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Friday, February 10, 2012

Fear and Trembling Before Opening a Door in Mansfield Park and Jane Eyre

I was just browsing in the archives of Austen L and Janeites to ferret out any additional, prior inklings of Jane Eyre as a reworking ofMansfield Park, and I struck gold with two posts from long ago by Dorothy Gannon, who has not been active in either group since 2001 (does anyone know if she is still a member, or if she is still alive?).

Shortly said, Dorothy (1) was spot-on in her 1998 post in noting yet another pair of parallel passages in MP and Jane Eyre (hesitating & gathering courage before opening a door and enduring anticipated punishment from a domestic tyrant), and (2) was in her 1999 post within a hair of realizing that the reference to Roman emperors in Ch. 2 of Jane Eyre that she quotes had its “twin” in Ch. 2 of MP, as I pointed out in my last post. But Dorothy never actually does tip her hand as to whether she believes any of these parallels are accidental or were intended by Bronte.

As you read Dorothy's 1998 post, you will want to refer back to the following passage in MP described by Dorothy, where Fanny fears to open the door to go speak to Sir Thomas right after his unexpected return from Antigua:

"Fanny was left with only the Crawfords and Mr. Yates. She had been quite overlooked by her cousins; and as her own opinion of her claims on Sir Thomas's affection was much too humble to give her any idea of classing herself with his children, she was glad to remain behind and gain a little breathing-time. Her AGITATION and alarm exceeded all that was endured by the rest, by the right of a disposition which not even innocence could keep from suffering. She was nearly fainting: all her former habitual dread of her uncle was returning, and with it compassion for him and for almost every one of the party on the development before him, with solicitude on Edmund's account indescribable. She had found a seat, where in excessive TREMBLING she was enduring all these fearful thoughts............Fanny was just beginning to collect herself, and to feel that if she staid longer behind it might seem disrespectful, when this point was settled, and being commissioned with the brother and sister's apology, saw them preparing to go as she quitted the room herself to perform the dreadful duty of appearing before her uncle. Too soon did she find herself at the drawing-room door; and after pausing a moment for what she knew would not come, for a courage which the outside of no door had ever supplied to her, she turned the lock in desperation, and the lights of the drawing-room, and all the collected family, were before her....."

It is indeed obvious that Charlotte Bronte, sly covert alluder that she is, has made sure to leave a sufficiently savory "bread crumb" to catch the eye of a sharp close reader like Dorothy.

Otherwise, I leave Dorothy to express in her own words her own very interesting insights into the parallels between Jane Eyre and Mansfield Park, which I assert only redouble the certainty of Bronte's intention to create them.

Cheers, ARNIE @JaneAustenCode on Twitter

First post by Dorothy Gannon, 10/27/98:

“People have compared Fanny Price to Jane Eyre, a character whose situation resembles hers in many ways, but one whom most people find somehow easier to swallow……[L]ast week, I reached for _Jane Eyre_ as an effective distraction, and was struck by the following:

“I now stood in the empty hall; before me was the breakfast-room door, and I stopped, intimidated and TREMBLING.What a miserable little poltroon had FEAR, engendered of unjust punishment, made of me in those days!I feared to return to the nursery, and feared to go forward to the parlour; ten minutes I stood in AGITATED hesitation:the vehement ringing of the breakfast-room bell decided me; I _must_ enter."

Fanny Price has an almost identical experience, standing outside a door and waiting for the courage to enter.She is often thought of as being deeply self-analytical, perhaps overly religious; Jane Eyre is almost evangelical. Austen would probably die before she would write such lines in a novel as "What my sensations were, no language can describe; but just as they all arose, stifling my breath and constricting my throat, a girl came up and passed me: in passing, she lifted her eyes.What a strange light inspired them!What an extraordinary sensation that ray sent through me!How the new feeling bore me up!It was as if a martyr, a hero, had passed a slave or victim, and imparted strength in transit.I mastered the rising hysteria, lifted up my head, and took a firm stand on the stool . . ."

Aunt Norris is Fanny Price's Mr Brocklehurst.Fanny is insulted, used, physically deprived, told she is not to think herself as good as her cousins. Like the child Jane Eyre, she is unable to articulate her objections to this hateful woman (when Edmund and she talk about her going to live with her aunt; Edmund performs the function of Jane's servant caretakers, in telling Fanny she ought to be pleased or happy when she simply cannot be).

