(& scroll all the way down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Et tu, Steve? The Satanic Shakespearean Caesarean misbegetting of Bannon’s Baby, Donald Trump

The following news tidbit caught my eye the other day:  “Speaking to Vanity Fair’s Krista Smith, [George] Clooney called Bannon ‘a schmuck who literally tried everything he could to sell scripts in Hollywood.’ Bannon famously wrote a screenplay for a rap musical update of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, titled The Thing I Am. ‘It’s like a rap Shakespearean thing about the LA riots. It’s the worst script you’ve ever read,’ Clooney said of Bannon’s creation. ‘But he was trying to get it made in Hollywood. And had he, he would still be in Hollywood making movies and kissing my ass to make one of his films. That’s who he is.’ “

That prompted me to revisit the rough draft of a post I had started, but then put aside, a few months ago, after seeing, for a second time, the excellent 2017 Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Julius Caesar   While watching the exchange in the first act among the conspirators Cassius, Casca, and Brutus, about Caesar’s seizure after  refusing Mark Antony’s offer of an emperor’s crown, the scene suddenly took on a startlingly modern, ominous new meaning for me. Before explaining myself, I’ll try to assist you in hearing and seeing it yourselves first, by directing your special attention to the verbiage I’ve put in ALL CAPS):

CASCA I can as well be hanged as tell the manner of it: it was mere foolery; I did not mark it. I saw Mark Antony offer him a crown;--yet 'twas not a crown neither, 'twas one of these coronets;--and, as I told you, he put it by once: but, for all that, to my thinking, he would fain have had it. Then he offered it to him again; then he put it by again: but, to my thinking, he was very loath to lay his fingers off it. And then he offered it the third time; he put it the third time by: and still as he refused it,  THE RABBLEMENT HOOTED AND CLAPPED THEIR CHAPPED HANDS AND THREW UP THEIR SWEATY NIGHT-CAPS AND UTTERED SUCH A DEAL OF STINKING BREATH because Caesar refused the crown that it had almost choked Caesar; for he swounded and fell down at it: and for mine own part, I durst not laugh, for fear of opening my lips and receiving the bad air.

CASSIUS   But, soft, I pray you: what, did Caesar swound?


BRUTUS   'Tis very like: he hath the failing sickness.


CASCA  I know not what you mean by that; but, I am sure, Caesar fell down. If the tag-rag people did not clap him and hiss him, according as he pleased and displeased them, as they use to do the players in
the theatre, I am no true man.

BRUTUS   What said he when he came unto himself?

Remind you of anything? Do you now hear the same chilling new meaning that I first heard in July? It’s not just that Casca’s cynical observation (“If Caesar had stabbed their mothers”, the Roman mob would “forgive him with all their hearts”) is eerily echoed by Trump’s notorious boast at the start of his campaign (“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”)

That would be chilling enough. But it’s also that Casca’s sneering description of Caesar’s epileptic seizure is horribly echoed by Trump’s equally notorious, cruel pantomime of a disabled reporter’s awkward “infirmity”. And finally, it’s also that Casca’s elitist description of the Roman mob with such revolting (so to speak) disgust, constitutes an uncannily apt description of the deplorable, bloodthirsty audiences we all saw repeatedly at the Trump rallies, where he delivered those awful lines, and all too many more.

In July in Ashland, as I listened to Casca’s speeches in that scene, the nauseating, appalling thought first occurred to me, that what Trump’s political rivals (first the other Republican candidates, then Hillary Clinton), the media, as well as sane decent people in America and around the world all thought – and, I believe, still think to this day – heard and saw as the spontaneous, uncontrollable outbursts of a demented, cruel, powerful, toxic narcissist, were actually lines delivered by an actor playing the role that he would seem to have been born and raised to play --- lines “written” as it were, by a “playwright”, Steve Bannon, who apparently took to heart Shakespeare’s revelation that “all the world’s a stage” -- especially a 21st century world in which news about the governing of the greatest empire of our world is heard not by a handful of plebeians in a Roman mob, but by an entire globe, in a world where news travels instantly to the eyes and ears of billions.

The only question I cannot answer with confidence is whether:

ONE: Trump was a conscious actor who, like the pros in the OSF troupe members who have trained all their lives to simulate authenticity in expression of emotion and thought,  knew exactly what he was doing, and for what dark purpose; or,
TWO Steve Bannon was the one and only Svengali in possession of the Shakespearean “script” for manipulation of a national mob; and Bannon, by Iago-like insinuation and flattery, fed Trump these horrible lines, while concealing from Trump that Trump was actually a puppet on Bannon’s Shakespearean string, dancing to his white supremacist tune.
And frankly, I can’t decide which would be worse.

So, as I read George Clooney’s sharp, dismissive sarcasm of Steven Bannon, the humor I might ordinarily have enjoyed in his derision took on a very sour taste indeed. Instead of mortification, I suspect that Bannon got a great kick out of Clooney’s comments when (not if) he read them. After all, or rather, after November 8, 2016, Bannon must know that it is he who has had the last laugh. Not only did his “show” go on, it is one we all will be forced to watch for what could be another three-plus years---a very long run in a kind of house-of-horrors “Playhouse California”: one which we can try to walk out of, but, as the usher (Sarah Huckabee Sanders?) would inform us, we can never leave.

So, as vile as Steve Bannon is (and anyone who watched any portion of Charlie Rose’s recent interview of Bannon can see how vile he really is), I feel compelled to give Satan his due, and credit Bannon with having fooled us all, bigtime. Of course, I don’t do this out of admiration, but because I believe one saving grace that can be salvaged from understanding the above, is that perhaps we will never again underestimate Bannon’s power and insight, as George Clooney did. 

Let us beware of thinking that now that Bannon is physically out of the White House, we can take comfort that he will not exert any more influence over Trump. Let us not kid ourselves, there is no way Trump is going to ever fire this guy. Bannon’s Manchurian candidate, whether witting or unwitting, is always within electronic reach of those puppetry strings. Bannon has shown himself to be no apprentice playwright, but one who not only understood Shakespeare, he upped the ante and produced his own modern-day Julius Caesar, using the US presidential campaign as his stage!

It has long since become customary to acknowledge the profound insight into human nature and universality of Shakespeare’s plays; and yet I suspect it is a custom honored more in unreflective praise than in actual belief. Great genius that he was, I’d imagine that most people would be surprised if one of the plays Shakespeare wrote more than four centuries ago actually turned out to be startlingly relevant to our most pressing national concerns today. And yet, now we have the nightmare I’ve outlined above, which constitutes dramatic (in both senses) proof that Shakespeare was not trafficking in fantasy when he had Casca speak those words. A demagogue’s power to energize and organize a mob behind a diabolical agenda has not changed in kind in two millennia, only in scale.

I’m sure this post of mine has also brought to mind for some of you reading it the sharp controversy raised by the recent Shakespeare in the Central Park Julius Caesar (although you might be surprised to learn that a frankly anti-fascist production of Julius Caesar was staged in the Thirties), in which Caesar bore a strong physical resemblance to Trump himself. But now I hope you see that behind that controversy about the propriety of suggesting the assassination of a modern demagogue is the deeper controversy that never happened, about how a great government was hijacked using a Shakespearean strategy. Let’s start paying attention.

Before I close, I want to get back to George Clooney’s reference to Bannon’s failed Coriolanus spinoff. Clooney being as wonky as he is hunky, I wonder whether he read the following two articles, as I did in July, about that Central Park Julius Caesar (and now I feel yet another chill, as I think about how Central Park is also identified with Trump, in his unrelenting unrepentant campaign against the innocent young men of color whom Trump demonized): 

“ 'Trump-like' 'Julius Caesar' stirs debate”  by Chris Moody  06/10/17

Moody started thusly: “The audience gathered in New York's Delacorte Theater in Central Park for a new rendition of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar gasped in delight when the title character first strode across the stage, not in a toga, but adorned in a business suit and tie that fell unfashionably below his belt and sporting a presidential yellow coif of hair atop his head. Their reaction to the Trump-like character subsided as the audience assumedly skipped ahead to the scene when they would witness (spoiler alert!) the gory assassination of this blonde, boisterous, Trumpian emperor.”

"Behold, Steve Bannon’s Hip-Hop Shakespeare Rewrite: Coriolanus" by Daniel Pollack-Pelzner

Pollack-Pelzner (which I strongly recommend you read in full) discusses that very same Bannon Coriolanus script that Clooney derided (here are some highlights):

“Soon after Bannon was appointed chief strategist for President elect Donald J. Trump, profiles noted that he was a co author of a rap musical based on Shakepeare’s Roman tragedy Coriolanus…Mr. Bannon’s Coriolanus set in LA during the 1992 riots, is deadly serious….his adaptation of Shakespeare offers an unexpected clue….[it] draws its title from one of Coriolanus’s lines, “The Thing I Am”. It suggests the chilling conflict that Mr. Bannon would like to play out on a national stage…His Coriolanus script, written in the late 1990s with Julia Jones, a screenwriter, offers a vision of his Shakespeare-fueled fantasy: a violent macho conflict to purge corrupt leaders and pave the way for a new strongman to emerge.…Mr. Bannon’s thrill at masculine violence still resonates…In Shakespeare’s play, a Roman patrician rebukes the mob as ‘mutinous members’ of the body politic, insulting their leader as ‘the great toe of this assembly.’ In Mr. Bannon’s rewrite, the patrician called Mack-Daddy of South Central, walks over to the people’s chief, GRABS THE MAN’S CROTCH and updates the insult by replacing ‘toe’ with a vulgar word for genitals. CROTCH GRABBING isn’t just locker-room talk here; it’s the currency of power…As chief strategist to Mr. Trump, Mr. Bannon could see his vision of racial aggression, driven by a hammer-headed hero who doesn’t have to pander to the craven media, gain an audience far beyond SS’s globe.”

Is it possible that Trump was under Bannon’s influence even as early as 2005 when the Access Hollywood video was shot? Might Steve Bannon have leaked the tape himself? The mind reels at the prospect of such a daredevil political highwire act, but the fact remains, Donald Trump is the one sitting in the Oval Office today, so I don’t rule out even such a preposterous possibility.

To conclude, if my above claim that Bannon deliberately generated modern political theater from the lines of Julius Caesar was in doubt for you, I hope that the above analysis by Moody makes clear to you that Bannon knew Shakespeare’s Roman plays really, really well, and recognized their modern relevance and usefulness. So, dear friends, Americans, and countrypeeps, the fault will not be in the stars in the sky, but in our naïve acceptance of the “stars” on our screens, if we fail to recognize what is real in Donald Trump’s “act”, and what is fake (i.e., scripted by Steve Bannon).

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The common Shakespearean source for the dreams of Milton's Eve and Austen's Frank Churchill

I ended my immediately preceding post (on August 28) about the word games at Hartfield as follows:

“And finally, we can add the Strange Case of the Swept-Away Third Word to the numerous other plays on the number 3 in Emma (which points to the allusive presence of Mozart’s The Magic Flute):
the 3 come-at-able ladies, the 3 teachers at Mrs. Goddard’s school, the 3 turns that Mr. Woodhouse takes during his constitutional, the apples baked 3 times at Hartfield, Mrs. Smallridge’s 3 girls, and the “three things very dull indeed” that Frank solicits at Box Hill – to that we can now add, the 3 words at the Hartfield game table!
And that brings me to the end of Part One. In Part Two, which, as I promised, will be forthcoming in the next few days, I will demonstrate that there’s a whole lot more to the word “pardon” at the Hartfield game table than I have discussed above. There’s a Shakespearean meaning which points the finger ten times more pointedly at Jane Fairfax’s concealed pregnancy!”

Now, on to Part Two, and my promise to reveal a Shakespearean meaning pointed to by the word "pardon" in that Hartfield puzzle table scene, that I say substantiates my longstanding claim about Jane Fairfax's concealed pregnancy.  I've now been able to connect the allusive dots to a famous work by a third immortal English author besides Shakespeare and Jane Austen – as my Subject Line has already revealed, I’m referring to John Milton and his masterpiece, Paradise Lost, in which, of course, the female protagonist is Eve, who, like Austen's Frank Churchill, dreams.

While the textual evidence I’ve now collected has grown far too voluminous and complex for a single blog post, I do want at least to present the highlights of my overall conclusions. But first, for those who enjoy literary quizzes, here are two questions, which I will answer, immediately thereafter, below, about that Shakespearean source:


1. What famous passage in one of Shakespeare's most famous plays is the common, significant source winked at by the following two, seemingly unrelated, passages about dreams written by Milton and Austen?
2. What are the deepest meanings of the connection among those three Shakespeare, Milton & Austen passages?

ONE: Eve’s eloquent speech just before she and Adam walk out of paradise into the cold, hard world at the very end of Paradise Lost:

Descended, Adam to the Bowre where Eve
  Lay SLEEPING ran before, but found her WAK'T;
  And thus with words not sad she him receav'd.
    Whence thou returnst, whither wentst, I know;
  For God is also in SLEEP, and DREAMS advise,
  Which he hath sent propitious, some great good
  Presaging, since with sorrow and hearts distress
  Wearied I fell ASLEEP: but now lead on;
  In mee is no delay; with thee to goe,
  Is to stay here; without thee here to stay,
  Is to go hence unwilling; thou to mee
  Art all things under Heav'n, all places thou,
  Who for my wilful crime art banisht hence.
  This further consolation yet secure
  I CARRY hence; though all by mee is lost,
  Such favour I unworthie am voutsaft,
  By mee THE PROMIS'D SEED shall all restore.
    So spake our Mother EVE, and ADAM heard
  Well pleas'd, but answer'd not…

TWO: Frank Churchill’s dream about Mr. Perry’s carriage, right before the three puzzle words:

