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

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Comprehending the Young John Milton’s ‘Aspicious’ Acrostic in his In Quintum Novembris

I ended my previous message about the “papist”, “pact”, and “Hera” acrostics in Milton’s In Quintum Novembris (IQN) as follows:

“I’d ask anyone reading this who IS fluent in Latin…to give IQN a once-over:
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to learn that the already diabolically clever 17 year old John Milton had slipped in a thematically relevant Latin acrostic there as well!”

Not long afterwards, despite my not being a Latin scholar, I decided, just for fun, to skim through this short poem, and see if anything looking remotely like a Latin word might pop out at me. Instead, I was surprised to find yet another English-language acrostic hiding in plain sight, which, as I’ll argue below, I’m confident was also intentional on Milton’s part.

The word is “aspic” and it is found in lines 3-8, at the very start of the poem; and, what’s more, the first line of the acrostic is the very same line that containing the Latin word “foedus”, which means “pact”, which is the bookend to the “pact” acrostic at the end of the poem, as I argued in my first post. Here it is:

Iam pius extrema veniens Iacobus ab arcto
Teucrigenas populos, lateque patentia regna 

A    Albionum tenuit, iamque inviolabile FOEDUS
S     Sceptra Caledoniis coniunxerat Anglica Scotis, 
P     Pacificusque novo felix divesque sedebat 5
I      In solio, occultique doli securus et hostis:
C     Cum ferus ignifluo regnans Acheronte tyrannus,

Eumenidum pater, aethero vagus exul Olympo,
Forte per immensum terrarum erraverat orbem, 
Dinumerans sceleris socios, vernasque fideles        10
Participes regni post funera moesta futuros.

The above excerpt is translated as follows:
“Now pious James, coming from the extreme North, possessed the Teucer-born peoples and the widespread realms of the folk of Albion, and now an inviolable PACT conjoined English scepters to the Caledonian Scots, and James sat as a peacemaker and a prosperous man on his new throne, secure from hidden wiles and any foe, when the savage tyrant of Acheron, flowing with fire, the father of the Eumenides, the vagrant exile from celestial Olympus, chanced to be wandering through the world, counting his allies in crime, his loyal servants, destined to be partners in his kingdom after their sad demise.”

It also comes right before that “Hera” acrostic I identified in my prior post, which, again, is contained in a passage describing Satan, like Vergil’s Juno, stirring up discord.

When I had originally scanned the above passage looking for acrostics, I did see the English word “spice”, but I couldn’t see how that related thematically to Milton’s portrayal of Satan, so I initially dismissed it as coincidental. However, this second time around, my eye moved, and I saw “aspic”, and recalled instantly that this related to Shakespeare using that word in the very famous climactic scene of Antony & Cleopatra.

First, just before Cleopatra allows the asp to bite her, she kisses her attendant Iras, who then falls and dies, leading the Queen to ask:

Not long after that, Cleopatra puts the asp on her breast, it bites her, she dies, and then we read:


So, it is clear from the above that “aspic” in Shakespeare’s lexicon referred to both the fluid left behind by an asp, but also to the asp itself –i.e., aspic was just another word for asp.

There are two more, very interesting usages of “aspic” in Shakespeare:

In a tragic context, Othello uses it metaphorically, after he has been sufficiently provoked by Iago’s subtly serpentine campaign of slanderous innuendoes of Desdemona:

Othello’s unwittingly describes how his trust of Desdemona has been destroyed by the “poison” from Iago’s tongue.

And there’s also a comic, inadvertently punny usage by Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, which is shocking resonant with the above speech by Othello:

DOGBERRY  One word, sir: our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two ASPICIOUS persons, and we would have them this morning examined before your worship.

In his malapropism, Dogberry inadvertently correctly describes Don John & Borachio’s subtly serpentine (‘aspicious’, meaning, literally, like an ‘asp’!) scheme to slander Hero in Claudio’s eyes. This is the identical situation as with Iago and Othello, with both Iago and Don John/Borachio sowing discord between a man and the woman he (initially) loves. And that tells me that Shakespare used the word “aspic” and “aspicious” to connect both of these passages.

Speaking of asps, note also that at line 90-91 of IQN, we read:

Subdolus at tali SERPENS velatus amictu
Solvit in has fallax ora execrantia voces;

Translation:  Thus disguised, the crafty SERPENT parted his foul lips and uttered these words…

Given all of the above, I am certain that Milton intended his “ASPIC” acrostic at the very start of In Quintum Novembris to evoke his erudite readers’ recall of all these Shakespearean antecedents, to inform the portrait of Satan as an Iago-like serpent sowing discord in the United Kingdom.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

The diabolically clever acrostics in the 17-year old Milton’s In Quintum Novembris

Yesterday, in Milton-L, I posed the following quiz:

Does anyone notice anything unusual in each of the below-quoted, Latin  passages from “In Quintum Novembris” (IQN)? 

Attamen interea populi miserescit ab alto 
Aethereus pater, et crudelibus obstitit ausis
Papicolum, capti poenas raptantur ad acres.
At pia thura Deo et grati solvuntur honores, 
Compita laeta focis genialibus omnia fumant,
Turba choros iuvenilis agit: quintoque Novembris
Nulla dies toto occurrit celebratior anno.

