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05 October 2010 @ 05:51 pm
more nostalgia: Austen edition  
10 October 2006

Spent lunchtime listening to classmates talk about the history and societal ramifications of the toilet/bath in literature and architecture. Somehow, despite the fact that Bath came up, I did not mention either Aquae Sulis or Jane Austen. You should be proud of me. (Though I'm sure someone has written about metaphorical looseness and Northanger Abbey, the fact that Bath is a place of moral and social laxity [at least as far as the Thorpes are concerned] because of the focus on [or at least the city's allegiance to] the partially clothed body. Which would put Henry Tilney, with his knowledge of muslin [to say nothing of his preciseness with words], on the side of moral rectitude and being clothed. I just bet.)

{current-day me: "preciseness"?}

And this is the bit I was actually looking for, on Mansfield Park:

technically 14 October 2006

I finished reading Mansfield Park tonight after having to set it aside for the better part of a month (darn school, always getting in the way of the important things!). But I picked it up again on the bus ride back from New York, and had been sneaking time with it since. Can I just say, sigh? Oh, Jane Austen. Every time I read MP, too, I like it more.

I find it interesting how...illegible Fanny Price is. She blushes at the slightest provocation, as befits her innocence (someone, Dr. Gregory or Fordyce or someone, wrote about this, but I'm too lazy to dig up my Norwich paper on P&P/NA/Emma to find out), but almost no one is able to interpret her blushes correctly; Austen writes that Mary Crawford (boo! hiss!) viewed Fanny with a "pre-disposed mind," and so misinterprets all her looks and meanings, and most of the other characters--those who bother to look at her at all--do the same.

Edmund is--as you'd expect--the only one who can read her properly, but he does this bizarre thing, as the novel progresses, of setting aside what he's correctly interpreted. He sees that Fanny is vexed by the attentions of Henry Crawford (boo! hiss!), but chooses to hope that Crawford has some grounds for persisting in his attentions. He never misreads her (though his misreading of Henry blinds him to the real evils of the courtship and the serious grounds for Fanny's refusal), but he inclines to hope, or chooses to believe, or teaches himself to think, that Fanny's opinion will change--and Austen is very precise about noting that, that odd act of will that Edmund continually has to engage in. And I can't help but lay that willful blindness at the feet of his infatuation with Mary Crawford--about whom he is so convinced that his eyes are fully opened, it's a little bit heartbreaking.

And I found myself, this reading, unable to be even as annoyed with Edmund as I formerly have been, because the real problem is not even that he's too good to believe that Henry Crawford would actually try to engage the affections of both Edmund's sisters at once before setting his sights on Fanny, but that the fact that Henry seems to be sensible of Fanny's merits (and Edmund, even in the midst of his infatuation with Mary, never underrates her) is enough, to Edmund, to indicate merit on Henry's part. Sir Thomas suspects that Henry is liable to be inconstant, and wants Fanny to accept him before he's had time to wane in his affections, but Edmund never does. In fact, and I don't think I'd noticed this before, but for Edmund, Henry's attachment to Fanny is enough to rewrite his earlier behavior: "'a man like Crawford, lively, and it may be, a little unthinking, might be led on to--There could be nothing very striking, because he had no pretensions: his heart was reserved for you.'" The fact that Henry Crawford has fallen in love with Fanny (and, as with Willoughby, Austen gives him that much sincerity at least) "'proves him, in short, everything that [Edmund] had been used to wish him, and feared he was not.'" And how can I be truly irritated by logic that places Fanny in such high regard? (The part when he teases Fanny that "between us, we should have won you" is a bit ew, though. I'm not going to lie.)