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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Just enough to make one good sort of WOman

After all the interesting responses to my posts about Mary Bennet as an alter ego for Jane Austen herself, which I responded to in my immediately preceding blog posts, the most fruitful response in Janeites came from Elissa Schiff in Janeites:
"...What I find most disturbing is that Lizzie, in her own way, participates in this familial psychodrama. That Lizzie is the character we most identify with the alter-ego of our author makes this even more disturbing. With respect to Arnie's multi-tiered and nuanced interpretation of both Mary B. and the various people, ideas, etc. she represents for JA, there is much to be said for where this all leads. But I do not think the endpoint is as neat as you would have it be Arnie."

Elissa, thank you for your very interesting comments (and I enjoyed Christy's comments as well, I just like to be clear about the sequence of how ideas develop in conversation).

JA's (and Lizzy's) attitude toward Mary Bennet _is_ indeed the heart of the matter. And I claim that the only way P&P does not come across as a hopeless artistic muddle--half feminist & half anti-feminist, lurching back and forth--is to see Lizzy's unconscious hostility toward Mary as entirely intentional on JA's part. Indeed, it is a brilliant achievement on JA's part, and is the core of the shadow story of the novel--and now I see that Lizzy is even more like Emma, in her bewitching cluelessness, than even I had previously argued.

And MP comes in, to. Just as Fanny Price and Mary Crawford may be seen as two halves of a fractured female personality, so too can Mary and Lizzy Bennet. In each case, if you were to combine the best and healthiest of each half, you'd have one truly spectacular young woman in each instance.

And JA, so artfully, plants the seed of that very image of personality mix and match in our minds when she has Lizzy say, about Darcy and Wickham:

""This will not do," said Elizabeth; "you never will be able to make both of them good for anything. Take your choice, but you must be satisfied with only one. There is but such a quantity of merit between them; just enough to make one good sort of man; and of late it has been shifting about pretty much.

JA is whispering at the top of her lungs, I think, about the tragedy of women in her anti-female era who found it nearly impossible to develop into fully integrated healthy female personalities. Mary and Lizzy are each broken, but if they could only teach each other their own wisdom, then they could both become whole.

Elissa again: "Perhaps Mary is a complicated character - and represents an alter-ego of some aspects of the author, the energetically smart girl, the girl who reads a lot, who isn't considered terribly pretty or glamorous, who is put upon by her siblings, chided by her parents, and who gets angry and resentful at times over this. Certainly we have seen these aspects of JA from the letters. And yes, the name Mary may well be a call-out to "rebellious" protofeminist Mary W."

Yes, that is exactly what I claim.

"But it may also be a reference to Queen Mary, the bitter, jealous, and unfertile Queen, half-sister of Elizabeth I. "

Excellent, brilliant, I love it! That fits perfectly with, and richly extends, what I have been suggesting above, Mary and Lizzy each being complex mixtures of good and bad, each needing the other to be healed.

Plus....the allusion suggests a feminine power struggle in the Bennet family, but, instead of a bloody civil war on a national scale over religion, we have a domestic cold war over the best way for a young woman to achieve personal fulfillment.

And of course we have the extraordinarily provocative and suggestive parallel between two fathers with several daughters desperately obsessed with producing a male heir---Henry VIII and Mr. Bennet---the mind reels!

"Or, it may be just a name, for we know that in about half the cases names in JA's novels are indeed simply the commonly used names."

No, that is the one thing I am sure is _not_ the case! You just proved that, Elissa, because of the rich lode of allusive ore you just uncovered, which I will be mulling over the rest of today, because it seems so promising!

Cheers, ARNIE

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