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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Mary Crawford’s enigmatic “air of grandeur” in Mansfield Park

All Janeites know the scene in S&S when Elinor first speaks to Marianne about her feelings for Edward:

"I do not attempt to deny," said she, "that I think very highly of him—that I greatly esteem, that I like him."
Marianne here burst forth with indignation— "Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise. Use those words again, and I will leave the room this moment."

In the novel, we next read Elinor’s convoluted, rationalizing speech about those feelings, but Emma Thompson’s film version shortens Elinor’s reply to one sentence, before giving Marianne an effective comic turn not present in the novel text:

Elinor: “Very well. Forgive me. Believe my feelings to be stronger than I have declared but further than that you must not believe.
Marianne is flummoxed but she rallies swiftly and picks up her book again.
Marianne: 'Is love a fancy or a feeling?' Or a Ferrars?
Elinor: Go to bed!
Elinor blushes in good earnest. Marianne goes to the door.
Marianne: (imitating Elinor) 'I do not attempt to deny that I think highly of him greatly esteem him! Like him!'

Marianne’s mocking speech in Elinor’s voice, spoken by Kate Winslet, is one of many wonderful small alterations that Thompson makes to JA’s first published novel, to universal acclaim. After all, S&S arguably required same, because it contains much less of the kind of memorable repartee that is found in many places in her much more theatrical, enacted second published novel, P&P.

The primary reason I mention all of the above, however, is not in relation to either S&S or P&P, but because of something I noticed for the first time yesterday in JA’s third published novel, Mansfield Park. I.e., I recognized with surprised delight that Mary Crawford actually engages in a mocking imitation in the voice of another person in the novel’s actual text -- an imitation which, as far as I can tell after checking various online sources, has never been noticed before, at least by any published Austen scholar, or in either Janeites or Austen-L.  

I’ll tell you about that speech by Mary shortly, but first let me say that I find Mary Crawford to be the wittiest of all of Austen’s characters; even more so than Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Bennet, or Lady Susan, who are the three other Austen characters who I’ve seen mentioned as most deserving to be ranked in that rarefied category. Above all, Mary, like her creator, dearly loves a pun, as all Janeites know from Mary’s famous, totally disingenuous denial of making what appears to be a very scandalous pun indeed:

“Fanny would rather have had Edmund tell the story, but his determined silence obliged her to relate her brother’s situation: her voice was animated in speaking of his profession, and the foreign stations he had been on; but she could not mention the number of years that he had been absent without tears in her eyes. Miss Crawford civilly wished him an early promotion.
“Do you know anything of my cousin’s captain?” said Edmund; “Captain Marshall? You have a large acquaintance in the navy, I conclude?”
“Among admirals, large enough; but,” with an air of grandeur, “we know very little of the inferior ranks. Post-captains may be very good sort of men, but they do not belong to us. Of various admirals I could tell you a great deal: of them and their flags, and the gradation of their pay, and their bickerings and jealousies. But, in general, I can assure you that they are all passed over, and all very ill used. Certainly, my home at my uncle’s brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals. Of Rears and Vices I saw enough. Now do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat.”
Edmund again felt grave, and only replied, “It is a noble profession.”
“Yes, the profession is well enough under two circumstances: if it make the fortune, and there be discretion in spending it; but, in short, it is not a favourite profession of mine. It has never worn an amiable form to me.”  “  END QUOTE

In previous posts, I’ve repeatedly suggested the error of the universal belief among Janeites that Mary’s account of a sexually transgressive circle of admirals is a gratuitous salacious non sequitur, a faux pas which Mary blurts out and then perhaps instantly regrets. I see a very different Mary in that scene, one who uses the mask of a careless wit to give her safe cover to blow a serious moral whistle. I.e., I see Mary as trying to alert Fanny to the “price” William has already paid, or will shortly pay, for the naval promotion he has just received courtesy of the “generosity” of Henry Crawford and his admiral (but not admirable) uncle. That “price” will be the submission of William’s body to the carnal lusts of Uncle Crawford (and maybe of the polymorphously sexual Henry Crawford, who wished to make holes in hearts everywhere he turned).

And that brings me to the point: can you spot, in that passage, the part where Mary mockingly speaks in the voice of another person, in exactly the same manner as Kate Winslet’s Marianne Dashwood mockingly imitates her sister’s unconvincing denial of feelings of love for Edward? Hint: as my Subject Line suggests, it is the very words which Mary speaks “with an air of grandeur”!

Now I hope you see that JA has hidden in plain sight a narrated stage direction that alerts us that Mary adopts an air of grandeur, to alert her audience that she’s speaking not for herself, but in the voice of one of the “we” of admirals who “know little of the inferior ranks”! And, if you read Mary’s entire speech through on this point, it rapidly becomes clear that the conventional reading of Mary’s seemingly snobbish identification with her uncle’s circle of admirals becomes utterly untenable. Why would Mary speak, unironically, in the first person plural, as if she were just another one of the admirals who sneered at post-captains, and then spend the rest of her speech drily critiquing those same admirals for their many foibles? It would turn Mary into a kind of multiple personality, which of course is absurd.

And, as if that were not enough, Mary herself states later, without a trace of irony: “I have been so little addicted to take my opinions from my uncle”. So the last thing she is going to do is to think of herself as part of any “we” with her uncle and his cronies, let alone the “us” in the next line: ““Post-captains may be very good sort of men, but they do not belong to us.“ 

What is, upon such close examination, obvious, is that Mary is actually mocking the pretentious snobbery of admirals like her uncle who think themselves far superior as people to post-captains --- conveniently ignoring the fact that many of those same admirals were once post-captains themselves! I’m reminded of both Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny Dashwood in S&S, both of whom I’ve long suspected of coming from humble origins; but then, upon achieving rank via marriage, became the most cruel and zealous defenders of privilege against those less fortunate, who uncomfortably remind them of their own former impecunious selves. And I believe JA makes this clear at the end of S&S, when it becomes apparent that the power of both of these pretenders will be usurped by the most accomplished social climber of all, Lucy Ferrars (Lucifer).

But back to Mary – I say she is either mocking admirals who wish to forget where they came from; or, even worse, those who did not even rise through the naval ranks, but reached the level of admiral without having earned that advancement the hard and proper way, i.e., via service at sea, but instead were given it by nepotism or other preferential treatment. And if that uncomfortably reminds us of William Price, who (like both of JA’s real life sailor brothers) might one day himself rise to the rank of admiral if he lives long enough? Well, then that might also be on Mary’s fertile satirical mind, too.

But, some of you will now object, I’ve veered far offcourse from JA’s actual intentions – why can’t it be that JA in this scene is simply showing us Mary as a snob about hierarchical status? And so maybe Mary really is just borrowing her uncle’s feathers, claiming to be special because of his elevated status? After all, you might add, shortly after that scene, we read how Mary is appalled when she first learns that Edmund intends to take orders and become a country clergyman. Isn’t that the final proof that she’s just a snob?:

“If Edmund were but in orders!” cried Julia, and running to where he stood with Miss Crawford and Fanny: “My dear Edmund, if you were but in orders now, you might perform the ceremony directly. How unlucky that you are not ordained; Mr. Rushworth and Maria are quite ready.”
Miss Crawford’s countenance, as Julia spoke, might have amused a disinterested observer. She looked almost aghast under the new idea she was receiving. Fanny pitied her. “How distressed she will be at what she said just now,” passed across her mind.
“Ordained!” said Miss Crawford; “what, are you to be a clergyman?”
“Yes; I shall take orders soon after my father’s return—probably at Christmas.”
Miss Crawford, rallying her spirits, and recovering her complexion, replied only, “If I had known this before, I would have spoken of the cloth with more respect,” and turned the subject.

