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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Priceless!

I was looking at Chapter 27 of MP today for the first time in a very long while, and was immediately struck by the extraordinarily virtuosic language deployed by JA in describing Sir Thomas Bertram's Byzantine thought processes relative to the warming of relations between the Bertrams and the Grants/Crawfords, and in particular, the possibility of a match between Henry Crawford and Fanny Price.

I quickly realized that the first two paragraphs of Chapter 27 were startlingly analogous, in both form AND content, to the much more famous literary effect achieved by JA in Chapter 2 of S&S, where we see the gradual snuffing out of a faint spark of decency and generosity in John Dashwood over the course of an entire chapter. Here, we see, telescoped down into the space of two short paragraphs, that same sort of ironic depiction of the stages of rationalization and self-deception of Sir Thomas, the one man in all of JA's novels who puts John Dashwood's hypocrisy in the shade, because Sir Thomas doesn't have the one excuse John D. has, i.e., of being pressured to do very bad things by an avaricious, subtly dictatorial wife.

I think it is clear that JA was paying a discreet homage to her own achievement in Chapter 2 of S&S. What do you think?:

"The intercourse of the two families was at this period more nearly restored to what it had been in the autumn, than any member of the old intimacy had thought ever likely to be again. The return of Henry Crawford, and the arrival of William Price, had much to do with it, but much was still owing to Sir Thomas’s more than toleration of the neighbourly attempts at the Parsonage. His mind, now disengaged from the cares which had pressed on him at first, was at leisure to find the Grants
and their young inmates really worth visiting; and though infinitely above scheming or contriving for any the most advantageous matrimonial establishment that could be among the apparent possibilities of any one most dear to him, and disdaining even as a littleness the being quick–sighted on such points, he could not avoid perceiving, in a grand and careless way, that Mr. Crawford was somewhat distinguishing his niece—
nor perhaps refrain (though unconsciously) from giving a more willing assent to invitations on that account.

His readiness, however, in agreeing to dine at the Parsonage, when the general invitation was at last hazarded, after many debates and many doubts as to whether it were worth while, “because Sir Thomas seemed so ill inclined, and Lady Bertram was so indolent!” proceeded from good–breeding and goodwill alone, and had nothing to do with Mr. Crawford, but as being one in an agreeable group: for it was in the course of that very visit that he first began to think that any one in the habit of such
idle observations would have thought that Mr. Crawford was the admirer of Fanny Price."

Note the quick slide down the slippery slope from "infinitely above" to "disdaining even as a littleness" still further to "could not avoid perceiving, in a grand and careless way" to "nor perhaps refrain (though unconsciously)" to "any one in the habit of such idle observations".

It is only such a man, capable of such deep self deception, in his own mind, if nowhere else, a wise and just Paterfamilias, who can think such thoughts, and then not long after turn around and first attempt to purchase compliance from Fanny to marry Henry Crawford by giving her a fire in her frigid attic room, and then, when she refuses, by exiling her to Siber--I mean, Plymouth.

As they say in the American Express commercial---priceless!

Cheers, ARNIE

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