Saturday, February 10, 2007
I never gave much thought about what the British did to the French in Acadia, but someone recently pointed out that it was an instance of ethnic cleansing.
John Mack Faragher, A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from Their American Homeland
Reason Magazine - Exile Without an End
A Great and Noble Scheme: (Acadian Deportation) John Mack Faragher
Acadia: Peaceful, Prosperous, Stateless by Chantal K. Saucier
BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Paradise Lost in an 'Ethnic Cleansing': The ...
| Book Review | The Journal of American History, 93.3 | The ...
| Book Review | The American Historical Review, 111.2 | The ...
The Franco-American Connection blog: Author of “A Great and Noble ...
America's forgotten atrocity - Salon.com
Acadian French - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
ACADIAN - CAJUN Genealogy & History
MAP OF ACADIA:Acadian History:Acadian & French Canadian Ancestral Home
Acadian Genealogy Homepage; Acadian, French & Louisiania Flags!
Acadian Genealogy Homepage; Queen's Apology to Acadians
Updates on Apology from the Brittish Crown to the Acadian People
THE STORIES OF OUR FRENCH ACADIAN FAMILIES
Quintin Publications | Acadian History
Cajun - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Cajun cuisine - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Encyclopedia of Cajun Culture
The Cajun Chef: Cajun cooking and recipes
Chef Paul Prudhomme's Magic Seasoning Blends; (wiki for Paul Prudhomme)
Experience Great Cajun & Creole Food and Recipes with Chef John ...
Chef Rick's Southern cooking-Cajun Low Country and Soul Food
The Creole and Cajun Recipe Page
Cajun Cooking Recipes
Cajun Food Home - Cajun Food and Hot Tasty Cajun Recipes
Cajun food is not a mere fad
Over 1000 Traditional Cajun Recipes with over 70 photos ...
Cajun Recipes - Louisiana Cuisine Information and Recipes
Broussard's Cajun Cuiseine
Cajun French Music Association
Cajun music - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
CajunMusic.org -Cajun Music Links, and More . . .!
A Brief History of Cajun, Creole, and Zydeco Music
THE MAMOU CAJUN MUSIC FESTIVAL
Cajun Music : Mary Chapin Carpenter
Mary Chapin Carpenter - Almost Home
Live Cajun Music---Aucoin's Cajun Restaurant
Live Cajun Music---Aucoin's Cajun Restaurant
Cajun Style I'll Fly Away (Bruce Weeks Family Band)
The Bruce Weeks Family Band
Cajun Musicians The Savoy Family Band
Bios for the Savoy Family Band & Savoy Doucet
Marc and Ann Savoy
Amanda Shaw - Dans a Carre - Amazing Cajun Fiddle Playing
official site; wiki
White Oak Productions -> Amanda Shaw
An Unsettled Conquest: The British Campaign ... - by Geoffrey Gilbert Plank - 260 pages
From Migrant to Acadian: A North American ... - by Naomi Elizabeth Saundaus Griffiths - 668 pages
The Founding of New Acadia: The Beginnings of ... - by Carl A Brasseaux - 252 pages
THE ACADIA EARLY MUSIC ARCHIVE:
Norman Garnett seems to be concerned that I sometimes change my mind. He's not specific about which such episodes worry him, but I have two responses. First, as Maynard Keynes once said when upbraided for supposed inconsistency "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?'
Second, I think I have actually been remarkably consistent for some long time. It's true that I was for several years a Marxist revolutionary, but I formally abandoned membership of the International Socialists in what I regard as the distant past. I didn't 'drift away' or 'lapse' but actually wrote a letter of resignation in 1975, which I suspect is longer ago than some readers of this blog were born. In this I am entirely open. I make no secret of it (the opposite, if anything) unlike a leading BBC presenter and several leading Labour politicians of high rank, who remain coy about having had similar experiences, and who - in one case known to me - gets quite stroppy if you mention it in his presence.
