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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Sermon(s) on the top of the hill

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Mary Crawford... a strange but important way providing important knowledge and inspiration to Fanny Price to stand up to Sir Thomas’s bullying and refuse to marry Henry Crawford.

I entitled that post “Sapient Fruit” as a play on words from Dr. Grant’s reference to the “insipid fruit” from the apricot tree at the Mansfield Parsonage.

Today, in researching something else, I stumbled across the passage in Matthew 7:15 , which I think was also on Jane Austen’s mind when she wrote Chapter 6 of Mansfield Park.

7:15 is part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says:

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.

I checked and saw that I am not the first person to point out this allusion, that honor belongs to a member of Janeites, Terry (I don’t know his last name), who wrote about this some time ago at his website (for which I cannot find the link at this moment).

And here is a link to the text of Chapter 6, where you can find the scene easily near the start of the chapter:

What I find noteworthy in this Biblical allusion by JA are three things, but I hope that others will find more interesting things in it:

First we have a thinly veiled allusion to the transplantation of children (or “olive branches”, to use Mr. Collins’s phrase) which I have seen as a subtext of MP since July 2006;

Second we have the connection to the highly metaphorical discussions of alterations over time in the shrubbery at the Parsonage shrubbery between Fanny and Mary, which I discussed in several posts several months ago, beginning with this one:

And third, there is the linkage (which Terry did not notice) between the Biblical line “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire” and Mr. Rushworth’s describing how “two or three fine old trees” had already been “cut down”, and “that Repton, or anybody of that sort, would certainly have the avenue at Sotherton [cut] down: the avenue that leads from the west front to the top of the hill, you know”

Note the wicked irony of Rushworth referring to “the top of the hill”, which is clearly a very sly allusion by JA, put in the mouth of the foolish, unknowing Rushworth, to Jesus standing on “the mount” delivering the greatest sermon ever delivered, and in particular warning against false (architectural) prophets like Henry Crawford! And look at Fanny’s horrified reaction, as she invokes a _true_ prophet, and quotes chapter and verse from Cowper, delivering _his_ poetic “sermon on the mount”! In Fanny, we have a sensibility that can draw upon both sacred and secular scriptures to denounce wrongdoing on multiple levels! And of course Fanny is only a thin mask concealing the prophetess who authored all of the above, Jane Austen herself!

Cheers, ARNIE

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