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

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Searching (in vain) for the Real Jane Austen on the Proposed British 10-Pound Note & Exposing the Still-Prevailing 1870 Myth-making of Nephew James Edward Austen Leigh

Searching (in vain) for the Real Jane Austen on the Proposed British 10-Pound Note
& Exposing the Still-Prevailing 1870 Myth-making of Nephew James Edward Austen Leigh

While all Janeites worthy of the name ought to continue to closely monitor and support the progress of Catherine Criado-Perez’s inspiring pushback against abusive, threatening Internet thugs….

…we should also keep our eye on the ball that Ms. Criado-Perez’s initial efforts put in play, i.e., her having led the successful charge to push the Bank of England to agree to put Jane Austen on the new 10-pound note in 2017.

I see that a few informed commentators, like Janine Barchas…

…are echoing my own bill of attainder against the Bank…..

…for its staggeringly bad choices for the images and words they (tentatively, I hear---I sure hope so!) plan to put on the proposed British 10-pound note in 2017, in honor of Jane Austen.  If we don’t get them to correct each of the three major gaffes, then the honor will be a hollow one, as it won’t be true to the ethos of the greatest female writer in English literary history, but instead will be an empty paean to the mythical personage invented after her death by some of her closest family members!

However, let’s be realistic. The commentaries of a handful of informed Austen scholars like myself and Barchas, are still largely invisible and unknown to the vast majority even of informed literate people in the English speaking world, who continue to buy into the false stereotype about Jane Austen which the current concepts promulgated by the Bank of England would only perpetuate and even expand. So it’s really important that these critiques be spread far and wide on the Internet, if the kind of pressure is to be brought on the Bank to get it right the second time around.

As I previously have noted, there is a sad irony in that the one thing that most of the comments about the new banknote, both pro and con, agree about, is that Jane Austen was not particularly feminist, not particularly interested in the wider world, and, worst of all, that even though she did not come from money, somehow she was totally comfortable with the sharp economic divide of her world between the haves and the have nots (which latter group included her!).

As I noted in my above linked post about the three large errors by the Bank, using the fake image of Jane Austen on the note would take us back 143 years to the primary architect of the mythical Jane Austen was her nephew, James Edward Austen Leigh (or JEAL), whose 1870 Memoir of Jane Austen was the primary vehicle for generating that mythology. It was an amazingly successful bit of propaganda.

I have previously blogged on several occasions about the clearly intentional editorial distortions and outright lies that JEAL promulgated in the Memoir, such as these…

And that’s only skimming the surface. I want to conclude by bringing to your attention what I believe to be the best treatment out there in print on the subject of JEAL’s deceptions in the Memoir--- Searching for Jane Austen (2004), by Emily Auerbach.

My source for what follows are Chapter 1 of her book, entitled  “Dear Aunt Jane: Putting Her Down and Touching Her Up”, but you will find much of that same material in the 2005 print Persuasions, under the title "Searching for Jane Austen: restoring the 'fleas' and 'bad breath'."

Here are some excerpts from Auerbach’s first chapter, which perfectly sum up why the Bank of England should change everything in their planned 10-pound note (while keeping Jane Austen, of course!). Tell me if you don’t get M.A.D. just reading what JEAL did!:

“Book jackets of new Austen studies sport prettified images of her face surrounded with flowers and lace, and comedians joke about men dragged to Austen movies against their wills. Old attitudes die hard. Old texts die hard, too…Internet users [and here I would add, the Bank of England] priding themselves on their state-of-the-art technology unknowingly download not only distorted representations of Austen’s face, but also incomplete or altered versions of her writing. As we will see, Austen’s relatives and early editors would be pleased to know this: they worked hard to sweeten her image, weaken her words, and soften her bite. Paradoxically, JA nowadays seems everywhere yet still hard to find. Hence my title: Searching for Jane Austen.”

And then this about JEAL’s techniques for deception and distortion:

“Like his brother Henry, James Austen emphasized his sister’s mild and traditional feminine nature….His sister did not let her writing inflame her vanity or pride or distract her from completing useful chores, James insisted. James’s son, JEAL, continued this verbal softening in his 1870 Memoir…We are still feeling the effects of the JA myth constructed in 1870 for public consumption ….Noting that her nephews and nieces ‘did not think of  her as being clever’….JEAL emphasizes those qualities considered ladylike …JEAL presents his modest aunt’s occupation as a little hobby for her own amusement and claims she felt no mortification about her lack of early success…”

Then, after detailing the cynical, calculating and unacknowledged editing of the first JA letter JEAL refers to in the Memoir, Auerbach brilliantly concludes:

“In effect, JEAL creates a brilliant Catch-22. After removing references to politics and literature from the letters, he then observes that his songbird-like aunt takes ‘no notice of politics or public events’ and avoids ‘discussions of literature.’ This pattern continues throughout the Memoir…”

Well, it’s time to end the Catch-22, and make sure that the new 10-pound note becomes a ‘teachable moment’ for a new generation of Brits, so that they will not carry the distortions and myths about Jane Austen around literally in their pockets and wallets, but also in their minds, but will instead recognize who she really was, and how worthy she truly is of the honor being bestowed on her legacy.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Anna Savannah & Aunt Jane Austen’s Satires of Brunton’s Best-Selling Melodrama Self-Control

Discussing the passage about Brunton's Self Control in Jane Austen’s 1815 Letter 111 to Anna Austen Lefroy.....

"I will improve upon it; - my Heroine shall not merely be wafted down an American river in a boat by herself, she shall cross the Atlantic in the same way, & never stop till she reaches Gravesent." 

.....Diana Birchall wrote the following today in Janeites & Austen-L:

"[JA] earlier expressed her unease about Self-Control, writing in Letter 72 (5/29/11) to CEA before reading it, " We have tried to get "Self-control," but in vain. I should like to know what her estimate is, but am always half afraid of finding a clever novel too clever - & of finding my own story & my own people all forestalled."...Later, in Letter #91, 1813, (10/11/13) to CEA:  she has read it, and writes, "I am looking over Self Control again, & my  opinion is confirmed of its being an excellently-meant, elegantly-written Work,  without anything of Nature or Probability in it. I declare I do not know whether Laura's passage down the American River, is not the most natural,  possible, every-day thing she ever does.- "

Diana, it is noteworthy that Jane Austen writes about Self-Control three times in letters over a span of four years, and in the latter two instances, zeroes in, as you quoted, on the improbability of Laura's passage down the American River.

I became curious to read the actual passage JA repeatedly mocked. Here it is, it occurs just before the end of the novel, and as you can readily ascertain, it describes the heroine going over a waterfall in a canoe, surviving somehow, and then being rescued promptly thereafter by a witness to her fall. “Improbable” is precisely the word for it!:

“Chapter 33 (near end): The day declined; and Laura, with the joy of her escape, began to mingle a wish, that, ere the darkness closed around her, she might find shelter near her fellow beings. She was not ignorant of the dangers of her voyage. She knew that the navigation of the river was interrupted by rapids. A cataract which broke its course had been purposely described in her hearing. She examined her frail vessel and trembled; for life was again become precious, and feeble seemed her defence against the torrent. The canoe, which could not have contained more than two persons, was constructed of a slender frame of wood, covered with the bark of the birch. It yielded to the slightest motion, and caution was necessary to poise in it even the light form of Laura. Slowly it floated down the lingering tide; and, when a pine of larger size or form more fantastic than his fellows enabled her to measure her progress, she thought that through wilds less impassible her own limbs would have borne her more swiftly. In vain behind each tangled point did her fancy picture the haunt of man. Vainly amid the mists of eve did she trace the smoke of sheltered cottages. In vain at every winding of the stream she sent forward a longing eye in search of human dwelling. The narrow view was bounded by the dark wilderness, repeating ever the same picture of dreary repose.
The sun went down. The shadows of evening fell; not such as in her happy native land blend softly with the last radiance of day; but black and heavy, harshly contrasting with the light of a naked sky reflected from the waters, where they spread beyond the gloom of impending woods. Dark, and more dark the night came on. Solemn even amid the peopled land, in this vast solitude it became more awful. Ignorant how near the place of danger might be, fearing to pursue darkling her perilous way, Laura tried to steer her light bark to the shore, intending to moor it, to find in it a rude resting place, and in the morning to pursue her way. Laboriously she toiled, and at length reached the bank in safety; but in vain she tried to draw her little vessel to land. Its weight resisted her strength. Dreading that it should slip from her grasp and leave her without means of escape, she re-entered it, and again glided on in her dismal voyage. She had found in the canoe a little coarse bread made of Indian corn; and this, with the water of the river, formed her whole sustenance. Her frame worn out with previous suffering, awe and fear at last yielded to fatigue; and the weary wanderer sunk to sleep.
It was late on the morning of a cloudy day, when a low murmuring sound stealing on the silence awoke Laura from the rest of innocence. She listened. The murmur seemed to swell on her ear. She looked up. The dark woods still bent over her. But they no longer touched the margin of the stream. They stretched their giant arms from the summit of a precipice. Their image was no more reflected unbroken. The gray rocks which supported them but half lent their colours to the rippling water. The wild duck, no longer tempting the stream, flew screaming over its bed. Each object hastened on with fearful rapidity, and the murmuring sound was now a deafening roar. Fear supplying super-human strength, Laura strove to turn the course of her vessel. She strained every nerve; she used the force of desperation. Half-hoping that the struggle might save her, half-fearing to note her dreadful progress, she toiled on till the oar was torn from her powerless grasp, and hurried along with the tide. The fear of death alone had not the power to overwhelm the soul of Laura. Somewhat might yet be done perhaps to avert her fate, at least to prepare for it. Feeble as was the chance of life, it was not to be rejected. Fixing her cloak more firmly about her, Laura bound it to the slender frame of the canoe. Then commending herself to heaven with the fervour of a last prayer, she, in dread stillness, awaited her doom. With terrible speed the vessel hurried on. It was whirled round by the torrent—tossed fearfully—and hurried on again. It shot over a smoothness more dreadful than the eddying whirl. It rose upon its prow. Laura clung to it in the convulsion of terror. A moment she trembled on the giddy verge. The next, all was darkness!

Chapter 34: When Laura was restored to recollection, she found herself in a plain decent apartment. Several persons of her own sex were humanely busied in attending her. Her mind retaining a confused remembrance of the past, she inquired where she was, and how she had been brought thither. An elderly woman, of a prepossessing appearance, answered with almost maternal kindness, 'that she was among friends all anxious for her safety; begged that she would try to sleep; and promised to satisfy her curiosity when she should be more able to converse.' This benevolent person, whose name was Falkland, then administered a restorative to her patient; and Laura, uttering almost incoherent expressions of gratitude, composed herself to rest.
Awakening refreshed and collected, she found Mrs Falkland and one of her daughters still watching by her bed-side. Laura again repeated her questions, and Mrs Falkland fulfilled her promise, by relating that her husband, who was a farmer, having been employed with his two sons in a field which overlooked the river, had observed the canoe approach the fall; that seeing it too late to prevent the accident, they had hurried down to the bed of the stream below the cataract, in hopes of intercepting the boat at its reappearance: That being accustomed to float wood down the torrent, they knew precisely the spot where their assistance was most likely to prove effectual: That the canoe, though covered with foam for a moment, had instantly risen again, and that Mr Falkland and his sons had, not without danger, succeeded in drawing it to land. She then, in her turn, inquired by what accident Laura had been exposed to such a perilous adventure; expressing her wonder at the direction of her voyage, since Falkland farm was the last inhabited spot in that district. Laura, mingling her natural reserve with a desire to satisfy her kind hostess, answered, that she had been torn from her friends by an inhuman enemy, and that her perilous voyage was the least effect of his barbarity. 'Do you know,' said Mrs Falkland, somewhat mistaking her meaning, 'that to his cruelty you partly owe your life; for had he not bound you to the canoe, you must have sunk while the boat floated on.' Laura heard with a faint smile the effect of her self-possession; but considering it as a call to pious gratitude rather than a theme of self-applause, she forbore to offer any claim to praise; and suffered the subject to drop without further explanation.”   END QUOTE

Now, to anyone who believes Jane Austen was serious when she wrote, in that 1811 letter to CEA, that she was worried that readers would find Self-Control a “clever” novel which might have “forestalled”  (i.e., scooped) Sense & Sensibility (published later in 1811), and that JA actually felt competitive toward and/or threatened by, Brunton as a formidable literary rival-well, I have a bridge for sale, very cheap, which spans Niagara Falls…..

Seriously….what’s clear from the sting in JA’s irony is that JA considered Brunton a hack, writing popular trash. JA’s irony is particularly sharp, when she refers to the heroine’s survival of a fall over a watery precipice as the most probable event in the novel! In other words, the fatal flaw of Brunton’s novel is not the improbability of the survival of an unsurvivable plunge, but the improbability of the characters and their behavior towards each other. That’s a fatal “fall” in literary skill from which no survival is possible, at least worthy of the name “literature”.

And all of the above is background to a fourth writing by JA referring, obliquely this time, to Brunton’s bestseller---which is the poem JA wrote about niece Anna (interestingly, also the recipient of Letter 111):

Mock Panegyric on a Young Friend
In measured verse I'll now rehearse  The charms of lovely Anna:
And, first, her mind is unconfined   Like any vast savannah.
Ontario's lake may fitly speak  Her fancy's ample bound:
Its circuit may, on strict survey  Five hundred miles be found.
Her wit descends on foes and friends Like famed Niagara's fall;
And travellers gaze in wild amaze,  And listen, one and all.
Her judgment sound, thick, black, profound,  Like transatlantic groves,
Dispenses aid, and friendly shade To all that in it roves.
If thus her mind to be defined  America exhausts,
And all that's grand in that great land  In similes it costs --
Oh how can I her person try  To image and portray?
How paint the face, the form how trace,  In which those virtues lay?
Another world must be unfurled,  Another language known,
Ere tongue or sound can publish round  Her charms of flesh and bone.

Although neither Brunton nor Self Control is explicitly mentioned, there is an obvious resonance in terms of American aquatic imagery that suggests that JA was alluding to them again in this little poem, and Kathryn Sutherland, in 2002, was thinking along similar lines:

"The geography of the poem––‘Ontario’s lake’, in fact the smallest of the five Great Lakes, ‘Niagara’s Fall’, and ‘transatlantic groves’ (groves beyond the Atlantic)––represents a popular, even hackneyed, setting for romantic adventure in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. See, for example, Charlotte Smith, The Old Manor House and Mary Brunton, Self-Control, to which JA makes amused reference in a letter to Cassandra…”

I think Sutherland is correct that Charlotte Smith was lurking in the back of JA’s mind as well, given that the following passage in Smith's The Old Manor House refers to "an extensive savannah" along the banks of a great North American river:

"This was on the banks of the river St Lawrence, at a spot where it was about a mile and a quarter over. The banks where they encamped were of an immense height, composed of limestone and calcined shells; and an area of about an hundred yards was between the edge of this precipice, which hung over the river, and a fine forest of trees, so magnificent and stately as to sink the woods of Norway into insignificance. On the opposite side of the river lay AN EXTENSIVE SAVANNAH, alive with cattle, and coloured with such a variety of swamp plants, that their colour, even at that distance, detracted something from the vivid green of the new sprung grass: beyond this the eye was lost in a rich and various landscape, quite unlike any thing that European prospects offer; and the acclivity on which the tents stood sinking very suddenly on the left, the high cliffs there gave place to a cypress swamp, or low ground, entirely filled with these trees; while on the right the rocks, rising suddenly and sharply, were clothed with wood of various species; the ever-green oak, the scarlet oak, the tulip tree, and magnolia, seemed bound together by festoons of flowers, some resembling the convolvuluses of our gardens, and others the various sorts of clematis, with vignenias, and the Virginian creeper; some of these already in bloom, others only in the first tender foliage of spring: beneath these fragrant wreaths that wound about the trees, tufts of rhododendron and azalea, of andromedas and calmias, grew in the most luxuriant beauty; and strawberries already ripening, or even ripe, peeped forth among the rich vegetation of grass and flowers. On this side all was cheerful and lovely – on the other mournful and gloomy…”

In addition to the subtle parody of Brunton’s uninspired prose in JA’s poem, I just also noticed that the last two lines are a clever parody of Bottom’s hyperbolic (and Paulian) pronouncements upon awakening:

But back to Brunton. JA, sharp, retentive reader that she was, was well aware that Brunton was not only a hack writer, but also that her writing was "inspired" by Smith’s superior productions----(e.g., Brunton's uncompleted last manuscript was entitled Emmeline, the same title as Smith's much earlier and very famous novel of the same name. Plus, Self-Control’s heroine is named "Laura Montreville", and Montreville was the name of a male character in Smith's Emmeline)

So I guess this was why JA chose to point to both Smith and Brunton in her poem, and it also tells me that Anna was in on the entire joke, and was expected by her aunt to pick up on all the nuances of Anna as a heroine in an American adventure by Smith or Brunton, as Anna worked on the writing of…..Which is the HEROINE”!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Better the false positives of Paula Byrne about Jane Austen, than the false negatives of Delrdre Le Faye

 In Janeites and Austen L today, Diana Birchall wrote as follows:
"My reading group has just finished The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne. I was prepared to dislike it, because of all the publicity Byrne whipped up about that questionable
portrait, and her general way of proceeding; however, I have to concede that the book is actually an excellent companion when reading the Letters. At our meeting we went through all the errors and misreadings she makes (and there is quite a list), but we all liked the book's approach, which was interesting, provocative, and more fruitful than reading another straight biography. Importantly, she does make many really good connections about things in the letters that Deirdre [Le Faye] does not address. It's worth reading. "

I then responded as follows:

“…that's exactly what I have said about Byrne's biography on a couple of occasions during the past six months, including the following post I wrote about 2 months ago about Jane Austen’s Letter 105, which illustrates the good work that Byrne has done, which makes up for her sloppiness on other points---it's easy for an informed reader to correct a false positive, but there's no easy cure for a reader to correct a false negative (as to which there must be more than a hundred in Le Faye’s editions of the Letters, and in her Family Record)! :

"Here is what Paula Byrne has to say about the Hampson family in her very recent bio of JA:

“[Jane] Austen was intimately connected with the slave trade and plantation owners. In her own family, there were the Hampson and the Walter cousins on her father’s side…Her closest connection to a plantation family was through her father’s family...The Hampson family had a plantation in Jamaica, and two of William’s sons were sent there.  It was their sister Philadelphia Walter (named after their aunt) who preserved Eliza de Feuillide’s letter...In one of her few surviving letters, Mrs. Austen wrote to Phila Walter, whom she considered her ‘third niece’, complaining that “You might as well have been in Jamaica keeping your Brother’s house, for anything that we see or are likely to see of you.” In 1773 Mrs. Austen wrote to Susannah Walter to say that she was sorry to hear about Sir George Hampson’s accident and that she hoped he would still be able to take Susannah’s son George back to Jamaica with him the following spring. Sir George, the sixth Baronet of Taplow, was Rebecca Hampson’s nephew. He married Mary Pinnock of Jamaica and was succeeded by his son, Sir Thomas Hampson. In other words, Jane Austen had a cousin twice removed who was called Sir Thomas and who owned a plantation in Jamaica.” END QUOTE

That “Sir Thomas” is the very fellow who, per Le Faye, wanted to be called “Mr.” , which of course is not how Sir Thomas Bertram felt about such things. Isn’t it very curious, though, that Le Faye referred to him as a republican, but completed omitted any mention whatsoever (even in the detailed Biographical Index entry for the Hampson family) that he was a plantation owner?

It’s hard (no, impossible) to believe that Le Faye was unaware of the Jamaica connection, and yet, Byrne appears to be the first JA biographer to present this crucial fact to the Janeite world. By emphasizing Thomas-Philip’s republican leanings (and I still would very much like to see the actual evidence for same), it’s almost as though Le Faye has chosen a fact about him that would be the furthest thing away from his having owned a plantation in Jamaica. And why might she have done this? It seems clear to me why she would. A reader of Letter 105 who wondered why JA would have wished to avoid seeing her cousin Hampson, and who then read Le Faye's footnote to that passage in Letter 105, would reasonably infer that what JA disliked about the 7th baronet were his republican leanings! Whereas, a reader of Letter 105 who could instead have been informed by a footnote that he owned a slave plantation in Jamaica, would reasonably speculate that what JA disliked about the 7th baronet was his owning a slave plantation--and that would especially be the case if he also was alerted that JA was right in the midst of writing Mansfield Park as she wrote Letter 105!

If all of that doesn't make you wonder about Le Faye's extreme editorial bias in favor of a (fake) conservative image of Jane Austen--someone who would look the other way about slave-owning in her own extended family (remember, this man was one of Henry Austen's major banking guarantors),
but who disliked a man born to privilege who did not wish to be known to the world as such, I don't know what would.

I've always maintained that JA's portrait of Sir Thomas Bertram was most of all that of a hypocrite who talked the talk of a higher morality, but who walked the walk of a greedy mercenary amoral monster. Perhaps Sir Thomas Bertram was a strong representation of Sir (or Mr.) Thomas-Philip Hampson, a portraiture which Henry Austen of all people would have wished never to come to light, given that Henry tried to benefit from the largesse of his slave-owning cousin.

And even today, two centuries later, Le Faye seems to be continuing Henry's project of hiding who JA really was.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: In case anyone was wondering, Le Faye's 4th edition is identical to her 3rd edition of the Letters in terms of the information presented about the Hampson family.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Jane Austen’s & Fanny Price’s Remembrances of Hamlet & Tom Bertram

In my post last night….

…..among other things, I posted about Tom Bertram as the “Hamlet” of Mansfield Park, and in the followup post thereto which I’ll finish tomorrow, I will write, among other things, about Tom as the “Rhyming Butler” of Lovers Vows, who is himself based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

In the interim, though, two related points:

First a correction of one point in my post yesterday---after further Googling, I learned that I am not the first scholar to take note of Mrs. Norris having practically quoted Cottager’s Wife verbatim—that honor belongs to Julian Wilmot Wynne, who, in 1998 wrote the following in his chapter about Mansfield Park in his book Jane Austen and Sigmund Freud: an interpretation:

“...the exchange with Edmund which ends with [Mrs. Norris’s] reflection on Fanny’s dependent situation,  starts by her exclaiming ‘What a piece of work here is about nothing": the formula appears anodyne until or unless we notice it is an almost exact replica of the (first) line in the part Fanny is asked to play in Lovers' Vows: ' "here's a piece of work indeed about nothing!...”

However, as best as I can tell at the moment (I am waiting to receive a copy of his book from ILL, and the snippets I can read online are not conclusive), Wynne did not realize the Hamletian significance of that particular passage---a non-realization which is very ironic, given that Wynne did make an excellent Hamletian catch elsewhere in Mansfield Park, which I’ll describe shortly, below.

Second, it seems I just can’t escape from Tom Bertram, because, even when not looking for more about him, I’ve just found some more significant goodies about him, which warrant their own post.

So I begin with some quick background:

A little over a year ago, I posted about Tom in what, at the time, appeared a totally non-Shakespearean light….

…. under the Subject Line  “ ‘principally by Tom’: Tom Bertram, Closet Embroiderer” .

In that post, in a nutshell (not to be confused with Hamlet’s infinitely spacious, imaginary nut shell), I took note of something curious about Tom buried just beneath the surface of the following passage in Chapter 16 of Mansfield Park:

"It would be so horrible to [Fanny] 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."

Specifically, I suggested that the reference to the numerous embroidery-oriented gifts passed by Tom (the only donor, and the only gifts, to be specifically identified)  to Fanny as hand-me-downs , was evidence--- when viewed alongside other previously noted aspects of Tom’s characterization--- of his being gay or bisexual. My claim was greeted with skepticism by some.

Well, an hour ago, while following up on various Hamletian echoes in the text of Mansfield Park, I came across two new textual clues in rapid succession—one that I recognized as Hamletian from the start, the other that came into focus as having Hamletian aspects, upon examination, and the latter of which greatly bolsters my claim as to Tom Bertram’s sexuality.

First, I realized that the reference to “all these kind remembrances” in the above-quoted passage in Mansfield Park is itself a veiled allusion by Jane Austen to Ophelia’s returning certain gifts to Hamlet--which Ophelia, like Fanny, calls “remembrances”---because he has soured on her:

Ophelia doesn’t want to keep Hamlet’s love-gifts because, as he makes crystal and painfully clear, he doesn’t love her any more. But she chooses not to be direct, and instead opts for the word “re-deliver”, in order to frame her return of gifts as a sort of repayment, as of a debt, rather than the truth, so as to salvage some pride in the aftermath of Hamlet’s cruel jilt.  

Now, what might JA have meant by this particular veiled Shakespearean allusion? There is that same harmonious parallel between Hamlet and Tom that I’ve been fleshing out since yesterday, but the parallel hits a very discordant note in the seeming mismatch between Fanny and Ophelia! After all, Tom has not jilted his little cousin! The incestuous overtones in Mansfield Park are between Fanny and Edmund, and between Fanny and William. And, conversely, the jilter in Mansfield Park is Henry Crawford, and the jiltee is Maria Bertram. But Fanny and Tom---no way, no how, it just doesn’t work, romantically speaking. Tom has never been even remotely hinted as having feelings for Fanny, or vice versa.

But…it’s also for sure that Jane Austen means to raise this echo in the reader’s mind. It’s a puzzlement… until we take Tom out of the picture here, romantically speaking, and instead focus just on Fanny as Ophelia. As I promised, above, I will tell you now that Julian Wilmot Wynne made the following catch regarding yet another parallel between Fanny and Ophelia, besides their shared “remembrance” passages:

“Edmund’s remark ‘We all talk Shakespeare’ is, we shall see, more than JA’s theatrical wink, but there are other echoes of famous lines. Fanny is told “you do not quite know your own feelings” cf
Polonius “I must tell you You do not understand yourself so clearly (Hamlet 1.3)…”

It is Sir Thomas who says that to Fanny in Chapter 32, as he begins his relentless, cruel campaign to pressure her into marrying Henry Crawford. He cannot conceive how she could not feel love and gratitude toward Henry, and so he begins, with characteristic narcissism, by simply telling Fanny she really does love Henry after all—Uncle knows best!

And note now how nicely that aligns alongside Polonius’s advice to Ophelia, before Hamlet breaks up with her. Polonius is just like Sir Thomas in his crude attempt to override his daughter’s feelings about an ardent suitor, even as he gives her the opposite advice, i.e., he warns Ophelia not to trust Hamlet’s “lovers vows”, whereas Sir Thomas pushes Fanny to trust Crawford’s “lovers vows:

And guess what, not long after, Polonius does a uey, and does not hesitate to order Ophelia to come on to Hamlet, in order to find out whether Hamlet is really crazy. So Polonius and Sir Thomas are two men of power who would have absolutely no trouble understanding each other—being a daughter or a niece to one of them is not a good spot to find yourself in!

So…does that end discussion re the allusion by Jane Austen to “remembrances”?  Actually, not. I think there’s another piece, which I saw after further reflection, and rereading of the quoted passage in Chapter 16. I realized that an additional interpretation had been carefully prepared by Jane Austen all along. Even though (characteristically) she never dots the “i”, she expects her readers to do so, and to figure these connections out via close reading and rereading, and taking her textual hints and knots seriously enough to really spend time to properly and satisfyingly unravel them. And that’s what I did.

The other answer is right there in the beginning of the quoted paragraph:

“It would be so horrible to [Fanny] to act that she was inclined to suspect the truth and purity of her own scruples…”

Fanny is still feeling great pressure to perform in Lovers Vows, and an extremely strong feeling of obligation to Tom in particular, because she knows that it is Tom who is the driving force behind the production of Lovers Vows (just as Hamlet is the “stage director” of The Murder of Gonzago at Elsinore). And it was only three chapters earlier that she was subjected to all the intense pressure I described in my preceding post, instigated by Tom’s insistence that it be she who must play Cottager’s Wife.

So, to tie this double-sided first allusion in an elegant bow, it is in fact Tom, as the Hamletian Impresario of Conscience Catching Theatre, to whom Fanny feels indebted, and wonders whether the proper item for her to “re-deliver” to him is her performance in Lovers Vows—and as we learn in the very next chapter, she does wind up deciding to repay her old debts to him, even though her uncle’s return prevents the “repayment” from being made!

(pause for a break…)

Now, I promised you a second allusion for the price of reading one blog post, and so here it is now, and it won’t take long at all. It’s one I found, quite ironically, while searching for a particular Hamletian word in Mansfield Park (which I’ll write about tomorrow). That search led me (coincidentally, or perhaps planned by Jane Austen?) to a passage in Chapter 2, which I now recognize as the bookend to the one in Chapter 16 about the netting-boxes and the work-boxes which comprised Tom’s “remembrances” to Fanny:

Chapter 2: “Edmund was uniformly kind himself; and she had nothing worse to endure on the part of Tom than that sort of merriment which a young man of seventeen will always think fair with a child of ten. He was just entering into life, full of spirits, and with all the liberal dispositions of an eldest son, who feels born only for expense and enjoyment. His kindness to his little cousin was consistent with his situation and rights: he made her SOME VERY PRETTY PRESENTS, and laughed at her.”

It’s that last sentence, in which we learn that Tom Bertram, even as a teenager, was making “some very pretty presents” to Fanny. It fits like a glove with the passage about the netting- and work- boxes.

So...why would Jane Austen go to the trouble of giving these two hints as toTom Bertram’s feminine side, fourteen chapters apart, if it wasn’t significant to her? I suggest it was very significant to her, because these were two key parts of her delicately “embroidered” portrait of Tom as gay or bisexual.

In fact, it has all the telltale signs of a subliminal portrait by Jane Austen, who was the grande dame of such productions! I’ve unearthed so many of them over the past decade, so I have come to recognize her M.O. 

Let’s put it this way: a hack writer would have simply told the reader that Tom was gay; a lesser writer of merit would have placed these two hints in the same paragraph, so that the reader would have to be inattentive not to connect them. But Jane Austen operated according to her own rules, so she placed them fourteen chapters apart, and connected them both to Hamlet to boot, and left all the connections completely implicit, because she was the greatest novelist in history, that’s why!

Cheers, ARNIE
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