And my progress to my current position involved several years in the Labour Party trying to locate its fabled 'Right Wing' which then turned out to have atrophied and shrivelled to nothingness. It also involved some wonderfully intensive education, of a kind that money couldn't buy, as a labour correspondent dealing daily with union officials and as a political reporter spending my days and nights in the company of politicians, followed by periods in Moscow and Washington, seeing in action the two rival systems of thought which compete for supremacy in most advanced societies. I was also able to witness political violence, and some of the effects of warfare and famine, at first hand but without being in any severe danger myself, though I have to say that Somalia didn't feel terribly safe when I was there, and I was most definitely afraid at the time. These experiences, taken together, made me reconsider my teenage rejection of religious belief, and many of the categories I had previously thought were settled.
Since then, I think I can point to my having been against idealistic wars, for the liberty of the subject, for the rule of law, unconvinced by the claims of either the free market or the socialist state to provide a complete answer to the ills of society, and in favour of private life and the family. This has placed me outside the major political parties, which have generally accepted the case for liberal interventionism, are careless of liberty, equivocal on the family and increasingly irked by the rule of law. As for the market and the state, we now seem to have the worst possible combination of the two, each powerful where they should be weak, and weak where they should be powerful. Huge monopolistic industries flourish and enjoy political power. For example, the weekly day of rest, which even Robespierre and Stalin couldn't abolish, is threatened as never before by commercial pressure. And those who think that politicians have lost their appetite for controlling the economy should study the immense apparatus of regulation, some national, some supranational, now taking shape in almost all Western economies. This regulation is in many cases a far more effective way of imposing state authority on the economy than crude nationalisation ever was. Most advanced economies also have very large, and growing, public sectors, in the form of health and social services, often devolved to quangoes and local government but still public for all that.
I suppose this position may appear inconsistent to someone who thinks that a conservative has to be a Thatcherite warmonger, and that socialism has a monopoly of concern for the poor, or for human freedom. But, rather than accuse me of inconsistency, such critics might - if only for a moment - wonder if they are in fact mistaken about their own positions.
I have not read anything by Isabel Allende, but she has a novel dealing with Zorro. (Some reviews.) (Are her novels considered "chick-lit"? Just wondering. Austen I can handle because it is centered in a "classical" conception of the virtues and eudaimonia. But what of Allende's works?)
The promo for the telenovela (set to be 120 episodes):
Gypsy Kings is collaborating on a Zorro musical. Really.
I wonder if there will be a character like Catherine Zeta-Jones's Elena:
The Mask of Zorro
The Legend of Zorro
And the answer is... maybe! Marlene Favela
Christian Meier plays Zorro.
Apparently CZJ stars in the No Reservations, American remake of Mostly Martha:
Catherine Zeta-Jones Online
"A Historic, Strategic and Moral Calamity"
By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS
Most Americans are probably unaware of former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski's damning indictment of the Bush Regime in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 1, 2007, as the United States no longer has a media--only a government propaganda ministry.
Brzezinski damned the Bush Regime's war in Iraq as "a historic, strategic, and moral calamity." Brzezinski damned the war as "driven by Manichean impulses and imperial hubris." He damned the war for "intensifying regional instability" and for "undermining America's global legitimacy."
Finally, a voice with weight speaks. Brzezinski is a real intellect, a real expert, unlike the political hacks who have followed him in the office.
Brzezinski told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam." Brzezinski predicts "some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a 'defensive' U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan."
There is something deadly wrong with a society and a political system that permits a Regime capable of such insane and criminal "leadership" to remain in power. By the time Hitler launched World War II, the German Reichstag had no power to prevent him. But we have not yet reached that point in the United States.
Brzezinski concludes his testimony with the statement that it is "time for the Congress to assert itself."
