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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Sidney Parker, Lovelace, & Richardson’s interest in the Magdalen Hospital

As a final angle on Sidney Parker in Sanditon as having a strange resonance with Lovelace from Richardson's Lovelace, my eye was also caught by the following comments by Tom Parker about his brother Sidney Parker in Chapter 4:

“There—now the old House is quite left behind.”
“What is it, your Brother Sidney says about it’s being a HOSPITAL?’ 
‘Oh! my dear Mary, merely a Joke of his. He pretends to advise me to make a HOSPITAL of it. He pretends to laugh at my Improvements. Sidney says any thing you know. He has always said what he chose of and to us, all. Most Families have such a member among them I believe Miss Heywood.—There is a someone in most families privileged by superior abilities or spirits to say anything.—In ours, it is Sidney; who is a very clever Young Man,—and with great powers of pleasing…’

It certainly sounds to me like Sidney Parker is making a droll joke about his family’s hypochondria, when he suggests to his brother Tom that the Parker family ancestral estate in Sanditon, a place which the Parker family is so dedicated to developing as a medical mecca, should be converted to a hospital.

But when I checked to see whether Richardson's Lovelace had any connection to any sort of hospital, guess what? I found an article entitled "Redemptive Spaces: Magdalen House and Prostitution in the Novels and Letters of Richardson" by Martha J. Koehler in Eighteenth Century Fiction 22/2, in which Koehler wrote about correspondence between Samuel Richardson and Lady Bradshaigh, which was published prior to JA’s writing Sanditon, regarding Richardson and the Magdalen House for former prostitutes.

“It is in the midst of these arguments concerning sexuality, representativeness, and narrative structure that a rhetorical Magdalen House is erected. Richardson picks up an earlier thread from the long letter, concerning the importance of “testing” Clarissa’s virtue; he has argued that for the “sake of the Moral” it is imperative for Lovelace to abuse Clarissa as he does, to show “that there was one strictly virtuous Woman in the Sex.” This strand comes together with the arguments about seduced women and reparation as he imagines all those who would fail such a test: “‘What a fine time of it,’ as Lovelace says on this very Subject, ‘would the Women have, if they were all to be put to the Test,’ as he puts Clarissa! My Hospital in this Case were it to extend over half a County, I doubt would not be long in filling.”

Later in that article, Koehler writes:  “Various constructions and themes in Samuel Richardson's novels and his early letters to Lady Bradshaigh, examined in the context of mid-century reformist writings about prostitution, such as the Magdalen narratives, reveal his ambivalent treatment of fallen women. These constructions include the distinction between seduced and hardened women in Pamela as well as the undoing of that distinction in Clarissa, the irreducible nature of women's partiality for libertines and its corollary, the desexualization that becomes the condition for Clarissa's paragon status, and the distinctively female vice of moral indignation against women in Sir Charles Grandison. In this essay, I show that Richardson's sympathetic and progressive impulses towards Magdalens could not keep pace with those impulses that were traditional and misogynistic.”

What I take away from the above is that this is yet another seemingly trivial reference in Sanditon to Sidney Parker by his siblings, which carries a Lovelace resonance. Each one alone (the Isle of Wight scheme, the Hare, and now the Hospital) might just be a random unintended echo by Austen – but taken altogether, and placed alongside the covert Lovelace echoes in Persuasion, it seems far more likely that this is an intentional pattern created by Jane Austen, in order to throw shadows on the character of Sidney Parker, despite his family’s descriptions of him as a great guy.

And, by the way, I surveyed all published Austen scholarship regarding the character of Sidney Parker, and the general consensus is that while he does seem the most likely candidate to have become the man with whom the heroine Charlotte will fall in love, there is an almost as wide consensus that Sidney has more than a whiff of Austen’s inconstant charmers, like Willoughby, Wickham, Henry Crawford, and Frank Churchill – and those echoes of Lovelace are very congruent with those earlier scholarly opinions .

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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