 As they were turning into the grounds, Mr. Perry passed by on horseback. The gentlemen spoke of his horse.
“By the bye,” said Frank Churchill to Mrs. Weston presently, “what became of Mr. Perry’s plan of setting up his CARRIAGE?”
Mrs. Weston looked surprized, and said, “I did not know that he ever had any such plan.”
“Nay, I had it from you. You wrote me word of it three months ago.”
“Me! impossible!”
“Indeed you did. I remember it perfectly. You mentioned it as what was certainly to be very soon. Mrs. Perry had told somebody, and was extremely happy about it. It was owing to her persuasion, as she thought his being out in bad weather did him a great deal of harm. You must remember it now?”
“Upon my word I never heard of it till this moment.”
“Never! really, never!—Bless me! how could it be?—Then I must have DREAMT it—but I was completely persuaded—Miss Smith, you walk as if you were tired. You will not be sorry to find yourself at home.”
“What is this?—What is this?” cried Mr. Weston, “about Perry and a carriage? Is Perry going to set up his CARRIAGE, Frank? I am glad he can afford it. You had it from himself, had you?”
“No, sir,” replied his son, laughing, “I seem to have had it from nobody.—Very odd!—I really was persuaded of Mrs. Weston’s having mentioned it in one of her letters to Enscombe, many weeks ago, with all these particulars—but as she declares she never heard a syllable of it before, of course it must have been a DREAM. I am a great DREAMER. I DREAM of every body at Highbury when I am away—and when I have gone through my particular friends, then I begin DREAMING of Mr. and Mrs. Perry.”
“It is odd though,” observed his father, “that you should have had such a regular connected DREAM about people whom it was not very likely you should be thinking of at Enscombe. Perry’s setting up his CARRIAGE! and his wife’s persuading him to it, out of care for his health—just what will happen, I have no doubt, some time or other; only a little premature. What an air of probability sometimes runs through a dream! And at others, what a heap of absurdities it is! Well, Frank, your DREAM certainly shews that Highbury is in your thoughts when you are absent. Emma, you are a great DREAMER, I think?”
Emma was out of hearing. She had hurried on before her guests to prepare her father for their appearance, and was beyond the reach of Mr. Weston’s hint.
“Why, to own the truth,” cried Miss Bates, who had been trying in vain to be heard the last two minutes, “if I must speak on this subject, there is no denying that Mr. Frank Churchill might have—I do not mean to say that he did not DREAM it—I am sure I have sometimes the oddest DREAMS in the world—but if I am questioned about it, I must acknowledge that there was such an idea last spring; for Mrs. Perry herself mentioned it to my mother, and the Coles knew of it as well as ourselves—but it was quite a secret, known to nobody else, and only thought of about three days. Mrs. Perry was very anxious that he  should have a CARRIAGE, and came to my mother in great spirits one morning because she thought she had prevailed. Jane, don’t you remember grandmama’s telling us of it when we got home? I forget where we had been walking to—very likely to Randalls; yes, I think it was to Randalls. Mrs. Perry was always particularly fond of my mother—indeed I do not know who is not—and she had mentioned it to her in confidence; she had no objection to her telling us, of course, but it was not to go beyond: and, from that day to this, I never mentioned it to a soul that I know of. At the same time, I will not positively answer for my having never dropt a hint, because I know I do sometimes POP OUT A THING before I am aware. I am a talker, you know; I am rather a talker; and now and then I have LET A THING ESCAPE ME which I should not. I am not like Jane; I wish I were. I will answer for it she never betrayed the least thing in the world. Where is she?—Oh! just behind. Perfectly remember Mrs. Perry’s coming.—Extraordinary DREAM, indeed!”
They were entering the hall. Mr. Knightley’s eyes had preceded Miss Bates’s in a glance at Jane. From Frank Churchill’s face, where he thought he saw confusion suppressed or laughed away, he had involuntarily turned to hers; but she was indeed behind, and too busy with her shawl. Mr. Weston had walked in. The two other gentlemen waited at the door to let her pass. Mr. Knightley suspected in Frank Churchill the determination of catching her eye—he seemed watching her intently—in vain, however, if it were so—Jane passed between them into the hall, and looked at neither.
There was no time for farther remark or explanation. THE DREAM MUST BE BORNE with…

The Shakespeare passage, and the play it appears in, which is the common source for both the above-quoted Austen and the Milton passages, is one which.... strongly hinted at by puns on the words I've put in ALL CAPS in the above two passages; parodically alluded to in A Midsummer Night's Dream; explicitly quoted by Emma while speaking about Jane Fairfax; AND connected to Paradise Lost via yet another Shakespearean word puzzle which Jane Austen recognized. 





The Shakespearean play which is the common source for the above quoted passages in Emma and Paradise Lost is Romeo & Juliet, and the speech which contains all those same keywords, is the famous "Queen Mab" speech by Mercutio about dreams which ends as follows:

.......This is that very Mab
That plaits the manes of horses in the night
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes.
This is the hag, when MAIDS LIE ON THEIR BACKS,
That presses them and learns them first TO BEAR, 


Of course, the capitalized words in the last three lines of Mercutio's speech contain several puns on women having sex, getting pregnant, carrying the unborn baby, and then bearing the child. That's exactly what I claim Milton was pointing to when Eve, speaking of her final dream, says, "I CARRY hence; though all by mee is lost,  Such favour I unworthie am voutsaft, By mee THE PROMIS'D SEED shall all restore"; and what Jane Austen was pointing to when first Frank, and then Miss Bates, go on an on about Frank's supposed dream about Mr. Perry's carriage.

Eve’s last dream in Paradise Lost speaks to her acceptance of life outside Eden, and Milton lifts Mercutio’s pun on “carriage” as pregnancy, and used it to describe Eve's being given the gift of carrying babies to birth in the postlapsarian world.

And that allusion by Milton to Mercutio's speech ties in perfectly with what I first wrote about in 2014 about the "SATAN" acrostic in Friar Laurence's speech to Juliet about the sleeping potion he gives to her, which I claim Milton intentionally alluded to with his "SATAN" acrostic in Book 9 of Paradise Lost, which was my first window into how pervasively Milton alluded to Romeo & Juliet, a major allusion unnoticed by any Milton scholar prior to myself. 


The above is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of the multilayered allusion by Jane Austen, via the shadow heroine of Emma, Jane Fairfax, pointing to both Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, and to Eve in Paradise LostHere are some highlights of this complex allusion:

From the moment Emma was published, it has been recognized that Emma slightly misquotes Romeo's speech to the apothecary, when Mrs. Weston and Emma discuss Emma's shock at hearing about Jane's concealment of her romantic connection to Frank all along:

 "...[I] still am disposed to give her credit for, in spite of this one great deviation from the strict rule of right. And how much may be said in her situation for even that ERROR!”
“Much, indeed!” cried Emma feelingly. “If a woman can ever be excused for thinking only of herself, it is in a situation like Jane Fairfax’s.—Of such, one may almost say, that ‘the world is not their’s, nor the world’s law.’”