The reasons for impeaching Bush and Cheney exceed by many multiples all the reasons for impeaching every president combined in US history. The reasons have been enumerated many times and do not need repeating. If members of Congress were faithful to their oaths of office to uphold the Constitution, Bush and Cheney would already have been impeached and convicted.
The very least Congress can do at this very late stage is to make it perfectly clear in no uncertain terms that any attack on Iran under any pretext without the authorization of Congress after a careful examination of the pretext will lead to the immediate removal of Bush and Cheney from power, as will any escalation of the war in Iraq without explicit authorization by Congress.
Having delivered this ultimatum, Congress must immediately begin investigations of the Bush Regime's attack on civil liberties and the separation of powers, on the Bush Regime's use of lies and deception to lead America into a war with Iraq, on the Bush Regime's violation of the Geneva Conventions, and on the Bush Regime's plans to attack Iran.
The American people and their representatives in Congress must face the fact that criminal and dictatorial persons control executive power in the United States and immediately rectify this highly dangerous situation.
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com
Friday, February 09, 2007
Father Cantalamessa on the Rich-Poor Divide
Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday's Readings
ROME, FEB. 9, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from this Sunday's liturgy.
* * *
Blessed are you who are poor! Woe to you who are rich!
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 17:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20; Luke 6:17,20-26
The passage of the Gospel for this Sunday, which is on the beatitudes, provides us with an occasion to verify some things that we said two Sundays ago about the historical nature of the Gospels. We said then that in referring to Jesus' words, each of the four Evangelists, without betraying the fundamental meaning, developed one aspect or another of what Jesus said, adapting it to the needs of the community for whom they wrote.
While Matthew reports Eight Beatitudes pronounced by Jesus, Luke reports only four. In compensation, however, Luke reinforces the Four Beatitudes, opposing a corresponding malediction to each, introduced by a "woe."
Also, while Matthew's discourse is indirect: "Blessed are the poor"; Luke's is indirect: "Blessed are you who are poor!" Matthew puts the accent on spiritual poverty -- "the poor in spirit" -- and Luke puts it on material poverty.
But, as is plain, these are details that do not change in the least the substance of things. Both of the two Evangelists, with his particular way of reporting Jesus' teaching, sheds light on a new dimension which would have otherwise remained in shadow. Luke's list of the beatitudes is not as complete, but he perfectly grasps the basic meaning.
When we speak of the beatitudes, our thoughts go immediately to the first one: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours." But in reality, the horizon is much larger.
Here Jesus is outlining two ways to understand life: either "for the kingdom of God" or "for one's own consolation." That is, life is either exclusively in function of this earthly life, or also in function of eternal life.
This is what Luke's account draws attention to: "Blessed are you -- Woe to you": "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.... Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation."
Two categories, two worlds. The poor, the hungry, those who weep and those who are persecuted and banished because of the Gospel, belong to the category of the blessed. The rich, the satiated, those who laugh now and those who are praised by all, belong to the category of the unfortunate.
Jesus does not simply canonize all the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and the persecuted, just as he does not simply demonize all the rich, the satiated, those who laugh and are praised. The distinction is deeper; it has to do with knowing what we put our trust in, on what sort of foundation we are building the house of our life, whether it is on that which will pass away, or on that which will not pass away.
The passage from today's Gospel is truly a double-edged sword: It separates, traces, two diametrically opposed destinies. It is like the prime meridian which divides east and west.
But, fortunately, there is an essential difference. The prime meridian is fixed: The lands that are in the east cannot past to the west, just as the equator which divides the poverty of the global south from the rich, opulent north is fixed.
The line that divides the blessed and the unfortunate in our Gospel is not like this; it is a mobile barrier. Not only can one pass from one side to the other, but this whole passage of the Gospel was intended by Jesus as an invitation to pass from one sphere to the other.
He invites us not to become poor, but to become rich! "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours!" The poor possess a kingdom and they have it right now! Those who decide to enter this kingdom are from now on sons of God, free, brothers, full of hope and immortality. Who would not want to be poor in this way?
