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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Oops! P.S. re Fanny and Mary the olive branches of Mansfield Park

As I was rereading what I just wrote, I came to the following paragraph and realized that I needed to clarify one very important point that might be taken the wrong way:

"And, further, Fanny is already anticipating Mary’s objections, when Fanny by bringing in those 9 other verses of Romans by implication, is in effect saying to Mary, “yes, I know that the natural branches at Mansfield Park, i.e., the Bertram Family, who are the “Jewish-born” branches in Fanny’s metaphor, are diseased, are not living a spiritually observant life despite their hypocritical pretense to same, but wait, I will bring them back to the fold too, I will get them to return to the straight and narrow of the proper “Christian walk”—but I need you in the fold, too!”

To be clear, it is not MY opinion that Jews were or are spiritually diseased! Rather, it is my understanding of Paul's meaning in his Epistle that HE saw the Jews (he having of course been born a Jew) as not getting with the Christian program, and he wanted the Gentile Romans to convert to Christianity, in the hope that this would cause some of the Jews to convert also. He was worried that the Gentile Romans might look at all the Jews who were not converting to Christianity, and think it was not such a good idea after all, and this was Paul's answer to that objection.

Nor, for that matter, is it my belief that JA herself was, by having Fanny channel Paul's Epistle, making any sort of veiled comment about Christians and Jews--to me, it is clear that Mary and Henry do not represent the Jews of JA's England, they represent the dissipated city folk of England, regardless of religious affiliation, who had no goal in life other than the selfish pursuit of pleasure.

Cheers, ARNIE

Fanny and Mary: The olive branches of Mansfield Park

During the past three weeks, I’ve written an “awful” (ha ha) lot of posts about Mansfield Park, and I think I will shortly bring that series to an end, and move on to other Austen subjects. As I reflect on this wave of postings as a whole, what is most striking to me is how it has become crystal clear to me that the center of the novel is the relationship NOT between Fanny and Edmund, but between Fanny and Mary. Everything else in the novel seems secondary to that relationship, and much of everything else seems to rotate around the Mary-Fanny axis.

I think that is what connects MP to S&S in a unique way, as they are the only Austen novels where the relationship between two women is the center of the novel. Even P&P is not in the same category, because the love story between Darcy and Lizzy is, I think, more central than the relationship between Lizzy and Jane, rich as that latter relationship is.

Next, what follows strongly on the heels of the above insight is how important are the scenes (and correspondence) between Fanny and Mary in private, away from the other characters, in terms of JA’s masterful cultivation of a wide spectrum of metaphors and feelings pertaining to their relationship, as their interaction ebbs and flows during the course of the novel.

And in particular, for me, the scene in the shrubbery at the Parsonage is ground zero of that relationship, it is the defining moment when the basic rules of engagement between Fanny and Mary are articulated most clearly and most richly.

Now, after having addressed that scene in a number of ways during my previous postings, I wish to add another, final layer, about an insight that occurred to me a couple of days ago, and which I have been mulling ever since. If you’ve been following along, I think you will find this perhaps the most interesting layer yet, as it encompasses not only the romantic rivalry between Fanny and Mary for Edmund’s heart, it also relates to the rich discussions we’ve had in Janeites about claims by myself that Fanny may well have been a Quaker or a Methodist, or some other dissenting form of Christianity where her (and JA’s) unique spiritual vision could take root and flower.

Here is Fanny’s speech, again: “Three years ago, this was nothing but a rough hedgerow along the upper side of the field, never thought of as anything, or capable of becoming anything; and now it is converted into a walk, and it would be difficult to say whether most valuable as a convenience or an ornament; and perhaps, in another three years, we may be forgetting -- almost forgetting what it was before. How wonderful, how very wonderful the operations of time, and the changes of the human mind!” And following the latter train of thought, she soon afterwards added: “If any one faculty of our nature may be called _more_ wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.” Miss Crawford, untouched and inattentive, had nothing to say; and Fanny, perceiving it, brought back her own mind to what she thought must interest…”

In my searching to see what other scholars have written about this speech, I came across a passing reference [in a very impressive 1974 article unpretentiously entitled “Three Problems of Mansfield Park” by the young Joel Weinsheimer] to an allusion to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in Fanny’s words about memory as a mysterious miracle “peculiarly past finding out.”

Weinsheimer claimed that Fanny was covertly quoting Verse 33 (and also alluding to certain passages in Samuel Johnson’s Idler series, also relating to the faculty of memory): “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways PAST FINDING OUT!”

After his remarkable discovery, here is all that Weinsheimer wrote about this passage: “Here memory, by its awesome miraculousness, coupled with the Biblical allusion (Romans 11.33), is clearly established as a mysterious moral faculty to be contemplated with wonder and reverence.”

Alas, he did not take the next step, which was to realize that Fanny (and JA) was not just alluding to Verse 33, but that we were meant by JA to read the ENTIRE Epistle. Read on and you’ll see why I say that so decisively.

First here is a link to the entire text of Chapter 11 of Romans (which actually is not that long anyway):

Second, here is the text of Verses 16-24 of Romans, which is the necessary prelude in order to understand the full meaning of Verse 33, and to see why Fanny quotes from it at the tail end of her speech about memory:

“For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

Do you see it? Isn’t it obvious? Fanny, in talking about the slow growth of the hedgerows along the Parsonage walk, has ALREADY been subtly paraphrasing and extending the above Verses from Romans! (and I add in passing, this also casts interesting new light on Mr. Collins’s and Mary Bennet’s comments about the “olive branch” in P&P!)

And now you see that my claim in my earlier message entitled “Converted”, in which I claimed that Fanny was delivering a veiled sermon to Mary, in which Fanny was trying to encourage Mary to embrace the slow but sure process of spiritual growth, was 100% correct—I just was not familiar with the text of Romans, but I sensed with certainty the sermonic quality of Fanny’s speech.

Just as Paul wrote the Epistle to the Gentile Romans to proselytize them to join the Christian Church, Fanny is gently proselytizing Mary to join Fanny’s own idiosyncratic rustic “congregation”! And, further, Fanny is already anticipating Mary’s objections, when Fanny by bringing in those 9 other verses of Romans by implication, is in effect saying to Mary, “yes, I know that the natural branches at Mansfield Park, i.e., the Bertram Family, who are the “Jewish-born” branches in Fanny’s metaphor, are diseased, are not living a spiritually observant life despite their hypocritical pretense to same, but wait, I will bring them back to the fold too, I will get them to return to the straight and narrow of the proper “Christian walk”—but I need you in the fold, too!”

But as I have outlined in my later messages, in Chapter 36, Mary, in her encomium to the memory of the acting of Lover’s Vows, is giving Fanny HER sermon, which is a decided “No!” to all that Fanny has proselytized. Mary is not about to join Fanny’s congregation, Mary likes her own city ways, her freedom to do as she feels in the moment, selfishly, and she is as determined as Fanny. She in turn continues HER proselytizing, by her alluring arts, to seduce both Fanny AND Edmund over to Mary’s and Henry’s Satanic congregation, where anything goes.

There is much much more to be unpacked from this approach to the Romans allusion in MP, but I will not draw it out here today, beyond the above, because I think I’ve given you enough to make the case.

I will however point out one other wonderful allusion which is another “branch” growing from the root of the landscaping metaphors in that same speech of Fanny’s, which came to me around the same time I was finding Weinsheimer’s article.
To wit, purely by searching various words from that one speech about memory by Fanny, Google Books brought me to the text of Chapter V of the following book published in 1813:

_Hints on the formation of gardens and pleasure grounds: With designs_ by John Claudius Loudon. And Chapter V was promisingly entitled “On the Formation of Groves, Woods, Labyrinths & Shrubberies, Plantations, Borders, §c.”

It turned out, to my great excitement, that Loudon was a VERY popular and influential writer in his day, and Loudon even wrote specifically about the improvement of country parsonages! I am too tired to give you more details now, but suffice to say that this is a slam dunk, there is no doubt that JA had seen this book of Loudon’s, or else another one by him with pretty much the same language in it.

I am so confident in that statement in part because Loudon advocated a natural sort of landscape improvement in contrast to and critique of Repton (Henry’s “god”) and his artificial approach to landscaping, epitomized at Sotherton’s ha-ha.

And the capper was that I THEN found an article entitled “Jane Austen, The Architect: (Re)building spaces at Mansfield Park” by P. Keiko Kagawa, in Women’s Studies, 35:125–143, 2006, subtitled “Austen’s Architectural Know-How — Austen and J.C. Loudon”, in which Kagawa, who had absolutely no idea about Fanny’s speech about memory, made the argument that Edmund’s plans for improving Thorton Lacey were JA’s covert homage to Loudon and her covert critique of Repton (Henry)!

Indeed, JA’s genius at times seems so boundless and astonishing as to almost seem “peculiarly past finding out”—but that doesn’t stop me from trying! ;)


Fanny the blameless vestal and Eloisa of Mansfield Park and Portsmouth

After sending the message I sent earlier today about the Protean Mary Crawford as a representation of the many faces and lives of Eliza Hancock de Feuillide Austen, my mind was alive with implications, and also with recollections of connections to other material I had previously found regarding Mary C as Eliza H deF A.

One recollection was of a pair of messages I sent in Janeites back in December, 2007, in which I posed a question, and then answered it. Now I have revisited those messages, and see so much more in it than I did three years ago, and want to share my fresh insights.

Here is the question I posed in 2007:

What major motion picture released since 2000 and having as one of its stars a performer who was also a star in a Jane Austen adaptation, also has as its title a very unusual and memorable phrase which is included in its entirety in a letter written by Eliza de Feuillide? We might also deduce from a comment in one of JA's own letters that the phrase was one which JA would herself have known and savored, perhaps even as a result of aesthetic conversations with her elder cousin Eliza. I am pretty certain that such conversations must have occurred at various times during JA's formative years, because Eliza, like JA, was apparently a sophisticated reader of Shakespeare. Here is what Eliza had to say in her May 7, 1784 letter to Phylly Walter that led me to that inference: "It is still the fashion to translate or rather murder, Shakspear; Romeo & Juliet, Lear, Macbeth & Coriolanus have successively made their appearance on the French stage, in my opinion they make but an uncouth figure in their foreign attire."

