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

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mr. Rushworth can COUNT (as in COUNT Cassel and COUNT Dracula) up to at least 42!

Mr. Rushworth gets a really bad rap in Mansfield Park.

Everyone thinks he's a moron, including most of the Bertrams (especially Maria, who of course plays the role of his fiancee, bride, and then former wife during the course of MP), but also Henry Crawford, and, most relevant to this post, pretty much all Janeites who've read MP----I bet you think he's a dim bulb, too, don't you? It's obvious to everyone that this is so.

And yet.....I was thinking the other day about what Mr. Rushworth says in Chapter 15--famously, because it is the one thing every Janeite who has read MP would answer when asked to name from memory something he says during the novel---it's something we all remember him saying not just once, but he then repeats it twice more:

"...Mr. Rushworth followed him to say, "I come in three times, and have two-and-forty speeches. That's something, is not it? But I do not much like the idea of being so fine. I shall hardly know myself in a blue dress and a pink satin cloak..."  And then again, not long after: "The Count has two-and-forty speeches," returned Mr. Rushworth, "which is no trifle." And then yet again, not long after: "If you are afraid of half a dozen speeches," cried Mr. Rushworth, "what would you do with such a part as mine? I have forty-two to learn."

So we see that Mr. Rushworth, in playing his "role" as a character in MP, proudly "comes in three times" (so to speak), in boasting about the prodigious size of his "part" (so to speak) --size clearly matters to Mr. Rushworth in his various "comings", even if his "comings" and his "part" do not impress his not-so-blushing bride! And in my opinion, JA fully intended both of the sexual innuendoes I have just discreetly pinpointed.

But I've known all along that JA was a very very clever elf with a wicked sense of sexual humor. What I am here today to tell you is the reason why I am now certain that Mr. Rushworth is NOT as dumb as he seems--for starters, I actually went back to the text of Lover's Vows yesterday on a hunch, and sure enough, when I counted all of Count Cassel's entrances and speeches, there are indeed exactly THREE entrances and FORTY-TWO speeches--which means that Mr. Rushworth is shown to be exactly and precisely correct in his boasting!

Now, some of you may say, "Big deal"-in those days, as in the present, according to standard theatrical practice, as a performer of a role in a play, he would not have been given the entire playtext, he'd have been given a much much shorter booklet containing text which consisted only of Count Cassel's 42 speeches, with appropriate cueing for his entry into and exit from the three scenes in which he appears.

And, so I imagine (but perhaps someone reading this with a knowledge of amateur theatrical history during the Regency Era can tell us better), perhaps the title on the front of that mini-text given to Mr. Rushworth when the part was assigned to him, might have read something like "Lover's Vows--the 42 speeches of Count Cassel, with 3 entrances & exits", right?  So maybe, on that theory, all he did was read that off the front page and parrot that data back to everyone who would listen, and many who apparently chose not to listen, to him.

But....knowing Jane Austen as I do, I smelled a rat, and so I searched the word "speeches" all the way through MP, and lo and behold, look at what I found in Chapter 28, without any indication that it might inform our understanding the hidden meaning of Mr. Rushworth's boasting about his 42 speeches:

"They behaved very well, however, to him [meaning Edmund] on the occasion, betraying no exultation beyond the lines about the corners of the mouth, and seemed to think it as great an escape to be quit of the intrusion of Charles Maddox, as if they had been forced into admitting him against their inclination. "To have it quite in their own family circle was what they had particularly wished. A stranger among them would have been the destruction of all their comfort"; and when Edmund, pursuing that idea, gave a hint of his hope as to the limitation of the audience, they were ready, in the complaisance of the moment, to promise anything. It was all good-humour and encouragement. Mrs. Norris offered to contrive his dress, Mr. Yates assured him that Anhalt's last scene with the Baron admitted a good deal of action and emphasis, and Mr. Rushworth undertook to count his speeches."

Did you catch that last part? Mr. Rushworth "undertook to count" Anhalt's speeches in that last scene.  Think about what that tells us about Mr. Rushworth, even if the narrator does not in any way flag it for you.

It means, of course, that Mr. Rushworth probably has the entire text of Lover's Vows in hand, since Count Cassel does not appear at all in Anhalt's last scene with the Baron, so how else could Mr. Rushworth count Anhalt's speeches? And that in turn also tells you--explicitly, I might add---that Mr. Rushworth "counts" speeches entirely on his own mental locomotion, without being prompted, and does not merely parrot a number already placed before his eyes!--to say nothing of the wonderful pun that Mr. Rushworth, who plays Count Cassel, also loves to count the number of speeches that each actor performs! 

And, by the way, in a way that even Jane Austen herself could not have foreseen, doesn't that pun remind you of a very very very famous deployment of that very same pun in modern American television history? Of course, I am referring to the Count, Count Dracula, who is one of the muppets who is known for his frequent counting of numbers for the preschoolers watching Sesame Street!

But back one last time to Mr. Rushworth---doesn't all of that very specific, proactive counting of speeches, not just Anhalt's but think also about how Rushworth would have thumbed through Lover's Vows shortly after he was assigned the part of Count Cassel, keeping careful count as we went--this establishes that JA went to no small trouble to first make us all remember Mr. Rushworth's 42 speeches, and then to make sure she made it clear, to those who read closely with the right questions in mind, and who were then diligent enough to go back to the actual text of Lover's Vows, that Mr. Rushworth is not the moron everyone thinks he is. It suggests that if size matters, in mental as well as sexual capacity, Mr. Rushworth's is not so small as everyone has always thought it was.

And that, by the way, is only the tip of the iceberg of the hidden numerology of Mansfield Park--and all of JA's novels, for that matter. How much did JA dabble in?  Let me count the ways....another time.

And…that’s where my original post ended, but then I received two short, sweet responses:

Diane Reynolds wrote: "Mind bending to think Mr. Rushworth might be smart!"
Diana Birchall wrote: "Arnie, yes indeed, Dr. Cheryl Kinney's wonderful talk did make a tremendous impression on me as well. Thank you for your kind words, though I think you have cured me of ever wishing to count Mr. Rushworth's speeches!

Yes, indeed, mind-bending would be the right word, when we think about Mary Crawford’s ad lib:
     Blest Knight! whose dictatorial looks dispense
     To Children affluence, to Rushworth sense.

And as I think about this some more, I do believe it is reasonable to connect the dots between this current meme of Rushworth perhaps playing the doofus rather than actually being one, and the meme I speculated about earlier this year, about Rushworth’s pink satin cloak being a marker of his preference for the romantic company of men rather than women. I.e., what if Rushworth is not a fool who marries a woman who clearly doesn’t love him, but instead a wise fellow who chooses a wife who will not have any expectation that he will sleep with her—indeed, a wife whom he can COUNT on NOT to devoutly desire that consummation?  ;)
Food for thought, my friends…

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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