Fanny certainly infers that Mary is a snob, but that doesn’t make it an accurate perception of Mary. I suggest instead that a different, more complex picture of Mary’s character emerges when, at her next opportunity, Mary pursues this very same topic of a career in the clergy with Edmund:

“At length, after a short pause, Miss Crawford began with, “So you are to be a clergyman, Mr. Bertram. This is rather a surprise to me.”
“Why should it surprise you? You must suppose me designed for some profession, and might perceive that I am neither a lawyer, nor a soldier, nor a sailor.”
“Very true; but, in short, it had not occurred to me. And you know there is generally an uncle or a grandfather to leave a fortune to the second son.”
“A very praiseworthy practice,” said Edmund, “but not quite universal. I am one of the exceptions, and being one, must do something for myself.”
“But why are you to be a clergyman? I thought that was always the lot of the youngest, where there were many to chuse before him.”
“Do you think the church itself never chosen, then?”
Never is a black word. But yes, in the never of conversation, which means not very often, I do think it. For what is to be done in the church? Men love to distinguish themselves, and in either of the other lines distinction may be gained, but not in the church. A clergyman is nothing.”
“The nothing of conversation has its gradations, I hope, as well as the never. A clergyman cannot be high in state or fashion. He must not head mobs, or set the ton in dress. But I cannot call that situation nothing which has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind, individually or collectively considered, temporally and eternally, which has the guardianship of religion and morals and consequently of the manners which result from their influence. No one here can call the office nothing. If the man who holds it is so, it is by the neglect of his duty, by foregoing its just importance, and stepping out of his place to appear what he ought not to appear.”
You assign greater consequence to the clergyman than one has been used to hear given, or than I can quite comprehend. One does not see much of this influence and importance in society, and how can it be acquired where they are so seldom seen themselves? How can two sermons a week, even supposing them worth hearing, supposing the preacher to have the sense to prefer Blair’s to his own, do all that you speak of? govern the conduct and fashion the manners of a large congregation for the rest of the week? One scarcely sees a clergyman out of his pulpit.”
You are speaking of London, I am speaking of the nation at large.”
“The metropolis, I imagine, is a pretty fair sample of the rest.”
“Not, I should hope, of the proportion of virtue to vice throughout the kingdom. We do not look in great cities for our best morality. It is not there that respectable people of any denomination can do most good; and it certainly is not there that the influence of the clergy can be most felt. A fine preacher is followed and admired; but it is not in fine preaching only that a good clergyman will be useful in his parish and his neighbourhood, where the parish and neighbourhood are of a size capable of knowing his private character, and observing his general conduct, which in London can rarely be the case. The clergy are lost there in the crowds of their parishioners. They are known to the largest part only as preachers. And with regard to their influencing public manners, Miss Crawford must not misunderstand me, or suppose I mean to call them the arbiters of good-breeding, the regulators of refinement and courtesy, the masters of the ceremonies of life. The manners I speak of might rather be called conduct, perhaps, the result of good principles; the effect, in short, of those doctrines which it is their duty to teach and recommend; and it will, I believe, be everywhere found, that as the clergy are, or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation.”
“Certainly,” said Fanny, with gentle earnestness.
“There,” cried Miss Crawford, “you have quite convinced Miss Price already.”
“I wish I could convince Miss Crawford too.”
“I do not think you ever will,” said she, with an arch smile; “I am just as much surprised now as I was at first that you should intend to take orders. You really are fit for something better. Come, do change your mind. It is not too late. Go into the law.”
“Go into the law! With as much ease as I was told to go into this wilderness.”
“Now you are going to say something about law being the worst wilderness of the two, but I forestall you; remember, I have forestalled you.”
“You need not hurry when the object is only to prevent my saying a bon mot, for there is not the least wit in my nature. I am a very matter-of-fact, plain-spoken being, and may blunder on the borders of a repartee for half an hour together without striking it out.”
A general silence succeeded. Each was thoughtful.” 

In that first lengthy exchange on the topic, Mary holds her own, and presents a nuanced argument to back up her wish that Edmund not become a country clergyman. She is a cynic, for sure, but she doesn’t sound to me like a mere status hound. After all, law wasn’t exactly a high status profession in JA’s day—recall Uncle Phillips in P&P and Mr. Shepherd in Persuasion. Mary says nothing about any dream that Edmund might one day become Chief Justice, like Lord Mansfield.

What she is micro-focused on is the clergy in particular as a poor career choice. And, in the next lengthy discussion, which is again initiated by Mary, she clarifies her principal objection to Edmund becoming a clergyman: that all evidence suggests that the average country clergyman in England is a lazy, selfish pig like her own brother in law, Dr. Grant. It then makes perfect sense that Mary does not want Edmund to become another Dr. Grant, so she will not find herself in the same trap as her elder sister. Again, a cynical point of view, but at least one that is not founded on status snobbery.

By the way, that last passage, in case you need help finding it, begins when Mary says, “…My other sacrifice, of course, you do not understand.” And Edmund replies, “My taking orders, I assure you, is quite as voluntary as Maria’s marrying.” And it ends with this memorable exchange:

“…I wish you a better fate, Miss Price, than to be the wife of a man whose amiableness depends upon his own sermons; for though he may preach himself into a good-humour every Sunday, it will be bad enough to have him quarrelling about green geese from Monday morning till Saturday night.”
“I think the man who could often quarrel with Fanny,” said Edmund affectionately, “must be beyond the reach of any sermons.”

And so, I conclude by reiterating my claim that Mary assumes an air of grandeur in order to mockingly portray the kind of admiral who thought themselves better than post-captains. And how characteristic it is of Mary to make her point wittily and subtly –and, speaking of her making a satirical point by imitation, it is, I assert, no coincidence whatsoever that, a few chapters later, we read the following:

“Sir Thomas is to achieve many mighty things when he comes home,” said Mary, after a pause. “Do you remember Hawkins Browne’s ‘Address to Tobacco,’ in imitation of Pope?—
     Blest leaf! whose aromatic gales dispense
     To Templars modesty, to Parsons sense.
I will parody them—
     Blest Knight! whose dictatorial looks dispense
     To Children affluence, to Rushworth sense.
Will not that do, Mrs. Grant? Everything seems to depend upon Sir Thomas’s return.”

As I’ve written about not that long ago, what Mary does here is to do her own additional satirical imitation of Browne’s satirical imitation of Pope’s original work --- so, that passage shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that satirical imitation is part of Mary’s satirical toolkit, making it that much more likely that Mary had engaged in satirical imitation earlier in the novel.

And, if we expand our search to include all of JA’s novels, we find the following passage in Northanger Abbey, which involves (what else?) the imitation of the “air” of another character:

“Mrs. Thorpe was a widow, and not a very rich one; she was a good-humoured, well-meaning woman, and a very indulgent mother. Her eldest daughter had great personal beauty, and the younger ones, by pretending to be as handsome as their sister, imitating her air, and dressing in the same style, did very well.

And also, how even more characteristic it is of Jane Austen to make that same point, via her creature Mary Crawford, the enigmatic, riddling character who I believe most closely mirrored her creator’s default mode of erudite, witty, satirical irony. We may even look upon that entire mocking, punning, riddling speech by Mary which ends with her infamous rears and vices pun as a kind of prototype of the riddling, enigmatic riddles and charades of Chapter 9 of Emma – if you will, an earlier Austenian Rosetta Stone.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, April 8, 2017

“Ordination” & the pun on “taking orders” in Mansfield Park, Pride & Prejudice, & Sense & Sensibility

I would like to add some additional comments to my two earlier posts in this “ordination” thread. In those earlier posts….
Wickham never ‘took orders’ from Darcy…but Edmund DID ‘take orders’ from Sir Thomas!” http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2017/04/wickham-never-took-orders-from-darcybut.html
&
“ ‘Ordination’ in Mansfield Park: Edmund took Sir Thomas’s orders….but Fanny refused to!”
…I basically argued that by referring to the subject of “ordination” in her late January, 1813 letter, Jane Austen was pointing to the clever, thematically significant punning she deployed in both P&P and MP. I.e., JA riffed off the double meaning (extant in 1814) of “taking orders” –both the clerical sense of ordination as an Anglican clergyman, and the military/colloquial sense of following/obeying commands.

Diana’s mention of Edge’s 1962 article prompted me to go back into my old files, whence I retrieved and reread it, as well as a second article, from 1965, which responded to Edge: “Ordination and the Divided House at Mansfield Park” by Joseph W. Donohue, Jr. ELH, 32/2 (June ‘65), 169-178. I’ll now explain how I agree with one important claim by Edge, and another by Donohue, but I put them together to arrive at a very different explanation of JA’s meaning than either of those earlier Austen scholars arrived at.

First, I agree with Edge’s ingenious resolution of the seeming paradox of JA having begun writing MP in 1811, yet referring to MP and writing of “a complete change of subject” in 1813. Edge points to several other passages in JA’s letters in which she used a similar transitional sentence. Thus, argues Edge, the topic of “ordination” in MP was a new subject within the four corners of her letter. Edge goes on to speculate plausibly that JA had asked Cassandra a technical question about the process of ordination that Edmund goes through during the novel. So far so good.

Second, I agree with the spirit of Donohue’s response to Edge, insofar as Donohue looks behind the superficial meaning of “ordination”, and takes the word metaphorically:     “Critics of Mansfield Park delight in quoting from Jane Austen's letter of 29 January 1813 to her sister Cassandra. " Now I will try to write of something else," she says, " & it shall be a complete change of subject-ordination. . . .'1The considerable controversy engendered by this supposed declaration of subject shows little sign of resolution. My interpretation of ordination is not an attempt to settle the argument, based as it is on an ambiguous and perhaps untrustworthy text. Instead, my purpose is simply to offer a definition of the word which, in its application to the novel, goes beyond the literal fact of Edmund's ordination as a clergyman. The problem of a disordered society and the possibility of its being restored to order is, I propose, the kind of ordination with which Jane Austen tasks herself in Mansfield Park. The problem she attacks is most serious, and she spends the greater part of her book in delineating it, with much attention paid to the folly and misery of her characters. But, like the true comic artist, she is pre-eminently concerned with health, not with disease. If her method appears almost unduly moralistic and condemnatory, it also clearly reflects a desire to reestablish social well-being by ostracizing the vicious elements in society and reintegrating the virtuous. Her concern is ultimately not with the exposure of disorder but with the  restoration of order-not with disapprobation but with ordination….” END QUOTE FROM DONOHUE

That brings me to my added comments to my earlier posts. I agree with Edge that JA wrote about “ordination” in Mansfield Park, and I agree with Donohue that JA meant for CEA to take the meaning of “ordination” in MP as a  metaphor----especially, I hasten to add, in the very same letter where JA has, only two sentences earlier, written a similarly metaphorical, cryptic, and global statement about P&P ---“I do not write for such dull elves, etc”--- about the pervasive ambiguity of pronouns (and, by implication, everything else) in P&P!

But….I believe that while Donohue was a creative outside-the-box reader, he missed a key clue when he didn’t pick up on the pun on “taking orders”. Had he done so, that might have led him to see both sides of Jane Austen’s nuanced, two-sided attitude toward “disorder” in English society that I see.

I.e., I, like Donohoe, believe JA was certainly no fan of chaotic revolution such as the nihilistic, blade-happy blood lust that the French Revolution devolved into. But I don’t see JA as a defender of the status quo. I think she considered it a tragic missed opportunity that the liberation of the common people from aristocratic oppression was derailed by senseless violence. I believe that her deepest sympathies remained with the ordinary people who suffered under oppression (in England, France, and much of the rest of Europe) by the closely aligned aristocracy and monied interests. So, in that sense, she hated the existing “order”, and approved of the kind of revolution that Jesus started in John 2:14-16:

“And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.”

I believe Jane Austen, the clergyman’s daughter, had in mind an analogy to that Gospel passage, when she wrote the Lovers Vows episode, a politically progressive (radical) play about the moral corruption of the aristocracy, almost staged in the very same room where Sir Thomas has his billiard table. And besides the “table” in both John and MP, see if you hear the other echo in this passage where Edmund (of course, that weasel!) is the one taking the Pharisaic position:

“If you are resolved on acting,” replied the persevering Edmund, “I must hope it will be in a very small and quiet way; and I think a theatre ought not to be attempted. It would be taking liberties with MY FATHER’S HOUSE in his absence which could not be justified.”
“For everything of that nature I will be answerable,” said Tom, in a decided tone. “His house shall not be hurt. I have quite as great an interest in being careful of HIS HOUSE as you can have; and as to such alterations as I was suggesting just now, such as moving a bookcase, or unlocking a door, or even as using the billiard-room for the space of a week without playing at billiards in it, you might just as well suppose he would object to our sitting more in this room, and less in the breakfast-room, than we did before he went away, or to my sister’s pianoforte being moved from one side of the room to the other. Absolute nonsense!”

Hurrah, Tom! Of course, it’s the phrase “my Father’s house” I was hinting at – it is sharply ironic in MP, as it suggests that Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas’s house, is just like the Temple that has been turned into “an house of merchandise”-- completely taken over by the money-changer Sir Thomas, whereas the “disreputable” Tom is actually Jesus (who, by the way, nearly dies at the end of the novel, but then miraculously comes back to life again). It was his idea to overthrow the “table” of Sir Thomas, with his heartless lust for money, money, money, and his fellow titled fat cats, who turned all of England into “an house of merchandise”, all with the blessing of the clerical elite, who like Edmund, discouraged the English people from “acting” to overthrow that oppression. And this is the same moral Tom Bertram we see in Patricia Rozema's wonderful 1999 Mansfield Park.

So, at the deepest level, I must disagree with Donohue’s conclusion, even as I admire his method. I read MP’s “moral” not as having a happy ending in which the chaos that the Crawfords bring to Mansfield Park, has been exorcised, allowing restoration of order; but as a sad ending about the forces of change (exemplified by whistleblower Mary Crawford) which are beaten back by the craven “taking of orders” by the English clergy (Edmund) from the powerful colonial magnates (Sir Thomas) running the barbaric, monstrous colonial slave system which fueled the British economy.

Mansfield Park is Jane Austen’s “J’accuse”, directed at her father, her brother James, and all other English clergymen who weren’t abolitionists, who didn’t stand up for women’s rights, but who instead spent their careers “taking orders” from, and in effect morally laundering the gross sins of, their bosses, upon whom they were financially dependent. Jane Austen intended to send a shiver down the spine of her insightful readers, who could see in Dr. Grant the mirror image of the future Edmund Bertram.

And now I conclude by fulfilling the final promise of my Subject Line, and showing how Jane Austen had already deployed the pun on “taking orders” in S&S in 1811. I read the climax of S&S’s shadow story as an unholy deal being struck between Colonel Brandon and Mrs. Jennings, such that Marianne is given to Brandon as a wife, in exchange for Brandon giving Edward the living at Delaford so that he can marry Elinor. That gives a sinister double meaning to the following four passages in S&S, which I read as Colonel Brandon “giving orders” to Edward, commanding Edward to give up Lucy (which Edward really does not want to do), and instead to go along with the deal and marry Elinor:

[Anne Steele] “…So then [Edward] was monstrous happy, and talked on some time about what they should do, and they agreed he should TAKE ORDERS directly, and they must wait to be married till he got a living….”
[Brandon] ”…[Edward] is not a young man with whom one can be intimately acquainted in a short time, but I have seen enough of him to wish him well for his own sake, and as a friend of yours, I wish it still more. I understand that he intends to TAKE ORDERS. Will you be so good as to tell him that the living of Delaford, now just vacant, as I am informed by this day's post, is his, if he think it worth his acceptance—but THAT, perhaps, so unfortunately circumstanced as he is now, it may be nonsense to appear to doubt; I only wish it were more valuable.—
[Elinor] “…Colonel Brandon, who was here only ten minutes ago, has desired me to say, that understanding you mean to TAKE ORDERS, he has great pleasure in offering you the living of Delaford now just vacant, and only wishes it were more valuable.” 
What she would engage to do towards augmenting their income was next to be considered; and here it plainly appeared, that though Edward was now her only son, he was by no means her eldest; for while Robert was inevitably endowed with a thousand pounds a-year, not the smallest objection was made against Edward's TAKING ORDERS for the sake of two hundred and fifty at the utmost; nor was anything promised either for the present or in future, beyond the ten thousand pounds, which had been given with Fanny.

And, in that very regard, now please read this passage from another outside-the-box interpreter of Austen’s writing, the late Edward Neill, in his 2007 article, 'What Edward promises he will perform': 'How to do things with words' in Sense and Sensibility  in Textual Practice 21/1  Note when Neill picks up on the very same pun on “taking orders” that I’ve been claiming is present in the first three novels JA published, but Neill then gives it a conventional interpretation:

“Acting a part at Barton, Willoughby became his role, for the time being, while Edward Ferrars, not acting a part at Longstaple, found that he had given ‘the performance of a lifetime’ thanks to what Jean Baudrillard has called ‘the indefinite chaining of simulation’. This phrase is descriptive both of Lucy’s conduct and Edward’s subsequent ‘bad faith’ – avant la lettre, as it were, of his ‘taking orders’ in the ecclesiastical sense. Despite his hang-dog mien, however, Edward’s life choices seem to be dictated by his refusing to do so in the face of his own family's assault on his integrity – he will 'take orders' specifically as a result of his 'taking orders from no one’….  Yet Edward will no doubt from the relevant day forward, his fate (to be) ordained, ‘take orders’ from Elinor Dashwood, whose ethical bearing seems to mime some ‘august and impersonal spirit of social and psychological understanding’…”

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

“Ordination” in Mansfield Park: Edmund took Sir Thomas’s orders, but Fanny refused to!

In Janeites, Nancy Mayer responded to my post about Austen’s pun on Wickham not ‘taking orders’ from Darcy, but Edmund taking them from his father, as follows: “It is rather a convoluted way of speaking to say one was a subordinate because one took orders. A waiter takes orders, most underlings obey or disobey orders. They don't take them. Taking orders had a specific meaning outside a commercial establishment were people can order a meal or a bed. men in the military don't take orders, they obey them-- or not/ They are given orders; they receive orders; but they don't take orders.”

Nancy, I believe it is undeniable that in common parlance today, the verbs “taking”, “obeying”, and “following” are virtually identical synonyms of each other, when their object is the noun “orders”! You could find a plethora of modern examples online in fifteen minutes of Googling, as I just did, sometimes with two of those verbs used interchangeably in the same paragraph.

Let me give you an example in the military context. In the Wikipedia article for “Command Hierarchy”, we read:  “The concept of chain of command also implies that higher rank alone does not entitle a higher-ranking service member to give commands to anyone of lower rank. For example, an officer of unit "A" does not directly command lower-ranking members of unit "B", and is generally expected to approach an officer of unit "B" if he requires action by members of that unit. The chain of command means that individual members TAKE ORDERS from only one superior and only give orders to a defined group of people immediately below them.

But the more relevant question is whether “taking orders” in that hierarchical military sense was common parlance in the Regency Era. For starters, here are two examples from right before JA lopt and cropt P&P:

A letter to Lord Castlereagh (1808):  therefore, to give them every desirable effect, I would have the militia officers stand next to the officers of the line, and TAKE ORDERS from them.”

The Literary Panorama (1809): “ Col. Gordon proved that exchanges between officers were always laid before his majesty: the exchange in question, had been so. On the 23d he TOOK ORDERS for it from the commander-in-chief, who submitted it to his majesty on the 24th…”

It took me two minutes after finding those examples, to find an even better one, because taken from a hierarchical, but non-military, context. In 1789 there was the great debate in Parliament about whether the Prince of Wales should be appointed Regent for the “mad” King George IIII; and if appointed, what sort of restrictions should be placed on the Prince’s powers as Regent. Of course the Regency didn’t occur in 1789, because the King recovered sufficiently---but we all know that it eventually did, in 1810.

Anyway, the following is an excerpt from the official report of a speech by Edmund Burke during that debate, on the topic of a certain “right hon. gentleman” (I didn’t scroll back far enough to find his name and title), who Burke believed had slighted the Prince by not consulting him before convening the Privy Council, when the King was disabled and therefore not in a mental state to be asked to convene it himself:

“…The right hon. gentleman had talked of etiquette, denied all consciousness of guilt, and called for the proof. If they had been accusing the right hon. gentleman of a crime, they must have had recourse to the laws; but, it was a want of civility and good manners, where both were so eminently due, that they were charging him with, and that charge was easily made out. The right hon. gentleman had said, that to treat the Prince with disrespect, was to treat his Majesty with disrespect; the right hon. gentleman was, in that opinion, correct, since those who injured the Prince of Wales, undoubtedly injured the King. That fact being admitted, what were they then to think of the right hon. gentleman's not having consulted the Prince of Wales on the subject of convening the Privy Council, and the measures to be taken therein. The right hon, gentleman had declared, that the King’s servants were not to TAKE ORDERS FROM THE PRINCE, but to consider him as any other member of the council. Was the man, he would ask, to be regarded as showing the necessary degree of respect and civility to the Prince of Wales, who, because he was not by law bound to TAKE ORDERS FROM HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS, therefore chose to pass him by without notice. In what a peculiar situation did his Royal Highness stand! A grievous calamity had fallen on his family, and he had thereby lost the protection of a father, who, if in a state of capability, would have guarded him from the insolence of his servants. There was an evident and a gross want of attention and want of humanity in the right hon. gentleman's conduct; since in the case of an affliction having befallen the father, who, he would ask, ought to be consulted as to what was necessary to be done, so soon as the eldest son?…” END QUOTE

Why the above example is especially apt to both the Wickham and the Edmund examples, is because it refers (twice) to a man of lower status “taking orders” from a man of higher status, outside a military context. And Darcy is like a “prince” in the microcosm of P&P, as is Sir Thomas in MP. So because it has long been clear to me that Jane Austen (like Shakespeare) never met a pun she didn’t like, I think she intended her sharp readers to recognize the pun on the “taking” of “orders” from two of her autocratic characters, Mr. Darcy and Sir Thomas-- each of them the kind of man, as Mr. Bennet aptly put it, to whom he “should never dare refuse anything, which he condescended to ask.”

In that regard, it’s very interesting to look at the contrast between Wickham and Edmund, on opposite ends of that spectrum –Wickham repeatedly does as he pleases, and seems to take particular pleasure in not only defying Darcy’s demands, but in actively interfering with Darcy’s goals. But, regarding Edmund, that brings me back to the meaning I ascribe to Jane Austen’s reference to her next novel (i.e., MP), which would be on the subject of “ordination”. I assert that JA was hinting that it would be a novel about all the ways that people give and take orders in a personal context—sometimes explicitly, but sometimes by implication. And, for me, Edmund Bertram is Austen’s poster child for taking orders of both kinds.
Edmund repeatedly and slavishly follows his father’s orders throughout the novel (transgressing only once, when his lust for Mary overwhelms his obedience to his father, and he joins the rehearsals of Lovers Vows). But at times, he goes even further, and repeatedly acts as if he were his father’s agent, authorized to act as a procurer of women. Two examples leap out.

First, we have this tete-a-tete between Fanny and Edmund after Sir Thomas’s return from Antigua:

“I suppose I am graver than other people,” said Fanny. “The evenings do not appear long to me. I love to hear my uncle talk of the West Indies. I could listen to him for an hour together. It entertains me more than many other things have done; but then I am unlike other people, I dare say.”
“Why should you dare say that?” (smiling). “Do you want to be told that you are only unlike other people in being more wise and discreet? But when did you, or anybody, ever get a compliment from me, Fanny? 
Go to my father if you want to be complimented. He will satisfy you. Ask your uncle what he thinks, and you will hear compliments enough: and though they may be chiefly on your person, you must put up with it, and trust to his seeing as much beauty of mind in time.”
Such language was so new to Fanny that it quite embarrassed her.
“Your uncle thinks you very pretty, dear Fanny--and that is the long and the short of the matter. Anybody but myself would have made something more of it, and anybody but you would resent that you had not been thought very pretty before; but the truth is, that your uncle never did admire you till now—and now he does. Your complexion is so improved!---and you have gained so much countenance!—and your figure—nay, Fanny, do not turn away about it—it is but an uncle. If you cannot bear an uncle’s admiration, what is to become of you? You must really begin to harden yourself to the idea of being worth looking at. You must try not to mind growing up into a pretty woman.”
“Oh! don’t talk so, don’t talk so,” cried Fanny, distressed by more feelings than he was aware of…”

Note how Edmund, entirely on his own initiative, abruptly turns from an emotionally neutral discussion  about how the Bertram family mood has changed now that Sir Thomas has returned. First, he suggests that Fanny was fishing for a compliment from him, an unprovoked snide attack -what a major jerk! Then Edmund goes from tacky to repulsive (even dangerous), when he applies his university skills in rhetoric to hijack the conversation in a series of “logical” steps. First he segues to his father as the best source of compliments for Fanny; then he names his father as the repeated source of intrusive sexualized comments about Fanny’s current, attractive womanly figure. Despite Fanny’s repeated nonverbal reactions showing how uncomfortable he’s making her, he barrels on, and then, to cap it all, blames the victim. In Edmund’s world, when a young woman grows up, it is she who must accept that she’ll become a target of lascivious comments by dirty old men—who are ten times dirtier when they come from her uncle, and a hundred times worse when he’s been her virtual father for a decade, and in whose home she still lives (in terror)!

This is, I assert, Edmund taking implicit orders from his father. Of course I’m not suggesting that Sir Thomas gave an explicit order to Edmund to speak to Fanny to make her more accepting of Sir Thomas’s lewd comments. Sir Thomas doesn’t have to, because Edmund, like the good little soldier/courtier he is, senses his prince/general’s wishes, and takes action to implement them, without any explicit order given.

Second, when Henry Crawford makes his move on Fanny, there is Edmund once again acting in the capacity of procurer, but this time on behalf of another man, Henry, and this time after having taken explicit orders from his father:

“A day, and a very early day, was actually fixed for the Crawfords’ departure; and Sir Thomas thought it might be as well to make one more effort for the young man before he left Mansfield, that all his professions and vows of unshaken attachment might have as much hope to sustain them as possible.
Sir Thomas was most cordially anxious for the perfection of Mr. Crawford’s character in that point. He wished him to be a model of constancy; and fancied the best means of effecting it would be by not trying him too long. Edmund was not unwilling to be persuaded to engage in the business; he wanted to know Fanny’s feelings. She had been used to consult him in every difficulty, and he loved her too well to bear to be denied her confidence now; he hoped to be of service to her, he thought he must be of service to her; whom else had she to open her heart to? If she did not need counsel, she must need the comfort of communication. Fanny estranged from him, silent and reserved, was an unnatural state of things; a state which he must break through, and which he could easily learn to think she was wanting him to break through.
“I will speak to her, sir: I will take the first opportunity of speaking to her alone,” was the result of such thoughts as these; and upon Sir Thomas’s information of her being at that very time walking alone in the shrubbery, he instantly joined her.”

The above makes it clear that Edmund consciously approaches Fanny on false pretenses. He was tasked (a request more like an order) by his father to change Fanny from rejecting to accepting Henry’s romantic addresses, and Edmund immediately formulates a strategy and tactics for accomplishing it. Weasel that he is, he chooses to abuse the fiduciary trust of his long relationship with Fanny, by coming, Iago-like, in the guise of a sympathetic ear. And note how devious he is, when he employs a classic bait and switch.

First, here’s the bait, when he initially sounds like he is giving his blessing to Fanny’s rejection of Henry:

“I am come to walk with you, Fanny,” said he. “Shall I?” Drawing her arm within his. “It is a long while since we have had a comfortable walk together.”
She assented to it all rather by look than word. Her spirits were low.
“But, Fanny,” he presently added, “in order to have a comfortable walk, something more is necessary than merely pacing this gravel together. You must talk to me. I know you have something on your mind. I know what you are thinking of. You cannot suppose me uninformed. Am I to hear of it from everybody but Fanny herself?”
Fanny, at once agitated and dejected, replied, “If you hear of it from everybody, cousin, there can be nothing for me to tell.”
“Not of facts, perhaps; but of feelings, Fanny. No one but you can tell me them. I do not mean to press you, however. If it is not what you wish yourself, I have done. I had thought it might be a relief.”
“I am afraid we think too differently for me to find any relief in talking of what I feel.”
“Do you suppose that we think differently? I have no idea of it. I dare say that, on a comparison of our opinions, they would be found as much alike as they have been used to be: to the point—I consider Crawford’s proposals as most advantageous and desirable, if you could return his affection. I consider it as most natural that all your family should wish you could return it; but that, as you cannot, you have done exactly as you ought in refusing him. Can there be any disagreement between us here?”
“Oh no! But I thought you blamed me. I thought you were against me. This is such a comfort!”
“This comfort you might have had sooner, Fanny, had you sought it. But how could you possibly suppose me against you? How could you imagine me an advocate for marriage without love? Were I even careless in general on such matters, how could you imagine me so where your happiness was at stake?”
“My uncle thought me wrong, and I knew he had been talking to you.”
“As far as you have gone, Fanny, I think you perfectly right. I may be sorry, I may be surprised—though hardly that, for you had not had time to attach yourself—but I think you perfectly right. Can it admit of a question? It is disgraceful to us if it does. You did not love him; nothing could have justified your accepting him.”
Fanny had not felt so comfortable for days and days.”

And now that he has successfully induced Fanny to let her guard down, here comes the switch, beginning with an unexpected undoing of all the supportive words he has just said: “So far….”:

“So far your conduct has been faultless, and they were quite mistaken who wished you to do otherwise. But the matter does not end here. Crawford’s is no common attachment; he perseveres, with the hope of creating that regard which had not been created before. This, we know, must be a work of time. But” (with an affectionate smile) “let him succeed at last, Fanny, let him succeed at last. You have proved yourself upright and disinterested, prove yourself grateful and tender-hearted; and then you will be the perfect model of a woman which I have always believed you born for.”
“Oh! never, never, never! he never will succeed with me.” And she spoke with a warmth which quite astonished Edmund, and which she blushed at the recollection of herself, when she saw his look, and heard him reply, “Never! Fanny!—so very determined and positive! This is not like yourself, your rational self.”
“I mean,” she cried, sorrowfully correcting herself, “that I think I never shall, as far as the future can be answered for; I think I never shall return his regard.”
“I must hope better things. I am aware, more aware than Crawford can be, that the man who means to make you love him (you having due notice of his intentions) must have very uphill work, for there are all your early attachments and habits in battle array; and before he can get your heart for his own use he has to unfasten it from all the holds upon things animate and inanimate, which so many years’ growth have confirmed, and which are considerably tightened for the moment by the very idea of separation. I know that the apprehension of being forced to quit Mansfield will for a time be arming you against him. I wish he had not been obliged to tell you what he was trying for. I wish he had known you as well as I do, Fanny. Between us, I think we should have won you. My theoretical and his practical knowledge together could not have failed. He should have worked upon my plans. I must hope, however, that time, proving him (as I firmly believe it will) to deserve you by his steady affection, will give him his reward. I cannot suppose that you have not the wish to love him—the natural wish of gratitude. You must have some feeling of that sort. You must be sorry for your own indifference.”

Fanny carefully resists, so Edmund proceeds, very methodically, to work on Fanny from various other angles, until we finally reach the end of this very long tete-a-tete (one of the longer ones in JA’s novels) and the reader can assess whether Edmund has succeeded in fulfilling the orders he took from his father:

“…Her feelings were all in revolt. She feared she had been doing wrong: saying too much, overacting the caution which she had been fancying necessary; in guarding against one evil, laying herself open to another; and to have Miss Crawford’s liveliness repeated to her at such a moment, and on such a subject, was a bitter aggravation. Edmund saw weariness and distress in her face, and immediately resolved to forbear all farther discussion; and not even to mention the name of Crawford again, except as it might be connected with what must be agreeable to her….” 

In those last words, JA subtly makes clear that Edmund knows his mission is not yet fulfilled, but he must wait for more favorable opportunities when he can work on Fanny in other ways, to induce her to take her uncle’s orders. And that brings me to my final point today: it has often been noted, by Austen scholars and amateur Janeites alike, that one of the most thrilling moments in all of Austen’s fiction comes when the creepmouse Fanny Price shocks everyone, including perhaps herself, by standing up to Sir Thomas Bertram, and refusing to take his orders! As you reread the following memorable passage, do so with fresh eyes, thinking about Jane Austen having decided at the start of composing MP to make its central theme that of “ordination”, i.e., the giving/taking of orders—and how well she fulfilled her own plan:

“Am I to understand,” said Sir Thomas, after a few moments’ silence, “that you mean to refuse Mr. Crawford?”   “Yes, sir.” “Refuse him?”  “Yes, sir.” “Refuse Mr. Crawford! Upon what plea? For what reason?”  “I—I cannot like him, sir, well enough to marry him.”
“This is very strange!” said Sir Thomas, in a voice of calm displeasure. “There is something in this which my comprehension does not reach. Here is a young man wishing to pay his addresses to you, with everything to recommend him: not merely situation in life, fortune, and character, but with more than common agreeableness, with address and conversation pleasing to everybody. And he is not an acquaintance of to-day; you have now known him some time. His sister, moreover, is your intimate friend, and he has been doing that for your brother, which I should suppose would have been almost sufficient recommendation to you, had there been no other. It is very uncertain when my interest might have got William on. He has done it already.”
“Yes,” said Fanny, in a faint voice, and looking down with fresh shame; and she did feel almost ashamed of herself, after such a picture as her uncle had drawn, for not liking Mr. Crawford.
“You must have been aware,” continued Sir Thomas presently, “you must have been some time aware of a particularity in Mr. Crawford’s manners to you. This cannot have taken you by surprise. You must have observed his attentions; and though you always received them very properly (I have no accusation to make on that head), I never perceived them to be unpleasant to you. I am half inclined to think, Fanny, that you do not quite know your own feelings.”
“Oh yes, sir! indeed I do. His attentions were always—what I did not like.”
Sir Thomas looked at her with deeper surprise. “This is beyond me,” said he. “This requires explanation. Young as you are, and having seen scarcely any one, it is hardly possible that your affections—”
He paused and eyed her fixedly. He saw her lips formed into a no, though the sound was inarticulate, but her face was like scarlet. That, however, in so modest a girl, might be very compatible with innocence; and chusing at least to appear satisfied, he quickly added, “No, no, I know that is quite out of the question; quite impossible. Well, there is nothing more to be said.”

But Sir Thomas was not honest, because he kept badgering Fanny a while longer, and then came this conclusion of their tete-a-tete, when he lowered the hammer a final time:

“Sir Thomas came towards the table where she sat in trembling wretchedness, and with a good deal of cold sternness, said, “It is of no use, I perceive, to talk to you. We had better put an end to this most mortifying conference. Mr. Crawford must not be kept longer waiting. I will, therefore, only add, as thinking it my duty to mark my opinion of your conduct, that you have disappointed every expectation I had formed, and proved yourself of a character the very reverse of what I had supposed. For I had, Fanny, as I think my behaviour must have shewn, formed a very favourable opinion of you from the period of my return to England. I had thought you peculiarly free from wilfulness of temper, self-conceit, and every tendency to that independence of spirit which prevails so much in modern days, even in young women, and which in young women is offensive and disgusting beyond all common offence. But you have now shewn me that you can be wilful and perverse; that you can and will decide for yourself, without any consideration or deference for those who have surely some right to guide you, without even asking their advice. You have shewn yourself very, very different from anything that I had imagined. The advantage or disadvantage of your family, of your parents, your brothers and sisters, never seems to have had a moment’s share in your thoughts on this occasion. How they might be benefited, how they must rejoice in such an establishment for you, is nothing to you. You think only of yourself, and because you do not feel for Mr. Crawford exactly what a young heated fancy imagines to be necessary for happiness, you resolve to refuse him at once, without wishing even for a little time to consider of it, a little more time for cool consideration, and for really examining your own inclinations; and are, in a wild fit of folly, throwing away from you such an opportunity of being settled in life, eligibly, honourably, nobly settled, as will, probably, never occur to you again. Here is a young man of sense, of character, of temper, of manners, and of fortune, exceedingly attached to you, and seeking your hand in the most handsome and disinterested way; and let me tell you, Fanny, that you may live eighteen years longer in the world without being addressed by a man of half Mr. Crawford’s estate, or a tenth part of his merits. Gladly would I have bestowed either of my own daughters on him. Maria is nobly married; but had Mr. Crawford sought Julia’s hand, I should have given it to him with superior and more heartfelt satisfaction than I gave Maria’s to Mr. Rushworth.” After half a moment’s pause: “And I should have been very much surprised had either of my daughters, on receiving a proposal of marriage at any time which might carry with it only half the eligibility of this, immediately and peremptorily, and without paying my opinion or my regard the compliment of any consultation, put a decided negative on it. I should have been much surprised and much hurt by such a proceeding. I should have thought it a gross violation of duty and respect. You are not to be judged by the same rule. You do not owe me the duty of a child. But, Fanny, if your heart can acquit you of ingratitude—”
He ceased. Fanny was by this time crying so bitterly that, angry as he was, he would not press that article farther. Her heart was almost broke by such a picture of what she appeared to him; by such accusations, so heavy, so multiplied, so rising in dreadful gradation! Self-willed, obstinate, selfish, and ungrateful. He thought her all this. She had deceived his expectations; she had lost his good opinion. What was to become of her?
“I am very sorry,” said she inarticulately, through her tears, “I am very sorry indeed.”
“Sorry! yes, I hope you are sorry; and you will probably have reason to be long sorry for this day’s transactions.”
“If it were possible for me to do otherwise” said she, with another strong effort; “but I am so perfectly convinced that I could never make him happy, and that I should be miserable myself.”
Another burst of tears; but in spite of that burst, and in spite of that great black word miserable, which served to introduce it, Sir Thomas began to think a little relenting, a little change of inclination, might have something to do with it; and to augur favourably from the personal entreaty of the young man himself….” 

Indeed, Fanny has shown “that independence of spirit which prevails so much in modern days, even in young women, and which in young women is offensive and disgusting beyond all common offence”, and we all cheer her for it! Fanny’s refusal to “take orders” from her uncle to marry Henry, despite Sir Thomas’s cold fury at her refusal, could not be in sharper contrast with cousin Edmund’s craven attempts to fulfill his father’s reprehensible orders: crimes which must forever condemn Edmund to the dreaded purgatory of being the least admirable and least romantic of the six Austen heroes.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Wickham never ‘took orders’ from Darcy…but Edmund DID ‘take orders’ from Sir Thomas!

INTRODUCTION: The topic has come up again in Janeites & Austen-L, as it does every few years, about the meaning of “ordination” in the following famous passage in one of the letters Jane Austen wrote in January 1813, in her giddy exultation in the immediate afterglow post publicatum (so to speak) of her “darling child”, Pride & Prejudice:    “There are a few Typical errors—& a ‘said he’ or a ‘said she’ would sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear—but ‘I do not write for such dull Elves As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves.’—The 2d vol. is shorter than I cd wish—but the difference is not so much in reality as in look, there being a larger proportion of Narrative in that part. I have lopt & cropt so successfully however that I imagine it must be rather shorter than S. & S. altogether.—Now I will try to write of something else;—it shall be a complete change of subject—Ordination….” 

It’s well established, and I concur, that ”Now I will try and write of something else”, in the context of P&P’s recent publication, it must be Mansfield Park which shall constitute a complete change of subject. And in that vein, countless Austen scholars have weighed in with interpretations of the word “ordination”.
Not surprisingly, most have opted for some variant of the obvious clerical meaning: i.e., “the action of ordaining or conferring holy orders on someone.” This is what “taking orders” seems to mean in all of JA’s novels, and, given that Jane Austen’s father, and (eventually) two of her brothers were ordained as Anglican clergymen, it is no surprise that in Mansfield Park, the clerical ordination of hero Edmund Bertram is twice a topic of at times strained discussion.

Nearly 7 years ago, I wrote a post http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/06/ps-re-taking-orders.html in which I first pointed out the pun hidden in plain sight in the phrase “taking orders” as repeatedly used in MP. I.e., in Jane Austen’s time as in our own, “taking orders” not only referred to clerical ordination, it also had a common hierarchical meaning. E.g., if Person A gave orders to Person B to take action, Person B would commonly be said to be “taking orders” --- borrowing the terminology, it would seem, from the military, where it is of course a pervasive term of art.

This morning, I revisited my earlier post with the benefit of 7 years of additional insight into JA’s cryptic, punning writing, and I quickly realized, as I’ll explain below, that many of the references to “taking orders” in Mansfield Park point specifically toward Sir Thomas Bertram as an almost Moses-like giver of orders. That interpretation dovetails nicely with the slavery subtext of MP as has been articulated over the last several decades by numerous other Austen scholars as well as myself, as well as by Patricia Rozema in her brilliant 1999 film adaptation of Austen’s most overtly disturbing novel. And, as I’ll explain at the end, the enigmatic Mary Crawford once again, paradoxically and shockingly, can plausibly be seen as a passionate but pragmatic moral whistleblower, subtly calling out not only genteel male barbarism, but also genteel male hypocrisy ignoring same, when she sees it.

DISCUSSION: I begin by noting that Jane Austen’s famous reference to “ordination” in that letter comes a mere two sentences after her even more famous paraphrase of Scott’s “Marmion” in explaining what she expects from her readers re: all the ambiguous pronoun references in P&P:  “I do not write for such dull elves as have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves.” This proximity suggests that she meant for CEA to put on her sharp elves cap and use a great deal of ingenuity to figure out whether the term “ordination” was also meant to be ambiguous in its reference – and, for that matter, whether MP’s
“ordination” theme really did constitute a “complete change of subject” from P&P.

That last thought led me to realize that the pun on “taking orders” in both its clerical and hierarchical senses, was not a new gambit at all for Austen in MP, because she had, albeit on a small scale, dipped her quill into that same punny well in two passages about the “taking of orders” in – where else? -- Pride & Prejudice!!

First, in Chapter 35, we read Mr. Darcy’s letter giving his version of how Mr. Wickham resolved against “taking orders” from Mr. Darcy:  “My excellent father died about five years ago; and his attachment to Mr. Wickham was to the last so steady, that in his will he particularly recommended it to me, to promote his advancement in the best manner that his profession might allow—and if he TOOK ORDERS, desired that a valuable family living might be his as soon as it became vacant. There was also a legacy of one thousand pounds. His own father did not long survive mine, and within half a year from these events, Mr. Wickham wrote to inform me that, having finally resolved against TAKING ORDERS, he hoped I should not think it unreasonable for him to expect some more immediate pecuniary advantage, in lieu of the preferment, by which he could not be benefited….”

Surely all can see how perfectly the pun works in this instance. And then in Chapter 52, it’s Elizabeth’s turn to echo Darcy, when she fires a satirical barrage at her new, unwelcome brother-in-law Wickham: “I did hear, too, that there was a time, when sermon-making was not so palatable to you as it seems to be at present; that you actually declared your resolution of NEVER TAKING ORDERS, and that the business had been compromised accordingly.”

Could there be a better encapsulation of the way Wickham always reacted to Darcy, than to say that Wickham refused to comply with the imperious orders of his wealthy, powerful “brother”? And does not the word “in-sub-ORD-inate” perfectly describe that dynamic between Wickham and Darcy? Viewed in the light of Mr. Darcy as a man with the power to give “orders” in both the clerical and the hierarchical senses, I suggest that the irony of these two passages could not be sharper.

So, it should not come as a surprise that I found, in the text of MP, that this same punny ambiguity was  also present –but, as intimated by JA in her letter to CEA, in MP the pun appears centrally, in expanded scope and variety. Patricia Rozema brilliantly described Mansfield Park as a study of servitude in all its forms, and subordination is close in meaning to servitude, and her Sir Thomas is truly a Gothic horror of a man. And I claim, similarly, that at the heart of Mansfield Park we see enacted the total subordination during Jane Austen’s lifetime of all aspects of English society to the ”orders” (i.e., the commands) of the class of powerful, autocratic, plantation-owning English gentlemen, of whom Sir Thomas Bertram is a quintessential symbol.

As you read the textual excerpts from MP containing variants on the word “order” which I’ve provided as an appendix hereto, please view them all through the lens of that pun, as JA’s way of showing how the Sir Thomases “gave orders” to subordinate institutions of English society, in particular to three of them:  

ONE: The mainstream Anglican clergy, most of whom were bought off from raising hell in their sermons about the enormous moral horror of tropical colonial slavery, by blood money: the Sir Thomases gave them each a generous slice of the huge “pie”, baked with African slave blood under the West Indian sun;

TWO: The Royal Navy, whose maritime efforts enabled and preserved not only the flow and control of slave labor to and in the West Indies, it also then protected the commercial transport of the ill-gotten production from those colonies back to England and the rest of Europe; and

THREE: The patriarchy of English husbands, but especially those like Sir Thomas, who didn’t think twice about ordering all the women in their lives (in both England and Antigua) to do their bidding.

Viewed in this light, the theme of “giving and taking orders” in MP is closely akin to the subversive irony I’ve often noted in Henry Tilney’s clueless dismissal of Catherine Morland, when he should’ve applauded her deeper insight into the way things really were in England. All the societal institutions morally charged to be vigilant against the systemic subjugation of married Englishwomen like the late Mrs. Tilney, were asleep at the switch:     “Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?”

For the remainder of this post, I want to focus on Chapter 11, in which Mary Crawford initiates the topic of Sir Thomas’s imminent return from Antigua. I claim that this chapter, when read against the grain, shows Mary stepping up in heroic fashion, blowing the whistle on the morally corrupt English clergy, symbolized by Dr. Grant, in all his grotesque gluttony and indolence —and throughout we see the repeated pun on “taking orders”:

[Mary] “Your father’s return will be a very interesting event.”
[Edmund] “It will, indeed, after such an absence; an absence not only long, but including so many dangers.”
“It will be the forerunner also of other interesting events: your sister’s marriage, and YOUR TAKING ORDERS.”
“Yes.”
“Don’t be affronted,” said she, laughing, “but it does put me in mind of some of the old heathen heroes, who, after performing great exploits in a foreign land, offered SACRIFICES TO THE GODS on their safe return.”
“There is no sacrifice in the case,” replied Edmund, with a serious smile, and glancing at the pianoforte again; “it is entirely her own doing.”
“Oh yes I know it is. I was merely joking. She has done no more than what every young woman would do; and I have no doubt of her being extremely happy. My other sacrifice, of course, you do not understand.”
“MY TAKING ORDERS, I assure you, IS QUITE AS VOLUNTARY as Maria’s marrying.”
“It is fortunate that your inclination and YOUR FATHER’S CONVENIENCE should accord so well. There is a very good living kept for you, I understand, hereabouts.”
….“It is the same sort of thing,” said Fanny, after a short pause, “as for the son of an admiral to go into the navy, or the son of a general to be in the army, and nobody sees anything wrong in that. Nobody wonders that they should prefer the line where their friends can serve them best, or suspects them to be less in earnest in it than they appear.”
“No, my dear Miss Price, and for reasons good. The profession, either navy or army, is its own justification. It has everything in its favour: heroism, danger, bustle, fashion. Soldiers and sailors are always acceptable in society. Nobody can wonder that men are soldiers and sailors.”
“But the motives of A MAN WHO TAKES ORDERS with the certainty of preferment may be fairly suspected, you think?” said Edmund. “To be justified in your eyes, he must do it in the most complete uncertainty of any provision.”
“What! TAKE ORDERS WITHOUT A LIVING! No; that is madness indeed; absolute madness.”
“Shall I ask you how the church is to be filled, IF A MAN IS NEITHER TO TAKE ORDERS with a living nor without? No; for you certainly would not know what to say. But I must beg some advantage to the clergyman from your own argument. As he cannot be influenced by those feelings which you rank highly as temptation and reward to the soldier and sailor in their choice of a profession, as heroism, and noise, and fashion, are all against him, he ought to be less liable to the suspicion of wanting sincerity or good intentions in the choice of his.”

How sharp is the unwitting punny oxymoron of Edmund’s defense of his own phantom autonomy: “MY TAKING ORDERS, I assure you, IS QUITE AS VOLUNTARY as Maria’s marrying.”  Mary’s witty and 100% spot-on reply notes the remarkable “coincidence” of Edmund’s so-called choice just happening to closely fit his father’s wishes—and the same was true, for that matter, with Maria, who’d do anything, including marrying Rushworth, to escape from her dreadful father’s house.

And now, in the remainder of Chapter 11, we find the eloquent Mary Crawford speaking for herself, in her radical critique of Dr. Grant, again the symbol of the English clergy’s collaboration in the moral rot of the English colonial slavery system:

“Oh! no doubt he is very sincere in preferring an income ready made, to the trouble of working for one; and has the best intentions of doing nothing all the rest of his days but eat, drink, and grow fat. It is indolence, Mr. Bertram, indeed. Indolence and love of ease; a want of all laudable ambition, of taste for good company, or of inclination to take the trouble of being agreeable, which make men clergymen. A clergyman has nothing to do but be slovenly and selfish—read the newspaper, watch the weather, and quarrel with his wife. His curate does all the work, and the business of his own life is to dine.”
“There are such clergymen, no doubt, but I think they are not so common as to justify Miss Crawford in esteeming it their general character. I suspect that in this comprehensive and (may I say) commonplace censure, you are not judging from yourself, but from prejudiced persons, whose opinions you have been in the habit of hearing. It is impossible that your own observation can have given you much knowledge of the clergy. You can have been personally acquainted with very few of a set of men you condemn so conclusively. You are speaking what you have been told at your uncle’s table.”
“I speak what appears to me the general opinion; and where an opinion is general, it is usually correct. Though I have not seen much of the domestic lives of clergymen, it is seen by too many to leave any deficiency of information.”
“Where any one body of educated men, of whatever denomination, are condemned indiscriminately, there must be a deficiency of information, or (smiling) of something else. Your uncle, and his brother admirals, perhaps knew little of clergymen beyond the chaplains whom, good or bad, they were always wishing away.”
…“I have been so little addicted to take my opinions from my uncle,” said Miss Crawford, “that I can hardly suppose—and since you push me so hard, I must observe, that I am not entirely without the means of seeing what clergymen are, being at this present time the guest of my own brother, Dr. Grant. And though Dr. Grant is most kind and obliging to me, and though he is really a gentleman, and, I dare say, a good scholar and clever, and often preaches good sermons, and is very respectable, ….
[and here’s the kicker]
I see him to be an indolent, selfish bon vivant, who must have his palate consulted in everything; who will not stir a finger for the convenience of any one; and who, moreover, if the cook makes a blunder, is out of humour with his excellent wife.
To own the truth, Henry and I were partly driven out this very evening by a disappointment about a green goose, which he could not get the better of. My poor sister was forced to stay and bear it.”

Only a parson’s daughter with eyes wide open (to paraphrase Auden’s great bon mot about JA) could have written such a devastating, spot-on condemnation of the collective failure of the coopted English clergy (even the “good” men like Edmund Bertram who believed themselves to be doing their duty) to fulfill a genuine Christian vision of protecting and defending the poor and the enslaved from abuse to fill the stomachs and coffers of the rich. How awful is the irony that in the process of “taking orders”, there was not a class along the way on the subject of how NOT to “take orders” from evil leaders!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

APPENDIX: Other “Order” passages in Mansfield Park

Ch. 3: The living was hereafter for Edmund; and, had his uncle died a few years sooner, it would have been duly given to some friend to hold till he were old enough for ORDERS. 

Ch. 5: “So I should suppose. She has the advantage in every feature, and I prefer her countenance; but I like Julia best; Miss Bertram is certainly the handsomest, and I have found her the most agreeable, but I shall always like Julia best, because you ORDER me.”
“I shall not talk to you, Henry, but I know you will like her best at last.”

Ch. 9: “If Edmund were but IN ORDERS!” cried Julia, and running to where he stood with Miss Crawford and Fanny: “My dear Edmund, if you were but IN ORDERS now, you might perform the ceremony directly. How unlucky that you are not ordained; Mr. Rushworth and Maria are quite ready.”
Miss Crawford’s countenance, as Julia spoke, might have amused a disinterested observer. She looked almost aghast under the new idea she was receiving. Fanny pitied her. “How distressed she will be at what she said just now,” passed across her mind.
“Ordained!” said Miss Crawford; “what, are you to be a clergyman?”
“Yes; I SHALL TAKE ORDERS soon after my father’s return—probably at Christmas.”
….“I do not think you ever will,” said she, with an arch smile; “I am just as much surprised now as I was at first that YOU SHOULD INTEND TO TAKE ORDERS. You really are fit for something better. Come, do change your mind. It is not too late. Go into the law.”

Ch. 11: [See the last section of the body of the above post]

Ch. 14: Fanny seemed nearer being right than Edmund had supposed. The business of finding a play that would suit everybody proved to be no trifle; and the carpenter HAD RECEIVED HIS ORDERS and taken his measurements, had suggested and removed at least two sets of difficulties, and having made the necessity of an enlargement of plan and expense fully evident, was already at work, while a play was still to seek.

Ch. 23: Miss Crawford, who had been repeatedly eyeing Dr. Grant and Edmund, now observed, “Those gentlemen must have some very interesting point to discuss.”
“The most interesting in the world,” replied her brother—“how to make money; how to turn a good income into a better. Dr. Grant is giving Bertram instructions about the living he is to step into so soon. I find HE TAKES ORDERS in a few weeks...”
….The assurance of Edmund’s being SO SOON TO TAKE ORDERS coming upon her like a blow that had been suspended, and still hoped uncertain and at a distance, was felt with resentment and mortification. She was very angry with him. She had thought her influence more.

Ch. 26: The preparations meanwhile went on, and Lady Bertram continued to sit on her sofa without any inconvenience from them. She had some extra visits from the housekeeper, and her maid was rather hurried in making up a new dress for her: SIR THOMAS GAVE ORDERS, and Mrs. Norris ran about; but all this gave her no trouble, and as she had foreseen, “there was, in fact, no trouble in the business.”

Ch. 28: When her two dances with him were over, her inclination and strength for more were pretty well at an end; and SIR THOMAS, having seen her walk rather than dance down the shortening set, breathless, and with her hand at her side, GAVE HIS ORDERS for her sitting down entirely. From that time Mr. Crawford sat down likewise.

Ch. 32: “…And, Fanny” (turning back again for a moment), “I shall make no mention below of what has passed; I shall not even tell your aunt Bertram. There is no occasion for spreading the disappointment; say nothing about it yourself.”
This was an ORDER to be most joyfully obeyed; this was an act of kindness which Fanny felt at her heart. To be spared from her aunt Norris’s interminable reproaches! he left her in a glow of gratitude. Anything might be bearable rather than such reproaches. Even to see Mr. Crawford would be less overpowering.
…A fire! it seemed too much; just at that time to be giving her such an indulgence was exciting even painful gratitude. She wondered that Sir Thomas could have leisure to think of such a trifle again; but she soon found, from the voluntary information of the housemaid, who came in to attend it, that so it was to be every day. SIR THOMAS HAD GIVEN ORDERS for it.
… “If I had known you were going out, I should have got you just to go as far as my house WITH SOME ORDERS for Nanny,” said she, “which I have since, to my very great inconvenience, been obliged to go and carry myself. I could very ill spare the time, and you might have saved me the trouble, if you would only have been so good as to let us know you were going out. It would have made no difference to you, I suppose, whether you had walked in the shrubbery or gone to my house.”

Ch. 34: “A sermon, well delivered, is more uncommon even than prayers well read. A sermon, good in itself, is no rare thing. It is more difficult to speak well than to compose well; that is, the rules and trick of composition are oftener an object of study. A thoroughly good sermon, thoroughly well delivered, is a capital gratification. I can never hear such a one without the greatest admiration and respect, and more than half a mind TO TAKE ORDERS and preach myself. There is something in the eloquence of the pulpit, when it is really eloquence, which is entitled to the highest praise and honour. The preacher who can touch and affect such an heterogeneous mass of hearers, on subjects limited, and long worn threadbare in all common hands; who can say anything new or striking, anything that rouses the attention without offending the taste, or wearing out the feelings of his hearers, is a man whom one could not, in his public capacity, honour enough. I should like to be such a man.”
Edmund laughed.

Ch. 35: “The Miss Owens—you liked them, did not you?”
“Yes, very well. Pleasant, good-humoured, unaffected girls. But I am spoilt, Fanny, for common female society. Good-humoured, unaffected girls will not do for a man who has been used to sensible women. They are two distinct ORDERS of being. You and Miss Crawford have made me too nice.”

Ch. 38: The Thrush went out of harbour this morning. I saw her. It was a beautiful sight. And they think SHE WILL HAVE HER ORDERS in a day or two…”
….“Oh! my dear William, how glad I am to see you. But have you heard about the Thrush? She is gone out of harbour already; three days before we had any thought of it; and I do not know what I am to do about Sam’s things, they will never be ready in time; for SHE MAY HAVE HER ORDERS to-morrow, perhaps...”
….”… I have been to Turner’s about your mess; it is all in a way to be done. I should not wonder if YOU HAD YOUR ORDERS to-morrow: but you cannot sail with this wind, if you are to cruise to the westward; and Captain Walsh thinks you will certainly have a cruise to the westward, with the Elephant….”
…Fanny was very thankful. She could not but own that she should be very glad of a little tea, and Susan immediately set about making it, as if pleased to have the employment all to herself; and with only a little unnecessary bustle, and some few injudicious attempts at keeping her brothers IN BETTER ORDER than she could, acquitted herself very well.

Ch. 39: Before the week ended, it was all disappointment. In the first place, William was gone. The Thrush had HAD HER ORDERS, the wind had changed, and he was sailed within four days from their reaching Portsmouth; and during those days she had seen him only twice, in a short and hurried way, when he had come ashore on duty.


Ch. 46: When Mansfield was considered, time was precious; and the state of his own mind made him find relief only in motion. It was settled that HE SHOULD ORDER THE CARRIAGE to the door in half an hour.