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

Saturday, September 25, 2010

SIR THOMAS BERTRAM: A PRICELESS MAN OF DOLORS AND SENSE

In my post of a few days ago entitled “Priceless!”….

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/09/priceless.html

….I analyzed the following 2-paragraph passage of narration in Chapter 28 of MP describing Sir Thomas’s thoughts about Fanny and Henry Crawford as a possible match, and I concluded my analysis as follows:

“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!”

At this point, several folks in these groups leapt to Sir Thomas’s defense, essentially saying, okay, he may not be the greatest guy in the world, but he meant well and at least he got his act together as a father and uncle by the end of the novel, and saw the error of his former parenting ways, and made amends, and got rid of Mrs. Norris.

After all, in the first part of the final Chapter 48, we have not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but SIX consecutive paragraphs detailing Sir Thomas’s take on everything that had happened in the novel up till then. JA seems to feel she needs to REALLY emphasize that this poor guy has been through a lot, sorta like Job from the Bible, and look at how he certainly sounds like he has learnt his lessons, etc etc..

Well…..I am here today to lay to rest—or at the very least give you some second thoughts about-- the notion that JA intended for her readers to close the book after reading the last chapter thinking forgiving thoughts about Sir Thomas.

And in so doing, I am going to finally give full IRONIC meaning to the narrator’s one massive and very very famous intrusion in MP, in the FIRST paragraph of that same Chapter 48:

“Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest. “

So there! It sure looks like JA, in those six paragraphs about Sir Thomas, which follow that outburst almost immediately, delivers on that promise—the narrator indeed does NOT dwell on guilt and misery, as she well might have done in rendering a verdict on Sir Thomas. But that would be an “odious subject” and so it is a no-no in this “happy ending” to this bleak and disturbing novel which, among all of JA’s novels, is filled with the most varied and extensive forms of unhappiness.

So….….if we’ve already had six consecutive paragraphs (one of them EXTREMELY long), summing things up about Sir Thomas, it might seem a little slovenly of JA as an author, in slipping two more paragraphs about Sir Thomas later in that same Chapter 48, in fact, in the fifth and fourth paragraphs from the very end of the novel itself.

Take a look at the first of those two later paragraphs now, they describe Sir Thomas’s reaction to Fanny and Edmund’s coming together as husband and wife:

“Their own inclinations ascertained, there were no difficulties behind, no drawback of poverty or parent. It was a match which Sir Thomas’s wishes had even forestalled. Sick of ambitious and mercenary connexions, prizing more and more the sterling good of principle and temper, and chiefly anxious to bind by the strongest securities all that remained to him of domestic felicity, he had pondered with genuine satisfaction on the more than possibility of the two young friends finding their natural consolation in each other for all that had occurred of disappointment to either; and the joyful consent which met Edmund’s application, the high sense of having realised a great acquisition in the promise of Fanny for a daughter, formed just such a contrast with his early opinion on the subject when the poor little girl’s coming had been first agitated, as time is for ever producing between the plans and decisions of mortals, for their own instruction, and their neighbours’ entertainment.”

OK, the defenders of Sir Thomas will say, what’s the big deal? It says that he was “Sick of ambitious and mercenary connexions”, and then it proceeds to detail exactly how he gives consent to Edmund marrying a girl with ZERO thousand pounds. Isn’t that pretty much the fulfillment of those six previous paragraphs, showing in a very tangible way that Sir Thomas is truly a changed man about this particular issue where he had previously stumbled badly, not only with Maria but also with Fanny?

Well…perhaps some of you, with the buildup I gave you , above, and my connecting this paragraph to those two paragraphs about Sir Thomas’s attempts to stifle his desire to match Fanny with Henry Crawford twenty chapters earlier, are smelling a rat, or perhaps, more fittingly to this novel, a creepmouse? And if you are suspecting me of setting a small trap for you in all of this, you are one hundred percent correct. I can only assure you I did it with the best of intentions, which to me means, my attempt to bring to light JA’s intentions in the little charade I claim she has played here.

I leave it to other pens to perform the odious task of analyzing Sir Thomas’s thoughts about Fanny and Edmund in the above paragraph in a negative light, and instead I will have done with this post by simply re-producing that same paragraph, but this time putting in ALL CAPS the words which I believe will make crystal clear why I asserted that JA most certainly did NOT wish her readers to close the book forgiving Sir Thomas for his sins during the novel. Instead, I believe the proper response of the reader who understands the true meaning of that paragraph will be to hope and pray that Edmund develops enough of a spine to NOT reprise his brief and very uninspiring performance as Pandarus, when it comes time to marrying Susan Price off---because otherwise, Susan’s gonna need a much bigger knife to protect her from what might be coming her way when Sir Thomas starts noticing HER looks:

“Their own inclinations ascertained, there were no difficulties behind, no DRAWBACK OF POVERTY or parent. It was a match which Sir Thomas’s wishes had even FORESTALLED. Sick of ambitious and mercenary connexions, PRIZING more and more the STERLING good of principle and temper, and chiefly anxious to BIND BY THE STRONGEST SECURITIES all that remained to him of domestic felicity, he had pondered with genuine SATISFACTION on the more than possibility of the two young friends finding their natural consolation in each other for all that had occurred of disappointment to either; and the joyful consent which met Edmund’s application, the HIGH SENSE of having REALISED A GREAT ACQUISITION in the promise of Fanny for a daughter, formed just such a contrast with his early opinion on the subject when the poor little girl’s coming had been first agitated, as time is for ever producing between the plans and decisions of mortals, for their own instruction, and their neighbours’ entertainment.”

Cheers, Arnie

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