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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shall we summon a council on this lawn?: Yes we SHALL! Jane Austen & Occupy Wall Street

In Chapter 9 of Mansfield Park, we read the following comment by the Satanic tempter Henry Crawford, as he begins to orchestrate the maneuver that will eventually lead to his covert seduction of Maria Bertram on a grassy knoll beyond the ha-ha in the wilderness at Sotherton:

“Query,” said Mr. Crawford, looking round him, “whether we may not find something to employ us here before we go farther? I see WALLS of great promise. Mr. Rushworth, shall we summon a council on this lawn?”

And a bit later, Edmund Bertram enjoys his developing flirtation with Henry's sister, the siren Mary Crawford:

At Oxford I have been a good deal used to have a man lean on me for the length of a STREET, and you are only a fly in the comparison.”

And then in Chapter 10, not long after the above, we read this description of the return of the Bertram party to Mansfield Park at the end of that long and fateful day:

"Their spirits were in general exhausted; and to determine whether the day had afforded most pleasure or pain, might OCCUPY the meditations of almost all."

You may have noticed that I put the following words in all caps from those three proximate passages:


Now, those who think that my comprehensive theory of Jane Austen's radical feminist/Christian shadow stories is evidence that I am a conspiracy theorist who imagines all I see in her novels, perhaps are wondering if I have truly gone off the deep end, in seeming to suggest that Jane Austen was a Nostradamus in a gown who foresaw the Occupy Wall Street movement that has ignited around the world in a very short time, and gives promise of actually mushrooming to the point where some meaningful change might actually be imagined.

Well, sorry to disappoint, but I was just having a little absurdist fun--the way Jane Austen often did, when she showed her self-assurance by creating a character like Miss Bates as a self-portrait, to satirize the dismissive snobbery of wealthy powerful men toward an unmarried impecunious 40 year old country woman who happened to be, arguably, one of the ten greatest geniuses of the entire world during her lifetime.

And my serious purpose behind this fun, was to make the claim that Jane Austen, as I understand her now, after all my research into her fiction, her letters and her biography, would have been right there in Times Square today, supporting this movement that dares to challenge the fattest cats in the history of the human race, the Wall Street billionaires who take their obscene bonuses (which are truly absurd, but not at all in a funny way), attempt to strip away even the pitifully weak regulations that were enacted 2 years ago, and who exert their gargantuan political influence via mountains of money, in the guise of the "personhood" of multinational corporations.

Jane Austen would be there in Times Square writing satirical copy for blogs, posters, and sound bites, doing a critical service in using humor and psychological insight to further this genuine revolution against unspeakable wrongdoing.

The evidence for this includes everything I've written in this blog during the last 18 months, but especially what I wrote about Sir Thomas Bertram in Mansfield Park, who if he were alive today would not have slave plantation in Antigua, he'd own a large interest in Citicorp.

Recall that arguably the most thrilling moment in all of Jane Austen's novels comes when little Fanny Price, shaking in her shoes as the monstrous Sir Thomas, like the Giant in Jack & The Beanstalk, thunderous clomps into her freezing attic, and she dares to tell him that she cannot accept Henry Crawford's proposal, even though she will suffer dearly for her defiance.

Google just led me to an interesting blog by another literary opinionator, on this very topic:

I have to respectfully disagree with Robin Bates (great Austenian name!!!) on that one point. I have absolutely no doubt that Jane Austen would be there with the protester in Times Square today!

I am going to keep this post short, and leave the rest to be filled in by your imagination, I just wanted to join together the two things going on in the world that are most occupying my own personal attention at the moment--the rise of a new kind of Janeism which I am trying to promote, and the Occupy Wall Street movement, which I wholeheartedly support.

So I am happy to take advantage of the coincidence of the passages I quoted from Mansfield Park to make a point about the crisis on our planet today, so far removed from the British Empire of two centuries ago in many ways, and yet so chillingly similar in other ways. Jane Austen was a "fly in comparison" to the Prince of Whales whom she so often skewered in her writings, but she showed that even a fly can, eventually, take down a sea monster. So I am glad to be able to assert, using Jane Austen's words, that I am very glad that someone stood up in that park in lower Manhattan not that long ago, and said something like:

"Shall we summon a council on this lawn?"

And the WORLD answered, "Yes, we shall!"


P.S.: And one thing I KNOW she'd be doing there is making sure that the men in the movement were not lording it over the women in the movement!

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