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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The game Jane Austen loved: some more about Jacob and Esau in MP

Some more about Jacob and Esau in Mansfield Park:

Genesis: "And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of [his] VENISON: but Rebekah loved Jacob"

And so it's no coincidence that we learn at the end of Chapter 5 that Mary Crawford notices Tom in the following way:

"[Tom was] an agreeable man himself—with the advantage of being tied up from much GAMING at present by a promise to his father, and of being Sir Thomas hereafter. It might do very well; she believed she should accept him; and she began accordingly to interest herself a little about the horse which he had to run at the B———– races."

However, whatever that promise is that Tom has made to his father (do we know what it is?), Tom is literally off to the races, to pursue his addiction to "gaming" as in "gambling".

Nor is it therefore surprising that we then hear at the very start of Chapter 6 that Mary, with her eye on Tom as firstborn inheritor of the Mansfield "birthright", is missing him. And so JA, with particularly wicked slyness, now invokes the above passage from Genesis to bring out how much Mary is missing Tom by recalling his allusional alter ego Esau's two great eating loves---venison and stew:

"The SOUP would be sent round in a most spiritless manner, wine drank without any smiles or agreeable trifling, and the VENISON cut up without supplying one pleasant anecdote of any former haunch, or a single entertaining story, about "my friend such a one."

And now I also see Dr. Grant as an ironic echo of Esau, as well, who, like Dr. Grant, forfeits his "living" (in both senses of that word) because of his inability to restrain his famished hunger for food.

And the word "game" appears far more frequently in MP than in any of JA's other novels, all having to do with the playing of games, plus the following interesting bit of narration"

"Neither Hamlet, nor Macbeth, nor Othello, nor Douglas, nor The GAMESTER, presented anything that could satisfy even the tragedians...".

JA never saw a pun she didn't like, or exploit, and I am confident that JA took full advantage of the double meaning of "game" as referring both to amusements and to wild animals hunted and eaten, and connecting both meanings to Tom Bertram..


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