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

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Edmund Bertram the Great Apologist/Equivocator/Rationalizer

Distress is a word that occurs frequently in MP----50 times, to be exact, more (in total) than in any of her other novels.

I find the following four specific occurrences disturbing, in varying degrees:


"It has everything else in its favour. My aunt is acting like a sensible woman in wishing for you. She is choosing a friend and companion exactly where she ought, and I am glad her love of money does not interfere. You will be what you ought to be to her. I hope it does not DISTRESS you very much, Fanny?"

"You must excuse me, indeed you must excuse me," cried Fanny, growing more and more red from excessive agitation, and looking DISTRESSFULLY at Edmund, who was kindly observing her; but unwilling to exasperate his brother by interference, gave her only an encouraging smile.

"...do not let the idea of her anger DISTRESS you. It is anger to be talked of rather than felt. Her heart is made for love and kindness, not for resentment.”

"Your uncle thinks you very pretty, dear Fanny—and that is the long and the short of the matter. Anybody but myself would have made something more of it, and anybody but you would resent that you had not been thought very pretty before; but the truth is, that your uncle never did admire you till now—and now he does. Your complexion is so improved!—and you have gained so much countenance!—and your figure—nay, Fanny, do not turn away about it—it is but an uncle. If you cannot bear an uncle's admiration, what is to become of you? You must really begin to harden yourself to the idea of being worth looking at. You must try not to mind growing up into a pretty woman." "Oh! don't talk so, don't talk so," cried Fanny, DISTRESSED by more feelings than he was aware of;


The common denominator in all four is, of course, Edmund Bertram. And what I find disturbing is that in each instance Edmund attempts to minimize and almost laugh off Fanny's very real distress, which is not caused by Fanny being a creepmouse, but rather by genuinely distressing (and in two cases also creepy) events:

The first example is young Fanny's distress at the possibility of being "exiled" to go live alone with the abusive and cruel Mrs. Norris. Every child's nightmare.

The second is Fanny's distress at being required to participate in the rehearsals for Lovers Vows. While not on a par with the other three examples, it is still quite distressing to the extremely shy Fanny, and all Edmund can think about is to please Mary.

The third is Edmund's (I think mistaken) belief that Fanny will be distressed by Mary's anger at Fanny for not accepting Henry's proposal---it is no excuse for Edmund that Fanny actually is _not_ distressed at all at the prospect of Mary being angry with her. He thinks Fanny is very distressed.

And the fourth is even worse than the first, it is the one i have focused on recently as Edmund's Pandar-like attempt to make Fanny comfortable with Sir Thomas's ogling her body (or worse).


All four of these examples, as a collective, reveal Edmund to be a great apologist/equivocator/rationalizer, really the last person a distressed person would want to depend on for comfort and empathy. And I assert that JA means for us to see Edmund in precisely this light, and means for us to see Fanny's distress as justified, and also as being utterly unalleviated by Edmund's perversely unsupportive reactions.

I don't believe JA was, in giving us the character of Fanny Price, and in particular these four examples, trying to talk herself out of her own anger, resentment and distress at the harms and injuries she suffered at the hands of family members. Quite the contrary, I claim that JA was creating an enduring record precisely in order to preserve in published print, for all time, her own anger, resentment and distress, because JA (correctly) perceived that she was not alone, and that many of her female compatriots suffered similar injuries, and might be helped by JA's honest depiction of the servitude of the English gentlewoman in Mansfield Park. Her suffering might not have been in vain, and would serve some higher purpose.

Cheers, ARNIE

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