"I'll tell you why women are running out of men to marry"
(An op-ed/report from the UK. But this is a trend in the US first noticed among African-American women.)
It is a stunning fact — the biggest social revolution of our lifetime — that far more women than men are now receiving what is in theory an elite academic education. When I was at university 20 years ago, the figures were almost exactly the other way round, with the ratio 60:40 in favour of males. Far more female graduates are coming out of our universities than male graduates — and, in 30 years' time, when these people reach the peak of their careers, the entire management structure of Britain will have been transformed and feminised.
Speaking as an ardent feminist, I expect that this will have many wonderful results: a culture that is more feng shui and emotionally literate and altogether nicer, and an economy that benefits from unleashing the phenomenal energy and talents of British women who are — if GCSEs, A-levels and university entrance results mean anything — currently giving the male sex a good old intellectual thrashing.
What else could someone who wants a bureaucratic centralized welfare state want than a society of docile worker drones willing to sit behind desks and stay on task while filling out paperwork, or staring at a computer screen? The sad truth is that there is very little correlation between a degree and the development of intellectual ability, and a lot with rote memorization. More degrees does not mean that society is becoming more "educated."
Although Professor Barash has come to this as the result of her research, it is something observant people have always known, and one of the reasons women have tended to be relegated to subordinate roles not simply by the will of men, but of women as well. There are good reasons why both women and men tend as a rule to be more frightened and mistrustful of female superiors—the “female superior” being in all likelihood a competitive woman--than they are of males. There is something to the stereotype of the woman who, once threatened or alienated by competition or anything else, is an implacable enemy forever, while the man who, more abstractly goal- than person-oriented, is able to leave these things behind, or at least re-order them constructively, and get on with business. Despite the obvious risks male bosses pose to female employees they find attractive or male subordinates with whom they compete, it is more likely that both men and women will receive satisfactory treatment from the male superior—a commonplace of the workplace with which feminism is decidedly uncomfortable.
What! Women aren't the source of only pure goodness, and men aren't the cause of all evil?
So what would genuinely neutral observation of those few matriarchal societies that do exist actually reveal?
Thursday, February 08, 2007
My director mentioned to me that he has to read through 88 applications or so for the Ph.D. program in theology at BC. Then he told me that he heard there are about 300 applications or so for the philosophy program--I don't know if that number includes the M.A. students, or if it's just for the Ph.D. program.
I don't know if the number of people applying to graduate programs has increased this year, or if it's just that more and more people are considering Boston College. But seriously, someone should get the word out and let them know that they may not have a job by the time they finish.
(I figure any words encouraging them to pursue wisdom and to seek it outside of academia will fall on deaf ears.)
The Departed DuoPlus from yesterday:Two sequels, two directors in mind?by StaxFebruary 6, 2007 - Although it was recently reported that any development on The Departed 2 was on hold until producer-turned-Paramount chief Brad Grey's association with a sequel could be determined, it is now being reported that Warner Bros. has bigger plans than originally expected for the project.
Warner Bros. is said to want not one but two follow-ups to their hit 2006 thriller, which itself was a remake of the Hong Kong classic Infernal Affairs.
"(Screenwriter) William Monahan isn't just writing a second movie, he's also working on an outline for a third Departed film. What either movie will be about is still anyone's guess," according to CinemaBlend.com.
"We already know the second movie will not be a prequel but a continuation involving existing characters so it stands to reason that this probably applies to the third film as well. What our source was able to confirm is that the second script, the one Monahan is writing right now, is indeed about Mark Wahlberg's Digman as so many have already assumed."
The site adds that, should Martin Scorsese opt out of directing a Departed sequel, then the studio is considering either Michael Mann (Miami Vice) or Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) to replace him.
the first to reveal that there were even plans for a follow-up to the pic, which itself is a remake of the Hong Kong hit Infernal Affairs.