My answer to that trivia question was _Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind_, of course from the poem “Eloisa to Abelard_ written by JA’s “infallible” Alexander Pope, and I then explained as follows:

“In Eliza de Feuillide's letter dated July 25, 1785, she was writing to her (and also JA's) cousin, Phylly Walter, about the pros and cons of a nun's life, and, perhaps surprisingly to those who have an image of Eliza as having been a wild amoral individual, Eliza wrote: "...I make no doubt there is here & there, but only here & there, a Recluse to be met who enjoys the Serenity of Mind which must result from a perfect indifference to the World, a freedom from all its Cares, & the elevating (tho' mistaken) idea of having made the most acceptable of all sacrifices to her Maker & the brightest rewards awaiting her in another world, for all She has given up in this; such a frame of mind is too difficult to attain, for more than one in a thousand to compass it, but I look upon her to be a fortunate being to whom may be applied the charming Lines:

'How HAPPY is the blameless Vestal's LOT The World FORGETTING by the World FORGOT Eternal SUNSHINE of the spotless mind Each Prayer accepted, & each Wish resign'd.'

I then went into a brief further discussion of the correspondence and relationship between Phylly Walter (“Fanny Price”) and Eliza (“Mary Crawford”) which I won’t repeat here.

What I want to write about now is about Pope's poem, and also what Eliza wrote about Pope’s poem, because I am now certain that JA herself, in MP, subtly alluded to Pope’s famous poem, especially the stanza quoted by Eliza, and also to Eliza’s ideas about same (which I believe Eliza must have shared with JA around the time of the Steventon theatricals, when the very precocious young teen JA would have been drawn like a moth to the flame of her charismatic, much older, and obviously cultured and sophisticated cousin Eliza). I believe that in MP we have two remarkable representations, linked by the language of Pope’s poem and other markers, of Fanny Price, the “blameless Vestal” and Eloisa of Mansfield Park, and her solitude in two utterly opposite settings, one very like heaven, the other very like hell.

But first I want to point out two of JA’s textual “bread crumbs” which alone might be coincidental, but in the context of what I say, below, distinctly point toward Pope’s poem:

In Chapter 8, the ride from Mansfield Park to Sotherton is described as follows:

“Wednesday was fine, and soon after breakfast the barouche arrived, Mr. Crawford driving his sisters; and as everybody was ready, there was nothing to be done but for Mrs. Grant to alight and the others to take their places. The place of all places, the envied seat, the post of honour, was unappropriated. TO WHOSE HAPPY LOT WAS IT TO FALL?” */ /*[As it turns out, Julia’s]

Then in Chapter 20, after Sir Thomas has returned from Antigua to discover the Lover’s Vows production in gestation and has aborted it, we read:

“Sir Thomas saw all the impropriety of such a scheme among such a party, and at such a time, as strongly as his son had ever supposed he must; he felt it too much, indeed, for many words; and having shaken hands with Edmund, meant to try to lose the disagreeable impression, and FORGET HOW MUCH HE HAD BEEN FORGOTTEN HIMSELF as soon as he could, after the house had been cleared of every object enforcing the remembrance, and restored to its proper state.

Those are subliminal background to the following, which are the allusions to the “eternal sunshine” stanza in Pope’s poem quoted by Eliza in her letter:

First in Chapter 16, we have the description of Fanny in her MP, Ch. 16:

“The aspect was so favourable that even without a fire it was habitable in many an early spring and late autumn morning to such a willing MIND as Fanny’s; and WHILE THERE WAS A GLEAM OF SUNSHINE she hoped not to be driven from it entirely, even when winter came. The comfort of it in her hours of leisure was extreme. She could go there after anything unpleasant below, and find immediate consolation in some pursuit, or some train of thought at hand. Her plants, her books— of which she had been a collector from the first hour of her commanding a shilling—her writing–desk, and her works of charity and ingenuity, were all within her reach; or if indisposed for employment, if nothing but musing would do, she could scarcely see an object in that room which had not an interesting remembrance connected with it…… To this nest of comforts Fanny now walked down to try its influence on an agitated, doubting spirit, to see if by looking at Edmund’s profile she could catch any of his counsel, or by giving air to her geraniums she might inhale a breeze of mental strength herself. But she had more than fears of her own perseverance to remove: she had begun to feel undecided as to what she _ought_ _to_ _do_; and as she walked round the room her doubts were increasing. Was she _right_ in refusing what was so warmly asked, so strongly wished for—what might be so essential to a scheme on which some of those to whom she owed the greatest complaisance had set their hearts? Was it not ill–nature, selfishness, and a fear of exposing herself? And would Edmund’s judgment, would his persuasion of Sir Thomas’s disapprobation of the whole, be enough to justify her in a determined denial in spite of all the rest? It would be so horrible to her to act that she was inclined to suspect the truth and purity of her own scruples…”

I claim that the above passage is nothing less than a dramatization by JA of the experience of Eloisa, Pope’s blameless vestal with a spotless mind! We have Fanny creating for herself, in the East Room, a kind of virtual nunnery, a place of solitude, repose, reflection, and spiritual meditation, a place where truly Fanny can both forget the woes of the rest of her world, and the fruitlessness of her unrequited love for Edmund, and in turn be forgotten by Mrs. Norris and others causing her woe!

The absence of a fire is the finishing touch on this image of a celestial heaven, beyond the warm concerns of earthly life, the domain of the angels, touched only by the rays of the eternal sunshine of the bliss of the pure of heart.

Now..contrast that scene to the following one in Chapter 46, describing Fanny’s sitting in the corner at the Price residence in Portsmouth, alone in her thoughts even as she is surrounded by the profane chaos of her birth family---and which happens to be the only other place in the novel where “sunshine” is mentioned:

“ She was deep in other musing. The remembrance of her first evening in that room, of her father and his newspaper, came across her. No candle was now wanted. The sun was yet an hour and half above the horizon. She felt that she had, indeed, been three months there; and the sun’s rays falling strongly into the parlour, instead of cheering, made her still more melancholy, for SUNSHINE appeared to her a totally different thing in a town and in the country. Here, its power was only a glare: a stifling, sickly glare, serving but to bring forward STAINS AND DIRT that might otherwise have slept. There was neither health nor gaiety in SUNSHINE in a town. She sat in A BLAZE OF OPPRESSIVE HEAT, in a cloud of MOVING DUST, and her eyes could only wander from the walls, marked by her father’s head, to the table CUT AND NOTCHED by her brothers, where stood the tea–board NEVER THOROUGHLY CLEANED, the cups and saucers wiped in STREAKS, the milk a mixture of MOTES floating in thin blue, and the bread and butter growing every minute more GREASY than even Rebecca’s hands had first produced it….”

Is this a great work of literature, or the text of a commercial for Fantastik or Formula 409? ;)

Seriously, JA does everything possible to raise in our minds the one word that she does NOT mention explicitly, which is “spot”, as in “spotless mind”!

Is it not clear that this scene, with the glaring setting sun streaming in the obviously west-side window is the nightmare bookend to the ethereal dream of Fanny in the East Room, where Fanny watches the sun RISE?

And in this context I recall Eliza’s letter to Phylly Walter, and the subtle aroma of almost-regret in Eliza’s candid, clear-eyed assessment of her own lack of suitable temperament for the contemplative, removed life of the meditating saint. Is this not the conversation going on, explicitly and implicitly from Chapter 4 of the novel onward, between Fanny and Mary, the two poles, I would argue, of JA’s own Protean personality, each pole pulling her strongly toward it, and JA there, in the middle, maintaining her own delicate balance in the middle between them, somehow reconciling these opposites, and giving us the miracle of her anamorphic stories which have both heaven and hell in the same words.

Before closing, if anyone is skeptical that JA knew Pope’s poem, here is a link for the entire text of Pope’s poem, which, if you read it, makes JA’s allusion to it even more obvious:

Indeed, Pope's poem would have Fanny's FAVORITE poem, because it described her life from top to bottom! She IS Eloisa!

And if you’re also skeptical that JA first heard about Pope’s poem from Eliza, then recall that Mary Crawford says the following words in MP:

“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…”

Mary thinks of herself as that “blest leaf”, whose “aromatic gales dispense” good things to those privileged to hear her wit and wisdom, but Fanny, in that never-ending subliminal debate that she and Mary carry on throughout the novel, obliquely but unmistakably answers Mary thusly several chapters later:

“In some countries we know THE TREE THAT SHEDS ITS LEAF is the variety, but that does not make it less amazing that the same soil and the same sun should nurture plants differing in the first rule and law of their existence.”

Fanny presents herself as the constant evergreen, in contrast to Mary as the leaf which may be very entertaining, but in the end of the season of courtship, will not be around. And look at how Mansfield Park ends. Mary is the “leaf” that Edmund finally “sheds”, while Fanny, the “evergreen”, is forever planted at Mansfield Park.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. Emma Thompson's screenplay for S&S2 has Marianne Dashwood making reference to Pope's Eloisa, and surely that fits there as well, but I bet she'd be pleased to hear what I wrote, above.

“What a difference a vowel makes!”: The revolutionary French Gothic terror of Mansfield Park

Last week, Diana Birchall had an excellent flash of insight regarding the scene in MP when Fanny is disappointed that the Sotherton chapel did not feel more “awful” to her, suggesting that Fanny was having a Catherine Morland moment, expecting the "awful" - meaning the Gothic. I heartily endorsed Diana’s suggestion then, and today I found an even more striking parallel between the Gothic expectations of Fanny and those of Catherine. And, it turns out, that parallel is the key which unlocks the creaking door to an entire unsuspected dark room drenched with covert Continental Gothicism in MP.

And I know my posts often run long, but those who do not read through to the end of this one will miss the MOST horrid part of all! ;)

First, look at the following two Gothic-tinged passages in tandem, and it will be obvious that JA had one in mind when she wrote the other:

MP, Ch. 30:
Nearly half an hour had passed, and [Fanny] was growing very comfortable, when suddenly the sound of A STEP in regular APPROACH was HEARD; a heavy step, an unusual step in that part of the house: it was her uncle’s; she knew it as well as his voice; she had TREMBLED at it as often, and began to TREMBLE again, at the idea of his coming up to speak to her, whatever might be the subject. It was indeed Sir Thomas who OPENED THE DOOR and asked if she were there, and if he might come in. THE TERROR of his former occasional visits to that room seemed all renewed, and she felt as if he were going to examine her again in FRENCH and English.

