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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

So Tysoe Hancock really WAS a Jonathan Swift fan after all!

After my speculation in my post last week that Tysoe Hancock may well have been inspired, by a passage in Jonathan Swift’s off-the-wall Polite Conversations, to concoct his strange fantasy about being hung by young women with garters sent to him by the elderly Miss Freeman, imagine my pleasant surprise when I read the following comment by Ellen this morning:

 “…reread his letter 3 September 1773 for why he says the Governor will give him nothing. I don’t know which Swift text his analogy comes from: the man wanted to be my Lord’s Chaplain ends his postilion.”

The following is the answer to Ellen’s question, as you’ll see, it makes my speculation seem more like a certainty—it tells us that beneath a lugubrious personality almost certainly was a primary source for Colonel Brandon’s being such a downer, Tysoe Hancock (perhaps identifying with Jonathan Swift, who was, for all of his satirical output, not the happiest camper in the world) had a sense of humor, and was a reading man who was not just about the ka-ching of pounds and rupees. And his persistent desire for Eliza to get an excellent education can then be seen as his wanting his daughter (whether biological or not) to follow in his own learned footsteps.

First, the allusion by Hancock is to Tatler #52 from 1709, Steele’s first periodical, to which Swift made a handful of contributions, under the same fake name that Steele had invented, Isaac Bickerstaffe. And here is the relevant quotation from Tatler #52:

“We have one peculiar elegance in our language above all others, which is conspicuous in the term 'fellow.' This word, added to any of our adjectives, extremely varies, or quite alters the sense of that with which is it joined. Thus though 'a modest man,' is the most unfortunate of all men, yet a modest fellow' is as superlatively happy. 'A modest fellow' is a ready creature, who with great humility, and as great forwardness, visits his patrons at all hours, and meets them in all places, and has so moderate an opinion of himself, that he makes his court at large. If you will not give him a great employment, he will be glad of a little one. He has so great a deference for his benefactor’s judgment, that as he thinks himself fit for any thing he can get, so he is above nothing which is offered. He is like the young bachelor of arts, who came to town recommended to a chaplain's place; but none being vacant, modestly accepted that of a postillion.”  END QUOTE

And we know from RAAL’s  intro to Chapter 3 that he learned about the Hancock correspondence  from a passage in a 1904 article by one  Sydney Grier, and here it is, which includes more verbiage from Hancock’s letter:

“A Friend of Warren Hastings” by Sydney C. Grier in Blackwood’s Magazine:
“…The extraordinary compact between Hastings and Imhoff and his wife was still a secret, and Hancock puts the worst construction upon the lady's remaining. It is impossible not to suspect that a certain jealousy of her influence had invaded his mind. If the theory we have propounded be correct, it was natural that he should object to find Phila's sister supplanted by a foreigner whose position he considered equivocal, and he had certainly not reaped the benefits he anticipated from Hastings' appointment. "I have not," he complains, "a hundredth part of the influence with the Governor which his head-bearer enjoys. At present I am somewhat in the situation of the clergyman mentioned by Swift, who made interest to be a lord's chaplain, but was obliged to be contented with being his lordship's postilion." When he attempted to obtain a post for an acquaintance, Hastings had answered, "As to my friends, I shall be glad to serve them, but as to my friends' friends, I neither can nor will serve them." The words must have been uttered in a moment of unusual irritation, but Hancock felt that he could ask no more, though this was not his worst disappointment. He had hoped to become his friend's private secretary, "on account of our long intimacy and my education," but was passed over in favour of the Hon. John Stewart.
"I will venture to assure you," he says tartly, "that the abilities of this gentleman are circumscribed within a narrow compass; but he is a Scotsman, and blessed with a happy opinion of his own importance." When Stewart became Secretary to the Council, Hancock ventured again to ask Hastings whom he meant to appoint, and learned that it was Belli, the protege of John Macpherson, his Madras colleague. Poor Hancock writes that the answer had cured him of vanity, as the young man was very worthy, and better qualified for the post than himself, and though much hurt, he feels that Hastings is right.”

I wonder why RAAL did not quote the full passage that Grier sets out  from the actual letter, but in the era of Google, it was easy to retrieve Grier’s article.

And so, there is the full explanation that Ellen sought. A postilion was the second fiddle who rode on the left lead horse in a team of six horses pulling a chaise, while the driver was the one sitting up top, in effect the “captain”.  So, the part of the letter that RAAL quoted sounded as if Hancock was resentful of Hastings’s treating him like a stranger (a mere Friend’s Friend), but the other parts quoted by Grier make it sound like Hancock, with his low self-esteem, rationalizing Hastings giving him the cold shoulder.

