Said to be Yardley Oak, the tree about which William Cowper wrote his poem:
Change is the diet on which all subsists
Created changeable, and change at last
Destroys them ...
My header is a verse from a poem by Cower as recited by heart in Mansfield Park. Fanny is in Portsmouth and oh the weeks lengthen out as she can barely endure the days. How is one to get through so many hours until tomorrow and then tomorrow will have as many. And then there's another day yet. Our narrator tells us
"Her eagerness, her impatience, her longings to be with them, were such as to bring a line or two of Cowper’s Tirocinium for ever before her. “With what intense desire she wants her home,” was continually on her tongue, as the truest description of a yearning which she could not suppose any schoolboy’s bosom to feel more keenly."
Fanny's uncle had promised Easter, but (we are told) it came late that year. And then nothing happened.
When I sent Miss Schuster-Slatt a poem I wrote not that long ago, she said I must have been remembering the above line. Not consciously, but of course I had it somewhere echoing in my brain. Since reading Mansfield Park at age 15 (and then rereading countless times) bits of it are never that far from consciousness, half-called up:
A simple poem
She longs for home
with all her heart
A quiet place
where she and they
are not unhappy.
It is so quiet.
At supper we
enjoy our talk
We have kindness
in our hearts towards
The best time of day.
We try to lengthen it out,
We have two cats
who break the peace
stare and run about
causing us to shout,
they then subside
We long for more:
we have computers
books, writing, chores
She wants a place
outside the home
where she can go
My dreams are painful.
he won't confide
why should they?
So I turn to books,
For comfort, as a means of
sustaining myself, for cheer,
I return to them.
Yet it comes to me
I need this setting
not to feel I'm
in a state of suspended
Why is this?
I do not know,
It should not be.
It makes no sense.
Back to Mansfield Park: much later, remembering what life was really like at Mansfield Park, and now looking at what it's like at Portsmouth, Fanny Price recites a famous sentence by Samuel Johnson in one of his many Ramblers on marriage. At the end of a meditation on the limitations and miseries of marriage, Johnson says something like something like while marriage has so many pains, celibacy has few pleasures. So while life at the park had many pains, life in Portsmouth has few pleasures: for Fanny they are Susan and reading and the occasional walk along the ramparts, and letter writing (but reading hers from others is, she learns, an ambivalent experience).
Fanny (Sylvester Le Tousel) a renter and chuser of books at last; reading with Susan ( Eyrl Maynard) (from the 1983 BBC masterpiece Mansfield Park, all stills in this blog are from this mini-series)
in life we have to make do with circumstances that somehow evolve over time often without our quite noticing what will be the consequences, and some are usually unpredictable or unforeseen, and then find they are difficult to live with. Much more than who we are married to or if we are not married, affects us this way. For my case, it's where I have ended up living, where my house is, a safe and comfortable place economically but not one I can easily replicate elsewhere and if I try, I might lose the (relative) safety. Alexandria, Va, a suburb where I have little in common with anyone near by. Not that I would necessarily at all in NYC, the dream of congenial companionship is just that, a dream.
As to where we end up living and how much money we have, Jane Austen certainly knew that; in the last two years of her life one of her brothers went bankrupt; another was in danger of losing all from litigation. She found herself having to leave London and be back in Chawton and also very ill. There were hardly any people of their low income and high education around them, so their regular contacts were limited. One of her letters contains this plangent phrase, she is standing by a window looking out, and she feel instinctively the fatal illness. She had not made that much money on her books after all and was not quite satisfied with Emma (she knew her content was limited) or the two on hand.
She is also in Mansfield Park as Mary Crawford: Mary says marriage is a take-in; we might say having children is even more so, because you don't even get to choose, and usually much less the circumstances around them (who they end up with peers, in the US the schools you find in the neighborhood you land in). The moral of Oedipus is you have only a wee bit choice from what's on offer.
Looking round at her sister's fate, the Vicar's cottage, Mary (Jackie Smith-Wood) says it's a take-in.
All must somehow be lived with. Best not to have illusions, they increase the pain of existence, put us at risk of degrading exploitation and intense hurt as we reach out. We end up with cats :)
Returning home: Edmund (Nicholas Farrell) dismayed, Fanny intense, Susan eager to have left hers. Still,
Scenes must be beautiful which daily views please daily
Whose novelty survives long knowledge and the scrutiny of years.
From Cowper's The Task as recited by Edmund to Fanny in the 83 film
Fanny and Edmund as children walking in the meadow as he recites Cowper
Each time I have heard Nicholas Farrell read those lines in the film, I have remembered what I feel when I go for a walk in the park (locally and also Central Park) or look out at from my room and felt comforted.
But also the deep pleasure of walking on the rampats with Susan and Henry at Portsmouth
Miss Drake from her nest of comforts returning to her world of Austen and movie work for today ...