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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fanny the evergreen and Dr. Grant's Green Geese

"Evergreens have a long history of religious significance. In Christian terms they can be said to represent eternal life, which is gained through Christ. If Austen is aiming at this level of symbolism in the quoted passage, I suspect that the hedges and shrubbery may refer to social constructs of worldly life, which are less enduring."

Derrick, given that your comment adds another wonderful layer of richness to the symbolism of Fanny as evergreen, beyond what I suggested (and, as I mentioned in my previous message, several prior commentators have seen Fanny as the evergreen as well), as she is indeed the Jesus Christ of Mansfield Park, in a dozen different ways, some of which have been discussed in these groups in the past few years, I am surprised that you are not confident that JA intended that symbolism. But I am glad you've brought this forward in any event, thanks!

I just did a word search in MP to see what other usages of the word "green" there were in MP besides Mrs. Norris's infamous green baize. My search yielded some interesting results:

First we have Mrs. Norris making the following Miss Batesian speech:

"I am sure I do not know how it was to have been done better," cried Mrs Norris, unable to be longer deaf; "unless I had gone myself, indeed; but I cannot be in two places at once; and I was talking to Mr Green at that very time about your mother's dairymaid, by _her_ desire, and had promised John Groom to write to Mrs Jefferies about his son, and the poor fellow was waiting for me half an hour."

Aside from the allusion to Maria Edgeworth's Grateful Negro (Jeffries is the name of the brutal overseer who, if memory serves me right, is killed during the slave insurrection), I find in this passage some of JA's off-the-wall humor reminiscent of "Mr. Floor" in her letter, and of the zany character and place names in her Juvenilia. Can you hear the clanging conjunction of the quasi-alliterative staccato of "Mr. Green", "John Groom" and "Mrs. Jeffries" (read that sentence aloud for fullest effect!)? What I see in the name "Mr. Green" is JA, like a juggler keeping a half dozen balls in the air, keeping the word "green" in the air as we read along....

Second, we have a couple of references to the "bowling-green", and then another to "a straight green walk", at Sotherton, all of which surely relates to the overall ambience of the Garden of Eden—it strikes me as rather a remote possibility that we are meant to infer that Adam and Eve secretly go bowling in Milton's Paradise Lost, but I have a strong hunch that all this description of trees in some way does tie into Fanny as an evergreen, even if its significance in that regard as yet eludes me….. ;)

“The lawn, bounded on each side by a high wall, contained beyond the first planted area a bowling-green, and beyond the bowling-green a long terrace walk, backed by iron palisades, and commanding a view over them into the tops of the trees of the wilderness immediately adjoining…..A considerable flight of steps landed them in the wilderness, which was a planted wood of about two acres, and though chiefly of larch and laurel, and beech cut down, and though laid out with too much regularity, was darkness and shade, and natural beauty, compared with the bowling-green and the terrace….They would go to one end of it, in the line they were then in -- for there was a straight green walk along the bottom by the side of the ha-ha -- and perhaps turn a little way in some other direction, if it seemed likely to assist them, and be back in a few minutes.”

But the most promising appearances of the word "green" in MP, I would claim, are the following two, which are (what a big surprise) both sarcastic comments by Mary Crawford regarding our old friend Dr. Grant's dietary concerns, which we seem to never quite escape during the greater portion of the novel:

“To own the truth, Henry and I were partly driven out this very evening by a disappointment about a green goose, which he could not get the better of....."We cannot prove to the contrary, to be sure; but I wish you a better fate, Miss Price, than to be the wife of a man whose amiableness depends upon his own sermons; for though he may preach himself into a good-humour every Sunday, it will be bad enough to have him quarrelling about green geese from Monday morning till Saturday night."

In all seriousness (for a moment), we have frequently seen, in all of JA's novels, various kinds of animals, especially birds, serving as symbols of human women--the one that comes to mind first are the birds whom Mr. Bennet invites Mr. Bingley to come shoot at Longbourn. So I think there is something about a "green goose" which does tie into Fanny as an "evergreen", especially as I hear an echo of the term "green sickness" in "green goose".

For all you’d ever want to know on the subject of green sickness, I refer you to Bonnie Blackwell, Literature and Medicine 21.1 (2002) 56-77 " 'An Infallible Nostrum': Female Husbands and Greensick Girls in Eighteenth-Century England ". The part that strikes me as salient to Fanny in MP, is the reference by Blackwell to"guileless young maidens who are nonetheless sexually aware enough to long for what they're missing, for they are in the throes of greensickness, which in the eighteenth century was believed to be brought on by unfulfilled sexual desire."

Hmm….Fanny is indeed often sick—I almost have the image in my mind of her face turning a shade of green after she is “knocked up” by picking roses in the heat---and we all know that her maturing body is infamously brought to our attention by Edmund's persistent and creepy harping on how Fanny's fine figure has attracted Sir Thomas's attention. So, when I connect all of that to Elissa's clever suggestion that Dr. Grant's Mr. Weston-like umbrella'd gallantry toward Fanny is not entirely wholesome, the idea of Dr. Grant making a fuss about a “green goose” has a creepy resonance in itself.

And in that prudential light, consider the following passage:

“Her eye fell everywhere on lawns and plantations of the freshest green; and the trees, though not fully clothed, were in that delightful state when farther beauty is known to be at hand, and when, while much is actually given to the sight, more yet remains for the imagination.”

The image of trees “not fully clothed” brings us right to the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, and I fear that what “yet remains for the imagination” is not merely ineffable visual beauty, but something darker.


1 comment:

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