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

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Mrs. Grant & Mary Crawford (and Jane Austen & Martha Lloyd) Lovers

In response to my claim yesterday that Mrs. Grant and Mary Crawford are somehow sexually involved with each other in Mansfield Park, Diane wrote:  “Yes, I agree--and have often thought--that Mrs. Grant's (repressed) sexual interest goes in the direction of Mary.”
Diane, that’s great, I had no idea you saw that too, you never mentioned it before that I can recall! By the way, I recalled after I posted my claim yesterday, that I had already posted about Mrs. Grant as a lesbian (without connecting her to Mary, however) last October….
… that post, which I clunkily entitled “Brandon’s Brother’s Pleasures, Charlotte’s Opinion of Matrimony, Mrs. Grant’s Manners, Emma’s Object of Interest, Catherine’s Feelings, & Elizabeth’s Affection: Jane Austen’s Parallel Indirections in All Six Novels About Same-Sex Love”.  
More specifically, I had forgotten having written this in that post:
“I started to think about what sort of phrases JA used to refer to unacceptable behavior, and that’s when I instantly recalled Lizzy’s thoughts about Charlotte’s opinions of matrimony, which I had blogged about within the last year. And then, realizing that indeed there had to be more such winks, I searched the phrase “OUGHT TO BE” or “OUGHT TO HAVE BEEN” in JA’ s novels, and immediately found the above passages from MP, Persuasion, and NA—and then the passage in Persuasion reminded me of the passage in Emma.  In each case, I suggest that the “ought” (and in Emma, the directly expressed negative opinion) is about a same-sex relationship that is hinted at in a negative way….”

It’s so clear to me that the Jane Austen Code operates according to these sorts of associative, analogical principles, in which a repetition of a pattern of phrasing or wordplay across all the novels is often, if not always, a major hint of repetition of hidden theme across all the novels. So, recognizing the same code that identifies Charlotte as a lesbian also identifies Mrs. Grant. In a crossword puzzle, this sort of clueful patterning has no extrinsic meaning, but in JA’s fiction, it is always  thematic, it means something, and it means something important, important enough for JA  to go to the trouble of hiding it in plain sight.

But back to Mary and Mrs. Grant filling each other’s voids and chasms, so to speak (and those are JA’s own sexual puns, by the way, not mine!): what with Nancy’s acknowledging the plausibility of my claim, and now Ellen chiming in with support as well, we are halfway to a minyan of those just in these groups who don’t run screaming from the room at the very suggestion of Mrs. Grant and Mary as a sexual couple. 
Anyone else want to help us make it a full minyan (or should I say, chorus?)  ;)
I also have been saying for nearly 10 years what Ellen just wrote this morning about JA and Martha Lloyd having a lesbian vibe at the center of their decades-long relationship – so of course JA would obliquely but repeatedly reflect in her fiction this intense, enduring relationship that was at the center of her own real life! If she wasn’t ever allowed to express her feelings for Martha publicly, then at least she was going to express it covertly and repeatedly in her fiction—just take what Marianne says to Elinor and transpose it as follows:
"Yes—no—never absolutely. It was every day implied, but never professedly declared. Sometimes I thought it had been—but it never was."
"Yet you wrote to him?"—
"Yes—could that be wrong after all that had passed?— But I cannot talk."
Indeed JA could not talk about it openly, could never professedly declare it. But she could imply it in every one of her novels!
Diane also wrote: “What backs this up for me is Austen's web of suggestion--first, Mrs. Grant's tiring of  
her plants and poultry and decorating immediately bring to mind the sexually ambiguous Charlotte Lucas setting up housekeeping with her own clergyman husband.”

Precisely so, and my October 2013 post draws that parallel between Charlotte and Mrs. Grant.

Diane also wrote: “We note too that the Grants are childless--as the Norrises were. One wonders if in both cases this was an "arrangement" of two people disinterested in sex with each other. “

I have seen that particular dynamic in several of JA’s novels – don’t forget the Churchills in Emma and the Allens in NA —these are all representations, I believe, of the childless Knights who adopted  Edward Austen (and also Lord Mansfield and his wife, who adopted their white and biracial great-nieces) from real life. Who knows what JA really thought about the cause of that childlessness in each such instance, as she portrayed them in her novels.

Diane also wrote: “Second, the sexually ambiguous Tom suggesting that Mrs. Grant is in want of a lover --and putting Mrs. Grant together with Yates, another sexually ambiguous character--hints that Tom has a sixth sense about Mrs. Grant. Mary strikes me as the clueless one in this novel.”

As to Tom, it’s more than a sixth sense—recall that MP, like all of JA’s novels, is told from the point of view of the clueless heroine, so we see what happens at Mansfield Park through the mind of Fanny, who is DEEPLY in denial as to all sorts of sexual matters, including her own sexual attraction to both Mary AND Henry, and also as to some of the other forbidden sexual undercurrents swirling around her.

I see all the sexually closeted characters in each of JA’s novels as being “strange bedfellows” in a social political sense, i.e., they are all involuntary members of a kind of club or party, where what they all have in common is a need to remain concealed from the watchful, punitive eyes of the defenders of the homophobic status quo—in MP, that would be Sir Thomas, in NA, that would be General Tilney.

So, even if they all don’t particularly like each other, no one is going to “out” any of the others, for fear of being outed in retaliation.

But there is leakage, it’s not the Mafia, there is no enforcement mechanism like Omerta. So Tom, when he explicitly suggests to Fanny that Mrs. Grant is in want of a lover, is a lot like Frank Churchill (another sexually ambiguous male character, by the way) making Jane Fairfax squirm, by going  right up to the edge of revealing her secrets to Emma. Rozema really got Tom’s character, he is actually a sensitive, insightful, artistic personality, who has suffered horribly from being the heir apparent to a depraved, hypocritical monster, like the son of a Mafia don. Tom is driven to gambling and alcoholism by the never ending dread of having to take over the Antigua slave plantation one day from his father. And he has developed a whistleblower’s temperament—he is Hamlet, he is Jane Austen.

Just as Mary C (who is the very opposite of clueless, I disagree with you—e.g., she is totally conscious of her own lesbian courtship of Fanny, it’s Fanny who is clueless about it) winks at Henry’s putting the moves on William Price as the “price” of William’s naval promotion with her “rears and vices” joke. Mary has been abused by her uncle, she has seen awful things, she knows that it’s no joke, it’s real, but Fanny of course cannot hear what Mary really means.
And now thinking about  all of the above, I think Mary and Tom would one day make a perfect marriage of convenience, where the world would see a heterosexual marriage, that would give each of them cover to carry on, discreetly, whatever same sex relationships they wished.

Fascinating stuff!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

No comments: