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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Not Baddeley Done: The Connected Butlers of Mansfield Park & Lovers Vows

In my haste to finish my last post and run out the door, I forgot to add the final touch I had intended for it, so I will provide it now.

For a number of years, I've been claiming that the character of Sir Thomas Bertram is in no small part based on the character of Baron Wildenhaim in Lovers Vows, most of all in that BOTH Mansfield Park AND Lover's Vows contain replays of the Mousetrap scene in Hamlet, as follows:

VERSION ONE: Hamlet contrived, via a scene from The Murder of Gonzago that Hamlet has rewritten, to confront his uncle Claudius with a staged reenactment of Claudius murder of old King Hamlet, in order to catch Claudius's conscience for that primal crime;

VERSION TWO: Baron Wildenhaim is confronted by the return of Frederick with his own primal crime, which was to seduce and then abandon Frederick's mother Agatha, and the Rhyming Butler's subversive and suggestive rhymes are part of the way that the Baron is forced to acknowledge his wrongdoing.

VERSION THREE: (my claim) Tom Bertram stages Lovers Vows precisely so as to confront HIS father, Sir Thomas, with HIS crimes, which include but are not limited to, various shadowy seductions and abandonments which have resulted in several of his illegitimate offspring being scattered among the families of his wife's sisters, and elsewhere. Not to forget that Sir Thomas runs a slave plantation where human beings are treated worse than farm animals.

As you surely took note, VERSION THREE is the only one of these three interpretations which is not widely accepted, because it is not overt, it is subtextual. And so it's a big deal to me on those rare occasions when I come across any additional parallels between Sir Thomas and Baron Wildenhaim, which bolster my controversial speculative claim.

And that's where the two butlers come in. I suggest to you all that it is NO coincidence that one of Lover's Vows's most unique aspects is its famous Rhyming Butler, AND that Mansfield Park just happens to be the one Austen novel which has a butler, Baddeley, who is actually a significant character, even taking into account his short time onstage in the novel.

I say to you that it is part and parcel of that three-tiered veiled allusion by JA that Austen's baronet and Kotzebue/Inchbald's baron both have butlers who at times are pretty cheeky to their "betters" and who interject themselves into important aspects of the action, instead of keeping a very low profile like the rest of the servants.

And to show you how important Mrs. Inchbald considered the role of the Rhyming Butler, here's what she wrote about that character in the Preface to Lover's Vows:

"...the dangerous insignificance of the Butler in [Kotzebue's] original embarrassed me much. I found, if he was retained in the Dramatis Personae, something more must be supplied than the author had assigned him: I suggested the verses I have introduced; but not being blessed with the Butler's happy art of rhyming, I am indebted for them, except the seventh and eleventh stanzas in the first of his poetic stories, to the author of the prologue..."

And so I will conclude by following Mrs. Inchbald's lead and avoiding any attempt at rhyming on my own, but instead by providing you with my favorite verses from among the many spoken by the Rhyming Butler:

       Then you, who now lead single lives,
            From this sad tale beware;
         And do not act as you were wives,
              Before you really are."

That’s a moral that perhaps the future Mrs. Price and Mrs. Norris might have heeded a generation earlier, in their dealings with the young Sir Thomas Bertram.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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