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
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
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
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.
@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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