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

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Edmund, Edward & Mr. Elton: The Three Oxfordians

You know the way Alfred Hitchcock always worked himself into a little cameo in every one of his films? And even though I can't recall at the moment, I am sure there are a number of novels and plays in which the author embedded an in-joke, by having characters from one of their novels slip into the background of another of their novels in which they do not belong, like actors inadvertently stumbling into the wrong play.

These thoughts all arose in my mind as I was reading the following passage in Ch. 46 of MP:

"Just before their setting out from Oxford, while Susan was stationed at a window, in eager observation of the departure of a large family from the inn, the other two [Fanny and Edmund] were standing by the fire..."

Today, I noticed that large family for the first time, and I wondered if there might be any way of knowing _which_ large family that might have been that Susan observed departing from the inn where Fanny, Susan and Edmund spent the evening en route back to Mansfield Park from Portsmouth? I then took that wild thought one giant step further, and wondered if there might there be some sly connection to a large family that we already know from one of JA's _other_ novels? Or was it just, as that passage has always been read when it has been noticed at all, just background detail?

Given JA's precise hidden calendars for all her novels, and putting aside for the moment the question of particular years, I made the assumption that if JA _were_ to play a trick like this, she would make sure that there was a close alignment of both date _and_ location, between two different novels.

So, in MP, I quickly verified that Edmund and the two Price sisters spent that evening at the inn in early May. Then I turned to the other novels to see if any _other_ characters were in Oxford in early May. And it turns out there is one other character--Edward Ferrars, who spends several weeks in Oxford during the spring, and then leaves Oxford in early May, on pretty much the same date when Edmund et al pass through Oxford! So I realized I had enough smoke here to justify some more digging to see if there really might be fire.....

I then noted another parallelism, in terms of the action that occurs at that moment in both MP and S&S. In S&S, Edward leaves Oxford in early May because he has just received Lucy's letter informing him of her marriage to Robert, and then, being free of Lucy, he immediately goes to Devonshire to propose to Elinor. And is it then just a coincidence that it is more or less the same date that Edmund leaves Oxford to take Fanny to Northamptonshire, and then not long afterwards proposes to Fanny?!

And there's more to the parallels, of course. Edmund and Edward are, as I have noted in several messages over the past few years, very similar characters in the Austen oeuvre: they are far and away the two _least_ romantic heroes of the six: they are both phlegmatic, not very romantic, not-very-dashing country clergymen who both wind up with Austen's most serious-minded heroines!

And so I it possible that the large family that departs from the inn in Oxford might have been.....Lucy Steele's Holborn cousins and/or the Richardsons mentioned in Ch. 38 of S&S?:

Perhaps their travel through Oxford was for the purpose of attending Lucy's wedding with Robert, prior to the happy couple's decampment to their Dawlish cottage? Perhaps Lucy used some of the money she borrowed from sister Ann to pay for a few frills at her wedding to Robert, to compensate for not having the large wedding that she would have had, had Mrs. Ferrars known and approved of the match.

Yes, it's very speculative, but I find this a very intriguing.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. : I almost forgot to mention the following question posed by Harriet to Emma:

"Will Mr. Frank Churchill pass through Bath as well as Oxford?"—was a question, however, which did not augur much."

It may not have augured much to the clueless Emma, but might this comment by Harriet have anything to do with the likelihood that not long before then _Mr. Elton_--like Edmund and Edward, also a country clergyman--would have passed through Oxford on _his_ way to get married to Miss Hawkins in Bath after a _very_ short engagement?

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