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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sotherton the other Stone(leigh Abbey), the opposite “direction” from Norland not a Stone(leigh) Abbey

“A sense of east/west directionality has been noted by others about MP. The novel also reflects the seeds of the neogothic revival, which was to develop into the Victorian era. It was not only a reaction to industrialism, but to aristocratic licentious behaviour and neoclassical paganism, a moral revival of Christian values represented in its medieval churchlike architecture. In MP there is a directionality to this dichotomy. The west represents the neoclassical, with Sotherton being based on the model of Stoneleigh Abbey….”

There is so much to respond to in your short but absolutely brilliant concis, Derrick. First, your argument regarding the battle between east and west is utterly compelling, I can only say to it, “Well done!”—(or maybe “don well?)

I want to respond to another aspect of your comments, as to which I can pretty much guarantee that you will REALLY enjoy what I have to say (and even Nancy may be willing to concede I am not fabricating another baseless vision out of my own fevered imagination!). ;)

As I know YOU are perfectly well aware already—you first raised the topic of Sotherton as Stoneleigh Abbey in August 2008---others may not gather from what you wrote that you are not the first to suggest that Stoneleigh Abbey might have been a real life source for Sotherton in MP—in particular, as you obviously know, many commentators have noted that Repton is linked both to the real life Abbey and to the fictional Sotherton.

In the same vein, I’ve also been aware for some time, but have not previously publicly disclosed, that there is a special aptness to the name “Sotherton” in terms of the elaborate and highly significant Paradise Lost subtext of MP, in that the wilderness of Sotherton where Maria takes a fateful bite of Crawford’s apple is a fallen place, and, speaking of directionality as you so aptly do, the devil’s domain is, as we all know, due “south” of where we all spend our mortal lives here on the surface of the earth!

But your comments about Sotherton and Stoneleigh have caused me to see yet ANOTHER cluster of sophisticated wordplay by JA, something entirely unexpected and wonderful, something that has been hiding in plain sight for nearly 200 years, a cluster of wordplay that spans not one but THREE of her novels, and which provides dramatic additional verification that, on a specific level, JA indeed meant to plant a subliminal clue for her readers to think of Stoneleigh Abbey when reading the word “Sotherton”, and, on a global level, that JA engaged in unimaginably rich and complex wordplay in her novels, which only adds to the magnificence of her literary genius.

I begin by pointing out that back in August 2008, when I responded in these groups to your first post on this subject of Stoneleigh and Sotherton, I had noticed back then that the name “Sotherton” includes within it the word “stone”. What I had NOT noticed then, but only noticed today, prompted by your post—and thanks for that!!--is that, other than for the final “e”, the first four letters of “stone” also appear IN ORDER.

Now before anyone objects that this is surely a trivial and entirely accidental coincidence, and so what’s the big deal in that---well, here’s the big deal that I just realized. Consider what happens to the name “Sotherton” when you don’t disturb the order of the letters at all, but simply remove from the name “Sotherton” the letters “S’ and “ton”—being the letters which, when written in order, are sufficient to denote the word “stone, even without the “e”, which letter “e”is semantically, even if not orthographically, superfluous. What really matters is meaning, not spelling!

So, when you remove the “ston” (which, by the way, is an action that can be taken with respect to a structure made of stone—a stone may physically be removed from, e.g., a wall!—as proof that JA also thought about such an action, read on, gentle reader, read on…), what is left is the word “other”!

Which, if you think about it for half a second, is JA’s very clever and winking way of confirming that the name “Sotherton” contains within it a coded statement that it is an “OTHER Stone(Leigh) Abbey”—bingo!

If that were all there is to this, that would be enough. But there’s much more “blood” to be drawn from THIS “stone”!

JA rarely uses the word “stone” in her novels, but, in light of my suggestion that JA has played the sophisticated word game I just described, when she does, especially elsewhere in MP itself, I realized that I ought to take notice, to see if the wordplay had a greater extent in that regard.

And sure enough, look at the following passage:

“Miss Bertram could now speak with decided information of what she had known nothing about when Mr Rushworth had asked her opinion; and her spirits were in as happy a flutter as vanity and pride could furnish, when they drove up to THE SPACIOUS STONE STEPS before the principal entrance.”

Indeed, JA made sure we were aware (with a dash of alliteration for added emphasis) that it was SOTHERTON which had those “spacious stone steps”

Second, we have Mrs. Norris’s taking all the credit for the match between Mr. Rushworth and Maria, and using several words, and a hoary cliché, all implicitly or explicitly pointing to the word “stone”:

“But her chief STRENGTH lay in SOTHERTON. Her greatest SUPPORT and glory was in having formed the CONNEXION with the Rushworths. There she was IMPREGNABLE. She took to herself all the credit of bringing Mr. Rushworth’s admiration of Maria to any effect. “If I had not been active,” said she, “and made a point of being introduced to his mother, and then prevailed on my sister to pay the first visit, I am as certain as I sit here that nothing would have come of it; for Mr. Rushworth is the sort of amiable modest young man who wants a great deal of encouragement, and there were girls enough on the catch for him if we had been idle. But I LEFT NO STONE UNTURNED. I was ready to MOVE heaven and EARTH to persuade my sister, and at last I did persuade her. You know the distance to SOTHERTON; it was in the middle of winter, and the roads almost impassable, but I did persuade her.”

Here we have JA engaged in the business of creating subliminal word pictures that conjure up the image of Stoneleigh Abbey as the “ghost” lurking behind Sotherton. I am almost eerily reminded of the famous actual paintings by Monet of the GOTHIC Cathedral at Rouen, paintings that he would create eight decades AFTER JA wrote Mansfield Park!

