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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

More about the Clarissa and the Sir Charles Grandison in Austen’s Persuasion

Nancy Mayer in Janeites: “All in all, I don't think anyone has such toxic relatives as Anne.”

Nancy, as you gathered, I was struck by your above statement, because the female character in English literature who more closely fits your above description than Anne Elliot is Clarissa Harlowe – Clarissa, who has far more toxic siblings, and who is not simply ignored, but is actively harassed and preyed on by those closest to her, for various sinister motives.

Nancy: "Clarissa is not among the novels Jane Austen wrote."

But I persist in claiming that it is most definitely one of the few novels which Jane Austen wove into pretty much all of her own novels (including Sanditon), in a powerful and thematically significant way, as I will now elaborate further.

What I was going to post yesterday is that with further research, browsing and reading various additional articles, book chapters, and dissertations, I now add the following claims to those I asserted last week regarding Richardson's fiction and Austen's Persuasion:

1. It turns out that in Persuasion, Jane Austen also included an extraordinarily detailed and complex, but covert, allusion to Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison  (SCG), as well as to Clarissa. Since I previously was so unfamiliar with the elaborate plot of SCG, I was unaware of those extensive parallels.

At first blush, I find the most intriguing aspect of that allusion to be the parallel between the relationship of paterfamilias Sir Thomas Grandison with Mrs. Oldham, on the one hand, and the relationship of paterfamilias Sir Walter Elliot and Mrs. Clay, on the other. It is explicit in SCG that Sir Thomas G. sires two illegitimate children on his mistress, Mrs. Oldham.

As I am not the first to observe, that obviously leads to the fascinating question of what that might tell us about the fathering of Mrs. Clay's two children whom we never see, and many have wondered about –does knowing what happens in SCG suggest that the intimate relationship between Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay that Anne fears so much is actually a longstanding one that she has cluelessly been unaware of? And perhaps those two children are girls, and therefore, even though sired by Sir Walter, they stand in line behind Cousin Elliot, so their existence does not constitute a problem for Cousin Elliots inheriting Kellynch-hall?

2. When I commented in one of my earlier posts that the complex parallel between Clarissa H. and Anne E. includes their parallel state of repression of intense sexuality which nonetheless makes its presence known, I did not yet recognize that this parallel is foregrounded by the repeated references to Wentworth's "pen" in the White Hart Inn scene --- it turns out, as I previously had blogged about in the context of writing about the sexual heat between Anna Howe and Clarissa, that this exact same phallic pun on "pen" is repeatedly used by Richardson in Clarissa

So, in a remarkable way, that scene in the White Hart Inn can now be seen as a brilliant, profound, telescoped microcosm of the many pages of Clarissa, in that both Richardson's novel and Austen's chapter involve letter writing, sexual tension, and a debate on constancy, and both occur in the specific context of Prior’s poem “Henry and Emma”.

And so, how ironic and telling in this regard that it was SCG which Jane Austen burlesqued in a super-short juvenile playlet. It would seem that Jane Austen enjoyed turning Richardson's gargantuan novels into smaller versions of her own - much as she did with the ponderous tomes of history that she telescoped down to a matter of a handful of pages in her History of England.

3. And finally and speaking of “Henry and Emma”, I became aware only today, courtesy of a brilliant article by Emily Friedman, that Sarah Fielding's Remarks on Clarissa contains the following remarkable passage, which explicitly suggests that “Henry and Emma” is totally ambiguous as to its fundamental meaning:

“But had the Poet thought proper, that Henry should have turned out the Murderer, the Vagabond, the insolent and ungrateful Scorner of her Love he represented himself to be; had her Father's Sorrow for her Fate shortned his miserable Days; had she been abandoned by the Wretch she had so much Reason to expect the worst of Treatment from, and, between Rage, Despair, and a thousand conflicting Passions, been led by a natural Gradation from one Vice to another, till she had been lost in the most abandoned Profligacy; instead of being proposed for an Example, her Name would have been only mentioned to deter others from the like rash Steps. That this was the natural Consequence of her Actions is very apparent: Nor do I think from her Behaviour, that Henry had the least Reason to be convinced that she would not leave him for the first Man who would try to seduce her, provided the Colour of his Complexion suited her Fancy.”

In other words, it’s not clear whether the reader is meant to believe in Emma’s constancy. So, just as Sarah Fielding's famous brother Henry picked up on Richardson’s ambiguous Pamela and made the shadow Pamela Shamela, so too in the above comment does Sarah Fielding’s wise reader Miss Gibson makes explicit the strong ambiguity of Prior’s Emma as she compares to Clarissa!

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Sidney Parker, Lovelace, & Richardson’s interest in the Magdalen Hospital

As a final angle on Sidney Parker in Sanditon as having a strange resonance with Lovelace from Richardson's Lovelace, my eye was also caught by the following comments by Tom Parker about his brother Sidney Parker in Chapter 4:

“There—now the old House is quite left behind.”
“What is it, your Brother Sidney says about it’s being a HOSPITAL?’ 
‘Oh! my dear Mary, merely a Joke of his. He pretends to advise me to make a HOSPITAL of it. He pretends to laugh at my Improvements. Sidney says any thing you know. He has always said what he chose of and to us, all. Most Families have such a member among them I believe Miss Heywood.—There is a someone in most families privileged by superior abilities or spirits to say anything.—In ours, it is Sidney; who is a very clever Young Man,—and with great powers of pleasing…’

It certainly sounds to me like Sidney Parker is making a droll joke about his family’s hypochondria, when he suggests to his brother Tom that the Parker family ancestral estate in Sanditon, a place which the Parker family is so dedicated to developing as a medical mecca, should be converted to a hospital.

