(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mr. Price's Cordial Hug and....Mr. Woodhouse's Unsullied Cordiality!

Nancy: "Of course fanny wasn't a teetotaller. That wasn't even much considerd except among the Quakers. Everyone drank wine. Children of an age to eat at the table when no guests were expected, had their wine diluted. It was gradually made with less water until they had adult glasses of wine."

All the same, I don't think I am the only Janeite who would be surprised to know that Fanny drank regularly, even diluted wine. The more I reflect on it, the more I think it is a classic, characteristic JA irony, with some sophisticated anticipation of Freud thrown in, to depict Fanny's visceral disgust at her father's drunken aroma in such a subversive way---it would indeed make perfect psychological sense for Fanny to repress away any resonance between her father's crude drinking and her own genteel drinking, especially the resonance based on a very real commonality between them- we can readily infer that Mr. Price's drinking to excess is fueled in part by his lifelong lower class status, and his resentful anger toward rich powerful people far above him in status, like Sir Thomas; and I can certainly imagine that part of what might have given Fanny a strong taste for alcoholic beverages would be her own (totally justified) sense of having been abused and treated like a second class citizen at Mansfield Park for the previous decade.

In short, Fanny has such a strong negative reaction to her parents in part because she unconsciously realizes that she has not climbed so far above them as she might have thought, she is still second class in the eyes of the elite snobs, and so _both_ she and her father take some comfort in alcoholic to drown the very real sorrows they both feel.

Nancy: "A cordiale was not so much a stiff drink as a medicinal draught/ She wanted a composer. A slightly sedative potion."

Was "composer" a term of art in JA's era, to describe a slightly sedative potion? If it was, then that would explain a _LOT_ about the following three passages about Mr. Woodhouse in _Emma_ which heretofore had been totally invisible:

Chapter 1: The wedding over, and the bride-people gone, her father and herself were left to dine together, with no prospect of a third to cheer a long evening. Her father COMPOSED HIMSELF TO SLEEP AFTER DINNER, AS USUAL, and she had then only to sit and think of what she had lost.

Chapter 11: The beginning, however, of every visit displayed none but the properest feelings, and this being of necessity so short might be hoped to pass away in UNSULLIED CORDIALITY. They had not been long seated and COMPOSED when Mr. Woodhouse, with a melancholy shake of the head and a sigh, called his daughter's attention to the sad change at Hartfield since she had been there last. "Ah, my dear," said he, "poor Miss Taylor—It is a grievous business."

Chapter 25: Then turning to Mrs. Weston, with a look of gentle reproach—"Ah! Miss Taylor, if you had not married, you would have staid at home with me." "Well, sir," cried Mr. Weston, "as I took Miss Taylor away, it is incumbent on me to supply her place, if I can; and I will step to Mrs. Goddard in a moment, if you wish it." But the idea of any thing to be done in a /moment/, was INCREASING, not lessening, MR. WOODHOUSE'S AGITATION. THE LADIES KNEW BETTER HOW TO ALLAY IT. Mr. Weston must be quiet, and EVERY THING DELIBERATELY ARRANGED. WITH THIS TREATMENT, MR. WOODHOUSE WAS SOON COMPOSED ENOUGH for talking as usual. "He should be happy to see Mrs. Goddard. He had a great regard for Mrs. Goddard; and Emma should write a line, and invite her. James could take the note. But first of all, there must be an answer written to Mrs. Cole."

I hope my all-caps on certain key phrases makes clear the subversive interpretation that I was led to make by your giving me that unexpected meaning of the word "composer".

The passage in Chapter 1 seems to suggest that Mr. Woodhouse's standard bedtime operating procedure was to take a massive sleeping "composer"!

The passage in Chapter 11 suggests to me that Emma may have slipped her father a "cordial" in order to "compose" him, in preparation for a dangerous bit of verbal combat with his irascible son in law John K--and I just love the pun in "unsullied cordiality", which I see as a "twin" of the pun on Mr. Price's "cordial hug". In this passage, "cordiality" clearly refers _both_ to the desired politeness of the encounter, and also to the medicinal means of achieving that politeness!

Best of the three, the passage in Chapter 25 is a mini-epic in itself, describing the covert medicinal operation conducted by "the ladies' in order to drug Mr. Woodhouse out of his agitation over the prospect of the Coles's dinner party. I.e., the better way to allay Mr. Woodhouse's agitation was to deliberately arrange to administer to Mr. Woodhouse the treatment of a strong cordial, as a result of which he would indeed have soon become "composed" enough for talking as usual!

So, Nancy, as often has been the case, in your rebutting one of my claims, you've actually opened a second door wide open for me, that actually reinforces my original claim--and for this, I thank you once more!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

No comments: