Nancy: "Of course fanny wasn't a teetotaller. That wasn't even much considerd except among the Quakers. Everyone drank wine. Children of an age to eat at the table when no guests were expected, had their wine diluted. It was gradually made with less water until they had adult glasses of wine."
All the same, I don't think I am the only Janeite who would be surprised
to know that Fanny drank regularly, even diluted wine. The more I
reflect on it, the more I think it is a classic, characteristic JA
irony, with some sophisticated anticipation of Freud thrown in, to
depict Fanny's visceral disgust at her father's drunken aroma in such a
subversive way---it would indeed make perfect psychological sense for
Fanny to repress away any resonance between her father's crude drinking
and her own genteel drinking, especially the resonance based on a very
real commonality between them- we can readily infer that Mr. Price's
drinking to excess is fueled in part by his lifelong lower class status,
and his resentful anger toward rich powerful people far above him in
status, like Sir Thomas; and I can certainly imagine that part of what
might have given Fanny a strong taste for alcoholic beverages would be
her own (totally justified) sense of having been abused and treated like
a second class citizen at Mansfield Park for the previous decade.
In short, Fanny has such a strong negative reaction to her parents in
part because she unconsciously realizes that she has not climbed so far
above them as she might have thought, she is still second class in the
eyes of the elite snobs, and so _both_ she and her father take some
comfort in alcoholic to drown the very real sorrows they both feel.
Nancy: "A cordiale was not so much a stiff drink as a medicinal draught/
She wanted a composer. A slightly sedative potion."
Was "composer" a term of art in JA's era, to describe a slightly
sedative potion? If it was, then that would explain a _LOT_ about the
following three passages about Mr. Woodhouse in _Emma_ which heretofore
had been totally invisible:
Chapter 1: The wedding over, and the bride-people gone, her father and
herself were left to dine together, with no prospect of a third to cheer
a long evening. Her father COMPOSED HIMSELF TO SLEEP AFTER DINNER, AS
USUAL, and she had then only to sit and think of what she had lost.
Chapter 11: The beginning, however, of every visit displayed none but
the properest feelings, and this being of necessity so short might be
hoped to pass away in UNSULLIED CORDIALITY. They had not been long
seated and COMPOSED when Mr. Woodhouse, with a melancholy shake of the
head and a sigh, called his daughter's attention to the sad change at
Hartfield since she had been there last. "Ah, my dear," said he, "poor
Miss Taylor—It is a grievous business."
Chapter 25: Then turning to Mrs. Weston, with a look of gentle
reproach—"Ah! Miss Taylor, if you had not married, you would have staid
at home with me." "Well, sir," cried Mr. Weston, "as I took Miss Taylor
away, it is incumbent on me to supply her place, if I can; and I will
step to Mrs. Goddard in a moment, if you wish it." But the idea of any
thing to be done in a /moment/, was INCREASING, not lessening, MR.
WOODHOUSE'S AGITATION. THE LADIES KNEW BETTER HOW TO ALLAY IT. Mr.
Weston must be quiet, and EVERY THING DELIBERATELY ARRANGED. WITH THIS
TREATMENT, MR. WOODHOUSE WAS SOON COMPOSED ENOUGH for talking as usual.
"He should be happy to see Mrs. Goddard. He had a great regard for Mrs.
Goddard; and Emma should write a line, and invite her. James could take
the note. But first of all, there must be an answer written to Mrs. Cole."
I hope my all-caps on certain key phrases makes clear the subversive
interpretation that I was led to make by your giving me that unexpected
meaning of the word "composer".
The passage in Chapter 1 seems to suggest that Mr. Woodhouse's standard
bedtime operating procedure was to take a massive sleeping "composer"!
The passage in Chapter 11 suggests to me that Emma may have slipped her
father a "cordial" in order to "compose" him, in preparation for a
dangerous bit of verbal combat with his irascible son in law John K--and
I just love the pun in "unsullied cordiality", which I see as a "twin"
of the pun on Mr. Price's "cordial hug". In this passage, "cordiality"
clearly refers _both_ to the desired politeness of the encounter, and
also to the medicinal means of achieving that politeness!
Best of the three, the passage in Chapter 25 is a mini-epic in itself,
describing the covert medicinal operation conducted by "the ladies' in
order to drug Mr. Woodhouse out of his agitation over the prospect of
the Coles's dinner party. I.e., the better way to allay Mr. Woodhouse's
agitation was to deliberately arrange to administer to Mr. Woodhouse the
treatment of a strong cordial, as a result of which he would indeed have
soon become "composed" enough for talking as usual!
So, Nancy, as often has been the case, in your rebutting one of my
claims, you've actually opened a second door wide open for me, that
actually reinforces my original claim--and for this, I thank you once more!
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From the Archives: Harriette Wilson on Virtue
23 hours ago