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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Startling Inter-Novel Validation in Emma for Mrs. Norris as a Closeted Lesbian in Mansfield Park



For those who have taken my previous three posts about Mrs. Norris as a closeted lesbian in Mansfield Park with some major lumps of salt, I’ve just retrieved from my own blog archives a post by me last year, which did not come to mind for me at first when I was writing  these latest posts about Mrs. Norris, but which now takes on dramatic new meaning in light of them.

I will just quote the relevant discussion from my 2013 post, and then comment briefly on it at the end:   

“…revisiting Mrs. Elton’s wordplay on “as you like it”, my eye was caught by something  else Mrs. Elton says in that same passage:

“I shall wear a large bonnet, and bring one of my little baskets hanging on my arm. Here,—probably this basket with PINK RIBBON. Nothing can be more simple, you see. And Jane will have such another. There is to be no form or parade—a sort of gipsy party.”

Although it warrants a whole blog post of its own, I will only briefly outline the color coded connection between Mrs. Elton’s pink bonnet, on the one hand, and the following two passages:

Sense & Sensibility  Ch. 38: “I am monstrous glad of it. Good gracious! I have had such a time of it! I never saw Lucy in such a rage in my life. She vowed at first she would never trim me up a new bonnet, nor do any thing else for me again, so long as she lived; but now she is quite come to, and we are as good friends as ever. Look, she made me this BOW to my hat, and put in the feather last night. There now, YOU are going to laugh at me too. But why should not I wear PINK RIBBONS? I do not care if it IS the Doctor's favourite colour. I am sure, for my part, I should never have known he did LIKE IT better than any other colour, if he had not happened to say so. My cousins have been so plaguing me! I declare sometimes I do not know which way to look before them." 

AND

Mansfield Park Ch. 19:   Mrs. Norris was by no means to be compared in happiness to her sister. Not that she was incommoded by many fears of Sir Thomas's disapprobation when the present state of his house should be known, for her judgment had been so blinded that, except by the instinctive caution with which she had whisked away Mr. Rushworth's PINK SATIN CLOAK as her brother-in-law entered, she could hardly be said to shew any sign of alarm….”
Suffice to say that the previous speculations of some Janeites (including myself) about what Nancy Steele means about pink being her Doctor’s  “favourite colour” , and  of other Janeites (also including myself) about Mr. Rushworth’s pink satin cloak are implicated.

In that regard—and this is really amazing---I only realized yesterday that Mrs. Norris’s “instinctive caution” can be interpreted in an ENTIRELY different way than as fear of Sir Thomas becoming aware of the Lovers Vows preparations, i.e., as her concern that Sir Thomas might realize that Mr. Rushworth’s choice of pink was symbolic of an important preference that would anger the very conservative and  probably quite bigoted Sir Thomas already concerned about the bona fides of his eldest daughter’s marriage to him, and his ability and/or desire to fulfill his conjugal duties.

All of which makes me wonder why Sir Walter Elliot did not pun on the theme of a pink admiral…   ;)”

So, back now in April2014… I am now able to connect the dots between my earlier catch of Mrs. Norris’s hasty concealment of Mr. Rushworth’s flaming pink cloak, and Mrs. Norris hasty reframing of her comments to Lady Bertram about always  having a bed available for a friend. In both cases, Mrs. Norris is desperately trying to prevent the “king” of Mansfield Park and his SI.e., Maria may well be marrying a gay man, and Mrs. Norris is lesbian carrying on a covert lesbian lifestyle at her residence only a stone’s throw from the Bertram family mansion nearby.

And…even more validating of my claims----in one of my recent posts I pointed out that Mrs. Elton’s claim that she “stands up for women” could reasonably be seen as a declaration of lesbian pride, and now I connect that to her fantasy of a “gipsy party” with Jane, complete with “pink ribbon” on her basket, in part also invoking the thinly veiled lesbian dynamic between cousins Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It, the very play that Mrs. Elton winked at in the immediately preceding sentences of her “pink bonnet” speech:

“That's quite unnecessary; I see Jane every day: -- but AS YOU LIKE. IT is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite a simple thing...."

And, last but not least, when I view the above Mrs. Elton lesbian-tinged comments together with Frank Churchill’s misdirections  about visiting Jane which I showed were in the same vein as Mrs. Norris’s misdirections about always having a bed for a friend, which were censored out of the second edition of MP published at pretty much the same time as the  first edition of Emma, in 1816, I see JA covertly but  defiantly reinforcing the lesbian subtext of Mrs. Norris’s secret life via both Mrs. Elton’s more deceptively coded and ambiguous lesbian comments and Frank’s forbidden liaisons with Jane, as if to say,in the same tone as we heard in JA’s last poem, “Winchester Races” that she will NOT be silenced as to what she cares about most passionately, and same sex love is one of those topics that will survive in her writing, censors be damned!

And that was, I conclude, “as Jane Austen liked it”!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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