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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, November 30, 2012

Jane Austen channeling Mansfield Park's Fanny and Mary in Letter 89


In Austen-L, Ellen Moody wrote:  "Beattie's The Hermit is a lovely melancholy poem about someone wanting to escape not just the boredom and triteness of social life, but the hypocrisies of wealth, status and losing himself in the natural world. I can see Fanny Price reading it - "

Although Ellen, in writing the above, was not responding to my last post about Jane Austen's quoting of lines from two poems in Letter 89.....

...her comment about Beattie's The Hermit being the kind of poetry Fanny Price would have read fits  really nicely---but in ways that I suspect Ellen would not agree with--with my argument that JA, in quoting from Beattie and from Cowper (of course, a known favorite poet of Fanny Price), is reflecting her own feelings of isolation at Godmersham.

Ellen's comment made me realize that Jane Austen, nearly age 38, freshly arrived at Godmersham for the first time in years, is in some interesting ways very much like Fanny Price, age 8, freshly arrived at Mansfield Park. Surely JA, who was deeply into the writing of MP by the time she was writing Letter 89, was expressing some of  her own feelings through the character of the young Fanny.

Or....maybe I should reconsider that--maybe more apt and intriguing would be to think of JA, at age 38, as being more like the young woman Fanny, age 18, returning to Mansfield Park from exile in Portsmouth, to eventually  become the mistress of Mansfield Park?

Or.....quirkier still, the independent, "saucy" tone of JA's feminist appropriation of Cowper's poem in Letter 89, reminds me most of all of Mary (Crawford) arriving at Mansfield Park, from the getgo utterly unafraid to tweak the beard of power chez Bertram:

"I am now alone in the library, mistress of all I survey; at least I may say so, and repeat the whole poem if I like it, without offence to anybody."

When, in my last post, I interpreted her quotation of Cowper as a thinly veiled satire of the heartless, greedy snobbery of Godmersham, in my haste I had not even noticed that last bit: "without offence to anybody".

Hmm....those who have or would read that merely as JA, creepmouse like Fanny, being glad she could safely recite a poem aloud without bothering anybody with the noise, are surely guilty of not suspecting JA enough of ulterior meaning.

So I conclude in the end, that it's more Mary than Fanny whom JA is channeling in Letter 89---JA in the library (or in the subtext of Letter 89) is free to mock Edward & Company with impunity, because the latter are not only deaf to the acoustical sound of her voice in the library, they are even more profoundly deaf to her fierce, but veiled, critique of their way of life.

And, alas, I fear that Fanny Knight is included among the tone deaf, even as she is often JA's physical companion in the library itself. I think of them like Miss Bates and Emma--Emma believing she fully understands all their is to know about Miss Bates, but Miss Bates actually being the one with full awareness, floating above Emma on a magic carpet of words that conceal her true self from the girl not yet worthy to understand.

So Letter 89 is, in this sense, an epistolary celebration of the near-to-completed Mansfield Park, with a dash of the soon to be written Emma for good measure!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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