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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, December 23, 2016

Mrs. Norris “is also very HARDY” herself”: Another clue as to why she “always kept a bed for a friend”!

This post is both a correction and an updating of my 04/17/14 post…
…on the topic of Mrs. Norris’s strong rejection of sister Lady Bertram’s suggestion that niece Fanny move in with Mrs. Norris. Specifically, in that post a few years ago, I wrote about the hidden, riddling, meaning behind Mrs. Norris’s repeated insistence on her need to always keep “a bed for a friend” at her snug new accommodations at the White House on the Mansfield Park estate, as an excuse for her not acceding to her sister Lady Bertram’s suggestion.

In that earlier post, I suggested that Mrs. Norris was a lesbian, who wasted no time, upon her husband Mr. Norris happening to “pop off” (to use Tom Bertram’s quaint –and ultimately prophetic--phrase about Dr. Grant’s likely short tenure as Mr. Norris’s successor), to move into Sir Thomas’s snug cottage, called “the White House”, in Mansfield’s nearby village, where she’d have privacy to pursue her preferred lifestyle.

And that interpretation was trebly interesting, because it directly connects to the lesbian interpretation first presented by Patricia Rozema in the controversial scene in her 1999 film adaptation of Mansfield Park when Mary Crawford welcomes the rain-drenched Fanny into the parsonage (scroll halfway through the video clip):  And, in turn, I and Aintzain Legaretta-Mentxaca have both extended Rozema’s implicit interpretation with our own, each presenting additional textual evidence --- see my 2013 post here  ---  that such lesbian subtext was fully intentional on Jane Austen’s part, reflecting that Mary was actually in love with Fanny all along, not with Edmund!

With that background, I wish to now acknowledge that in my above-linked April 2014 post, I was under  a mistaken belief that the following sexually suggestive exchange between Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram had appeared in the 1814 first edition of Mansfield Park, but had then been deleted in the 1816 edition:

["Dear Lady Bertram! what am I fit for but solitude? Now and then I shall hope to have a friend in my little cottage (I shall always have a bed for a friend); but the most part of my future days will be spent in utter seclusion. If I can but make both ends meet, that's all I ask for."
"I hope, sister, things are not so very bad with you neither, considering Sir Thomas says you will have six hundred a-year." ]

In fact, the above exchange was not deleted in the 1816 edition --- nor, for that matter, was it deleted in any of the later 19th century editions of MP. It turns out that it was only deleted (apparently as a simple transcription error) in the modern Project Gutenberg version which I’ve been using for years because it’s so convenient for word searching during my research:   So, I retract my assertion in that earlier post that such passage was deleted in order to reduce the chance that a contemporary reader would notice Jane Austen’s broad hint at Mrs. Norris’s “unspeakable” alternative sexual preference. But I otherwise 100% stand by my interpretation as to JA’s intended covert meaning.

And….as it happens, by serendipity, today I’ve happened upon not one, not two, but three fresh textual clues in the text of MP, which do collectively support my claim that Mrs. Norris was a lesbian.

Lady Bertram’s and Mr. Rushworth’s parallel ‘considering’s’:

First, I learned about the following, at first seemingly trivial, emendation that did occur between the 1814 and 1816 editions of MP, in that very same scene in Chapter 3 which I was already focused on. Can you spot the difference between the two?:

1814 version:  "I hope, sister, things are not so very bad with you neither --- considering. Sir Thomas says you will have six hundred a-year."

1816 version: "I hope, sister, things are not so very bad with you neither, considering Sir Thomas says you will have six hundred a-year."

In the 1814 version, there are two sentences; in the 1816, they are combined into one. So what, you ask?

John Wiltshire, in his 2005 edition of MP, observed: “[T]hough the 1816 text does make sense, the 1814 reading is more probably correct. Later there is a parallel use by Mr Rushworth when he speaks of Crawford as 'gentleman-like, considering' [Chapter 19].”   However, Wiltshire expressed no opinion as to whether the 1816 emendation changed the meaning of Lady Bertram’s comment. I believe it did, most emphatically so, and I’ll now explain why I’m so sure.

First, here is that latter passage with a dangling “considering”, which I believe Wiltshire was spot-on in bringing forward as a parallel to aid in choosing between the 1814 and 1816 versions of Lady B’s “considering”:

“[Sir Thomas] tranquilly said, “Mr. and Miss Crawford were mentioned in my last letters from Mansfield. Do you find them agreeable acquaintance?”
Tom was the only one at all ready with an answer, but he being entirely without particular regard for either, without jealousy either in love or acting, could speak very handsomely of both. “Mr. Crawford was a most pleasant, gentleman-like man; his sister a sweet, pretty, elegant, lively girl.”
Mr. Rushworth could be silent no longer. “I do not say he is not gentleman-like, considering; but you should tell your father he is not above five feet eight, or he will be expecting a well-looking man.”
Sir Thomas did not quite understand this, and looked with some surprise at the speaker.”

What exactly does Mr. Rushworth mean when he blurts out, in apparent anger, the word “considering”? I suggest that it has nothing to do with Mr. Crawford’s height – that semicolon after “considering” is like the dash after “considering” in the 1814 version of Lady Bertram’s speech. It’s a pause, interrupting what he was going to blurt out, before he caught himself, and then quickly came up with a safe, plausible, but insincere alternative ---that Henry is too short to be “gentleman-like”.

But I suggest that what Mr. Rushworth was about to blurt out had everything to do with the way that Henry Crawford’s appearance is described by the sly narrator of MP when Henry makes his initial entrance into the action of the novel:

“[Mary’s] brother was not handsome: no, when they first saw him he was absolutely plain, black and plain; but still he was the gentleman, with a pleasing address. The second meeting proved him not so very plain: he was plain, to be sure, but then he had so much countenance, and his teeth were so good, and he was so well made, that one soon forgot he was plain; and after a third interview, after dining in company with him at the Parsonage, he was no longer allowed to be called so by anybody. He was, in fact, the most agreeable young man the sisters had ever known, and they were equally delighted with him.”

Several years ago, I first suggested that “black and plain” was not a reference to Henry’s having black hair or generally unpleasing feature-- no, it pointed instead to his very dark skin color and to his African features, such as, e.g., a broad nose. I.e., the negative initial appraisal of Henry’s looks by the collective of white eyes at Mansfield Park—the opulent English estate financed by a slave plantation in Antigua—was nothing less than a veiled racist slur on Henry’s no less than half African descent – Henry is a Creole, a group with which we know very well that Austen’s England was replete.

And so, if Mr. Rushworth’s “considering” was a racist innuendo, I believe Lady Bertram’s hanging “considering” was, analogously, homophobic. I.e., she’s broadly hinting to her sister that “considering” Mrs. Norris was not heterosexual, she ought to stop complaining about the expiration of a husband which also meant the expiration of Mrs. Norris’s noxious conjugal duties, and the simultaneous opening up of new, more desirable sexual vistas for her sister going forward! That’s rich satire, isn’t it? Black humor (so to speak) at its blackest!

And by the way, in passing, I will note that there are two other “considering” usages in MP which also tantalizingly point to undisclosed concerns, which warrant further exploration in future posts:

Edmund to Tom re putting on Lovers Vows in Sir Thomas’s absence:
“It would shew great want of feeling on my father’s account, absent as he is, and in some degree of constant danger; and it would be imprudent, I think, with regard to Maria, whose situation is a very delicate one, considering everything, extremely delicate.”
“Considering everything”?  Considering, e.g., not only that Maria is engaged to marry Mr. Rushworth, but also that Maria is, shall we say, in “a very, extremely DELICATE” physical condition? Hmmm…

Mrs. Norris to Edmund re Fanny’s initial refusal to act in Lovers Vows:
“I am not going to urge her,” replied Mrs. Norris sharply; “but I shall think her a very obstinate, ungrateful girl, if she does not do what her aunt and cousins wish her—very ungrateful, indeed, considering who and what she is.”
“considering who and what she is”? Is this about more than Fanny being a poor relation? I believe it is also about Fanny parentage, which may account for why she in particular was selected to be plucked from Portsmouth to Mansfield Park….

And there I’ll leave off considering the “considerings” of Mansfield Park, and move on to Clue #2.

“The first event of any importance”

In light of the previous section of this post, now we can read the opening sentence of that same Chapter 3 with new eyes, as a huge clue pointing toward Lady Bertram’s “considering”: 

“The first event of any importance in the family was the death of Mr. Norris, which happened when Fanny was about fifteen, and necessarily introduced alterations and novelties. Mrs. Norris on quitting the parsonage, removed first to the park, and afterwards to a small house of Sir Thomas's in the village, and consoled herself for the loss of her husband by, considering that she could do very well without him…”

Beneath the wittily comic absurdity of the narrator’s comment that no event of any importance occurred in the large Bertram family for the previous seven years, Jane Austen has actually hidden in plain sight the fact that Mr. Norris’s death was an earthshaking event in Mrs. Norris’s life, not because of any reduction in income, but because of the increase in the intangible quality of the remainder of her life, which can now be lived free of the burden of a marriage she never wished for, but had to endure.

And now, that brings me to the serendipity which led me to revisit all of the above, Clue #3.  

“Kiss me, Hardy”: Nelson’s rearly vice?

Yesterday, a Janeite Facebook Friend, Alison Streight, made a passing comment which directed me to an anecdote of Regency Era naval history I’d previously been unaware of, because I missed the mention of it in the closing plenary speech (entitled “ ‘Rears and Vices’: The Georgian Royal Navy”) at the 2014 JASNA AGM in Montreal, delivered by Patrick Stokes, the former chairman of the English Jane Austen Society. That anecdote is summarized here:

“Nelson, England's greatest naval hero, died at the Battle of Trafalgar, 21st October 1805. He was hit by a musket ball, fired from a French ship, at about 1.15pm and died below decks at about 4.30pm. His body was preserved in a barrel of brandy. The details are relevant in attempting to authenticate whether Nelson ever spoke those words. The best argument in support of it being authentic is the fact that the events surrounding Nelson's death were witnessed by several people at close quarters, all of whom would have had intense interest in it. There are at least three eye-witness accounts recording that Nelson asked Hardy to kiss him. The precise words said aren't recorded verbatim, but "kiss me Hardy" can't have differed in any material way from reality. The witnesses, William Beatty, Chaplain Alexander Scott and Walter Burke are shown in Arthur Devis's painting Death of Nelson. As a consequence of Nelson's importance as a historical and heroic figure, there are many Death of Nelson paintings. Devis had the advantage over other painters of being present on the Victory for the event though and we can be assured that his painting is an accurate representation of Nelson's death.
According to the contemporary accounts, Nelson last words were: "Take care of my dear Lady Hamilton, Hardy, take care of poor Lady Hamilton". He paused then said very faintly, "Kiss me, Hardy". This, Hardy did, on the cheek. Nelson then said, "Now I am satisfied. Thank God I have done my duty".
The later story that Nelson's last words were "Kismet [fate] Hardy", aren't supported by any contemporary evidence. In fact, 'kismet' isn't recorded as being in use in English to mean fate until as late as 1830, a quarter of a century after Nelson died.That euphemistic version of events is thought to be a later invention that attempted to avoid embarrassment by covering up the supposed homo-erotic imagery of men kissing. That was misguided in more ways than one, not least because platonic kisses between men at times of great emotion weren't viewed in the way in 19th century England.”

It turns out that “Sir Thomas” Hardy was a pretty well known fellow in JA’s day:,_1st_Baronet  And, given that Jane Austen was the creator of Mary Crawford who (in)famously punned on “rears and vices” (as to which I am steadfast in claiming that Mary was altruistically sending a coded warning of William being in danger from her uncle the Admiral, a message Fanny, alas, didn’t understand), it’s no stretch of the imagination to suspect that Jane Austen, sister of two sailors, was aware of that well-known, salty anecdote about the final moments of England’s greatest naval war hero.

Based on much prior experience, I suspected that if JA knew about Nelson’s request that Hardy kiss him, she’d somehow work it into Mansfield Park somewhere, in some punny way. And sure enough, when I searched the word “hardy”, it popped up only twice in all six novels combined, therefore very rarely: once in Emma, describing John Knightley’s aspirations for his sons; and the other (where else?) in Chapter 32 of Mansfield Park, in Sir Thomas’s rationalizations for why Mrs. Norris (who else?) never allowed Fanny to have a fire in winter in her attic:

 “Your aunt Norris has always been an advocate, and very judiciously, for young people’s being brought up without unnecessary indulgences; but there should be moderation in everything. She is also very HARDY herself, which of course will influence her in her opinion of the wants of others.” 

“She is also very HARDY herself”? I.e., Mrs. Norris is similar to Nelson’s Hardy? Given all that I’ve written about, above, I’d say that was a “considerable” probability, Sir Thomas!

Cheers, ARNIE

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