And one final point that connects to my recent posts about Mary Crawford as in part a portrait of Eliza Hancock Austen.  When Hancock writes that learning of Macpherson getting another valued appointment ahead of him “had cured him of vanity”, it reminded me of what Mary says:

“Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure."

Somehow I have to believe that Mary’s witty, paradoxical aphoristic genius is a reflection of the same trait in the real life Eliza, and that Eliza’s ironic sense of humor was in some part a legacy from her “father” Tysoe Hancock.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mary Crawford paraphrases the Doge (and Jesus): Teaching Fanny to think (way) outside the…cage, by rendering unto Bertram ONLY what is Bertram’s

I am so glad for Laurel Ann Nattress’s recent post (at Sarah Emsley’s Austen-themed blog) about “Mary Crawford: the black cloud of Mansfield Park”, a post which has spawned much discussion:

As my recent posts show, Laurel Ann’s post has prompted me to revisit many of Mary Crawford’s bon mots in MP, and to see them now as all of a piece--even more clearly than before, I see them as the utterances of a subversive Zen master, who finds a way, repeatedly, to teach (while seeming not to teach) her unwitting student, Fanny Price, what IS worth knowing, for a young woman in their world and time. And as my Subject Line states, and you will see before the end of this post, I see that it’s not just Zen Buddhism behind Mary’s covert campaign, it also goes to the heart of Mary’s (and JA’s) radical feminist Christianity.

Specifically and repeatedly, Mary, under the guise of seeming to speak egotistically only about herself, covertly gives her younger friend a subtle education in thinking (way) outside the box (or, to borrow Maria Bertram’s metaphor, the cage)—teaching Fanny the fine art of subverting an oppressive patriarchal regime, of which Sir Thomas Bertram’s reign at Mansfield Park is the quintessential example. As Mary herself puts it, in her witty parody of a famous parody of Pope by Browne:

And this, too:
Blest Knight! whose dictatorial looks dispense
     To Children affluence, to Rushworth sense.

Sir Thomas begins the novel as the unchallenged dictator of Mansfield Park, and yet at the end, in no small part because Fanny summons up the courage to defy Sir Thomas’s pressure to marry Henry, Fanny not only survives, she actually prospers—Sir Thomas’s tyranny has been blunted. I.e., Mary has taught Fanny very well indeed exactly what was worth knowing!

As one of the best examples of that novel-long process of teaching, today I revisit what Mary says to Fanny during one of their frequent strolls in the shrubbery at the Parsonage after Julia and Maria leave Mansfield Park. In that tete-a-tete , we read the following riposte by Mary to Fanny’s rhapsody on nature and memory:

“To say the truth," replied Miss Crawford, "I am something like the famous Doge at the court of Lewis XIV; and may declare that I see no wonder in this shrubbery equal to seeing myself in it."

Two commenters responded to Laurel Ann’s post by pointing to that very speech and judging Mary harshly for it:

Lady T: “Mary’s blithe attitude towards anything that does not suit her fancy appears again and again in the novel; her “do not bother me with watches” mock debate with Edmund at Sotherton, that “sweets of country living” remark to Mrs. Grant which came not too soon after replying to Fanny about the scenic setting they were in where she compares her disinterest in the shrubbery to that of the Doge.”

Natalia: “It is true that Fanny is not “accomplished” in a way Mary is, but I think she is much more sophisticated. In Chapter 22, when Mary and Fanny take a walk together in the parsonage garden, Fanny tries to engage Mary in a non-trivial conversation, sharing her deep and very interesting reflections. Mary’s only answer “I am something like the famous Doge at the court of Lewis XIV; and may declare that I see no wonder in this shrubbery equal to seeing myself in it.…” is witty and brilliant, true, but at the same time primitive.”

Blithe, primitive, trivial, narcissistic—I think it fair to say that those comments reflect the overwhelming judgment of non-scholarly Janeites on Mary Crawford’s aphorism. But what about Austen scholars?

Not very different, it turns out, even among insightful and unconventional scholars: 

Colleen Sheehan: “The individual is not limited by nature or God; rather she is, like Mary Crawford or the Doge at the court of Louis XIV, at the center or all existence and poised to become master of all that
surrounds her.”

Emily Auerbach: “…Austen links the witty Mary Crawford to the decadence and selfishness of French culture by having Mary compare herself to the narcissistic Doge in the court of Louis XIV.”

Barbara Britton Wenner: “Now, of course, Mary is commenting on finding  herself in such a rural setting, lacking the excitement  and stimulation of London, but she is  also placing herself as an object in the landscape, much as though she were observing herself as the male landscape  proprietor might observe her. …Mary saw nature, inanimate nature, with little observation: her attention was all for men and women.” However, the cure here involves noticing and internalizing the landscape, not simply skimming over it superficially.”

Four years ago, I posted an alternative take on Mary’s speech, pointing out that JA (speaking through Mary) had concealed her own erudition about the actual historical context in which the Doge of Venice had famously uttered the words paraphrased by Mary, history as reported by no less illustrious a historian than Voltaire, regarding the 1685 bombardment of Genoa by Louis XIV:

 “The Republick of Genoa humbled itself still more submissively towards {Louis XIV], than that of Algiers. The Genoese had sold gun-powder and bombs to the Algerines; and had likewise built four gallies for the service of Spain. The King forbad them, by his Envoy St. Olon, one of his Gentlemen in ordinary, to launch those ships, and menaced them with immediate chastisement, if they did not instantly comply with his demand. The Genoese, incensed at this violation of their liberties, and depending too much upon the support of Spain, gave him no satisfaction. Immediately fourteen men of war, twenty gallies, ten bombketches, with several frigates, set sail from the port of Toulon. …They arrived before Genoa, and the ten bomb ketches discharged fourteen thousand 57 shells into the town, which reduced to ashes a principal part of those marble edifices which had intitled this city to the name of Genoa the Proud. Four thousand men were then landed, who marched up to the gates, and burned the Suburb of St. Peter of Arena. It was now thought prudent to submit, in order to prevent the total destruction of the place.
The King exacted that the Doge of Genoa, with four of the principal Senators, should come and implore his clemency in the Palace of Versailles; and lest the Genoese should elude the making this satisfaction, and lessen in any manner the pomp of it, he insisted farther that the Doge, who was to perform this embassy, should be continued in his magistracy…The Doge, apparelled in his robes of state, his head covered with a bonnet of red velvet, which he often took off during his speech, made his submission, the very words and demeanour of which were dictated and prescribed to him by Seignelai. The King gave him audience, sitting and covered: but as in all the actions of his life he joined politeness with dignity, he behaved towards Lercaro and the Senators with as much graciousness as state.  The Ministers treated them with more haughtiness; which gave the Doge occasion to say, "The King captivates our hearts by the manner in which he receives us, but his Ministers set them at liberty again." The Doge was a man of a lively wit. Everyone has heard the reply he made to the Marquis of Seignelai, when he asked him what he found most remarkable at Versailles? “To see myself here," said he. “ 

In 2010, I interpreted Mary Crawford’s accurate paraphrase of the Doge as fitting the context in the Parsonage shrubbery, i.e., as an obliquely defiant statement by Mary in an unacknowledged cold war between her and Fanny over Edmund.

However now I see it in a larger context, i.e., that this is just one among many examples of Mary modeling for Fanny how a woman can defy patriarchal oppression and get away with it. I.e., reading Voltaire’s account carefully shows that the Doge was not a self-indulgent narcissist, but instead was a resourceful rebel, who found a clever non-violent way to refuse to be utterly humiliated and degraded by Louis XIV, and to deny the French king the satisfaction of hearing the Doge’s unqualified verbal submission. Louis could destroy most of Genoa for its defiance of his orders, but he could not force Genoa to be grateful for it. And on top of that, the Doge was perhaps also mocking the saying for which Louis XIV’s remains famous for (allegedly) saying, which is the ultimate in the narcissism of personification:      “L’etat, c’est moi.”   (“France IS me”).

And as I wrote the previous paragraph, I was reminded of the ultimate touchstone for this sort of witty defiance, in which the most famous master of paradox in human history avoids direct confrontation to another tyrant, while at the same time avoiding submitting to that power:  

“Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's.”

There is no doubt in my mind that JA, with her peerless Biblical insight and knowledge, fully intended for the knowing reader of MP to recognize what at first might seem absurd---that Mary, in paraphrasing the Doge, is also emulating Jesus, seeking to jolt her “disciple” Fanny into a new awareness of the power of indirect, subversive resistance to oppression. And the veiled allusion to Jesus  adds sharp irony to Tom Bertram’s faux innocent statement to brother Edmund, who worries what Sir  Thomas will think about their amateur theatrical: “How many a time have we mourned over the dead body of Julius Caesar, and to be'd and not to be'd, in this very room, for his amusement?”  Just as I have long argued that MP is one extended riff on Hamlet, with Sir Thomas as King Claudius, so too is it an extended riff on Julius Caesar, in which the narcissism of Caesar wanting to be proclaimed emperor of Rome leads to his assassination, and that reflects on the humbling of Sir  Thomas at  the end of MP, his domestic power unchallenged no more.

But back to Fanny’s quiet nonviolent rebellion. In the end, Fanny refuses to render unto her uncle what is NOT his, i.e., her body, mind, heart, soul, and life. And I say, this would never have happened had Mary NOT taught--by not teaching---Fanny to see herself as an autonomous being with the God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

So, friends, Janeites, and countrymen, I hope I made good use of your lending me your eyes during your reading of this post, and I also hope at least some of you are ready to join me in praising Mary Crawford instead of burying her in condemnation!  ;)

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mary Crawford the Zen Mistress of Mansfield Park

My last post was largely about the landscape ha-ha in Mansfield Park as a veiled allusion by JA to Troilus’s laughing “Ha! Ha!” when hears a crude sexual meaning in Cressida’s invitation to him to “come again into her chamber”. In the aftermath, I decided to revisit the broader symbolic significance of the ha-ha in MP, and a couple of new wrinkles emerged which I’d like to share, including one that I’ve hinted at in my Subject Line.
First, I noticed this time around something I hadn’t noticed before--while most Janeites who know Mansfield Park well are familiar with Maria Bertram’s famous complaint…
“Yes, certainly, the sun shines, and the park looks very cheerful. But unluckily that iron gate, THAT HA-HA, give me a feeling of restraint and hardship. 'I cannot get out,' as the starling said."
… most don’t connect it to Mary Crawford’s speech near the end of the previous chapter:
After sitting a little while Miss Crawford was up again. "I must move," said she; "resting fatigues me. I have looked across THE HA-HA till I am weary. I must go and look through that iron gate at the same view, without being able to see it so well."
It’s easy to whiz right by Mary’s comments without a pause, but when you stop and really read and think about Mary’s little speech, it ought to make you shake your head. What in the world is she really saying? The only Austen scholar I can find who has ever looked closely at that specific speech and commented on it specifically is Inger Sigrun Brodey who in the 1995 Persuasions made these  comments in her article entitled “Papas and Ha-has”:

“…The central fixture …is a ha-ha. It is the sight of this ha ha and the gate belonging to it which elicits from Mary Crawford [that] memorable response…It is worth noting here that Mary recognizes the perversity of her own desires: that what she gains in relief from a feeling of oppression she will lose in actual view or prospect.”

Yes indeed, it is the seeming perversity of Mary’s comments that is puzzling—why would sitting make one tired? Why would changing one’s place so as to obstruct one’s panoramic view be a better way to look at a landscape?

It occurred to me as I read her take that Brodey, while correctly identifying that speech as one worthy of critical notice, nonetheless erred in taking Mary too literally. Mary’s logic may seem perverse, but what if it has a higher purpose? I instantly recalled the comment that Lizzy Bennet makes to sister Jane near the end of P&P, which I have often cited as evidence of a Buddhist perspective, based on enlightenment via paradox, taken by Jane Austen:

"But why should you wish to persuade me that I feel more than I acknowledge?"
"That is a question which I hardly know how to answer. We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing. Forgive me; and if you persist in indifference, do not make me your confidante."

In other words, you cannot teach the really valuable lessons of life to others in a linear way, wisdom is not effectively transferred via lecture. Far better is the teacher who provokes the student to arrive at his or her own insight, by means of a well chosen paradox, which jars the student out of the complacency of an “objective” viewpoint, and leads the student past the “ha-ha” of a long-held safe opinion or attitude,  into the dangerous “wilderness’ of a radical new understanding.