Protinus ipse igitur quoscumque habet Anglia fidos
Propositi, factique mone: quisquamne tuorum         
Audebit summi non iussa facessere Papae?
Perculsosque metu subito, casuque stupentes
Invadat vel Gallus atrox, vel saevus Iberus.
Saecula sic illic tandem Mariana redibunt,
Tuque in belligeros iterum dominaberis Anglos.
 IQN is the precocious 17-year old Milton’s famous poem about Satan, Guy Fawkes, and the Pope vis a vis the Gunpowder Plot, a theme which several Milton scholars have noted as being (obviously) revisited by Milton 4 decades later in Paradise Lost.  I first read about IQN yesterday, and I just noticed something very unusual today in these two passages, and wonder if I’m the first to see it.

Hint #1:  the two passages are both unusual in the same way, and are especially connected to each other by what is unusual in each.
Hint #2: What is unusual in these two passages is the same as what is unusual in numerous passages in Shakespeare's plays, and also in some in Paradise Lost.
Hint #3: Based on my prior interpretations of Paradise Lost, I predicted that I would find at least one of these unusual things in IQN, even before I read it. 
Hint #4: You don’t need to understand a word of Latin in order to see this unusual thing in each of these two passages -- although understanding Latin (or reading a translation) is necessary in order to begin to understand what it means!

Within a day, I received two correct answers in Milton-L, as follows:

First John Savoie replied as follows:  
“Papae (124), Papicolum (222), and PAPIST, as acrostic spanning 123-28,  I presume? In any longer poem, though IQN is not particularly long, there are bound to be  coincidental acrostics, but this one, as with SATAN across PL 9.510-14, does precisely fit the context, and these two acrostics, despite the decades between, do lend each other a curious bit of harmonic support as well.”

John Leonard then also replied:  
“Also "A PACT" (between God and England?) in the poem's final lines (first passage). One possible sceptical response: why use English acrostics in a Latin poem? Are there precedents for this practice?

Thank you, gentlemen, your two correct answers are already sufficient for me to jump in and give my own explication as to why I believe both are incontrovertibly genuine, intentional acrostics on Milton’s part.


Atque dare in cineres, nitrati pulveris igne
Aedibus iniecto, qua convenere, sub imis.
Protinus ipse igitur quoscumque habet Anglia fidos 

P    Propositi, factique mone: quisquamne tuorum          [PAPIST acrostic going down]
A   Audebit summi non iussa facessere PAPAE?
P    Perculsosque metu subito, casuque stupentes
I     Invadat vel Gallus atrox, vel saevus Iberus.
S    Saecula sic illic tandem Mariana redibunt,
T   Tuque in belligeros iterum dominaberis Anglos.

Et necquid timeas, divos divasque secundas
Accipe, quotque tuis celebrantur numina fastis.” 130
Dixit, et ascitos ponens malefidus amictus
Fugit ad infandam, regnum illaetabile, Lethen.
Iam rosea eoas pandens Tithonia portas
Vestit inauratas redeunti lumine terras,
Maestaque adhuc nigri deplorans funera nati
Irrigat ambrosiis montana cacumina guttis,
Cum somnos pepulit stellatae ianitor aulae,
Nocturnos visus et somnia grata revolvens. locus aeterna septus caligine noctis….

Here is an English translation of lines 122-129, the excerpt which contains the entire “papist” acrostic: “Further, you must warn whomever of the faithful England still possess of your intention and of the deed. Will none of your countrymen dare carry out the mandates of the supreme Pope? When they are stricken by sudden terror and amazed at their misfortune, either the cruel Frenchman or the fierce Spaniard will invade. Thus at length the Marian centuries will return there, and you will gain mastery of the warlike English.

Even standing alone, it is, as John Savoie observes, beyond the realm of coincidence, but for more reasons than he stated. To find the Latin word “Papae” (“the Pope”) in the second line of a perfect 6-letter acrostic of the word “papist” (“follower of the Pope”), in a sentence which warns of the danger to England of an invasion by two nearby Catholic (i.e., papist) countries, which would lead to a return to the kind of rule England experience under Catholic (i.e., ‘papist”) Queen “Bloody” Mary I, cannot possibly be coincidental, the odds are astronomical against such a quadruple coincidence, especially in a work written by a genius of clever literary construction like Milton. It is noteworthy, however, to see him doing this at age 17!

However, this does not stand alone, it’s only the first part of a larger matrix of covert wordplay:


Attamen interea populi miserescit ab alto
Aethereus pater, et crudelibus obstitit ausis 

P    PAPICOLUM, capti poenas raptantur ad acres.   [PACT acrostic going down]
A   At pia thura Deo et grati solvuntur honores,
C   Compita laeta focis genialibus omnia fumant,
T   Turba choros iuvenilis agit: quintoque Novembris

Nulla dies toto occurrit celebratior anno.

Here is an English translation:  “But meanwhile the heavenly father looked down from above with pity on his people, and thwarted the Papists' cruel attempt. They are seized and taken off to severe punishments. Sacred incense is burned and grateful honours paid to God. All the joyous crossroads smoke with genial fumes; the young people dance in crowds, for in all the year there is no day more celebrated than the fifth of November.

The perfect acrostic “PACT” occurs right before the end of IQN at line # 226. As such, it is a virtually perfect bookend to the meaning conveyed explicitly in the initial lines of IQN:

Iam pius extrema veniens Iacobus ab arcto
Teucrigenas populos, lateque patentia regna
Albionum tenuit, iamque inviolabile FOEDUS
Sceptra Caledoniis coniunxerat Anglica Scotis, 
Pacificusque novo felix divesque sedebat 5
In solio, occultique doli securus et hostis:
Cum ferus ignifluo regnans Acheronte tyrannus,
Eumenidum pater, aethero vagus exul Olympo,
Forte per immensum terrarum erraverat orbem, 
Dinumerans sceleris socios, vernasque fideles        10
Participes regni post funera moesta futuros.
Hic tempestates medio ciet aere diras,
Illic unanimes odium struit inter amicos,

This is translated as follows: “Now pious James, coming from the extreme North, possessed the Teucer-born peoples and the widespread realms of the folk of Albion, and now an inviolable PACT conjoined English scepters to the Caledonian Scots, and James sat as a peacemaker and a prosperous man on his new throne, secure from hidden wiles and any foe, when the savage tyrant of Acheron, flowing with fire, the father of the Eumenides, the vagrant exile from celestial Olympus, chanced to be wandering through the world, counting his allies in crime, his loyal servants, destined to be partners in his kingdom after their sad demise. Here he stirred up great storms in mid-air, there he sowed hatred between like-minded friends, armed unconquered nations against each others’ vitals, overturned kingdoms flourishing in peace that bears the olive branch, and whoever he saw to be enamored of pure virtue, these he craved to add to his empire.”

“Foedus” is Latin for “treaty” or “compact” (“pact” for short). So we have Milton at the beginning of IQN referring explicitly to “the inviolable pact” which united the English and the Scots; and then, at the end of IQN, Milton implicitly (via the acrostic “pact”) summarizes how James fulfilled and preserved that “inviolable pact”! Talk about a rounded Aristotelian unity!

And, finally, getting back to the excerpt containing the “pact” acrostic, I also note that it contains the word “Papicolum”, which means “Papists” --- who are the ones, led by Satan, who are endangering that pact, as described in that excerpt, and who are the villains skewered by that earlier “papist” acrostic!

So, taking the above two acrostics and the passages they occur in as a unit, they could not be more tightly interlinked, with the two acrostics serving as subliminal thematic glue.

But still there’s another piece –when Milton writes James as preserving the “inviolable pact” that united the United Kingdom, he is also reacting to the following passage regarding the Gunpowder Plot which is found in Francis Herring’s Latin poem “Pietas Pontificia” (1606). I am sure a number of you know that Estelle Haan, a quarter century ago,  made an overwhelming case for Herring’s poem as one of Milton’s primary allusive sources for IQN. And guess what? Herring’s poem refers to a “wicked pact” between Percy, referred to as the Pope’s attendant and vassal, and  the bad guys (the “Papists”) in this passage:

“But it is better to go to the sly Sinon (whom we have recently left walking about in the splendid court). When he turns over the undertaking in his cunning mind, he goes to meet Percy (he was the king's attendant and vassall to the pope), and discloses the business entrusted to him. He eagerly embraces both the message and the man, they both promise steadfast loyalty (which neither of them possessed), and joining hands they swear a wicked PACT. Lords of the world, you are fostering dreaded Vipers in your bosoms, you who admit PAPISTS inside your dwelling. A serpent lies hidden, concealed in the grass. Infamous betrayal, pernicious rebellion, dreadful slaugther and poisons reeking of Stygian fraud constitute their pursuits, already notorious to the whole world, and are the eternai monuments of the Catholic sect. By these services they ascend to the heavens; in this way they proceed to the stars.”


So we see we have the convergence of three distinct lines of textual evidence-- each of them sufficient in its own right, but taken together they are exponentially more sufficient!

But I have one final tidbit to add to this spicy mix, which I had seen but not fully appreciated its significance until I had already posted my quiz.

As Estelle Haan also explained in lavish detail 25 years ago, one of Milton’s primary allusive sources in writing IQN was Vergil’s Aeneid, and, in particular, how the goddess Juno (of course, Rome’s name for the Greek “Hera”) stirred up conflict, and how Juno was particularly reflected in IQN by the character of Satan, doing exactly what is described in its opening passage. What Hahn did not realize, is thatl at the end of the initial lines of IQN, we find the following acrostic “Hera” in the very same lines which describe how Satan turned country against country:

Hic tempestates medio ciet aere diras,
Illic unanimes odium struit inter amicos,

A    Armat et invictas in mutua viscera gentes,
R    Regnaque olivifera vertit florentia pace,
E     Et quoscunque videt purae virtutis amantes,
H     Hos cupit adiicere imperio, fraudumque magister   [HERA acrostic going up]

Tentat inaccessum sceleri corrumpere pectus,
Insidiasque locat tacitas, cassesque latentes
Tendit, ut incautos rapiat, ceu Caspia tigris 
Insequitur trepidam deserta per avia praedam
Nocte sub illuni, et somno nictantibus astris. 

Standing alone, an intentional “Hera” acrostic would not have been certain, I freely ackowledge. But given all of the above evidence in this post, I believe that “Hera” it is yet another part of the young Milton’s extraordinary wordplay hidden in plain sight (as all acrostics are by definition hidden)!


Before I conclude, I want to tie up a few loose ends:

“Hint #2: What is unusual in these two passages is the same as what is unusual in numerous passages in Shakespeare's plays, and also in some in Paradise Lost.

What I meant by this, is that Milton’s use of acrostics in his youthful poem about Satan is not only (as John Savoie’s answer suggests) a harbinger of the “SATAN” acrostic in Paradise Lost - which Paul Klemp was the first to discover in 1977. It’s also, I now see, Milton’s first allusive reaction to the “SATAN” acrostic in Friar Laurence’s speech to Juliet in Romeo & Juliet -- an acrostic hidden in plain sight in the particular lines in which the Friar describes the future effect of the sleeping potion he is giving her:

To rouse thee from thy bed, there art thou dead:

in several posts in 2014, including these two:           
I had previously argued that Milton’s “SATAN” acrostic in PL (which in part includes the verbiage ‘the heighth of ROME”, sounds a lot like “ROMEO”!) was Milton’s reaction to Friar Laurence’s “SATAN”. But now I see that IQN is a way station, forty years earlier, on the way to the “SATAN” acrostic in PL.

