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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

If I Were a Rich Girl: Marianne & Elinor Dashwood (& Jane Austen) on Wealth & Happiness] REDUX

In reply to my previous post stating that Marianne's transformation about money, "It of course reflects back with the darkest irony on Fanny Dashwood’s rant about the evils of annuities in Chapter 2.”, Diane Reynolds wrote the following in Janeites & Austen L:

“I am struck anew at JA"s scathing--and broad-- satire. She never missed a beat when it came to money--and this "mutation" on the part of Marianne mirrors her half-brother's "mutation" on giving his mother and sisters a piece of his fortune--when it comes to  money, JA says, we all want it, no matter how we might rationalize otherwise. Marianne moves from:
[Marianne] “…What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?"
"Grandeur has but little," said Elinor, "but wealth has much to do with it."
"Elinor, for shame!" said Marianne, "money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned."
TO....[about ten sentences later}
"I wish," said Margaret, striking out a novel thought [wicked on JA's part!], "that somebody would give us all a large fortune apiece!"
"Oh that they would!" cried Marianne, her eyes sparkling with animation, and her cheeks glowing with the delight of such imaginary happiness.
"We are all unanimous in that wish, I suppose," said Elinor, "in spite of the insufficiency of wealth."
"Oh dear!" cried Margaret, "how happy I should be! I wonder what I should do with it!"
Marianne looked as if she had no doubt on that point."

Exactly, Diane! Thank you for amplifying explicitly what I only implied in passing. Indeed it shows that JA used the word “annuity” as a textual bread crumb to link these two passages separated by eighteen intervening chapters, and prompt sharp readers to think about deeper thematic parallels of this kind.

You made clear how Marianne’s rapid but unconscious mutation, from scorn for money to rhapsody about what she’d do with a lot of it, is the perfect ironic bookend to Fanny Dashwood’s totally calculated Goneril-like gradual leading of husband John by the nose into the darkest depths of rationalized greed. Marianne wants to believe she is the exact opposite of John vis a vis worship of Mammon, and yet JA shows us that Marianne is also vulnerable---and disturbingly quickly---to rationalization in this vein, just like her elder half-brother.

And the two passages are even more tightly intertwined, upon further examination. It’s almost as if JA wanted us to first imagine Marianne overhearing Fanny’s Chapter 2 performance, and thinking that it confirmed her worst opinions about Fanny; and then she also wanted us to imagine the reverse—i.e., to  imagine Fanny overhearing Marianne’s Chapter 20 performance, and Fanny also thinking that it confirmed HER worst opinions about Marianne—i.e., she’d say to John, “You see, there’s a perfect example of what happens when you give some people an annuity”!

Which turns these two passages into a kind of delayed meta-conversation!

Diane also wrote: "One wonders if Marianne really would ever give out an annuity--such as after she marries Brandon? What do we think? "

However, having acknowledged the family resemblance between Marianne and John vis a vis their greed for money, I believe that they are merely “half-siblings” in this regard, as well as in blood. I.e., I think Marianne would, if wealthy, have been a patron of the arts, and I don't think she could have been led by the nose by anyone into giving up such philanthropic notions, either. I think Marianne's own greedy tendencies were half as strong as John’s, and therefore would not be sufficient to permit the destruction of her empathy for those less fortunate, and her generosity of spirit, virtues which her brother was utterly lacking in.

And I still come back to the Austen autobiography hiding in plain sight in both of these “annuity” bookends in S&S. I have previously opined that Jane Austen wrote that masterful expose of Fanny’s malevolent power over husband John in Chapter 2 of S&S as a condemnation of the way her own sister in law, Mary Lloyd Austen, led her own brother, James Austen, by the nose, into ripping off his parents and sisters in a half dozen significant ways, when they moved from Steventon to Bath in early 1801...

…and now I see that JA was, in the later S&S annuity passage pointing to her younger self via the character of Marianne Dashwood. JA was examining her own character, and acknowledging in herself a desire for sufficient wealth to be able to enjoy life without the kind of restrictions  (on mobility and freedom, the two rational benefits of having enough money which I think JA yearned for) which actually afflicted her in real life on a daily basis, and stymied her ability to get published for many years.

And…it also now occurs to me, perhaps JA also looked at wealthy friends in her local female network, and fantasized about how lovely it really would be if one of them decided to share a bit of her wealth with JA, with the explicit intention of providing literary sponsorship to JA, so that JA would have the best working conditions for producing her fiction.

And finally, I can also just imagine James Austen, in a moment of conscience in late 1800, suggesting to wife Mary that JA was a very talented writer, who would suffer greatly from the loss of her father’s library upon the move to Bath (as Nancy so rightly suggested last week), and so perhaps it would be the Christian thing to do to help finance a move of the full library to Bath, where JA could have free access to it. Whereupon Mary would then have led him by the nose into a reevaluation of JA’s talent as a writer, and JA need for a large library to work from. To paraphrase Fanny Dashwood:

“She will have few books of her own, and hardly any access to libraries of anyone else. But she is not so well educated anyway, and would barely have use of great literature in writing her small novels about very little of consequence—in which, by the way, James, she is extremely disrespectful, in a sneaky way, toward family and friends to whom she ought to express thanks for tolerating her quirks. So as to you giving her more of your father’s books, it is quite absurd to think of it. They will be much more able to give YOU something, you being the truly gifted writer in the family."

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: I love the pun on “novel” when we read:  "I wish," said Margaret, striking out a novel thought, "that somebody would give us all a large fortune apiece!"  Indeed, it is a thought expressed in a novel about providing financial patronage to writers of novels!

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