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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, October 1, 2010

Some more covert Biblical subtext in Chapter 22 of MP (PART ONE OF TWO)

I was just noticing the repeated Biblical subliminal allusions in the latter part of Chapter 22, in the aftermath of Fanny's "sermon" delivered to Mary outside the Parsonage:

"...There is something in the sound of Mr. Edmund Bertram so formal, so pitiful, so younger–brother–like, that I detest it.”

Isaac and Jacob are the famous younger brothers in Genesis, and it's interesting that in both of those Genesis pairs of brothers, the brothers share a father but not a mother. Interesting also that Mary is the one tossing this Biblical witticism in Edmund's direction, especially given that she will later horrify Fanny with her speculations about the positive effects on Edmund of Tom's death. The last shall be first indeed!

"I grant you the name is good in itself, and Lord Edmund or Sir Edmund sound delightfully; but sink it under the chill, the annihilation of a Mr., and Mr. Edmund is no more than Mr. John or Mr. Thomas."

And I needn't point out that John and Thomas were two of Jesus's 12 disciples, but there was no Edmund in the Bible. Interesting again that Mary is the one playing Doubting Thomas, with this satirically absurdist undercutting of Edmund's cred as a prospective clergyman.

"But I have long thought Mr. Bertram one of the worst subjects to work on, in any little manoeuvre against common sense, that a woman could be plagued with."

And again, here is Mary invoking the notion of plagues, which are not unknown in the Bible--most famously Exodus's plagues on the Egyptians, and it's noteworthy that Mary conjures the image of men as a plague upon women.

"“Well,” said Miss Crawford, “and do you not scold us for our imprudence? What do you think we have been sitting down for but to be talked to about it, and entreated and supplicated never to do so again?”

"supplication" is a verb which is rarely used by JA, but is commonly used in certain books (Kings, Chronicles, Psalms, Job) of the Bible, always with a person asking for something from God. Mary would thus again seem to be in her usual mode of mockery.

"Do not flatter yourself, my dearest Mary. You have not the smallest chance of moving me. I have my alarms, but they are quite in a different quarter; and if I could have altered the weather, you would have had a good sharp east wind blowing on you the whole time—..."

And here is Mrs. Grant conjuring the notion of a miraculous interference with natural laws--not randomly, but very specifically responding to Mary's "plague" Exodus reference, by herself referring, of course, to the east wind which God raises in order to create a path for the Israelites through the Red Sea!

"I know the end of it will be, that we shall have a sudden change of weather, a hard frost setting in all at once, taking everybody (at least Robert) by surprise, and I shall lose every one;"

And, fittingly, Mrs. Grant describes the Red Sea episode from the point of view of the Egyptians--they do indeed lose every one.

“The sweets of housekeeping in a country village!” said Miss Crawford archly. “Commend me to the nurseryman and the poulterer.”

And Mary's "arch" tone recognizes the coded religious subtext of this conversation and encapsulates it in a classic Austenian understatement--as if the powerful events of Genesis and Exodus, with their subtext of deadly sibling rivalry and abuse of power, respectively, were nothing more than "the sweets of housekeeping"!

This is exactly how I read JA's famous dictum in her letter to her niece, written not long after she wrote MP: " Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on..."

Indeed, this was understatement by JA as well, as she knew very well that she, like the authors of Genesis, was writing a universal story that would resonate to all people, using what appeared to be the smallest possible arena, the tribe or village with a few families.

“My dear child, commend Dr. Grant to the deanery of Westminster or St. Paul’s..."

And here is St. Paul, the author of Romans, which Fanny quoted earlier in Ch. 22.

“Oh! you can do nothing but what you do already: be plagued very often, and never lose your temper.”

And again, Mary returns one last time to the "plague" motif.

And that's all for now,

(more to come in a while....)

Cheers, ARNIE

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