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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Making hay while the sun shines and Mary as shrubbery

In making my claim yesterday, via various lines of evidence, that the conversation between Mary and Fanny at the Parsonage in Chapter 22, while superficially about change over time in the shrubbery, and memory of same, is also, beneath the surface, a coded or veiled conversation about Edmund, I knew I was drawing, in part, upon all my experience discovering OTHER coded or veiled conversations between characters which I have found in every one of JA's novels, in a large variety of scenes.

However, it was not until I woke up this morning that I recalled that there was another such coded conversation earlier in Mansfield Park itself, which—NOT coincidentally-ALSO takes place out of doors; ALSO is superficially about change over time in a landscape, and memory of same; and ALSO has as its subtext romantic relations between male and female human beings. I am, of course, referring to the passage immortalized forever by Jill Heydt Stevenson, in Chapter 10 of MP, outside the locked gate barring entrance into the Sotherton wilderness and its wonderfully named “ha-ha”.

I now reproduce it below, with my bracketed comments illustrating how the “code” works in this passage, and in so doing, I hope to illustrate, in a passage where a veiled interpretation is not in doubt because it is so obviously going on, the same principles which I claim underlie the passage in Chapter 22 which was in controversy here yesterday:

"After some minutes spent in this way, Miss Bertram, observing the iron gate, expressed a wish of passing through it into the park, that their views and their plans might be more comprehensive....

[Those more comprehensive views and plans being of a sexual nature between her and Henry Crawford, and which are only attainable when such views and plans are not impeded by unnecessary clothing]

...It was the very thing of all others to be wished, it was the best, it was the only way of proceeding with any advantage, in Henry Crawford’s opinion;

[Indeed, from Maria’s and Henry's amorous point of view, to get some private time in the woods was the best and only way of proceeding to do what they had each been tempting the other to do, for a half dozen chapters]

…and he directly saw a knoll not half a mile off, which would give them exactly the requisite command of the house. Go therefore they must to that knoll, and through that gate; but the gate was locked….

[And that command of a view of the house was requisite, so that while they would be hidden from view by others, they would be able to see if anyone else was approaching who might catch them in extremis. Plus, of course, the symbolism of the locked gate and the key has not been lost on a hundred Austen scholars, including JHS, who have written about this scene.]

…Mr. Rushworth wished he had brought the key; he had been very near thinking whether he should not bring the key; he was determined he would never come without the key again; but still this did not remove the present evil. They could not get through; and as Miss Bertram’s inclination for so doing did by no means lessen, it ended in Mr. Rushworth’s declaring outright that he would go and fetch the key. He set off accordingly….

[Mr. Rushworth’s “key” (in both the literal and symbolic sense) is not necessary to open the “gate” that Henry wishes to open, Maria is only interested in Henry's "key"—they just need to get rid of Rushworth long enough to make their escape]

..“It is undoubtedly the best thing we can do now, as we are so far from the house already,” said Mr. Crawford, when he was gone.

“Yes, there is nothing else to be done. But now, sincerely, do not you find the place altogether worse than you expected?”

[And THIS is the part that begins to cast direct light on that passage in Chapter 22. When Maria refers to “the place”, she superficially seems to refer to Sotherton---but covertly, she is of course referring to herself, i.e., her own new circumstance in life, as an engaged woman. She’s asking Crawford, in effect, “Now that I’m engaged to doltish Rushworth, does that make me less attractive to you?”]

…“No, indeed, far otherwise. I find it better, grander, more complete in its style, though that style may not be the best. And to tell you the truth,” speaking rather lower, “I do not think that I shall ever see Sotherton again with so much pleasure as I do now. Another summer will hardly improve it to me.”…

[By which Crawford first flatters her, and then asserts that the present is the best possible moment for them to “act”, it won’t be wise to wait for her to be married, and then perhaps pregnant, and then a mother with a baby—no, he wants Maria NOW, when she is as attractive to him as she will ever be]

…After a moment’s embarrassment the lady replied, “You are too much a man of the world not to see with the eyes of the world. If other people think Sotherton improved, I have no doubt that you will.”

[Even Maria has been a bit nonplussed by Crawford’s brazen assessment of her as a potential sexual partner for him, but, being spunky, she argues that she will be just as desirable even after she is married to Rushworth—she negotiates, but you get the feeling that it’s a negotiation she wants to lose, she just wants him to work a little bit to convince her, that will make her feel even more desirable]

…“I am afraid I am not quite so much the man of the world as might be good for me in some points. My feelings are not quite so evanescent, nor my memory of the past under such easy dominion as one finds to be the case with men of the world.”…

[But Henry is himself a master of this sort of negotiation, and he’s saying, basically, if we don’t do it now, I may not be interested in doing it later--and it's a very persuasive argument, because he is an inveterate rake, and he WILL lose interest later-his dangerousness is exactly what attracts Maria.]

…This was followed by a short silence. Miss Bertram began again. “You seemed to enjoy your drive here very much this morning. I was glad to see you so well entertained. You and Julia were laughing the whole way.”

