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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, October 1, 2010

Exodus and Genesis in Mansfield Park

Until today, I had not thought about the Exodus subtext in MP in a long while, but finding all these textual allusions to Exodus in Chapter 22 today has reenergized me to think some more about it.

Of course Exodus would be in MP among all JA's novels, because it is the JA novel where actual slavery is explicitly made part of the story, albeit kept at a distance from the main action. But the shadow of Antigua hangs over the entire novel.

For reasons having nothing to do with the Bible, I have since 2006 held to an interpretation of the shadow story of MP that sees Sir Thomas as a kind of Jacob figure, with the biological parentage not only of Tom, Edmund, Julia, Maria, Fanny and William, but also of Henry and Mary Crawford, being much cloudier than is presented on the surface of the novel. Henry and Mary in particular are, I claim, biracial, born in Antigua (again, in the shadow story of the novel). But that is all subtext arising out of Genesis, not Exodus, and it is also complicated subtext that I will address the only way it can be, at full length in my book.

But back to Exodus and MP--- I see Exodus as the subtext of the shadow story of Fanny's liberation from metaphorical slavery at Mansfield Park, and then her arrival at the Promised Land in the final chapter, a transformed Mansfield Park, after several chapters in the desert--and, as always, if it's real subtext, it is hinted at in the text, and I only realized moments ago the most important reason why we have the following description of the Price home in Portsmouth, which I had connected
yesterday to the "SPOTLESS mind" of Eloisa in Pope's poem:

"She sat in a blaze of oppressive heat, in a cloud of moving dust, and her eyes could only wander from the walls, marked by her father's head, to the table cut and notched by her brothers, where stood the tea-board never thoroughly cleaned, the cups and saucers wiped in streaks, the milk a mixture of motes floating in thin blue, and the bread and butter growing every minute more greasy than even Rebecca's hands had first produced it."

Could there be a more vivid description of the children of Israel wandering in the Sinai desert than "a blaze of oppressive heat, in a CLOUD of MOVING DUST"?

Exodus 13:21,22: And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light...

And finally, 2 years ago, I wrote about JA choosing the name Rebecca to suggest a Jewish subtext of some kind, and now I have come full circle, as we are brought to the mother of Jacob and Esau.


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