However, no Austen scholar before myself has recognized that Romeo & Juliet is winked at all over the place in the text of Emma. And, at the center of that global allusion is Jane Fairfax's pregnancy -- because Juliet is also dealing being a single woman (actually a girl) with the same problem as Jane Fairfax - Juliet (like Ophelia in Hamlet) is pregnant (impregnated against her will by her monstrous, pedophilic father Lord Capulet), and so Juliet throws herself at Romeo in the hope of finding a husband who will legitimize her baby, and also to allow her to avoid having to marry Paris –which is exactly the same desperate strategy I see Jane Fairfax employing vis a vis Frank Churchill at Weymouth.

That quotation by Emma about "the world's law" is also a re-quotation from the famous Misella essays in Samuel Johnson's Rambler, which are about the misery of women forced into prostitution by the norms of a cruelly sexist English society- which is exactly the fate that Mrs. Elton threatens Jane Fairfax with, before Mrs. Weston bails Jane out by taking Jane’s baby and pretending it is her own – little Anna Weston.

In the two instances when Emma’s overheated imagination focuses on Jane’s feelings about Mr. Dixon, and on Jane's rebuff of Emma's offered gift of arrowroot, as “poison”, we hear the distinct echo of the deadly "poison" Romeo acquires from that same apothecary to whom he utters those same words about “the world’s law”.

The incestuous pedophilia of Capulet that I see in Romeo & Juliet is echoed not only by Mr. Woodhouse’s dangerous interest in his own daughters, but by the pedophilia that saturates another Shakespeare play that I’ve previously claimed on several occasions is a key source for Emma – Pericles, Prince of Tyre. And so we now have key sources for Jane Fairfax in both Juliet and in Pericles’ gifted daughter, Marina.

The apples Jane Fairfax eats not only point to Milton’s Eve, but also to the secretly pregnant, unmarried, historical Anne Boleyn, who famously hinted publicly at her own pregnancy by Henry VIII, in order to embarrass the King to marry her.

I've gather a great deal of textual evidence to back up each of the above highlighted claims, and several other lesser aspects as well, enough to write a whole book chapter unpacking it all. But for today, the above will have to do.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Monday, August 28, 2017

“On, Blunder! On, Dixon!”: The Strange Case of the Swept-Away Third Word at Hartfield

Several days ago, Diane Reynolds posed this intriguing question in Janeites: “…In Vol III [Chapter 41 of Emma], Frank spells out ‘blunder’ and ‘Dixon’--and then a third word for Jane Fairfax, which we are told she angrily brushes away without reading. Any speculation on that word?”

Ellen Moody was the first to reply: “Was there a third word? I remember only the two: blunder (which Emma does not see) and Dixon (which she does and which Mr Knightley also sees). Blunder is swept away too quickly. Were Mr Knightley (the POV of this chapter) or Emma to see it, we would know it, and we would immediately work out for sure that Frank and Jane have a clandestine relationship, the blunder being his comment about Mr Perry having a carriage. We'd guess it was in a letter because of Jane's trips to the post office.”

Diane then clarified: “There is a third word: after blunder and Dixon, Jane signals to her aunt her desire to leave and then, “Mr. Knightley thought he saw another collection of letters anxiously pushed towards her, and resolutely swept away by her unexamined.” This is after blunder and Dixon: Dixon makes Jane angry enough to leave.  Now it's not entirely sure--Mr. Knightley just "thought he saw," but I am convinced he saw something.”

Ellen then replied again:  “You're right. There is a third. I just reread the passage. Yes the "he thought he saw" is a reaffirmation of the sudden switch in POV. This being an older fiction, we are supposed to work it out by the end of the book…Guessing as if I'd never finished the novel but understood by this point Frank and Jane have a clandestine relationship (which I did guess the first time I read the novel at this chapter though not that they were engaged), I'd say "forgive" or "pardon." Does anyone remember what the third word was?”

Diane, I’m so glad you’ve raised this question, which I see as another significant word puzzle that Jane Austen intended her most alert readers (like you) to spot. I’ve donned my deerskin cap and puffed on my sleuthing pipe for the past few days, and, with the aid of my faithful partner in detection, Mr. Google, I’ve arrived at two complementary solutions to this strange case -- solutions which, as I hoped, go to the heart of the shadow story of Emma I began to delineate nearly 13 years ago. It was in January 2005 when I first realized that Jane Fairfax’s “illness” could plausibly be read as (concealed) pregnancy, with Jane F. as the “shadow heroine” of the novel, but with her story in effect told by the most clueless observer in Highbury – Emma herself! And these two new posts of mine will illustrate how Emma is the literary puzzle which keeps on yielding fresh delights and insights, year after year!

As has, during the past two decades, been well established in Austen scholarly circles not frequented by the majority of Janeites, it is in Emma in particular that the “trivial” word games and puzzles which abound therein [most of all, the “courtship” charade, which I’ve long argued is one and the same as the “acrostic” poem given to Mrs. Elton by an unnamed “abominable puppy” (who I claim is actually Frank Churchill, as I last outlined a few years ago here: ] collectively function as a Rosetta Stone provided by JA in order to aid in decoding Emma’s shadow story. Diane, your question has catalyzed my figuring out the deeper meaning of that third word which is not explicitly stated in the novel text, but which, as I will demonstrate, is everywhere in Emma implied.

To keep this post from getting too long, I will lay out my solution to The Strange Case of the Third Word at Hartfield in two distinct stages, this post today being Part One. I’ll finish writing up Part Two, which will explicate a deeper layer of allusive meaning, within the next few days, after (hopefully) first prompting a lively round of interesting responses to Part One from the sharp elves in our virtual “room” who are so inclined, and who enjoy this sort of shadowy delving.

First, as was pointed out in Janeites after the initial posts quoted above, what Ellen was remembering was that Diane’s question was answered 150 years ago by James Edward Austen Leigh (JEAL) in his 1869 Memoir when he wrote that his aunt “certainly took a kind of parental interest in the beings whom she had created, and did not dismiss them from her thoughts when she had finished her last chapter...She would, if asked, tell us many little particulars about the subsequent career of some of her people. In this traditionary way we learned that…the letters placed by Frank Churchill before Jane Fairfax, which she swept away unread, contained the word ‘pardon’…”.

I also was reminded of another extratextual data point about Jane Fairfax which, as far as I can tell, was first published by JEAL’s nephew, W. Austen Leigh, in his 1914 Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters:
“According to a less well-known tradition, Jane Fairfax survived her elevation [to marriage] only nine or ten years.”

Do you find it interesting, as I do, that, from among the half dozen extratextual hints that JA gave about her novels, the actions and fate of the mysterious Jane Fairfax were, according to the report of members of the Austen family, sufficiently intriguing to have elicited not one but two of those six precious hints from JA? It’s even more interesting, because JA would have had to provide these glosses during the brief 18-month window between publication of Emma and JA’s tragic premature death, to family members who probably had only had the chance to read Emma once. That reinforces my gut feeling that Diane’s question is a very important one, worthy of serious analysis.