But when I checked to see whether Richardson's Lovelace had any connection to any sort of hospital, guess what? I found an article entitled "Redemptive Spaces: Magdalen House and Prostitution in the Novels and Letters of Richardson" by Martha J. Koehler in Eighteenth Century Fiction 22/2, in which Koehler wrote about correspondence between Samuel Richardson and Lady Bradshaigh, which was published prior to JA’s writing Sanditon, regarding Richardson and the Magdalen House for former prostitutes.

“It is in the midst of these arguments concerning sexuality, representativeness, and narrative structure that a rhetorical Magdalen House is erected. Richardson picks up an earlier thread from the long letter, concerning the importance of “testing” Clarissa’s virtue; he has argued that for the “sake of the Moral” it is imperative for Lovelace to abuse Clarissa as he does, to show “that there was one strictly virtuous Woman in the Sex.” This strand comes together with the arguments about seduced women and reparation as he imagines all those who would fail such a test: “‘What a fine time of it,’ as Lovelace says on this very Subject, ‘would the Women have, if they were all to be put to the Test,’ as he puts Clarissa! My Hospital in this Case were it to extend over half a County, I doubt would not be long in filling.”

Later in that article, Koehler writes:  “Various constructions and themes in Samuel Richardson's novels and his early letters to Lady Bradshaigh, examined in the context of mid-century reformist writings about prostitution, such as the Magdalen narratives, reveal his ambivalent treatment of fallen women. These constructions include the distinction between seduced and hardened women in Pamela as well as the undoing of that distinction in Clarissa, the irreducible nature of women's partiality for libertines and its corollary, the desexualization that becomes the condition for Clarissa's paragon status, and the distinctively female vice of moral indignation against women in Sir Charles Grandison. In this essay, I show that Richardson's sympathetic and progressive impulses towards Magdalens could not keep pace with those impulses that were traditional and misogynistic.”

What I take away from the above is that this is yet another seemingly trivial reference in Sanditon to Sidney Parker by his siblings, which carries a Lovelace resonance. Each one alone (the Isle of Wight scheme, the Hare, and now the Hospital) might just be a random unintended echo by Austen – but taken altogether, and placed alongside the covert Lovelace echoes in Persuasion, it seems far more likely that this is an intentional pattern created by Jane Austen, in order to throw shadows on the character of Sidney Parker, despite his family’s descriptions of him as a great guy.

And, by the way, I surveyed all published Austen scholarship regarding the character of Sidney Parker, and the general consensus is that while he does seem the most likely candidate to have become the man with whom the heroine Charlotte will fall in love, there is an almost as wide consensus that Sidney has more than a whiff of Austen’s inconstant charmers, like Willoughby, Wickham, Henry Crawford, and Frank Churchill – and those echoes of Lovelace are very congruent with those earlier scholarly opinions .

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Monday, January 8, 2018

‘Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks’: Austen’s take on Lovelace’s sexualized misogyny

Diane Reynolds responded to my post about the iceberg of intertextuality concealed beneath the allusion to Prior’s Henry and Emma as follows:

"Arnie, an interesting post, convincingly supported with dense readings of the scholarship. Inkle and Yarico must be a part of this; we’ve discussed this before, and I went back to the original Steele text in The Spectator: in the first lines, the word constancy appears, establishing this as the theme of that essay, and Arietta strikes me more than ever as a parallel to Anne and Austen (or vice versa)..."

Diane, I am absolutely gobsmacked that I didn’t remember that female constancy was a major theme of Inkle and Yarico, which, as you say, indeed indeed indeed must be part of that intertextual matrix in Persuasion! I just went back to my file from only a few months ago about Mansfield islands which I had compiled after reading your remarkable initial post on that topic, and here's what I was going to write to you then, but then I had way too much material to put in a single post, so I put it aside:

"Diane, when Felsenstein quoted Steele’s Arietta re women reacting to being insulted, he did not realize that Steele’s Arietta provides the most important source for Anne Elliot’s defense of female constancy. When I went back to Steele’s entire text, it became even more obvious..."

This is totally mind-blowing, and yet, with 20:20 hindsight, totally to be expected, that Austen, being the literary packrack that she was, collected ALL the relevant sources for a given theme -- in this case, the collective male literary slander on female constancy! I imagine her wonky pleasure as she, over time, collected each brick in the wall of evidence to support Anne Elliot’s impassioned speech!

My hypothesis is that Austen had an epiphany right after she finished that first version of the ending of Persuasion, on multiple levels – first and foremost, she realized that the first ending was lame from a romantic and novelistic perspective, and needed to be replaced with a powerful ending; but she also realized that, as part of that added power, she needed to hammer home the theme of females under attack as inconstant – so first and foremost, she added the debate between Anne and Harville; but she also, I am guessing, added that sentence explicitly referring to Henry and Emma in Chapter 11 as well. She realized that she had been too implicit, and so she decided to give a giant hint or two to help well-read readers recognize what was going on.

Thanks a million for bringing that forward!!!

I also have a few extra tidbits that I collected this morning: one tiny, one huge:

First the tiny one, re Anne and Wentworth as latter-day, comic-ending Clarissa and Lovelace, here is the wonderfully sensitive reader, Juliet McMaster, in her 2004 book Reading the Body in the Eighteenth-Century Novel: “Like Lovelace and Clarissa, Anne and Wentworth are ‘great watchers of each other’s eyes’; and the eye motions as well as the blushes and pallor, provide their best means of communication.”

Second, here is sly wordplay, which I found with a bit of creative word-searching, hidden in plain sight in the picturesque narrative description of Pinny (the highlight of the Lyme land and seascape described in Chapter 11 of  Persuasion). I suggest that is meant to point to Richardson’s Lovelace – can you spot it? Scroll down when you’re ready, to learn what I see, and why I find it very important.

“…above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest trees and orchards of luxuriant growth, declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again, to make the worth of Lyme understood…”




I know it will seem far-fetched at first, but “lovely is” just happens to be a very close homophone for “Lovelace”. So what? Standing alone, what light would it shed on the allusion to Clarissa in Persuasion? Well, it becomes very interesting when you take a closer look at the rest of that quoted excerpt, in which “the worth of Lyme” in picturesque terms is measured by comparison to “the resembling scenes” in another, more famous, local picturesque spot – the Isle of Wight (which is, by the way, not visible from Lyme, but is located further to the east on the southern English coast).

It becomes more significant because it just so happens, as I found out via a single search within the text of Clarissa, that the Isle of Wight actually plays a small but memorable role in Clarissa, as set forth by Lovelace himself in one of his letters to Belford in Volume 4. In it, Lovelace outlines (as Judith Pascoe put it) his “outrageous flight of malevolent fancy against Clarissa’s best friend Anna Howe. Lovelace plans for his coterie of rakes to carry out a triple rape of Anna Howe, her mother, and their maidservant during a voyage to the Isle of Wight”. To which I respond, “Whoa!”

Here, then, is the full, short text of Lovelace’s sexually violent fantasy, after which I will explain how this fits with that description of the picturesque of Lyme:

“And now, that my beloved [Clarissa] seems secure in my net, for my project upon the vixen Miss Howe, and upon her mother: in which the officious prancer Hickman is to come in for a dash. But why upon her mother, methinks thou askest, who, unknown to herself, has only acted, by the impulse, through thy agent Joseph Leman, upon the folly of old Tony the uncle? No matter for that: she believes she acts upon her own judgment: and deserves to be punished for pretending to judgment, when she has none.— Every living soul, but myself, I can tell thee, shall be punished, that treats either cruelly or disrespectfully so adored a lady.—What a plague! is it not enough that she is teased and tormented in person by me?
I have already broken the matter to our three confederates; as a supposed, not a resolved-on case indeed. And yet they know, that with me, in a piece of mischief, execution, with its swiftest feel, is seldom three paces behind projection, which hardly ever limps neither. [Lovelace then discusses the role of each of his supposed confederates, and then]
The project, in short, is this:—Mrs. Howe has an elder sister in the Isle of Wight, who is lately a widow; and I am well informed, that the mother and daughter have engaged, before the latter is married, to pay a visit to this lady, who is rich, and intends Miss for her heiress; and in the interim will make her some valuable presents on her approaching nuptials; which, as Mrs. Howe, who loves money more than any thing but herself, told one of my acquaintance, would be worth fetching.
Now, Jack, nothing more need be done, than to hire a little trim vessel, which shall sail a pleasuring backward and forward to Portsmouth, Spithead, and the Isle of Wight, for a week or fortnight before we enter upon our parts of the plot. And as Mrs. Howe will be for making the best bargain she can for her passage, the master of the vessel may have orders (as a perquisite allowed him by his owners) to take what she will give: and the master's name, be it what it will, shall be Ganmore on the occasion; for I know a rogue of that name, who is not obliged to be of any country, any more than we.
Well, then, we will imagine them on board. I will be there in disguise. They know not any of ye four—supposing (the scheme so inviting) that thou canst be one. 'Tis plaguy hard, if we cannot find, or make a storm. Perhaps they will be sea-sick: but whether they be or not, no doubt they will keep their cabin.
Here will be Mrs. Howe, Miss Howe, Mr. Hickman, a maid, and a footman, I suppose: and thus we will order it.
I know it will be hard weather: I know it will: and, before there can be the least suspicion of the matter, we shall be in sight of Guernsey, Jersey, Dieppe, Cherbourg, or any where on the French coast that it shall please us to agree with the winds to blow us: and then, securing the footman, and the women being separated, one of us, according to lots that may be cast, shall overcome, either by persuasion or force, the maid servant: that will be no hard task; and she is a likely wench, [I have seen her often:] one, Mrs. Howe; nor can there be much difficulty there; for she is full of health and life, and has been long a widow: another, [that, says the princely lion, must be I!] the saucy daughter; who will be much too frightened to make great resistance, [violent spirits, in that sex, are seldom true spirits—'tis but where they can:] and after beating about the coast for three or four days for recreation's sake, and to make sure work, till we see our sullen birds begin to eat and sip, we will set them all ashore where it will be most convenient; sell the vessel, [to Mrs. Townsend's agents, with all my heart, or to some other smugglers,] or give it to Ganmore; and pursue our travels, and tarry abroad till all is hushed up.”  END QUOTE from Lovelace letter

Wow! Richardson’s Lovelace was one very angry, perverted young man, wasn’t he? But what in the world could Austen have meant by hinting at Lovelace’s violent Isle of Wight fantasy of sexual violence against “the saucy daughter” Anna Howe, of whom, I suggested before, Lovelace is insanely jealous, vis a vis their common beloved, Clarissa?

About 40 years ago, Alethea Hayter was, I believe, the first to suggest that Austen was inspired by and pointing to the following lines in Coleridge’s Kubla Khan:

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:

From “deep romantic chasm” to “green chasms between romantic rocks” is a small jump indeed, and so I do believe Austen meant to paraphrase Coleridge. But why? For the answer to that, I believe that Loraine Fletcher, in “Time and Mourning in Persuasion” (1998) in Women's Writing, 5:1, 81-90, was on the right track regarding Austen’s unstated purpose:   “There may be an echo of Coleridge’s ‘deep romantic chasm’ in Kubla Khan here, and the woody varieties and evolution of the landscape perhaps reveal some interest in The Loves of Plants and other work of Erasmus Darwin, whose influence on the beginnings of Romanticism is only just beginning to be recognised….”

