815: 
a friend of mine, who visits her now, says that she has stiffened into the most perpendicular, precise, taciturn piece of “single blessedness” that ever existed, and that, till Pride and Prejudice showed what a precious gem was hidden in that unbending case, she was no more regarded in society than a poker or a fire-screen, or any other thin upright piece of wood or iron that fills its corner in peace and quietness. The case is very different now; she is still a poker – but a poker of whom every one is afraid. It must be confessed that this silent observation from such an observer is rather formidable. Most writers are good-humoured chatterers – neither very wise nor very witty: – but nine times out of ten (at least in the few that I have known) unaffected and pleasant, and quite removing by their conversation any awe that may have been excited by their works. But a wit, a delineator of character, who does not talk, is terrific indeed!"

And so, for the first time, I begin to wonder if I was wrong when I did not take seriously the possibility that Jane Austen may actually have had Asperger’s -- as Anielka Briggs briefly suggested in 2009 in the Janeites group, and then Ellen Moody advocated for more specifically a few years ago:

Ellen in Janeites: 
"I think Austen had Aspergers traits. I'm quite serious about this. Burney had none. It accounts for Austen's jaundiced attitude in the letters, for her keeping close to her family the way she did, not getting sexually involved and some of her characterizations. It's what the movies work to eliminate. Maybe not diagnosable by which I mean were you to have her before you and go through the modern 6 categories you would not be able to check off 2. That's the criteria: there are six categories and you can to check off two in each. We can't know. We have but one letter from someone to Austen and (Ironically I suppose) it's by someone whom Austen is said to have disliked; it's apparent he does not know this or her well. No family description of her, say, at a party. And Henry is so defensive…The book by [Bottomer] was onto something. We have seen it in the letters. but there is such a stigma she backed away from the obvious."

Gadsby’s matter-of-fact description of herself as a savant of pattern-recognition rings so true. And if there’s any single gift that, for me, best characterizes Jane Austen, it’s her once-in-a-century ability to spot, analyze, and depict character and patterns of behavior in small groups at close quarters.

Which all leaves me with the growing sense that had Hannah Gadsby been born into Jane Austen’s life, she might have written something like the six novels; and had the reverse been the case, then Jane Austen would be the star of her version of that Netflix special.

In 2002, I wrote the following in the Janeites group:
“Mr. Bennet would have been a GREAT standup comic were he alive today. Which means, JANE AUSTEN would have been a great standup comic were SHE alive today. Dontcha think? Can you just imagine? I'd love to see a really talented female standup comic with an encyclopedic knowledge of JA and a gift for mimicry give that one a go. Hal Holbrook made a career out of doing Mark Twain. Stuart Whitman did Harry Truman. Has someone ever "done" Jane Austen?”

Hannah Gadsby, are you listening? Wouldn’t Jane that be a great followup to Nanette?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


As something different from my past practice, today I have a double literary quiz for you, and here’s how it works: the answers to the two quizzes are related in a significant way.

QUIZ A:  I’m thinking of a work of English literature in which all of the following details are present:

One: There is a principal character named “Diana”, who works actively to manage the lives of others;

Two: The cure of illness is a major theme of the story;

Three: There is a curious reference to a character being “chill(y) and tender”;

Four: There are notable references to “gates”;

Five: There are notable references to “fires”;

Six: There is a strong subtext of unsavory sex with a young woman, including a suggestion of the horrific Early Modern myth that sex with a virgin female would cure venereal disease in a man; and

Seven: There is a young rake who appears to have no scruples about seducing an unmarried virgin.

QUIZ B: I am thinking of another work of literature in which all of the following details are present:

One: Key action of the story takes place in a “watering-hole” seaside community with a name that begins with the syllable “Sand-“, a place that symbolizes the displacement of traditional country mores by a modern fever for profit and development;

Two: At the end of the story (in its final form), the young heroine travels to that watering-hole;

Three: There is a subtext pointing to Milton’s Paradise Lost;

Four: There is a predatory young rake who endangers a vulnerable young country woman.

Five: There is a woman involved in (or with) the story, who dies tragically, long before her time, in Winchester (or a place sounding a lot like Winchester).

What the two works of literature, and how are they related???

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

The Great Gadsby: an overnight lesbian feminist ‘comedy’ sensation 10+ years in the making (& 3 millenia overdue)

Four days ago, my friend Andrew Shields posted this cryptic exhortation in Facebook:      “Do you have Netflix? Then watch @Hannahgadsby’s Nanette. If you don’t have Netflix, sign up for a free trial month of Netflix, and watch Nanette. In other words, watch Nanette.” My respect for Andrew’s judgment is formed in part by our keenly shared appreciation for the beauties and genius of Austen’s fiction and Federer’s tennis. So, since I do have Netflix, I wasted no time in watching Nanette, without reading any reviews (of which, I now know, there were already 2 dozen on the Net singing Gadsby’s praises}.

While it took me a while to tune my lazy Merkin ear to her Aussie accent, it was nonetheless apparent within minutes that Andrew had made a great gift to me. And, as Gadsby’s one-hour performance progressed, it grew steadily in power and impact, until, at its emotional crescendo -- to borrow Mark Knopfler’s phrase – it exploded in my heart (and mind)! When it ended, I hit “Restart” and watched it again in its entirety; and that rewarded me with a much better sense of Gadsby’s astonishing rhetorical alchemy. (I’ve since watched it a third time, last night, when I shared the gift of Gadsby, so to speak, with my wife, and I have it on in the background as I write now).

The remainder of this post contains SPOILERS about Nanette, in which I’ll explain why I’ve joined the chorus of those who see Nanette as extraordinary inspiration to us all to persist with #MeToo. So if you can watch Nanette now, before reading further, please do so, and enjoy the same amazement that many have felt, and then return here straightaway! Or, if for whatever reason you’re not yet tempted to watch Nanette, then allow me to entice you to do so when you can. And please read this post to the very end.

I’ll set the stage for my observations with excerpts from the most insightful of those earlier reviews, by Rachel Syme, from 2 weeks ago:
“It is rare to see a work of art met with a rapturous reception. Sure, there are always fans, but I’m talking about fanatics. I’m talking about work that makes instant evangelists of those who behold it, that has people rushing to their social channels to urge strangers to watch this now, it changed my life and it will change yours too. When it happens, that kind of swooning tends to pass into legend; we roll our eyes when we hear about people passing out in front of Impressionist nudes at Parisian salons as if they’d never seen cellulite before. But every now and then, a work by a new voice breaks through, and sharing it with others becomes a compulsion, even a kind of moral duty. This is what has happened in recent weeks with Hannah Gadsby’s revelatory hour-long comedy special Nanette, which started airing on Netflix in late June. Gadsby is a queer woman from Tasmania; she spent her whole life living slightly adjacent to the mainstream, but never quite veering into it. With Nanette, that is all changing.
‘I’ve been a professional comic for 30 years,’ the comedian Kathy Griffin wrote, ‘I thought I had seen everything... until I watched Nanette.’ Monica Lewinsky called it ‘one of the most profound + thought provoking experiences of my life.” Television producer Gloria Calderon Kellet said it ‘is one of the most beautiful & tragic reflections of our world.’ […] Above all else, Nanette is an interrogation of comedy as an art form, a bracing inquiry into the ways that comedians use the medium to mask personal truths. Early on, Gadsby admits that, as a gay woman in comedy, who wears dapper tuxedo jackets and sports a short swoop of brown hair, she spent the first decade of her career making self-deprecating jokes. She cheekily calls this her ‘lesbian content,’ which she says she no longer feels comfortable including in her sets. ‘I don’t want to do that anymore,’ she says, about 17 minutes into rapid-fire punchlines, her tone turning suddenly somber. ‘Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from somebody who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility. It’s humiliation. I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak. And I simply will not do this anymore.’ […] Gadsby is right. She is in her prime. In Nanette we witness the shock of the new, a voice that dares to speak to this frustrating and often hideous cultural moment, a comedian willing to drop the act. I would call Gadsby a genius, but she would likely push back against that term. The idea of genius gets us into trouble, she warns; it allows certain people to gain power and wield it over others. Gadsby, I think, would rather just be known as a human, full-hearted and flawed, full of bravery and grace.”

Syme’s review, while no replacement for the experience of watching Nanette, penetrates to the core of Gadsby’s inspired method and madness. I now add my own two cents, with the caveat that, as a single white straight man, I do not dare to mansplain what Gadsby has already perfectly expressed. I wish only to illuminate a few aspects of her achievement from my perspective as a literary scholar specializing in interpreting the genius of another non-heterosexual, radically feminist author -- one who died 201 years ago (today, as it happens), and who is herself two centuries late in being recognized as she really was – Jane Austen.

