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

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Stargazing in Mansfield Park....and Jane Austen's Strong Interest in Elizabeth Inchbald the Outspoken Feminist Author

On Monday, in my post about Jane Austen's strong interest in Elizabeth Inchbald....

....I wrote the following aside to Anielka:

"...Not coincidentally, I was just thinking about Mrs. Inchbald 10 days ago in regard to Jane Austen, Anielka, and I believe you know the exact reason why, because it was something _you_ wrote 10 days ago, seemingly entirely unrelated to Mrs. Inchbald, which quickly led me to her, and also led me to update and improve my old files on JA's interest in her. And I bet you already know exactly what it was, so I will give you the chance to tell everybody first--if you don't by tomorrow morning EST, then I will...."

I waited an extra day to give Anielka a chance to reply, if she chose to do so. Then, when she posted earlier today about Fanny and Edmund's stargazing in Mansfield Park, for a brief moment I believed that Anielka was indeed, in a roundabout way, going to conclude her post by revealing the hidden connection I had in mind between Mrs. Inchbald and that post on another subject which Anielka wrote nearly 2 weeks ago. But as Anielka didn't, now I will, as promised.

To wit: the multi-talented, ambitious Mrs. Inchbald was not merely a playwright, novelist, and literary critic, she was also, for a long period of time, a famous _actress_ on the English stage, a fact which JA (whom we know avidly followed the English stage and its famous actors) would have been well aware of.

And it just so happens that one of the roles Mrs. Inchbald was famous for was that of _Callista_, the she-heroine of Rowe's famous play, The Fair Penitent, which Anielka discussed nearly two weeks ago here in Austen-L.... relevant part as follows:

"Is it possible that it is Nicholas Rowe's pen which Austen believes must dwell on guilt and misery? The parallels between the unfaithful Calista and the unfaithful Maria are there. Calista and Lothario are sometimes cited as the inspirations for Richardson's Clarissa and Lovelace, Richardson characters we know Austen knew. It would make a simply superb joke if Austen is referring to Calista. Calista, well known for her interminable and somewhat unlikely post-stabbing, pre-death speeches commits suicide. Maria, on the other hand, does no such thing and is restored to "tolerable comfort" albeit with Aunt Norris. Does Austen also mean to suggest that Maria, like Calista was "not greatly at fault herself" and was pursued/tempted by Henry (as Calista is actively compromised by Lothario)? And then we have Fanny's strange sorrow for Edmund - a sorrow "so founded on satisfaction" and passing for the greatest gaiety in some senses. Now if Austen does raise the spectre of Rowe here then we are forced to reconsider Fanny's sorrow. If we accept Rowe's great comment on guilt being the source of sorrow then Fanny feels guilty that Edmund feels as he does thanks to her own refusal of Henry's offer.....but Fanny's guilt and attendant sorrow and founded on a satisfaction. Is this the satisfaction that she was correct to refuse Henry because of his bad Lothario-like character, or is it that Fanny is satisfied because Edmund is freed from any connection with Mary Crawford and hence is in harmony with Fanny's wish to be united to Edmund?"

I agreed then that The Fair Penitent was indeed an allusive source for MP, and now I add to that the following two additional points:

First, Fanny's and Edmund's stargazing in MP, with Fanny's explicit reference to Arcturus and the Bear, is there, I suggest, in no small part because the myth of Arcturus begins with the seduction and impregnation---by the ultimate royal libertine Zeus, whom the Prince Regent seemed to strive to emulate----of the nymph _Callisto_, for whom Rowe's _Calista_ is obviously named!

And second, I assert that the interest that Jane Austen took in Mrs. Inchbald, as expressed in the allusive subtexts of Mansfield Park, was not limited to the overt allusion to Lover's Vows, but also included a _covert_ allusion to Mrs. Inchbald's famous role as Rowe's fair penitent (or--as Anielka apparently did not realize--as Richardson actually causes Lovelace's buddy Belford to call Rowe's Calista, a "luscious wench"), and even further into the biography of Mrs. Inchbald herself!

Indeed, concealed just beneath the surface of Mansfield Park, we have a complex allusive "cake" in which Greek mythology, Rowe, Richardson, and other literary sources are layered, linked together through literary time by transformations of the name Callisto ==> Calista ===> Clarissa, all of which inform the shadows of Mansfield Park.

And there may be one last layer. In regard to mythological allusions in MP, it has been noted on several occasions that Mary Crawford, singing and playing her harp, is a Regency-Era Circe, a siren whose song cannot be resisted by Edmund, who is like a latter-day member of the crew of the great "heathen hero" Odysseus. However, in light of what I have just written, above, about Callisto, Calista, and Clarissa in the subtext of MP, I add a more speculative suggestion. I.e., that Mary Crawford's "gleefully" hypnotizing Edmund away from stargazing with Fanny is intended to put the mythologically informed reader of MP in mind of Odysseus, not only in regard to his more famous encounter with Circe, but also in regard to his seven year layover with _another_ nymph who kept him away from returning to his true love, Penelope--a nymph whose name is not that far removed from those I listed above---_Calypso_!

Cheers, ARNIE
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