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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, October 4, 2010

Allusion to Letter on Dangers of new Friendship in Chapter 6 of MP

"Though for me, finding these allusions is just a research exercises, - interesting, yet does not enhance my appreciation of Jane Austen. And I always prefer more forthright directions when there is a quiz a foote!"


My point in bringing this quiz forward was to illustrate that anyone who learns this trick for spotting JA's allusions, can spot them WITHOUT hints from me or anyone else, and then can determine what the allusions might mean in interpreting the stories of her novels.

In my second set of clues, I specifically said the following: "I initially was led to this passage because of a very unusual phrase that one of the Crawfords speaks aloud in MP which EXACTLY repeats a very unusual phrase that appears elsewhere in that same letter on "Friendship" by M. Gener aka Rev. John Muckersy that I quoted from"

The operative word was "elsewhere"--I could not quote the entire letter on friendship, because then that would have far exceeded my 1,000 word limit on message length. And I did not want to include that phrase in the short excerpt I did quote, because then the phrase would have stood out like a sore thumb, and would have been too easy to spot. I wanted to re-create the experience of what I do when I detect one of these phrases, which is a bit like a textual scavenger hunt.

As to this sort of thing enhancing one's appreciation of JA, I'd say that this sort of research enhances mine tremendously. When I find a contemporary text that JA has found interesting enough to allude to it in this way, I take it very seriously, and figure that if JA has gone to this trouble to leave this 'bread crumb' there, SHE thought it was worthwhile for her readers to follow the trail she left behind.

Sure, sometimes I find allusions by her that don't seem particularly fruitful, so I put them aside. But more often than not, I am rewarded with finding something like Muckersy's letters, which read like a veiled commentary on the Crawfords in Mansfield Park. is CRUCIAL to note where JA put the allusion in MP--it's in the very beginning of Chapter 6. We have only been introduced to the Crawfords midway through Chapter 4. And the 1 1/2 chapters preceding that allusion have been all about the Crawfords and the Bertram children getting to know each other as friends. So what more germane and relevant allusive subtext could there possibly be to our understanding of what is happening in the novel at that moment, than an essay from a wise older person to a naive younger person, warning the younger person about the dangers of over-rapid intimacy with new friends who are not well known? It's absolutely a smoking gun, it could not be more relevant to the story!

And we have already, in those 1 1/2 chapters, had a couples of small tastes of what Henry is like, but not a whole lot--he is clearly a teasing sort of guy, but we don't ye know what we will know a few chapters later, and so the first time reader of MP who is familiar with Gener's essay on friendship will say, "Aha! This charming young man might well turn out to be a snake in the garden!" as he indeed does. And note, in that same letter, Gener writes the following:

"It is a common practice, among vicious young men, to debauch the sober; and they seem to enjoy a sort of malignant pleasure when they succeed. These companions will not discover to you at once the whole deformity of their character. Their own gradual defection from what they once were, has taught them the most successful methods of infusing the poison of vice, and yet concealing its odiousness. I suppose Satan himself would have been less dangerous to mankind if he had never been an angel of light."

There we have Henry Crawford in a nutshell, and all the Paradise Lost imagery at Sotherton a few chapters later fits with Eger's essay like a glove.

There are a lot of readers of MP who think Fanny should have wound up with Henry, and the crucial question in regard to that is whether Henry is a hardened unchangeable sociopath, or if he is subject to the influence of a morally upright young woman like Fanny. And so I'd say that, by any fair assessment, my discovery of this Eger allusion does materially enhance a reader's experience of the novel.


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