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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

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.

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