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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mary WOLLSTONECRAwForD’s palpable verbal hits on Edmund BURKEtram (who had skewered Richard PRICE): Jane Austen’s Political Name Game in Mansfield Park

[be sure to read the PPS which I added at 5:10 PST and which gives credit to another Austen scholar's 1999 flagging of several aspects of the Name Game described in this post]

One month ago…
…I made a prima facie and original case for Mary Crawford as Jane Austen’s thinly veiled, favorable representation of the real life Mary Wollstonecraft. I based my case largely on the complex allusion to Milton’s Satan that Wollstonecraft wove into her 1792 Vindication of the Rights of Woman. I argued  that Jane Austen deliberately amplified Wollstonecraft’s allusion, deploying Henry and Mary Crawford as a two-headed “Satan” who collectively and intentionally stir up great unrest and even revolt among the “angels” living under Sir Thomas’s godly tyranny in that ersatz Eden called Mansfield Park.

Yesterday, as my Subject Line hints, I connected an additional dot, and in this post I will carry my case for Mary Crawford as Mary WOLLSTONECRAFT forward a quantum leap, in part by showing how Jane Austen added Edmund Burke (and Richard Price) to the rich allusive stew bubbling just beneath the surface of Mansfield Park.

My little epiphany was prompted by an unrelated Google search, which led me to a passage in Wollstonecraft’s 1790 publication, the one that catapulted her to public notoriety, A Vindication of the Rights of Men. And that passage caught my eye because of its striking resonance to some of Mary Crawford’s irreverent comments which so scandalize Fanny. Let’s see if you sense that resonance as well. First here, is Mary Wollstonecraft (I have not edited down, because I want you to really taste the full flavor of her rhetoric):

“You must have known that a man of merit cannot rise in the church, the army, or navy, unless he has some interest in a borough; and that even a paltry exciseman's place can only be secured by electioneering interest. I will go further, and assert that few Bishops, though there have been learned and good Bishops, have gained the mitre without submitting to a servility of dependence that degrades the man.—All these circumstances you must have known, yet you talk of virtue and liberty, as the vulgar talk of the letter of the law; and the polite of propriety. It is true that these ceremonial observances produce decorum; the sepulchres are white washed, and do not offend the squeamish eyes of high rank; but virtue is out of the question when you only worship a shadow, and worship it to secure your property.
Man has been termed, with strict propriety, a microcosm, a little world in himself.—He is so;— yet must, however, be reckoned an ephemera, or, to adopt your figure of rhetoric, a summer's fly. The perpetuation of property in our families is one of the privileges you most warmly contend for; but it would not be very difficult to prove that the mind must have a very limited range that thus confines its benevolence to such a narrow circle, which, with great propriety, may be included in the sordid calculations of blind self-love.
A brutal attachment to children has appeared most conspicuous in parents who have treated them like slaves, and demanded due homage for all the property they transferred to them, during their lives. It has led them to force their children to break the most sacred ties; to do violence to a natural impulse, and run into LEGAL PROSTITUTION to increase wealth or shun poverty; and, still worse, the dread of a parental malediction has made many weak characters violate truth in the face of Heaven; and, to avoid a father's angry curse, the most sacred promises have been broken. It appears to be a natural suggestion of reason, that a man should be freed from implicit obedience to parents and private punishments, when he is of an age to be subject to the jurisdiction of the laws of his country; and that the barbarous cruelty of allowing parents to imprison their children, to prevent their contaminating their noble blood by following the dictates of nature when they chose to marry, or for any misdemeanor that does not come under the cognizance of public justice, is one of the most arbitrary violations of liberty.
Who can recount all the unnatural crimes which the laudable, interesting desire of perpetuating a name has produced? The younger children have been SACRIFICED to the eldest son; sent into exile, or confined in convents, that they might not encroach on what was called, with shameful falsehood, the family estate. Will Mr. Burke call this parental affection reasonable or virtuous? —No; it is the spurious offspring of over-weening, mistaken pride—and not that first source of civilization, natural parental affection, that makes no difference between child and child, but what reason justifies by pointing out superior merit.
Another pernicious consequence which arises from this artificial affection is, the insuperable bar which it puts in the way of early marriages. It would be difficult to determine whether the minds or bodies of our youth are most injured by this impediment. Our young men become selfish coxcombs, and gallantry with modest women, and intrigues with those of another description weaken both mind and body, before either has arrived at maturity. The character of a master of a family, a husband, and a father, forms the citizen imperceptibly, by producing a sober manliness of thought, and orderly behaviour but; from the lax morals and depraved affections of the libertine, what results?—a finical, man of taste, who is only anxious to secure his own private GRATIFICATIONS, and to maintain his rank in society. 
The same system has an equally pernicious effect on female morals.—Girls are sacrificed to family convenience, or else marry to settle themselves in a superior rank, and coquet without restraint with the fine gentleman whom I have already described. And to such lengths has this vanity, this desire of shining, carried them, that it is not now necessary to guard girls against imprudent love matches; for if some widows did not now and then fall in love, Love and Hymen would seldom meet, unless at a country church.
I do not intend to be sarcastically paradoxical when I say, that women of fashion take husbands that they may have it in their power to coquet, the grand business of genteel life, with a number of admirers, and thus flutter the spring of life away, without laying up any store for the winter of age, or being of any use to society. Affection in the marriage state can only be founded on respect— and are these weak beings respectable? Children are neglected for lovers, and we express surprise that adulteries are so common! A woman never forgets to adorn herself to make an impression on the senses of the other sex, and to extort the homage which it is gallant to pay, and yet we wonder that they have such confined understandings.
Have ye not heard that we cannot serve two masters; an immoderate desire to please contracts the faculties, and immerses, to borrow the idea of a great philosopher, the soul in matter, till it is unable to mount on the wing of contemplation.”  END QUOTE

In essence, Wollstonecraft tears down the false, hypocritical façade which masks the corruption and evil that undergirds the social structure of the English patriarchy.

And now here are some of the passages in Mansfield Park which, I believe will now be obvious, are nothing less than Jane Austen’s elegant, subtle crystallization of Wollstonecraft’s impassioned didacticizing into Mary Crawford’s playful, sparkling, witty, and yet equally profound and thought-provoking, aphoristic style.

Chapter 9:
[Mrs Rushworth]: “…It is a handsome chapel, and was formerly in constant use both morning and evening. Prayers were always read in it by the domestic chaplain, within the memory of many; but the late Mr. Rushworth left it off."
"Every generation has its improvements," said Miss Crawford, with a smile, to Edmund.
…"It is a pity," cried Fanny, "that the custom should have been discontinued. It was a valuable part of former times. There is something in a chapel and chaplain so much in character with a great house, with one's ideas of what such a household should be! A whole family assembling regularly for the purpose of prayer is fine!"
"Very fine indeed," said Miss Crawford, laughing. "It must do the heads of the family a great deal of good to force all the poor housemaids and footmen to leave business and pleasure, and say their prayers here twice a day, while they are inventing excuses themselves for staying away."
"That is hardly Fanny's idea of a family assembling," said Edmund. "If the master and mistress do not attend themselves, there must be more harm than good in the custom."
"At any rate, it is safer to leave people to their own devices on such subjects. Everybody likes to go their own way—to chuse their own time and manner of devotion. The obligation of attendance, the formality, the restraint, the length of time—altogether it is a formidable thing, and what nobody likes; and if the good people who used to kneel and gape in that gallery could have foreseen that the time would ever come when men and women might lie another ten minutes in bed, when they woke with a headache, without danger of reprobation, because chapel was missed, they would have jumped with joy and envy. Cannot you imagine with what unwilling feelings the former belles of the house of Rushworth did many a time repair to this chapel? The young Mrs. Eleanors and Mrs. Bridgets—starched up into seeming piety, but with heads full of something very different—especially if the poor chaplain were not worth looking at—and, in those days, I fancy parsons were very inferior even to what they are now."
For a few moments she was unanswered. Fanny coloured and looked at Edmund, but felt too angry for speech; and he needed a little recollection before he could say, "Your lively mind can hardly be serious even on serious subjects. You have given us an amusing sketch, and human nature cannot say it was not so. We must all feel at times the difficulty of fixing our thoughts as we could wish; but if you are supposing it a frequent thing, that is to say, a weakness grown into a habit from neglect, what could be expected from the private devotions of such persons? Do you think the minds which are suffered, which are indulged in wanderings in a chapel, would be more collected in a closet?"
"Yes, very likely. They would have two chances at least in their favour. There would be less to distract the attention from without, and it would not be tried so long."
"The mind which does not struggle against itself under one circumstance, would find objects to distract it in the other, I believe; and the influence of the place and of example may often rouse better feelings than are begun with. The greater length of the service, however, I admit to be sometimes too hard a stretch upon the mind. One wishes it were not so; but I have not yet left Oxford long enough to forget what chapel prayers are."
"If Edmund were but in orders!" cried Julia, and running to where he stood with Miss Crawford and Fanny: "My dear Edmund, if you were but in orders now, you might perform the ceremony directly. How unlucky that you are not ordained; Mr. Rushworth and Maria are quite ready."
Miss Crawford's countenance, as Julia spoke, might have amused a disinterested observer. She looked almost aghast under the new idea she was receiving. Fanny pitied her. "How distressed she will be at what she said just now," passed across her mind.
"Ordained!" said Miss Crawford; "what, are you to be a clergyman?"
"Yes; I shall take orders soon after my father's return—probably at Christmas."
Miss Crawford, rallying her spirits, and recovering her complexion, replied only, "If I had known this before, I would have spoken of the cloth with more respect," and turned the subject.

Chapter 11:
[Mary] "Your father's return will be a very interesting event."
[Edmund] "It will, indeed, after such an absence; an absence not only long, but including so many dangers."
“It will be the forerunner also of other interesting events: your sister’s marriage, and your taking orders.”
“Don’t be affronted,” said she, laughing, “but it does put me in mind of some of the old heathen heroes, who, after performing great exploits in a foreign land, offered SACRIFICES to the gods on their safe return.”   END QUOTES

I think it clear, without further unpacking, why reading Wollstonecraft and Austen one after the other is sufficient to significantly bolster my case for Mary Crawford as Mary Wollstonecraft. But, there was one point troubling me—who exactly was the “You” whom Mary Wollstonecraft was addressing so angrily in her 1790 Vindication? Until yesterday, never having studied Wollstonecraft’s writings systematically, I had been completely unaware of one significant fact regarding A Vindication of the Rights of Man. And it is a fact hidden in plain sight in the subtitle of that screed, which gives the answer to the question of the identity of Wollstonecraft’s addressee:
in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, occasioned by his Reflections on the Revolution in France”
So, Wollstonecraft did not write her breakout publication out of the clear blue sky, she wrote it as a stinging, passionate rebuttal to the very famous Reflections of Edmund Burke on the French Revolution early in 1790, which were, I further learned, themselves a rebuttal to Richard Price’s A Discourse on the Love of our Country. So the ball was thrown, as it were, from Price to Burke toWollstonecraft in pretty short order in that fateful year 1790.
I retired last night mulling that tidbit over, and when I awoke this morning, my subconscious had done its work, and I flashed on the extraordinary wordplay Jane Austen has engaged in with her character names—she had not only transformed MARY WollstoneCRAFT into MARY CRAwForD, she had also changed EDMUND BURke into EDMUND BERtram, and Richard PRICE into Fanny PRICE.
Richard Price was the famous, outspoken political reformer/radical who viewed the French Revolution as a fulfillment of prophecy and was savagely attacked for his outspoken views, in caricatures such as this one, with Burke as a conflation of both Hamlet and the Ghost of his dead father King Hamlet, “Smelling out a Rat”:
And I have gone on long enough to stop here. I will leave for a followup post an unpacking of the many implications of the above epiphany, but any Janeite who knows MP well can already use what I’ve written to seek out those implications yourselves in the interim.
What I will conclude with is my own observation that it’s easy for me to imagine the peals of laughter that Jane Austen must have let out while writing the above-quoted dialog in Mansfield Park. Her dramatization of several debates on various social issues which occur throughout Mansfield Park are nothing less than parodies of the very high profile, controversial, and significant debates in the real public life of Great Britain, which were carried on by real life participants whose names are all three parodied by JA! It’s  roman a clef wedded to satire and theatre, AS IF Richard Price, Edmund Burke, and Mary Wollstonecraft were all three actually sitting in a salon together, sipping tea and engaging in civil, careful conversation  face to face, rather than engaging in their actual vitriolic, public, asynchronous, written debate as they did in that fateful 1790. In that year, JA was 14, and, it should be evident, observing the wider world with her extraordinary deep insight. It’s easy to see how she was inspired by such observations to write her own parodic History of England not long afterwards. Now I suggest we can see the link between that youthful parody, and the mature genius-level parody in MP.
So much for the obstinate and/or cluleless blindness of any Austen scholar still maintaining, with a straight face, that Jane Austen was not engaged with the Big Picture of politics, social ferment, and revolution in the Europe she observed as a teenager and young woman during the tumultuous 1790s, or that she ceased to care about all of that during her mature Chawton years!
Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode onTwitter

P.S.: For those who want a bit more background and don’t want to be troubled to go to Wikipedia, here is my culling of relevant facts about Burke’s Reflections, to give an idea of what Wollstonecraft was responding to so angrily:

 “In the Reflections, Burke argued that the French Revolution would end…he was contemptuous and afraid of the Enlightenment…saying that society should be handled like a living organism, that people and society are limitlessly complicated…A dominant theme in Reflections is that the French were not upholding the rights accorded to all men, like the American revolutionaries that he supported…As a Whig, he expressly repudiated the belief in divinely appointed monarchic authority and the idea that a people have no right to depose an oppressive government; however, he advocated central roles for private property, tradition, and "prejudice" (i.e., adherence to values regardless of their rational basis) to give citizens a stake in their nation's social order. He argued for gradual, constitutional reform, not revolution (in every case except the most qualified case), emphasizing that a political doctrine founded upon abstractions such as liberty and the rights of man could be easily abused to justify tyranny. He saw inherited rights… as firm and concrete providing continuity (like tradition, "prejudice", inheritable private property), by contrast enforcement of 'speculative' abstract rights might waver and be subject to change based on currents of politics. Instead, he called for the constitutional enactment of specific, concrete rights and liberties as protection against governmental oppression. In the phrase, "[prejudice] renders a man's virtue his habit", he defends people's cherished, but untaught, irrational prejudices (the greater it behooved them, the more they cherished it). Because a person's moral estimation is limited, people are better off drawing from the "general bank and capital of nations and of ages" than from their own intellects. He predicted that the Revolution's concomitant disorder would make the army "mutinous and full of faction", and then a "popular general", commanding the soldiery's allegiance, would become "master of your assembly, the master of your whole republic"…Napoleon fulfilled this prophecy…two years after Burke's death….Reflections was read widely when it was published in 1790…[and] drew a swift response, first with Vindication, and then with Rights of Man (1791) by Thomas Paine. Nonetheless, Burke's work became popular with reactionaries such as King George III.”  

I was just following up to my post after I wrote it, by looking through the Janeites archives, and found that back in 2011 I had posted in this general subject area, and then Anielka Briggs brought forward the following excerpt from a post of hers from 1999, for which I give her credit now re spotting a great deal of JA's name game in Mansfield Park:

[Anielka Briggs in another online venue in 1999] ""I just found your excellent posting about Mary Wollstencraft versus Jane Austen and I wondered, am I the only person on earth to get the joke? Do you yourself see it? Or is it just coincidence that you see them as so very different?...Look at the coincidences, Mary had a drunken and physically abusive father of ordinary means whose  grandparents were rich but whose family were downwardly mobile. She fell into the company of the minister Richard Price and other leading figures of the day who helped crystallise her (already strong) ideas. She also had an obsessive relationship with a woman called Fanny Blood which she (apparently) wrote about in a book called /Mary: A Fiction/ where the characters were called Mary and Ann. Now where have we heard that story and those names? I can assure you that Price is not in any of the other genealogical pedigrees that Jane used. (And what about Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine?) It's staring us right in the face. She takes Mary Wollstencraft's own desire to "Persuade" and cleverly works it into her last two books." END QUOTE 
So, based on the above, what I bring to the mix that is fresh is the further realization as to the 1790 public debate among Price, Burke and then Wollstonecraft, which gives meaning and context to the name game that Anielka first spotted in 1999.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Reading that passage of Wollstonecraft, I am struck by this bit: "women of fashion take husbands that they may have it in their power to coquet, the grand business of genteel life, with a number of admirers, and thus flutter the spring of life away, without laying up any store for the winter of age, or being of any use to society" as description of Maria Bertram.
I do not doubt that Austen did too.