And in that same regard, note also that in IQN, Satan comes to the Pope in a dream disguised as a mendicant Franciscan monk, which is exactly what the “diabolical” Friar Laurence is – and which taps into that deep well of Protestant anti-Catholicism which runs through Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Milton, among many other writers of that religiously divided time in England.

“Hint #3: Based on my prior interpretations of Paradise Lost, I hoped that I would find at least one of these unusual things in IQN, even before I read it.”

I hoped I would find at least one acrostic in IQN, because I already knew about the “SATAN” acrostic in PL, and I saw IQN as a primordial version of PL. So I wasn’t psychic, I just knew Milton loved acrostics, and it made sense that he would already have loved them at 17.

Hint #4: You don’t need to understand a word of Latin in order to see this unusual thing in each of these two passages -- although understanding Latin (or reading a translation) is necessary in order to begin to understand what it means!”

Responding to John Leonard, that Milton wrote these acrostics in English makes perfect sense to me, when I consider that all of his intended readers would be fluent in English, whereas not all would have been fluent in Latin. But you raise another interesting possibility --- I would ask anyone reading this who IS fluent in Latin (my JHS Latin 50 years ago wont cut it!) to give IQN a once-over (:
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to learn that the already diabolically clever 17 year old John Milton had slipped in a thematically relevant Latin acrostic there as well!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Mr. Clay’s Madhouse & Mrs. Clay “born to be” Miss Hanson, all in the subtext of Persuasion

I've begun reading The Trials of the King of Hampshire (Madness, Secrecy, and Betrayal in Georgian England by Elizabeth Foyster (2016), which I first read about a few weeks ago, and then eagerly ordered a copy from ILL. Foyster is a Fellow and Senior College Lecturer at Clare College, Cambridge, and is a specialist in family history, the kind of female-inclusive history left out by the "real solemn" exclusively male-focused history that Catherine Morland (and her creator, Jane Austen) found so unsatisfying.

Why was I so eager to read it? Because it's a biography of John Wallop, aka Lord Portsmouth, the 3rd Earl, who was all of the following:
ONE: one of the very first young students of Revd. Austen at the Steventon Rectory;
TWO: part of the Austen family's extended social network during the better part of JA’s life; and
THREE: someone who suffered all his life from some sort of serious mental infirmity, which, inter alia, rendered him highly vulnerable to persuasion, especially by a trusted advisor.

In 1814, not long after the death of his older, protective first wife Grace in November 1813 (which in turn was less than a year after the death of his dominating, dowager countess mother), the suddenly unprotected Lord Portsmouth (in)famously married the much younger Mary Ann Hanson, daughter of John Wallop’s scheming lawyer and trustee, John Hanson – a lawyer whose legal education evidently failed to include the part about the damage caused by gross (even criminal) abuse of fiduciary duty. Hanson was also personal attorney for Lord Byron, who played a key role in that Wallop-Hanson marriage, as I’ll in part address below.

I’ve long asserted, inspired by Nancy Mayer's first bringing key facts about the 3rd Earl to our collective attention in Janeites in 2005, that Jane Austen parodied, in Persuasion, the tawdry soap opera of the real life "odd quartet" of Lord Portsmouth, his late first wife Grace, his second wife Mary Ann, and Mary Ann's father the attorney Mr. Hanson, in the fictional foursome of Sir Walter Elliot, his late wife Lady Elliot, Mrs. Clay, and her father, attorney Mr. Shepherd. Here's the link to my wide-ranging 2011 post on that subject:

For those who are curious to know what happened after that 1814 wedding, but don’t want to have to track down Foyster’s well-researched book, Wikipedia offers this tidy synopsis:

“When Newton attempted to have Portsmouth declared insane that autumn [of 1814], Byron's affidavit as to the circumstances of the marriage was instrumental in getting the charge dismissed. However, the new Countess was by no means equal to the task of controlling Portsmouth; his behavior grew more erratic, while Mary Anne carried on an adulterous affair with William Alder, who fathered three children on her. Eventually, the pair of lovers grew so bold as to have intercourse in the same bed with the Earl (who was almost certainly impotent).
A new commission de lunatico inquirendo took place in 1823, at the instigation of Portsmouth's nephew Henry Wallop Fellowes, and it was revealed that the Earl had been badly mistreated by his new wife and her lover, who had spat on him and beaten him. He was adjudged to have been insane since 1809. In 1828, his second marriage was annulled, and Mary Anne's children were declared bastards. A judgment for the £40,000 cost of the trial was issued against her, and she fled abroad. Portsmouth died in 1853; his brother Newton succeeded him for less than half a year before his own death.”

Without benefit of either Wikipedia or Foyster’s book, I believe JA knew, and made a point of keeping up on, all about current events in the Wallop family, via her Hampshire gossip network. Surely the most significant node of Austen’s network in this regard was the 3rd Earl’s first cousin, Urania Camilla, a contemporary of JA who was also the ‘heroine’ (tragic, in the end, because she died in 1814, perhaps in childbirth) of JA’s “Jump at a Wake” November 1812 poem, as I blogged about recently here:

I explained therein why I believed Urania Camilla was a friend of JA’s. If I am correct and she was, just think about the kind of inside information she might have transmitted to JA, either in person or by discreetly written letters, about her first cousin the 3rd Earl, in light of the following excerpt I just stumbled upon in the official transcript of the 1823 case:
Rev. Mr. Wake examined: Is Rector of Wallop; is connected by marriage with the Portsmouth family; has known his Lordship from 1813; frequently visited at Hurstborne; has sometimes remained there for a week or a fortnight at a time; met his Lordship at Andover in July last; did not observe any difference in his Lordship at that time.