Two years ago I answered the call of my friend, Dr. Jane Vogel, abuse/trauma expert and founder of AGE ( ). I began to serve on AGE’s Board, assisting Jane and our mostly female colleagues in an unswerving quest for intersectional gender equity in theater (and other arts), initially in our town, Portland, Oregon. In a mere 4 years, Jane, whose vision of a post-patriarchal arts world is congruent with Gadsby’s, has made great strides toward gender equity in holding the pen and taking center stage, which controls the stories told. So I see writing this post as support of AGE’s mission.

Which brings me to my first point –I see a profound poetic justice, in the way Gadsby works Picasso’s ‘face’ into her performance, even as she displays one of Picasso’s famous Cubist paintings showing many sides of a female face. How satisfying it is as Gadsby in effect sentences Picasso to perpetual ‘community service’ for his misogyny; she dismantles the untempered adulation which his art has received, and then hints in every possible way without saying it explicitly, that she is “painting”, in words, the misogynist “faces” of Picasso and his ilk (Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein, et al). In short, I believe Gadsby deliberately created Nanette as a kind of Cubist video-painting; one which presents the female and other ‘not-normal’ perspectives previously been ignored in the history of all the arts.

Second, one of the articles quotes Gadsby as saying “we've been cock-blocked the whole way through, since the Bible. This is an exciting moment." 
For the past 20 years --since I first read Richard E. Friedman’s modern update of the Documentary Hypothesis of Bible interpretation – I’ve firmly been of the camp that the Yahwist a/k/a ‘J’ (i.e., the anonymous Torah author of the most metaphorical tales of the Garden of Eden, the Tower of Babel, the Flood, etc., in which God is depicted as an angry boychild who destroys his “toys” when they don’t obey his arbitrary demands) was a woman! And what’s more, the Yahwist’s extraordinarily modern writing was co-opted by the (male) Israelite priests who saw the power of her stories, and cynically stole her power by erasing the Yahwist’s individual female identity, burying her writing inside their own rewriting, all in service of their nationalistic misogynistic religious cult. A sad story indeed.

Third, I want to extend the insights of two more of the recent articles that perceptively pick up on the nuts and bolts of how Gadsby constructed Nanette:
“One of comedy’s most effective tools is something known as a callback, wherein a story or a bit from earlier in a set is mentioned again later, and the repetition amplifies the joke’s effect. A callback helps to establish a rapport between the comedian and the audience; now they’re in on the joke together. In “Nanette,” Gadsby subverts this technique to devastating effect…”
“Much of the special features interrogations of the form of writing jokes about such things; how to structure them effectively, and how that structure wrongfully contributed the way Gadsby sees herself. She is an artist dissecting her own art form, using the classic comedy callback to gut punch viewers in ways you can't see coming.”

I suggest now that Nanette is, in its entirety, a matryoshka doll, composed of subtle echoes reverberating back and forth between its hundred different parts, on multiple structural levels. In short, and ironically given how Gadsby slyly suggests her art history degree has had little value for her, Nanette is a work of genius and hard work, worthy of study of its structure, as much or more as any of the masterpieces one sees hanging in museums around the world – and the “story” of Nanette couldn’t be more contemporary. Nanette bears -indeed it demands --re-viewing, to be sure we all absorb Gadsby’s revolutionary message!

THE GREAT GADSBY & THE GREAT AUSTEN: I see a crucial, ironic difference between how great female and great male artists have been romanticized. As Gadsby brilliantly argues, male artists are romanticized by muting and rationalizing his worst character defects, in service of adulation of his artistic reputation; whereas with a female artist, especially one of the past like Jane Austen, it is still all too common to minimize their artistic achievements and aspirations.

It might seem to those who haven’t studied Austen that Gadsby’s message and Austen’s message were worlds apart. The prevailing impression of Austen’s stories is that she was the greatest purveyor of  sophisticated heterosexual romance, in which a smart, clear-thinking young heroine winds up with the man she loves despite all obstacles. Turns out that under the official surface, my research has shown me a thousand times that Austen’s ‘shadow stories” are mostly LGBT, that Austen was a connoisseur and collector of female literary voices, even as she satirically deconstructed male narratives.  If Austen were living today, I’d like to think she and Gadsby would collaborate, and rock the world even more together.

