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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gay subtext in zombie books, South Pacific and Mansfield Park

The following is a post I wrote in Janeites and Austen L last May, which I neglected to post here as well, and which is relevant to the post which will immediately follow this one:

Ellen Moody wrote: "A comment from a friend has let me know that it's a known but usually not discussed element in these zombie books that they have strong gay subtexts. It's supposed regarded as "just fun." Well, we had no idea. Izzy told me the details of grotesque sizes, and gags that reminded me of scenes in Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus, some of the lyrics of some of Sondheim's stranger (less popular songs), also some scenes in Orlando the book and more in Sally Potter's film. This morning (having read my friend's comment) she tells me that the book suggests Mrs Gardener has a lover, and then what we discover that Mr Gardener has a male friend that he is "very close" with. Elizabeth worries lest Mr Darcy get "involved" but he doesn't."

By an odd serendipity, Ellen, I went with my 91 year old father last week [i.e., in May, 2010] to see the Broadway revival of South Pacific (he served during WWII in the South AND the North Pacific)---Both he and I thought the production was so-so, but I mention it in these Austen groups because I was immediately struck by the first big production number, There is Nothing like a Dame---that this had, to me, an unmistakable gay subtext, particularly the character of Luther Billis.

My strong impression became a certainty while watching the climactic number, That's my little Honey Bun, where Luther dresses in a hula skirt, and Nelly dresses as a man simulating sex with Luther the island girl. M father was at first astonished when I told him about this, but he was quickly convinced. Afterwards, I checked online, and was amazed to see that only ONE scholar has ever written about the gay subtext of South Pacific--- Marjorie Garber, and even she was cautious about calling it an intentional subtext.

And I mention all of this because I have for some time been 100% certain of the gay subtext of Mansfield Park, in regard to William Price and the "price" paid for Henry Crawford's Pepysian intervention on William's behalf, which JHS touched on in Unbecoming Conjunctions. As I watched the elaborately choreographed dancing of the sailors in that first bug number in South Pacific, I wondered whether Oscar Hammerstein II, Joshua Logan, and their choreographer, had all been inspired specifically by the following passage from MP, which JHS did not pick up on in UC, but which I believe is part and parcel with William's promotion and also Mary Crawford's outrageous pun:

" The next bustle brought in Mr. Campbell, the surgeon of the Thrush, a very well–behaved young man, who came to call for his friend..... and after another quarter of an hour of earnest talk between the gentlemen, noise rising upon noise, and bustle upon bustle, MEN AND BOYS AT LAST ALL IN MOTION TOGETHER, the moment came for setting off; everything was ready, William took leave, and all of them were gone...."

And I finish by pointing out that Frank Austen did serve in the Pacific--what WAS JA suggesting about the promotions earned by Frank?

Cheers, Arnie

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