A Visit to Sotherton: The Emblematic Gate

Barbara Larochelle asks for some instances of foreshadowing in MP. I think there are many and I would suggest that they constitute a curious kind of "art" going on in this novel. That is, while numbers of incidents in MP are presented utterly realistically, these same incidents are "figural:" they figure forth or contain within themselves what is to come at the end of the novel or and through outward behavior in the characters shadow forth their deeper inner selves.

My favorite comes at Sotherton, the moment when Crawford helps Maria sneak past the gate. He asks her will she wait for the key from Mr Rushworth. She declares that the "iron gate" has made her feel "restrained;' it's a "hardship." She calls out with some urgency in her voice, that she wants to get out. And without Mr Rushworth's key. Now Mr Crawford says there may be just "a little difficulty," but he will smooth the way as they edge round the gate.

Not only do we see these characters' later behavior foreshadowed we get insight into their inner motivation. Also some others are involved. As they move round the gate, and prepare to walk on the edge of the ha-ha, Fanny calls out Maria "will hurt" herself. Fanny is distressed for Maria. Will she not wait? Mr Rushworth will be right back. Maria will "certainly hurt herself." Safety does not lie that way. And Fanny acts with safety in mind. Maria, of course, laughs at Fanny. "La my dear..." She knows her little tender-hearted cousin--of course she doesn't know who may find in that tender-heart and body something she Maria never imagined.

Julia comes along, terribly irritated at having to have remained with Rushworth's mother and Mrs Norris. Fanny tells Julia what has happened and says what a pity Mr Rushworth has gone to so much trouble. But Julia declines to be "punished" for Maria's sin. Still she is.

Then Mr Rushworth. Someone suggested Mr Rushworth loves Julia. I suggest another brilliantly figural episode is that of the play. The characters in the play each of Austen's characters take is an index to Austen's characters' personality. Count Cassel is a lecherous lout. I don't want to get ahead however, but will here simply refer anyone who is interested to Austen's concluding sentence on Rushworth. We all remember her dismissal of the "indignities of his stupidity;" we forget the narrator tells us Rushworth knew Maria loved Henry when he married her and married her out of "selfish passion"-a code word for dense lechery and pride.

Later there is a card game which is similarly emblematic.

In this scene and at length in the play and in other little scenes, we see writ large in simple form the basic psychological configuration of Maria's relationship with Henry Crawford--with the important difference that in the end it will not be play, and Henry will find that Maria is not to be led by the hand tamely as he wants her to.

This novel is contains brilliant poetic art--albeit highly unsentimental and more than a tinge bitter. I would not call Austen clear in the manner of Mozart; she is the involved satirist in the manner of Johnson--compassion and sardonic irony coming in in equal amounts.

It's very pretty too, this novel, picturesque. But that's another post.

Ellen Moody

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Page Last Update 10 January 2003