Is Mr. Darcy's Pen a Metaphorical Penis?

"You write uncommonly fast." Ahem.
A couple of days ago, disappointed in some of the twists in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I started to read up on Jane Austen's sexual politics. It is a common theme lately to debunk the sanitized image of Austen as an asexual spinster who never left her house and replace it with the image of an Austen we'd all like to hang out with: world-savvy, cuttingly funny, and quick on the double entendres. I do not know enough yet to tell if this reconstruction is more faithful to her character than the last, but I admit that a part of me cheers for this 3rd wave Jane Austen. (A part of me finds it slightly problematic, though, but that part needs to read a lot more before opening its mouth.)

Anyway, one of the articles I read this week is Jill Heydt-Stevenson's "Slipping into the Ha-Ha": Bawdy Humor and Body Politics in Jane Austen's Novels. Heydt-Stevenson argues that the racy elements some readers see in Austen's writing are not only there, but they are there for a purpose. They are a veiled - and thus acceptable - way of criticizing the patriarchy, of subverting its values. The dirty joke signals that the author sees through the patriarchy's game. Among other things, Austen uses this bawdy humor as a way of exposing the (rather crude) sexual and power dynamics behind the romantic ideal of courtship, as a way of "collapsing boundaries between prostitution and courtship."

There were a lot of things I appreciated in this article - and it's well worth a read - but there were also places where I felt it veered into "literary criticism gone mad." Take, for example, this exchange between a desperately flirtatious Caroline and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, Chapter X:
"I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well."

"Thank you—but I always mend my own."
For Heydt-Stevenson, Caroline's line is a "powerful metonymy of phallic power," while Darcy's reply, recognizing her sexual allusion, "playfully invokes autoeroticism." The more I think of it, the more I think this cannot be right. Mind you, this is not just an exercise in interpreting metaphors Freudian-style, where no cigar is ever a cigar and "all vegetation is pubic hair" (to slightly misquote Maud Bailey). In order for this interpretation to work, the characters themselves must be in on the joke. But if they are, how is Darcy's reference to masturbation a good or cutting reply to Caroline's (supposed) innuendo? "Thank you, I've never needed a woman for that"? Is Darcy really the ultimate Socially Awkward Penguin?

But then again, perhaps I'm being naive and reading less into this than I should. (It happened before.) So I'm crowdsourcing this one. What do you think, internet? Is a pen just a pen? Is this pen a, erm, "powerful metonymy of phallic power" and its owner the Socially Awkward Penguin? Is there a third choice I'm missing?


31 comments:

  1. Best title and article ever.

    I'm one of those who thinks Jane Austen is actually a 21st reinterpretation of her works and that she was actually neither a feminist nor a revolutionary in any way. Of course, I know most people disagree and it's OK since we'll never know how the real Austen was.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think there is one way in which she could be (most of) what this reconstruction claims she is, but without being a revolutionary. And that is if our (popular) understanding of her era is in itself flawed or sanitized. Or perhaps she wasn't as much revolutionary in relation to her age, as counter-revolutionary? If the 18th century was more open about all sorts of things than the 19th century was starting to be, I mean.(Just thinking aloud.)

      I'm sure someone must have written about this, but I would be very interested to trace how the image of Austen evolved, especially in the context of the evolution that took place in feminism itself.

      Delete
  2. Perhaps a third option is that Catherine's comment was indeed an innuendo, and that Darcy failed to recognize it, responding only to the words themselves and not the subtext. Or that he recognized it but deliberately ignored the innuendo. What would either of these options say about male-female relations in Austen's worldview?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the idea that Darcy failed to recognize the subtext might work. I need to reread Austen to get a better grip on this, but there are a number of interesting questions here. First of all, was Caroline completely out of line or were such puns part and parcel of flirting? If she was completely out of line, then Darcy could fail to recognize the pun because he wasn't expecting it. (And this would be interesting from a cultural point of view.) If she wasn't and this was something you could expect from women in her circle, then perhaps Darcy is just bad at this game. (Which is not in contradiction to the rest of his characterization.)

      I don't think that the option in which he recognized the subtext but chose to ignore it works quite as well. If he recognized the subtext, then he must also recognize that his choice of words makes him look bad in the terms of that subtext. A simple "I'm fine, thank you." would be better.

      But regardless of the (possible) sexual subtext, this interaction might say something about male-female relations in P&P. Caroline is very much the aggressor here and Darcy rejects her. In a very nice line at the end Elizabeth tells Darcy this:

      "The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them."

      It would be very interesting to follow this problem of who takes initiative and with what results (especially when you also have Jane and Bingley who are both bad at this).

      Thank you, this was food for thought :)

      Delete
    2. I very much appreciated your post - wonderful food for thought yourself! Questions of initiative and agency are always interesting in a patriarchal culture due to their potential to either reinforce or subvert the norm.

      Delete
  3. I believe that barn-yard humour abounded during Austen's time - how could it not. They lived lives in such intimate contact with their horses and dogs in particular.

    But in this case, I believe that Caroline Bingley was just sucking up (no pun intended!)

    Throughout the entire book she looks for ways to get Darcy to notice her and pay attention. She uses every 'mean art' at her disposal.
    A woman of her education, secluded from many of the harsh realities of life, would not have been in on these type of jokes.

    But perhaps Darcy's response could be interpreted as his flinging a little sexual innuendo at her innocent helpfulness - a private male joke! Otherwise , why didn't he just say 'no thank, I'm fine'?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yes, it is exactly that, Jill Heydt Stevenson's only error was in not realizing where Jane Austen borrowed that sexual innuendo from! I will be posting an explanation on this very point at my blog this evening, and will post a link to my blog post here then.

    Cheers, ARNIE PERLSTEIN
    @JaneAustenCode on Twitter

    ReplyDelete
  5. And here's the link I promised to the blog post that explains why the answer is yes:


    Rapidly fingering flowing pens of twin Lotharios, Mr. Darcy & Clarissa’s Lovelace http://tinyurl.com/psmzb5k

    ReplyDelete
  6. I really enjoy reading and also appreciate your work.
    Sex Dating

    ReplyDelete
  7. Online sex adult live chat
    Hey to everyone, it’s my first visit of the blog site; this blog includes awesome and actually best info for the visitors.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wow! Such an amazing and helpful post this is. I really really love it. It's so good and so awesome. I am just amazed. I hope that you continue to do your work like this in the future also viagra

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wow, excellent post. I'd like to draft like this too - taking time and real hard work to make a great article. This post has encouraged me to write some posts that I am going to write soon. http://www.shuttlesky.in/elevator-company-delhi.html

    ReplyDelete
  10. shuttlesky
    i was just browsing along and came upon your blog. just wanted to say good blog and this article really helped me.
    https://shuttlesky.in/elevator-company-delhi.html

    ReplyDelete
  11. I think this is an informative post and it is very beneficial and knowledgeable. Therefore, I would like to thank you for the endeavors that you have made in writing this article. All the content is absolutely well-researched. Thanks... 안전놀이터

    ReplyDelete
  12. Wow, What an Outstanding post. I found this too much informatics. It is what I was seeking for. I would like to recommend you that please keep sharing such type of info.If possible, Thanks. 안전놀이터

    ReplyDelete
  13. This is actually the kind of information I have been trying to find. Thank you for writing this information. moviespur

    ReplyDelete
  14. This is actually the kind of information I have been trying to find. Thank you for writing this information. iflix

    ReplyDelete
  15. i am always looking for some free stuffs over the internet. there are also some companies which gives free samples. extratorrent

    ReplyDelete
  16. Pretty good post. I have just stumbled upon your blog and enjoyed reading your blog posts very much. I am looking for new posts to get more precious info. Big thanks for the useful info. worldfree4u

    ReplyDelete
  17. This is actually the kind of information I have been trying to find. Thank you for writing this information. matka resut

    ReplyDelete
  18. The article looks magnificent, but it would be beneficial if you can share more about the suchlike subjects in the future. Keep posting. indian matka

    ReplyDelete
  19. Yes, I am entirely agreed with this article, and I just want say that this article is very helpful and enlightening. I also have some precious piece of concerned info !!!!!!Thanks. sattamatka.news

    ReplyDelete
  20. I’ve read some good stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much effort you put to create such a great informative website. Canninghill Piers Showflat

    ReplyDelete
  21. This is actually the kind of information I have been trying to find. Thank you for writing this information. The Commodore Price

    ReplyDelete
  22. Nice post. I was checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed! Extremely useful info specially the last part I care for such information a lot. I was seeking this certain info for a long time. Thank you and good luck. Uwatchfree

    ReplyDelete
  23. Thank you very much for this great post. 토토사이트

    ReplyDelete
  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Thanks for the blog filled with so many information. Stopping by your blog helped me to get what I was looking for. Now my task has become as easy as ABC. keluaran hongkong

    ReplyDelete
  26. Good website! I truly love how it is easy on my eyes it is. I am wondering how I might be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your RSS which may do the trick? Have a great day! terrassement Gers

    ReplyDelete
  27. I got this blog site through my friends and when I searched this really there were informative articles at the place.
    Kamagra Kopen

    ReplyDelete
  28. From what I understand, mending someone's pen (in a literal sense) would have been considered something that only a person one was intimate with would be allowed to do. Another reference in Austen to pen mending comes from Mansfield Park when Edmund helps Fanny in this way as children. Simply, I don't necessarily believe the pen mending to be anything other than Caroline attempting to reach for more intimacy than Darcy is interested in allowing and is rebuked. The "Dick" joke though, does seem to be meant as we would interpret it today. There are certainly other times when references to sexuality are made in her works. Certain flirtations that she is delicate enough with (she was not usually overt) but are still obviously meant to be disgusting to the reader. Another moment from MP comes to mind. Mary Crawford is very aware of how inappropriate both her brother and and the elder Miss Bertram are behaving. So much so that she, in order to pacify Mr. Rushworth, mentions Miss Bertram seeming "maternal" when in fact, the two are simply using the play as an excuse to touch one another to a degree that was considered unacceptable. Austen was aware of sex. She had brothers and more worldly cousins. She traveled to London to meet with publishers and knew enough at a young age of the ways of the world to write Lady Susan. Her work is not devoid of sexual allusion at all. Yet I think that an impropriety of emotional intimacy was likely more gross to her (Lydia's comments about her friendship with Mrs. Foster and their supposed intimacy comes to mind) as physical intimacy and the jokes people were likely to make about the subject.

    ReplyDelete