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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Plenty of pregnancies

The recent threads in Janeites and Austen L about Mrs. Weston's apparent pregnancy in Emma, and Maria Bertram's alleged (by myself and Diane Reynolds) pregnancy in Mansfield Park, sparked a wonderful further discussion among various participants. This post is my response to some very interesting comments by Ellen Moody and Diane Birchall:

[Ellen]: < To me though we can also ask, why did Austen not make Maria pregnant at the end of the book. She didn't. Why did she write the fiction suggestively but go no further. One pragmatic author-centered answer from the letters we have is Austen was not keen on pregnancy and knew it was no picnic, endangered the woman's life and limited her opportunities for enjoyment for herself ever after. She herself never married and clearly didn't envy pregnant women."

[Diana] But Ellen, that doesn't hold water. If she wasn't keen on pregnancy and knew it was no picnic, etc., then why did she make Eliza, the transgressor of Sense and Sensibility, pregnant, and spare Maria? We know Jane Austen never married and didn't envy pregnant women; but she certainly makes plenty of her characters pregnant! (Or rather, her male characters do.) Some are happily pregnant, some not so: but my point is that it happens just as is natural in the individual situations, and for the different characters (which is Austen's art). They are not
cookie-cutter depictions of morality or personal fears.....Where are this repressed point of view and limitations of her texts? She writes about sex and its consequences in what she herself called "a form of words perfectly intelligible."

A perfect answer, Diana! And, from my point of view, the perfect setting of the table for my argument that she not only depicted in an overt way the wide range of pregnancies you allude to (and let's not also forget Mrs. Wallis in Persuasion), but she also _covertly_ depicted an even wider range of them--and much more centrally to the central story lines of the novels.

I was also reminded by your comments, ladies, of the perceptions of a more famous lady who famously analyzed Austen's writings, as reported by Janet Todd:

"For Virginia Woolf, Austen's art is one of enclosure. It is a domestic garden beside the lighthouse of her own art."

And I claim that the resonance of that comment to my, Diane, and Diane's recent comments about a rather "undomesticated" "Garden" is not coincidental--it appears to me that Woolf, like Ellen, asks an excellent question--why did Jane Austen write suggestively but go no further--and I claim JA did indeed go _much_ further!

And finally I see the multiple meanings of the word "enclosure" as also being fortuitous (and apparently unintentional) on Todd's part, because of the rich vein of modern commentary that shows how JA wove the metaphor of the enclosure movement into her novels, as a metaphor for the _trapping_ of women inside patriarchal "cages".

Cheers, ARNIE

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