Whether Fletcher meant this or not, when we’re talking about The Loves of Plants, we’re talking about erotic poetry which uses natural imagery drawn from the plant and mineral world in a sexually suggestive way. The Loves of Plants was Erasmus Darwin’s poetic erotic love letter to his future wife, Mrs. Pole (who, as I’ve claimed since 2006, was the very same lady who wrote brilliant praise of Mansfield Park).

So (exactly as I’ve previously claimed regarding the narrative description of Pemberley in P&P and of Sotherton in MP) Jane Austen has subtly amped up the sexual quotient from Coleridge’s lines, when she economically creates a subliminal but clear portrait of the most intimate portion of the female body:
“green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest trees and orchards of luxuriant growth”

That’s language drawn straight from Cleland’s Fanny Hill playbook of sexual landscape imagery. And it fits with startling aptness with Lovelace’s misogynistic fantasy of sexual violence against Anna Howe.  Indeed, given Lovelace’s literary, poetic bent, I am guessing that there is at least one passage somewhere in the massive bulk of Clarissa where Lovelace used comparable erotic landscape imagery.

The Clarissa in Persuasion more and more proves to be a treasure trove of interpretive possibilities, doesn’t it?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

The Faces of Griselda: Chaucer, Prior, Richardson….and Shakespeare & Austen, too!

In this followup post to my earlier ones (responding to Ellen Moody’s initial post) about the allusion in Austen’s Persuasion to Matthew Prior’s Henry and Emma, I’m now ready, after further scholarly delving and reflection, to confidently explain the full significance of Austen’s allusion, to wit: Austen’s revised ending of Persuasion, with its memorable debate between Anne and Harville about male-dominated literature’s denial of female constancy, is part of Austen’s complex response to Prior’s famous poem; with the crucial additional insight that Austen filtered her response to Prior through Sarah Fielding’s protofeminist Remarks on (Richardson’s) Clarissa, which illuminates an intertextual matrix that includes Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale (and the Wife of Bath’s Tale), and one of Shakespeare’s great comedies as well!

Within that overview, I see Austen as having particularly engaged in a variety of subtle ways with Richardson’s complex, tragic dyad of Clarissa and Lovelace, in constructing the relationship between her own couple, Anne and Wentworth; and having left several key textual hints in Persuasion pointing in that direction. That’s a lot to unpack, so I’ll get right to it.

I:  AUSTEN ALLUDES TO SARAH FIELDING’S REMARKS ON CLARISSA: I begin with Austen’s allusion to Prior: the key that turned the lock that concealed all of the above was Austen’s sly wink at Fielding’s take on Clarissa and Prior’s poem in plain sight, for those with eyes to see it. Fielding’s midrash on Clarissa is an extended fictional conversation about Richardson’s heroine’s character, and in particular her capacity to love. In the following quoted passage, Fielding’s alter ego, Miss Gibson, defends Clarissa: “if I can guess any thing of the Author's intention by what is already published, I fancy, when we have read the conclusion of this story, we shall be convinced that love was the strongest characteristic of Clarissa's mind."
Bellario answered, with that candor, which is known to be one of the most distinguishing marks of his Character by all who have the pleasure of his Acquaintance, 'That if it proved so, he should have the greatest Esteem and highest Veneration for Clarissa, and would suspend his Judgment till he saw the remaining Part of the Story.'
But all the Company were not so candid, for Mr. Dellincourt said, 'He was sure Clarissa could not in the remaining Part of the Story convince him, that her Characteristic was Love; for nothing less than the lovely Emma's Passion for Henry would be any Satisfaction to him, if he was a Lover.'
Miss Gibson said. 'She had often been sorry that the Poem of Henry and Emma had not been long ago buried in Oblivion; for (continued she) it is one of those Things which, by the Dress and Ornaments of fine Language and smooth Poetry, has imposed on Mankind so strong a Fallacy, as to make a Character in itself most despicable, nay I may say most blameable, generally thought worthy Admiration and Praise: For strip it of the dazzling Beauties of Poetry, and thus fairly may the Story be told.” END QUOTE
Miss Gibson then goes on to summarize, with many details, the awful, sadistic sexism of Prior’s Henry.

I assert that Austen seized upon Mr. Dellincourt’s statement that
nothing less than the lovely Emma's Passion for Henry would be any Satisfaction to [Lovelace], if he was a Lover",”
and tweaked it into noticeably parallel phraseology in Anne Elliot’s passing thoughts in Persuasion:
"Without emulating the feelings of an Emma towards her Henry, she would have attended on Louisa with a zeal above the common claims of regard, for [Wentworth's] sake." 

By this wink, Austen alerted her observant readers to approach the lurching rebirth of Wentworth’s and Anne’s love through the lens of Fielding’s Remarks on Clarissa, in particular the lengthy section which Austen so subtly tagged as I’ve shown above. Miss Gibson specifically and methodically decimates Prior’s poem, and provides prime testimony in support of Anne Elliot’s refusal to allow male-written literature like Prior’s poem as evidence of women’s inconstancy (you can read the relevant  excerpt at ppg 19-22 of Fielding’s essay here): 
The main point of this echoing by Austen is that she isn’t merely alluding to Prior’s poem, she’s also, and far more significantly, pointing to Richardson’s Clarissa, and behind them both, to Chaucer.

II: BASSIL’S “THE FACES OF GRISELDA”:  And that brings me to the point of happily acknowledging my primary inspiration and scholarly source for a number of the above claims: an article amazing for its ingenuity, thoroughness, and its being written entirely in plain, jargon-free English!:   “The Faces of Griselda: Chaucer, Prior, and Richardson” by Veronica Bassil in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Summer 1984), 157- 182.

