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Thread: Miss Crawford's low opinion of the clergy

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Miss Crawford's low opinion of the clergy

    It was interesting to read Miss Crawford's low opinion of the office of clergyman in chapter 11. I have often wondered whether the Church of England was a racket in the 18th and 19th Century. Not every clergyman earned a lot of money, but quite a number did, comparative to the general population. It was a sort of parachute profession for younger sons of rich landowners. It struck me while re-reading Bleak House when Richard Carstone cannot decide what he wants to do, that there were not actually very many professions a man of that class could do. The only options were the navy, the army, law, the clergy and medicine. I am not sure whether medicine was an acceptable profession in Jane Austen's time for a gentleman. I think commerce was also acceptable, but you couldn't be a shopkeeper or a tradesman. Except for the army, all those other professions took a lot of study. I am not sure how much study it took to get into the navy, but I think they had to know quite a bit of trigonometry in order to know how to navigate, and I think they had to join up as boys, so Edmund might already be too old. I think all Jane Austen's brothers were either in the navy or the clergy, and her father was a clergyman. So why is Miss Crawford so surprised that Edmund plans to become a clergyman? I was also slightly surprised that Miss Crawford thinks that all clergymen have to do is read out a sermon on Sundays. Presumably, she also thinks they perform christenings, weddings and funerals. I am not sure what the clergy's duties were, but I get the impression many were widely involved in society.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Miss Crawford's opinions are hardly reliable.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Mary Crawford did not find the clergy glamorous. Her uncle the Admiral (he from whom she learned about "rears and vices") probably agreed. Also, Mary liked teasing Edmund. It was a form of flirtation (if an ineffective one). By the way, I like Mary Crawford. Edmund is free to disapprove of adultery as much as he pleases; indeed he is called on as a Christian to do so by nothing less than one of the ten commandments. But he is obnoxious in his last meeting with Miss Crawford. It is not his criticism of Mary Crawford that I disapprove of so much as the language in which he couches it. He wants Mary to be missish and in vapours – to feel “modest loathings” at such a transgression. When Mary acts like the worldly young woman she is, Edmund is shocked and revolted.

    Edmund has created a dream woman in Mary Crawford, and the shocking thing about our hero’s delusions is the nature of our hero’s dream. He imagines his ideal wife to be not a woman who can act calmly, rationally and decisively in a family crisis, but as a woman who gives herself over to horror, modest loathings, and vapours (Fanny?). I sympathize with Edmund for having his delusions so clearly revealed, but cannot think that his dream woman is particularly admirable. Personally, I find Mary Crawford’s practical attempt to help loved ones in time of need reasonable, and Edmund’s horror at such practicality repulsive. When he tells Mary that he can no longer think well of her, he is needlessly cruel, and when he fails to object to Sir Thomas's banishment of Maria to the North, accompanied by (horrors!) Mrs. Norris, he is unChristian. Perhaps (clergyman though he is) he has forgotten the Lord's Prayer.

    Clergymen, by the way, were gentlemen and could associate with other gentlemen. That was not necessarily true of lawyers (I remember Miss Bingley trashing Mr. Gardner for having that profession). The clergy in England were a diverse class,both in terms of wealth and status. Mr. Crawley (Trollope) was impoverished, but his daughter was still thought fit to marry rich gentility. In Austen, the clergy include Edmund, Edward Ferrars (after he is disinherited), the buffoonish Mr.Collins, Henry Tilney and perhaps a few I am overlooking. The younger Bennet sisters would have agreed with Mary Crawford, and found a Red Coat glamorous.

    p.s. I'm off to the wilderness for a couple of weeks.
    Last edited by Ecurb; 09-04-2018 at 05:36 PM.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    One more observation about the clergy in England: they were an educated class who drew a salary ("living") and could choose to do little in their profession, This allowed an England with an educated class (they all went to Oxford of Cambridge) who could become "amateur" historians, biologists, geologists, poets, etc. I suppose the modern equivalent in the U.S. is found in Universities, but they are paid to work in their fields, and teaching three classes a semester is doubtless more bothersome than preaching a sermon every week, if you couldn't assign that to your prelate.

    p.s I know nothing about this except what I've read in novels.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Mary Crawford seems like a modern woman. She's a bit free with her language for a woman of her background. Edmund seems a right stick. In the chapter I've just read, he has been trying to stop the others from putting on a play. Perhaps he thought they were going to act out a Restoration comedy.

    Working out what the justification for those livings is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the 19th century. It's not as if everyone was Anglican, what with half a dozen non-conformist churches, Catholics in Ireland, Presbyterians in Scotland. and the odd Jew here and there. In addition, religion was under attack from about 1830 onwards. Still if we didn't have them all those churches would have fallen into disrepair, and they are beautiful to look at.

    I expect the young ladies would be more excited by a soldier or a sailor, provided he was an officer. However, the reason there were so many soldiers and sailors were the Napoleonic Wars. When those came to an end, there were even fewer suitable options for younger sons of the gentry.

    With regards to the clergy all having gone to Oxford or Cambridge, I wonder how clever you had to be to enter those universities back then. You need perfect exam results and pass an interview to get into them now.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I'm sure you didn't have to be brilliant to get admitted, but it did seem there were English Parsons classifying butterflies, collecting bird specimens, etc., not to mention Catholic Priests, like Gerard Manly Hopkins, writing poetry. If you have read Richard Lovelace's poem "To Lucasta on going to war", here's GK Chesterton's response:


    Lucasta Replies to Lovelace
    by G. K. Chesterton

    Tell me not, friend, you are unkind,
    If ink and books laid by,
    You turn up in a uniform
    Looking all smart and spry.

    I thought your ink one horrid smudge,
    Your books one pile of trash,
    And with less fear of smear embrace
    A sword, a belt, a sash.

    Yet this inconstancy forgive,
    Though gold lace I adore,
    I could not love the lace so much
    Loved I not Lovelace more.


    Some younger sons dashed off to the colonies and became Mounted Police officers or some such. And by the time Trollope, Dickens and Thackeray were writing, the economy was changing, and entrepreneurs were becoming rich.

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Gilbert White George Crabbe and James Woodford were parsons and contemporaries of Jane Austen. White was the leading naturalist of the day and Crabbe Jane's favourite poet (Fanny is reading his Tales) and Woodford's diaries are a major source for the information of daily life in the country at the time.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    In Volume 2 Chapter 5, Miss Crawford is annoyed to hear that Edmund will soon take holy orders. She, herself would not stoop to marrying a clergyman. So what does she think he should do? She must secretly hold her sister and brother-in-law in contempt, since Dr Grant is also a clergyman.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  9. #9
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Mary Crawford has no compunction about "stooping" to marry a clergyman. Instead, she is teasing Edmund as a form of flirting. She's hoping that he'll reveal his disappointment at her (disingenuous) claim that she won't marry a clergyman.

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