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Sunday, August 24, 2014

The (other) butler who did it---and the dog who didn’t bark---at Mansfield Park



Writing the latest post in my ongoing exchange with Diana about the scene-painter in Mansfield  Park, a peripheral character who has rarely if ever been noticed by Austen scholars, unexpectedly triggered a leap over a ha-ha in my mind, which caused me to take a close look, for the first time, at two other small supporting role-players in MP –those of the butlers.

But, some of you will object, there’s only one butler in MP, and he’s not really a butler at all within the fictional reality of the novel, he’s just a role in Lover’s Vows-the famous Rhyming Butler—and we only hear about that role from Tom Bertram, in the following speeches and narrations:

“…Here are two capital tragic parts for Yates and Crawford, and here is the rhyming Butler for me, if nobody else wants it; a trifling part, but the sort of thing I should not dislike, and, as I said before, I am determined to take anything and do my best…. We cannot have two Agathas, and we must have one Cottager's wife; and I am sure I set her the example of moderation myself in being satisfied with the old Butler. If the part is trifling she will have more credit in making something of it… I should be but too happy in taking the part, if it were possible, but, unluckily, the Butler and Anhalt are in together. I will not entirely give it up, however; I will try what can be done—I will look it over again.”
“He found it absolutely impossible for him to undertake the part of Anhalt in addition to the Butler: he had been most anxiously trying to make it out to be feasible, but it would not do; he must give it up…. Tom himself began to fret over the scene-painter's slow progress, and to feel the miseries of waiting. He had learned his part—all his parts, for he took every trifling one that could be united with the Butler, and began to be impatient to be acting; and every day thus unemployed was tending to increase his sense of the insignificance of all his parts together, and make him more ready to regret that some other play had not been chosen.”

I’ve posted on several occasions in the past about the important thematic significance of the allusion to the Rhyming  Butler in MP, given that he is a key character in Lover’s Vows, and that Tom Bertram not only volunteers to play that role in the theatrical, Tom’s strategic actions in staging a kind of Mousetrap, a la Hamlet, in order to confront his father, Sir  Thomas, actually mirror the subversive challenges posed to Baron Wildenhaim by his presumptuous Rhyming Butler in the play.

But what about the other butler? Who is he? Those who’ve read MP very attentively can answer that question- it’s Sir Thomas’s butler, and he, unlike the scene-painter, actually also has a name that we read—Baddeley. And here’s the complete text of Baddeley the (other) Butler of Mansfield Park a mini-playlet in five very short acts:  

ACT ONE: Right after Sir Thomas suddenly shows up at Mansfield Park from his long stay in Antigua:
“Instead of [Mrs. Norris] being sent for out of the room, and seeing him first, and having to spread the happy news through the house, Sir Thomas, with a very reasonable dependence, perhaps, on the nerves of his wife and children, had sought no confidant but the butler, and had been following him almost instantaneously into the drawing-room.”

ACT TWO: Right before Sir Thomas learns about the home theatrical:
“Sir Thomas could not be provoked. "Still the same anxiety for everybody's comfort, my dear Mrs. Norris," was his answer. "But indeed I would rather have nothing but tea."
"Well, then, Lady Bertram, suppose you speak for tea directly; suppose you hurry Baddeley a little; he seems behindhand to-night." She carried this point, and Sir Thomas's narrative proceeded. “

ACT THREE: Right before Fanny’s debut at the Mansfield Park ball:
“Her cousins' former gaiety on the day of a ball was no longer surprising to her; she felt it to be indeed very charming, and was actually practising her steps about the drawing-room as long as she could be safe from the notice of her aunt Norris, who was entirely taken up at first in fresh arranging and injuring the noble fire which the butler had prepared.”

ACT FOUR: When Fanny gets the dreaded summons from Sir Thomas to hear Henry Crawford’s proposal:
“While Fanny's mind was engaged in these sort of hopes, her uncle was, soon after tea, called out of the room; an occurrence too common to strike her, and she thought nothing of it till the butler reappeared ten minutes afterwards, and advancing decidedly towards herself, said, "Sir Thomas wishes to speak with you, ma'am, in his own room." Then it occurred to her what might be going on; a suspicion rushed over her mind which drove the colour from her cheeks; but instantly rising, she was preparing to obey, when Mrs. Norris called out, "Stay, stay, Fanny! what are you about? where are you going? don't be in such a hurry. Depend upon it, it is not you who are wanted; depend upon it, it is me" (looking at the butler); "but you are so very eager to put yourself forward. What should Sir Thomas want you for? It is me, Baddeley, you mean; I am coming this moment. You mean me, Baddeley, I am sure; Sir Thomas wants me, not Miss Price."
But Baddeley was stout. "No, ma'am, it is Miss Price; I am certain of its being Miss Price." And there was a half-smile with the words, which meant, "I do not think you would answer the purpose at all."

