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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mr. Price's cordial hug

I don't know about the rest of you, but I never previously gave any thought to Fanny Price's drinking _any_ sort of alcoholic drink (did Rozema show Fanny as drinking at any point in her 1999 adaptation?), but I stumbled upon a passage today---having found something else in it which I won't complicate matters by describing here and now----that caused me to delve into this topic of Fanny and alcoholic beverages for the first time.

The passage is in Chapter 46, not far from the end of the novel, and comes right after Fanny reads Edmund's eagerly awaited letter. Fanny is still exiled in Portsmouth, and after Edmund first reports the bad news that Maria and Henry have still not yet been located, and further that Julia has also eloped with Yates, he then abruptly changes course 180 degrees and reports that Sir Thomas has authorized Fanny's return to Mansfield Park, accompanied by Susan.

Here is Fanny's reaction:

"Never had Fanny more wanted a cordial. Never had she felt such a one as this letter contained. To-morrow! to leave Portsmouth to-morrow! She was, she felt she was, in the greatest danger of being exquisitely happy, while so many were miserable. The evil which brought such good to her! She dreaded lest she should learn to be insensible of it. "

Never had Fanny more wanted a cordial? This passage is startling (at least to me) and almost sounds like a cliche,  the modern version would be something like "Never had Fanny more wanted a stiff drink"!  But what then _really_ caught my eye were the words "Never" and "more". Why? Because, when you pause and think about them, they imply that this is far from the first time in her still young life that Fanny has wanted a cordial. It appears, in fact, that Fanny has _often_ wanted a cordial, going back quite some time in order to justify the word "Never", presumably to settle her nerves after some nerve-wracking experience or other.

When you think about it, who _wouldn't_ be driven to consume copious amounts of alcohol by the lethal cocktail of Sir Thomas and Aunt Norris???

And that fruitful line of inquiry led me to quickly scan through the text of MP, looking for any _other_ hints  lurking there about Fanny's drinking, to see if I might find some other tantalizing references to Fanny's relationship with alcohol, and it turned out that Chapter 7 was the mother lode:

"...if Edmund were not there to mix the wine and water for [Fanny], would rather go without it than not...."

The above describes Fanny's pouting internal monologue, as she struggles with her jealous feelings toward Mary and Edmund and their "spirited" horseback riding adventures. And again, as in the Chapter 46 passage, JA is subtly careful to hint at an ongoing family tradition of Edmund mixing wine and water for Fanny to consume, presumably every day or close to it. But.. I for one was relieved by Fanny's drinking diluted wine, because, even tiny as she is, she is probably not getting drunk from it.

But then, later in that same Chapter 7, after the infamous Fanny-swelters-while-stooping-among-the-roses episode, Fanny imbibes some wine, and no mention is made of whether Edmund dilutes it or not--my guess is that he does _not_ :

"Edmund said no more to either lady; but going quietly to another table, on which the supper-tray yet remained, brought a glass of Madeira to Fanny, and obliged her to drink the greater part. She wished to be able to decline it; but the tears, which a variety of feelings created, made it easier to swallow than to speak."

And perhaps there are other passages in MP  in a similar vein which I have not as yet figured out how to sleuth out, but I think it's now crystal clear that JA means for us to know that Fanny, for all her prim and proper ways,  is _not_ a teetotaller. Why JA would choose to subtly underscore this aspect of Fanny is a question I will leave for another time, but of course anyone who wants to take a stab at it responding to me now would be most welcome!

Regardless, I did find  one _other_ passage in MP which, even though it does not report any drinking of alocoholic beverages by Fanny, nontheless, upon close examination, seems to be an integral part of this particular matrix of covert subtext in Mansfield Park.

This passage, which appears in Chapter 38, describes Fanny's first reunion with her father in Portsmouth after a decade away:

"With an acknowledgment that he had quite forgot her, Mr. Price now received his daughter; and having given her a cordial hug, and observed that she was grown into a woman, and he supposed would be wanting a husband soon, seemed very much inclined to forget her again. Fanny shrunk back to her seat, with feelings sadly pained by his language and his smell of spirits; and he talked on only to his son, and only of the Thrush, though William, warmly interested as he was in that subject, more than once tried to make his father think of Fanny, and her long absence and long journey."

Is it just a coincidence with the Chapter 46 passage I quoted at the start of this message which reports Fanny's need for a "cordial", that the hug which Mr. Price gives Fanny is described as "cordial"? Sure it can mean "cordial" in the sense of "polite", but, given that we hear in the very next sentence about Mr. Price's "smell  of spirits", I think it's safe to say that JA was having a little darkly ironic fun here, punning on "cordial" so as to convey, subliminally, that Fanny would have been most repulsed by her father's smell of spirits at the moment of that unavoidable hug. A hug which reeked of cordials! And perhaps part of Fanny's feeling of disgust has some strong whiff of Freudian repression about it, as she knows that she herself is not averse to imbibing liquor!

So, I hope you'll agree with me that Mr. Price's cordial hug, which might at first have seemed uninteresting, turned out to be a "bread crumb" (or should I say a "shot", as in a shot of liquor?) was worth considering!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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