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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

P.S. re Fe Fi Fo Fum, I hear the heavy step of Fanny's UN-cle (and of General Tilney’s slow pacing & receding steps)

After I hit the Send button on my last post, I remembered that I had taken note in this 5/18/11 post….
of the following:

“I also spoke at the AGM about General Tilney courting Catherine for himself, and not on behalf of his son Henry--but I also stated that idea was not original to me, even though it did occur to me on my own in 2009--when I first researched that point after thinking of it, I saw that it was first argued in print, as best I can determine, in an excellent 1998 article by my friend John Dussinger: “Parents against Children: General Tilney as Gothic Monster”, Persuasions 1998, #20, 165-177.  But even John, writing in 1998, did not realize that earlier credit is due to Maggie Wadey, the screenwriter of NA1, back in the late 80's. When I re-watched NA1 after getting this idea, I saw that there is one moment in that adaptation (when the house maid at the Abbey comes in to wake Catherine up) when the General's amorous interest in Catherine is implied by what the house maid says to Catherine, even though Catherine (and, I’d guess, probably 99% of those who watched that adaptation) does not (consciously) register the implication.”

Now, in light of my recognition of the intentional parallel between the ominously slow tread of both General Tilney and Sir Thomas, I decided to revisit John Dussinger’s article, to see what he had to say about that parallel, and here’s the relevant text of his article, in which he does indeed eloquently describe  parallels between General Tilney and Sir Thomas—I will just quote the relevant section of the article here, as John expresses himself perfectly well without any help from me:

“…The free indirect discourse…implies that the General has actually remarked that Catherine is as lively a walker as she is a dancer. If, as a widower, the General may feel more at liberty in stepping in as an eligible beau here, it is also noteworthy that Henry seems scarcely present at all. Just as the hero in Gothic romances is usually passive in contrast to the villain, according to Judith Wilt, so at least whenever his father is around, Henry’s role is relatively diminished. It is the General, for instance, who has the power of inviting Catherine to Northanger; and it is he who decides to allow her to ride alone with Henry in his curricle on the way. No matter how far removed from the crazed Manfred, the General reveals a comparable sexual prowess of the Gothic father in competition with the son for the heroine.
This motif of the lascivious father-in-law is much more complexly drawn in Mansfield Park, where Sir Thomas Bertram seems to take a stronger interest in Fanny Price’s physical appearance than either of his sons ever do:
“Fanny knew not how to feel, nor where to look. She was quite oppressed. He had never been so kind, so very kind to her in his life. His manner seemed changed; his voice was quick from the agitation of joy, and all that had been awful in his dignity seemed lost in tenderness. He led her nearer the light and looked at her again—inquired particularly after her health, and then correcting himself, observed, that he need not inquire, for her appearance spoke sufficiently on that point. A fine blush having succeeded the previous paleness of her face, he was justified in his belief of her equal improvement in health and beauty.”
The repeated use of the word “kind” in this passage bears comparison to Pamela’s description of Mr. B.’s ambivalent behavior towards her at the beginning of Samuel Richardson’s novel. Her parents immediately warn her: “‘Oh! That frightful word, that he would be kind to you, if you would do as you should do; these things make us very fearful for your virtue.’” And again quoting her words, they ask: “‘But then, why should he smile so kindly upon you? ’”. The problem, of course, is that as a young and marriageable master, Mr. B.’s particular interest in his servant, really his ward as well, is suspicious.
By contrast, Sir Thomas’s attention here seems harmless enough, and Fanny has nothing to fear but regret: “his kindness altogether was such as made her reproach herself for loving him so little, and thinking his return a misfortune” .
Yet as if Austen wanted to emphasize that Sir Thomas’s kindness toward Fanny was not simply from charitable motives, Edmund subsequently testifies to his father’s awareness of her sexual attractiveness:
“[The ‘but an uncle’ speech]”
It is but an uncle! In the Gothic dream-world, we have seen, the fear of incest may have good cause! It is a strange speech, perhaps something rather to be expected from a mother or a sister than from a first cousin who is eventually to marry her. At his mentioning her “figure,” Edmund leaves no doubt that his father now sees her potential as a sexual partner. Again, just as we have seen how Henry needed his father to gaze at the heroine with the right amount of male libido, so another clergyman- son defers to his father’s presumably unquestionable authority on such matters as judging female livestock for the marriage market.
At this stage, nevertheless, Fanny’s lack of property remains a serious obstacle to her becoming a desirable marriage partner, and Henry Crawford’s proposal later stimulates Sir Thomas into becoming a reincarnation of Montoni in pressuring this hapless girl into a union with a more subtle version of Count Morano. In a grotesque twist of irony, despite Fanny’s secret devotion to him all the time that he is infatuated with Mary Crawford, Edmund seems somehow devoid of any sexual desire for his cousin and instead apes his father in urging her to accept Henry Crawford’s proposal…
Although seemingly remote from the world of Walpole or Radcliffe, the situation here is demonically Gothic, though in the daylight world: again the patriarchal tyrant tries to force the heroine into a marriage without love for the sake of enhancing the estate. But more alarming is his feckless son’s role here as pander.”  END QUOTE FROM DUSSINGER ARTICLE

I had also forgotten that John referred to Edmund as a panderer. But then John, having perfectly teed up the ball ready to hit it 350 yards down the fairway, instead backs away, and takes an 180 degree turn away from the shadow story version of Sir Thomas:

“Yet Sir Thomas is finally no Manfred or Montoni; and he is far more sympathetic than General Tilney. If not very successful in communicating with his children, Sir Thomas at least has the consideration to inquire into his daughter Maria’s feelings toward Mr. Rushworth before consenting to their marriage. Then, after the trauma of both his own daughters’ moral ruin, he comes to value Fanny’s integrity and prudence as a compensating filial surrogate, welcoming her into his family with open arms along with his now disabused younger son.”

Notwithstanding that turn away from the darkest implications, there is much in John’s arguments about Sir Thomas’s resemblances to Manfred and Montoni that supports my claim of a second fictional universe of MP in which Sir Thomas was a Gothic monster like those two notorious ones.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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