While I urge you all to read Bassil’s entire article in JSTOR, for now I’ll just quote the intro, which outlines Bassil’s “big picture”. As you go, note her passing reference to Austen’s allusion to Prior, which I’ve extended, as implied by my above Subject Line, by adding Austen (and Shakespeare) to the list of authors who address the male obsession with women’s constancy. Austen alluded to those prior sources as a unified intertextual matrix, most of all as she revised the ending of Persuasion:

[Bassil article intro] “Matthew Prior's dramatic poem Henry and Emma (1709), although deprecated by later critics, was in its own time extremely popular. Praised by Cowper as an "enchanting piece" and acknowledged by Johnson to be ‘the greatest of all his amorous essays’ the poem was reprinted through out the century…Indeed, writing Persuasion in 1815-16, Jane Austen could include a reference to Emma's love for Henry in full confidence of her readers' recognition. While Prior's "rococo version" of a medieval ballad no longer excites the interest it once did, it continues to claim our attention, not perhaps as poetry but as an important link between two undeniably significant literary works- Chaucer's Clerk's Tale (1393-1400) and Richardson's Clarissa (1747-59).
Certainly the works in question are all deeply concerned with the same central action- the rigorous testing which a virtuous maiden undergoes at the hands of a harsh and deceitful husband or suitor. In each case moreover, the heroine is presented as an almost allegorical model of piety and faith; thus, the Clerk eulogizes Griselda's "pacience" and recommends it to "every wight, in his degree," Prior praises Emma as a "bright Example," and Richardson proposes Clarissa as "an examplar to her sex."
In this light, Henry and Emma may be regarded as a "missing link" in the evolution of the Griselda story from its medieval phase to the remarkably developed version found in Clarissa; as a transitional phase which facilitates not only the full novelistic treatment but also the psychological and sexual exploration of the Griselda theme.
Prior modeled his poem on The Not-Browne Mayd (or Nut Browne Mayd), a ballad which he encountered in the June 1707 issue of the Muses Mercury and which had been copied, via Pepys's collection of ballads from an older collection called Customs of London.…
[A]lthough The Not-Browne Mayd might have incorporated elements of traditional folk ballads, there is considerable evidence to suggest that it was strongly influenced by Chaucer's Clerk's Tale. The narrative action of these two tales is, as we have noted above, remarkably similar. In both cases the heroine's assertion that she would die rather than lose her lover is tested by a series of psychological rather than physical trials; hence, the knight of the ballad merely pretends to be an outlaw, "a banyshed man," and to have found a fairer love, just as Walter [as in Sir Walter Elliot!-A.P.] pretends to kill his children and to select a younger, more noble bride to replace Griselda.
Moreover, each tale climaxes the various tests with the same pièce de résistance- the introduction of a victorious rival; once the heroine demonstrates, even here, her humble and cheerful acquiescence, all trials cease, and her lover, undisguised, is restored to her. Both tales consider the issue of women's status, that is, the question of whether "womans faith is . . . / All utterly decayd"; both uphold the heroine as an example of feminine virtue… and both, as we shall see, conclude by advocating obedience to God….”

I claim that Austen saw that “big picture” as she wrote Persuasion, and that’s why she explicitly alluded to Prior’s poem in that early scene in which Anne (the poetry lover) gets a bit of a shiver when she thinks of Henry’s Emma, as she volunteers to care for her romantic rival Louisa, in what feels to her like a kind of test of her love for Wentworth. Austen surely wanted us to hear Anne’s comment ironically, as we recall her private ruminations about Benwick in the immediately preceding chapter of Persuasion:
“…[Benwick] repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read only poetry, and to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.”
Indeed, “emulating the feelings of an Emma for her Henry” seems to be an emotionally risky path for Anne to travel down, being the same road previously trod by Chaucer’s Griselda, Prior’s Emma, and Richardson’s Clarissa.

III: ANNE ELLIOT & CLARISSA HARLOWE: I’ve found no evidence, after much searching online the past week, that any Austen scholar before myself has seen in Anne Elliot more than a trace of Richardson’s Clarissa Harlowe, but the above parallelism is what confirmed to me that Jane Austen did indeed wish us to be strongly reminded of Clarissa as we accompany Anne on her journey from gloom back to bloom.

For starters, there’s a significant, obvious resemblance in life situation. Each is a daughter in a dreadful nuclear family, the members of which uniformly treat her terribly, and as if her own wants and needs were nothing; and each has a loving older female friend and mentor, who watches out for, and cousels, her (Lady Russell and Anna Howe).

But by pointing to Prior’s Henry and Emma, and the matrix behind it, Jane Austen is alerting her literate readers to see more, and particularly to compare the subtle, mutual game of cat and mouse, in doubting each other’s constancy, that Anne and Wentworth engage in throughout Persuasion, as analogous to the tragic duel in that vein between Clarissa and Lovelace that goes on at great length in Richardson’s novel.

As for the Henry and Emma and Clarissa in Persuasion, I see now that it was foregrounded by Austen when she rewrote the romantic climactic scene of Persuasion at the White Hart Inn, and included Anne’s debate with Harville about female constancy. In the canceled chapters, we saw clear evidence of clumsy, overt stage management by the Crofts of the romantic climax of Wentworth and Anne; but what has not been recognized by Janeites in the revised ending, is that there is also romantic stage management at the White Hart Inn, involving several of the characters in the room with Anne and Wentworth, but far subtler and entirely covert, as I last summarized here:

Just as I’ve previously noted in the above linked post that the covert matchmakers of Persuasion are based in part on those of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, so too I read in “Richardson's Repetitions” by Morris Golden  in PMLA, Vol. 82, No. 1 (Mar., 1967), pp. 64-67 that “at various times Lovelace stages scenes (particularly with his creature Thomlinson) for Clarissa and others to overhear; and in the last novel Richardson's exhausted ingenuity serves up enough eavesdropping sequences for several burlesques of Much Ado About Nothing.” And, as Velma Richmond notes in Shakespeare, Catholicism, and Romance (2015):  “Claudio is in the tradition of men who cannot believe or simply accept the virtues of a good woman, like Walter in the Clerk's Tale who compulsively tests Griselda.”