Rev. Mr. Wake was Urania Camilla’s husband during the short, critical time period that began at the death of Lord Portsmouth’s mother, and included the wedding of Mary Ann Hanson to the 3rd Earl. Urania would surely have accompanied her new husband on at least some of those visits to the Wallop ancestral estate at Hurstborne, and I also feel safe in assuming that her new husband would have passed information on to her about what happened during any solo visits he made there.

With that background, I now have two new, related tidbits to add to the spicy mix of my existing interpretation of JA’s thinly veiled allusion in Persuasion to Lord Portsmouth’s ill-fated second marriage.

First, here’s a small one, which if it stood alone would seem no more than a trivial coincidence; but, embedded in the matrix of all these other echoes of real life in Persuasion, appears to me to be deliberate on JA’s part. Some Austen scholars have speculated as to why JA chose the surname “Clay” for her scheming lawyer’s smooth-mannered daughter (Margaret Doody, e.g., sees “Clay” as hinting at Mrs. Clay being as “common as dirt”); but I don’t believe anyone has previously noted a source which was suggested to me by a passing factoid that I just read in Foyster’s book.

Foyster, in her chapter describing the Machiavellian last minute tactics employed by Hanson in 1814 in order to get Lord Portsmouth to the altar to marry Mary Ann, without alerting the other trustees who might’ve put the kibosh on the wedding, writes:

“It may only have been after 10 o’clock, when Charles Hanson [John’s son] was sent to the church to tell the clerk to prepare for a wedding, that John launched his offensive. As Portsmouth later told a gardener in the stables at Hurstborne, Hanson said that he must marry his daughter, ‘otherwise I never should have a wife, and my brother would take me into Devonshire and shut me up.’ Newton Fellowes [Lord Portsmouth’s youngest brother and their mother’s favorite] was planning to confine him in a private madhouse owned by Mr. Clay, Hanson warned.”

Did you see it? ---Mr. CLAY! I don’t know how well known Mr. Clay’s private madhouse in Devonshire was during the Regency Era, but my guess is that if it was considered as a destination for the 3rd Earl of Portsmouth, then it probably was a name that meant something to members of the ton, madness (especially in a “great one”) always being near the top of the list of topics of interest in a gossip network.

So, by naming her temptress Mrs. Clay, perhaps this was meant to conjure in savvy readers’s comic imagination the desperate measures the Elliot children might’ve been tempted to take had Sir Walter suddenly changed his tune about Mrs. Clay’s freckles, and started admiring how “handsome” she seemed to him – would they also have put aside their mutual differences and tried to “take him into Devonshire and shut him up” to prevent Kellynch falling into the hands of a new Lady Elliot, Mrs. Clay?

I came upon my second tidbit while reading Foyster’s vivid account of the lengths John Hanson went to in order to get his daughter married to the 3rd Earl:

“Hanson knew exactly how to scare Portsmouth. He could have been aware that Urania [Lord Portsmouth’s mother] had threatened to lock her son up, and over the years she may have even discussed the possibility with Hanson…Portsmouth was all too willing to believe that Hanson had gained some advance knowledge of his brother’s plans for him. He was left terrified. Marriage beckoned as an attractive escape route.
Hanson had played his trump card, and it worked. Portsmouth agreed to marry one of his daughters, but asked if he could marry Laura ‘the pretty one’. Hanson would not accept, and said that ‘the eldest was the one he had looked out for me.’ The bully Hanson pushed Portsmouth out of the house, and along the passage to meet Byron for their walk to the church…”

Indeed, Foyster’s subtitle “Madness, Secrecy, and Betrayal in Georgian England” is very apt; but my second tidbit came to me from Foyster’s noting of Lord Portsmouth’s  preference for “the pretty one”, i.e., Hanson’s younger daughter, Laura. That the eldest daughter Mary Ann was not fortunate in her own looks had been verified by Foyster two pages earlier:

“John Hanson had every reason to feel wound up and tense that morning. Although he had got everything in place for the wedding, the behaviour of his daughter and her husband-to-be was difficult to predict. At 23 years old, nobody thought Mary Ann was attractive. ‘She was not pretty’, Byron wrote, perhaps offended that others thought he had an affair with her. The best that a guest at the dinner held by Hanson the evening after the wedding could say was that Mary Ann was a ‘well-informed person; not, as I think, of a good figure; very genteel in her manners, and of uniform decorum.’ He may as well have said nice, but ordinary.”

My Subject Line already hinted at where I went with this -- thinking about Mary Ann Hanson as not being, if you will, handsome enough to tempt the 3rd Earl without pressure on him from her father, led me to put the pieces together, taking into account Jane Austen’s infinite love of puns, and present my second new insight, to wit:

The word "handsome" appears with regularity throughout the Austen canon, but I’m now highly confident that Jane Austen LOL’ed when she wrote the following particular line of dialog for Mrs. Clay, in Chapter 3 of Persuasion, rebutting Sir Walter’s complaint about the poor looks of sun- and wind-weathered sailors:

"Nay, Sir Walter," cried Mrs Clay, "this is being severe indeed. Have a little mercy on the poor men. We are not all born to be HANDSOME...."

Jane Austen laughed out loud, I suggest, because it is indeed very funny to think about a fictional character who was “born” (in the imagination of her creator) to be a replica of a real life woman named “Hanson”, which sounds an awful lot like “handsome”!

Think I’ve taken a leap too far? Well, consider that JA quickly followed up in Chapter 5 with the following scene, describing the decision, urged by Mr. Shepherd, to retrench to Bath, which involves bringing Mrs. Clay along, but not Anne. I invite you to read the below passage (especially the ALL CAPS portions) about Mrs. Clay’s unimpressive looks through the lens of Mary Ann Hanson’s not being Lord Portsmouth’s first choice, because she was not as pretty as her younger sister Laura:

“…Anne herself was become hardened to such affronts; but she felt the imprudence of the arrangement quite as keenly as Lady Russell. With a great deal of quiet observation, and a knowledge, which she often wished less, of her father's character, she was sensible that results the most serious to his family from the intimacy were more than possible. She did not imagine that her father had at present an idea of the kind. MRS CLAY HAD FRECKLES, AND A PROJECTING TOOTH, AND A CLUMSY WRIST, which he was continually making severe remarks upon, in her absence; but she was young, and certainly altogether well-looking, and possessed, in an acute mind and assiduous pleasing manners, infinitely more dangerous attractions than any merely personal might have been. Anne was so impressed by the degree of their danger, that she could not excuse herself from trying to make it perceptible to her sister. She had little hope of success; but Elizabeth, who in the event of such a reverse would be so much more to be pitied than herself, should never, she thought, have reason to reproach her for giving no warning. She spoke, and seemed only to offend. Elizabeth could not conceive how such an absurd suspicion should occur to her, and indignantly answered for each party's perfectly knowing their situation.
"Mrs Clay," said she, warmly, "never forgets who she is; and as I am rather better acquainted with her sentiments than you can be, I can assure you, that upon the subject of marriage they are particularly nice, and that she reprobates all inequality of condition and rank more strongly than most people. And as to my father, I really should not have thought that he, who has kept himself single so long for our sakes, need be suspected now. If Mrs Clay were a very beautiful woman, I grant you, it might be wrong to have her so much with me; not that anything in the world, I am sure, would induce my father to make a degrading match, but he might be rendered unhappy. But POOR MRS CLAY who, with all her merits, CAN NEVER HAVE BEEN RECKONED TOLERABLY PRETTY, I really think poor Mrs Clay may be staying here in perfect safety. One would imagine you had never heard MY FATHER SPEAK OF HER PERSONAL MISFORTUNES, though I know you must fifty times. That tooth of her's and those freckles. Freckles do not disgust me so very much as they do him. I have known a face not materially disfigured by a few, but HE ABOMINATES THEM. You must have heard him notice Mrs Clay's freckles."
"There is hardly any personal defect," replied Anne, "which an agreeable manner might not gradually reconcile one to."

And now, here’s the special punch (and pun) line:

"I think very differently," answered Elizabeth, shortly; "an agreeable manner may set off HANDSOME features, but can never alter plain ones. However, at any rate, as I have a great deal more at stake on this point than anybody else can have, I think it rather unnecessary in you to be advising me."
Anne had done; glad that it was over, and not absolutely hopeless of doing good. Elizabeth, though resenting the suspicion, might yet be made observant by it….”
The point, again, for those in the know, being that Mrs. Clay was no more “handsome” than her real life source, Mary Ann “Hanson”!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Paradise Lost can be found everywhere in Jane Austen’s novels

I've been relatively silent in this blog the past few weeks, because I've taken an unplanned, but highly fruitful (ha ha), extended side trip deeper into the inner workings of Milton's Paradise Lost than I had ever previously attempted. In addition to gaining a much deeper understanding of what Milton was about in writing his great epic, I also now see more and more clearly just how significant a source he was for Jane Austen.

I'm not writing today about specific allusions by Austen to Milton (beyond noting that they are far more pervasive than has been previously been noticed) but instead to write about what I see as Milton's macro-influence on Austen. 

To wit: I now see a clear chain of allusion that stretches from Shakespeare to Milton to Richardson to Austen -- each of these great writers being, at the foundation of their writing, concerned with epistemology -- how we as human beings know what we know, living in a social and psychological world which is riddled with basic and inescapable ambiguities at every turn. Shakespeare in drama, MIlton in epic poetry, Richardson in epistolary novels, and finally Austen in narrative fiction, each was a master of this crucial aspect of writing.

I see those four great writers being particularly intent on producing literature that would serve as grist for the mill of ambitious readers wishing to be challenged, and become more skilled and self-aware in dealing with the ambiguities of daily life-- and they each did this by producing double stories, which could plausibly be read in two different ways. If you could learn to see both stories in their writing, then you would be better equipped to see them in real life, where no one has an omniscient narrator perched on his or her shoulder, to explain what is "really" going on.

So, in Milton's case, Blake was only quarter correct in his famous assertion that Milton was of the devil's party but did not know it. I'd amend that to say that Milton wrote Paradise Lost so that readers could plausibly be of the devil's party or not be of the devil's party --- and that Milton did this deliberately. 

