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

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

EDgaR MANDleBERT and EDmuND BERTRAM: Cackling Home to Camelot With Camilla

In Austen L today, Ellen Moody wrote: "Probably anyone interested in really understanding Camilla where Edgar Mandlebert is known partly to be a variant on GOC should read this volume as this is the volume which offers a long and nuanced portrayal (day by day) of how George Owen Cambridge did court Fanny. He really is leading her on. His father is clearly for it too. She's sending all this to her sister. Why withhold this way unless she is writing as if for some kind of broader audience."

I replied as follows:

Ellen Moody, way back in 1998, wrote:  "[Lascelles] points out (as I have read elsewhere) that the opening of Camilla looks closely towards the opening of Mansfield Park, and that Edgar Mandlebert is a model for Edmund Bertram."

In 2009, Phil Rayment wrote: "While Edgar Mandlebert may suggest a lot of the qualities whick ended up in Edmund Bertram as well, I find enough differences to make Rev. Bertram anything but a substantive evocation of Mr. Mandlebert. As for Fanny Price, she seems to be more of an evocation of Evelina Anville than of Camilla to me."

What makes all three of these comments much more interesting, I think, are the two sly turns of "namesmanship" which JA very cleverly weaves into the subtext of Mansfield Park:

First, look at the capitalized letters in Burney's character name:  EDgaR MANDleBERT

As my capitalizing makes visible, not only do almost all (11 out of 13, to be exact) of the letters of the name "Edmund Bertram" appear within the 15-letter name "Edgar Mandlebert" --what's more, many of them appear in parallel clumps, i.e., "BERT" appears in both names in the same order and direction, and also, the sequence "RMA" appears in the middle of Burney's character name, being an anagram of the "RAM" which ends Austen's character name.

The chances of all these word patterns occurring together randomly are, I think, pretty small, but by no means vanishingly small.

But that's a moot question, because the chance of all this being random disappears to nothing, when we remember two well-established additional points from Austen studies:

1. In addition to it being conclusively known that JA was very familiar with Burney's writing in general, we know that JA specifically knew Camilla extremely well, because she explicitly and thematically referred to it in Northanger Abbey, as well as in Letters 4, 6, and 18!


2. One of the well-recognized--indeed, obvious---allusive sources for Mansfield Park is Shakespeare's King Lear, which has, paired as good/evil doubles, two young men named EDGAR and EDMUND---so it would be perfectly in tune with the anagrammatical name games played by JA, as shown above, to have her choose as her character's name a virtually anagrammatical double for Burney's character name, because the linkage of those two names in this wordplay way also points directly to King Lear's doubling.

So, I conclude from all of the above first that Jane Austen really did mean to cause her knowing readers to think deeply about the relationship between Edmund Bertram and Edgar Mandlebert, and that she also meant to allude to both Camilla and King Lear, in some kind of linked fashion, in Mansfield Park. It also leads me to the hunch that JA's allusive artistry was even more wonderful, if it turned out that Burney chose the name "Edgar" for her character because she was alluding to King Lear in Camilla!

And what makes that hunch seem more likely is that the Christian name of Burney's heroine, Camilla, just happens to be very similar to Camelot, which of course is a legendary place from pre-modern Britain, during which period, of course, King Lear is also set. And worthy Kent actually castigates Cornwall and includes a reference to Camelot in the bargain:

Goose, if I had you upon Sarum plain,
I'd drive ye cackling home to Camelot

Thus we have a particularly elegant example of JA's characteristic pattern of multilayered literary allusion, which is not just a literary parlor trick, but which is designed to illuminate murky areas of the shadow story of Mansfield Park. For example, why in the world did JA choose to name her hero after Shakespeare's villain, instead of after Shakespeare's hero? After all, if she was also already alluding to Edgar Mandlebert in Mansfield Park, why not choose the name with the better reputation?

Well, I have been saying for some time that, whatever Fanny thinks, Edmund Bertram is not really a hero after all, and this name game of JA's is Exhibit "A" in support of my claims.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: I do believe it is probably a coincidence, however, that 5 of the 6 letters in the "Burney"  are contained in "EdmUNd BERtram".  

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