But unlike Fanny Price, Jane Eyre tells her own story -- the narrator is a mature, articulate woman who has sympathy and affection for her former self. Mr Lloyd, the apothecary, asks the child what makes her so miserable, what things are making her unhappy? He asks, "Can you tell me some of them?" and the narrator says, "How much I wished to reply fully to this question!How difficult it was to frame any answer!Children can feel, but they cannot analyse their feelings; and if the analysis is partially effected in thought, they know not how to express the result of the process in words. . ."

We feel sympathy for this child, in spite of the fact that she is a bit of a complainer.Granted, she's got plenty to complain about, but Bessie and the other servants have obviously heard it all before -- it's not so black and white to them -- and when she tells her history to Miss Temple, the narrator admits it is partly fatigue that keeps her from getting on her old soap box. Yet the reader really feels 'with' Jane Eyre, as we rarely do with Fanny Price.

Jane Austen's detachment keeps us from getting quite first-person close to Fanny Price; and throughout _MP_ the narrator keeps slipping behind Mary Crawford's eyes as well-- sometimes we feel we are to identify with Fanny, and at others we can't help but see Mary's point of view. I think all of these things add up to our keeping a little bit of a distance from Fanny Price.There is nothing large or dramatic about her, she makes no flamboyant gestures, she has no temper that needs to be corrected.Neither, actually, does Jane Eyre:we are allowed to witness her one hour of rebellion, for in reality she is a submissive girl who declares to Helen Burns that "to gain some real affection from you, or Miss Temple, or any other I truly love, I would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken, or to let a bull toss me, or to stand behind a kicking horse, and let it dash its hoof at my chest ".

Like Fanny, she is a submissive girl who grows to be a submissive woman (though still passionate).Her most effective means of acting, finally, in life is by resisting, retreating.But we begin, as I said, by being witness to her rebellion against Mrs Reed.It is perhaps the most appealing thing about Jane Eyre, but of course, it is her swan song at Gateshead.It is what causes her to be ejected from the house of her wealthy relatives.”END QUOTE

Second post by Dorothy Gannon, Sept. 11, 1999:

“Fanny and Jane Eyre…are in fact much more similar than one tends to remember, but there is an important distinction in their situations.Rachel says, "But Jane Eyre differs in that she cherished "the germs of indignation at their treatment, of contempt of their judgement" -- and for that we applaud her.We admire the outbursts of passionate rage from the underdog when she is wronged."

But Jane Eyre's aunt and cousins are far more crude and brutal than the Bertrams:

"I instinctively started aside with a cry of alarm:not soon enough, however; the volume was flung, it hit me, and I fell, striking my head against the door and cutting it.The cut bled, the pain was sharp; my terror had passed its climax; other feelings succeeded."'Wicked and cruel boy!' I said.'You are like a murderer--you are like a slave driver--you are like the Roman emperors!'"

These people are pretty nasty.Of course we applaud Jane for rebelling.Next to them Aunt Norris looks like a piece of cake.Fanny is 10 when she is brought to Mansfield; Jane is 10 when she is sent away to school.Her talking back, her resisting being put into the red room was "a new thing for me."This is the first time Jane has rebelled:her previous faults lie in being so different from her cousins, "physically inferior," in needing to acquire a "more sociable and childlike disposition, a more attractive and sprightly manner" (Mrs Reed speaking - now _that_ sounds more like aunt Norris).It is only when John Reed's brutality gets extreme that Jane finally fights back. We're not privy to her years of meekly suffering this.I won't say I cannot believe any child would stand for such treatment, because, sadly, many children do- but I think the Fanny and Jane comparison can only be stretched so far.I believe the fictional character Jane Eyre would have been happy to be at Mansfield, little noticed except by kindly cousin Edmund and occasional barb from aunt Norris, and to forgo the hysterics, rebellion and fireworks.”END QUOTE

1 comment:

Teresa said...

I did a little digging (though not too deeply, so I could be wrong but I think my guess is a possibility)

I read the rest of the letter closely and it clearly shows that Cassandra was away from home. Cassandra always struck me as unworldly and rather a homebody (reasons that I think don't need to be delved too deeply into right now, but we probably know why). The only place Cassandra would have went was to stay with was brother Edward to take care of the numerous Knight children.

However, for a time, it appears that young Edward and George Knight went to stay in Southampton with Aunt Jane (perfect timing as a bed was free in such a crowded house). It occurred to me that the cravats could have been intended for the boys if they were there then, or if they were expected there in the future.

When Jane mentioned her wants, it made me think that she meant she had a project in mind. Perhaps embroidery of initials or a little extra sewing to these cravats.

I was just at Chawton last month and examples of Jane's needlework were all over the house and it was pointed out more than once that Jane was VERY proficient with her needle.

Just my two cents...