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

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mary Crawford the "Harp-y"

This morning, Diane Reynolds wrote the following in Austen L and Janeites:

"Since I have interested myself recently in trying to evaluate Mary Crawford's skill at the harp, I searched "harp" in MP and discovered that Mary is indeed damned by faint praise. There's no sense that Mary is more than a passable harpist. But as I was searching harp, I made a sudden connection to harpy. Given JA's love of wordplay and punning, it seemed obvious--yes, of course, Mary's harp points to her role as harpy. A quick glance at Wikipedia on harpies produced the following:
"In Greek mythology, a harpy ("snatcher", from Latin: harpeia, originating in Greek: ἅρπυια, harpūia) was one of the winged spirits best known for constantly stealing all food from Phineas. The literal meaning of the word seems to be "that which snatches" as it comes from the ancient Greek word harpazein (ἁρπάζειν), which means "to snatch".
A harpy was the mother by the West Wind Zephyros of the horses of Achilles.[1] In this context Jane Ellen Harrison adduced the notion in Virgil's Georgics (iii.274) that mares became gravid by the wind alone..[2]
Hesiod[3] calls them two "lovely-haired" creatures, and pottery art depicting the harpies featured beautiful women with wings. Harpies as ugly winged bird-women, e.g. in Aeschylus' The Eumenides (line 50) are a late development, due to a confusion with the Sirens. Roman and Byzantine writers detailed their ugliness.[4]"
Harpies were initially beautiful woman who swooped in and snatched things from others ... clearly this fits Fanny's perception of Mary vis-a-vis Edmund."

Yes, indeed, Diane, that fits perfectly with the following excerpt from this post....

"But, back to JA, it is curious, that it is only in MP among all of JA's novels that we have an explicit allusion to a Roman emperor. [Mary Crawford, again in her role as teller of truths that others would wish to conceal, pointing out that Maria, in marrying Rushworth, is, in part, sacrificing herself on the altar of her father's relentless ambition for power and wealth] "Don't be affronted," said she, laughing, "but it does put me in mind of some of the old heathen heroes, who, after performing great exploits in a foreign land, offered sacrifices to the gods on their safe return."
[Edmund and Fanny star gazing]: “I like to hear your enthusiasm, Fanny. It is a lovely night, and they are much to be pitied who have not been taught to feel, in some degree, as you do; who have not, at least, been given a taste for Nature in early life. They lose a great deal.” “You taught me to think and feel on the subject, cousin.” “I had a very apt scholar. There’s Arcturus looking very bright.” “Yes, and the Bear. I wish I could see Cassiopeia.” “We must go out on the lawn for that. Should you be afraid?” “Not in the least. It is a great while since we have had any star–gazing.”
And of course Cassiopeia is the mythological queen who tried, in HER lust for power, to sacrifice her daughter Andromeda.
No coincidence in any of this, in a novel written 1800 years after the peak of ancient Rome, to describe ANOTHER great empire also ruled by a man named "Augustus"!

...and even more so with the following excerpt from this post as well:

"These four usages of the word "orders" in a master-servant situation, scattered across MP, with no apparent connection, are actually intimately connected. MP is the ONLY JA novel with such usages in relations to servants, and they all serve to subliminally echo Mary's persistent attempts to dissuade Edmund from taking clerical orders--in effect, Mary is saying to him, there's nothing masculine or romantic about a clergyman, all you are is a kind of glorified servant, taking orders from a hypocritical church elite, which is rife with corruption from the sins of greed and concupiscence. Mary is, in effect, telling Edmund to "man up", and thereby win the heart of a "real woman". It begins to explain the power of Mary's siren song, because it is a subtler argument than is often realized--Edmund has felt his pulse race while riding horses with Mary, he has felt his passions stirred as he has listened to her _harp_---her _siren_ song is the siren song of secular culture, and that secular culture has many genuine allures, not so easily dismissed. A REAL temptation. Mary never makes her own case by attempting to shoot Fanny down--it would never work with Edmund anyway, and it would also be a much inferior case in any event. Much better to acknowledge the positives about Fanny, but, even in doing so, to force Edmund to realize that the heart is a mysterious master, a master whose "orders" are often cryptic, conflicted, and confusing. Love is a great mystery, and Mary is exploiting the mystery for all it's worth."

So, I think it is absolutely valid toalso pick up on harp/harpy as you did, Diane, in the above context of Greek mythological saturation that we find in MP in particular. Whether she's a siren or a harpy, Mary is playing a tune on her harp that has Edmund firmly under her spell for 90% of the novel, turning him into a grunting boar lusting after her.

And the following factoid from that Wikipedia entry is also relevant to Mary:

"They [the Harpies] were usually seen as the personifications of the destructive nature of wind."

There are numerous references to the wind in MP, much more than in any of the other Austen novels, and we in particular have the following passage in which the wind--particularly the direction of the wind---and Mary's harp playing are in extremely close proximity:

"Another quarter of an hour," said Miss Crawford, "and we shall see how [the weather] will be. Do not run away the first moment of its holding up. Those clouds look alarming." "But they are passed over," said Fanny. "I have been watching them. This weather is all from the south." "South or north, I know a black cloud when I see it; and you must not set forward while it is so threatening. And besides, I want to play something more to you—a very pretty piece—and your cousin Edmund's prime favourite. You must stay and hear your cousin's favourite."

And in the back of JA's mind, as well, were the mythological underpinnings of _Hamlet_, when Hamlet (as I quoted just the other day while talking about her directional pun on "WESTminster" in "NORTHanger") utters this:

"I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw."

The trick in all of the above, I suggest, is to use these mythological and literary allusions in order to peer behind the baize curtain of Mansfield Park, and to discern the action that is _not_ explicitly described by the teasing narrator.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: And don't forget this infamous "Trojan Horse Moment" by EM Forster, in his sexist, clueless dismissal of JA's letters as being unworthy of study:

"She can write, for instance, and write it as a jolly joke, that "Mrs. Hall of Sherborne was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband," Did Cassandra laugh? Probably, but all that we catch at this distance is the whinneying of harpies.*/"/*

But I don't believe Forster understood the "harp"/"harpy" connection in MP that you snagged, Diane!

P.P.S.: I did some quick Googling, and found the following earlier sightings of this allusion by JA:

My friend Jenny Allen, 2004, on the Mansfield Park board at Republic of Pemberley:

"Fanny is quite the poet, is she not? And edmund is sadly dim, seduced away from star-gazing by that HARPie Mary Crawford and her Siren Song."

And in March, 2009, in response to Laurel Ann Nattress's post about Mary Crawford and her harp....

...Sylwia (formerly active in Janeites) replied: "Lauren Ann, you chose a picture of a lady standing beside a harp, but if you took one with her sitting with the instrument between her legs it’d be clear where the allure of it lays. ;) Edmund might have heard it elsewhere. After all he used to visit friends while Fanny never moved outside the park. The sad thing though is that not even a better woman would help. Mary had to show her real harpy feathers for him to see clearly, and that nearly didn’t happen at all. I always thought Fanny is too good for him."

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