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

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Churchill (aka Aunt Leigh Perrot) as Baby Barterers

In Janeites, Linda Thomas picked up on my earlier suggestion that Mrs. Norris might just be the biological mother of her (apparent) niece Maria Bertram, and suggested that the grant of the Mansfield living to Mr. Norris might have been part of a quid pro quo whereby Mrs. Norris could remain in close contact as a kind of de facto mother to Maria. 

Linda then wrote: “This what Austen writes:
"Miss Ward, after half a dozen years,  found "herself obliged to be attached to the Rev. Mr. Norris, a friend of her brother-in-law, with scarcely any private fortune, and Miss Frances fared yet worse. Miss Ward's match, indeed, when it came to the point, was not contemptible: Sir Thomas being happily able to give his friend an income in the living of Mansfield ..."
At the AGM, Peter Sabor said there were about 70 changes between 1st edition MP and 2nd edition MP.  Do you know which edition this text is from, and if it differs in the other?”

Diane Reynolds then responded: “The Cambridge edition is based on the second edition of 1816 but shows all the variants with the 1814 text. The text I quoted, according to Cambridge, is the same in both editions: " "herself obliged to be attached to the Rev. Mr. Norris, a friend of her brother-in-law, with scarcely any private fortune, and Miss Frances fared yet worse. Miss Ward's match, indeed, when it came to the point, was not contemptible: Sir Thomas being happily able to give his friend an income in the living of Mansfield ..." JA changed nothing there.
…Of course, the only way to truly sure there were no changes would be to look at the first and second editions myself, but I have neither the capacity to do so nor the inclination to distrust the Cambridge editors. Linda, just out of curiosity, did you have a reason to believe there was a substantive change in the history of Mrs. Norris between the two editions? It would be interesting if Austen had thought to change that backstory. If there is concern about these issues, we can keep checking quotes against the Cambridge.”

And here is my response to both of these excellent posts:
I also attended that breakout session given by Peter Sabor (who, in addition to giving a very strong presentation, also has an orator’s voice and strong English accent tailor-made for Masterpiece Theatre), and found it very interesting—What I like about Linda’s textual history question is that I have taken that very same strategy of checking changes between different published versions of some of Shakespeare’s plays, and I found it very fruitful in some cases in elucidating aspects of Shakespeare’s shadow stories.
Plus, as my friend Jim Heldman was the first to point out 20 years ago, the cancelled chapters of Persuasion  provide a giant window into the shadow story of that novel, because you clearly see therein the Crofts playing clumsy matchmakers for  Anne and Wentworth, which then spurs the reader to spot the hidden clues of similar import scattered throughout several of the EARLIER chapters of Persuasion.

As I just explained to Louise, it’s all about the reader’s point of  view, being able and willing to look at the texts of JA’s novels through the lenses of different assumptions, and testing to see if any of the reexamined text “lights  up” under those different assumptions.

So even though Linda’s question didn’t lead to a discovery of a material change in this instance, I love that she asked a great question!—Indeed, if you don’t ask the question, you never even get to the point of learning whether there is an interesting answer to that question lurking in the shadows….

And…what also just occurred to me as I reread this thread again this morning is how much the above quoted passage about how Mr. Norris got the living at Mansfield, with its winking ambiguities, reminds me of a comparable passage very early in the next novel JA wrote, Emma, in which another man comes into a competence via a murky transaction with a wealthy family, whereby a young child is quietly transferred from its biological parent.