ACT FIVE: After the discussion of sermonizing between Henry and Edmund which ends when Henry zeroes in on Fanny’s disapproving head shake:
“Fanny could hardly have kept her seat any longer, or have refrained from at least trying to get away in spite of all the too public opposition she foresaw to it, had it not been for the sound of approaching relief, the very sound which she had been long watching for, and long thinking strangely delayed.
The solemn procession, headed by Baddeley, of tea-board, urn, and cake-bearers, made its appearance, and delivered her from a grievous imprisonment of body and mind. Mr. Crawford was obliged to move. She was at liberty, she was busy, she was protected.”

So, what can we say about Baddeley the Butler? The common denominator that is obvious once you look at those five acts, is that Mrs. Norris has a REAL problem with Baddeley, and vice versa! There’s a major turf war going on between them, which abruptly flares up the minute Sir Thomas shows up again at Mansfield Park. Mrs.Norris apparently bitterly resents Baddeley’s recommencing to perform duties she had arrogated to herself during Sir Thomas’s long absence. She wants to be the one to tell everyone Sir Thomas is back, she wants to be the one to decide  when to order tea, she wants to be the one to set the noble fire, etc etc etc.

But it’s not all about Mrs. Norris actions vis a vis Baddeley, as we see in Acts Four and Five. In Act Four, Baddeley repels Mrs. Norris’s attempt to override Sir Thomas’s calling for Fanny. And then in Act Five, when Mrs. Norris is nowhere to be found, it’s Baddeley to Fanny’s rescue, as he “delivered her from a grievous imprisonment of body and mind. “

Judith Terry wrote this analysis  of Baddeley in the 1988 issue of Persuasions:

It is Baddeley, the butler in Mansfield Park, to whom is allotted the singular pleasure of vanquishing Mrs. Norris, when she insists that it cannot be Fanny whom Sir Thomas wishes to see: “It is me, Baddeley, you mean; I am coming this moment.  You mean me, Baddeley, I am sure; Sir Thomas wants me, not Miss Price.”
But Baddeley was stout.  “No, Ma’am, it is Miss Price, I am certain of its being Miss Price.”  And there was a half smile with the words which meant, “I do not think YOU would answer the purpose at all.”
 That half smile, as a friend of mine pointed out, is the single occasion in the novels on which criticism is levelled by a servant at his betters.
As well as heading daily “the solemn procession … of tea-board, urn and cake-bearers,” Baddeley would have looked after the cellar, superintended the bottling of wine and the brewing of beer, kept the plate under lock and key and supervised dinner from the sideboard, where he would hand wine.  The Adamses also say that a butler ought to be able to write a fine hand and in the way of perquisites may expect his master’s cast-off clothes, pieces of wax candle, the second-hand cards, compliments on paying tradesman’s bills, and Christmas boxes and wine for his own use.  They include instructions on such matters as how to put out a fire in the chimney.  It is, you will remember, one of Baddeley’s “noble fires” which Mrs. Norris “was entirely taken up ... in fresh arranging and injuring.”
Several hints suggest that Sir Thomas is close to Baddeley, and one reason may be that, as the Adamses explain, the first duty of the butler “where no valet is kept is to manage and arrange his master’s clothes, carry them to his dressing-room, boots and shoes being cleaned by footman or under-butler.”  

And…Marcia McClintock Folsom, in her 2006 Persuasions article, wrote about the complex allusion to Shakespeare’s Henry VIII in MP, and in particular mentioned that “the third popular scene [in performances of that play during JA’s lifetime] was the procession in the fifth act. In this, the newborn Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn, is carried around the stage while Cranmer makes a speech about the peace and plenty that will come to England when Elizabeth is queen. “

I mention this because I also recall from her live presentation of that paper in Tucson, although I don’t see it in the article, that she saw Baddeley’s ceremonious procession with the tea-things as a parody of that famous climactic scene in Henry VIII, where the common denominator  is that Fanny will shortly become the “Queen” of Mansfield Park!

So, the other butler in MP is actually a significant character, who makes the most of his short time  “onstage”!

But one other thing----It was in composing the above portion of this post that I realized that Mrs. Norris’s absence from Act Five was NOTt an oversight on JA’s part, quite the contrary. She is not the only major character missing from that Bertram family ensemble, who you’d think would have been there. Sir Thomas is also nowhere to be seen—and so, I think, we may reasonably infer that in the aftermath of Mrs. Norris’s being clearly very upset that Sir Thomas sent Baddeley to bring Fanny to him and Henry, Mrs.Norris has convened an emergency tete-a-tete with Sir  Thomas, very much analogous, I’d imagine, to the one that we witnessed way way back in Chapter 1, a decade earlier, in which Fanny Price is once again the sole topic on the agenda.

And, following that logic, perhaps that is the very tete-a-tete at which the decision is taken by Sir Thomas, at Mrs.Norris’s goading, to send Fanny to Portsmouth!

In any event, it’s only because I was taking such a close look at Baddeley that I noticed Mrs. Norris was NOT there. She was like Odysseus’s (and Sherlock Holmes’s) dog that didn’t bark.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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