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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Allons Mansfield aussi de Loiterer #32!

In my usual way after spending some time on an intricate excavation of the full meaning of an Austen allusion, I reread what I had written, and was prompted to Google different word combinations in order to dig up additional interesting wrinkles from the Internet.

When I Googled "Crawford Mansfield Bastille", however, I never dreamt that I was going to be brought to something so supportive of my claims as the following passage in (the recently deceased) Jon Spence's _Becoming Jane Austen_, on P. 53:

"...Jane Austen was to give some of these 'French' qualities to Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park, a novel that has connections to Eliza de Feuillide and to themes found in The Loiterer. In the winter of 1788-89, Eliza [de Feuillide] was "la princess lointaine" in Henry's imagination, and he enjoyed adoring her, far away and unobtainable; but between March and the end of the summer circumstances changed, and he began to see Eliza in a different light. As early as February, Eliza and her mother were planning to return to England from Paris in June for about a month. They arrived on July 7, just one week before the fall of the Bastille on 14 July, signalling the beginning of the French Revolution. Eliza and Phila and three year old Hastings remained in England. Eliza's return threw Henry into confusion. He thought she was pursuing him. In September, he writes as "Rusticus", a rich but (as the name suggests) inexperienced country bumpkin. "

In my previous post, I claimed that the following passage in Mansfield Park Chapter 4 was a key element in the multipart, veiled allusion to the storming of the Bastille, hididen in plain sight by Jane Austen in the subtext of the novel:

"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."

Now I think you see why I found Spence's account of Eliza de Feuillide in 1788-9 so exciting. Long before Spence wrote the above passage, it had been established by multiple Austen scholars that there was a strong allusion to the real life Eliza de Feuillide in the character of Mary Crawford. But now, the meme of the Bastille takes this connection to a whole 'nother level of intensity. Just as Mary and Henry Crawford arrive at Mansfield Park in July and quickly induce chaos and destabilization in the rigid order left behind by Sir Thomas in the "Bastille" known as Mansfield Park, so too, do Eliza and her mother arrive home in England from France at almost the exact moment in actual history that the real life Bastille was stormed and the chaos of the French Revolution ensued! That these fictional and historical arrivals by the real life Eliza, and by her fictional representation Mary, both from far away, both in July, both connected to the storming of the Bastille, is _not_ a coincidence!

But there's even more to this, which was suggested to me by Spence's references to the Loiterer, which was published during almost the same time period, 1789-1790.

First, here is what Walton Litz had to say (about #32 of The Loiterer)in Litz's 1961 article:

"One of the liveliest essays in The Loiterer is Henry's letter from Rusticus (No. 32), which gives a comic turn to the periodical's social criticism. Rusticus is a simple man who has spent his life in the country, and he now writes to The Loiterer to ask advice on the complications that have followed a recent visit to the country estate of a cousin. There he found two fashionable but ageing daughters who were intent upon snaring him. The younger and more attractive, Miss Betsy, nearly succeeded, but her plans were disrupted at the crucial moment when a sudden puff of wind carried away two luxuriant tresses from her chignon. With this shock the 'delicate thread of sentiment and affection was broken', and Rusticus escaped from his cousin's house a single man. But now he has received word that the cousin and his daughters are soon to visit him; what can he do? The Loiterer recommends flight. In this brief satire Henry, approaches the spirit and pace of the juvenilia, and...Miss Betsy asks Rusticus if he has read 'The Sorrows of Werter or the new Rousseau'...."

First and foremost, I note (hardly to anyone's surprise at this point, I would hope) that the date of Loiterer #32 is September 5, 1789---i.e., only six weeks after the storming of the Bastille, and less than two months after Eliza's return to England from France!

Those who are still with me now may wish to read the entire Loiterer #32 here:

But suffice to say to those who do not read it that the situation is, as Spence observed, reminiscent of what happens between Henry Crawford and the Bertram girls during the early stages of Mansfield Park, and so we may thereby add yet another rich strand to the braided allusion to the Bastille in Mansfield Park, by weaving Loiterer #32 in. As to what it all means, well, that is where the fun really begins--What I find most significant, perhaps, is that Jane Austen so frequently and densely revisited not only her own Juvenilia, but also the Loiterer, and also (as I have argued in may prior posts) the Austen family charades, thus creating yet another of her patented, delicious, layer cakes of allusion.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode onTwitter

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