Mainstream Austen scholars have uncritically accepted JEAL’s report of Jane Austen’s “pardon” gloss without questioning it, whereas I, like Diane, believe skepticism is always called for with JEAL, given his long rap sheet of unreliability as a reporter of many aspects of his aunt’s life and work, including a few whopping lies, as well as several Bowdlerizing editorial deletions and alterations of passages in her surviving letters. So I started from a flexible position, seeking to determine if JEAL’s report was accurate or not:

Possibility #1: Was JEAL’s answer a smokescreen, i.e., a deliberately false answer invented by him, intended to discourage close readers from even asking that question left hanging in JA’s novel? Did he thereby wish to avoid some suspicious reader sleuthing out the correct answer, because the actual answer being concealed by JEAL would’ve revealed his aunt Jane not to have been a prim, unambitious, conservative, but instead the subversive radical feminist I assert she was? As I said, above, I would not put such an editorial deception past JEAL; or

Possibility #2: Did JA, as JEAL stated, actually share that answer “pardon” with some member(s) of her family, who (as JEAL implied) posed that same question to her two centuries ago?
That second possibility immediately led me to a further question:
If JEAL was telling the truth, did JA merely intend for unsuspicious readers of the overt story to infer that Jane F. was feeling guilty (i.e., wishing for a “pardon”) for her deception of Emma et al in Highbury, and therefore was furious at Frank for once again --- as with his “dream” about “Mr. Perry’s carriage” right before while standing at the Highbury sweep-gate --- nearly exposing their secret?
Or…was JA’s answer a clue not only as to the overt story, but also a clue, but with a radically different meaning, to the shadow story?

The second version of Possibility #2 sprang off the screen at me as I typed it, because it fits Jane Austen’s M.O. to a tee. I.e.,  I cannot count the number of times in Jane Austen’s novels when one of her many fools is made to unwittingly expose something they would devoutly wish to keep secret. So that would turn JEAL’s 1869 Memoir, with its mention of her answer “pardon”, a kind of literary Trojan Horse, whereby JEAL, despite his fervent desire to keep a lid on whatever was simmering in his aunt’s literary pot, was unwittingly providing a vital clue for solving the subversive meaning of the Strange Case of the Third Word! As I reread that passage in Emma very closely and in context with the entire chapter it appears in, keeping “pardon” in the foreground, I quickly realized that this “Trojan Horse” was my ticket to ride, sleuthily speaking, a “carriage” that led me straight back to Jane Fairfax’s concealed pregnancy!

I start with a quotation of the relevant passage, beginning with Jane’s reaction to the word “Dixon”:

“…[Jane] was immediately up, and wanting to quit the table; but so many were also moving, that she could not get away; and Mr. Knightley thought he saw another collection of letters anxiously pushed towards her, and resolutely swept away by her unexamined. She was afterwards looking for her shawl—Frank Churchill was looking also—it was growing dusk, and the room was in confusion; and how they parted, Mr. Knightley could not tell.
He remained at Hartfield after all the rest, his thoughts full of what he had seen; so full, that when the candles came to assist his observations, he must—yes, he certainly must, as a friend—an anxious friend—give Emma some hint, ask her some question. He could not see her in a situation of such danger, without trying to preserve her. It was his duty.
“Pray, Emma,” said he, “may I ask in what lay the great amusement, the poignant sting of the last word given to you and Miss Fairfax? I SAW THE WORD, and am curious to know how it could be so very entertaining to the one, and so very distressing to the other.”
Emma was extremely confused. She could not endure to give him the true explanation; for though her suspicions were by no means removed, she was really ashamed of having ever imparted them.
“Oh!” she cried in evident embarrassment, “it all meant nothing; a mere joke among ourselves.”
“The joke,” he replied gravely, “seemed confined to you and Mr. Churchill.”

First, I respectfully disagree with you, Diane, and believe I can convince you to change your view, on one key point: I do not believe Knightley actually sees The Third Word. While I acknowledge that it is not impossible that Knightley sees it, I find the far more likely reading to be that Knightley is referring to the second word, “Dixon” as the word he actually saw, and I have three reasons to back me up, all arising out of the subtly ambiguous narration in that passage that I believe was entirely deliberate on JA’s part:
A: “Dixon” was the last word that we know for sure was presented to both Emma and Miss Fairfax; whereas the third word may very possibly have been presented only to Jane;
B: “Dixon” was the name as to which Emma and Frank shared “a mere joke among [them]selves” many chapters earlier –I don’t recall reading about another joke being shared by Emma and Frank, do you?; and
C: the word “Dixon”, we know for certain, was seen by Knightley.

Second, and equally destabilizing of the normative reading, I’ve noticed for the first time that it is not necessarily the case that Frank is the person who pushes the third word toward Jane Fairfax!:   
“…so many were also moving, that she could not get away; and Mr. Knightley thought he saw another collection of letters anxiously pushed towards her, and resolutely swept away by her unexamined….”

“Anxiously pushed towards” Jane, yes, but by whom? As JA does in a hundred other places in her writing, here she once again leads us all down a garden path of unfounded assumption---in this case, the illusion that we know for certain that it was Frank who pushed the third word in Jane’s direction. But all we really know for sure is that Frank presented Jane with the first two words – the identity of the “pusher” of the third word is, I argue, a matter of pure speculation.  And, as with the question of what Knightley hears, that uncertainty is deliberately heightened by JA by the data points that “so many were also moving” and “it was growing dusk”. In other words, JA is informing us, in the subtlest way, that it was very difficult to see who was doing what at that crucial instant.

So…if we assume for purposes of argument that it wasn’t Frank, and we know it wasn’t Knightley or Emma, then who could it have been? Viewing that question through the lens of the shadow story, I take note that in the scene in question, Jane is rapidly approaching her final hours before delivery, which is why, among other things, she is busy with her shawl as she walks by Knightley to enter the salon at Hartfield, so as to better conceal her very advanced pregnancy (we get other hints as well of Jane’s surprising wearing of a “large shawl” in the summer heat, because she needs protective covering of her late-term bulge).

As I’ve often noted, there are several key characters who already know about Jane’s pregnancy, but the reader never hears this explicitly, because the entire story (except for this and one other scene) is told through the eyes of Emma, who is utterly clueless about Jane in every way, but most of all in that regard.
But I believe the third word is pushed towards Jane by one of the other characters who is the opposite of clueless—a clueful character who would have the motive to expose Jane in Knightley’s presence – that rules out Miss Bates and Mrs. Weston, because I believe they are actually Jane’s most dedicated protectors, and leaves only two other suspects – Mr. Weston and Harriet.

These two “fools” would seem to be the least likely to engage in a deep game of psychological warfare against anyone, let alone against Jane Fairfax. But, that brings me back to the lessons of Mr. Elton’s charade. I’ve long asserted that the Harriet Smith of the shadow story is actually a very sharp elf who, e.g., sees the secret answer (“Prince of Whales”) of the charade, that Emma never even imagines could exist. The shadow Harriet I’ve come to know is a master manipulator, a “Shamela”, who has set her cap at Mr. Knightley from the start of the novel.

That’s why, during the first chapters of the novel, Harriet already ‘luckily’ finds herself firmly ensconced in close proximity to the two Highbury residents closest to Knightley: his principal tenant and friend, Robert Martin, and his local “favourite”, Emma. But Harriet also has a strong motive to put the kibosh on any romantic interest of Mr. Knightley’s in his other favourite, Jane (recall that Mrs. Weston explicitly suggests Knightley’s interest in Jane, to Emma’s horror). In short, then, Harriet has two romantic rivals whom Mr. Knightley might wish to marry besides herself, and one of them is Jane.

Harriet knows that Jane is pregnant, so I believe Harriet seizes the moment of confusion when the Hartfield game table group is breaking up, in order to deliver a third, veiled threat to Jane, also hoping to plant some doubt in Mr. Knightley’s mind about Jane’s purity. So I say it is Harriet who inobtrusively pushes the word “pardon” toward Jane. Why not “baby” or “pregnant”, you ask? Because Harriet is too clever to be obvious, she instead acts subtly, to threaten Jane with exposure (after observing Mrs. Elton repeatedly harass Jane in a very unsubtle way). And recall also who it was who said the word “blunder” aloud?: “The word was blunder; and as Harriet exultingly proclaimed it, there was a blush on Jane’s cheek which gave it a meaning not otherwise ostensible.” Harriet is no fool, she is actually, like Lucy Steele, a daring young woman who is proactive in promoting her own interest.

And finally, we can add the Strange Case of the Swept-Away Third Word to the numerous other plays on the number 3 in Emma (which points to the allusive presence of Mozart’s The Magic Flute): the 3 come-at-able ladies, the 3 teachers at Mrs. Goddard’s school, the 3 turns that Mr. Woodhouse takes during his constitutional, the apples baked 3 times at Hartfield, Mrs. Smallridge’s 3 girls, and the “three things very dull indeed” that Frank solicits at Box Hill – to that we can now add, the 3 words at the Hartfield game table!

And that brings me to the end of Part One. In Part Two, which, as I promised, will be forthcoming in the next few days, I will demonstrate that there’s a whole lot more to the word “pardon” at the Hartfield game table than I have discussed above. There’s a Shakespearean meaning which points the finger ten times more pointedly at Jane’s concealed pregnancy!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: I will also be writing a post during the next few days to pick up on the hint in the first part of my Subject Line which will discuss another strange case—the remarkable resonance of “The Night Before Christmas” with Emma!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Jane Austen was poetically aWakened to the unhappy fate of women pushed to jump at husbands

I’ve recently revisited one of Jane Austen’s short poems:

Camilla, good humoured, & merry, & small
For a Husband was at her last stake;
And having in vain danced at many a Ball
Is now happy to jump at a Wake.

As I reread it for the first time in over a decade, I quickly realized that there was much more to these four lines than met my still scholarly naïve eyes in 2006, and this post presents to you the fruits of my consequent delvings into its deeper, darker, and very subversive meanings.

FIRST, I noted that this poem appears in the text of Letter 77 written by JA to Martha Lloyd on 11/30/1812. I’ve long recognized that the handful of surviving letters written by JA to Martha are much more likely to contain overtly subversive material than the large cache of surviving letters to Cassandra. It seems it was only while writing to Martha that JA felt free to include edgy material like “ejaculations about cocks and hens” and hating the Prince Regent, although it’s also possible that CEA later destroyed any and all comparably edgy letters that JA wrote to her.

SECOND, I took a closer look at the pun on the word/name “Wake”. Le Faye’s footnote states that JA was marking the engagement of the 38 year old Camilla Wallop to the “elderly curate” Reverend Henry Wake.  Le Faye thereby delicately implies that in marrying a much older man, Camilla Wallop’s marriage baked meats (pace Hamlet, but in reverse) might well shortly furnish forth the funeral tables for her husband. Thus, the pun on the imminent wake for Revd. Wake would appear to express the identical sentiment as the non-joking comment we find in Letter 60 to CEA dated over four years earlier, on 10/25/1808:  “Tomorrow I hope to hear from you, and tomorrow we must think of poor Catherine.”

As I noted in 2015, Le Faye, in her typical editorial obscurantism, minimally footnotes that line thusly:
Catherine: “Bigg”.       One must read Le Faye’s bio note for Revd. Herbert Hill in order to deduce that poor Catherine Bigg (age 33) and Revd. Hill (age 59) were united in marital “bliss” on (surprise, surprise) the very same date as JA’s Letter 60!  

JA, in writing the “Wake” poem, would thus initially appear to be registering a protest at the desperate decision of a single woman -- in the eyes of her family already long past her “bloom” --- making a decidedly unromantic marital choice, under pressure, when faced with the looming prospect of falling into Miss Batesian genteel poverty and social isolation. This reminds us of the fictional Charlotte Lucas stooping to marry a man like Mr. Collins, and also of the real life Jane Austen in 1802, when she almost married Catherine Bigg’s less-than-desirable brother Harris under comparable circumstances.

THIRD, I noted that JEAL went out of his way, in his 1869 Memoir, to spin JA’s “Wake” poem as her mockery of “the marriage of a middle-aged flirt with a Mr. Wake, who, it was supposed, she would scarcely have accepted in her youth”. JEAL also altered “Camilla” to “Maria”, seemingly in order to obscure the connection to the real life Camilla Wallop.

Hmmm… Given that I’ve shown in a dozen different ways over the past decade how Le Faye’s misleading obscurantism is only a misdemeanor in comparison to JEAL’s numerous outright editorial “felonies”, i.e., his whopping lies and Bowdlerizations. So I guessed there must be more hidden ore to be mined from the poem, for JEAL to have wielded his deceitful red pen so forcefully on it. In particular, the Jane Austen I know would not have meanly mocked the plight of a 38 year old single woman, especially when writing to her dear friend Martha who was single and even older. What else, I wondered, might JEAL have been trying to hide?

FOURTH, I also noted that Camilla Wallop was the niece of Lord Portsmouth, who (as I’ve recognized since I learned Lord Portsmouth’s sad story a decade ago) was one of Jane Austen’s principal sources for the character of Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion --- an ageing aristocrat of very weak intellectual capacity, who was vulnerable to being captured in marriage by a fortune-hunting woman. And so, how curious that the misogynist portrait JEAL painted in the Memoir of Lord Portsmouth’s niece as a fortune hunter, resembled JA’s fictional Mrs. Clay in that significant aspect.

FIFTH, I checked to see whether any other Austen scholars had ever looked at JA’s “wake” poem, and found two instances:

This excellent observation several years ago by Barbara Seeber: “[I]n the 4-line stanza "Camilla, good humoured, & merry, & small", occasioned by the impending marriage of her friend Urania Catherine Camilla Wallop, 38 years of age, to Reverend Henry Wake, Austen puns on the groom's name and connects marriage to death: Camilla "having in vain danced at many a Ball / Is now happy to jump at a Wake."

And this informative gloss by Kathryn Sutherland: “…The reference is to a four-line quatrain written in anticipation of the marriage of the middle-aged and, to Austen’s comic mind, desperate Urania Wallop and the elderly Revd Henry Wake. Like others of her comic verses, the joke hangs upon the punning associations of the victims’ names…The text as reproduced by Chapman and more recently by Margaret Doody comes from Austen-Leigh’s Memoir, and presumably is the version improved by James Austen, Austen-Leigh’s father, and handed down in the family .. a variant text preserved in the diary of Stephen Terry, father in law to Anna Lefroy’s fourth daughter, Georgiana, confirms that two versions were circulated in the family…”.  How interesting that the “Wake” poem was considered significant enough by others in JA’s family that it was passed from hand to hand to hand, and was not treated as disposable ephemera.

With all that background in hand, I decided to dig further into the real life of Revd. Henry Wake, and I quickly learned that I was right to mistrust Le Faye’s May-December explanation. Google and Google Books showed me that the Revd. Henry Wake was actually only 4 years older than Miss Wallop, a totally insignificant age difference when she was 38 and he was 42! So, if Jane Austen knew, as she surely did, that Camilla Wallop was actually entering into a May-June marriage, what else could JA have meant by her dark pun on “wake”?

It took me a few minutes of checking my own assumptions to realize that it wasn’t Mr. Wake’s wake JA was winking at, but Camilla’s! And not just a wake for a metaphorical death in a marriage to a much older man –which Henry Wake was not--- but Camilla’s grave risk of literal death upon marrying a still-virile man who might get her pregnant and thereby “murder” her in childbirth! That would fit all too perfectly with both the death-in-childbirth theme which I’ve argued countless times is, in the ghostly character of the late Mrs. Tilney, at the center of the shadow story of Northanger Abbey; and also with the repeated sarcastic references to numerous English gentlewives in JA’s social circle, imprisoned in the endless cycle of serial pregnancy whiich afflicted so many of JA’s married “sisters in Lucina”.

That in turn led me to check a little further online, to see if I could determine the order of “wakes” which actually occurred in the wake of the 1813 marriage of Camilla Wallop and Henry Wake. It will give you a shiver.

From his obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine, I learned that Henry Wake died four decades later at the ripe old age of 82; but I also learned a more revealing fact --- i.e., that he “was presented…to the rectory of Over Wallop in 1813 by the Earl of Portsmouth”. Do you see what that latter factoid tells us? It means that he was given a desirable living by his new cousin by marriage, the Earl of Portsmouth, at the same time as he married the Earl’s niece Camilla.

This adds an even darker and more subversive shade to JA’s meaning in her poem, because it suggests that the grant of the living was a form of “payment” by her patriarch to Henry Wake, in exchange for his marrying Camilla Wallop, and thereby taking her off the hands of the Wallop family. Now we come to the point of JEAL’s editorial deception -- the actual “fortune hunter” in this instance would appear to have been Henry Wake, not Camilla Wallop! JEAL, himself a clergyman who was given wealth and position which he did nothing to earn, seems to have been motivated to spin JA’s “Wake” poem backwards, and turn the bride into the fortune hunter – so as not to see himself in the mirror when looking at the fortune-hunting Henry Wake!

Which brings me to the most chilling part --- the death of the real life Camilla Wallop, the 38 year old woman who was at her last marital stake, and therefore jumped at a Wake. She died less than two years after her wedding day, and only a month after turning 40! Whether she died in childbirth, we may never know, but I’m pretty sure JA was saddened and angered, but not surprised, when she heard that tragic news about the death of her old friend, only a year older than JA herself. Camilla gambled her life, and lost, because the sexist odds of her country were stacked against her.

Old friend, you ask? Did Le Faye ever mention Camilla Wallop was JA’s old friend? No, she did not, nor, for that matter, did any Austen biographer other than Seeber, as far as I can tell. So, why do I nonetheless feel so confident that this was indeed the case? Because I found strong evidence for that inference hidden in plain sight in another one of JA’s letters, a letter written 7 ½ long years before JA wrote Letter 77:

Letter # 43 dated 04/11/1805 to CEA from Bath to Godmersham near the end of the Bath years, includes the following playful passage:
“I was not able to go on yesterday, all my Wit & leisure were bestowed on letters to Charles & Henry. To the former, I wrote in consequence of my Mother’s having seen in the papers that the Urania was waiting at Portsmouth for the Convoy for Halifax;--this is nice, as it is only three weeks ago that you wrote by the Camilla.—The Wallop race seem very fond of Nova Scotia…”

Le Faye’s footnote states: “The surname of the Earls of Portsmouth was Wallop, and many of the ladies of that family were Camilla or Urania—the ships so named reminded JA of this”. That might just take the cake, when it comes to Le Fayean editorial misdirection. How so? Because while it is certainly true that “many of the ladies of that family were Camilla or Urania”, I’d be willing to bet that only one member of the “Wallop race” living during the Regency Era had a name that included both of those names, and that one lady was Urania Catherine Camilla Wallop, the “heroine” of JA’s Wake poem written much later!

So, if JA was punning on two of Camilla’s names in an 1805 letter, and then punning on Camilla’s prospective husband’s name in a poem in an 1812 letter, this strongly suggests, at a minimum, an ongoing personal relationship between JA and her peer Camilla Wallop. It also suggests more to me –it speaks to an affection strong enough to induce JA to pun on both to her sister and to Martha. Why Le Faye would wish to obscure that close relationship is a question only Le Faye can answer for sure, but I believe it sounded uncomfortably romantic to the redoubtable protector of the Myth of Jane Austen.

And that’s when it all came together for me, and I realized the final forbidden element hidden in plain sight in that poem by JA --- like JA herself, I imagine that Camilla did not wish to marry at all, and, at age 38, had held out nearly to the end of her childbearing years, but then was forced to jump at it, and thereby, within a year, into the pregnancy that led to her own death. And that’s when I also realized that it is no coincidence that Jane Austen wrote her “jump at a Wake” poem in November 1812, during the exact same time period when JA was lopping and cropping First Impressions into Pride & Prejudice.

How so? Because I see, in Camilla jumping at a Wake, precisely the same punning import as I saw a few years ago in Elizabeth Bennet “jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity, and finding herself at last within view of the house, with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise.” The common theme is of women jumping at the order of men, like slaves on a slave ship forced by their sadistic captors/ transporters into “dancing” in their shackles.

