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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, December 29, 2014

The answer to my little literary quiz with a twist

The answer to my (yes, trick) question is that there are two good answers, either:
Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (MP)
a combination of Dickens's 2 novels written consecutively in the early 1840's, sandwiched around his US  trip when he witnessed slavery firsthand: Martin Chuzzlewit (MC) and Barnaby Rudge (BR)—with one additional item from Edwin Drood (ED).

I royally screwed up my presentation of the ten points, however, as you can see. My error occurred as I added items from BR and ED to my list that initially only had items from MC, and then I had a senior moment (okay, I'm 62) and just forgot to mention that rather important point in all but one of the points re: BR.

So, having bollixed up the quiz, I will endeavor at least to get the explanation correct in all respects!

My point in noting this striking parallelism is that this confirms, to my satisfaction, my suspicion since several years ago that Dickens had MP strongly on his mind in the early 1840s while writing MC and BR, and in particular Dickens must have deduced Jane Austen’s reason for naming her novel MANSFIELD Park, and he chose to demonstrate that awareness covertly in these two novels of his, and his alluding to Lovers Vows two decades later in ED also suggests to me a long-continuing interest in Mansfield Park.

And, one final point—I believe Dickens also picked up on Jane Austen’s sexual innuendo in Point FIVE, below, pertaining to her subtle double entendre on “hand-organ”,  and then Dickens chose to amplify that sexual double entendre by making Tom Pinchs’ “organ” a running joke throughout the entire length of MC!

With that prelude, here goes:

ONE:  It has a married couple Mr. and Mrs. Norris.
In MP, this is obvious, as Mrs. Norris is a major character, and her husband Mr. Norris is well known for his one action in MP, which is when he dies.
In MC, each member of the Norris family is named in one scene, and Mr. Norris reappears later.

Mrs. Norris has contempt for those who are enslaved (whether literally or metaphorically).
In MP, Mrs. Norris has contempt and other bad feelings for Fanny Price, who is the poor cousin who acts as a de facto house slave for much of the action.
In MC, Mrs. Norris, along with everyone in her family, make horribly racial slurs about enslaved blacks in their collective scene.

THREE: Colonial slavery is mentioned at certain key points, but is not central to the story.
In MP, of course, Sir Thomas owns a slave plantation in Antigua.
In MC, there is discussion of slavery, as noted above.

FOUR: There is a reference (which may or may not be explicit) to strange business in America.
In MP, that’s the cryptic statement that Tom Bertram makes to Dr. Grant.
In MC, there is, as noted above, discussion of slavery in the United States.

FIVE: A man who plays on an organ, and children dance to his music.
In MP, you have this scene where William Price reminisces about dancing with sister Fanny to music from a hand-organ:
"I should like to go to a ball with you and see you DANCE. Have you never any balls at Northampton? I should like to see you DANCE, and I'd DANCE with you if you would, for nobody would know who I was here, and I should like to be your partner once more. We used to jump about together many a time, did not we? when the HAND-ORGAN was in the street? I am a pretty good DANCER in my way, but I dare say you are a better." And turning to his uncle, who was now close to them, "Is not Fanny a very good DANCER, sir?"
Fanny, in dismay at such an unprecedented question, did not know which way to look, or how to be prepared for the answer. Some very grave reproof, or at least the coldest expression of indifference, must be coming to distress her brother, and sink her to the ground. But, on the contrary, it was no worse than, "I am sorry to say that I am unable to answer your question. I have never seen Fanny DANCE since she was a little girl; but I trust we shall both think she acquits herself like a gentlewoman when we do see her, which, perhaps, we may have an opportunity of doing ere long."
"I have had the pleasure of seeing your sister DANCE, Mr. Price," said Henry Crawford, leaning forward, "and will engage to answer every inquiry which you can make on the subject, to your entire satisfaction. But I believe" (seeing Fanny looked distressed) "it must be at some other time. There is one person in company who does not like to have Miss Price spoken of."
True enough, he had once seen Fanny DANCE; and it was equally true that he would now have answered for her gliding about with quiet, light elegance, and in admirable time; but, in fact, he could not for the life of him recall what her DANCING had been, and rather took it for granted that she had been present than remembered anything about her.
In MC, you have this scene which includes reminiscence of Tom and sister Ruth dancing:
So, with a smile upon thy face, thou passest gently to another measure—to a quicker and more joyful one—and little feet are used to DANCE about thee at the sound, and bright young eyes to glance up into thine. And there is one slight creature, Tom—her child; not Ruth's—whom thine eyes follow in the romp and DANCE; who, wondering sometimes to see thee look so thoughtful, runs to climb up on thy knee, and put her cheek to thine; who loves thee, Tom, above the rest, if that can be; and falling sick once, chose thee for her nurse, and never knew impatience, Tom, when thou wert by her side.
Thou glidest, now, into a graver air; an air devoted to old friends and bygone times; and in thy lingering touch upon the keys, and the rich swelling of the mellow harmony, they rise before thee. The spirit of that old man dead, who delighted to anticipate thy wants, and never ceased to honour thee, is there, among the rest; repeating, with a face composed and calm, the words he said to thee upon his bed, and blessing thee!
And coming from a garden, Tom, bestrewn with flowers by children's hands, THY SISTER, LITTLE RUTH, AS LIGHT OF FOOT and heart AS IN OLD DAYS, sits down beside thee.

SIX: Lord Mansfield’s 1772 Somersett decision is strongly hinted at but never explicitly referred to.
In MP, it has been argued many times since Margaret Kirkham first claimed that the novel’s title and eponymous estate was named for Lord Mansfield, and the slavery subtext of MP suggests that famous and very influential legal decision.
In MC, we read the following broad hints in two different passages at the famous language of the Somersett decision:
“He likewise stuck his hands deep into his pockets, and walked the deck with his nostrils dilated, AS ALREADY INHALING THE AIR OF FREEDOM WHICH carries death to all tyrants, and CAN NEVER (UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WORTH MENTIONING) BE BREATHED BY SLAVES. An English gentleman who was strongly suspected of HAVING RUN AWAY FROM A BANK, with SOMETHING IN HIS POSSESSION belonging to its strong box besides the key, grew eloquent upon THE SUBJECT OF THE RIGHTS OF MAN, and hummed the Marseillaise Hymn constantly.”
“Mr Pecksniff's house is more than a thousand leagues away; and again this happy chronicle has Liberty and Moral Sensibility for its high companions. Again it BREATHES THE BLESSED AIR OF INDEPENDENCE; again it contemplates with pious awe that moral sense which renders unto Ceasar nothing that is his; again INHALES THAT SACRED ATMOSPHERE which was the life of him—oh noble patriot, with many followers!—who dreamed of FREEDOM IN A SLAVE’S EMBRACE, and waking sold her offspring and his own in public markets.

SEVEN: Lord Mansfield’s real life is also strongly hinted at.
In MP, it has been argued many times since the late 90’s (and is shown in the recent movie Belle) that Fanny Price is a representation of Elizabeth Dido Belle Lindsay, the biracial grandniece of Lord Mansfield.
In BR, which of course is focused on the Gordon Riots in 1780, Lord Mansfield’s key role in that event is mentioned prominently.

EIGHT: There is specific reference to the burning of books in anger.
In MP, Sir Thomas Bertram burns all copies of Lover’s Vows in anger after his return from Antigua to find his children and their friends staging a home theatrical of Inchbald’s adaptation of Kotzebue’s original play.
In BR, a key point is made about the burning of Lord Mansfield’s priceless library of books by the rioters.

NINE: The novelist alludes to Inchbald's Lovers Vows (but not necessarily in the same novel as the rest of these)
In MP, as noted above, the Lover’s Vows home theatrical is a central episode.
In ED, there is a strong veiled allusion to Lover’s Vows, as noted by Robert Langton in his bio about Dickens’s youth:
In this story again there is evidence of the results of the early readings at Chatham. The Princess Puffer (who dealt in opium) asks both Edwin Drood and Mr. Datchery for a specific sum of money, three-and- sixpence, and in each case succeeds in getting it. Mr. Datchery, however, remarks, "Wasn't it a little cool to name your sum? Isn't it customary to leave the amount open? Mightn't it have the appearance, to the young gentleman—only the appearance— that he was rather dictated to?"
In Mrs. Inchbald's Lovers' Vows, Act III, Scene 1, Baron Wildenheim is asked by a supposed beggar to give him a dollar, and the Baron replies, " This is the first time I was ever dictated to by a beggar what to give him." “

TEN: There is an important character named Tom who is of an artistic nature.
In MP, of course this is Tom Bertram, the eldest son of Sir Thomas.
In MC, of course this is Tom Pinch, who of course is also the organist.

And there you have the ten points which show Dickens really was a closet Janeite, at least when it came to Mansfield Park.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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