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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The shadow story of Easter in JA’s novels & letters

 For those who might be interested today on Easter Sunday, here is a quick summary of Easter in Jane Austen’s novels and letters, viewed through the lens of my admittedly outside-the-box, against-the-grain shadow story theory.

In S&S, as the story is generally understood, it is very shortly after Easter that Marianne Dashwood nearly dies at Cleveland, but then is miraculously “resurrected” and begins her new married life with Brandon no longer a selfish person. But those Janeites who find Marianne marrying Brandon deeply unsatisfying, might see just the opposite—i.e., Marianne marrying Brandon is the true act of self sacrifice, since she doesn’t really love him, but she marries him nonetheless, and in effect then gives up her life as she previously lived it, selflessly, so that Brandon will perform his end of a secret bargain, and make it possible for Elinor to marry Edward. And Marianne never burdens Elinor with the details of any of this.

In P&P, it is actually on Easter Sunday that Darcy and Elizabeth have their famous exchange at Rosings while she plays piano, in which he concludes with his very famous line  “We neither of us perform to strangers.” That’s a very curious decision on JA’s part. Given that I have demonstrated previously that Darcy believes he is engaging in veiled sexual repartee with Eliza, it’s hard to reconcile that exchange occurring on Easter Sunday with the humble religious piety that some (but not myself) ascribe to Jane Austen.
In MP, the old coachman recalls to Fanny that she was scared to death after being mounted on a horse for the first time at Easter six years earlier at age 12:
“Lord bless you! how you did tremble when Sir Thomas first had you put on!"
That seemingly random detail is, I believe, a hint from Jane Austen that Fanny was scared to death at 12—being the start of puberty and sexual maturity--at being required to “mount” (as in Sermon on the Mount) a “horse” of a very different kind---i.e., Sir Thomas himself. And that sexual abuse, which she is powerless to resist, is a horrific cross that Fanny then bears for the next 6 years, until Mary Crawford comes along and subtly empowers her.

Also in MP, “after Easter” is almost a mantra in the latter part of the novel—it is when, curiously, four different seemingly unrelated events are stated to be planned to happen (Fanny’s being fetched by Sir Thomas to return from Portsmouth, Mary’s visit to Mrs. Stornaway, Edmund’s going to London, and Maria leaving the Aylmers). Is it possible that there is some hidden coordination amongst them all, that JA repeatedly hints at?
But then Tom (just like Marianne in S&S) falls seriously ill right before Easter, and then it is at Easter that Maria runs off with Henry, and is in effect crucified by Sir Thomas for this, but then is allowed a limited resurrection with Mrs. Norris later. And Tom, like Marianne, “miraculously” recovers, and, also like Marianne, is now reformed from his former selfishness.
Or was his illness nothing but a fabrication, as part of a larger scheme to evict the Crawfords from Mansfield Park?

I do have one question about one thing that Mary writes to Fanny about Maria’s Easter:

“I suppose Mrs. R.'s Easter holidays will not last much longer; no doubt they are thorough holidays to her.”

What does Mary mean by “thorough holidays”?  

In Emma, Isabella. John & the kids last came to Hartfield the previous Easter, and that is when Mr. Weston gives her his much appreciated assistance with a kite at midnight (whatever that really refers to).

And finally, we have the following passage in JA’s Letter 64 dated Jan. 10-11, 1809, from JA in Southampton to CEA at Godmersham, which, as I have previously posted, has a Passovery subtext:

“…the very day of our leaving Southampton is fixed; and if the knowledge is of no use to Edward, I am sure it will give him pleasure. Easter Monday, April 3, is the day; we are to sleep that night at Alton, and be with our friends at Bookham the next, if they are then at home; there we remain till the following Monday, and on Tuesday, April 11, hope to be at Godmersham. If the Cookes are absent, we shall finish our journey on the 5th. These plans depend of course upon the weather, but I hope there will be no settled cold to delay us materially. To make you amends for being at Bookham, it is in contemplation to spend a few days at Barton Lodge in our way out of Kent.”

Great Bookham is where the Cookes all lived, and JA is writing about an otherwise joyous subject, reporting to CEA the plans for the “exodus” of the Austen women from their four years wandering in the “desert” of Southampton (or, given that the trip was to begin on Easter Monday, perhaps even more appropriate to refer to the “resurrection” of the Austen women).

And there ends this brief tour of Jane Austen’s Easter, shadow story style.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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