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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sadism and Maria Bertram...and also Lydia Bennet

And here is third of my posts, in two parts, first responding to Diane Reynolds, then to Ellen Moody, both about Maria Bertram:

[Diane] "A thread of male sadism runs towards Maria: I am puzzling over the way various men in the novel seem to want to punish her. Henry wants to discipline her, both by loving her and leaving her, and then by throwing in her face his marriage to Fanny. He wants to knock her down a few pegs. Sir Thomas never explicitly punishes her until the end, but she perceives him as a great restraint on her activities--and in the end he exiles her. Interestingly, Fanny's father, Maria's uncle (and uncles don't fare well in this novel) wants to whip Maria with a rope, I believe, for running off with Henry, in one of the more chilling little interludes it the book. So we find a sadistic edge in how men regard her, probably because she is the woman who takes risks, who goes out of bounds. But, of course, as with Lydia, JA also condemns her. Now, getting back to Sir Thomas--does Fanny's father mirror him in some ways?"


Diane, This is excellent stuff, most of all your intuition that this is a penumbra of male anger toward females who seek to assert themselves.

And how characteristic of JA to have her "starlings"--Maria and Mary-- be flawed and un-heroine-like! JA denies the careful, discerning reader any easy answers--I claim she wanted us to move past the superficial, easy answer that Maria is just selfish and out of control, and wants us to be forced to be ambivalent.

Again, very nicely done, you found the "key" to open a great "gate" here!

P.S. My first association upon reading your Subject Line was to the title o the film "Sex and Lucia".

Then I connected the dots between Diane's post about Maria Bertram and the following one about Mr. Bennet's anger toward HIS transgressive daughter, Lydia:

[Ellen Moody] "I do recall there's a word in_P&P_ which suggests Mr Bennet is deeply angry at Lydia and would have let her know it had he caught up with her in London."

Several months ago, while intensively analyzing the treatment of the subordinate female characters in P&P, I, too, noticed, and was surprised by, that very same passage, Ellen, and also another one, where Mr. Bennet's anger at Lydia is strongly, almost disquietingly, emphasized--this is blunted in all the film adaptations, of course, because, I suspect, it might jar the audience too far toward darknesss, as if Mr. Bennet on a couple of occasions took off the witty ironical mask and revealed real harsh anger beneath.

But, to analogize to TS Eliot's famous complaint about Hamlet (which Eliot later, _unfamously,_ withdrew, by the way), Mr. Bennet's anger at Lydia as reported in the text of the novel seems _too_ strong for the circumstances, because it is so extremely _atypical_ for him--he who makes a joke minimizing every evil, no matter how significant, suddenly sounds for those few sentences to be a differrent man, whose anger is not ironized at all.

Serious as Lydia's transgression obviously is, I sense something more there, it's as if Mr. Bennet feels _betrayed_ by Lydia, which would seem to make no sense, because nothing in the novel I can think of would suggest that Mr. Bennet ever expected Lydia to be thinking about the welfare of her family. Here is what the text of the novel reveals to us about Mr. Bennet's thoughts about Lydia going to Brighton:

Ch. 39: "She had not been many hours at home before she found that the Brighton scheme, of which Lydia had given them a hint at the inn, was under frequent discussion between her parents. Elizabeth saw directly that her father had not the smallest intention of yielding; but his answers were at the same time so vague and equivocal, that her mother, though often disheartened, had never yet despaired of succeeding at last."

Ch. 41: "If one could but go to Brighton!" observed Mrs. Bennet. [Lydia] "Oh, yes! -- if one could but go to Brighton! but papa is so disagreeable."

"If you were aware," said Elizabeth, "of the very great disadvantage to us all which must arise from the public notice of Lydia's unguarded and imprudent manner -- nay, which has already arisen from it, I am sure you would judge differently in the affair."

"Already arisen?" repeated Mr. Bennet. "What, has she frightened away some of your lovers? Poor little Lizzy! But do not be cast down. Such squeamish youths as cannot bear to be connected with a little absurdity are not worth a regret. Come, let me see the list of the pitiful fellows who have been kept aloof by Lydia's folly."........... Mr. Bennet saw that her whole heart was in the subject, and affectionately taking her hand, said in reply -- "Do not make yourself uneasy, my love. Wherever you and Jane are known you must be respected and valued; and you will not appear to less advantage for having a couple of -- or I may say, three very silly sisters. We shall have no peace at Longbourn if Lydia does not go to Brighton. Let her go, then. Colonel Forster is a sensible man, and will keep her out of any real mischief; and she is luckily too poor to be an object of prey to anybody. At Brighton she will be of less importance even as a common flirt than she has been here. The officers will find women better worth their notice. Let us hope, therefore, that her being there may teach her her own insignificance. At any rate, she cannot grow many degrees worse, without authorizing us to lock her up for the rest of her life."

With this answer Elizabeth was forced to be content.....



Sure, it could be very plausibly argued that Mr. Bennet's uncharacteristically strong anger at Lydia is a displacement of anger at _himself_....but, on a purely subjective level, to me it almost feels like Mr. Bennet at first feels abandoned by Lydia! And that would fit with the final sentence of his ironical little speech in Chapter 41, this strange little fantasy of locking Lydia up for the rest of her life!

And that is the segue to Maria Bertram, the starling who cannot get out of the cage that she feels Sir Thomas keeps her in, such that, the sails of his ship to Antigua have barely disappeared over the horizon before Maria starts angling for a husband to free her from _her_ cage. There are numerous and surely not accidental parallels between Maria and Lydia.

[Ellen] "But Diane, read the narrator too. As narrator, Austen treats Maria with venom. The paragraph describing Maria's motives for marrying is as nasty as any paragraph in S&S about Mrs Ferrars."

Let's look at how Maria is judged in the final chapter of MP (I've edited down the text to focus exclusively on her), I intersperse my comments in brackets:

"The high spirit and strong passions of Mrs. Rushworth, especially, were made known to [Sir T] only in their sad result. She was not to be prevailed on to leave Mr. Crawford. She hoped to marry him, and they continued together till she was obliged to be convinced that such hope was vain, and till the disappointment and wretchedness arising from the conviction rendered her temper so bad, and her feelings for him so like hatred, as to make them for a while each other’s punishment, and then induce a voluntary separation.

She had lived with him to be reproached as the ruin of all his happiness in Fanny, and carried away no better consolation in leaving him than that she _had_ divided them. What can exceed the misery of such a mind in such a situation?

[So far, I don't hear venom toward Maria so far...]

She had despised [Mr. Rushworth], and loved another...the disappointments of selfish passion can excite little pity....a deeper punishment the deeper guilt of his wife.....she must withdraw with infinitely stronger feelings to a retirement and reproach which could allow no second spring of hope or character.

[...but that _is_ harsh, consigning her to a permanent hopeless misery]

....Sir Thomas very solemnly assured [Mrs. Norris] that, had there been no young woman in question, had there been no young person of either sex belonging to him, to be endangered by the society or hurt by the character of Mrs. Rushworth, he would never have offered so great an insult to the neighbourhood as to expect it to notice her. As a daughter, he hoped a penitent one, she should be protected by him, and secured in every comfort, and supported by every encouragement to do right, which their relative situations admitted; but farther than _that_ he could not go. Maria had destroyed her own character, and he would not, by a vain attempt to restore what never could be restored, by affording his sanction to vice, or in seeking to lessen its disgrace, be anywise accessory to introducing such misery in another man’s family as he had known himself.

[That section is entirely how Sir Thomas, not the narrator, judges Maria]

It ended in Mrs. Norris’s resolving to quit Mansfield and devote herself to her unfortunate Maria, and in an establishment being formed for them in another country, remote and private, where, shut up together with little society, on one side no affection, on the other no judgment, it may be reasonably supposed that their tempers became their mutual punishment.

[And I never noticed before the narratorial hedge "It may reasonably be supposed"! In a way, if Maria's paramount goal all along was to get away from her father, as I believe it was, then in a strange way, this outcome is a success for her. We are not in Maria's head, so we don't know what was the effect on her personality of the entire nightmare of her marriage to Rushworth and her affair with Henry--I think it is possible that she learned from it, and that at least some of her former arrogant selfishness might have been burned away by the fire of such a dreadful experience]

...Maria’s guilt had induced Julia’s folly.

[And yes, there is a judgment by the narrator on Maria, but it is not venomous]


"...[Henry] saw Mrs. Rushworth, was received by her with a coldness which ought to have been repulsive, and have established apparent indifference between them for ever; but he was mortified, he could not bear to be thrown off by the woman whose smiles had been so wholly at his command: he must exert himself to subdue so proud a display of resentment; it was anger on Fanny’s account; he must get the better of
it, and make Mrs. Rushworth Maria Bertram again in her treatment of himself.

In this spirit he began the attack, and by animated perseverance had soon re–established the sort of familiar intercourse, of gallantry, of flirtation, which bounded his views; but in triumphing over the discretion which, though beginning in anger, might have saved them both, he had put himself in the power of feelings on her side more strong than he had supposed. She loved him; there was no withdrawing attentions avowedly dear to her. He was entangled by his own vanity, with as little
excuse of love as possible, and without the smallest inconstancy of mind towards her cousin. To keep Fanny and the Bertrams from a knowledge of what was passing became his first object. Secrecy could not have been more desirable for Mrs. Rushworth’s credit than he felt it for his own.
When he returned from Richmond, he would have been glad to see Mrs. Rushworth no more. All that followed was the result of her imprudence; and he went off with her at last, because he could not help it....

[And no venomousness there either]


Ellen, where else do you see the narrator being venomous toward Maria?

Cheers, ARNIE

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