This post is for those who enjoy a speculative leap into the textual unknown:
Near the end of Chapter 42 of MP, we read the following, immediately
after the famous passage in which Henry Crawford asks Fanny for advice
as to how he should handle the troubling possibility of self-dealing and
breach of fiduciary duty by his steward, Maddison, but Fanny refuses to
advise him, urging him instead to listen to his _own_ conscience:
"[Crawford] could say no more, for Fanny would be no longer detained. He
pressed her hand, looked at her, and was gone. He went to while away the
next three hours as he could, with his other acquaintance, till the best
dinner that a capital inn afforded was ready for their enjoyment, and
she turned in to her more simple one immediately."
What caught my eye for the first time this time around were the phrases
"with his OTHER acquaintance" and "ready for THEIR enjoyment."
I checked back and I am pretty sure JA never mentioned _any_
acquaintances of Henry who might be passing through Portsmouth that
evening (and think about it, if the acquaintances were living _in_
Portsmouth, they would not need to arrange a dinner at an inn, right?
They'd dine at the home of those "other acquaintances").
So, going on my tried and true assumption that when JA mentions an
unnamed character in passing, as an apparent throwaway detail, it just
might be a minor character we have _already_ encountered elsewhere in
the novel---and sometimes might even be one of the other _major_
And it took me about 2 seconds to realize who Henry's "other
acquaintance" almost certainly was-----Maria Bertram Rushworth herself!
After all, it is only four chapters (and, I believe, about three weeks)
later that Fanny learns, to her horror, that Maria has eloped with Henry
to parts unknown.
It would make perfect sense that the elopement did not happen
spontaneously in one day, it had to be planned. And so I believe the
initial post-marital adultery between Maria and Henry occurred _that_
evening in Portsmouth---that would have been just the kind of illicit,
daring flouting of conventional morality which the caged "starling"
Maria, suffocating in her marriage to Rushworth, would have found
intoxicatingly arousing. Just think here of Diane Lane's very unhappily
married wife in the film Unfaithful, after she meets an intoxicatingly
attractive Frenchman who offers her gratifications which she cannot
resist, despite the risks.
So....how Satanic does this make the jaded pervert, Henry Crawford, that
at the very moment he has come oh-so-close to making a hole in Fanny's
heart, i.e., getting within hailing distance of winning her over--that's
when he gets some kind of perverted kick out of first putting on the
dog-and-pony show of asking Fanny for moral advice--an anecdote he
will, perhaps, share with Maria that evening in order to get her both
jealous and aroused, all of which will make a rousing prelude to an
evening of passionate love with Fanny's married cousin, even as Fanny
despairs over her own humble origins, thoughts which mirror Elizabeth
Bennet's despair over _her_ family's "warts"!
If Henry has done what I suggest, then he reminds me strikingly of Al
Pacino's Satan in The Devil's Advocate---to make a hole in the heart of
a virtuous young woman, all the while getting ready for a roll in the
hay with her wild cousin--that's.....very bad!
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P.S.: And....while I'm indulging in creative speculation, I also took
note of the _other_ reference to unnamed acquaintance in Chapter 42,
earlier that same day, when Henry shows up out of the blue and attends
church services with Fanny and the other Prices:
"Mrs. Price took her weekly walk on the ramparts every fine Sunday
throughout the year, always going directly after morning service and
staying till dinner-time. It was her public place: there she met her
acquaintance, heard a little news, talked over the badness of the
Portsmouth servants, and wound up her spirits for the six days ensuing."
She met her acquaintance, heard a little news.....I can't help but
wonder whether Mrs. Price has sized Henry up and has decided she doesn't
want Henry to marry Fanny, so perhaps she has--shades of Mrs. Yonge in
P&P---operated behind the scenes, working through those unnamed
acquaintances, so as to facilitate Henry and Maria having a late night
liaison at the "capital inn"? I.e., has Mrs. Price in some way acted as
a "middleman" so as to tempt Henry away from Fanny before he can seal
the deal with her?
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