Thursday, May 5, 2011

5/5 - Quick Parallels

Remarkably, it took less than a month for the new Wendy Williams programme Love Triangle to produce an M/MM triangle.  I am not wild about the programme in the first place - at least twice one of the "rivals" has had to witness a marriage proposal, and I'd give the rejected suitor the nicer prize by way of consolation, but this is the sort of thing for which I've waited in vain for some time, going back as far as Love Connection.  There have been other programmes using same-sexers as a or the main point, but the non-specific programmes have tended to give this a wide berth.  One would certainly have expected Jerry Springer to have had some sex-sex episodes of Baggage by now.

Could any of this week's crop of (generally less than inspired) letters trace a way back to Miss Austen?  Let us look.

L1:  For an author so concerned with marriage and family, Miss Austen provides rather few grandmothers.  Usually they lie a few years beyond the endings of the novels.  Lady de Courcy seems admirable.  Mrs Ferrars might merit the criticism, but neither of her grandson's parents would provide it.  Mrs Dashwood is a stepgrandmother, whose stepgrandson's existence as a male child proves indirectly to cause her a good deal of grief.  Mrs Musgrove is not a great favourite with her daughter-in-law, nor, if we can be allowed to swap genders, is Mr Woodhouse entirely popular with his son-in-law.  But the outright winners for L1 are Lady Middleton and her mother Mrs Jennings.

Considering that Lady Middleton lives only to humour her children and display her good breeding, and her mother's manners leave a good deal to be desired (although they veer rather to the indiscreet than the profane), there cannot be serious competition on this front.  My only slight quibble is that, while Lady Middleton seems a good match for LW1 in terms of tone, she is a bit more on the doting side, wouldn't be offended by racist comments or even argue with her mother in the first place, and she seems so content with merely changing the subject when Mrs Jennings becomes a bit too inquisitive into the private lives of others that it would be hard to imagine her consulting an outside authority.  Then again, the Prudecutor would be right up the alley of a woman who calls the Miss Dashwoods satirical because they are fond of reading - not that she knows exactly what it is to be satirical, but it is censure in common use and easily given.  Mrs Jennings, while occasionally improper (and frequently offensive to the delicate and exacting sensibilities of Marianne), does not go so far as racism or an equivalent, although one might consider it close that she divulges to Elinor all her suppositions about Colonel Brandon having a natural daughter.  Sir John also is much more in sympathy with his mother-in-law than he is with his wife.

As far as LW1's problem goes, I should ask for a better definition of racist.  Racist has been stretched rather wide, and might be on the brink of becoming a term similar to Registered Sexual Offender in terms of scope.  Interesting that the Prudecutor takes a Zero Tolerance line - rarely the most effective approach.

For those who like LW1, we need only wait a few years for Mr Bingley and Jane Bennet to produce offspring, when Mrs Bennet will doubtless be all one could desire by way of a grandmother exactly as described.  Jane and Bingley would both be perfectly well-behaved themselves, likely to worry about Mrs B's influence on the children, and of the type to seek advice about it.

L2:  Now this is a tough one, in part because many of the potential estrangements lie in the future.  Lady Susan would be capable of dissumulating, but she would never go to the bother of all those handmade presents to her cooling daughter.  Mrs Thorpe probably lacks the ability or the strong sensibility.  I could see Mrs Dashwood producing some delightful reminiscings, but her daughters are devoted to her.  Mrs Price would never have the time.  Mrs Musgrove almost certainly lacks the talent, and would only be a good model if one took a liking to LW2.  Mrs Bennet might be the closest we can come to a parallel, once Jane and Elizabeth have homes of their own far away.  Mrs B is certainly clingy enough, and likely to produce efforts to get back in her daughters' good graces that would produce more embarrassment than gratitude.  Neither Jane nor Elizabeth is likely to provide the same sort of non-response, but Lydia might, though she's hardly likely to have a similar reason of distinguishment to provide any sort of excuse.

As for LW2, who might have provided interesting cause for specualtion with regard to gender had this not been posted as part of the Mother's Day Week, I cannot approve of her.  It is bad form to agree to eschew gifts and then produce sentimental handmade ones.  And, as a producer of sentimental gifts of my own labour, I am appalled that LW2's reaction is to be looking for gratitude.  The makings of these gifts are their own reward, and they should only be presented when they are welcome.

There is way too much being left out to draw many sensible conclusions about what ought to happen.  My inclination is to side with the daughter.  That could change, but it seems unlikely.

L4:  This one hardly applies to Miss Austen, as Mother's Day came after her time.  Jane and Elizabeth Bennet are closer to their aunt Mrs Gardiner than to their mother.  Edward Ferrars doubtless prefers his mother-in-law to his mother.  Fanny Price is possible in this category - she grows apart from her mother and a visit home to Portsmouth only reinforces how she has come to view Mansfield as her true home.  But there is much more of a runaway winner in Frederica Vernon, mainly because her mother, Lady Susan is quite the villainess.  They might even be in danger of going too far, as LW4 did not (one presumes) have her mother as a rival for the affections of her husband.

Has LW4 been a bit manipulated by FGF4?  Perhaps.  Does it matter much?  I don't really share the sentiment expressed by some that LW4 giving FGF4 a Mother's Day present will put a lot of pressure on poor dear Pappa to make his GF LW4's MIL.  In any event, I don't see the two of them reaching the exemplary standard presented by Emma Woodhouse and Mrs Weston, or Anne Elliot and Lady Russell.  I am more interested in taking exception to the Prudecutor devoting the considerable majority of her answer to advising LW4 on what to do if she would like to be reconciled to her mother.  There is lip service to the possibility that LW4 might be fine with the estrangement, but the Prudecutor's heart isn't in it.  She really wants to bring about the reconciliation.  Poor misguided Prudecutor - refusing to believe that some people are just better off left in the Estranged box.  Maybe LW4 should have added that her mother is an unapologetic racist, as well as a sexist.  Then the Prudecutor would have insisted that LW4 never speak to her mother again or allow any grandmotherly contact.

L3:  Miss Austen provides even fewer mothers-in-law than she does grandmothers.  Of course, we see quite a few women on their way to becoming mothers-in-law; most of the heroines have living mothers, and the novels wrap up with their weddings or a bit into the future.  But another runaway winner in this category emerges quite clearly.  Although the parties involved live quite near each other instead of the mother-in-law living far away, we get an excellent and detailed look into the domestic travails of the elder and younger Musgroves.

Almost no sooner does Anne Elliot arrive to visit her imaginary hypochondriac sister Mary than she is drawn into the heart of the eternal disputes between the great house at Uppercross and the new cottage, home of the young squire and his wife.  It's bad enough for Anne that both Charles and Mary solicit her assistance in the matter of Mary's proclaimed ill-health, Mary hoping that Anne will convince Charles she's more ill than she allows, Charles that Anne will convince Mary there's nothing wrong with her.  Mary dislikes how Mrs Musgrove spoils her grandchildren; Mrs Musgrove wishes Mary had some of Anne's method.  Neither DIL nor MIL has a good word to say about the other's servants.  Mary is annoyed that she is not given precedence at the Great House.  Mrs Musgrove doesn't give a flying fig about precedence, but Henrietta and Louisa let Anne known that Mary's jealousy of rank and continually putting herself forward to take precedence of Mrs Musgrove has been much remarked in the neighbourhood.

While it is certainly possible that LW3 is a bit more of a Mamma's Boy than he's aware, it does not seem quite correct to make this one into a coin flip of it being either All the Crazy Wife or a 50/50 split between Wifey and Mamma as they battle it out for control of a LW3 for whom the adjective poor would denote pity and contempt rather than sympathy.  I think here I like the parallel to the Musgroves.  An outside arbiter might find the odd fault on the maternal side, but in the main the wife would come in for the most stern of the findings.

Moral:  "How was Anne to set all these matters to rights?  she could do little more than listen patiently, soften every grievance, and excuse each to the other; give them all hints of the forebearance necessary between such near neighbours, and make those hints broadest which were meant for her sister's benefit."

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