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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

One more time about Edmund the country parson

I just found the following very interesting discussion of the Parsonage shrubbery scene in Mary Waldron's book, JA and the Fiction of her Time, at ppg. 100 et seq., which, even though Waldron does not discuss the relevance of textual symbols like the "evergreen", is nonetheless strikingly congruent with what I have been saying about that scene, especially the part about Edmund being the implicit topic of discussion between Mary and Fanny (as has been my usual practice of late, my comments are interspersed in brackets):

“Sitting with Mary in Mrs. Grant’s shrubbery one mild November day, Fanny launches into a rhapsody on the beautiies of nature and memory reminiscent both of Dr. Johnson and Hannah More’s Lucilla. Mary, ‘untouched and inattentive, had nothing to say.’ (MP 209). Even to the reader, Fanny’s comments sound a trifle stiff and derivative—perhaps Mary’s is the silence of contempt for hackneyed pieties. But when Fanny brings the matter down to personalities, admiring Mrs. Grant’s garden-plan, it becomes clear where Mary’s thoughts have been."

[Yes, I agree, it DOES become clear that Mary is thinking about Edmund]

"She responds ‘carelessly’, ‘I had not imagined a country parson ever aspired to a shrubbery or any thing of that kind.’ The word ‘parson’, as Kenneth Moler has pointed out, is significant. Hannah More rebukes young women who talk of ‘The Parsons’, which she calls a ‘contemptuous appellation.’ Mary has been musing drearily on her half sister’s life as the wife of a clergyman, and on Edmund’s exasperating lack of ambition."

[Yes, indeed! I had not been aware of that Hannah More resonance, and it certainly adds to the sense that Mary is not a big fan of country parsons!]

"As Fanny continues with another uplifting panegyric (this time on evergreens, the substance of which is ignored by her companion), Mary tries to cheer herself up, to nudge herself into a highly fanciful compromise about the life she might lead with Edmund: “I am conscious of being far better reconciled to a country residence than I had ever expected to be. I can even suppose it pleasant to spend half the year in the country, under certain circumstances, very pleasant. An elegant, moderate–sized house in the centre of family connexions; continual engagements among them; commanding the first society in the neighbourhood; looked up to, perhaps, as leading it even more than those of larger fortune, and turning from the cheerful round of such amusements to nothing worse than a tete–a–tete with the person one feels most agreeable in the world.” This is Fanny’s cue for encouragement—modified, perhaps, for she must be well aware how much Mary is fantasizing. But now it is her turn to have nothing to say, for her heart had been beating ‘very quick..’ ; she half realizes that what Mary is describing comprises most of what would be a paradise to her, though neither of them has mentioned Edmund."

[Indeed, Edmund does NOT need to be named, they both know who they're really talking about! And Waldron correctly perceives that Fanny's heart is not beating "very quick" because of an abstract philosophical discussion about hedgerows changing over time, and memory!]

"Tense with alarm, she has no wish to enter into this discussion, and when Mary asks a direct question: ‘There is nothing frightful in such a picture, is there, Miss Price? One need not envy the new Mrs. Rushworth with such a home as that’, Fanny in effect makes no reply…She does not want to come within a whisper of comtemplating a change in Mary which might lead her to cast aside her doubts. In fact, she prefers Miss Crawford to remain deep in her materialism, for change might mean loss of Edmund…the state of Mary’s soul is the last of her concerns. Several unlikely fictional images suggest themselves—Fanny should set out to improve Mary for Edmund’s sake, she should have ‘guarded her heart against an ill placed attachment’ like Belinda, she should piously resolve to give up all thought of him and devote herself to good works. This narrative, however, is more than hinting that she wants Mary to remain bad, and Edmund to find out how bad she is. END OF WALDRON BOOK EXCERPT

I could not agree more with everything Waldron says in that paragraph, it fits perfectly with my own understanding of the shadow story of the novel.
So if my interpretation of Edmund as the subject of that shrubbery conversation is my hallucination, then it must be a "folie a deux", because Waldron preceded me in having substantially the same hallucination!

Before closing, as I am already here revisiting this topic again, I may as well toss in the following textual goodie, which I found after sending my previous message, and which is dramatic additional evidence for my claim that Edmund is in the mind of Fanny and Mary when they talk.

Earlier in that very same Chapter 21, we have the following passage in which the idea of Fanny imagining Edmund being present is EXPLICITLY stated by the narrator, describing Fanny's thoughts:

“South or north, I know a black cloud when I see it; and you must not set forward while it is so threatening. And besides, I want to play something more to you—a very pretty piece—and your cousin Edmund’s prime favourite. You must stay and hear your cousin’s favourite.”

Fanny felt that she must; and THOUGH SHE HAD NOT WAITED FOR THAT SENTENCE TO BE THINKING OF EDMUND, such a memento MADE HER PARTICULARLY AWAKE TO HIS IDEA, and SHE FANCIED HIM SITTING IN THAT ROOM AGAIN AND AGAIN, PERHAPS IN THE VERY SPOT SHERE SHE SAT NOW, listening with constant delight to the favourite air, played, as it appeared to her, with superior tone and expression; and though pleased with it herself, and glad to like whatever was liked by him, she was more sincerely impatient to go away at the conclusion of it than she had been before; and on this being evident, she was so kindly asked to call again, to take them in her walk whenever she could, to come and hear more of the harp, that she felt it necessary to be done, if no objection arose at home.” END OF EXCERPT

Isn't it obvious that if Fanny has recently indulged in a fantasy about Edmund while listening to Mary play Edmund's favorite tune on the harp, then later, when strolling in the Parsonage garden, where surely Mary and Edmund had previously strolled many a time, Fanny would AGAIN indulge in such a fantasy about Edmund, which would have been the spark that fired up her imagination about memory and hedgerows changing over time?? And Mary being a sharp cookie, she would have picked up on that, as well as picking up on Fanny's veiled sermonizing, and would have entered into the shared game of imagining Edmund present, which gives rise to the to and fro of their verbal "joust".

And of course the only appropriate ending to such a scene in which Edmund was present the whole time in the girls's minds, is for him to show up in the flesh, which is exactly what he does, as if his ears have been burning!

Cheers, ARNIE

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