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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Big Mouse

"Despite this, I don't think Fanny's opposition is Evangelical. I don't think she opposed the play because it was a play."

Of course, because that would be silly, and certainly not a reflection of what JA herself believed.

"I think she opposed the play because she had an inchoate feeling that it was wrong in the circumstances. Edmund mentions some of that feeling. Only a reenactment of the play shows just how wrong that play was for that group of young people.I wonder how professors teach this book and scene as it is difficult to describe and explain to 20th century people."

There were PLENTY of free thinking people of that era who loved Kotzebue's plays for the same reason that people loved populist literature like Beaumarchais's plays, operas like Don Giovanni, and novels like Caleb Williams. And I am certain that JA was one of those free thinking people. I assure you that when JA verbally horsed around with that very intelligent apothecary in London, they played fast and loose with this sort of free thinking.

I know now more than ever before that the whole furor over Lover's Vows in MP is a double bluff exactly like the double bluff in Northanger Abbey I will be talking about at the JASNA AGM in less than 5 days. All that hot air in the novel about the impropriety of the play is, in the shadow story, a smokescreen. Plenty of people back then were perfectly capable of understanding that Kotzebue was tweaking the nose and pulling the beard of the male aristocrats and pseud-aristocrats like Sir Thomas and Sir William and Sir Walter, who felt they had the privilege to exert arrogant power over women with impunity.

Baron Wildenhaim is a caricature, but what he does in the play is a story that was played out in less dramatic but equally disgusting manner a thousand times over, with rakes taking advantage of women and then dumping them. It is JA's primary interest, in my opinion. That is the true moral horror in Lover's Vows, not some extremely prudish notions about propriety.

The biggest problem with Henry Crawford is not that he seduces Maria, it's that he never had any intention of marrying her afterwards. The former is a side of disrespect for convention, and a sign that he is not going to be a solid family man. But the latter is a thousand times worse, it's despicable and cruel and ruins Maria's life, with no adverse consequences to him.

And yes, I also know now more than ever before that the Lover's Vows episode is JA's Mousetrap, and just about everybody in the play is a "mouse", whose character is exposed by how they "act" in the rehearsals of the play. But the Big Mouse is Sir Thomas, and the trap springs on him when he returns home and is confronted with his past. That's why he has to burn every copy of the play, seeing himself in the mirror of the play's words is simply unacceptable, and like Claudius, he needs to destroy what he wishes to forget.

Cheers, ARNIE

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