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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Baby Swapping in Mansfield Park

Anielka Briggs wrote a very interesting and significant post in Austen L & Janeites today:

I first responded as follows:


I begin by acknowledging that you are clearly the first person to do the math you have laid out in your post. I haven't tried to follow all of your inferences yet, but will do so in the near future, and I go on the assumption that you would not be bringing it forward if it did not "work".

Working on that assumption, what I can say is that, somehow, what you have discerned via that mathematical analysis, _must_ dovetail in some way with _two_ discoveries of my own dating back to the summer of 2006:

FIRST: The following brief outline, which I wrote to several of my Janeite friends in November 2006 (at the same time I submitted to Persuasions Online a draft of an article, discussing same at much greater length, which was rejected), and which I forwarded to Anielka on October 23, 2007:

"As you will recall, I already had my smoking gun from before in terms of the complex allusion to Swift and his life in Mansfield Park, but yesterday I got my full copy of the 1757 article from The Gentleman's Magazine by the mysterious anonymous author of "Anecdotes of Dean Swift and Miss Johnson", and was thrilled to find another one, one that points strongly toward the illegitimacy themes of Mansfield Park which I have uncovered, from so many different sources: In MP Ch. 44, Edmund writes about Mary to Fanny: “I cannot give her up, Fanny. She is "the only woman in the world whom I could ever think of as a wife..." and then Fanny, half a page later, thinks to herself "'The only woman in the world whom he could ever think of as a wife.’ I firmly believe it. It is an attachment to govern his whole life. Accepted or refused, his heart is wedded to her for ever.” Secondarily, we also have, elsewhere in the novel, the following passage:"As to Mr Crawford, she hoped it might give him a knowledge of his own disposition, convince him that "he was not capable of being steadily attached to any one woman in the world,and shame him from persisting any longer in addressing herself." Now, consider those passages, especially those in Chapter 44, in relation to the following memorable turn of phrase in the Gentleman's Magazine article:“....the only woman in the world, who could make him happy as a wife, was the only woman in the world, who could not be that wife.” This is the passage where the writer is defending Swift's failure
to marry his lifelong love, Stella (which it is debatable whether he really did it secretly or not), arguing that it was when Swift, no longer young, was told, on the verge of marrying Stella, that she and her were half-siblings, i.e., both illegitimate offspring of the same father, Sir William Temple, that he realized he could not have children with her. Hence, the only woman who could not be his wife. Added to all the other evidence, the joint theme of incest and illegitimacy in the
novel takes on stronger and stronger reality." END QUOTE

The significance of my above-quoted analysis is that this covert allusion by JA in MP to the life of Jonathan Swift (the above is only the tip of that particular allusion) strongly suggests to the reader who recognizes the Swift allusion (Swift's relationship with Stella was a matter of common knowledge among the English literati during JA's lifetime) that Fanny and _Edmund_ actually _share_ at least one
biological parent, who might just be Sir Thomas Bertram.

SECOND: As I also wrote in _another_ article draft I submitted to Persuasions Online in November 2006 (which was _also_ rejected), and as I also emailed Anielka on October 24, 2007:

"Yes, indeed, the Crawfords are biracial and illegitimate, and Elton is biracial and illegitimate. Those are the ones I am certain were biracial illegitimate Creoles"

Responding to my hints, you were quick on the draw to pick up on the very same textual clues as to facial skin color that had initially started me thinking along those lines, that point in this direction, but I have other reasons as well. My sense since July 2006, which I have occasionally mentioned in passing in the usual online places, has remained that, in some way, either or both of Henry and Mary are
biological offspring of the Bertram family arising in some fashion out of the Bertram family's Antigua estate (where Patricia Rozema had already, in 1999, suggested that Sir Thomas leads a horrible double life there).

If you reveal it, I will be curious to see if your apparent discovery of a chronological and numerical anomaly in the number and ages of the Price children fits in some way with my above two observations, as I would imagine they must, because you and I both know that JA was not a slovenly artist, and her apparent errors can safely be assumed not to be errors at all, but clues to alternative interpretation.

And then I followed up a few moments ago as follows:

Here is a hit list of followup points to my first comments earlier today, after I carefully read through Anielka's analysis of the chronology of births in the Price family, and also refreshed my memory about certain key aspects of my own previous research. There are many points of synergy between Anielka's findings, and mine:

1. Anielka's math seems to me to be in order as best I can tell, there does indeed seem to be a missing child born to Mrs Price. All kudos to Anielka for that very significant discovery. Unless someone can poke a hole in her analysis, I think it is exactly the sort of "broad hem" that JA always hid in plain sight in her novels, to corroborate what the rest of the text suggests in a dozen subliminal ways.

2. That discovery is a wonderful confirmatory textual clue for the belief I have held since 2006, i.e., that when the narrator tells us in Chapter 1 of MP that "there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them", it is code for telling us that there is only _one_ large-fortuned Sir Thomas, but _three_ pretty Ward (Weird) sisters, and therefore he has "magnanimously" shared his wonderfulness at different times with all three of them, resulting in children born to all three of those "deserving" sisters---deserving, as in, they each get their just _deserts_ (i.e., they are all "in for it!", courtesy of Sir Thomas) for foolishly trusting a man like him. Maria Bertram is not the only young lady to fall prey to a smooth talking villain. History repeats itself.

3. So now, with Anielka's Price baby-counting discovery as a signpost, I would now guess that Mrs. Price's unmentioned child (sired by Sir Thomas) is _Julia_, the youngest of the four (nominal) Bertram children, and the next eldest in age to William Price. That would fit with the still-single Frances Ward becoming pregnant and thereby triggering the crisis that led to Mrs. Price _blackmailing_ Sir Thomas and resulting in Fanny's being sent to MP.

4. I have been of the belief since 2006 that Maria is Mrs. Norris's love child (sired by Sir Thomas).

5. I have no idea how to decide who is the mother of Tom and who is the mother of Edmund--each one could be the child of any of the Ward sisters, but there would be a certain Austenian irony if all of this "change of heirs" has come to pass because Lady Bertram, the most beautiful of the three, turned out to be _sterile_, and therefore incapable of "putting on heirs", so to speak, for her husband. But I
still cling to the notion that Lady Bertram did have at least one biological child, and that was _Fanny_, which is why Fanny is selected to be brought to Mansfield Park. Look again at how Fanny is selected---Mrs. Norris suggests that it be Fanny, and Lady Bertram instantly approves of the choice--sounds to me like the two sisters were a tag team.

6. Now _why_ would Fanny have been sent away from Mansfield Park if she was Lady Bertram's daughter? Because, I suspect, the father was _not_ Sir Thomas! Note that Fanny is much smaller than the Bertram children, and Sir Thomas is tall and handsome--which suggests to me that Fanny's biological father was a short man. So if you see a short man wandering around Mansfield Park, he's your man!

7. A year ago Friday, I posted the following.... which I noted the unmistakable parallelism among scenes early in all the novels except NA, in which a tete a tete is held outside the knowledge of the heroine, discussing, in cryptic terms, the relocation of a heroine. So, if you read that linked blog post of mine, you'll see that the idea of babies moving around like so many chess pieces is one that JA played with in all the novels, and it fits perfectly with Anielka's baby-counting game.

8. Speaking of the pun on "heirs" and "airs" that Anielka mentioned, it is indeed an excellent catch by her in MP, as, to me, it clearly has the punny meaning she ascribes to it in Chapter 1 of MP. However, what Anielka might or might not remember is that I posted the following...
(and some other followup posts)

.....last April, in which I noted that same pun on "heir" and "air" being played with by Charlotte Bronte, with the additional puns on her heroine's surname "Eyre", who turns out to be an "heir"-ess, and also is an "eyer" of the actions of others. But I did not pick up on that same pun in MP, as Anielka did, even though, ironically, I had long ago noted that the references to "air" in MP were oblique references to the liberating "air" of England that Lord Mansfield famously opined about, as being intolerant of slavery within the realm of England. So "air" in MP is a double pun, carrying both of those meanings!

9. I just did some quick checking, and it turns out that the phrase "change of air" appears one other place in JA's published novels, and it is exactly the place I'd expect to find it, given my discovery of Jane Fairfax's shadow pregnancy in early 2005:

"[Jane's] care and attention could not be questioned; they were, in fact, only too great. He very much feared that Miss Fairfax derived more evil than good from them. Emma listened with the warmest concern; grieved for her more and more, and looked around eager to discover some way of being useful. To take her -- be it only an hour or two -- from her aunt, to give her CHANGE OF AIR*//*and scene, and quiet rational
conversation, even for an hour or two, might do her good; and the following morning she wrote again to say, in the most feeling language she could command, that she would call for her in the carriage at any hour that Jane would name -- mentioning that she had Mr. Perry's decided opinion, in favour of such exercise for his patient. The answer was only in this short note: "Miss Fairfax's compliments and thanks, but is quite unequal to any exercise." "

This is _precisely_ the climactic moment in the action of the shadow story of _Emma_ when Jane Fairfax is giving birth to her illegitimate child and then reluctantly agreeing to a "change of HEIR", i.e., she tearfully gives up her baby to Mrs. Weston. I had previously found a cluster of puns and word clues that pointed to her labor and delivery, and now I can add to that cluster this particularly interesting pun.

10. Which brings me to my last observation, which is that the odds that the only two usages of this phrase "change of air" in _all_ of JA's published novels should appear in two passages both _saturated_ in the subliminal aroma of baby swapping, is far, far, _far_ beyond the realm of coincidence.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


Arnie Perlstein said...

Here is a comment by my friend and fellow Austen heretic Christine Shih:

Regarding your comments on Charlotte Bronte's choice of 'Eyre' in naming her protagonist, there is an actual geographical pinpoint for that name. It comes from Lake Eyre, in Australia, which is the lowest point identified in the topography of that country. Charlotte had very close friends that decided to move to Australia, which can explain why she utilized the name 'Eyre' - makes good sense because of the nature and circumstances that she gave her heroine.
Also, I was very excited to read of your connection of Sir Thomas Bertram to the possible nature of his relations with the Ward sisters in your blog posting about baby-swapping in 'Mansfield Park.' This instantly reminded me of Tom Musgrave in 'The Watsons' - who as we know had a significant (narcissistic) interest in his 'relations' with all of the Watson sisters (although Emma was far the wiser sister). I regard 'The Watsons' as the early manuscript of 'Mansfield Park' mainly because the personalities of the Ward sisters directly reflect the personalities of the Watson sisters. But there are other parallels, too - Tom and Sir Thomas are very similar, and it does reflect the process that Austen went through in her mind about characterization while writing early drafts. The Tom Musgrave of 'The Watson's' certainly is young and uninformed - we don't know if he will have the capacity for reform. But, over time, Austen might have magnified that character, and with graciousness gave Tom a mirror with the capacity to confront the reality in it and mature, to the benefit of his entire family. I've got to throw this out - Rev. George Austen, possibly?????


Arnie Perlstein said...

Christine, very interesting stuff that had never occurred to me, I will have to give that Watsons-MP connection some serious consideration, and I will letcha know if it sparks any further insights on my end.

Cheers, ARNIE

Anonymous said...

Point 6 - is it possible that if Fanny is Lady Bertram's child, her father is Mr. Norris? They are two characters of whom much is made of their health and Mrs. Norris might then have an additional reason to keep Fanny away from the Parsonage while Mr. Norris was alive?

Anonymous said...

There is also the Mansfield -> man's field, and what is a field for but for ploughing and planting a crop (of babies).