And so now, I see this great chain of literary inheritance, in which Milton emulated Shakespeare, Richardson emulated both Shakespeare and Milton, and then Austen emulated her three great predecessors, in this one crucial respect, despite writing in different forms. So I now see a thread that runs from Iago to Satan to Lovelace to the seductive male villains of Austen’s novels –not just Willoughby, Wickham, Henry Crawford, and Cousin Elliot, but also, in the shadow stories, Brandon, Darcy, and Knightley.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Sex, Radicalism, & Jane Austen: Connections to John Thelwall

Yesterday, I read a very interesting guest post at Sarah Emsley’s blog (which this year has an ongoing focus on Northanger Abbey) by Judith Thompson, about resonance between NA and the career and writings of the late 18th century political radical John Thelwall. Thompson is one of the leading Thelwall scholars in the world, and, unlike many other scholars writing about Austen, she does not shy away at all from speculating about resonance between Thelwall and Austen, even though, according to what I call the Myth of Jane Austen, that was a twain that supposedly never met. So first and foremost, I urge you to read her post:

I want to focus today first on two related topics, one addressed in Thompson’s current post, and the other in her 2014 guest post at Emsley’s blog, also about Thelwall and Austen.


Thompson quotes Henry’s witty mockery of Eleanor’s alarm about news from London, then writes:   

“This passage…is one of my favorites in Northanger Abbey….because the mention of riots in London makes it the best place in Austen’s corpus to enter a discussion about the nature and degree of Austen’s political consciousness and her engagement with one of the most revolutionary critical moments in literary history, which she is often accused of, or assumed to be, ignoring.  These much-vexed debates have been rekindled lately with the publication of Helena Kelley’s much ballyhooed book on Jane Austen: The Secret Radical….”

Those who follow my blog know that I’ve previously explained in a detailed blog post here…
…how Kelly’s chapter about Northanger Abbey in her 2016 book owes an enormous, detailed, and utterly UN-acknowledged debt to my own public speaking and writing dating back to 2009, in which I argued (and still argue) that the shadow story of NA is the real-life “domestic Gothic” horror of the death-in-childbirth and serial pregnancy plague that decimated married English gentlewomen like Mrs. Tilney.

Therefore, it will come as no surprise that I generally agree with Thompson’s brief, unfavorable reaction to Kelly’s book, except for the following observations by Thompson, with which I take strong issue:

In place of real, historically-, critically- and technically-informed analysis of radicalism, she substitutes a breathlessly superficial revelation of sexual symbolism (masturbation by the washing-chest, oh my!) in a tone that mimics Isabella’s prurient faux-naïveté, without the saving grace of Catherine’s sincerity. Despite her title, Kelley shows little awareness of the subtle and multiple forms that radicalism takes in the period, or the reasons why a woman in particular might have had recourse to secrecy in an age (like our own) of ideological binaries that forced many intelligent thinkers into silence (clue: it’s not all about sex).”

My rebuttal to Thompson is simple – while, indeed, “it’s not all about sex”, 13 years of research have shown me beyond a shadow of doubt that for Jane Austen (in this regard very different from male radicals like Thelwall) sex (or to be more precise, women’s control over their own bodies, especially in relation to sexuality) was THE main political battleground which engaged Austen’s lifelong radical political focus. When Catherine Morland spurns “real solemn history”, that is Austen herself, slyly hinting that HIStory leaves out the other half – HERstory. The fears, hopes, and interests of women were utterly and very pointedly ignored by the men holding the collective pen (so to speak).

And this is a “plus ca change” moment, because this same comment applies in 2018 even more so, if possible, than in 1818 (and of course, before, during and long after Jane Austen’s own brief lifetime).
As I’ve noted in recent months, Jane Austen was in effect engaged in a covert, one-woman-author, #metoo literary campaign, and I’m proud to be a member of the board of AGE
which has for several years now worked to obtain a fair share of the grip of the “pen” for women, by “offering grants to professional Portland (OR) metro-area theatre companies that demonstrate a commitment to intersectional gender equity in playwriting, directing, casting, and designing.” gender equity in playwriting, directing, casting, and designing.
I’m certain that Jane Austen would approve, but let me now turn to Thompson’s flippant “masturbation by the washing-chest, oh my!”. It is true that Kelly’s treatment of that topic was paper-thin, but consider instead what I said (with Kelly in attendance, as I noted in my linked post) at my own Chawton House talk in July 2009:

"In Northanger Abbey, Austen wanted us to ignore Henry Tilney and recognize that Catherine Morland’s Gothic fantasies of General “Tyranny” as the wife-murdering Bluebeard of Northanger Abbey were all too valid in a world where husbands, including several of Austen’s own brothers, routinely “murdered” their wives with a little too much “love and eloquence”! While in London this coming week, I intend to visit the memorial erected in the 17th century by Samuel Morland in honor of his two wives who died in childbirth, a memorial I strongly suspect was visited by the young Jane Austen over two centuries ago. But that “disorder” also includes the sexual awakening of a girl (the hyacinth that Catherine learns to love, the sexual architecture of she explores that dark and stormy night in Northanger Abbey). As with all other issues raised by her novels, Austen offers elusive complexity and ambiguity."

By the way, I did go to Westminster Abbey, and check out those “awful memorials” yourself:
And note that one of the radical feminists who inspired Jane Austen most of all was Aphra Behn!

So, when Thompson concludes with “Austen’s irony, walking the fine line between sedition and entertainment, is a more likely sign of the secret radicalism of Northanger Abbey than her sexual symbolism”, I reply that in Northanger Abbey Austen’s sexual symbolism was at the fiercely beating heart of her secret radical feminism (“feminism”, ironically, being the crucial word Kelly left out of her title when she “borrowed” from me).

