Before I introduce today’s guest post, I want to note that this is the anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. She died in Winchester on July 18, 1817, at the age of 41. Here’s the link to a post I wrote two years ago to commemorate the anniversary of her death: “Never was human being more sincerely mourned.” Deborah Yaffe wrote a lovely blog post yesterday to mark the occasion: “The sun of our lives.”
Today’s contributor to “An Invitation to Mansfield Park” is Dr. Julie Strong, a member of JASNA Nova Scotia who has practised medicine in Nova Scotia for thirty years. She has an MD from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland and a BA in Classics from Dalhousie University. Julie has had several articles appear in medical publications. Her queer tragic-comedy “Athena in Love” won the Best Playwright’s Award in the 2012 Atlantic Fringe Festival. She has presented in the United States and Europe on “Madness in Ancient Greece” and “The Shamanic Roots of Western Medicine.”
In Chapter 11, Mary Crawford visits Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price at Mansfield Park. Mary has become increasingly attached to Edmund, and, much to Fanny’s consternation, he has become increasingly attached to her. However, Mary wishes to marry a man of ambition and, dismayed at Edmund’s intention to take holy orders, hopes to dissuade him by describing the petty veniality of a clergyman’s life.
“I have been so little addicted to take my own opinions from my uncle,” said Miss Crawford, “that I can hardly suppose; – and since you push me so hard, I must observe, that I am not entirely without the means of seeing what clergymen are, being at this time the guest of my own brother, Dr Grant. And though Dr Grant is most kind and obliging to me, and though he is really a gentleman, and I dare say a good scholar and clever, and often preaches good sermons, and is very respectable, I see him to be an indolent, selfish bon vivant, who must have his palate consulted in every thing, who will not stir a finger for the convenience of any one, and who, moreover, if the cook makes a blunder, is out of humour with his excellent wife. To own the truth, Henry and I were partly driven out this very evening, by a disappointment about a green goose which he could not get the better of. My poor sister was forced to stay and bear it.”
– From Mansfield Park, Chapter 11 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003)
Jane Stabler, editor of the Oxford World’s Classics edition of the novel, explains that “a green goose” is one “killed at three or four months old, as opposed to one fattened on stubble for eating at Michaelmas. Green goose was traditionally eaten around Whitsuntide, which may explain why Dr. Grant finds it less than satisfactory in late summer. It also indicates that for him the observance of the calendar of church festivals is less important than the possibility of a gourmet treat.”
Edmund agrees with Mary that Dr. Grant should not indulge in bad humour merely for being denied a succulent roast; however, he insists that it is insufficient cause for condemning the entire profession.
Fanny suggests that it is just as well Dr. Grant became a clergyman. She reasons that an army or navy position would only have increased his power to injure his inferiors. This would be Austen’s fine sense of irony at play: a profession whose manifest aim is the elevation of the human soul is reduced to a means of defanging an unpleasant man.
Nevertheless, there is a brief episode in Chapter 22 in which Dr. Grant rouses himself. He takes an umbrella to Fanny who is sheltering from a downpour under a tree just near the parsonage grounds. She has already refused a servant with an umbrella, but unable to withstand Dr. Grant, accompanies him back to the parsonage where she changes into dry clothes. The rector thus saves our heroine from a good chance of contracting consumption, albeit against her will.
However, this lapse into civility passes and Dr. Grant soon returns to form. Edmund and Fanny are visiting the Grants and Dr. Grant invites Edmund, alone, to dinner the following day. It no more occurs to him to include Fanny than to include his housemaid. However, “Fanny had barely time for an unpleasant feeling on the occasion,” because Mrs. Grant quickly invites her, and so mitigates her husband’s rudeness. When Mrs. Grant informs him that it will be a fine turkey for dinner, he feigns lack of interest or even annoyance: “A friendly meeting and not a fine dinner is all we have in view. A Goose or a leg of mutton or whatever you and cook chuse to give us.” He affects that indifference to matters of the flesh becoming to a clergyman and so adds hypocrisy to his existing list of vices.
Dr. Grant is a grouchy gourmand whom Austen summarily dispatches at the close of the novel. He dies, having “brought on apoplexy and death, by three great institutionary dinners in one week” (Chapter 48). As Cheryl Kinney discussed in her post for “An Invitation to Mansfield Park,” Tom Bertram was right that Dr. Grant would “soon pop off.” The living of Mansfield then falls to Edmund, when he and Fanny “had been married just long enough to begin to feel a want an increase of income.” And so Dr. Grant redeems, through death, some part of his life of vice, by contributing to the happiness of the novel’s hero and heroine.
To read more about all the posts in this series, visit An Invitation to Mansfield Park. Coming soon: guest posts by Juliet McMaster, Lynn Festa, David Monaghan, and Diana Birchall. Subscribe by email or follow the blog so you don’t miss these fabulous contributions to the Mansfield Park party!