The Clerk’s Tale, which is the bookend to the Wife of Bath’s Tale, is about a marquis named Walter,
a bachelor who is asked by his subjects to marry to provide an heir. He assents and decides he will marry a peasant, named Griselda. Griselda is a poor girl, used to a life of pain and labour, who promises to honour Walter's wishes in all things. Jane Austen with her sharp feminist irony, flips that script, and has Mrs. Clay as a low born woman who is suspected of using guile to attempt to marry Sir Walter, and thereby take over Kellynch. I suggest we ought to make a great deal of ado about this covert matchmaking in Much Ado, Clarissa, and Persuasion, in particular because, among all of Shakespeare’s plays, Much Ado is the very one which harps most incessantly on the theme of…….constancy!!

IV: THE TWO WHITE HART INNS: And speaking of “stage management of romance at the White Hart Inn”, would you believe that I am the first literary scholar to notice that this phrase can refer not only to the climactic scene in Persuasion, but also to….Clarissa? Check out this passage from a letter written by Lovelace, talking about Clarissa and her horrid family:  “…as my intelligencer acquaints me, her implacable relations are resolved to distress her all they can. These wretches have been most gloriously raving, it seems, ever since her flight; and still, thank Heaven, continue to rave; and will, I hope, for a twelve-month to come. Now, at last, it is my day!  Bitterly do they regret, that they permitted her poultry-visits, and garden-walks, which gave her the opportunity they know she had (tho' they could not find out how) to concert, as they suppose, her pre-concerted escape. For, as to her dining in the Ivy-bower, they had a cunning design to answer upon her in that permission, as Betty told Joseph her lover. They lost, they say, an excellent pretence for more closely confining her, on my threatening to rescue her, if they offer'd to carry her against her will to old Antony's moated house. For this, as I told thee at the Hart, and as I once hinted to the dear creature herself, they had it in deliberation to do; apprehending, that I might attempt to carry her off, either with or without her consent, on some one of those connived-at excursions….”

“As I told thee at the Hart”? What could Lovelace be referring to? It took me but a single Google search to be brought to this earlier Lovelace letter to Belford, where I confirmed my suspicion:
“Thou wilt find me at a little alehouse, they call it an inn; The White Hart, most terribly wounded (but by the weather only), the sign: in a sorry village within five miles from Harlowe Place. Everybody knows Harlowe Place, for, like Versailles, it is sprung up from a dunghill, within every elderly person’s remembrance. Every poor body particularly knows it: but that only for a few years past, since a certain angel has appeared there among the sons and daughters of men. The people here at The Hart are poor, but honest; and have gotten it into their heads that I am a man of quality in disguise; and there is no reining-in their officious respect. Here is a pretty little smirking daughter, seventeen six days ago. I call her my Rosebud. Her grandmother (for there is no mother), a good neat old woman as ever filled a wicker chair in a chimney-corner, has besought me to be merciful to her…”

So, is it just a coincidence that the White Hart Inn happens to be the very spot where Lovelace stays when he stage-manages the tricking of Clarissa into leaving her family home under his so-called protection? As Lovelace recalls in Volume 5:   “To look a litter farther back: Canst thou forget what my sufferings were from this haughty beauty in the whole time of my attendance upon her proud motions, in the purlieus of Harlowe-place, and at the little White Hart, at Neale, as we called it?—Did I not threaten vengeance upon her then (and had I not reason?) for disappointing me of a promised interview?”

This is no coincidence!! Jane Austen, as she revised her ending of Persuasion, wanted her Richardson-savvy readers to think of Lovelace’s stage management at an inn with that identical name: “White Hart”.

V: THE TWO “REPULSIVELY’S”: And there’s still more that unites Persuasion and Clarissa. Please now read the following excerpt from Jocelyn Harris’s A Revolution Almost Beyond Expression (2006):
“In the 1818 text [of Persuasion], Anne’s eloquence contrasts vividly with her silence in the manuscript. When Wentworth meets Anne in Union Street, it is he who ‘said nothing- only looked,’ while Anne could command herself enough to receive that look, and not repulsively’, meaning in a repelling manner. Perhaps Austen recalled Clarissa here, for that compulsive neologist Samuel Richardson seems to have invented the word for a scene where the heroine, discomposed by abduction from her father’s house to a St. Alban’s inn, shows ‘uneasiness’ before the curious servants: ‘She cast a conscious glance, as she alighted,’ and ‘repulsively, as I may say, quitted my assisting hand, and hurried into the house.’ In a typical challenge to her mentor, Austen makes Charles Musgrove incurious and Anne glad rather than disgusted by her suitor’s advances. Those readers who were familiar with Richardson, like Cassandra Austen, would understand that Anne acts in pointed denial of Clarissa’s revulsion from Lovelace when she signals to Wentworth her willingness to walk with him and accepts the offer of his arm. Also, instead of occurring at an early stage of the relationship, as with Clarissa and Lovelace, Austen’s scene occurs in the 1818 text only after Anne speaks out to refute all the old, misogynistic arguments about woman’s inconstancy, after she offers herself implicitly as an example of a faithful woman.”

Here’s the full passage in Persuasion:         “They were on Union Street, when a quicker step behind, a something of familiar sound, gave her two moments' preparation for the sight of Captain Wentworth. He joined them; but, as if irresolute whether to join or to pass on, said nothing, only looked. Anne could command herself enough to receive that look, and not REPULSIVELY. The cheeks which had been pale now glowed, and the movements which had hesitated were decided. He walked by her side.”

