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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Veiled Allusion to Sheridan’s Duenna in Austen’s Mansfield Park

Ellen Moody, in a blog entry earlier this morning, wrote:

“Linda Troost’s paper, “Publicity that Money Cannot Buy: The Syren of Covent Garden and The Duenna.” After “Love in a Village,” Sheridan’s Duenna was performed more frequently than any other play across the century. Sheridan’s father-in-law (Linley) revised the music. In our time the play is helped to an audience through advertising the parallels in Sheridan’s life and marriage and that of his wife, Elizabeth Linley, and the characters in his play who elope to escaped an arranged materialistic merciless match. The action of the play concerns the heroine’s continued attempts to escape an unwanted marriage by eloping. At the time Anne Brown was given the lead, and she too kept running away, eloping, and there seems little doubt this outside play real-life activity kept the staging of plays indoors. Linda was very amusing on the real life stories of Anne Brown who it seems eloped once too often, and died drowned off a ship on its way home (with, so the sentimental stories said, her newborn baby in her arms). For my part, I felt for Ann Brown and wondered why she was so determined to escape her father and was so susceptible to seduction. “

My first association upon reading Ellen's pithy summation was..... “Maria Bertram _and_ Fanny Price” ! My second association was to recall my own line of research of 30 months ago, when I first realized that Richard Brinsley Sheridan, his wife Elizabeth (nee Linley), _and_ his mother Frances Sheridan, were _all_ part of the allusive subtext of _Northanger_ _Abbey_ , an insight which I outlined very briefly during my JASNA AGM talk in Portland in Nov. 2010.

Prior to reading Ellen’s summation, however, I had been unaware that _The_ _Duenna_ had been such a very famous, frequently performed play during JA’s entire lifetime. That factoid led me to wonder: could JA have inserted a veiled allusion to The Duenna in _Mansfield_ _Park_?

I believe I already _subconsciously_ knew the answer was “Yes!”, because my first action was to search for the word “duenna” in MP, and that brought me right to the following passage near the very end of Ch. 13, which had surely stuck in my mind from one of my rereadings of MP:

“Edmund had little to hope, but he was still urging the subject when Henry Crawford entered the room, fresh from the Parsonage, calling out, “No want of hands in our theatre, Miss Bertram. No want of understrappers: my sister desires her love, and hopes to be admitted into the company, and will be happy to take the part of any old _duenna_ or tame confidante, that you may not like to do yourselves.”

Just a coincidence? Well, for starters, look at the passage that JA chose to write in the very beginning of Ch. 14, i.e., only a few paragraphs after the above usage of the word “duenna” in relation to a theatrical role:

“All the best plays were run over in vain. Neither Hamlet, nor Macbeth, nor Othello, nor Douglas, nor The Gamester, presented anything that could satisfy even the tragedians; and _The_ _Rivals_, _The School for Scandal_, Wheel of Fortune, Heir at Law, and a long et cetera, were successively dismissed with yet warmer objections.”
It could not be a coincidence that two of Sheridan’s _other_ very famous theatrical writings were listed in such very close proximity to the title of a _third_ Sheridan stage success! And therefore, I claim, that “long et cetera” listed by the MP narrator surely included _The_ _Duenna_!

So, what could this allusion mean? I found, and then quickly read, the text of _The Duenna_ online, and also read the Wikipedia entry for same, and brought myself up to speed.

It is a play involving the familiar comic mainstay of resourceful heroines using guile to thwart parental oppression. It is easy to see various of the characters as transposed into MP, with the heroine Louisa, the second heroine Clara, and the tertiary heroine the Duenna, Margaret, looking very much like Fanny, Maria, and Mary, respectively, in MP. And we also have Don Antonio as Henry Crawford, Don Ferdinand as Edmund, Don Jerome as Sir Thomas, and (alas) the rich Isaac Mendoza (some unfortunate anti-Semitic imagery from Sheridan) as Mr. Rushworth.

Having gotten that far, and interesting as the above already was, in terms of JA’s allusive artistry, I felt there had to be something more buried under the surface in MP. So I searched the name “Margaret” in MP, and that search opened up the wormhole that led directly to a great deal of text in MP that has up till today seemed like a great deal of superfluous background information, regarding Mary Crawford’s friends the sisters Lady Stornaway and Mrs.Fraser, and the latter’s stepdaughter, _Margaret_ Fraser.

Read now the inset story of these minor characters in MP, keeping in mind the story line of _The_ _Duenna_, and you will, I think, understand another important why JA provided all this detail:

MP, 36: Fanny roused herself, and replying only in part, said, "But you are only going from one set of friends to another. You are going to a very particular friend." "Yes, very true. Mrs. Fraser has been my intimate friend for years. But I have not the least inclination to go near her. I can think only of the friends I am leaving: my excellent sister, yourself, and the Bertrams in general. You have all so much more heart among you than one finds in the world at large. You all give me a feeling of being able to trust and _confide_ [like Mary C.’s reference to playing a “tame confidante”] in you, which in common intercourse one knows nothing of. I wish I had settled with Mrs. Fraser not to go to her till after Easter, a much better time for the visit, but now I cannot put her off. And when I have done with her I must go to her sister, Lady Stornaway, because she was rather my most particular friend of the two, but I have not cared much for her these three years."

...Why, Fanny, you are absolutely in a reverie. Thinking, I hope, of one who is always thinking of you. Oh! that I could transport you for a short time into our circle in town, that you might understand how your power over Henry is thought of there! Oh! the envyings and heartburnings of dozens and dozens; the wonder, the incredulity that will be felt at hearing what you have done! For as to secrecy, Henry is quite the hero of an old romance, and glories in his chains. You should come to London to know how to estimate your conquest. If you were to see how he is courted, and how I am courted for his sake! Now, I am well aware that I shall not be half so welcome to Mrs. Fraser in consequence of his situation with you. When she comes to know the truth she will, very likely, wish me in Northamptonshire again; for _ there is a daughter of Mr. Fraser, by a first wife, whom she is wild to get married_, and wants Henry to take. Oh! she has been trying for him to such a degree. Innocent and quiet as you sit here, you cannot have an idea of the sensation that you will be occasioning, of the curiosity there will be to see you, of the endless questions I shall have to answer! _Poor Margaret Fraser will be at me for ever about your eyes and your teeth, and how you do your hair, and who makes your shoes. I wish Margaret were married, for my poor friend's sake_, for I look upon the Frasers to be about as unhappy as most other married people. And yet it was a most desirable match for Janet at the time. We were all delighted. She could not do otherwise than accept him, for he was rich, and she had nothing; but he turns out ill-tempered and exigeant, and wants a young woman, a beautiful young woman of five-and-twenty, to be as steady as himself. And my friend does not manage him well; she does not seem to know how to make the best of it. There is a spirit of irritation which, to say nothing worse, is certainly very ill-bred. In their house I shall call to mind the conjugal manners of Mansfield Parsonage with respect. Even Dr. Grant does shew a thorough confidence in my sister, and a certain consideration for her judgment, which makes one feel there is attachment; but of that I shall see nothing with the Frasers. I shall be at Mansfield for ever, Fanny. My own sister as a wife, Sir Thomas Bertram as a husband, are my standards of perfection. Poor Janet has been sadly taken in, and yet there was nothing improper on her side: she did not run into the match inconsiderately; there was no want of foresight. She took three days to consider of his proposals, and during those three days asked the advice of everybody connected with her whose opinion was worth having, and especially applied to my late dear aunt, whose knowledge of the world made her judgment very generally and deservedly looked up to by all the young people of her acquaintance, and she was decidedly in favour of Mr. Fraser. This seems as if nothing were a security for matrimonial comfort. I have not so much to say for my friend Flora, who jilted a very nice young man in the Blues for the sake of that horrid Lord Stornaway, who has about as much sense, Fanny, as Mr. Rushworth, but much worse-looking, and with a blackguard character. I had my doubts at the time about her being right, for he has not even the air of a gentleman, and now I am sure she was wrong. By the bye, Flora Ross was dying for Henry the first winter she came out. But were I to attempt to tell you of all the women whom I have known to be in love with him, I should never have done. It is you, only you, insensible Fanny, who can think of him with anything like indifference. But are you so insensible as you profess yourself? No, no, I see you are not."

43:“.. My friend, Mrs. Fraser, is mad for such a house, and it would not make me miserable. I go to Lady Stornaway after Easter; she seems in high spirits, and very happy. I fancy Lord S. is very goodhumoured and pleasant in his own family, and I do not think him so very ill-looking as I did-at least, one sees many worse. He will not do by the side of your cousin Edmund. Of the last-mentioned hero, what shall I say? If I avoided his name entirely, it would look suspicious. I will say, then, that we have seen him two or three times, and that my friends here are very much struck with his gentlemanlike appearance. Mrs. Fraser (no bad judge) declares she knows but three men in town who have so good a person, height, and air; and I must confess, when he dined here the other day, there were none to compare with him, and we were a party of sixteen. Luckily there is no distinction of dress nowadays to tell tales, but—but—but Yours affectionately."

44: “…I had every attention from the Frasers that could be reasonably expected. I dare say I was not reasonable in carrying with me hopes of an intercourse at all like that of Mansfield. It was her manner, however, rather than any unfrequency of meeting. Had she been different when I did see her, I should have made no complaint, but from the very first she was altered: my first reception was so unlike what I had hoped, that I had almost resolved on leaving London again directly. I need not particularise. You know the weak side of her character, and may imagine the sentiments and expressions which were torturing me. She was in high spirits, and surrounded by those who were giving all the support of their own bad sense to her too lively mind. I do not like Mrs. Fraser. She is a cold-hearted, vain woman, who has married entirely from convenience, and though evidently unhappy in her marriage, places her disappointment not to faults of judgment, or temper, or disproportion of age, but to her being, after all, less affluent than many of her acquaintance, especially than her sister, Lady Stornaway, and is the determined supporter of everything mercenary and ambitious, provided it be only mercenary and ambitious enough. I look upon her intimacy with those two sisters as the greatest misfortune of her life and mine. They have been leading her astray for years. Could she be detached from them!-and sometimes I do not despair of it, for the affection appears to me principally on their side. They are very fond of her; but I am sure she does not love them as she loves you.” END QUOTE

I will merely point out that in _The_ _Duenna_, Donna Clara, the daughter from the first marriage of her father, is being pressured (to marry for money) by her stepmother, exactly the way Margaret Fraser is under attack from _her_ stepmother, Mrs. Fraser (i.e., Mary’s particular friend)!

Otherwise, I leave it to those so inclined to delve more deeply into the intricacies of this veiled allusion in MP to _The_ _Duenna_.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: It may very well be a coincidence, but I would be remiss in not adding that in Act 1, Scene 2, of The Rivals, by Sheridan—which, as I noted above, was _explicitly_ named in MP, we have the following exchange:

Lydia Languish: Here, my dear Lucy, hide these books. Quick, quick.—Fling Peregrine Pickle under the toilet—throw Roderick Random into the closet-put The Innocent Adultery into The Whole Duty of Man—thrust Lord Aimworth under the sofa—cram Ovid behind the bolster— there—put the Man of Feeling into your pocket— so, so—now lay Mrs. Chapone in sight, and leave Fordyce's Sermons open on the table.

Lucy. Oh, burn it, ma'am! the hair-dresser haS TORN AWAY as far as Proper Pride.

Lyd. Never mind—open at Sobriety.—Fling me Lord Chesterfield's Letters.—Now for 'em.

Part of the (sub)text of The Duenna, I would suggest, has indeed been “TORN AWAY” by JA and inserted in MP!

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