And third, we have Henry Crawford’s characteristically mini-mock-epic description of his discovery of the mystically awful Thornton Lacey:

“I was suddenly, upon turning the corner of a steepish downy field, in the midst of a retired little village between gently rising hills; a small stream before me to be forded, a church standing on a sort of KNOLL to my right -- which CHURCH was STRIKINGLY LARGE and handsome for the place, and not a gentleman or half a gentleman's house to be seen excepting one -- to be presumed the Parsonage – WITHIN A STONE’S THROW OF THE SAID KNOLL AND CHURCH.”

Aside from the same sexualized picturesque imagery that Henry invoked beyond the gates of Sotherton’s wilderness---like something straight out of “Fanny” “Hill”---again we have more PG-rated subliminal associations to Sotherton--remember the knoll at Sotherton that Henry, accompanied by Maria, sneaks off to? And weren’t the abbeys the grandest manifestations of the power and glory of the Catholic church? And don’t we have that very memorable scene in the Sotherton chapel (which is, when you think about it, a kind of church within a church)—and the coup de grace, that (almost) leaves me speechless with admiration, is the deployment of yet ANOTHER cliché using the word “stone”, to bring home the subliminal references to Sotherton—indeed, in this paragraph, by means of all these hints and nods, are we not, in Henry’s high-blown rhetoric, truly “within a stone’s throw”, conceptually speaking, of Sotherton, with ITS knoll and “church”!?

What Henry (and of course, also the author who created him) is doing here is nothing less than painting a word portrait of Thornton Lacey as a smaller “twin” of Sotherton itself! And that name “Thornton Lacey” nearly carries within ITSELF the word “Stoneleigh”- “ton…L…y”, a resemblance that is better perceived when spoken aloud than read silently.

But THAT’s not all either….

I will now show you that all this wordplay in MP was not something JA invented out of nowhere in 1813, but actually was an extension of the same subliminal allusion she had already played with, in sophisticated form, in S&S, published 2 years before MP, and also in NA (although she worked on NA as late as 1816, so it is impossible to say which wordplay on these motifs came first, NA’s or MP’s):

First, we have Willoughby (who is after all the smooth-tongued “twin” of Henry Crawford) romantically defending, to the death as it were, the structural integrity of Barton Cottage against the dreaded evil of improvement:

“One evening in particular, about a week after Colonel Brandon had left the country, [Willoughby’s] heart seemed more than usually open to every feeling of attachment to the objects around him; and on Mrs. Dashwood's happening to mention her design of improving the cottage in the spring, he warmly opposed every alteration of a place which affection had established as perfect with him.

"What!" he exclaimed -- "Improve this dear cottage! No -- that I will never consent to. NOT A STONE MUST BE ADDED TO ITS WALLS, not an inch to its size, if my feelings are regarded."

As promised, there you have, in S&S, the textual embryo for the wordplay in MP I described, above, where the “ston” has been REMOVED, linguistically speaking!

Second we have Mrs. Jennings waxing rhapsodically, albeit a very different style of rhapsody from Fanny Price’s, about Delaford, which, like the Mansfield Parsonage, has a fruit “Tree of Knowledge”, and, unmistakably, also has that same “stony” cliché of proximity that Henry C. used, also to describe how close a church, or the home of the parson who preaches in the church, is to the principal house:

“Delaford is a nice place, I can tell you; exactly what I call a nice old fashioned place, full of comforts and conveniences; quite shut in with great garden walls that are covered with the best fruit-trees in the country: and such a mulberry tree in one corner! Lord! how Charlotte and I did stuff the only time we were there! Then, there is a dovecote, some delightful stewponds, and a very pretty canal; and everything, in short, that one could wish for: and, moreover, it is close to the church, and only a quarter of a mile from the turnpike-road, so 'tis never dull, for if you only go and sit up in an old yew arbour behind the house, you may see all the carriages that pass along. Oh! 'tis a nice place! A butcher hard by in the village, and THE PARSONAGE-HOUSE WITHIN A STONE’S THROW. To my fancy, a thousand times prettier than Barton Park, where they are forced to send three miles for their meat, and have not a neighbour nearer than your mother.”

And last but certainly not least, we have the redoubtable John Dashwood, describing to Elinor his (of course, really meaning, Fanny’s) plans for raping-oops, I mean-- improving Delaford:

"Another year or two may do much towards it," he gravely replied; "but however there is still a great deal to be done. There is NOT A STONE LAID of Fanny's greenhouse, and nothing but the plan of the flower-garden marked out."

"Where is the greenhouse to be?"

"Upon THE KNOLL BEHIND THE HOUSE. The old walnut trees are all come down to make room for it. It will be a very fine object from many parts of the park, and the flower-garden will slope down just before it, and be exceedingly pretty. We have cleared away all the old THORNS that grew in patches over the brow."

There you see that the knolls in MP are pointing back to the knoll at NORland (which, as per Derrick’s comment about directionality, is the opposite of “Sotherton”!), and also that THORNton Lacey is pointing back to the “old thorns” at Norland, and (best of all), the words “not a stone laid” are confirming that opposition by punningly telling us that Norland is “not a StoneLEIGH”!

But don’t take my word for my claims about SOTHerton and NORland. There are only two places in all of JA’s novels where the words “north” and “south” appear in the same place, and—what a big surprise—look who’s talking in both cases:

"South or north, I know a black cloud when I see it; and you must not set forward while it is so threatening.”---Mary Crawford

“I must make him know that I will not be tricked on the south side of Everingham, any more than on the north: that I will be master of my own property.”—Henry Crawford

Q.E.D. in every conceivable way.

Cheers, Arnie

P.S.: I leave it to the truly sharp elves to discover that Elizabeth Gaskell was thinking of all of the above when she came up with the title of her most famous novel! ;)

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