And here is the parallel passage in Lovelace’s letter: “At their alighting at the inn at St. Alban's on
Monday night, thus [Lovelace] writes:  ‘The people who came about us, as we alighted, seemed by their jaw-fallen faces, and goggling eyes, to wonder at beholding a charming young lady, majesty in her air and aspect, so composedly dressed, yet with features so discomposed, come off a journey which had made the cattle smoke, and the servants sweat. I read their curiosity in their faces, and my beloved's uneasiness in hers. She cast a conscious glance, as she alighted, upon her habit, which was no habit; and repulsively, as I may say, quitting my hand, hurried into the house…’

Harris’s sharp ear has alerted her to a parallel which takes on tenfold greater meaning, when it is viewed in the context of all the parallels between Clarissa and the Persuasion scene at the White Hart Inn.

VI: THE THREE HEAD INJURIES: And I conclude this post with yet another intertextual gem, a motif that appears in Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale, Clarissa, and Persuasion. In the 1775 edition of the Canterbury Tales, we find a famous passage in the Wife of Bath’s Tale which Jocelyn Harris cited in 1986 as a source for Louisa Musgrove’s fall in Persuasion. The Wife of Bath describes how she pretends to fall and seriously injure her head. To those two instances, now I add a third from (where else?) Clarissa!!!!

Once again, I turn to that Hamletian Machiavel, Lovelace, as described in “A Critical Exploration of Jane Austen’s Persuasion” by Carroll Ann Goon (1983):
“[Lovelace] plays with the workings of his own mind, and enjoys seizing upon a traditional emblem or symbol and perverting its usual meaning. This attitude is evident in Lovelace's image of the fairground ride, which is used in pictorial art as an emblem of greedy folly and insecurity. Lovelace adapts this emblem as an image of sexual conquest and subverts the intent of the emblem. He pictures himself as a mere employee at the fair and Clarissa a "pretty little Miss," "delighted and delighting," who grows giddy and FALLS OFF THE RIDE. "And if," Lovelace asks, "after two or three ups and downs, her pretty head turns giddy, and she throws herself out of the coach when at its elevation, and so DASHES OUT HER PRETTY LITTLE BRAINS, who can help it?— And would you hang the poor fellow, whose professed trade it was to set the pretty little creature a flying?". Lovelace uses this emblem to justify himself and to throw the blame on Clarissa: he, as a rake, is socially acceptable as such— and if Clarissa falls for him and gets hurt, she herself (or her society which accepts such activities) is to blame, not Lovelace….”

So now you know why “the Faces of Griselda” include not only those created by Chaucer, Prior, and Richardson, but also Shakespeare’s and Austen’s, too!

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Two significant allusive subtexts of Call Me By Your Name, hidden in plain sight and sound

[WARNING!: Some spoilers as to some aspects of CALL ME BY YOUR NAME]

Last weekend, my wife and I went to see Call Me By Your Name, the new James-Ivory-written film which has generated a great deal of buzz, as well as garnering an impressive array of nominations and awards for a small independent film.  No small part of the attention to Luca Guadagnino’s film has focused on its atypical depiction of gay first love in the early 80’s in an impossibly idyllic, because utterly non-homophobic, Northern Italian country village fictional world.

While we found it to be less powerful and well-made as cinema than we had expected, in part due to its excessive length vis a vis the story told, nonetheless we also agreed that it was a very important landmark in the history of mainstream cinema. It seemed to mark the long overdue progress in the past decade of a positive society-wide shift in attitudes toward same sex love, such that the love story depicted seemed not very different than it would have been portrayed had the lovers been heterosexual.

I’ve sampled some of the reviews of the film, and found the following to be the best of the bunch so far, because it tells you everything you’d want to know (including, however, major spoilers), and also does a brilliant, economical job of making the case that the bright sun of the idyll is not quite as bright as it seems:  “The Shadow Over Call Me by Your Name”  by Spencer Kornhaber  01/03/2018
The acclaimed depiction of gay romance forgoes politics and doesn’t mention AIDS—but there are hints at a broader, darker context for its story.

While I’d urge you to read Kornhaber’s entire article, here is the introductory section thereof:
“The masterful shot that closes Call Me by Your Name asks the viewer to do the same thing the character on screen is doing: think. Over 7 minutes, Elio Perlman, the 17-year-old played by Timothée Chalamet, simply stares into a crackling fireplace as tears well in his eyes. He presumably is reflecting on his tryst with Oliver, Armie Hammer’s 24-year-old grad student who visited Elio’s Italian home for the summer. And on Elio’s own father’s life in the closet, revealed to him toward the end of the film. And maybe on his future, perched as he is on the cusp of adulthood, and having just had an affair that felt life-changing.
The audience should be reflecting on those things, too. It’s possible, though, they’d be considering something surely not on Elio’s mind: AIDS. At least, that was the case for me—a fact that has gotten me into arguments with friends who are, understandably, wary of over-reading a film devoted to young love’s bittersweetness and the glory of short shorts.
The acclaim for Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of André Aciman’s novel has, overwhelmingly, focused on its cinematic loveliness and emotional power. As Guadagnino’s camera inhabits the gaze of a young man whose fantasy becomes reality, it refreshingly depicts “a story of queer love that isn’t tinged with horror or tragedy,” as my colleague David Sims wrote. The flip side is that Call Me by Your Name’s prettiness has come in for rebuke, too, with some critics faulting it for trying too much to appeal to a “universal” audience, and others asking why it has won so much more attention than more provocative, political queer stories.
But I’d argue there actually is a tinge of tragedy to Call Me by Your Name, and part of the richness of the movie is in the way it makes a larger point while mostly keeping politics off screen. The story does feel sealed, its characters happily isolated in a landscape of ripe fruit and ancient ruins that almost feels pre-electricity. Yet on the edges of the film are reminders of the broader social struggle that Elio and Oliver feel temporarily exempted from—and maybe, just maybe, of the epidemic that queer men were beginning to contend with.”  END QUOTE FROM KORNHABER ARTICLE

I’m here today to add two other strands of subtext which have been inobtrusively woven into the fabric of the film, which deepen the suggestiveness of this complicated love story still further.

First, even before we saw the film, I was struck by the oddness of the title, which is the same as the title of the Aciman novel upon which Ivory’s screenplay is based. It’s not the expected “Call me by my name”, it’s the strange “Call me by your name”. As I thought about it, that seemed to be a reflection of the two lovers both being male, hence they are “the same” in a way that heterosexual lovers are not; so it makes metaphorical sense for them to celebrate that loving sameness by calling each other by the other’s name.

When I got home, I checked and verified that the repetitions of that motif in the film was indeed taken directly from Aciman’s novel, especially from the following narration by the young protagonist, Elio:
“...breathe out his name in the dark. Ulliva, Ulliva, Ulliva—it was Oliver, calling me by his name when he’d imitate its transmogrified sound as spoken by Mafalda and Anchise; but it’d also be me calling him by his name as well, hoping he’d call me back by mine, which I’d speak for him to me, and back to him: Elio, Elio, Elio…”

And the reason why I checked that in the first place, was that as I was watching the film, and heard that dialog spoken aloud, with the repetition of their names, I suddenly realized the sly literary word game that Aciman had played, which, when dredged up from the deep (like one of Elio’s father’s marine archaeological sites), and brought to the surface and examined, reveals an entire additional layer of meaning which enriches the story, by invoking a very famous literary work from long ago, which also depicted same sex love. Can you guess what it is?



The answer begins with recognizing that it’s not just random that Elio gets the idea of Oliver calling Elio “Oliver” – it’s precisely because Elio and Oliver are names which are very much alike in a particular way – i.e., the four letters of “Elio” are all contained within the six letters of “Oliver” – they are anagrams of each other!

But, even though that’s a lovely subtle touch, providing a plausible explanation for the title phrase, it’s not the main point I see, which is that almost the identical word game was played over four centuries ago by some hack named Shakespeare, in some dog of a play called Twelfth Night, which has in it not two but three characters with anagrammatically related names:

VIOLA, the young female protagonist who cross dresses as a young man, “Cesario”, and carries love messages from her master, Duke Orsino, to OLIVIA, who falls in love with VIOLA (disguised as Cesario), and who is also loved by MALVOLIO. And don’t forget VIOLA’s twin brother Sebastian, and Antonio who loves him.

Along with As You Like It, Twelfth Night represents Shakespeare at his gender-bending, wordplay-drunk best, and it’s easy to see how it relates to the love story of Call Me By Your Name –in particular in how the unwitting same sex love of Olivia for Viola, and the witting love of Antonio for Sebastian, are in the end overridden by the mandatory heterosexual “happy ending”, with Viola matched with Duke Orsino, and Sebastian with Olivia – but you have to wonder whether those heterosexual couplings will remain rigidly intact in the hereafter of the story, or if they will turn out to be convenient masks for more complicated romantic permutations.

And in general, the concept of “Twelfth Night’, the night before Epiphany (how fitting for Elio’s epiphany that he loves men), is that of reversal of roles, of stepping outside one’s normal life for a brief moment, before returning – how fitting for the story of Call Me By Your Name.

And Aciman leaves one additional erudite wink at Twelfth Night, when he makes Oliver an author who just happens to be working on a book about Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher who famously wrote words to the effect that you can’t step into the same river twice, because life is flux, etc etc. Oliver even reads some of his draft in progress to Elio, in scholarly jargon that is utterly incomprehensible. It just so happens that after “Cesario” (aka Viola) leaves Olivia after delivering Orsino’s love message, the suddenly besotted Olivia acknowledges to herself that her heart has been stolen:

'What is your parentage?'
'Above my fortunes, yet my state is well:
I am a gentleman.' I'll be sworn thou art;
Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions and spirit,
Do give thee five-fold blazon: not too fast: soft, soft!
Unless the master were the man. How now!
Even so quickly may one catch the plague?
Methinks I feel this youth's perfections
With an invisible and subtle stealth
To creep in at mine eyes
. Well, let it be.

And guess what? That line “To creep in at mine eyes” was glossed a century ago by Morton Luce as follows: “In Shakespeare’s earlier philosophy of love, this is an important element; cf ‘It is engendered in the eyes, With gazing fed’ The Merchant of Venice.The germ of this doctrine may be found in Heraclitus”

I don’t know about you, but I’d bet the house that Aciman understood that, and meant to direct the knowing viewer back to the text of Twelfth Night, and to think about how the Heraclitean flux that sweeps Olivia up also informs the fleeting love affair of his anagrammatical lovers Elio and Oliver.

Now, that was the first of the allusive subtexts I saw in Call Me By Your Name – the second, which I have since confirmed was also seen by several Tweeps, because it should be obvious. is that the film, again mirroring Aciman’s 2007 novel, contains a subtle homage to Brokeback Mountain, which played in the theaters during the very time Aciman was writing his novel. I refer to Elio’s request that Oliver, when he leaves Italy to return to the United States (and, as we shortly thereafter learn, to heterosexual marriage), make a gift, as a romantic keepsake for Elio, of the denim workshirt Oliver wore while Elio was falling in love with him.

In Brokeback Mountain, after Jack is murdered and Ennis travels to Jack’s parents, Jack’s mother gives Ennis, also as a keepsake, Jack’s bloody workshirt which symbolizes their romantic idyll on Brokeback Mountain before Jack married a woman, leading Ennis to do likewise.

Nobody needs me to explain more than that, and so I will conclude, and leave it to you all to make of the above what you will, and most assuredly as you like it.

Cheers, ARNIE

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