“Captain Weston, who had been considered, especially by the Churchills, as making such an amazing match, was proved to have much the worst of the bargain; for when his wife died, after a three years' marriage, he was rather a poorer man than at first, and with a child to maintain. From the expense of the child, however, he was soon relieved. The boy had, with the additional softening claim of a lingering illness of his mother's, been the means of a sort of reconciliation; and Mr. and Mrs. Churchill, having no children of their own, nor any other young creature of equal kindred to care for, offered to take the whole charge of the little Frank soon after her decease. Some scruples and some reluctance the widower-father may be supposed to have felt; but as they were overcome by other considerations, the child was given up to the care and the wealth of the Churchills, and he had only his own comfort to seek, and his own situation to improve as he could.
A complete change of life became desirable. He quitted the militia and engaged in trade, having brothers already established in a good way in London, which afforded him a favourable opening. It was a concern which brought just employment enough. He had still a small house in Highbury, where most of his leisure days were spent; and between useful occupation and the pleasures of society, the next eighteen or twenty years of his life passed cheerfully away. He had, by that time, realised an easy competence—enough to secure the purchase of a little estate adjoining Highbury, which he had always longed for—enough to marry a woman as portionless even as Miss Taylor, and to live according to the wishes of his own friendly and social disposition. “

It was in 2004 that I first noticed that telltale phrase about how Captain Weston’s scruples about giving up Frank to his sister-in-law “were overcome by other considerations” .  EVERY real estate lawyer working within the English common law system immediately recognizes that JA is winking broadly at a SALE of the child for some sort of monetary consideration, as in this standard verbiage from a million contracts and deeds:

“For Ten Dollars ($10.00) and other good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged, the parties hereto hereby agree as follows, etc…..”

So….I find that striking parallelism to be very suggestive evidence that Linda’s instincts were spot on in connecting the grant by Sir Thomas of the living to Mr. Norris with the marriage of Mr. Norris to (so I suggest) the “grant” of baby Maria to Lady Bertram. JA sorta makes it sound like a coincidence, but for me, every apparent coincidence in a JA novel is a giant clue pointing to the shadows….

And….what’s also interesting about Linda’s suggestion of a linkage between Mrs. Norris as Maria’s bio mother and Mr. Norris’s receiving the living at Mansfield is that in the end of MP, we read:

“…[Maria] must withdraw with infinitely stronger feelings to a retirement and reproach which could allow no second spring of hope or character.
Where she could be placed became a subject of most melancholy and momentous consultation. Mrs. Norris, whose attachment seemed to augment with the demerits of her niece, would have had her received at home and countenanced by them all. Sir Thomas would not hear of it; and Mrs. Norris's anger against Fanny was so much the greater, from considering her residence there as the motive. She persisted in placing his scruples to her account, though Sir Thomas very solemnly assured her that, had there been no young woman in question, had there been no young person of either sex belonging to him, to be endangered by the society or hurt by the character of Mrs. Rushworth, he would never have offered so great an insult to the neighbourhood as to expect it to notice her. As a daughter, he hoped a penitent one, she should be protected by him, and secured in every comfort, and supported by every encouragement to do right, which their relative situations admitted; but farther than that he could not go. Maria had destroyed her own character, and he would not, by a vain attempt to restore what never could be restored, by affording his sanction to vice, or in seeking to lessen its disgrace, be anywise accessory to introducing such misery in another man's family as he had known himself.
It ended in Mrs. Norris's resolving to quit Mansfield and devote herself to her unfortunate Maria, and in an establishment being formed for them in another country, remote and private, where, shut up together with little society, on one side no affection, on the other no judgment, it may be reasonably supposed that their tempers became their mutual punishment…..”
Note the narrative hedge with “it  may be reasonably supposed….”—what if this is a wink that tells us that the removed life of Mrs.Norris and Maria will not be the Sartrean hell that Fanny perceives it to be, but is actually a voluntary, indeed a desired, reuniting of mother and daughter finally free from dictatorial abusive control by Sir Thomas?

And…I conclude by also noting that I have long believed that JA’s Aunt Leigh-Perrot was represented several times, always in a very unfavorable light, in JA’s novels, and two of those characters are….Mrs. Norris (whose kleptomania was of course JA’s aunt’s most notorious foible) and Mrs. Churchill (a family dictator who used inheritance as a club to batter family members into obedience and submission). So, it’s a nice irony to see Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Churchill connected via shady baby-trading transactions as well.

So thanks to Linda for opening this portal so wide!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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