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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, June 22, 2012

"...principally by Tom...": Tom Bertram Closet Embroiderer

In Chapter 16, Fanny retreats to her "nest" and angsts over whether to yield to the pressure to participate in the amateur theatricals, and we then read the following:

"It would be so horrible to her to act that she was inclined to suspect the truth and purity of her own scruples; and as she looked around her, the claims of her cousins to being obliged were strengthened by the sight of present upon present that she had received from them. The table between the windows was covered with work-boxes and netting-boxes which had been
given her at different times, principally by Tom; and she grew bewildered  as to the amount of the debt which all these kind remembrances produced."

What caught my eye this time around were the words "principally by Tom"--why in the world would Tom (as opposed to Maria or Julia) be the principal donor of numerous gifts (so many that they cover the table) to Fanny, presumably over a period of time, of _female_ things like work-boxes and netting-boxes?

Before sending this post, I checked the Janeites and Austen L group archives, and see that 2 years ago, the sharp-eyed Diane Reynolds posed that very same question:

"...and the work and netting boxes, mostly from Tom (what does that mean?), on her table."

Now, some will immediately claim that making Tom the donor of these boxes was authorial expediency on JA's part, since the theatricals are Tom's  inspiration and darling project, so JA had to find some way of making Fanny feel obligated specifically to Tom.

But I categorically reject all such diminishments of JA's authorial  integrity, suggesting that she would be so slovenly in her work product (particularly in regard to items used for embroidery and sewing, crafts which depend on minute attention to small details!), and so I am led to ask, Why Tom in particular? What might JA have been trying to bring out  about him in this subliminal way?

And one explanation that immediately comes to mind is that Tom (however secretly) might himself have been using those netting boxes and work boxes, because he enjoyed exercising his creativity in these traditionally female ways!

And then, when he grew up and perhaps put these hobbies behind him, what  was he to do with these boxes? Sure he could have tossed them, but perhaps he felt a sentimental attachment to them, and preferred to give them to an appreciative donee, which I am sure Fanny was, every time he gave her one. And also, Fanny would be a discreet donee, one who would not blab all over the place about who gave the gifts to her, especially if Tom asked her not to tell, taking the role of a giver of charity who did not wish to draw
attention to his charity.

Which of course relates right back to my previous speculations as to Tom's  gender orientation, such as:

So, as usual, attention to JA's minute details, the ones that seem to be throwaways, leads straight to significant subtextual meaning!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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