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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The not so doubtful Thomases of MANsfield/MONticello Parks & Antigua

A few days ago, replying to Diane Reynolds's response to my initial post ( ) about Sir Thomas Bertram's unwitting "encouragement" of Tom Bertram's theatrical rebellion at Mansfield Park, I wrote:
"That explanation works perfectly on the overt-story level, I agree with you, Diane. But it leaves out the shadow-story explanation, which is what I wrote about –i.e., Tom as leading a rebellion against Sir Thomas, and exposing Sir Thomas by staging a play, Lovers Vows, which enacts what I believe Sir Thomas has been up to for decades in Antigua- having sired children there on a slave “wife” – and Henry Crawford is one of those biracial children, a true chicken coming home to roost!"

In Janeites, Elissa has now replied to my above post as follows:
"I've long contended that Sir Thomas is a reference to another plantation-owning gentleman who was a contemporary of JA's, a man much in the news of his day, and one especially gossiped about in England because of his close but aborted relationship to English artist (also strategically named) Maria Cosway. Austen, so adept at the multiple-layered pun, created an entire Byzantine puzzle of these complex historical relationships along with ethical, political, and philosophical comment merely by naming Sir Thomas and Maria.."

Yes, Elissa, I remember very well that you were the first in Janeites to make the claim that the Man of Monticello was an allusive source for Sir Thomas Bertram, and bravo once again for that. Here’s a post of mine in Janeites from 2006, which gives you proper credit, and also shows that Thomas Jefferson, like Sir Thomas Bertram, had a close Antigua connection:

“I just realized something that will be particularly funny to Elissa. When she first mentioned in 12/05 that Sir Thomas Bertram and Thomas Jefferson had the same first name, while others disagreed, I responded as follows:
"if all you have is the name, and the bare connection to slavery that you recount, that is not enough for me (shocking as that might be to those here who think I see anything). It would not surprise me to learn that there is more, but I have not seen it. If you were serious, you should now comb through MP and see what leaps out at you, that reminds you of Jefferson. Did Jefferson have any connection to Antigua?"
Well, as wrong as I now believe I was about the name "Thomas" in MP having no connection to slavery, at least I gave some good advice at the end, because I just took it now, 7 months later, and here is what I found, in The Growth of the American Republic, by Morison, Commager & Leuchtenburg, at P. 48:
"As none of the islands east of Puerto Rico were effectively occupied by the Spaniard, these Lesser Antilles attracted small-time English and French adventurers, who were unable to swing a continental venture like Maryland and Canada. Often families split between islands and continent;...The John Jefferson who represented Flowerdew Hundred in the first Virginia Assembly, later helped Sir Thomas Warner to found the English colony on St. Kitts, and also became a leading planter in Antigua. Thomas Jefferson was descended from his brother." Which means that Jefferson had cousins in Antigua. I also had learned, by the way, that Benjamin Franklin's nephew ran the first printing operation in Antigua, having been financed by his well-heeled and very famous uncle.”

I just Googled again today, to see if any new mention of Thomas Jefferson’s Antigua connection had appeared on the Net in the past decade, and I found this at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation website, which suggests that Thomas Jefferson’s Antigua connection is only a possibility:

“…Another possible lineage has been traced to the Suffolk family of Jeaffresons who developed a wide range of commercial interests in the Leeward Islands during the 17th century. One candidate, Samuel Jeaffreson, born in 1607 at Pettistree, Suffolk, lived on St. Kitts and then ANTIGUA, and had 3 sons, one of whom was named Thomas. It has been suggested that this son Thomas is the same man who appears in Henrico County in the 1670s, generally believed to be Jefferson's great-grandfather. From the same family was Colonel John Jeaffreson, a merchant of London, who was involved in the affairs of the Virginia Company in the early 1620s and in schemes to colonize the West Indies. He built up a large fortune on St. Kitts before returning to England in the 1650s, as a wealthy man, and purchasing an estate at Dullingham House in Cambridgeshire. Circumstantial evidence links him to a Thomas Jefferson living in Nevis and then Jamaica around this time, who may have been his son, and who could be the same person who later moved to Henrico. If so, the immediate origins of the Jefferson family were not in Wales, but in eastern England and the West Indies….”

How might Jane Austen have even suspected such a connection? I remind you all that Reverend Austen acted as Trustee of land (presumably a slave plantation) in Antigua for the benefit of his wealthy Hampshire neighbor Mr. Nibbs; and the English population of Antigua (an island 12 miles across comprising less than 100 sq. mi.) in the late 18th century would not have been that large – so it’s easy to imagine word getting back to the Austen family about connections of the very famous author of the Declaration of Independence (and President of the US from 1801-1809, not long before JA wrote MP) to his cousins in Antigua.  

And while I’m on the topic of a famous female novelist making a veiled allusion to Thomas Jefferson tat relates to slavery, a few of you reading this may recall that 3 years ago I wrote a post entitled “Harriet Beecher Stowe’s astonishingly Austenesque PRIDE in being kindly judged by those who should have held PREJUDICE against Uncle Tom’s Cabin  In that 2015 post, after I wrote about the veiled allusion to Pride & Prejudice that I see in Stowe’s hoax-like “explanation” of aspects of her own novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I went on:

“…we read the following letter [in Stowe’s explanation], which I really do believe was also a complete hoax on Stowe’s part—and your first clue is the name of the person who is supposed to have written it. His name just happens to be the identical name to that of the man whose “letter” written 76 years earlier goes by the name of “the Declaration of Independence”—a “letter” which was at the foundation of the institution of slavery in the United States. And that was a man who, exactly like Mr. St. Clare, (in)famously owned slaves but also raised children sired by him upon his slave wife Sally Hemings --- of course I am talking about THOMAS JEFFERSON!:

“The Jefferson Inquirer, published at Jefferson City, Missouri, October 23, 1852, contains the following communication:
UNCLE TOM'S CABIN: I have lately read this celebrated book, which, perhaps, has gone through more editions, and been sold in greater numbers, than any work from the American press, in the same length of time. It is a work of high literary finish, and its several characters are drawn with great power and truthfulness, although, like the characters in most novels and works of fiction, in some instances too highly coloured. There is no attack on slave-holders as such, but, on the contrary, many of them are represented as highly noble, generous, humane, and benevolent. Nor is there any attack upon them as a class. It sets forth many of the evils of slavery, as an institution established by law, but without charging these evils on those who hold the slaves, and seems fully to appreciate the difficulties in finding a remedy. Its effect upon the slave-holder is to make him a kinder and better master; to which none can object. This is said without any intention to endorse everything contained in the book, or, indeed, in any novel, or work of fiction. But, if I mistake not, there are few, excepting those who are greatly PREJUDICED, that will rise from a perusal of the book without being a truer and better Christian, and a more humane and benevolent man. As a slave-holder, I do not feel the least aggrieved. How Mrs. Stowe, the authoress, has obtained her extremely accurate knowledge of the negroes, their character, dialect, habits, &c., is beyond my comprehension, as she never resided—as appears from the preface—in a slave State, or among slaves or negroes. But they are certainly admirably delineated. The book is highly interesting and amusing, and will afford a rich treat to its reader. THOJMAS JEFFERSON. “

Whether Stowe realized that Jefferson inhabited the subtext of MP, I cannot be certain, but it’s sure an interesting possibility, because it sounds like Stowe has created an ironic parody of how the real life Thomas Jefferson might have rationalized his own profoundly hypocritical slave-owning career –i.e., that he somehow ameliorated his ownership of slaves by being “a kinder and better master.” It’s exactly as if Andy Borowitz, in The Onion, wrote a faux letter to the editor in the character of, say, Paul Ryan, rationalizing his failure to take any action to stop the slow-motion destruction of our democratic institutions.

Finally, before I close, Elissa, after reading your post this morning, I was curious to see if any Austen scholar had ever published any comments about a connection between Sir Thomas Bertram and Thomas Jefferson. I smiled when I found the following screed in Alistair Duckworth’s review (in Eighteenth-Century Fiction 12/4, July 2000, 565-672) of Patricia Rozema’s brilliant 1999 MP film, which remains to this day the only Austen film adaptation to incorporate significant elements of the shadow story of its novel.

Duckworth, in his desperate Marilyn Butler-like conservative denial of any shred of validity to Rozema’s radical anti-slavery interpretation of MP, reminded me of (oh, what rich irony Jane Austen would have savored!) Sir Thomas Bertram channeling Torquemada by burning every unbound copy of Lover’s Vows. However, as you will see, below, and as is often the case with those who are desperate to deny, Duckworth unwittingly made a backdoor case for Sir Thomas Bertram as a fictionalized Thomas Jefferson!

Duckworth began as follows:

“The coarsening of Sir Thomas's character is especially marked in the film. True, he is no paragon in the novel; a pompous and misguided patriarch, he comes to recognize that his grievous mismanagement of his children's education was the cause of their various moral transgressions. But Rozema's Sir Thomas (played superbly well by Harold Pinter) is a travesty of the fictional character. His lubricious appreciations of Fanny's maturing body are the least of his faults. While nursing Tom Bertram in his near-fatal illness, Fanny discovers a portfolio of Tom's sketches revealing atrocities committed on the Antigua plantation: slaves being flogged, tortured, and raped (as Fanny looks in horror at the drawings, the cries of the slaves are heard on the soundtrack). Not only has Sir Thomas countenanced these horrors, he has participated in them; in one sketch he is shown exacting tribute in the form of fellatio from a female slave.”

And now, here is the best part (from my point of view), in which Duckworth’s scholarly integrity and imagination get the better of his ideology:

“The addition of these details, for which the novel provides absolutely no warrant, may seem justified to some viewers-why should the fictional Sir Thomas behave any better than his historical contemporary and namesake, Thomas Jefferson?

Indeed, Prof. Duckworth, why should he?!

And then Duckworth goes on to compound his unwitting suggestions of the very same sort of radical interpretation he abhors, when he condemns Rozema’s version of Tom Bertram (which, as is evident from my posts, I not only agree with, I take them even further):

“Tom Bertram undergoes equally radical changes in Rozema's script. In the novel he is a feckless eldest son whose extravagance has caused the loss of the Mansfield living intended for Edmund; but he is not, as in the film, a habitual drunkard, or a Fuseli-like artist ("very modern," says Mrs Norris), or a man burdened by guilt over his family's exploitation of slave labour. Nor does he shout insults at his father, overturn tables, and stalk out of rooms; on the contrary, he is deferential in the extreme. The cinematic Tom resembles a doomed Byronic hero or—in a film that often seems to engage in the "Brontification" of Austen--he recalls Branwell Brontë. His demoralization, according to his father, stems from his never having found the heroic "mission" that he sought as a child. This addition by Rozema is particularly problematic…”

What Duckworth’s unconscious seems to hint to him, like a Siren’s alluring call, is the possibility that at least two of the Bronte sisters (Charlotte and Anne) were actually closet Janeites, who were picking up on Jane Austen’s shadow Byronic heroes – in this case Tom Bertram. In other words, as I have also posted on a number of occasions, the alleged ill-conceived Brontification of Austen consists of actual positive allusions to Austen which Charlotte and Anne Bronte hid in plain sight in Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, respectively!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


Anonymous said...

I'm enjoying this exegesis on Thomas Bertram. I wish I had known about the St. Kitts connection when I visited the house of Thomas Jefferson's once on the island. Cristi and I finally were able to register for KC. See you there! Vicki B.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Jefferson's uncle--not "once." VB