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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Matthew Chapter 7 in Mansfield Park

Looking at the spectacular allusion in MP Chapter 6 to the verses in Matthew Chapter 7 about good fruit and bad fruit, led me to revisit all of Matthew Chapter 7, and it became immediately clear to me that the entirety of Chapter 7 was front and center in JA’s conception of Mansfield Park as a whole. I will briefly explain. First here is the text of Matthew Chapter 7 (copied from a Regency Era English Bible):

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considered not the beam that is jn thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye..

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Ask, and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find; knock, and it will be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them : for this is the law and the prophets.

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

….Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, beat upon that house ; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell and great was the fall of it. END OF QUOTATION

The discussion of the placement of the house at Sotherton, and how the cutting down of trees “opens the prospect amazingly”, and the water meadows, echoes in multiple ways Jesus’s comparison of the wise man who not only hears but also heeds Jesus’s sayings building his house on a rock, rather than the foolish man who does not heed him as building his house on sand, which falls in a flood of rain and wind.

The first several verses of Matthew Chapter 7 are all about hypocrisy, and I have described in countless ways over the past months the hypocrisy of Sir Thomas Bertram, who punishes Fanny for “ingratitude” only to suffer enormously for the beam in his own eye that he failed to cast out. And truly Fanny is the pearl which Bertram sought to cast to the covertly swinish Henry Crawford, who, if Fanny had married him, would certainly have trampled her heart under his feet.

And then we have the metaphor in Matthew of the wide gate and the wide way to hell, but the narrow way to life, and also the knocking and the opening, are all strongly echoed in the metaphorical action relating to the gate to the ha-ha at Sotherton, in Chapters 9 and 10 of MP, and the various reactions of Rushworth, Maria, Fanny and Henry upon finding the gate locked.

And finally, connecting one more dot, I wonder if the knoll that Henry takes Maria to for his seductive purposes is the same as the hill that Rushworth talks about vis a vis the improvement of the estate, both of them being parodic versions of the mount where Jesus delivers his immortal sermon, one relating to sexual sin, one relating to the destruction of natural beauty, and both of them most decidedly not in conformity with Jesus’s teachings.
What this allusion means in its totality, well, that is an extremely complex and infinitely debatable question—but _that_ it is an intentional and significant allusion by JA is, in my opinion, clear, because there is so much textual “smoke”” there, that there must be a fire that generated it.

Cheers, ARNIE

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