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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Allons enfants de....Mansfield Park! (Part Two)

One final point occurred to me as I was finishing my immediately preceding post about Fanny Price and Jane Eyre as fictional children of the French Revolution, as first argued by Kathryn Sutherland in 1992.....

....which quickly morphed into an entire blog post of its own, which you can read, below!

It all arose from a tiny seed: my wondering if Jane Austen's hidden calendar in Mansfield Park might even be specific not only to the YEAR 1789, but even to the MONTH in 1789 during which the defining event of the French Revolution occurred, i.e., the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14? And look at what I found that corroborated, beyond my wildest imaginings, this hunch:

First, according to Wikipedia, history does not notice one huge irony of the storming of the Bastille, which is that there were only seven prisoners in the Bastille when it was stormed---an irony that, if Jane Austen had read about it, would not have escaped her sharp eye!

And so, does this have anything to do with the following passage in Chapter 4 of Mansfield Park, describing the state of affairs at Mansfield Park while Sir Thomas was in Antigua, and his eldest son Tom had just returned (two paragraphs earlier) to Mansfield Park:

"Such was the state of affairs in the month of July; and Fanny had just reached her eighteenth year, when the society of the village received an addition in the brother and sister of Mrs. Grant, a Mr. and Miss Crawford, the children of her mother by a second marriage."

So first of all, this tells us that Fanny's birthday took place in JULY! And second, by my count, at the time of the arrival of the Crawfords at Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas Bertram being absent and Tom being home, there were...... SEVEN members of the "royal" family of Mansfield Park in residence:

Lady (let them sip laudanum) Bertram
Mrs. (off with their heads) Norris
the four Bertram children and
Fanny Price

I am pretty darned sure that the focalization of the date, the number of residents, and the arrival of the Bertrams, are NOT a coincidence!

So I can imagine Henry and Mary Crawford joking as the drove up to Mansfield Park for that first fateful visit, enjoying the prospect of turning the established order of things topsy turvy at Mansfield Park, and perhaps they might have even engaged in a little two part harmony singing a song that had been adopted as the French national anthem a dozen years earlier in 1795:

"Allons enfants de la patrie, le jour de gloire est arrive!"

And that reference to the arrival of "the day of glory" is perhaps why we read the following description of the meeting of the Crawfords with Mrs. Grant only two paragraphs later in that same Chapter 4 of Mansfield Park:

"The meeting was very satisfactory on each side. Miss Crawford found a sister without preciseness or rusticity, a sister's husband who looked the gentleman, and a house commodious and well fitted up; and Mrs. Grant received in those whom she hoped to love better than ever a young man and woman of very prepossessing appearance. Mary Crawford was remarkably pretty; Henry, though not handsome, had air and countenance; the manners of both were lively and pleasant, and Mrs. Grant immediately gave them credit for everything else. She was delighted with each, but Mary was her dearest object; and having never been able to GLORY in beauty of her own, she thoroughly enjoyed the power of being proud of her sister's."

Perhaps Mary even played the Marseillaise on her harp for Edmund, and sang her own witty adaptated lyrics, displaying her famous command of the French tongue:

"Allons enfants de Mansfield Park, le jour de gloire est VRAIMENT arrive!

And last but not least, look at this amazing independent validation of the allusion to the Bastille as noted by Elizabeth Jenkins many decades ago, which takes on a hundredfold greater significance when linked to the Chapter 4 analysis I provide, above. Jenkins quotes from the Sotherton ha-ha episode in Chapter 10 of Mansfield Park, and then from the passage from Sterne's Sentimental Journey which is one of the allusive sources for Maria Bertram's "starling" speech:

"Jane Austen's own manner of writing being what it is, the most interesting consideration connected with her reading is perhaps that she had in the background of her consciousness such work as Sterne's, so wild, so elusive and, above all, so trembling with sensitive humanity, as is that passage from A Sentimental Journey which occurred to her in Mansfield Park when Maria Bertram, looking through the iron gates, exclaims: 'I cannot get out, as the starling said.' It is Sterne's attempt to reason away the horrors of imprisonment.
'As for the Bastille, the terror is in the word--Make the most of it you can, I said to myself. The Bastille is but another word for a tower:--and a tower is but another word for a house you can't get out of... I was interrupted in the heyday of this soliloquy with a voice which I took to be that of a child, which complained: 'it could not get out,'...and looking up, I saw it was a starling hung up in a little cage. I stood looking at the bird, and to every person who came through the passage, it ran fluttering towards the side which they approached it, with the same lamentation of its captivity--'I can't get out,' said the starling. God help thee!--said I--but I'll let thee out,cost what it will; so I turned the cage about to get at the door; it was twisted and double twisted so fast with wire, there was no getting it open without pulling the cage to pieces... The bird flew to the place where I was attempting his deliverance, and thrusting his head through the trellis, pressed his breast against it...--I fear, poor creature, said I, I cannot set thee at liberty.--'No,' said the starling; 'I can't get out--I can't get out.' I vow I never had any affections more tenderly awaked... Mechanical as the notes were... in one moment they overthrew all my systematic reasonings upon the Bastille, and I heavily walked upstairs, unsaying every word I had said in going down them" (Jenkins, Jane Austen[NY: Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1949], pp 40-1). about these references to "prisons" in MP?:

Chapter 6:

"I wish you could see Compton," said [Rushworth]; "it is the most complete thing! I never saw a place so altered in my life. I told Smith I did not know where I was. The approach now, is one of the finest things in the country: you see the house in the most surprising manner. I declare, when I got back to Sotherton yesterday, it looked like a prison—quite a dismal old prison."
"Oh, for shame!" cried Mrs. Norris. "A prison indeed? Sotherton Court is the noblest old place in the world." END QUOTE

"noblest" old place? Ha ha, Mrs. Norris!


Chapter 14 (as Henry Crawford tries to persuade Julia Bertram to agree to play Amelia in Lovers Vows):

"...indeed you must. When you have studied the character, I am sure you will feel it suit you. Tragedy may be your choice, but it will certainly appear that comedy chuses you. You will be to visit me in prison with a basket of provisions; you will not refuse to visit me in prison? I think I see you coming in with your basket."

So the good news I bring here in this Part Two of this post is that the above quoted passages in Chapters 4, 6, 10 and 14 collectively represent a huge allusion to the storming of the Bastille hiding in plain sight all over the place in Mansfield Park. And the even better news is that these “body parts” of the elephant hiding in plain sight in the text of Mansfield Park connect seamlessly with other “body parts” detected by other scholars previously:
So, first, in particular one of the main reasons JA chose to have Maria Bertram famously allude to Sterne’s Sentimental Journey, was not only to depict Maria Bertram’s yearning to break free from Sir Thomas’s confinement, but was also to reinforce the subliminal allusion to the Bastille I have outlined above.

Second, in 1982, Margaret Kirkham's sharp eye noted that the Bastille allusions in Mansfield Park point also to Mary Wollstonecraft's novel The Wrongs of Woman: Maria (1798) in which the tragic heroine wails "Marriage has Bastilled me for life!"

And third, in Isobel Armstrong's 1988 book analyzing Mansfield Park, she speculates on P. 88 that Jane Austen would have noted parallels between the storming of the Bastille and Act 5 Scene 4 of Shakespeare's Henry VIII (yet another play that is covertly alluded to in Mansfield Park).

So the allusion to the Bastille in Mansfield Park turns out to be multilayered, vindicating the rights of those oppressed by tyranny in general, but also with JA’s never-failing particular focus on the oppression of _women_!
And just think......there are still many Janeites laboring under the delusion, created by two centuries of propaganda, and fostered by Jane Austen's covert allusiveness, that Jane Austen was not interested in, and did not make reference to, great world events which occurred during her lifetime!

Delusions arising out of too LITTLE imagination are much more damaging, I am certain Jane Austen is telling us, than delusions arising out of an EXCESS of imagination. The latter can be cured by altering one's interpretation of something you already see. The former offers no such hope.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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