Friday, June 26, 2009

Putting MP to Bed

After finishing Mansfield Park this morning I cast about to find some commentary. I was struck particularly by the control and restriction of unmarried women's movements in the book. I got a real feeling of claustrophobia from imagining how it was to be a young woman of property at the time. Marriageability was all and propriety required chaperones and no wandering about. The ghost of my eighteen year old self is sputtering about autonomy.

I disregarded all the school essays for sale and found "Reinvesting nieces: Mansfield Park and the economics of endogamy" by Eileen Cleere. I had to look up 'endogamy': the practice of marrying within the clan or tribe. In this case it refers specifically to the marriage of first cousins in the novel. Ms. Cleere doesn't have much to say specifically about the movements of young women. But her interpretation of Miss "Price" as a unit of value within the Bertram family is very pointed and worthwhile.

Thanks to an old list serve discussion, my goose mystery is solved. A green goose proves to be a half grown goose, killed at three or four months old. Well, of course. I am going to look for the book referenced by this list serve writer: Jane Austen and Food by Maggie Lane.

More of my notes on the book...

***I am come to Fanny’s resistance to Mr. Crawford’s suit. She has developed a backbone and made a stand so I can stop complaining about that. I am finding myself agreeing with the old people’s view of marriage as a long term association that doesn’t necessarily call for passion but for constancy and consideration. At an earlier age I would have dismissed all that in favor of lurve. Now I’m struck by how changed people are every decade or so. I suppose the maturing of my views was inevitable but SIGH.

(It also occurred to me yesterday as I left work how apt the concept of the evolutionary cost of reproduction is. I feel like I'm pouring my energy into my kids. It’s as it should be but I am a little appalled to see my life burning as fuel for theirs.)

***Fanny is making me roll my eyes with a constitution so nervous and fastidious that she stays awake all night with fever and chills in contemplation of her cousin Maria's potential (not yet confirmed!) adultery.

This said I have to own to a memory of discovering the adultery of an acquaintance at work when I was a youngun. I opened a piece of mail that had 'confidential' written all over it, figuring that *something* interesting must be inside. It was my job to open mail and so I rationalized my curiosity. And that curiosity was rewarded by some explicit purple prose concerning a recent tryst. It was from the lover of my coworker who I knew to be happily married and father of two lovely children. I was pruriently excited and absolutely appalled and (after reading it through) I shredded the entire thing, confidential envelope and all. I reasoned that allowing the sender to blame the post office for loss was much safer than delivering that particular card after I'd opened it. And this incident haunted me. I couldn't tell anyone about it who knew the acquaintance. And I burned with shame whenever I encountered him. It flashed into my mind from time to time for years afterward.

So Fanny, I can allow for some of your fears, tremblings and finer feelings. But maybe not all of them.

***Oh and the first cousin incest marriage creeps me out too.

***Friend Mary Crawford fails to place moral considerations above social and financial ones and is passed over by very moral Edmund. She is left to her leisure in London where we are told she never finds Edmund’s equal in steady uprightness and ultimately retires to a quiet life with her sister. (Although personally I hoped she would find a man who had a sense of humor and a genuine liking for her. She was my favorite character, even lacking a moral center.)

What a provocative book this has turned out to be. I do wonder what entertainment the author got from it. There is fun poked at all of the characters but it is the slightest joking in most cases. Edmund and Fanny certainly deserve one another but is their conduct a model for the rest of us? Maybe just for the very prim and very submissive and very sensitive among us. Who don't mind marrying first cousins (urgh).

3 comments:

The Subtle Rudder said...

I had grand plans for a summer of classics, but alas, the stack of library books by my bed includes several turgid thrillers, some faux-literary fiction (which I'll get to after I find out who abducted the first lady's niece), and a scattershot collection of new nonfiction, some of which I've already rejected (TOO SOON, I said to myself, closing "Angler," the story of Dick Cheney in the white house, just before the planes hit the towers.)

Anyone up for a virtual march through the Dickens oeuvre? Or perhaps some russian lit? But then, you're already started on the novels of manners...perhaps I should venture away from the new books section, into the dusty stacks of the classics.

Nimble said...

Bee mentioned that she also recently dipped into Mansfield Park but then decided to read all of Amanda Craig's novels before coming back to it. I haven't read any Craig so I can't recommend. But Bee has a wonderful, passionate relationship to books so be sure it's worth a look.

I've moved on to Northanger Abbey. While also reading the Jane Austen food book. And that'll probably do me for Austeniana for the summer.

I hope you find something that you can't put down, no matter which genre. I don't think I'd read Angler on a bet.

Bee said...

This is all very interesting, but I couldn't help but be most intrigued by how you tore up the love letter. A very good scene for a novel.

As for first cousin betrothals, I discovered one in my Brown family tree. It really did creep me out, although it was several generations ago and no one seemed to come to harm because of it.

I find MP the least memorable of all of the Austen novels -- perhaps because of the heroine?

As for The Subtle Reader, I find classics best in the winter! I keep meaning to tackle Trollope . . .