Dear friends and readers,
Herewith my second blog report on the gist of the individual papers delivered on Saturday, October 10th, at the JASNA AGM in Montreal. Looking over the 7 to 8 break-out sessions on against the one I chose, I again regret that so many papers were on against one another.
I went to hear Br. Paul Byrd’s paper comparing Mansfield Park with Margaret Oliphant’s Perpetual Curate because I’m a reader of Oliphant’s fiction, and know she was influenced by and wrote a perceptive essay on Austen’s fiction and Austen’s nephew’s memoir of his aunt. He brought the two novels together as by two Anglican women who saw the need for reform in the church with clerical heroes who suffer repeated attacks. Mansfield Park: Edmund is distracted by his personal involvement from his vocation; his religion though more often discussed than portrayed; pluralism and absenteeism condemned. He is contrasted to Dr Grant. Mary argues priests have little influence on people, represents a segment of society that no longer believes thoroughly in the Christian religion; mercenary considerations strongly influence her judgement; Henry Crawford is sensual, self-indulgent. Edmund’s relationship to Fanny shows him thoughtful, meaning to be reflective though he fails to be an accurate observer. The Perpetual Curate: Frank Wentworth presents a Victorian ideal and knows what a clergyman ought to be; but is his own worst enemy, not politic, handles a scandal foolishly, yet remains true to himself; Br Byrd brought in each author’s male relatives who were clergymen, and seemed to believe that Austen assumed her readers believed that Anglicanism could be an effective force in the world while Oliphant delivers a blistering critique of Anglican church of her day: Br Bryd thought Oliphant was showing a cultural shift from a gentleman who is a clergyman to clergyman who have a calling; he also read Mansfield Park as seriously about religion and religious failings in Austen’s characters and the cultural world they belonged to.
I went to hear Kathryn Davis’s “Charles Pasley’s Essay and the ‘Governing Winds of Mansfield Park,” because during the long course of reading and analyzing Austen’s letters (see my blog analysis of Letter 78) I became aware of how she admired the ruthless imperialism of Pasley through what she said in a letter and Southam’s analysis of Pasley’s career and writing (in his book on Austen’s brothers) and how narrowly partisan Austen could be when it came to what she thought were her brothers’ interests. Ms Davis talked of Austen’s admiration for this man, and of his life as retold in the ODNB, and then presented Pasley’s writing in terms of his patriotic ideals and worry about the navy weakening; how he reminds his audience of the commercial good (profit, well ordered places) the military could lay the grounds for in conquest and expansion; she quoted eloquent passages (duty is service); he recognizes there is a loss of social and economic liberty but such bonds as are formed are a deterrent to war. I had not realized Pasley wrote specifically about the West Indies (e.g., Antigua must be held onto). I was much relieved when Robert Clark who had given a paper in the previous break-out session on the British empire at the time of and as reflected in MP (I heard a version of his excellent papers at the ASECS in Williamsburg last spring), when Mr Clark brought out the murder and destruction of societies found in these colonial places, the suffering inflicted on these native peoples; that Pasley’s is a ruthless militarist deeply anti-liberal argument, where the East India Company’s doings are an exemplary norm. Southam shows how he disobeyed orders to aggrandize himself. Mr Clark remarked that it’s telling that Pasley was republished around the time of WW1.
I went to hear Nora Stovel Forster’s paper because it was about film, specifically “dancing as a blueprint for marriage in Rozema’s MP.” Ms Forster argued that Rozema modernized MP by politicizing its themes to push her own agenda. Austen’s MP is relentlessly about money as intertwined with love (Mary sees everything in terms of money; Maria marries to gain the use of a great deal of money). Ms Stovel spent a lot of time on the Portsmouth episode in the movie where (Ms Stovel felt) the poverty of the Prices is exaggerated, and drives Fanny to accept Henry Crawford’s proposal momentarily. Slavery is brought in as Fanny journeys around England; through the horrors illustrated in Tom’s sketches of his father’s plantation in Antigua; the sexuality made explicit for us to see the corruption of the hollow characters. Fanny’s character is much changed and she is (in effect) made the author of the movie. I liked how Ms Stovel showed us some of her stills in slow motion. It was hard to tell but I thought the audience this time was more pleased by Ms Stovel’s talk about Rozema’s movie than they had by Sorbo’s presentation because it could be taken as implicitly criticizing the movie for not being faithful (but that is not why they dislike it so as other movies as unfaithful, say Ang Lee and Emma Thompson’s S&S is very popular among such people).
I did not know that the session where Jeanice Brooks and Gillian Dow were listed was actually an attempt to present two papers in the 60 minutes. Ms Brooks’s paper was on French culture and music in Paris and as sold and mirrored in London and the provinces of England around the time of MP. I hope hers is one of those papers published in Persuasions for she presented much valuable information in a perceptive way applicable to Austen’s novel and life too (Austen played the pianoforte; Eliza, her cousin, the harp). She told of the invention and history of the harp in the 18th century, the music books in Austen’s household, and went over two volumes of selections from 18th century periodicals which only Eliza de Feuillide could have supplied. She gave a brief resume of Eliza’s movements in France and England from 1780 to 1813 when she died (1780 in Paris with harp; 1781 married, lived in Paris; 178-86 lives on husband’s estates; 1786-87 visits Steventon; Sept 1788 returns to Paris, back in 1789; death of Feuillide, of her mother, her marriage to Henry, the musical party Austen records in April 1811; Fanny Knight’s note on Eliza’s cancer); she then played a lovely piece of music to which one of the songs in the book was set at the time. I regret not having a copy of the text to share with others. I was unable to take it down in sten quickly enough.
I was not able to stay for much of Gillian Dow’s paper which had to be fitted in to the tail end of the session. Ms. Dow attempted a speculative answer to the question, from what books did Fanny Price learn French? She talked of what we know of Austen’s interactions with Grandison (reading, alluding, the playlet) and how she uses Lovers’ Vows in MP, to show Austen’s interest in plays, and she suggested Austen may have meant us to think the Fanny learned French by reading the plays Madame de Genlis wrote for children. While I agree that Adele et Theodore is an important source in two of Austen’s novels (Emma and NA) and Austen seems to have been an avid reader of Genlis’s fiction (which we can see from her reading with her sister in her letters), but at the time I left the session I had heard no evidence Austen read these plays or meant us to feel Miss Lee would be a person who would teach from them. Sir Thomas seems to have instructed his sons through having them declaim plays but there is no sign his daughters or niece were encouraged in such self-displays (even if the texts were impeccably moral).
My daughter, Izzy, may have chosen more wisely than me.
On Saturday she listened to Nancy Yee outline how Shakespeare’s Henry VIII relates to MP (she had a sheet of passages from Henry VIII); she was amused by Arnie Perlstein’s paper on subtexts in the allusions to plays in Mansfield Park; she said she understood Susan Allen Ford’s paper on Hester Chapone’s Letters and their relationship to Mansfield Park (was persuaded there really was one), and she positively enjoyed Sara Bowen’s “Fanny’s future, Mary’s Nightmare, on Jane Austen’s understanding of a clergyman’s wife’s life in the context of all the clergyman’s wives that she knew, from her mother, to her sisters-in-law, her niece, Anna Austen Lefroy and many other kin, friends and acquaintances.
Izzy talked of (I imagine from this paper) Trollope’s presentation of the life of Archdeacon Grantly’s wife in Barchester Towers, Mrs Proudie across the Barsetshire series, and what we see of clergymen’s wives in his mid- to later 19th century books, and said Ms Bowen argued that the demands on a woman’s life as a clergyman’s wife were changing and are reflected in Austen’s books: we see little expectation of religious doings or doctrine in Elinor Dashwood; we seem never to see Henry Tilney do or think about religion or doctrine (even if he does not neglect his parish and preaches there of a Sunday); in Mansfield Park things are changing, expectations growing. Izzy was amused to try to count up all the female characters in Austen’s fiction who either might have or do become clergyman’s wives.
The most fun she and I had together while at the JASNA conference was when she downloaded all of MP onto my ipad (there is a library APP which permits this, offering free books out of copyright and books you must buy) and we read together parts of MP found suggestive hints in the first three chapters of the book tending to prove McMaster’s thesis that Mrs Norris loathed Fanny because she had wanted to have her as a vicarious child through Sir Thomas and found her personality one a vindictive, selfish, aggressive, competitive and greedy personality would bitterly resent.
I know I reported that my proposal to present a paper on the relationship of the four Mansfield Park films with the novel was rejected, though happily I wrote a brief elaboration of what I would have said and it was published on-line by BSECS, but I believe I never wrote about how I had had an idea to compare Smith’s Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake with Mansfield Park. A well-meaning friend suggested to me my idea was too dry or scholarly or narrow (who reads Ethelinde?) and the MP proposal was more likely to find acceptance. I’ll end on this proposal I never sent: “Empire, Marriage, and Epistolarity in Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.”
I propose to give a talk on revealing parallels between Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or the Recluse of the Lake, and Austen’s Mansfield Park. First, the novels both use visual space, be it a country, rural, town or city, a prison or a great house, to project the inner psychic and moral state of a character in the context of a larger exploration of empire. Characters in both value male work which is part of a professional career to gain money and rank; whether they travel widely or spend their days in a local parish, the two novelists justify and/or critique the means by which the characters succeed or fail. Second, the novels contain slowly evolving love stories which end in an unexpectedly welcome misalliance for one couple and adultery for another, destroying the destined hopes of some of the characters, all seen in the context of arranged, mercenary, and far-flung marriage, further career moves. Last, the development of the novels’ plot-design relies on epistolary situations, characters who reach others only through letters, and reading with all the tension, misunderstanding and critique from afar distance creates and facilitates.
In other words, I’ll be discussing these novels from a post-colonial standpoint. Smith’s central characters are openly driven by economic need, caught up in wars, bad marriages and illegitimate yet loving liaisons, exile and painful and distant correspondences; while most of Austen’s characters’ circumstances are economically comfortable, and adultery is only adumbrated; nonetheless, her characters go through the same paradigms of need, war, mismatch and have to force themselves to write and read their letters Whether it’s a question of intertextuality or influence, a comparison of the way Smith’s and Austen’s characters discuss, dramatize and solve their career, marital and social or moral needs, will shed light on these novels and contemporary attitudes towards the demands of the local mercenary and rank-based and global commercial worlds as these intersect with the people’s private needs and desires.