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

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Allons enfants de......Mansfield Park!

PART ONE (which is introductory---be sure to read Part Two, which is where I explain the startling hidden meaning of my above Subject Line vis a vis interpretation of Mansfield Park!)

Diane Reynolds began an interesting thread in Austen L the other day, after reading my blog post from last year about Charlotte Bronte's veiled allusions to Jane Austen in Jane Eyre:

[Diane] "I have for a long time felt at a gut level that Mansfield Park was a source for Jane Eyre ...Arnie, have you looked at the chapter on Jane Eyre in Gilbert and Gubar's Madwoman in the Attic? They talk about the various ways Eyre functions as a homonym and come up with a homonym for eyer--ire. I haven't read the essay in years, but they understand Jane "Ire" as a very angry person--and that Helen "Burns" also signals burning anger at all the injustices inflicted on innocent young women. So, the question becomes, if Fanny is a model for Jane Eyre, is Fanny also an angry woman? I would say yes. I had not read the Sharper Elves entry before but thanks for the references to the article on Jane Eyre and MP--I will look them up."

In my 2001 blog post, I had described Kathryn Sutherland's 1992 article about Mansfield Park and Jane Eyre as follows:

"Kathryn Sutherland, “Jane Eyre's Literary History: The Case for Mansfield Park”, ELH, Vol. 59, No. 2 (Summer, 1992), pp. 409-440. Although Sutherland’s article is for the most part unreadable with all its dense, verbose, off-putting jargon, Sutherland does, to her great credit, take the plunge and make the following insightful claim: “ In a series of letters written between January 1848 and April 1850, to Lewes and later to her editor and friend W. S. Williams, Bronte declared her settled antipathy to Austen. Surprisingly, she had read no Austen at all, until Lewes recommended Pride and Prejudice; and two years later she has added only Emma to the list. "I excite amazement," she informed Williams, "by replying in the negative" when asked "whether I have read" Austen. Nevertheless, _it seems clear that Jane Eyre addresses itself to the revision of Mansfield Park_…” However, although Sutherland makes this leap to realizing Mansfield Park was a crucial allusive source for Jane Eyre, she apparently saw MP as the _only_ Austen novel read by Bronte, because Sutherland is utterly silent about the other five Austen novels."

Now, in January 2012, my position about Charlotte Bronte's attitude toward Jane Austen's novels REMAINS that Bronte did _not_ tell Henry Lewes the truth, which was that Bronte LOVED Austen's writing---not just Mansfield Park but all of JA's novels---and (covertly) emulated Jane Austen in her own novels, most of all in Jane Eyre, a character who is not named "Jane" by accident. In that blog post of mine, I gave a brief summary of my take on Bronte's allusions to JA, and I also strongly recommend Jocelyn Harris's 2007 article about Jane Eyre, Emma, and Wollstonecraft's Vindication OTRO Women.

In particular, Diane brought to the fore, from Sutherland's article, the discussion there about the significance in both Jane Eyre and in Mansfield Park of the year 1789. I responded to Diane as follows:

Sutherland's article includes the following passage in which she makes a persuasive argument that Jane Eyre was born in 1789, and is therefore chronologically and literally a child of the French Revolution:

"The tradition of the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the minds of the living. ... the revolution of 1848 knew no better than to parody at some points 1789. Like the career of Louis Philippe Bonaparte, Jane Eyre is a late product of the French Revolution, and as such it is a predetermined narrative, held (but held as parody) within the revolutionary perspective. Not only is there the political turmoil and outraged reception into which publication inserted the novel (the revolution of 1848) and the care which Bronte took to establish that internal near-revolutionary writing date of 1819, but there is one further date for the feminist literary historian to reveal, and that is the year of the heroine's birth. Jane is given Scott's Marmion in the November of the year of its publication, 1808, and a few months earlier, a homeless supplicant for the charity of the Rivers family, she has informed them that "I am near nineteen" (J, 442). One can assume therefore that she was born in 1789; and consequently that the interwoven time spans of heroine and author have as their beginning, middle, and end the key revolutionary years of 1789, 1819, and 1848. Finally, it is wholly appropriate, given the scant welcome that women find in history, that the story of a female revolutionary born in the gloriously tragic year of 1789 should not find its readership until the farcical year of 1848, the year by which, as Dorothy Thompson has noted, women were decisively edited out of radical history and into the bourgeois romance of the home.40 It is a joke that Marx, with his sensitivity to parody, and the modern feminist historian, herself a mere travesty of the instituted historian's authority, can both share. Where, then, does this leave Jane Eyre in relation to the materials of history, and what finally is its kinship with Mansfield Park? IS THE HOME WRECKING RADICAL "JANE" CONSERVATIVE "FANNY'S" REVOLUTIONARY AVENGER? Or might a case be made for regarding her as Fanny's more narrowly circumscribed domestic descendant? At the risk of overstretching Marx's analogy, are there even grounds for considering Fanny as the truer Bonaparte of the two? For Fanny, we discover, has also a Revolution pedigree: like Jane she can lay claim to 1789 as the year of her birth." END QUOTE

Sutherland then provided the following footnote to the above passage re Fanny Price's being born in 1789 as well:

"Dorothy Thompson, The Chartists (London: Temple Smith, 1984), especially 122- 32. "If we use Fleishman's chronology, based on a composition date of 1811, then Sir Thomas Bertram's marriage to Maria Ward, "about thirty years ago," set the novel's opening in 1781 and dates Fanny's arrival at Mansfield Park in chapter 2 to 1799. Since she is at this time "just ten years old," then we might assume 1789 as the year of her birth. See Fleishman (note 23), 91." END QUOTE

All of which is pretty persuasive to me that this sly referencing to the French Revolution was entirely intentional on JA's part, and then was entirely intentional on Bronte's part, who clearly paid homage to JA's date game--which all fits with my own sense of Charlotte Bronte as one of the subtlest and most covert of Austen scholars.

And speaking of "persuasive" arguments, here's another one, by Catriona Hall who slyly wrote: "Jane Austen is date specific in Persuasion, she does mean us to note that the still birth of the male heir on 5th November 1789 is a disaster and revolution for the Elliott family as a whole."

I do believe that Catriona is spot-on, this is a wink by Jane Austen in Persuasion at the idea of the French Revolution as a stillborn child, i.e., at its birth it showed great potential of transforming life in all of Europe, but then, writing in 1816 with the perspective of 27 years, it was painfully clear to Jane Austen that the idealism and positive effects were mostly stillborn, and came to naught.

Now I invite you to go to Part Two.....

....where I extend and expand all of the above insights, and show that Jane Austen's allusions to the French Revolution in Mansfield Park include a specific focus on the most famous event of that revolution, hiding in plain sight all over Mansfield Park!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: It will be the subject of a future post to speculate as to whether it is a coincidence that in JA's next novel after Mansfield Park, Emma, we find that BOTH Robert Martin AND (the "aimable") Frank Churchill were both born in 1789.

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