I’ve previously argued that Caroline Bingley’s mockery of Elizabeth’s sunburnt skin and dirty petticoats is coded racist sneering at Elizabeth being biracial , as also is Mr. Darcy’s sarcastic “Every savage can dance” riposte to Sir William Lucas’s admiration of dancing at Lucas Lodge::  .

For Jane Austen, as for one of her inspirational mentors, Mary Wollstonecraft, marriage was in many ways a form of metaphorical slavery for women; but in JA’s sharper, more radical feminist imagination, she extended that metaphor far beyond Wollstonecraft’s usage, by hinting at women being made to “jump” into marriage and “dance at a ball” (i.e., submit to sex leading to pregnancy).

In conclusion, then, I believe that Jane Austen’s seemingly trivial “Wake” poem was in actuality a coded, radical feminist complement to her undisguised expression of feminist hatred toward the Prince Regent, contained in Letter #82, also written to Martha, less than three months after Letter 77. It shows yet again that JA was fully awakened not only to the dangerous, everyday reality of womanhood in her profoundly sexist society, but also, with her utter clarity and freedom from illusion, to the danger to the career of any female writer who dared to openly express such awareness. Indeed, unless expressed in code, no such radical feminist message could successfully run the gauntlet of misogynist critics (like Hazlitt, who savagely attacked Burney’s Wanderer, with its overt catalog of women’s “difficulties”). Jane Austen was determined that her "darling children", i.e., her novels, would survive, and live on to spread her message throughout the world.


I will now respond to the two wonderful replies I received to my post earlier today:

Diane Reynolds wrote: “Arnie, Great post. You should publish this, though I too wouldn't take out to the last leg, so to speak, on Elizabeth Bennet--and you don't need that! You have plenty to work with!!”

Thank you very much, Diane. Perhaps I will give that a try, but you know that for me, the real payoff is that last leg. 😊 (and wait till you read the end of this post)

Diane also wrote: “ I have to say when I read about the 38 yo Camila married to the "elderly" Mr.Wake with no date given, all my red flags began to quiver: How old is the guy???? Even I was stunned at age 42!”

When I initially looked at Le Faye’s Bio entry for Henry Wake, expecting to see how old he was when he married Miss Wallop, I knew something was fishy when there was no date of birth or date of death. But my first suspicion
was like yours—I figured that he must’ve been* so* old that Le Faye did not want to give any sign of the age differential.  I too was shocked at what I learned, but simultaneously thrilled, because then I knew there had to be
an interesting reason for the editorial deception – and I believe I sleuthed it out.

Diane: “I agree with you on JEAL: "In particular, the Jane Austen I know would not have meanly mocked the plight of a 38 year old single woman, especially when writing to her dear friend Martha who was single and even
older." Agreed, agreed, agreed. And I agree it is interesting to see this attempt to distort the age difference. You might jump to the conclusion that a pun on wake meant the man was old ... but a little checking???? I
also liked your catch on the poem being circulated. ”

The bottom line is that hardly ny mainstream Austen scholar has ever thought to check hardly anything in Le Faye’s annotations, even though my probings over the past decade demonstrate that it is often required in
order to their true significance. I will pay her a backhanded compliment -- Le Faye was quite skilled in using selective omission and emphasis in order to misdirect all but the most suspicious readers (like me) from
learning inconvenient (at least, from Le Faye’s conservative perspective) truths about JA and people in her world.

Diane: “It would be great if you could find more evidence of a friendship between Camilla and Austen: it makes sense since they were a year apart, both single women most/all of their lives and because JA wrote the poem. As
you know, I love this kind of sleuthing.”

I’d love it too, and your comment gives me the idea to inquire to find out if there is an archive of the Wallop family papers (a family which, I see in Wikipedia, is still going strong, with the current patriarch being the 10
th Earl of Portsmouth) which just might contain some letters written by Camilla – but I’d guess that is a very long shot, as I suspect that she lived and died a largely invisible female life of the kind that Thomas Gray poignantly wrote of (and Mrs Elton partly misquoted).

Elissa Schiff also replied: “Well, I certainly thought this long, tangled posting was surely leading to a veiled reference to a "jumping the broom ceremony" as a customary wedding among Africans enslaved in the Americas.”

What’s wonderful about these groups is there’s often at least one person reading along, who knows something very relevant to what you wrote, which you never heard of. So thank you very much, Elissa, as indeed, to use your
words, I do believe “this can be added to the numbered list as an additional referencing to Eliza Bennet's "biracial" heritage.” Like everyone else my age, I saw the original *Roots *in 1977,  but I had absolutely no recollection of that term “jumping the broom” being used to describe marriages between black slaves in North America, nor did I know
that the term has come to be used since then by modern African Americans. tells me that this expression was around in Jane Austen’s lifetime, and would fit with uncanny aptness with Jane Austen’s dubious take on Camilla’s impending marriage to Henry Wake:

“ ‘Jumping the broom’ is a phrase and custom relating to a wedding ceremony where the couple jumps over a broom. It has been suggested that the custom is based on an 18th-century idiomatic expression for ‘sham marriage’, ‘marriage of doubtful validity’ “

And apropos JA’s particular, longstanding interest in the Prince Regent, this caught my eye in that article as well:  “In 1789 the rumoured clandestine marriage between the Prince Regent and Maria Fitzherbert is similarly referred to in a satirical song in The Times:  ‘Their way to consummation was by hopping o’er a broom, sir.”

But working on this reply also prompted me to think about yet another meaning of the word “wake”, one  which would have been well known to the sister of two future admirals:
“the waves that a ship leaves behind as it slices through the water.”

A new shiver ran down my spine as I connected that particular nautical meaning to my previous interpretation of Darcy’s “every savage can dance” as a thinly veiled allusion to the savage practice of forcing captive slaves en route on the Middle Passage from Africa to the Americas to "dance", in order to keep them healthy enough to get a better price for them on the auction block.

I shivered because I recalled another unimaginably horrific historical fact, which I readily retrieved from the Wikipedia page on the Middle Passage, information which I believe was accessible to JA and the rest of
the English public via abolitionist literature:

“Slaves resisted in a variety of ways. The two most common types of resistance were refusal to eat and suicide. Suicide was a frequent occurrence, often by…jumping overboard…Both suicide and self-starving were prevented as much as possible by slaver crews…slaves were kept away from means of suicide, and the sides of the deck were often netted. Slaves were still successful, especially at jumping overboard. Often when an uprising failed, the mutineers would jump *en masse* into the sea. Slaves generally believed that if they jumped overboard, they would be returned to their family and friends in their village or to their ancestors in the afterlife. Suicide by jumping overboard was such a problem that captains had to address it directly in many cases. They used the sharks that followed the ships as a terror weapon...”

So, “jumping at a wake” could very plausibly be read as describing that heroic act of self-destruction in order to avoid a life of slavery. And so I believe JA meant to say that in the case of Camilla Wallop, faced with a metaphorical version of that Catch-22, marriage to Henry Wake was a form of suicide.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter