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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, September 27, 2010

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

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