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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Can you guess who Henry Crawford is competing with in wanting to make a hole in Fanny Price’s Heart?

In Chapter 24 of MP, we read the following memorable (and sinister) comments by Henry Crawford to sister Mary:

“Henry Crawford…seeing the coast clear of the rest of the family, said, with a smile, "And how do you think I mean to amuse myself, Mary, on the days that I do not hunt?.....I must take care of my mind. Besides, that would be all recreation and indulgence, without the wholesome alloy of labour, and I do not like to eat the bread of idleness. No, my plan is to make Fanny Price in love with me." …”…I cannot be satisfied without Fanny Price, without making a small hole in Fanny Price's HEART….”

Mary’s final response includes this disturbing metaphor:

“…I do desire that you will not be making her really unhappy; a little love, perhaps, may animate and do her good, but I will not have you plunge her deep, for she is as good a little creature as ever lived, and has a great deal of feeling."

Then we read these wry (and somewhat perverse) narrative reflections on that Crawford conversation:

“And without attempting any farther remonstrance, she left Fanny to her fate, a fate which, had not Fanny's HEART been guarded in a way unsuspected by Miss Crawford, might have been a little harder than she deserved; for although there doubtless are such unconquerable young ladies of eighteen (or one should not read about them) as are never to be persuaded into love against their judgment by all that talent, manner, attention, and flattery can do, I have no inclination to believe Fanny one of them, or to think that with so much tenderness of disposition, and so much taste as belonged to her, she could have escaped HEART-whole from the courtship (though the courtship only of a fortnight) of such a man as Crawford, in spite of there being some previous ill opinion of him to be overcome, had not her affection been engaged elsewhere.….”

So we have much ado in this passage about Fanny’s _heart_, and there is much that can be said on this topic, in terms of its metaphorical significance—but that is a topic for another time and place. What I want to share today is what I found when I went to Google Books and searched for a possible allusive source in the Christian Bible for Henry’s poetic goal to make a small hole in Fanny’s heart. Have a look:

_Sixteen sermons on the Lord's Prayer, for his people, in John XVII, 24 By Robert Traill_, Sermon 7:

First this introductory paragraph of the sermon: “Men’s hearts are best known by their prayers, and by the same way we may know Christ's HEART. Whosoever would know how deeply his HEART is concerned in the saving of his people, let them read and believe this prayer. And indeed, unless people do know how Christ's HEART stands affected to their salvation, their hearts will never stand well affected towards him, in their employing him for salvation. A clear and strong persuasion of Christ's HEARTY concern in and about saving of sinners, will make a poor sinner hearty in trusting him with his own salvation…..”

And then this passage a bit later in Sermon 7:

“Christ knew well where his people were; in an evil world, ver. 11; and what bad entertainment they had, and were to have in it. In love and pity to them, therefore, he wills this blessed lodging for them in heaven. Christ knew well what their frame of HEART and desires was. He knew what a HEART he had put in them; that nothing less than being with him where he was, could content, satisfy, and make them happy. Would you know when Christ begins to do good to a poor sinner, what is the first thing Christ doth to one he minds to save? It is plainly this: HE MAKES SUCH A HOLE IN THE MAN’S HEART, that nothing but Christ and heaven can fill. None but Christ, nothing but being with him where he is, can satisfy this man. Christ's grace given, springeth up into everlasting life, John IV.14. And he that created this spring, will neither divert nor stop it. But as their HEARTS, by his grace, spring up to heaven; Christ's HEART, in this prayer, springs up to that same everlasting life for them.”

I have capitalized all the “hearts” in these passages from MP and Traill’s Sermon 7 to show the frequent repetitions of that word in both, but of course what is startling is the near perfect quotation of making a hole in someone’s heart. It raises the plausible possibility that JA intends for the knowing reader to realize that Henry Crawford has that very passage from Neill’s Sermon 7 specifically in mind when he repeats that same image in regard to Fanny.

Before I give my interpretation of this veiled allusion, I will first explain _why_, in the first place, I was even thinking that there might be some connection between Henry Crawford’s menacing aspirations and the noble aspirations of Jesus? After all, Henry Crawford in MP has been consistently associated by JA, via veiled allusions to _Paradise Lost_ to Satan, not The Son (as Jesus is called by Milton).

Well, I was prompted to that strange association when, the other day, I was reading in one of the sermons written by JA’s cousin Edward Cooper (whom I mentioned, not in a positive light, in a post a few days ago) in which Cooper used Romans 2.28-29 ...

(“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly ; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly ; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God.”) the epigram. Out of the blue, that vivid image of circumcising a heart (which of course was derived by St. Paul from the Hebrew Bible) popped into my head alongside Henry Crawford’s profane and equally vivid “battle cry”.
So, if I am right that JA means us to believe that Henry is alluding to Traill’s sermon 7, what could it mean?

First, I read the following brief online bio about Traill:

Robert Traill first published these sermons in 1705. But if JA did read them, it would probably have been the 1810 edition published by the Religious Tract Society, which, per Wikipedia, was founded 1799, 56 Paternoster Row and 65 St. Paul's Chuchyard, “a major British publisher of Christian literature intended initially for evangelism, and including literature aimed at children, women, and the poor.”

The timing is just right—1810 would have been right when the seeds of MP were growing inside JA’s mind, even though it would have to await the editing and publication of S&S and P&P before it would flower into MP itself. And that book of Traill’s sermons would have been just the sort of book aimed at an evangelical audience, that Fanny Price, with her evangelical leanings, would have read!

And _that’s_ precisely why Henry Crawford, of all people, has been reading Traill’s sermons! If you think about it, you realize that Henry Crawford would at that exact point in MP have been _highly_ motivated to read it. Why?

Because Henry has taken on the formidable challenge of seducing the virtuous, chaste, iron-willed Fanny Price, and in order to seduce her, he is going to have to find some vulnerable chinks in her armor, to get into her heart and work on it.

And, sharp elf that he is, he realizes that he is going to have to attack her on several fronts. And it is in Chapter 34 that he “sees the whites in Fanny’s eyes”, so to speak, and comes at her with verbal guns blazing. That’s when he first makes serious inroads via his virtuosic readings aloud from Shakespeare, which elicit from Fanny involuntary positive reactions. And then, what topic does Henry turn to but… sermons! That’s when Henry engages with Edmund about making sermons, and he attempts to evoke a deep resonance, in terms of theatricality, and also stirring the audience’s intellectual and emotional responses, between the theater and the pulpit.

So, how brilliant and subtle a foreshadowing that line about making a hole in Fanny’s heart turns out to be, coming to fruition ten chapters later! Henry really is brilliantly and sacrilegiously Satanic, as he seeks to tempt Fanny to give her heart to him, seeking to lure her away from her first love, Jesus.

Which gives the narrator’s line about Fanny’s heart being “guarded” a double meaning. Of course, we all understand that this refers to Fanny’s secret love for Edmund. But…it also covertly refers to Fanny’s openly acknowledged love for Jesus, which only whets Henry’s perverse appetite! He does not merely wish to seduce Fanny’s body, he wants her _soul_, too!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: I was also reminded as I reread Henry’s brilliant argumentation about sermonizing in Chapter 34 of the striking resonance of a striking resonance of one of his comments...

“But then, I must have a London audience. I could not preach but to the educated; to those who were capable of estimating my composition.”
…to the following very famous line from one of JA’s letters:

“I do not write for such dull elves, as have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves.”

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