The following is a link to my blog post earlier today about the veiled allusion to Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy:
You may ask, what is the relevance of my post to Jane Austen? And my answer to that reasonable question is that just as Shakespeare was particularly interested in the Philomela myth (which is a tightly wound ball of rape, mutilation, murder, cannibalism, and revenge) from Ovid's Metamorphoses when he wrote the tragic character of Lavinia for Titus Andronicus, so too have I long been of the opinion that the young Jane Austen showed a surprising (and, from my perspective, highly disturbing) interest in that same disturbing Philomela myth when she wrote her juvenilia poem, Ode to Pity, and included the following line therein:
While Philomel on airy hawthorn Bush
Sings sweet and Melancholy, And the thrush
Converses with the Dove...
Now, it's not just the reference to Philomel which leads me to this opinion, because I acknowledge that merely reciting the name Philomel would not by itself prove that JA meant to invoke all the horror of the Ovidian tale. What has made me so certain of JA's darker meaning is that this reference is embedded in a poetic context in Ode To Pity with a great deal of jarring, almost grotesque clanging of metaphors, which most decidedly point in a dark but mysterious direction.
But that's not all there is to the Jane Austen connection to Philomel. Speaking of things jarring and grotesque, writing my above linked blog post also led me to realize, as a collateral benefit, that JA's interest in Philomel was not merely a passing youthful fancy on JA's part. No, I now am convinced that when Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram have the following exchange about Sir Thomas's imminent return from Antigua....
"Your father's return will be a very interesting event."
"It will, indeed, after such an absence; an absence not only long, but including so many dangers."
"It will be the forerunner also of other interesting events: your sister's marriage, and your taking orders."
"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."
...I believe that Jane Austen, through her wickedly satirical creature Mary Crawford, is very very pointedly and specifically painting a portrait of Sir Thomas as nothing less than a Regency Era Titus Andronicus! The allusion becomes obvious when you look closely at the precise circumstances which arise at the very beginning of Titus Andronicus, in Act 1, Scene 1.
What do we have? A heathen war hero, Titus Andronicus, has just returned to Rome after performing great exploits in the wars against the Goths, bringing back with him as prisoners the Goth queen Tamora and her three sons---and what does Titus do immediately upon his safe return with only a handful of his own sons surviving, as he prepares to inter the most recently deceased of his sons?
Of course, like any worthy heathen hero, he promptly _sacrifices_ Alarbus, one of Tamora's sons, in order to take ritual revenge for the deaths of so many of his own sons, specifically for the one whom he is at that moment interring in the family mausoleum.
And that sacrifice of the Goth prince is the first domino to fall in a grotesquely tragic spiral of revenge which leaves nearly every major character in Titus Andronicus dead by the end of Act 5.
But JA (via Mary) also points to Lavinia when she refers to "your sister's marriage"---because Lavinia, daughter of the returning hero Titus Andronicus, is also supposed to be married to Bassianus, one of two princes vying to be emperor--however, in short order, Lavinia is passed around like a piece of meat, first to the other prince, Saturninus, who first claims Lavinia as bride, then just as quickly rejects her as nonconforming goods, then she is raped, mutilated and eventually murdered by her own father.
And I believe we see shadows of Lavinia in both Maria Bertram and Fanny Price.
So, Sir Thomas as Titus Andronicus.....a darkly droll, satirical concept that JA has baked into a pie and served to her readers in Mansfield Park, her darkest novel. And perhaps, JA also closes the loop with her youthful reference to Philomel, with both Ode to Pity and Mansfield Park pointing toward dark secrets of the Austen family which must not be spoken aloud, but can only be hinted at.
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Editors Weekly Round-up, August 20, 2017
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