[And, as in the conversation between Mary and Fanny at the Parsonage garden, this is a change of tack by one of the coded conversants—Maria has one other major reservation about letting Henry have his way with her, and it's Maria's (well founded) jealousy of her sister, Julia. So she is now asking Henry, what about all your flirtatiousness with Julia? Aren’t you still interested in her?]

…“Were we? Yes, I believe we were; but I have not the least recollection at what. Oh! I believe I was relating to her some ridiculous stories of an old Irish groom of my uncle’s. Your sister loves to laugh.”

“You think her more light–hearted than I am?”

“More easily amused,” he replied; “consequently, you know,” smiling, “better company. I could not have hoped to entertain you with Irish anecdotes during a ten miles’ drive.”

[And here Henry’s saying to Maria, if you want to compete with Julia in this bidding war, you’re going to have to do a whole lot better, she’s a lot more fun, and a whole lot easier, than you are. But he's so smooth, because he's also flattering Maria, in effect suggesting that Julia is TOO easy, she has ruined the fun of the chase for him, but he has high hopes that Maria will provide his jaded palate a more sophisticated “meal” than Julia can]

“Naturally, I believe, I am as lively as Julia, but I have more to think of now.”

“You have, undoubtedly; and there are situations in which very high spirits would denote insensibility. Your prospects, however, are too fair to justify want of spirits. You have a very smiling scene before you.”

[In other words, carpe diem, baby, seize the moment, it’s now or never—if you can’t raise a “smile” about this moment, when we have the opportunity to be alone outside for a long enough time, then you’re not ever going to ]

…“Do you mean literally or figuratively? Literally, I conclude. …

[And there, in that question of Maria’s, JA takes off the authorial mask for just a sentence, and makes sure that her readers realize that all of this conversation is meant to be understood both literally AND figuratively!]

…Yes, certainly, the sun shines, and the park looks very cheerful….

[And isn’t the old expression, “make hay while the sun shines”??---in other words, time’s a wastin’! Maria has made her decision, she has played hard to get just long enough to whet both of their appetites, now it’s time to make some hay—and, in that regard, it’s no coincidence that the local hay harvest interferes with the delivery of Mary’s harp from London!]

… But unluckily that iron gate, that ha–ha, give me a feeling of restraint and hardship. ‘I cannot get out,’ as the starling said.” As she spoke, and it was with expression, she walked to the gate: he followed her. “Mr. Rushworth is so long fetching this key!”..

[Of course it was with expression, this is, from Maria’s point of view, for all the marble. In other words, she’s saying, I am ready to be alone with you, but WHAT are we going to do about Fanny and Rushworth when he comes back?]

“And for the world you would not get out without the key and without Mr. Rushworth’s authority and protection, or I think you might with little difficulty pass round the edge of the gate, here, with my assistance; I think it might be done, if you really wished to be more at large, and could allow yourself to think it not prohibited.”

[And there we have Henry Crawford, the man with all the answers!—but note that he does not miss this opportunity for further teasing and titillation, by suggesting that Maria might not be “bad” enough to jump the gate ]

“Prohibited! nonsense! I certainly can get out that way, and I will. Mr. Rushworth will be here in a moment, you know; we shall not be out of sight.”

[Again, Maria makes it clear that it’s time to stop beating around the bush…]

“Or if we are, Miss Price will be so good as to tell him that he will find us near that knoll: the grove of oak on the knoll.”

Fanny, feeling all this to be wrong, could not help making an effort to prevent it. “You will hurt yourself, Miss Bertram,” she cried; “you will certainly hurt yourself against those spikes; you will tear your gown; you will be in danger of slipping into the ha–ha. You had better not go.”

[And that of course is the passage that JHS chose as the emblem of her argument, and rightly so. Fanny is not so na├»ve as to fail to note what is going on here, and indeed she would be “feeling all this to be wrong” for a lot more reasons than jumping a locked gate.]

…Her cousin was safe on the other side while these words were spoken, and, smiling with all the good–humour of success, she said, “Thank you, my dear Fanny, but I and my gown are alive and well, and so good–bye.”

Fanny was again left to her solitude, and with no increase of pleasant feelings, for she was sorry for almost all that she had seen and heard, astonished at Miss Bertram, and angry with Mr. Crawford. By taking a circuitous route, and, as it appeared to her, very unreasonable direction to the knoll, they were soon beyond her eye; and for some minutes longer she remained without sight or sound of any companion. She seemed to have the little wood all to herself. END OF EXCERPT



So, I hope that I have given pause to any of you who have been skeptical as to my arguments about Fanny and Mary’s coded conversation about Edmund, because I believe I have shown that exactly the same sort of coded, veiled communication is going on in both scenes, which JA has staged in strikingly similar circumstances, about a topic which the two conversants agree must not be spoken openly.

In the above copied scene, of course it is obvious why Maria and Henry speak in code—they cannot be explicit in the presence of Rushworth and Fanny. But in the other scene, there is no third person present to conceal things from. It is, rather, a kind of verbal cat and mouse game between Fanny and Mary—Fanny of course is not about to tell Mary about her own feelings for Edmund, and Mary is not about to let Fanny know that Mary ALREADY KNOWS about Fanny’s feelings for Edmund.

Cheers, ARNIE

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