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

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Kosher Concerns of Fanny Price

Elissa: “Arnie, that both the first two Books of the Bible and Austen's MP involve stories of fathers and sons is true. Any profundity of relationship between the two ends there.”

Elissa, perhaps you will reconsider when you read the following, which happens to be concerned with the THIRD book of the Bible!

More specifically, continuing a bit longer (and I claim equally fruitfully) on the theme of covert Biblical allusions in MP, I hope you will find appetizing and kosher this next tidbit I am offering for your intellectual consumption….. ;)

Earlier this year, in Janeites and Austen-L, Anielka first made an insightful catch of a covert allusion by JA to the Biblical book of Lamentations, in turn referring to a prophecy of cannibalism in the earlier Biblical book of Leviticus, and then followed that with another insightful discussion of undertones of Leviticus in MP, in terms of restrictions on incest vis a vis cousin marriages (which actually was a topic first discussed in passing in Austen-L back in 1998-9).

Now, while further pursuing my recent line of inquiry into Fanny Price’s experiences with the Crawfords—with Mary in the Parsonage shrubbery, and then with Henry in Portsmouth, etc., I suddenly realized yet another important covert Biblical allusion in MP, which relates, in a way, to both of the allusions summarized above.

Specifically I saw Leviticus in the most unlikely place, in the descriptions of Fanny’s violent aversion to the dietary regime in the Price home in Portsmouth, as described in Chapters 41 and Chapter 42:

“Before [Fanny and Henry] parted, she had to thank him for another pleasure, and one of no trivial kind. Her father asked him to do them the honour of taking his mutton with them, and Fanny had time for only one thrill of horror, before [Henry] declared himself prevented by a prior engagement. He was engaged to dinner already both for that day and the next; he had met with some acquaintance at the Crown who would not be denied; he should have the honour, however, of waiting on them again on the morrow, etc., and so they parted—Fanny in a state of actual felicity from escaping so horrible an evil!”

“Their general fare bore a very different character; and could [Henry] have suspected how many privations, besides that of exercise, she endured in her father’s house, he would have wondered that her looks were not much more affected than he found them. She was so little equal to Rebecca’s puddings and Rebecca’s hashes, brought to table, as they all were, with such accompaniments of half–cleaned plates, and not half–cleaned knives and forks, that she was very often constrained to defer her heartiest meal till she could send her brothers in the evening for biscuits and buns.”

I already gave away the game in the Subject Line of this message, but even if I had not, I think that the above was enough to give anyone with even a passing familiarity with the dietary restrictions set forth in Leviticus, and of two millennia of rabbinical commentary on same, the idea of where I am going with this—of course I am referring to the Jewish concept of “kosher” eating! My favorite in this regard is the reference to eating utensils, and also to the Biblically drenched phrase “in her father’s house”.

And of course, there are several far-reaching metaphorical implications of this allusion for a deeper understanding of Fanny’s character and behavior in MP, which are beyond the scope of this message.

Cheers, ARNIE

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