NA, Ch. 28:
At that moment Catherine thought she heard [Eleanor’s] STEP in the gallery, and listened for its continuance; but all was silent. Scarcely, however, had she convicted her fancy of error, when the noise of something moving close to her DOOR made her start; it seemed as if someone was touching the very doorway — and in another moment a slight motion of the lock proved that some hand must be on it. She TREMBLED a little at the idea of anyone’s APPROACHING so cautiously; but resolving not to be again overcome by trivial appearances of alarm, or misled by a raised imagination, she stepped quietly forward, and OPENED THE DOOR. Eleanor, and only Eleanor, stood there.

At my talk in Portland exactly one month from today, I will be speaking about JA’s covert Gothic of the ordinary English paterfamilias--- General Tilney and Sir Thomas being JA’s most vivid examples of these “ordinary” English fathers and husbands who inspire “terror” in members of their family. In other words, I will be showing that JA was covertly telling her readers that the Gothic horrors of Radcliffe et al were not silly at all, but rather were sophisticated coded representations of the mundane horrors of everyday English family life—the quite tyranny of the English father and husband-- horrors which nobody spoke openly about, but which every English wife and daughter was painfully aware of, but had to keep silent about.

And it’s no accident, therefore, that MP and NA are far and away the two Austen novels which have the heaviest aura of Frenchness hovering over them. Not because, as many Janeites have blithely assumed, JA was some sort of jingoistic English xenophobe, but because JA (emulating Radcliffe) used the everyday English bigotry against the French, a bigotry she mocked in the character of John Thorpe, as a mask for her own covert but vehement critique of not so jolly olde ENGLAND itself.
In NA, the Frenchness is there on the surface. Many of the Gothic novels Catherine reads take place in dark corners of France, Switzerland or neighboring Germany and Italy. John Thorpe makes a snide xenophobic joke about Fanny Burney D’Arblay and her émigré French husband. General Tilney burns the midnight oil writing pamphlets warning of the dangers posed by the English dupes of the evil and fearsome French Jacobins.

But in MP the Frenchness is both more sly and also more extensive, and most of it, curiously, is focused on Mary Crawford.

In 1979, Warren Roberts was probably not the first to note that Mary was in no small part a representation of JA’s cousin Eliza. But Emily Auerbach was the first, writing in 2004, to provide an excellent analysis of many of the French connections to Mary Crawford, at p. 181 et seq of Searching for Jane Austen:

“Some of Mary Crawford’s remarks also sound like those attributed to Austen’s flamboyant, Frenchified cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, who used private theatricals to flirt with Austen’s brothers and remarked, ‘I always find that the most effectual mode of getting rid of temptation is to give way to it.’ Austen has MC drop into conversation phrases such as menus plaisir, esprit de corps, adieu, bon vivant, and lines passionees. In contrast, the plain speaking very English Edmund insists that he cannot produce a bon mot, rejecting the sparkling but empty repartee of Parisian wits. Yet Austen herself dots her fiction and her letters with French phrases…At the same time, Austen links the witty MC to the decadence and selfishness of French culture by having Mary compare herself to the narcissistic Doge in the court of Louis XIV. In addition, Mary’s insistence that her brother’s adulterous relationship with Maria is just a moment’s etouderie suggests a thoughtlessness consistent with this character who is ‘careless as a woman and a friend.’.. …Like the apocryphal story of Marie Antoinette suggesting that the poor eat cake, MC has no compunction against demanding a cart for transporting her harp even if farmers need it for the harvest..”

Auerbach does a great job here, but she does not suspect that there is even more of an agenda behind all of this textual winking at Mary’s Frenchness, than the depiction of Mary’s corrupted Frenchified character.

First, to Auerbach’s examples, I add several more subliminal suggestions of Frenchness that JA scattered in MP.

In the earliest chapters of MP, we hear that Maria and Julia “could not but hold [Fanny] cheap on finding that she had but two sashes, and had NEVER LEARNED FRENCH” but that “Miss Lee [then] taught [Fanny] FRENCH…”

Then the Crawfords show up at MP, and Mary says to Fanny: “If you can persuade Henry to marry, you must have THE ADDRESS OF A FRENCHWOMAN. All that English abilities can do has been tried already.”

And while waiting for Sir Thomas’s return from Antigua, we hear JA’s sense of the absurd at its most piquant, which would have warmed the shivering heart of Mr. Woodhouse, when the narrator tells us “Still Mrs Norris was at intervals urging something different; and in the most interesting moment of his passage to England, WHEN THE ALARM OF A FRENCH PRIVATEER was at its height, she burst through his recital with the proposal of soup.”

Then in Chapter 22, in that same Parsonage scene I’ve been writing so much about of late, where, as Auerbach noted, Mary likens herself to the Doge of Genoa at Versailles, we also have Mrs. Grant’s “tambour frame”, which, as I suggested previously, points to the epitome of Frenchness, Mme de Pompadour, mistress of the French King.

But my personal favorites are two allusions in MP to the era of the Bastille and the guillotine, hiding in very plain sight in the text----first in that same mock-Gothic scene I quoted, above, when Fanny trembles as she hears Sir Thomas’s heavy tread—I can almost hear him quietly muttering “Fe Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an English GIRL!”—when we hear Fanny’s fearful thoughts:

“….THE TERROR of his former occasional visits to that room seemed all renewed, and she felt as if he were going to EXAMINE HER AGAIN IN FRENCH and English.”

“The terror”sounds like a joking reference only, but this is actually a very deliberate, and totally serious, allusion to the guillotinings of The Terror. Think about what Fanny is feeling at that moment—she sees Sir Thomas as the jailer sent to retrieve Fanny from her “prison cell”, and lead her out to what feels like an execution to Fanny—awaiting her, she fears, is Henry Crawford, the executioner who has pledged to make a ‘hole’ in her ‘heart’, which, as JHS so rightly suggested, is thinly disguised code for a very different sort of “beheading”, i.e., a defloration---truly a Gothic horror for Fanny, her worst nightmare!

And that is not all---here is an allusion that is even more audaciously paraded by JA, describing Fanny’s reactions to Mary Crawford’s letters from London to Fanny in Portsmouth:

“…Mary’s next letter was after a decidedly longer interval than the last, but [Fanny] was not right in supposing that such an interval would be felt a great relief to herself. Here was another STRANGE REVOLUTION OF MIND! She was really glad to receive the letter when it did come. IN HER PRESENT EXILE from good society, and distance from everything that had been wont to interest her, a letter from one belonging to the set where her heart lived, written with affection, and some degree of elegance, was thoroughly acceptable.”

So what’s being pointed to by JA in MP by all of this is nothing less than the French Revolution itself, with both its terrors of savage destructive passions unleashed, like slaves in uprising burning down a plantation, but also with the ideals of equality which inspired the revolution in the first place—and all of it with JA’s usual special attention to the horrors inflicted on women in her world.

That would be enough….but I have one last goodie to lay on you, which gives all of this French subtext in MP a roman a clef aspect as well. If I may channel Mary Crawford for a moment, this is, I claim, the crème de la crème of the French subtext of MP.

In April 1811, JA met a genuine historically important personage, the Count d’Antraigues [JA characteristically misspelled his name “d’Entraigues” in her letters describing that encounter], the day after a London musical soiree to which the Count and his wife were invited, but were unable to attend. A musical soiree which DID include a HARPIST, in case you were wondering--JA goes on at length about the harpist in her letter describing that evening. A soiree thrown by---who else??--brother Henry and cousin Eliza! Did JA, perhaps attending her first high society soiree in the Vortex of Dissipation, by any chance wear the topaz chain given to her by her sailor brother, but with a chain provided by Eliza? The mind reels at the very real possibility that this DID occur…..

Anyway, back to the Count d’Antraigues--he was a bona fide international man of mystery long before Austin Powers, a man who—and I think JA was well aware of it ---moved in the highest levels of international spying, and he was murdered under very suspicious circumstances in London in 1812. JA finished writing Mansfield Park in 1813. Hmm…..

And now perhaps some of you with a good memory have guessed where I’m going with this, based on ANOTHER post I wrote two weeks ago, about the suspicious circumstances of the one death reported at the END of MP. Having no idea of any connection of D’Antraigues to MP before today, I suggested, as you will recall for entirely different reasons, that Mary Crawford and Mrs. Grant may well have poisoned DR. GRANT at his final dinner!

Yes, I am suggesting that the "bon vivant" Dr. Grant and the "man of great information & taste" [as per JA in her letter] Count d’Antraigues were united in JA’s mind, a union she memorialized by means of some very creative wordplay, in that the name “Grant” is entirely “disguised” within the name “d’ANTRaiGues”!

And, as always, there is ANOTHER wordplay hint, another wink of JA’s eye, to let the reader who has gotten this far that this is not a figment of imagination. When Mary Crawford says about Mr. Yates, who plays yet ANOTHER EUROPEAN NOBLEMAN, Baron Waldenheim, in Lover’s Vows: ‘What a difference a vowel makes!”, what does this mean?
In the overt context of the novel, Mary is punning on the alteration of the word “rAnts’ to “rEnts”—and, by the way, making another cynical point about mercenary greed in English life-- but I suggest that the vowel change JA is referring to is not only like the spelling mistake—or was it an intentional change?—of the “A” to “E” in the Count’s name as spelled in her letters, but ALSO is referring to the two “A’s” in “d’AntrAigues”. I.e., if the first “A” is changed to “I” and the second “a” is deleted as superfluous, that gives us the very interestingly altered surname “d’Intrigues”—and everything the world knew then, and knows even more today, about the Count’s life, is that “intrigue” was, as the saying goes, his MIDDLE name, as well as, it turns out, his surname! ;)

And if you think I am suggesting some connections between these various intrigues swirling around in JA’s real life, to those swirling around in MP, then I plead guilty as charged of suspecting JA of fowl play (or at least some monkey business) in the following paragraph, a final salute to the recently (and permanently) exiled and departed Count, in the guise of describing Maria’s elopement with Henry:

“All that followed was the result of [Maria’s] imprudence; and he went off with her at last, because he could not help it, regretting Fanny even at the moment, but regretting her infinitely more when all the bustle of THE INTRIGUE was over…”

Cheers, ARNIE

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Austenmania is coming to Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, Florida!

[Please feel free to copy and past the text of this post and email it to any Janeite you know who has any connection to South Florida---not just to Janeites who live down here, but to people who have Janeite friends or relatives who spend part of the year down here. In fact, please forward it to anybody you think would know a South Florida Janeite, who would pass it forward to them]

Attention all Janeites of Broward & Miami-Dade, Florida: Austenmania is coming soon to your neighborhood AND your metropolitian area!

Broward & Miami-Dade, together, comprise the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. without its own chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (“JASNA” for short). There is a small existing chapter in W. Palm Beach but the drive is not geographically convenient to most folks living in Broward and Miami-Dade.

If you’ve never heard of JASNA, here is the link to its website:

And here is the link to all the JASNA groups in other cities, to show you how many cities much smaller than us have their own JASNA group:

Also, as far as I know, South Florida doesn’t even have any small, neighborhood Jane Austen book clubs in any of 100+ suburban communities. Yet, in such a populous and diverse population center, there must be hundreds--or even thousands-- of Jane Austen readers and/or fans of Austen film adaptations, who, like needles in a vast haystack, have absolutely no way to find each other—but would enjoy it if they (we) could!

So, how would YOU like to be a member of a Jane Austen Book Club in your very own neighborhood, where you could do as in the recent film of that name, by getting together with Janeites in your own ZIP code, sipping tea and discussing Pride and Prejudice or Emma? And, how would you like to ALSO attend and participate in county- and bi-county-wide presentations and discussions about Austen's novels, and/or her life and times? And how would you like to participate in open-ended ONLINE Austen-related discussions with your South Florida Janeite neighbors in between those face-to-face meetings? Well, read on to see how Austenmania can start to really ignite in South Florida in all three ways by early 2011!

Now, don’t worry, you don’t have to be an Austen obsessive (like me) to join---there’ll be no quizzes on how well you know the novels, no requirement to dress up in Regency Era costumes. No prior expertise or prep is required, only your sincere desire to enjoyably share your interest in Jane Austen, whatever form it takes, with other South Florida Janeites: young and old, snowbirds and all-year-rounders, students and retirees, female and (yes) even male, too!

To jumpstart the process of creating a local Janeite community, I, being a proactive Austen obsessive, have been fortunate to be able to arrange for not one but TWO “Austenmania” in-person events to take place this winter at venues in both Miami-Dade AND Broward Counties, thanks to the gracious hospitality of two venerable South Florida cultural institutions.

First, on Sunday, December 5, 2010, from 4 pm to whenever, at the Books & Books independent bookstore at 265 Aragon Avenue, in Coral Gables, we’re going to have a first-time-ever face-to-face Janeite gathering in Miami-Dade, to hopefully bring a couple of hundred Janeite needles in our vast haystack together to become acquainted, and to take the first steps toward organizing into a true, connected community united around our shared interest in Jane Austen.

Second, on SUNDAY, January 23, 2011, from 1 to 4 pm, at the Alvin Sherman Library at the main campus of Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Davie, there will be two presentations on Austen-related topics: one by NSU English Prof Suzanne Ferriss, and one by me, Arnie Perlstein, Weston independent scholar and (guilty as charged) Austen obsessive. As at the Coral Gables event, there will be plenty of time for attendees to schmooze, connect, and then remain in contact with each other going forward.

This “double play” will hopefully catalyze the formation of an ongoing active Janeite community throughout all of South Florida, on both neighborhood and countywide levels, supplemented by 24/7 communication via online groups—you can choose which level and kind of participation suits you, or choose them all!

I've been a Janeite since 1995 when my wife took me to see Sense and Sensibility, little suspecting she was creating a monster. I've been a member of JASNA since 2005, and have attended four Annual General Meetings (AGMs) of the national Society since then. It’s all non-profit, the dues are very low, and I can tell you that it is an amazing experience for a Janeite to be in a large room filled with other Janeites. All the work gets done by volunteers as a labor of love—so if we are able to get a JASNA chapter going down here, would you like to play that sort of role down here? Then get in on the ground floor! Maybe by 2020, we’ll be the Regional Group hosting a JASNA AGM of our own!

The reason for this email is both to gather email addresses for a mailing list to send reminders of the above two events when they get closer in time, but also as a kind of Internet experiment, to take advantage of the fact that these days most people, even those, like myself, over 50, are using the Internet for various purposes, including social networking. You may remember a few years ago when some scientists at Columbia did a modern Internet version of Milgram’s classic “small world” experiment. Well, I want to repeat that process here, to see how long it takes before I start getting this email sent back to me by six degrees of separation!

December 5 is a long way off, and there's no reason to wait till then to get this process of bringing Janeites together started. So, during the next 2 months, if you yourself are interested in Jane Austen and would like to help move this process forward, please contact me at or call me at 954 6476154. You may also want to join SouthFloridaJaneites@yahoogroups, and/or the South Florida Janeites group on Facebook....!/group.php?gid=127018137323713 we can begin chatting and emailing online, bouncing ideas around regarding any or all of the above, or just starting to get acquainted.

Feel free to call me if you have any difficulty in joining either of those online groups, or if you just want to talk about Jane Austen with a fellow South Florida Janeite.

So please be like Miss Bates, and spread the “gossip” about all of this, by forwarding this email on to EVERYONE you know with a connection to South Florida who might be interested. Remember, with emails, the Internet is a lot like Highbury! This email is NOT supposed to be a secret! If this message goes viral all over South Florida, we can assure a large turnout for our two Austenmania gatherings. It's about time that South Florida Janeites can begin sharing the same camaraderie and stimulating conversation that so many other Janeites around the country have already been enjoying for years.

And, if anyone reading this lives in a place where you don’t have a JASNA chapter and/or a neighborhood Jane Austen book club, feel free to cannibalize this email, adapt its format to your purposes or make up your own format, and do the same thing! The only thing I ask is that you cc me on whatever you send out, as it will make me happy to know that Janeites living in other places got some good mileage out of my idea.

Cheers, Arnie Perlstein Weston, Florida

PPS re 27 Dresses and Mansfield Park

Not to overcook what I started in my P.S. yesterday, when i suggested that the recent Katherine Heigl movie Twenty Seven Dresses is, in some ways, a clever modernization of Mansfield Park.....but I had some fun last night skimming an online transcription of the film's dialog, to see what else popped out at me that seemed to connect to MP, and what I saw led me to realize that 27 Dresses is, in two different but related ways, a rewrite or "correction" of Mansfield Park itself.


First, the following lines in the movie obliquely suggest the screenwriter's unhappiness with the sordid aspects of life at Mansfield Park that Rozema (and recent scholarly research like mine) have brought out so vividly.

E.g., the following is what Tess says to Jane about Tess's wedding plans:

"Cousin Julie will be a bridesmaid, but Cousin Mimi is pregnant and won’t be!"

It's not much of a stretch to tweak those names into Cousin Julia and Cousin Maria (who is, as a result of her fence-hopping at Sotherton, in the same condition as Mimi by the end of the shadow story of MP).

The next line is Tess's explanation to Jane for how she managed to book the Boat House in Central Park for her wedding:

"But then the ninth time I called, they said they had a cancellation. Apparently the bride slept with the groom's father and brother...and sister and all these people. So, obviously, it got canceled and they were all devastated."

If you've seen Rozema's MP, and also think about the incestuous overtones of MP, I think I don't need to explain the significance of that line.

And the next exchange is between Jane and Kevin, when Jane confronts Kevin with his romantic newspaper columns about weddings:

"Do you actually believe in love and marriage and pretend to be a cynic...or are you a cynic who knows how to spin romantic crap for girls like me?" "I didn't follow that at all. But I think the second one, the spinning crap one." "Oh, my God. I feel like I found out my favorite love song was written about a sandwich."

That last line is my favorite--but as I have claimed repeatedly, I do NOT think that the shadow stories (i.e., the "sandwiches") of JA's novels are what the "songs"
"really" are about-- I claim that the shadow stories are, instead--to extend the musical analogy---JA's own dark "covers" of her literary love songs. Two songs in one.


I also think the ending of 27 Dresses is a rewrite of the ENDING of MP itself, along the lines that have been suggested by Janeites going back a hundred years, i.e.,
that Fanny should have wound up with Henry, not Edmund, and that Mary should have wound up with Edmund. And the way 27 Dresses makes this happen, is that each of the four main characters changes (i.e., grows as a person) in such a way as to make these pairings work and feel satisfying romantically.

So that's why the Kevin (Henry C) character is such a cynical but charming jerk in the first half of the film, just like Henry C. But we watch him being transformed
by his interactions with Jane (Fanny P), and, unlike Henry C, learning to drop the cynical facade and reveal his inner Nice Guy. And similarly, Kevin transforms Jane
by bringing out some spunk and self-assertion in her formerly creepmousy self, and so Jane, unlike Fanny P, lets go of her longtime secret love for George (Edmund),
and really moves on, because George, even though he is a nice guy, is not worthy of her. So Jane and Kevin live happily ever after, "Fanny" and "HENRY".

And similarly, that's also why in the end of 27 Dresses, the George (Edmund) character is such a clueless nice guy at first but he gets his eyes opened about the
Tess (Mary) character, which is something George really needed to do, because he was so unaware of his own feelings and unalert to being manipulated by others, that
this was not a good way for him to be in the world. And the Tess (Mary C) character, conversely, gets royally chastened by being caught in all her lies, but, unlike Mary C, she takes being exposed as a big liar to heart, and at the wedding of Kevin and Jane a year later, we see Tess and George say hi for the first time since
their own wedding was aborted, and Tess is now being her true self, and who knows if they will connect again or not, at least there's a chance.

Cheers, ARNIE

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Memorable Tete a Tetes of Fanny and Mary, Hamlet (and a very surprising P.S.)

I was just looking at Chapter 36 of MP for another reason this morning (which I will send another message about later today), when I reread, with new eyes, the scene in which Mary uses her charisma combined with Fanny’s habit of submission, to get Fanny alone for a few minutes. For the first time I considered the recurring motif of Mary and Fanny’s tete a tetes during the course of the novel (there are several during the course of the novel), but in this one I was struck by the clearly intentional and striking resonance between the following two extended meditations on memory, the first spoke by Fanny to Mary in the Parsonage shrubbery, the second by Mary to Fanny in the East Room:

Ch. 22:

“This is pretty, very pretty,” said Fanny, looking around her as they were thus sitting together one day; “every time I come into this shrubbery I am more struck with its growth and beauty. Three years ago, this was nothing but a rough hedgerow along the upper side of the field, never thought of as anything, or capable of becoming anything; and now it is converted into a walk, and it would be difficult to say whether most valuable as a convenience or an ornament; and perhaps, in another three years, WE MAY BE FORGETTING—ALMOST FORGETTING WHAT IT WAS BEFORE. How wonderful, how very wonderful THE OPERATIONS OF TIME, AND THE CHANGES OF THE HUMAN MIND!” And following the latter train of thought, she soon afterwards added: “If any one FACULTY OF OUR NATURE may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is MEMORY. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the POWERS, the failures, the inequalities of MEMORY, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.”

Miss Crawford, untouched and inattentive, had nothing to say…….

Ch. 36:

But the evil [i.e., Fanny’s anticipation that Mary will join in the chorus pressuring her to accept Henry as a prospective husband] ready to burst on [Fanny] was at least delayed by the sudden change in Miss Crawford’s ideas; by the strong effect on her mind which the finding herself in the East room again produced.

“Ha!” she cried, with instant animation, “am I here again? The East room! Once only was I in this room before”; and after stopping to look about her, and seemingly to retrace all that had then passed, she added, “Once only before. DO YOU REMEMBER IT? I came to rehearse. Your cousin came too; and we had a rehearsal. You were our audience and prompter. A delightful rehearsal. I SHALL NEVER FORGET IT. Here we were, just in this part of the room: here was your cousin, here was I, here were the chairs. Oh! WHY WILL SUCH THINGS EVER PASS AWAY?”

Happily for her companion, she wanted no answer. Her mind was entirely self–engrossed. She was in a REVERIE OF SWEET REMEMBRANCES.

“The scene we were rehearsing was so very remarkable! The subject of it so very—very—what shall I say? He was to be describing and recommending matrimony to me. I THINK I SEE HIM NOW, trying to be as demure and composed as Anhalt ought, through the two long speeches. ‘When two sympathetic hearts meet in the marriage state, matrimony may be called a happy life.’ I suppose NO TIME CAN EVER WEAR OUT THE IMPRESSION I HAVE of his looks and voice as he said those words. It was curious, very curious, that we should have such a scene to play! If I had THE POWER OF RECALLING any one week of my existence, it should be that week—that acting week. Say what you would, Fanny, it should be that; for I never knew such exquisite happiness in any other. His sturdy spirit to bend as it did! Oh! it was sweet beyond expression…..”

I find Mary’s speech in Chapter 36 a strong additional confirmation of my interpretation last week that while Mary may have appeared untouched and inattentive to Fanny’s Ode To Memory, she was anything but—I claim that Mary only PRETENDED to be inattentive, but instead proceeded to turn the topic of conversation, implicitly, to Edmund, to subtly remind Fanny that Edmund belonged to Mary, not Fanny!

And what better way for JA to subliminally confirm that interpretation of that scene in Chapte 22 than to have Mary, fourteen chapter later, and without any clumsily obvious clues, indulge in her own Counter-Ode on Memory, ALSO about Edmund, but this time, totally explicitly! I.e., this Counter-Ode by Mary is clearly Mary’s delayed response to Fanny’s Ode!

In explicitly recalling Edmund in the East Room, Mary is simultaneously, in code and very ironically, given that the topic is memory, inviting Fanny to REMEMBER their tete a tete in the Parsonage shrubbery. And also, I think, inviting Fanny to realize, for the first time, that Fanny’s memory of that earlier tete a tete was mistaken, because Mary had been every bit as manipulative of the conversation back then as she was being currently in the East Room. I.e., Mary’s mind only appears to Fanny to be entirely self-engrossed, in some sort of involuntary reverie of reminiscences.

However, Fanny does not put these pieces together. Mary’s performance is too convincing. In short, Mary was acting the role of inattentive nature-hater in Chapter 22, and was now acting the role of involuntary reminiscer in Chapter 36, and in both instances, we know that Mary succeeds, because we know what Fanny thinks.
And there are more ironic delights in this passage. JA makes the theatricality of Mary’s performances in these two scenes very explicit, when Mary says, “It was curious, very curious, that we should have such a scene to play!”

This is the equivalent of Jane Austen winking repeatedly, as if to say to the reader, wake up, Mary is an actress, and Fanny is being taken in by the performance.
And, apropos my post of the other day, The Mousetrap of Mansfield Park, I also just realized that, fittingly, there is ALSO a very sly Hamlet allusion in this scene between Mary and Fanny in Chapter 36, which I will illustrate by quoting first from MP, describing Fanny’s reaction to Mary’s performance, and then from an unmistakably parallel moment in Hamlet, describing Hamlet’s famous reaction to the First Player who sheds tears as he recites the tragic tale of the death of Priam:
“Fanny was affected. She had not foreseen anything of this, and her feelings could seldom withstand the melancholy influence of the word “last.” SHE CRIED AS IF she had loved Miss Crawford more than she possibly could; and Miss Crawford, yet farther softened by the sight of such emotion, hung about her with fondness, and said, “I hate to leave you. I shall see no one half so amiable where I am going. Who says we shall not be sisters? I know we shall. I feel that we are born to be connected; and THOSE TEARS CONVINCE ME THAT YOU FEEL IT TOO, dear Fanny.”

Hamlet, Act Two, Scene Two:

“What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, That he should weep for her? What would he do, Had he the motive and the cue for passion That I have? He would drown the stage with tears…”


Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: I only just realized as I was about to send this message that I myself have just had a Trojan Horse Moment, because I am sure I was prompted to go back to Chapter 36 of MP today, and to realize all of the above, consciously, as a result of my watching about 45 minutes of that underrated chick flick “27 Dresses” on cable as I did my treadmilling last night. I had seen it before, and enjoyed it without any sense whatsoever that it had the slightest connection to JA, but now I realize, with a shock, that it is nothing less than an amazingly clever spin on Mansfield Park! It will only take me one paragraph to convince you.

The scenes I watched included the one in which Katherine Heigl’s character (who of course is named “Jane”!!) is being given a lesson by James Marsden’s character Kevin in not just automatically doing everything everyone else asks her to do, PLUS we have Jane being secretly in love with her boss, Edward Burns’s George, but never telling him, and then having to endure watching him be seduced by her own scheming and deceitful sister, who lies and manipulates him completely—including pretending to share his deep love of nature, even though she is a total city girl!-- because he is so clueless about feminine wiles, and also clueless about the girl who loves him from close up. As I said, Doh!---this is Mansfield Park, but with the happier ending that “Fanny” winds up falling in love with a guy with heart AND wit, who really deserves her, and not with a clueless blockhead.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The slavery subtext of Mansfield Park

I recommended earlier today in the usual online places that anyone unfamiliar with the evidence supporting the claim that there is a slavery subtext in Mansfield Park ought to start by reading the lengthy essay on that subject by Moreland Perkins which appeared in the 2005 issue of Persuasions Online, and which can be read here:

Perkins's article however, is only a beginning, there is much more to read in addition in order to get a comprehensive picture.

I was thinking this evening while walking on the treadmill how I can explain why I suggested that people read Perkins. It comes down to this--I know, from the research I have done, that out in print today, and not including my own original discoveries, there already exists much more than sufficient evidence, drawn from the kind of argumentation Perkins made with respect to Clarkson's book and career, but also
including material regarding Lord Mansfield, and other material regarding various literary allusions, and also other material relating to the real life world of people living around JA, and much more, to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the text of Mansfield Park is filled from one end to the other, in about twenty different ways, with motifs of servitude, and which are richly intertwined with each other.

It does not take some magical level of insight to see this, all it takes is to read a great deal or all of the scholarly work that has already been done on this subject (which nobody previously has ever gathered together in one place, but I have done that, and will include it in my book, and so will make that part of the task less onerous for those coming after me who wish to engage in this study), and then to go back to the text of MP to examine the context of each of these twenty motifs. If someone invests the many hours necessary to read all the evidence and think about , to me, there simply is no other reasonable interpretation than this.

The text of the novel alone is difficult to interpret in this regard. But all those allusions act like spotlights that shine on different parts of the text of the novel, and which collectively create a very bright light in which the servitude motif as a whole is quite distinct and visible.

But....that is NOT the same as saying WHY that overarching theme of servitude is there. It could mean several different things--I don't want to get into all the possibilities of what those things could be, it's just too complex for this forum. But you should NOT assume that because there are many clues in the novel pointing to the slave trade and plantation slavery, that these real world horrors were the primary focus of JA in embedding them in MP--I don't believe that to be the case, I
think she had another agenda, and that her very real horror at the institution of slavery was nonetheless subordinate to an agenda even more important to her than that. Again, beyond that, I am not going now, I will save that full argument for my book.

But, I can say now that I personally have struggled with this question at great length off and on over the past 5 years, and I am confident that i can explain and justify MY interpretation of the primary meaning of this structure to anyone who is willing to read what will be in my book about this. But I am not claiming that there cannot be some different way of interpreting that servitude matrix than the one I will be proposing, and I very much look forward to a conversation sometime in the not too distant future with other Janeite scholars who have also read all that scholarly work, and have been convinced that the servitude meme is crucial in the novel, but who have different takes on what is there. That would be wonderful.

Those who for whatever reason believe that there is a doubt as to whether the servitude motif is central in MP are entitled to their opinions, but there's nothing fruitful I can talk about with them about this aspect of MP, because for me the detection phase is already complete, and I am totally engaged with the level of interpretation of the "data' that has already been generated.

And I finish by repeating my mantra--everything I am saying relates to the shadow story of the novel, and there are all sort of other interesting conversations to have about the overt story of the novel, which i can participate in, where teh slavery motif is not crucial to a deep understanding of aspects of MP.

Hope that helps,


Mansfield Park, Gone with the Wind, and The Wind Done Gone

In sleuthing around online this morning to see what else I might find in relation to my post yesterday, responding to Elissa’s excellent suggestion about the Middle Passage slave ship journey allusion concealed in plain sight in MP, I just found a very interesting chapter in a 2002 book entitled _South to a new place: region, literature, culture_ edited by Suzanne Whitmore Jones and Sharon Monteith, entitled “The South and Britain: Celtic Cultural Connections”, by Helen Taylor. It discusses a complex web of literary resonance between Gone with the Wind and its sequels, particularly the controversial 2001 sequel The Wind Done Gone, and MP---connected of course by the slavery subtext of MP.

The following are some brief, pruned excerpts from Taylor’s article, with a few interspersed comments by myself in brackets:

“The Mitchell Literary Estate’s commissioning of a sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s novel in the 1980s played the most significant part in ensuring new life for [Gone With the Wind]…[then discusses Ripley’s sequel]…whether or not Ripley read McWhiney’s reactionary book that has been challenged by most other southern historians and cultural critics, she adhered to its ideological line fairly closely and produced a romantically charged fictional version of the thesis…[talks about the sequel’s accentuated white Irish heritage subtext]…The critical response to the novel, on both sides of the Atlantic, was generally hostile, with the exception of some protective southern journalists. The book was condemned for avoiding complex racial and ethnic issues…..

…In the mid-1990s, the Mitchell Estate commissioned a second sequel by the sophisticated, ironic Scottish writer Emma Tennant, with a view to attracting the critical acclaim that had eluded [Ripley’s sequel], but then the Estate sacked Tennant after finding she had failed to honor their thematically restrictive agenda. Tennant went on scathing record about the squeamish and reactionary attempts to censor and control her work. ….

[Of course, many of you will recognize Emma Tennant’s name, she has written several sequels to JA’s novels, which, in my opinion, point, although not particularly accurately, into the genuine shadows of JA’s novels. I admire Tennant’s fearless approach nonetheless.]

…[Tennant’s] contempt for the [Mitchell] Estate was echoed by southern novelist Pat Conroy, who in 1998 announced his own [parodic] sequel…The novel has not yet appeared [in 2001, and, as far as I can tell, ever since] but upstaging Conroy’s mischievous approach…[what] hit the headlines in 2001 [was] Alice Randall’s ‘parody’ novel, The Wind Done Gone, [which] was taken to an Atlanta court…for violating copyright laws…Randall’s publishers, Houghton Mifflin, successfully appealed the decision on the grounds that the novel was a ‘political parody’ and was thus protected by the First Amendment, as well as presenting a new perspective on the original story. In June 2001, the novel appeared to considerable critical and public interest…

…[The biracial heroine] Cynara is sent on a ‘Grand Tour’ of European cities, crossing the ocean on the Baltic, a ship that carried supplies for the relief of Fort Sumter. Cynara hates her journey, discovering a fear of seawater that recurs in her stay in European cities on rivers. [The Rhett character] plans to take her to London, where they will marry and live as a ‘passing ‘ white couple. However, Cynara’s resistance grows as she considers herself part of ‘a sailed people”, who crossed to America, so that fear of ‘CROSSING the water’ is the only thing she retains of her mother’s and grandmother’s, described with echoes of the MIDDLE PASSAGE section of Toni Morrison’s Beloved …Cynara’s only European yearning is for London, a city known through her reading of the inevitable Walter Scott and Jane Austen (the latter loved only for Mansfield Park because ‘FANNY HATED SLAVERS’)……” END OF EXCERPTS FROM TAYLOR ARTICLE

Of course my next “port of call” was the text of The Wind Done Gone, where I found the following at P. 157:

“But I am hungry for the city on the Thames. I think of the palaces, Hampton Court where QE lived, I think of the Tower of London and all the things I read about in those Walter Scott novels and those slow Jane Austen pages. The only one of those I ever loved at all was Mansfield Park. FANNY HATED SLAVERS. I think of all those ladies now because-why? Because-why? Because, having forgotten what I saw there, they are all I know of the world to which I am going. Dusty pages. MOUSE supper.”

And then the FINAL stop of my journey today was the text of MP, in which I found the following passages which add to the many I cited yesterday in creating a strong subliminal slave ship aura in MP:

First we have the “crossings” of the locked gate which take place in the wilderness at Sotherton, first Maria’s:

“Fanny, feeling all this to be wrong, could not help making an effort to prevent it. “You will hurt yourself, Miss Bertram,” she cried; “you will certainly hurt yourself against those spikes; you will tear your gown; you will be in danger of SLIPPING INTO THE HA-HA. You had better not go.” Her cousin was SAFE ON THE OTHER SIDE while these words were spoken, and, smiling with all the good–humour of success, she said, “Thank you, my dear Fanny, but I and my gown are alive and well, and so good–bye.”

And then Julia’s:

“She immediately scrambled aCROSS the fence, and walked away…”

And then we have the piquant irony of the narrator invoking those two earlier excerpts and again giving us that subliminal nautical aura, with the zany neologism “cross-accidents” and “intercept” both conjuring up the notion of a slave ship intercepted by another ship, later in that same Chapter 10:

“Whatever CROSS-ACCIDENTS had occurred TO INTERCEPT the pleasures of [Mrs. Norris’s] nieces, she had found a morning of complete enjoyment;….”

And, as icing on the slavery subtext cake, Maria’s allusion to Sterne’s caged bird of course is ITSELF a slavery reference, so the message is clear that Maria and Julia are, in their own misguided way, seeking to break free from their chains—misguided mainly because Henry Crawford is the last guy on the planet you want to choose as a rescuer—talk about escaping out of the frying pan and finding yourself, as Maria eventually does, in some serious hellfire!

And previously, we had the idea of Fanny on a sea journey being mockingly suggested by her juvenile Bertram cousins:

"But, aunt, she is really so very ignorant! -- Do you know, we asked her last night which way she would go to get to Ireland; and she said, SHE SHOULD CROSS to the Isle of Wight….”

And last, we go right back to Portsmouth where an outing on foot to the dockyard takes on the mythical character of a sea voyage, with JA again exploiting the clever motif of “Captain Price” to provide a superficial cover for his constant play-acting at being a sailor.

“They were then to SET FORWARD for the dockyard at once, and the walk would have been conducted — according to Mr. Crawford’s opinion—in a singular manner, had Mr. Price been allowed the entire regulation of it, as the two girls, he found, would have been left to follow, and keep up with them or not, as they could, while they walked on together at their own hasty pace. He was able to introduce some improvement occasionally, though by no means to the extent he wished; he absolutely would not walk away from them; and AT ANY CROSSING or any crowd, when Mr Price was only CALLING OUT, "Come, girls; come, Fan; come, Sue, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES; KEEP A SHARP LOOKOUT!" he would give them his particular attendance.”

In conclusion, stepping back a few paces, I find it very interesting to look at Mansfield Park, which, I and many others claim, was JA’s implicit political parody of slavery, which Rozema’s 1999 film taps into, in relation to the world of another very famous novel, which had had its own complex history of sequel and parody also in relation to the world of slavery.

Hope you enjoyed this little excursion.

Cheers, Arnie

Sunday, September 26, 2010


[Elissa] "In turn, this thought led me to the following, I think, major idea about Austen's novel *Mansfield Park.* That it never struck me or anyone else sooner is astonishing, for as Arnie often says, it was hidden "in plain sight" all along. Here it is: Mansfield Park, that seeming bastion of stability, moral strength, of all that was good in the eyes of the European world but that many readers have seen as a gilded or veneered surface hiding the reverse, darker aspects of humanity, that for many signifies a journey into the evils of the slave trade from Africa to the Caribbean and the New World, is also known to readers of Jane Austen by those famous initials "MP." These are, of course, the very initials of the phrase that conjure up the European-African slave trade route: the *M*iddle *P*assage, also MP. I suggest that this, in addition to all we have previously discussed in the novel concerning the place and people names and references associated with British Abolishionists of the time and historical events that connect Mansfield Park (the novel) to the slave trade/plantations clinches the matter. - cadit quaestio."

Well, the slavery subtext of Mansfield Park has been demonstrated a hundred times over by a half a hundred or more of able Janeite scholars, but nonetheless, that is still a VERY ingenious suggestion, Elissa, which does add SEVERAL elegant bricks in the existing wall of knowledge—Nicely done! ;)

I think it is an excellent example of JA's subliminal artistry both in the way you have detected (shared initials pointing to very different meanings), but also in a way I don't know if you consciously realized, but which I am cetain you did subliminally notice (I call these subliminal realizations Trojan Horse Moments, and I have them all the time!)—there is indeed very specific wordplay evidence buried in the text of the novel itself, like sunken treasure left behind by pirates in the Caribbean (ha ha), which supports your interpretation.

Here’s how I found it. The first thing I thought to do when I read your message was to search the words “middle” and "passage" in MP, in the belief, based on prior experience, that if JA really meant to allude to the Middle Passage in MP, she’d leave behind some bread crumbs in the text that could be found by a reasonably diligent sleuth, that would constitute the wink of confirmation, as if to say, “Yes, you were not just imagining that, reader!”

And look at what popped out at me off the computer screen, in Chapter 38 in MP, we have the word “passage” appearing SIX times during the description of Fanny’s first day back in her old home in Portsmouth with the Price family, as well as one usage of “middle” and one of “midshipman” for good measure. And of course the word “passage”, even besides that dense cluster in Chapter 38, has appeared elsewhere in MP much more frequently than in the other novels, including the following subliminal hints toward the Middle Passage, first in Chapter 11:

“It would hardly be early in November, there were generally delays, a bad PASSAGE or something; that favouring something which everybody who shuts their eyes while they look, or their understandings while they reason, feels the comfort of. It would probably be the MIDDLE of November at least; the MIDDLE of November was three months off. Three months comprised thirteen weeks. Much might happen in thirteen weeks.”

There again we have the word “middle” repeated, for subliminal emphasis, to make sure it registers in the reader’s mind.

But these subliminal repetitions of “passage” and “middle” would only be literary parlor tricks, if they were all there was. But what if they are all TAGS, which tell the reader, read this Chapter with the Middle Passage of the slave trade in mind, and you will find that the action in Chapter 38 indeed points metaphorically to the Middle Passage taken by slave ships, and does so in abundance!

Is it not obvious that, in a very real sense, emotionally, in Chapter 38, it is precisely the moment after Fanny has been abducted out of her home “country”, Mansfield Park (i.e., Africa), and smuggled down against her will to a kind of servitude more akin to a prison sentence in Portsmouth? Isn’t that a metaphor for the same sort of experience, but of course magnified a million fold, that millions of African slaves tragically suffered during the centuries of the slave trade?

So it is no accident that JA made you think “passage”, Elissa, in Chapter 38!

