"...principally by Tom...": Tom Bertram Closet Embroiderer
In Chapter 16, Fanny retreats to her "nest" and angsts over whether to yield to the pressure to participate in the amateur theatricals, and we then read the following:
"It would be so horrible to her to act that she was inclined to suspect the truth and purity of her own scruples; and as she looked around her, the claims of her cousins to being obliged were strengthened by the sight of present upon present that she had received from them. The table between the windows was covered with work-boxes and netting-boxes which had been
given her at different times, principally by Tom; and she grew bewildered
as to the amount of the debt which all these kind remembrances produced."
What caught my eye this time around were the words "principally by Tom"--why in the world would Tom (as opposed to Maria or Julia) be the principal donor of numerous gifts (so many that they cover the table) to Fanny, presumably over a period of time, of _female_ things like work-boxes and netting-boxes?
Before sending this post, I checked the Janeites and Austen L group archives, and see that 2 years ago, the sharp-eyed Diane Reynolds posed that very same question:
"...and the work and netting boxes, mostly from Tom (what does that mean?), on her table."
Now, some will immediately claim that making Tom the donor of these boxes was authorial expediency on JA's part, since the theatricals are Tom's
inspiration and darling project, so JA had to find some way of making Fanny feel obligated specifically to Tom.
But I categorically reject all such diminishments of JA's authorial
integrity, suggesting that she would be so slovenly in her work product (particularly in regard to items used for embroidery and sewing, crafts which depend on minute attention to small details!), and so I am led to ask, Why Tom in particular? What might JA have been trying to bring out
about him in this subliminal way?
And one explanation that immediately comes to mind is that Tom (however secretly) might himself have been using those netting boxes and work boxes, because he enjoyed exercising his creativity in these traditionally female ways!
And then, when he grew up and perhaps put these hobbies behind him, what
was he to do with these boxes? Sure he could have tossed them, but perhaps he felt a sentimental attachment to them, and preferred to give them to an appreciative donee, which I am sure Fanny was, every time he gave her one. And also, Fanny would be a discreet donee, one who would not blab all over the place about who gave the gifts to her, especially if Tom asked her not to tell, taking the role of a giver of charity who did not wish to draw
attention to his charity.
Which of course relates right back to my previous speculations as to Tom's
gender orientation, such as:
A lovely bit of praise from my youngest (at heart) supporter in Seattle:
[The 80-ish Mary Watson of the Puget Sound chapter commenting on the 2010 JASNA AGM]
"...Two sessions were outstanding: Juliet McMasters on the more subtle, deeper meanings of "Northanger Abbey" and a Darcy-like young lawyer, Arnie Perlstein, who revealed his very plausible theory that the "shadow story" behind much of Jane Austen's work is the horror of multiple childbirth and women's deaths. I am a Jane-Austen-as-feminist person and this really resonated with me!"
Thank you, Mary!
"Arnie's theories [about Austen and Shakespeare] may strain credulity, but so much the greater his triumph if they turn out to have persuasive force after they are properly presented and maturely considered. That is what publication is all about"
"When great or unexpected events fall out upon the stage of this sublunary world—the mind of man, which is an inquisitive kind of a substance, naturally takes a flight behind the scenes to see what is the cause and first spring of them."--Tristram Shandy
I'm a 63 year old independent scholar (still) working on a book project about the SHADOW STORIES of Jane Austen's novels (and Shakespeare's plays). I first read Austen in 1995, an American male real estate lawyer, i.e., a Janeite outsider. I therefore never "learned" that there was no secret subtext in her novels. All I did was to closely read and reread her novels, while participating in stimulating online group readings. Then, in 2002, I whimsically wondered whether Willoughby stalked Marianne Dashwood and staged their “accidental” meeting. I retraced his steps, followed the textual “bread crumbs”, and verified my hunch. I've since made numerous similar discoveries about offstage scheming by various characters. In hindsight, it was my luck not only to be a lawyer, but also a lifelong solver of NY Times and other difficult American crossword puzzles. These both trained me to spot complex patterns based on fragmentary data, to interpret cryptic clues of all kinds, and, above all, not to give up until I’ve completed the puzzle--and literary sleuthing Jane Austen's novels (and Shakespeare's plays) is, bar none, the best puzzle solving in the world!