YES, YES, NANETTE!:  It occurred to me only as I was putting the finishing touches on this post, that there was one more clue hidden in plain sight by Gadsby, begging an answer to the question – who was Nanette, really? I ask that, because there is something quite fishy about Gadsby beginning Nanette as follows: 
‘My show is called Nanette, and the reason my show is called Nanette is because I named it before I wrote it. I named it at around the time I’d met a woman called Nanette who I thought was very interesting, So interesting, that I reckon I can squeeze a good hour of laughs out of you, Nanette. But, it turns out...nah….I met her in a small town cafĂ©…”

Gadsby then segued to the topic of growing up in a small town, and she never mentioned Nanette again. I’ve read enough Austen to be suspicious of a writer with such a compelling message as Gadsby’s, who gives the prominence of her opening words –in an article, it would be called the all important ”opening lead”-- to a subject, the origin of the title Nanette, which she promptly abandoned without any real answer, and never returned to it.

To borrow from Chekhov’s famous comment, if Gadsby hung the name “Nanette” on the wall in her “first act”, then where is the part when her choice of the name is explained??? I could not open Google fast enough to Google “Picasso Nanette” – and look at what blew my mind when I read it:

Picasso’s World of Children (1996), p. 65, a reminiscence by Picasso’s granddaughter, Maya:
“The adorable Paloma, even though more interested in the tadpoles than in posing for the greatest painter in the world, is already completely absorbed in her work. With me it’s exactly the same; he’s shown me hugging my doll. I was delighted to see that it was the one I liked the best (I still remember her-she was called Nanette—you see, I’m telling you everything!), but even more surprised to see myself….”

So, can it possibly be a random coincidence that Gadsby (an art history major so wonky that she knew Van Gogh took digitalis for epilepsy, thereby making him experience the color yellow more intensely; and also knew that Picasso had justified having sex with a 17 year old while he was married and a quarter century older than her) just happened to title her breakout performance, the culmination of a decade of her life’s work, with the name of the favorite doll of the girl child born of that sexual relationship between Picasso and his too-young mistress, the condemnation of which is one of the most powerful moments in Nanette?

Before you answer, consider also the tragic additional fact that Marie-Therese committed suicide in 1977 at age 69, three years after Picasso died. Her suicide therefore seems like strong evidence that, in Gadsby’s terms, Picasso, from the grave, “burned and destroyed” Marie-Therese, when viewed with “hindsight” provided by Gadsby. Marie-Therese seemed to be fulfilling Picasso’s mandate, drilled into her by decades of domination by the "great artist", that she die, because she could have no life of her own beyond his, and so it seems that Marie-Therese never had a “prime”!

And armed with that anecdote, I went back to Google, and was astounded once again:

“Paris, Feb. 28 [2007]—Two important paintings by Picasso estimated by the police to be worth a total of about $66 million have been stolen from the Left Bank home of his granddaughter Diana Widmaier-Picasso…Paris police officials said the two oils, Maya with Doll from 1938 and Portrait of Jacqueline from 1961, were taken sometime overnight…Ms. Widmaier-Picasso and her mother, Maya, the daughter of Picasso’s longtime mistress Marie-Therese Walter, were asleep in the house when the theft occurred ….Maya with Doll is a colorful Cubist portrait of Picasso’s daughter as a child clutching a doll…Maya Widmaier-Picasso is often called on to verify questionable works attributed to Picasso, while her daughter, an art historian, recently published an illustrated book of Picasso’s erotic works called ‘Art Can Only Be Erotic.’ “

What I take away from that, is that Gadsby surely knew that factoid as well, and thought it fitting that, in her Robin-Hood-like “stealing” Picasso’s true story for recycling in Nanette, she named her show for the favorite doll of the little girl “created” by the tragically abusive relationship of Picasso and his victim Marie-Therese. So, I believe Gadsby is giving Nanette. as a kind of healing “doll”, to all the women of the world -- especially the “non-normal” ones -- to inspire each of them on the journey to her “prime”. I’d say that Gadsby’s “art history degree” came in very handy, indeed!

CONCLUDING FANTASY: Might Hannah Gadsby one day grace Portland with a performance in conjunction with an AGE program? She’s clearly on the threshold of international stardom, and she has certainly earned every bit of it. Therefore, my fantasy would be to see Gadsby sell out the Moda Center for a performance of Nanette in front of 20,000 of my fellow Portlandians --- and then be joined onstage afterwards by Jane and the extraordinary Brenda Tracy @brendatracy24 , who recently spoke at an AGE salon, united in solidarity to transform the world!

[ADDED 07/26/18: Here's a followup I wrote drawing parallels between Gadsby and Jane Austen:  ]

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter