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Thread: The play in Mansfield Park

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    The play in Mansfield Park

    One of the things I did not really get in Mansfield Park was what the big deal was about putting on the play. Sure, Sir Thomas would be annoyed to find his library and billiards room had been turned into a stage and green room, but Edmund's and Fanny's reservations about the play go further than that. Lady Bertram, Mrs Norris, Mrs Grant and Dr Grant don't seem to have a problem with it. Lovers' Vows does not seem like a very scandalous play. Edmund and Fanny's sense of propriety just seems incredible. I wonder whether Jane Austen was just being too subtle for me, or that the 200 year time gap was too hard to bridge.

    One interesting point about it was that although Fanny resists being drawn into it, her resistance is finally overcome. That makes it more uncertain that Fanny will resist Henry Crawford's attentions later on.
    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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    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    One of the things I did not really get in Mansfield Park was what the big deal was about putting on the play.
    I suppose we are approaching the reign of Queen Victoria with all its prudery and decorum but a better explanation may be found in the questionable flirting the play encouraged: in particular, flirting between Maria and Henry Crawford.
    Last edited by Gladys; 10-26-2018 at 03:55 AM. Reason: typo
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Jane Austen's family regularly put on amateur theatrical performances, which makes the objections to the play seem even stranger.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gladys View Post
    I suppose we are approaching the reign of Queen Victoria with all its prudery and decorum but a better explanation may be found in the questionable flirting the play encouraged: in particular, flirting between Maria and Henry Crawford.
    Edmund and Fanny objected to the play before the flirting started. They objected to it before they had even chosen the play.
    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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    Perhaps they objected because they knew Uncle, at work in the Caribbean, would not have approved of such entertainment in his home.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gladys View Post
    Perhaps they objected because they knew Uncle, at work in the Caribbean, would not have approved of such entertainment in his home.
    Yes, but their objections seemed to go a bit beyond that. I read in some student notes that amateur dramatics was a popular aristocratic pass-time, along with gambling and adultery. Any gentry with a puritanical streak might consider acting as part and parcel with those other aristocratic pursuits. Personally, seeing that Jane Austen put such good arguments in Tom Bertram's mouth, and that she use to enjoy acting in plays herself, I think she thought the activity was mostly harmless. I suspect Austen did know people who disapproved of acting, and decided to make her hero and heroine share their opinion. Edmund and Fanny do have a puritanical streak.

    On the whole, I think this is a weak point in the book.
    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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    Maybe Austen, herself, had a puritanical streak.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gladys View Post
    Maybe Austen, herself, had a puritanical streak.
    I don't buy it. Austen's father was a Church of England clergyman, not a Puritan. In addition, Austen's satirical and humorous worldview is incompatible with Puritanism.

    Indeed, Austen's jokes in her letters (the more ribald of which were doubtless destroyed by Cassandra) suggest that her letter-writing wasn't all that different from Mary Crawford's. Austen may have had sufficient insight to avoid joking with censorious Fanny Price, but when she wrote to her sister she often made jokes of questionable taste, and I assume that those with a more sexual bent may have been destroyed (along with those of a more personal bent).

    Here are some of my favorite quotations from the letters (some - although not all- of which support my point).

    "I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal."
    "I give you joy of our new nephew, and hope if he ever comes to be hanged it will not be till we are too old to care about it."
    "He and I should not in the least agree, of course, in our ideas of novels and heroines. Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked"
    Fanny? Is that you of whom your creator speaks?

    ON arriving in London:
    "Here I am once more in this scene of dissipation and vice, and I begin already to find my morals corrupted."
    I think she was cracking wise, rather than being serious.

    [On the Peninsular War:]
    "How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!"
    This made me think of Mary Crawford's "Two fewer poor young men" wisecrack, which was funny, and self-deprecating, but which Mary should have known would be frowned upon by Fanny.

    "You express so little anxiety about my being murdered under Ash Park Copse by Mrs. Hulbert's servant, that I have a great mind not to tell you whether I was or not"
    This is one of my favorites.

    Since Puritans are (supposedly) dour and humorless, as well as opposed to (and obsessed with) a variety of sins, I think we can absolve Miss Austen of having a "Puritanical streak" (although she probably supported standard, Church of England morality).

    That being settled (I hope), the question of the play remains. If the objection was a belief that Sir Thomas would disapprove (a very reasonable theory), then perhaps Austen is hinting that the Eden of Mansfield is ruled by an arbitrary despot instead of a loving God. Why, after all, WAS the apple forbidden fruit? Is Sir Thomas' support of slavery being compared with his arbitrary rule at Mansfield? One of the themes of the novel is the comparison of the bucolic Eden of Mansfield (that's how Fanny sees it) to the squalor of Portsmouth, and the sin of London (at Admiral Crawford's house). Is Austen using the play to suggest the "role playing" of the characters? The obsessive flirting of the Crawfords? The phony "fiance" role of Maria? Is the play -- with its altered roles -- compared to the "renovation" plans for the Rushworth mansion? When Henry Crawford flirts Maria in the Rushworth home by saying (quoted from memory), "I hate to see you standing so near an altar," is he fulfilling his role as flirt, while objecting to hers as "bride"? Does Austen approve of deference to Sir Thomas' wishes, we readers wonder?

    So, far from thinking the play a weakness in the novel, I think it's a stimulating (albeit confusing) addition.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I read in Lionel Trilling's chapter on Mansfield Park that:

    To the style of London Sir Thomas Bertram in the principled antagonist. The real reason for not giving the play, as everyone knows, is that Sir Thomas would not permit it were he at home; everyone knows that a sin is being committed against the absent father. And Sir Thomas, when he returns before his expected time, confirms their consciousness of sin. It is he who identifies the objection to the theatricals as being specifically that of impersonation. His own self is an integer and he instinctively resists the diversification of the self that is implied by the assumption of roles.

    So Fanny and Edmund object to the play because they know Sir Thomas would not allow it if he were at home. OK, I'll buy that. They know he would object to his library and billiards room being taken over. What if the group had decided to act outside or in an unused wing of Mansfield Park? Would Sir Bertram still ban it? He allows his children some freedom. For example, he lets his daughter Julia accompany her sister and brother-in-law to Brighton, which must have been one of the most louche towns in the country. Did Edmund and Fanny know that Sir Thomas would ban the play for other reasons? How do they know? The point about Sir Thomas regarding acting as being impersonation, a diversification of self and an assumption of roles does not make much sense to me. Are Edmund and Fanny mind readers? Have they ever heard Sir Thomas say, "You know, I can't stand theatricals. I think it's the diversification of self and the assumption of roles." Personally, I think there must have been a widespread, although perhaps minority view that amateur theatricals were disreputable. Maybe Fanny and Edmund knew Sir Thomas would share this view, even if they were not sure why.
    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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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    In addition, Austen's satirical and humorous worldview is incompatible with Puritanism.
    Truly fascinating are the Austen's quotes you provide. Never in doubt that the young woman who wrote Pride and Prejudice was capable of dazzling irony and self-deprecating humour. Like the brilliant John Milton, she could appreciate Satan himself.

    From my reading of her more serious novel, Persuasion, I had come to I conceive her core morality as rather conservative.

    Fanny Price lacks Jane Austen's intellectual brilliance but has a moral brilliance of her own, well expressed in the advice Henry James offered, late in life, to his young nephew:

    Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gladys View Post
    Fanny Price lacks Jane Austen's intellectual brilliance but has a moral brilliance of her own, well expressed in the advice Henry James offered, late in life, to his young nephew:

    Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.
    Was Jesus "kind" when he drove the money lenders from the Temple? I agree with James that kindness is ONE of the most important things in human life -- but perhaps it is trumped by love. If we love our neighbor ourselves, we are generally kind to him - but not always. Some situations demand (after all) that we behave unkindly to ourselves.

    Fanny is generally a kind person, and I like her. But she is perhaps unkind to Mary Crawford when she tut tuts with Edmund about Mary's jokes, or agrees with Edmund's demand that Mary feel "modest loathings" about her brother's affair with Maria. I can never forgive (perhaps lacking in kindness myself) Edmund for telling Mary he can no longer think well of her, when all she has done is try to help her brother and his sister. I do admire Fanny for standing up to Sir Thomas. His own children won't even argue about putting on a silly play -- their obedience is complete; Fanny stands her ground about Henry Crawford. But Sir Thomas is not a loving father -- that's HIS moral failing. And he hasn't learned his lesson in that regard when he banishes his eldest daughter. Nor has Edmund when he fails to suggest reconciliation. Theirs is a failure of both kindness and love.

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Was Jesus "kind" when he drove the money lenders from the Temple? I agree with James that kindness is ONE of the most important things in human life -- but perhaps it is trumped by love.
    I see kindness and love as synonyms here. Was Jesus kind? If Jesus is God and God is love, the answer is surely, "Yes."

    Henrik Ibsen addresses this Love thy neighbour question, in its extreme form, in his first commercial success: the play Brand. A brilliant play.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Fanny is generally a kind person, and I like her. But she is perhaps unkind to Mary Crawford...
    Kindness does not mean appeasement. I think Fanny and Edmund act with the integrity that kindness presupposes. If the offence continues, there is no place for forgiveness or tolerance. Pastor Brand's tough love in Ibsen's play is quintessential.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gladys View Post
    I see kindness and love as synonyms here. Was Jesus kind? If Jesus is God and God is love, the answer is surely, "Yes."

    Henrik Ibsen addresses this Love thy neighbour question, in its extreme form, in his first commercial success: the play Brand. A brilliant play.



    Kindness does not mean appeasement. I think Fanny and Edmund act with the integrity that kindness presupposes. If the offence continues, there is no place for forgiveness or tolerance. Pastor Brand's tough love in Ibsen's play is quintessential.
    I've never read (or seen) "Brand". Also, I agree that if "love" and "kindness" are synonyms we must absolve Jesus or being unkind. I think of "kind" as meaning "considerate, polite, generous and friendly". Love is a deeper and more important kind of generosity.

    It is Mary Crawford who loves her brother, and wants to help him. True, as Edmund points out, she fails to feel "modest loathings" in contemplating his affair with Maria. I confess that some of my friends are divorced; some have committed adultery; some may even be unrepentant. I am not a clergyman like Edmund (or even a Christian) but I would consider it unloving as well as unkind to cut off my acquaintance with these friends because of my moral disapproval. Who am I to judge them? They have broken their promises to God, to their spouses, and to me (as one of "this company"), but on my part, at least, I forgive them their sins, as I hope mine will be forgiven.

    Here is Edmund, talking to Fanny:
    She reprobated her brother’s folly in being drawn on by a woman whom he had never cared for, to do what must lose him the woman he adored; but still more the folly of poor Maria, in sacrificing such a situation, plunging into such difficulties, under the idea of being really loved by a man who had long ago made his indifference clear. Guess what I must have felt. To hear the woman whom— no harsher name than folly given! So voluntarily, so freely, so coolly to canvass it! No reluctance, no horror, no feminine, shall I say, no modest loathings?
    OK, our Pastor may be reasonable when he wants the woman he love(s,d) to show more moral indignation about sin. But it's not Mary's fault that Edmund has created a fantasy creature, who never much resembled Mary Crawford. She is a woman of the world, and Edmund should have known it all along. In addition, her position is both loving toward her brother, and a reasonable position, even if Edmund disagrees.

    Edmund then continues:
    She went on, began to talk of you; yes, then she began to talk of you, regretting, as well she might, the loss of such a—. There she spoke very rationally. But she has always done justice to you. ‘He has thrown away,’ said she, ‘such a woman as he will never see again. She would have fixed him; she would have made him happy for ever.’ My dearest Fanny, I am giving you, I hope, more pleasure than pain by this retrospect of what might have been—but what never can be now. You do not wish me to be silent? If you do, give me but a look, a word, and I have done.
    Who is the better friend? Mary, who has nothing but "kind" things to say about Fanny? Or Fanny, who is always willing to throw Mary under the bus, in part because she is jealous?

    A little later on, Edmund says:
    Hers are not faults of temper. She would not voluntarily give unnecessary pain to any one, and though I may deceive myself, I cannot but think that for me, for my feelings, she would— Hers are faults of principle, Fanny; of blunted delicacy and a corrupted, vitiated mind. Perhaps it is best for me, since it leaves me so little to regret. Not so, however. Gladly would I submit to all the increased pain of losing her, rather than have to think of her as I do. I told her so.”
    Fine. It's reasonable (however I may disagree) for Edmund to decry Mary's "faults of principle". But he was unkind to tell her how badly he thinks of her in their last meeting. What happened to, "We just grew apart." Or, "it's not you, it's me." Sometimes polite euphemisms are the kindest approach.

    Sending Maria off to the North accompanied by (horrors!) Mrs. Norris is neither kind nor loving. Mary would never have done that to her brother.

    One last point: all of these are my opinions, and the point of view of the author is not (I think) clear. Certainly most readers think Jane Austen probably agreed with Fanny, and Edmund and Sir Thomas. I'm not sure one way or the other, nor would my opinion of the characters and their actions be altered if I were.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gladys View Post
    I see kindness and love as synonyms here. Was Jesus kind? If Jesus is God and God is love, the answer is surely, "Yes."

    Henrik Ibsen addresses this Love thy neighbour question, in its extreme form, in his first commercial success: the play Brand. A brilliant play.



    Kindness does not mean appeasement. I think Fanny and Edmund act with the integrity that kindness presupposes. If the offence continues, there is no place for forgiveness or tolerance. Pastor Brand's tough love in Ibsen's play is quintessential.
    I've never read (or seen) "Brand". Also, I agree that if "love" and "kindness" are synonyms we must absolve Jesus or being unkind. I think of "kind" as meaning "considerate, polite, generous and friendly". Love is a deeper and more important kind of generosity.

    It is Mary Crawford who loves her brother, and wants to help him. True, as Edmund points out, she fails to feel "modest loathings" in contemplating his affair with Maria. I confess that some of my friends are divorced; some have committed adultery; some may even be unrepentant. I am not a clergyman like Edmund (or even a Christian) but I would consider it unloving as well as unkind to cut off my acquaintance with these friends because of my moral disapproval. Who am I to judge them? They have broken their promises to God, to their spouses, and to me (as one of "this company"), but on my part, at least, I forgive them their sins, as I hope mine will be forgiven.

    Here is Edmund, talking to Fanny:
    She reprobated her brother’s folly in being drawn on by a woman whom he had never cared for, to do what must lose him the woman he adored; but still more the folly of poor Maria, in sacrificing such a situation, plunging into such difficulties, under the idea of being really loved by a man who had long ago made his indifference clear. Guess what I must have felt. To hear the woman whom— no harsher name than folly given! So voluntarily, so freely, so coolly to canvass it! No reluctance, no horror, no feminine, shall I say, no modest loathings?
    OK, our Pastor may be reasonable when he wants the woman he love(s,d) to show more moral indignation about sin. But it's not Mary's fault that Edmund has created a fantasy creature, who never much resembled Mary Crawford. She is a woman of the world, and Edmund should have known it all along. In addition, her position is both loving toward her brother, and a reasonable position, even if Edmund disagrees.

    Edmund then continues:
    She went on, began to talk of you; yes, then she began to talk of you, regretting, as well she might, the loss of such a—. There she spoke very rationally. But she has always done justice to you. ‘He has thrown away,’ said she, ‘such a woman as he will never see again. She would have fixed him; she would have made him happy for ever.’ My dearest Fanny, I am giving you, I hope, more pleasure than pain by this retrospect of what might have been—but what never can be now. You do not wish me to be silent? If you do, give me but a look, a word, and I have done.
    Who is the better friend? Mary, who has nothing but "kind" things to say about Fanny? Or Fanny, who is always willing to throw Mary under the bus, in part because she is jealous?

    A little later on, Edmund says:
    Hers are not faults of temper. She would not voluntarily give unnecessary pain to any one, and though I may deceive myself, I cannot but think that for me, for my feelings, she would— Hers are faults of principle, Fanny; of blunted delicacy and a corrupted, vitiated mind. Perhaps it is best for me, since it leaves me so little to regret. Not so, however. Gladly would I submit to all the increased pain of losing her, rather than have to think of her as I do. I told her so.”
    Fine. It's reasonable (however I may disagree) for Edmund to decry Mary's "faults of principle". But he was unkind to tell her how badly he thinks of her in their last meeting. What happened to, "We just grew apart." Or, "it's not you, it's me."? Sometimes polite euphemisms are the kindest approach.

    Sending Maria off to the North accompanied by (horrors!) Mrs. Norris is neither kind nor loving. Mary would never have done that to her brother.

    One last point: all of these are my opinions, and the point of view of the author is not (I think) clear. Certainly most readers think Jane Austen probably agreed with Fanny, and Edmund and Sir Thomas. I'm not sure one way or the other, nor would my opinion of the characters and their actions be altered if I were.

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    I am not a clergyman like Edmund (or even a Christian) but I would consider it unloving as well as unkind to cut off my acquaintance with these friends because of my moral disapproval. Who am I to judge them? They have broken their promises to God, to their spouses, and to me (as one of "this company"), but on my part, at least, I forgive them their sins, as I hope mine will be forgiven.
    You are not a clergyman; nor do you share the zeitgeist of Edmund's Georgian world. Place yourself in his position, in his and Austen's world.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    [Mary] is a woman of the world, and Edmund should have known it all along.
    Love (infatuation) is blind: Fanny is not.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Who is the better friend? Mary, who has nothing but "kind" things to say about Fanny? Or Fanny, who is always willing to throw Mary under the bus...
    Mary is fair to Fanny: Fanny to Mary. Her brother's behaviour is despicable however much Mary dissembles. Mary tars herself with brother Henry's brush.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    But he was unkind to tell her how badly he thinks of her in their last meeting. What happened to, "We just grew apart."
    Today, we live in climate where integrity takes a back seat to flattery. Not so for Edmund, Fanny and Austen.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Sending Maria off to the North accompanied by (horrors!) Mrs. Norris is neither kind nor loving. Mary would never have done that to her brother.
    Birds of a feather... Besides, Maria has made herself a social pariah in Northampton.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Certainly most readers think Jane Austen probably agreed with Fanny, and Edmund and Sir Thomas.
    I'm unsure about Sir Thomas, but otherwise concur.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    I'm not sure one way or the other, nor would my opinion of the characters and their actions be altered if I were.
    How much do our opinions matter? The book is a masterpiece – perhaps Austen's best novel.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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