And at that very moment, I reached a fresh perspective on Mary’s puzzling, paradoxical comments, not only about resting as fatiguing and obstructions as facilitating one’s experience of the picturesque, but also various things she says to Fanny, or in Fanny’s presence, including this famous bit of  “nonsense” which Mary says to Fanny right before her whopper about resting being fatiguing:

"I am really not tired, which I almost wonder at; for we must have walked at least a mile in this wood. Do not you think we have?"
"Not half a mile," was his sturdy answer; for he was not yet so much in love as to measure distance, or reckon time, with feminine lawlessness.
"Oh! you do not consider how much we have wound about. We have taken such a very serpentine course, and the wood itself must be half a mile long in a straight line, for we have never seen the end of it yet since we left the first great path."
"But if you remember, before we left that first great path, we saw directly to the end of it. We looked down the whole vista, and saw it closed by iron gates, and it could not have been more than a furlong in length."
"Oh! I know nothing of your furlongs, but I am sure it is a very long wood, and that we have been winding in and out ever since we came into it; and therefore, when I say that we have walked a mile in it, I must speak within compass."
"We have been exactly a quarter of an hour here," said Edmund, taking out his watch. "Do you think we are walking four miles an hour?"
"Oh! do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch."

What I realize now is that Mary has quietly taken on the project of teaching Fanny what is really worth knowing, by the correct method, which is the “not teaching” that is the hallmark of Zen Buddhist practice. Mary, like Captain Kirk in the Star Trek movie series, is teaching Fanny that when the game is rigged against you, as life was rigged against women in their world, then the only option is to break all the rules, to subvert the game, which lacks moral legitimacy and so is deserving of subversion!

Mary, in short, is like Oscar Wilde, delighting in instructive paradoxes. And the proof that her project is a success is that in the end of the day, Fanny gets what she wants, and in particular, when it is all on the line, Fanny stands up to the mighty oppressive power of her uncle Sir Thomas Bertram.

I think this could the starting point for more profitable ruminations in the same vein, but I will leave those for another day, unless any of you wishes to pick up the skein and carry it in a direction of your choice.

My final comment for now is that if (and I believe it to be so) Eliza Hancock Austen was a source for the character of Mary Crawford, then it tells me that Jane Austen must have really been grateful to her   “outlandish cousin”  for jarring Jane into deeper psychological awareness, and also perhaps for giving Jane the courage to be herself as a woman and as a writer---and, given that I also believe there is a strong lesbian vibe between Mary and Fanny, as I have written on a number of occasions during the past few years, that makes me really wonder about the relationship between Jane and Eliza when nobody else was around.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Mad, bad and dangerous To know -- and rich too!: The dark Darcy of Pride & Prejudice---and a REALLY cool book cover!

I think the book cover shown above (the purchase of which may be achieved via the above link) may just be the coolest Jane Austen-related image I've ever seen, so I wanted to show my admiration for it, and maybe bring a little extra business to the publisher, Oldcastle, with this post. I myself plan on buying one of these just so I can put it out on display in my man-cave in our new house after we move in, just where visitors will walk by, see it, and do a double (or triple) take!

Here's what the illustrator, David Mann, says about the making of the cover:
"This cover was originally painted only as a sample for the publisher, but ended up being published on the first Pulp! The Classics. I used a photo of Colin Firth to paint from, as I felt that he’s still the definitive Mr Darcy for most people, the aim was to produce a Colin Firth-esque visage, not necessarily a bang-on portrait. I’ve subsequently been told it looks just like him/ nothing like him / a bit like him / just like myself! The rather smouldering expression seems to lend itself to the comedy cigarette treatment. I’m not necessarily a big fan of cigarette smoking (anymore), but I did notice a fair few vintage pulps featured the activity of smoking/leering on their covers – so mine do too. Add the strapline, and then it’s over to the designer Elsa Mathern." 

What also particularly appeals to me personally, and what I believe was not known to Mann or Oldcastle before they created that cover, is that I have for a number of years believed that Jane Austen intended the Darcy of the shadow story of Pride & Prejudice to be perceived by the knowing reader as a pretty dangerous clerk for a young woman to encounter in one of the aisles of the Regency Era marital superstore --a man with looks, wealth, aristocratic status AND an unwillingness to accept the word "No" when he wants some thing....or, at least, some woman (like Elizabeth Bennet)!

CAVEAT EMPTOR would be especially apt advice in that moment.

Here's a link to a post of mine from 2 years ago which gives a brief survey of the kinds of stuff I've written previously which all point to this dangerous Darcy, the kind of guy that Mary Bennet tried to warn her older sister Lizzy about with not one but several whispered warnings,.....but Lizzy, after she saw Pemberley, was deaf to all such advice, and utterly beyond salvation!

I’ll bet Colin Firth in particular likes the cover, because it helps liberate him from the strait-jacket of the idealized Darcy that is everywhere!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter