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Thursday, April 17, 2014

“Now and then I shall hope to have a friend in my little cottage (I shall always have a bed for a friend)”: The Real, Unspeakable Reason Why Mrs. Norris Doesn’t Want Fanny to Live With her in the White House



In Janeites & Austen L today, Christy Somer wrote: “Ellen, You mentioned the 'six-hundred a year' Mrs. Norris would be receiving..... I read this as well in my own 'Charnwood' UK reading copy of MP.  And the original 1814 copy …also has these lines: "I hope, sister, things are not so very bad with you, neither -considering Sir Thomas says you will have six hundred a year." But strangely, I've not found any other online versions of MP which include these particular lines…So I'm thinking, for whatever reasons, some Victorian editions of the novels -excluded them. And Aunt Norris has been 'saver' rather than a 'spender'….”

Ellen Moody replied: I'd like to confirm Christy's comment that some editions of Mansfield Park have Mrs Norris's income cited and others don't….So the first edition named the sum and had franker satiric language in Lady Bertram's mouth.”

Christy and Ellen, you’ve missed the true purpose of the deletion, but you’ve done me a great service, because I had previously been utterly unaware of that deletion, and you know from my comments about JEAL’s deletions from JA’s letters how I feel about that sort of censorship of JA’s true voice. But thanks to your eagle eye, Christy, I looked into this and, as my Subject Line indicates, I found out that it really was a great deal more like the deletion of Mrs. Jennings’s too-frank reference to illegitimacy that was deleted from the 2d edition of S&S. I hope that by the end of this message, you won’t be feeling like you wish you hadn’t pointed it out in the first place!

It’s really easy to show exactly what I mean. First, here is the relevant passage from the 2nd  edition….

"Then you will not mind living by yourself quite alone?"
"Lady Bertram, I do not complain. I know I cannot live as I have done, but I must retrench where I can, and learn to be a better manager. I have been a liberal housekeeper enough, but I shall not be ashamed to practise economy now. My situation is as much altered as my income. A great many things were due from poor Mr. Norris, as clergyman of the parish, that cannot be expected from me. It is unknown how much was consumed in our kitchen by odd comers and goers. At the White House, matters must be better looked after. I must live within my income, or I shall be miserable; and I own it would give me great satisfaction to be able to do rather more, to lay by a little at the end of the year."
"I dare say you will. You always do, don't you?"

…and now, here is the relevant passage from the 1st edition, BEFORE the deletion:

"Then you will not mind living by yourself quite alone?"
["Dear Lady Bertram! what am I fit for but solitude? Now and then I shall hope to have a friend in my little cottage (I shall always have a bed for a friend); but the most part of my future days will be spent in utter seclusion. If I can but make both ends meet, that's all I ask for."
"I hope, sister, things are not so very bad with you neither, considering Sir Thomas says you will have six hundred a-year." ]
"Lady Bertram, I do not complain….[then continuing exactly as in the 2nd edition]

Don’t you see? It wasn’t merely the wealthy Lady Bertram making a snide remark about Mrs. Norris having enough income, as if there was any sort of parity between the adverse impact of  Sir Thomas’s high grade financial worries back on the ‘ol plantation now that those damned anti-slavers like Clarkson had finally ended the slave trade, and the precarious finances of an ageing  widow with a meager income and no prospects for remarriage.

If that HAD been the offending passage, the deletion would have been much smaller, it would have been limited only to the following comment by Lady B:

"I hope, sister, things are not so very bad with you neither, considering Sir Thomas says you will have six hundred a-year." ]

That would have worked just as cleanly and would have left Mrs. Norris’s speech about her  solitude intact. But, you see, the bit about Mrs. Norris’s income is small potatoes. The real “scandal” that triggered this deletion in the first place is contained in Mrs. Norris’s response to Lady Bertram, a response which was cleanly excised like a cancerous mole from someone’s face:   

“Now and then I shall hope to have a friend in my little cottage (I shall always have a bed for a friend)”

It’s clear to me from the FACT of the deletion that there was indeed pressure put on JA from members of her family (fascinating to speculate which ones they might’ve been)—all those who were scandalized by JA daring to have one of her characters describe the actual living arrangement at Chawton Cottage, which did not merely involve JA and CEA, but also Martha Lloyd----one which apparently had been raising bigoted eyebrows since 1809 (i.e., for seven years!), in so suggestive a manner.

And the context of Mrs. Norris’s deleted speech makes clear that Lady Bertram was having some sadistic fun with her sister—Mrs. Norris doesn’t just speak about her keeping a bed for a friend out of the clear blue sky—no, she was provoked to say this by Lady Bertram’s “casual” suggestion that Fanny ought to go live with Mrs. Norris! So, we can begin to put two and two together, and realize that Mrs. Norris most of all doesn’t want Fanny living (and sleeping) in the White House with her, because then, well, Mrs. Norris won’t have the same complete solitude she enjoyed, a solitude that made those sleepover visits from friends so convenient and….discreet.

Puts a whole new slant on Mrs. Norris and why she never remarried after Mr. Norris  died, doesn’t it? And maybe we begin to see that Sir Thomas really did have TWO wives—the one who slept with him (and then otherwise, slept in most other situations, too), and the one who ran his household—and each of  them getting exactly what they wanted (and didn’t want) from him!

So, I am glad that Jane Austen always had a bed for a friend, and I hope that it provided her with a cure for solitude. And now, Christy, thanks to your eagle eye, JA’s original desire to tell the world about her life has finally been honored by reinstatement, and I hope my post will inspire future editors of MP to RESTORE this TRULY scandalous deletion!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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