Now, as I said, to get the full effect of this tour de force, one must read all of Chapter 38 with this idea of a slave ship journey in mind. This post is too long already. But it’s enough to give a few highlights, that demonstrate that we are hearing, in a kind of code, Fanny's experiences as she takes horrified stock of the dreadful conditions in the Pride home in Portsmouth:

"...almost every door in the house was open, could be plainly distinguished in the parlour, except when drowned at intervals by the superior noise of Sam, Tom, and Charles chasing each other up and down stairs, and tumbling about and HALLOOING."

Does this not conjure up the image of midshipmen climbing up and down the mast, hallooing "Land ahoy!"? This is what the slaves down below decks would hear from up above, as if in a nightmare.

"Fanny was almost stunned. The SMALLNESS OF THE HOUSE AND THINNESS OF THE WALLS BROUGHT EVERYTHING SO CLOSE TO HER, THAT, ADDED TO THE FATIGUE OF HER JOURNEY, and all her recent agitation, she hardly knew how to bear it. “

And here we have a striking resonance to the awful claustrophobic, dangerous, disgusting conditions that the slaves lived (and often died) under during their awful ‘journeys” to the “New World”.

“Within the room all was tranquil enough, for Susan having disappeared with the others, there were soon only her father and herself remaining; and he, taking out a newspaper, the accustomary loan of a neighbour, applied himself to studying it, without seeming to recollect her existence. The solitary candle was held between himself and the paper, without any reference to her possible convenience; but she had nothing to do, and was glad to have the light screened from her aching head, as she sat in bewildered, broken, sorrowful contemplation."

And here we have the claustrophobia of life on a small and crowded vessel, the Captain reading his maps by the light of a candle.

And much much more, but the coup de grace, the true smoking gun, is the following sentence:

“THE SMALLNESS OF THE ROOMS ABOVE AND BELOW, indeed, and THE NARROWNESS OF THE PASSAGE and staircase, struck her beyond her imagination."

This is a kind of poetic transformation of Clarkson’s vivid detailed descriptions of the unspeakable conditions that the slaves suffered under, in Clarkson’s book that JA specifically praised, and also of Cowper’s heart-wrenching poetry bewailing the fate of these victims of the English colonial system!

So it's no accident that the Price residence in Portsmouth sounds a little like a stinking slave transport ship--with foul-mouthed "Captain" Price at the "helm"! But truth be told, Fanny lived like a slave even at Mansfield Park, and JA reminds us of this by having the word "smallness" in Chapter 38 echo back, also intentionally, to younger Fanny's prior experience living in cramped quarters, in Chapter 11:

"The little white attic, which had continued [Fanny's] sleeping–room ever since her first entering the family, proving incompetent to suggest any reply, she had recourse, as soon as she was dressed, to another apartment more spacious and more meet for walking about in and thinking, and of which she had now for some time been almost equally mistress. It had been their school–room; so called till the Miss Bertrams would not allow it to be called so any longer, and inhabited as such to a later period. There Miss Lee had lived, and there they had read and written, and talked and laughed, till within the last three years, when she had quitted them. The room had then become useless, and for some time was quite deserted, except by Fanny, when she visited her plants, or wanted one of the books, which she was still glad to keep there, from THE DEFICIENCY OF SPACE AND ACCOMMODATION IN HER LITTLE CHAMBER ABOVE: but gradually, as her value for the comforts of it increased, she had added to her possessions, and spent more of her time there; and having nothing to oppose her, had so naturally and so artlessly worked herself into it, that it was now generally admitted to be hers. The East room, as it had been called ever since Maria Bertram was sixteen, was now considered Fanny’s, almost as decidedly as the white attic: the SMALLNESS OF THE ONE making the use of the other so evidently reasonable that the Miss Bertrams, with every superiority in their own apartments which their own sense of superiority could demand, were entirely approving it; and Mrs. Norris, having stipulated for there never being a fire in it on Fanny’s account, was tolerably resigned to her having the use of what nobody else wanted, though the terms in which she sometimes spoke of the indulgence seemed to imply that it was the best room in the house.”

The dehumanization of the powerless, even down to petty details like not giving enough physical living space, that is Rule One of oppression and exploitation, on slave ships and, less obviously, in the ordinary English family.


The Mousetrap of Mansfield Park

The following is a response I wrote to some posts by Christy Somer in the Janeites group:

Before I go any further, I just read your latest post, entitled The Mansfield Park Finale, and I wish to tell you that I admire and enjoy the vivid description you gave of the wonderful literary time travel that reading JA provides for you, and to state to you that, as I see things, your approach is NOT inconsistent with my interpretation of the Mansfield Park Finale. The last thing I would wish to do is to take away from you that experience.

And, as always, I explain that apparent contradiction with my mantra—what you describe belongs to the rich and entirely valid fictional world of the OVERT story of Mansfield Park, and what I describe belongs to the rich (and I claim ALSO entirely valid) fictional world of the SHADOW of Mansfield Park. Two separate, but parallel fictional universes. I wish to see EACH story having its honored place in the canon of JA.

Did you ever see Back to the Future? They captured that sense of alternative realities so beautifully in that film, showing that with just a tweak of the conditions of living, an entirely different world can arise, i.e,. that sometimes darkness is only an inch away from light, comedy only an inch away from tragedy.

Anyway, I wanted to begin with that, to put what I am about to write in full context.
Now…when I was interrupted earlier today, it just so happens that I was mulling over in my head the question of whether to respond more fully and directly to the excellent question you posed to me yesterday:

“Taking everything that has been discussed around Sir Thomas and most of the Mansfield Park characters recently, I would just like to be clear in my mind and understanding with what you're truly proposing by all of this sharing and discussing around the material you plan on publishing.”

I responded honestly to you yesterday, but even as I was doing so, perhaps you sensed there was something I was NOT saying, i.e., that there WAS something ELSE significant about Sir Thomas that was giving me such a sense of confidence that JA did not want the reader to forgive Sir Thomas, because his sins had been even greater than was apparent in the overt story of the novel.

And indeed there IS such an insight I’ve had about Sir Thomas since way back in October 2006, which I have occasionally hinted at very obliquely since then in these groups, but which I have never written about publicly, but which I have only revealed privately to a small circle of Janeite friends.

But now feels like just the right time to go public with my thoughts in this regard—and I will also preface these remarks by saying that I do not expect anyone reading along in these groups who has not already found my arguments about Sir Thomas plausible, to be convinced by what I will now reveal. All the same, I will tell what I believe, and those of you who are so inclined will find value in what I will say.

I will begin by telling you the brief story of how I got to these insights I’ve been alluding to. In October 2006, toward the tail end of several months of very active discussion in Janeites about the slavery subtext of MP, I knew I was going to attend my second JASNA AGM, the one about Mansfield Park held in Tucson, and I was particularly looking forward to attending a remarkable presentation by the brilliant Austen scholar, Marcia McClintock Folsom, discussing Shakespearean allusions in MP, in particular parallels between Fanny Price and Catherine of Aragon.

When I first read Marcia’s blurb for her breakout session, it prompted me to take a much closer look at MP in terms of OTHER Shakespearean allusions in MP, such as the one noted by several scholars and Janeites regarding the King Lear subtext of MP. However, another Shakespeare allusion, which I believe is of the greatest importance in understanding MP, occurred to me a few weeks earlier, while reading the section of the novel regarding Lover’s Vows. In the 4 years since then, as I have seen the significance of Hamlet in all of JA’snovels, it has naturally taken on greatly increased significance in the matrix of my interpretations of MP.

To wit: the moment when Sir Thomas returns from Antigua and finds Mr. Yates rehearsing the role of Baron Wildenhaim in Sir Thomas’s private rooms converted to impromptu theatre, is, I claim, a direct allusion to the Mousetrap play-within-the-play scene in Act III of HAMLET!

The full explanation of the significance of this claim must wait for the chapter in my book on this subject, because it has many facets and requires extended unpacking over many pages. However, I wanted to give you a taste of this now, by focussing on
ONE aspect of this allusion, which is my claim as to the principal reason why I believe JA chose Lover’s Vows in particular to be the play within Mansfield Park—it was because of the terrible sin that Baron Waldenheim commits in Lover’s Vows (and of course also in Kotzebue’s original), which he ends up, after considerable pressure, making at least partial amends for, i.e., his seduction of Agatha, combined with his abandoning her and their illegitimate son, Frederick.

It is my claim that in the shadow story of Mansfield Park, the young Sir Thomas Bertram does something comparably heinous to what the young Baron does in Lover’s Vows, which is that Sir Thomas seduces and abandons his sister in law, Frances Ward, later Frances Price, leaving her with no option (since he is a married man) but to marry a horrible man and be subjected to a lifetime of cruel penance under the heavy chains of endless childbearing and poverty, while Sir Thomas enjoys his life of ease and opulence far away at Mansfield Park. And to make it worse, he and his “assistant” Mrs. Norris arrange things so that all the blame will fall on Frances Ward Price, and none at all on himself, as he, like Baron Wildenhaim, continues in his marriage to a rich wife…. ALL IN THE SHADOW STORY!

And, given the magnitude of this theme in the shadow story of MP, it is no surprise that JA gives the reader the first hints of it in the very first chapter of the entire novel:

“But Miss Frances married, in the common phrase, to disoblige her family, and by fixing on a lieutenant of marines, without education, fortune, or connexions, did it very thoroughly. She could hardly have made a more untoward choice. SIR THOMAS BERTRAM HAD INTEREST, which, from principle as well as pride—from a general wish of doing right, and a desire of seeing all that were connected with him in situations of respectability, he would have been glad to exert for the advantage of Lady Bertram’s sister; but her husband’s profession was such as no interest could reach; and BEFORE HE HAD TIME TO DEVISE ANY OTHER METHOD OF ASSISTING THEM, an absolute breach between the sisters had taken place. It was THE NATURAL RESULT OF THE CONDUCT OF EACH PARTY, AND SUCH AS A VERY IMPRUDENT MARRIAGE ALMOST ALWAYS PRODUCES. To save herself from useless remonstrance, Mrs. Price never wrote to her family on the subject till actually married. Lady Bertram, who was a woman of very tranquil feelings, and a temper remarkably easy and indolent, would have contented herself with merely giving up her sister, and thinking no more of the matter; but Mrs. Norris had a spirit of activity, which could not be satisfied till she had written a long and angry letter to Fanny, to point out the folly of her conduct, and THREATEN HER WITH ALL POSSIBLE ILL CONSEQUENCES. Mrs. Price, in her turn, was injured and angry; and an answer, which comprehended each sister in its bitterness, and bestowed such very disrespectful reflections on the pride of Sir Thomas as Mrs. Norris could not possibly keep to herself, PUT AN END TO ALL INTERCOURSE BETWEEN THEM FOR A CONSIDERABLE PERIOD.”

In October 2006, I started a thread in Janeites entitled “What was so objectionable about Lover’s Vows anyway?” What I did not reveal then, but am revealing now, is that the one aspect of Lover’s Vows which makes it anathema to Sir Thomas is that it functions as a mirror held up to his face, revealing his OWN grained spots, as a seducer, adulterer, and cruel abandoner of women. A career which he will then continue in another way, when he commits his many sins as father and uncle vis a vis the three Mansfield girls.

The claim that many have made, which is that the apparent leniency of Kotzebue/Inchbald’s play toward the sin of Agatha in having sex with the Baron before marriage was so scandalous that it would scorch the eyes of the “innocent” at Mansfield Park, is, I would also point out, in direct contradiction with a text which I think JA would have considered authoritative on this thorny point:

“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" “No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

I am quite confident that JA considered Kotzebue/Inchbald’s play to be pitch perfect on the morality of how to deal with the likes of Agatha and Baron Wildenhaim.
And by they way, in the novel, it is of course not Jane Austen who selects Lover’s Vows as the play to be performed—if you take careful note, it is the following speech which triggers the consensus that the play shall be Lover’s Vows:
“The pause which followed this fruitless effort was ended by the same speaker, who, taking up one of the many volumes of plays that lay on the table, and turning it over, suddenly exclaimed—”Lovers’ Vows! And why should not Lovers’ Vows do for us as well as for the Ravenshaws? How came it never to be thought of before? It strikes me as if it would do exactly. What say you all?...”

Of course the speaker is the soul-sickened Tom Bertram, and now you may begin to understand why I believe Patricia Rozema’s depiction of Tom as a gifted pictorial artist who draws sketches of father doing very bad things in Antigua was absolutely spot-on!

But in the novel, there are no sketches, only Tom, the Rhyming Butler who knows all—the HAMLET of the novel---who subtly stage manages things so that when his father returns, he will find Mr. Yates in his own bedroom reciting speeches as Baron Wildenhaim—so that, in other words, Sir Thomas will, on multiple levels, see HIMSELF “in the mirror” as it were, repenting for his sins-truly the ultimate Mousetrap. So Sir Thomas, in his own way, then, is every bit as much of a “mouse” in the shadow story as Fanny is in the overt story!

Cheers, Arnie

It ain't me, babe

Jeannie Lugo wrote the following about me ("another poster") in the Janeites group:

"I begin to wonder of Ed and another poster who is also prone to insults are not the same person. The quick jump from civility to insults-- really, the rest of us are "drinking the Kool-Aid"? -- is a very familiar pattern here."

Jeannie, for the record:

1. Eddy Boyle (or whoever he--or she--really may be, I have no idea, I have had no personal contact with him) is NOT me. I am only aware of one person from the Janeite world who has ever engaged in the highly disturbing behavior of assuming false online personas, and I have absolulely no idea if Eddy Boyle is a pseudonym for that person.

If anything is clear to people reading along in any of the Austen venues where I participate, it is that I speak forthrightly about what I really think, under my own name.

2. There have been a number of people who have disagreed with me over the past 5 years in Janeites, but YOU are the only one who has done so--and not once, but on a number of occasions--in an insulting, crude, personal and at times ugly way--and your post, quoted above, is a perfect illustration of an unprovoked slur based on nothing but your own ill will toward me. In stark contrast to you, I think of David Stevenson and Victoria Lansburgh as Janeites who disagree with me in every way about interpretation of JA's novels, and yet neither of them has ever been anything other than unfailingly polite to me.

If I wanted to revisit unpleasant experiences, I would go back into the archives of Janeites and come back with quotes of vivid examples of your personal attacks on me, but why bother? Physician, heal thyself, is my own reply to you.

3. It would also appear that your unprovoked outburst against me has been triggered in part by the role model of Christy and myself so consistently agreeing to disagree in recent weeks, even where our disagreements are very profound, about Jane Austen--including Christy's latest post to me, within the past few hours.

And I will continue to politely agree to disagree with anyone in Janeites who engages with my ideas in a polite way, and I will also continue to ignore those posts where that is not possible.

But I could not allow your personal slur on me to go unanswered, and hope that henceforth you will restrain yourself.


Saturday, September 25, 2010


In my post of a few days ago entitled “Priceless!”….

….I analyzed the following 2-paragraph passage of narration in Chapter 28 of MP describing Sir Thomas’s thoughts about Fanny and Henry Crawford as a possible match, and I concluded my analysis as follows:

“Note the quick slide down the slippery slope from "infinitely above" to "disdaining even as a littleness" still further to "could not avoid perceiving, in a grand and careless way" to "nor perhaps refrain (though unconsciously)" to "any one in the habit of such idle observations". It is only such a man, capable of such deep self deception, in his own mind, if nowhere else, a wise and just Paterfamilias, who can think such thoughts, and then not long after turn around and first attempt to purchase compliance from Fanny to marry Henry Crawford by giving her a fire in her frigid attic room, and then, when she refuses, by exiling her to Siber--I mean, Plymouth. As they say in the American Express commercial---priceless!”

At this point, several folks in these groups leapt to Sir Thomas’s defense, essentially saying, okay, he may not be the greatest guy in the world, but he meant well and at least he got his act together as a father and uncle by the end of the novel, and saw the error of his former parenting ways, and made amends, and got rid of Mrs. Norris.

After all, in the first part of the final Chapter 48, we have not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but SIX consecutive paragraphs detailing Sir Thomas’s take on everything that had happened in the novel up till then. JA seems to feel she needs to REALLY emphasize that this poor guy has been through a lot, sorta like Job from the Bible, and look at how he certainly sounds like he has learnt his lessons, etc etc..

Well…..I am here today to lay to rest—or at the very least give you some second thoughts about-- the notion that JA intended for her readers to close the book after reading the last chapter thinking forgiving thoughts about Sir Thomas.

And in so doing, I am going to finally give full IRONIC meaning to the narrator’s one massive and very very famous intrusion in MP, in the FIRST paragraph of that same Chapter 48:

“Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest. “

So there! It sure looks like JA, in those six paragraphs about Sir Thomas, which follow that outburst almost immediately, delivers on that promise—the narrator indeed does NOT dwell on guilt and misery, as she well might have done in rendering a verdict on Sir Thomas. But that would be an “odious subject” and so it is a no-no in this “happy ending” to this bleak and disturbing novel which, among all of JA’s novels, is filled with the most varied and extensive forms of unhappiness.

So….….if we’ve already had six consecutive paragraphs (one of them EXTREMELY long), summing things up about Sir Thomas, it might seem a little slovenly of JA as an author, in slipping two more paragraphs about Sir Thomas later in that same Chapter 48, in fact, in the fifth and fourth paragraphs from the very end of the novel itself.

Take a look at the first of those two later paragraphs now, they describe Sir Thomas’s reaction to Fanny and Edmund’s coming together as husband and wife:

“Their own inclinations ascertained, there were no difficulties behind, no drawback of poverty or parent. It was a match which Sir Thomas’s wishes had even forestalled. Sick of ambitious and mercenary connexions, prizing more and more the sterling good of principle and temper, and chiefly anxious to bind by the strongest securities all that remained to him of domestic felicity, he had pondered with genuine satisfaction on the more than possibility of the two young friends finding their natural consolation in each other for all that had occurred of disappointment to either; and the joyful consent which met Edmund’s application, the high sense of having realised a great acquisition in the promise of Fanny for a daughter, formed just such a contrast with his early opinion on the subject when the poor little girl’s coming had been first agitated, as time is for ever producing between the plans and decisions of mortals, for their own instruction, and their neighbours’ entertainment.”

OK, the defenders of Sir Thomas will say, what’s the big deal? It says that he was “Sick of ambitious and mercenary connexions”, and then it proceeds to detail exactly how he gives consent to Edmund marrying a girl with ZERO thousand pounds. Isn’t that pretty much the fulfillment of those six previous paragraphs, showing in a very tangible way that Sir Thomas is truly a changed man about this particular issue where he had previously stumbled badly, not only with Maria but also with Fanny?

Well…perhaps some of you, with the buildup I gave you , above, and my connecting this paragraph to those two paragraphs about Sir Thomas’s attempts to stifle his desire to match Fanny with Henry Crawford twenty chapters earlier, are smelling a rat, or perhaps, more fittingly to this novel, a creepmouse? And if you are suspecting me of setting a small trap for you in all of this, you are one hundred percent correct. I can only assure you I did it with the best of intentions, which to me means, my attempt to bring to light JA’s intentions in the little charade I claim she has played here.

I leave it to other pens to perform the odious task of analyzing Sir Thomas’s thoughts about Fanny and Edmund in the above paragraph in a negative light, and instead I will have done with this post by simply re-producing that same paragraph, but this time putting in ALL CAPS the words which I believe will make crystal clear why I asserted that JA most certainly did NOT wish her readers to close the book forgiving Sir Thomas for his sins during the novel. Instead, I believe the proper response of the reader who understands the true meaning of that paragraph will be to hope and pray that Edmund develops enough of a spine to NOT reprise his brief and very uninspiring performance as Pandarus, when it comes time to marrying Susan Price off---because otherwise, Susan’s gonna need a much bigger knife to protect her from what might be coming her way when Sir Thomas starts noticing HER looks:

“Their own inclinations ascertained, there were no difficulties behind, no DRAWBACK OF POVERTY or parent. It was a match which Sir Thomas’s wishes had even FORESTALLED. Sick of ambitious and mercenary connexions, PRIZING more and more the STERLING good of principle and temper, and chiefly anxious to BIND BY THE STRONGEST SECURITIES all that remained to him of domestic felicity, he had pondered with genuine SATISFACTION on the more than possibility of the two young friends finding their natural consolation in each other for all that had occurred of disappointment to either; and the joyful consent which met Edmund’s application, the HIGH SENSE of having REALISED A GREAT ACQUISITION in the promise of Fanny for a daughter, formed just such a contrast with his early opinion on the subject when the poor little girl’s coming had been first agitated, as time is for ever producing between the plans and decisions of mortals, for their own instruction, and their neighbours’ entertainment.”

Cheers, Arnie