And apropos Thompson’s excellent discussion of “voluntary spies” in NA, I now quote the following exchange between Diane Reynolds and myself here in Janeites and Austen L in December 2012, which also resonates in interesting ways to our recent speculations about influence of Coleridge on Austen:

Diane: “I have circled back to reading Holmes's biography of Coleridge and was a bit startled to find out that in 1797, when the Wordsworths came for a long visit to Coleridge's cottage near Bristol, they were literally spied on, apparently as potentially ‘seditious’ people, largely because a radical or former radical, John Thelwall, also arrived in the area…The spy's account is of historic interest, because it documents from an outsider's point of view, the ramblings through nature and careful, ‘scientific’ observations of the natural world of titans of the Romantic movement, but I couldn't help but think of Henry Tilney's observation that in England, everyone's neighbor is a spy. It's possible he (and hence Austen) meant that literally. I can also imagine the young Jane and Cassandra on similar ramblings, with camp stools, notebooks and portfolios ...This is Holmes's account: "Describing Wordsworth and Dorothy [sic] as an 'emigrant family,' the [spy's] report engagingly present their nefarious activities with Coleridge: 'The man has Camp Stools, which he and his visitors take with them when they go about the country upon their nocturnal or diurnal excursions, and have also a Portfolio in which they enter their observations, which they have been heard to say were almost finished. They have been heard to say they would be rewarded for them, and were very attentive to the River near them... These people may possibly be Agents to some principal at Bristol.' 

My reply: Diane, this is what I've been saying all along, in terms of the supposed safety of a "radical" speaking out openly against the manifold hypocrisies, cruelties, and horrors of the "normal English way of life"--to openly espouse free thought was a very dangerous proposition in post-French-Terror England---what you describe above actually sounds like something out of Stalinist Russia, or Orwell's Oceania--thoughtcrime. And since It is clear that JA did not have a suicidal bone in her body, but, to the contrary, was intensely pragmatic, I believe she was determined to survive and to make sure her profound, even revolutionary, insights into human nature and society survived as well. If that meant going undercover, and staying off the radar screens of all the General Tilneys of England, and being very discreet and patient (just think about Miss Bates's survival strategies, and Miss Marple's detection strategies), then so be it. Better to live to fight another day, than to die gloriously on Day One. Just think about the scariness of a society in which malevolent, misogynistic garbage like Polwhele’s Unsex’d Females could attain a measure of fame and influence…”


As promised, here is an excerpt from Thompson’s 2014 guest post at Emsley’s blog… … which she wrote as part of a discussion of the influence of Thelwall on Mansfield Park:

“Recently I had occasion to revisit the adopted daughter of the Bertram family, in order to help me contextualize an edition of Thelwall’s novel The Daughter of Adoption, published 13 years before Mansfield Park. And strangely I found much to compare between the two narratives. Though Thelwall’s Seraphina is an outspoken Wollstonecraftian Creole who challenges and overturns the slave-owning patriarchal system, and Austen’s Fanny is a cowering English country-mouse who seems content to submit to class-bound hierarchies and traditional moral codes, both novels share several plot elements and even some characters with the same names and natures. Perhaps this is because both draw from a common source in Burney’s Evelina, though it is not impossible that Austen had read Thelwall’s Daughter: it was published under a pseudonym, and she read a lot more than she let on, too.”

When I read that in 2014, I was inspired to take a deeper dive into possible connections between Thelwall and Austen than I had found in brief forays since 2006, when I first became aware of who Thelwall was and wondered about that, especially given that by 2009 I had already argued in my JASNA AGM talk that Godwin’s Caleb Williams was a key allusive source for the radical political subtext of Northanger Abbey.

After reading Thompson’s focus on The Daughter of Adoption, and her spotting the strong resonance between it and Mansfield Park,  I decided to take a look at the actual text of Thelwall’s novel, hoping to find something beyond what Thompson had already mentioned in her blog post. And when I did, I struck gold, as I noted in my Oct. 6, 2015 blog post in which I listed nine different literary sources as all pointing to Mr. Woodhouse as an incestuous monster:
John Thelwall’s Daughter of Adoption (1801), with a character named Mr. WOODHOUSE who torments the West Indies-plantation-owning patriarch with an ultimate incestuous nightmare”

In Book 10 of Thelwall’s novel, the Revd. Emanuel Woodhouse is the duplicitous agent for the male protagonist, a Creole named Henry Montfort –so there you have both parts of Mr. Henry Woodhouse’s name. And I had long before then been suspicious of a dark cloud of paternal incest hovering over Mr. Woodhouse, involving one or more of Isabella (who exactly is the bio father of her baby son “Henry”?), Emma, and possibly even Miss Taylor. As I’ve detailed in numerous posts, the Shakespeare play which points to this paternal incest subtext in Emma is Pericles, which is the primary reason, I assert, for Mr. Woodhouse’s futile attempt to recall all the words of Garrick’s Riddle, which, as Heydt-Stevenson first pointed out two decades ago, is all about men with syphilis having sex with virgins in order to cure themselves.

So, for a character named “Woodhouse” to be explicitly connected to incest in Thelwall’s novel which, as Thompson pointed out in 2014 was part of the subtext of Mansfield Park, is, I suggest, very interesting indeed. And that points back to my claim in Part One of this post, above, in which I asserted that for Jane Austen, the collective, injured female body was Ground Zero for her brand of fiery, radical feminism.

And before I close, there’s still one point more. Although MP is the Austen novel in which West Indian slavery is foregrounded, several scholars including myself have speculated about the source of both the Woodhouse fortune and even more so about that of the nouveau riche Hawkins family of Bristol. So a connection to Thelwall’s novel, which involves both England and the West Indies, may perhaps add a great deal to penetrating that elusive slavery subtext in Emma.

And there I will conclude, and hope that the above adds to the development of more insight into the fascinating connections between the radical politics of John Thelwall and Jane Austen.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter