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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, June 20, 2011

Letter 30: The (Un)faithful Maria's (Un)happy Event

With the help of two of Diana Birchall's speculations back in 2006, I think I have figured out a bit more about the Payne Mystery in Letters 28 and 30, which I discussed in my previous post.

Letter 28 jokes about "the Faithful Maria" Payne's feeling more certain of "the happy Event", and Letter 30 jokes about "to what noblemen [Mr. Payne] bequeathed his four daughters in marriage", and now I think that "happy Event" in the former is one and the same thing as the hypothetical marriage of Maria--who was the eldest of Mr. Payne's four daughters---in the latter! Here is how I see it all playing out via JA's clever wordplay.

There are only two places in all of JA's novels where JA refers to a "happy Event".

One is in Ch. 57 of P&P:

"[A letter f]rom Mr. Collins! and what can /he/ have to say?"

"Something very much to the purpose, of course. He begins with congratulations on the approaching nuptials of my eldest daughter, of which, it seems, he has been told by some of the good-natured, gossiping Lucases. I shall not sport with your impatience by reading what he says on that point. What relates to yourself is as follows: 'Having thus offered you the sincere congratulations of Mrs. Collins and myself on this _HAPPY EVENT_, let me now add a short hint on the subject of another; of which we have been advertised by the same authority. Your daughter Elizabeth, it is presumed, will not long bear the name of Bennet after her elder sister has resigned it, and the chosen partner of her fate may be reasonably looked up to as one of the most illustrious personages in this land.'

"Can you possibly guess, Lizzy, who is meant by this? -- 'This young gentleman is blessed, in a peculiar way, with everything the heart of mortal can most desire -- splendid property, noble kindred, and extensive patronage. Yet, in spite of all these temptations, let me warn my cousin Elizabeth, and yourself, of what evils you may incur by a precipitate closure with this gentleman's proposals, which, of course, you will be inclined to take immediate advantage of.'

"Have you any idea, Lizzy, who this gentleman is? But now it comes out --

"'My motive for cautioning you is as follows: we have reason to imagine that his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, does not look on the match with a friendly eye."

"/Mr. Darcy/, you see, is the man! Now, Lizzy, I think I /have/ surprised you. Could he or the Lucases have pitched on any man, within the circle of our acquaintance, whose name would have given the lie more effectually to what they related? Mr. Darcy, who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish, and who probably never looked at /you/ in his life! It is admirable!"

Of course the "happy event" to which Mr. Collins's letter refers is the impending marriage of Bingley and Jane. But what is equally interesting vis a vis Letter 30 and it's reference "to what nobleman" is Mr. Collins's hint about the additional likely marriage of Lizzy and Darcy! After all, it is universally acknowledged among Janeites that Mr. Darcy is both a "nobleman" _and_ a "noble man", and a quick word search in the text of the novel reveals that Darcy has a "noble mien" and a "noble" estate, and also, in Ch. 54, bears Bingley's sitting next to Jane with "noble indifference"! With these five essential aspects of nobility covered, we can safely aver that Mr. Darcy is in fact the "quintessence" of nobility!

So it seems clear to me from all of the above that part of the background meaning of JA's jokes about Maria Payne and her family in Letters 28 & 30 is to point to the romantic climax of P&P.

And that's exactly where Diana's catch from 2006 kicks in, to make it _doubly_ clear, because Diana had observed that "the faithful Maria" sounds an awful lot like the narrative description of Caroline Bingley as Darcy's "faithful assistant" when she chimes in to get a dig at Lizzy on the topic of the truly accomplished woman:

" 'Oh! certainly,' cried his _FAITHFUL ASSISTANT_, "no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with."

When you put these two bits of allusive wordplay together, one from Letter 28 and one from Letter 30, there can be no reasonable doubt that this pointing to P&P (which JA was clearly still revising at that time) is all entirely intentional on JA's part. turns out that my suggestion to Diana back in 2006 that Maria Bertram might be an allusive source behind "the faithful Maria" _also_ gets a boost, from the _second_ of the two references to "happy event" in JA's novels, in Ch. 9 of MP:

Mr. Crawford smiled his acquiescence, and stepping forward to Maria, said, in a voice which she only could hear, “I do not like to see Miss Bertram so near the altar.”

Starting, the lady instinctively moved a step or two, but recovering herself in a moment, affected to laugh, and asked him, in a tone not much louder, “If he would give her away?”

“I am afraid I should do it very awkwardly,” was his reply, with a look of meaning.

Julia, joining them at the moment, carried on the joke.

“Upon my word, it is really a pity that it should not take place directly, if we had but a proper licence, for here we are altogether, and nothing in the world could be more snug and pleasant.” And she talked and laughed about it with so little caution as to catch the comprehension of Mr. Rushworth and his mother, and expose her sister to the whispered gallantries of her lover, while Mrs. Rushworth spoke with proper smiles and dignity of its being a most _HAPPY EVENT_ to her whenever it took place.

However, where "happy event" was accurate in P&P, here in MP, the meaning of "happy event" is completely ironic and dark. The "happy event' is the impending marriage of (the anything but faithful) Maria to Mr. Rushworth, but here there is no real happiness at all, in this doomed mismatch. What a tragic ironic the reader already knows, which is that happiness will not be in either Maria's or Mr. R's future, because the only man to whom Maria is actually faithful is Henry Crawford!

Now, I am not claiming that JA already had a draft of Mansfield Park in the works in 1800 when she wrote Letters 28 & 30--rather, I think that when JA conceived MP in 1813 or thereabouts, she still had, in the back of her mind, the idea of a Maria who is both faithful and unfaithful, with the real life Maria Payne and her life at Daylesford in 1800 having somehow remained vivid in JA's fertile imagination!

And, finally, as to what sort of veiled commentary this all constitutes about the real life Maria Payne, who was over 50 at the time JA wrote Letters 28 & 30 (whereas two of her three younger sisters were only around 30 at the time)--I think Diana's guess is a shrewd one---i.e., that Maria's role at Daylesford was something like that of Caroline Bingley at Netherfield. I would only add that equally apt would be an even less savory representation in JA's novels, and one a lot closer in age-----the middle aged unmarried Mrs. Norris at Mansfield Park, playing the role of "surrogate wife" to the master of the house.

Either way, not a flattering portrait at all!

And therefore, perhaps, just perhaps....JA had one additional bit of wordplay fun in MP, when she wrote:

"...though Mansfield Park might have some pains [Paynes?], Portsmouth could have no pleasures."

Cheers, ARNIE

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