Wahlberg has also revealed that Robert De Niro is being considered for a key role in the sequel (there may even be two sequels). It was originally claimed that De Niro would play Martin Sheen's successor in the Massachusetts State Police. Not so, Wahlberg tells Empire Magazine.
"They're talking about bringing in De Niro to play a senator or a congressman", said Wahlberg. "You know, the corruption obviously going deeper and higher up the ranks — reaching up the political chain. So it'll be fun. And if it's a success, they're gonna do a prequel and bring everyone back…make it a trilogy."
Wahlberg adds that Departed screenwriter William Monahan is now working on the screenplay for part two, and that filming could begin at "the beginning of next year or end of this year."
It was recently reported, however, that all talk about Departed sequels was premature until the role of producer-turned-Paramount chief Brad Grey could be figured out. The rumor mill also suggests that, should Scorsese pass on doing the sequel(s), then Warner Bros. is eyeing Michael Mann or Alfonso Cuaron to replace him.
Screenwriter Monahan hails from Boston and infused The Departed with some local flavor. More than one publication has noted that Jack Nicholson's mobster Frank Costello bore more than a passing resemblance to infamous Boston crime boss/informant/fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger. Whitey's younger brother Billy was once the most powerful politician in Massachusetts; could that be an influence on De Niro's alleged politician character? Time will tell.
Interview With Father Thomas D. WilliamsROME, FEB. 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- A key point of Pope Paul VI's social encyclical, "Populorum Progressio," emphasized that the measure of human progress cannot be limited to just the material or technological.
So observes Legionary of Christ Father Thomas D. Williams, professor of Catholic social doctrine and dean of theology at Rome's Regina Apostolorum university.
In this interview with ZENIT, Father Williams talked about the significance of "Populorum Progressio," which marks its 40th anniversary next month.
Q: Why was "Populorum Progressio" so important?
Father Williams: Not only was "Populorum Progressio" the first social encyclical promulgated after the Second Vatican Council, it was also the first ever to address head-on the topic of human progress and development.
Paul VI drew on many of the insights of the Council to distinguish an authentically Christian idea of progress from other ideologies.
Q: What ideologies?
Father Williams: The Enlightenment had taken the idea of progress as its leitmotiv, preaching a secular humanism that would usher in an age of reason, where religion would be replaced by science.
Along with the positive contributions of the Enlightenment, such as a healthy separation of church and state, the balance of political powers and the promotion of the natural sciences, it also had a marked materialistic and anti-religious dimension as well. Man became his own savior, able to resolve his own problems, and no longer needful of a transcendent and personal God.
Nineteenth-century ideologies built on many of the aspects of the Enlightenment, and came to see progress as a necessary and inexorable phenomenon, an expression of Darwinian evolutionism. This existential optimism held that things were necessarily getting better as human beings gained dominion over the natural world through the application of the natural sciences.
Add to the mix Hegel's philosophy of dialectical progress, whereby society necessarily progresses through conflict -- thesis, antithesis and synthesis -- and we had the perfect setup for the tragic totalitarian experiments of the 20th century, which sought to bring about an earthly paradise without God. By excluding God, they also wound up trampling on the human person as well.
Q: How does the Christian idea of progress differ from these ideologies?
Father Williams: First, as Paul VI taught in "Populorum Progressio," the Christian idea of progress is not merely material or technological. It necessarily embraces the whole human person in his social, moral, cultural and spiritual dimensions as well.
Paul VI wrote: "The development we speak of here cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man." If a society doesn't advance in goodness, in justice and in love, it doesn't truly advance.
Second, Christians do not see human progress as a necessary phenomenon. Just because we now have iPods and microwave ovens doesn't mean that we are morally or culturally superior to previous generations. Moving forward in time doesn't guarantee that we are moving forward in virtue. Not all change is an improvement, and regression is just as possible as progress.
Third, because progress isn't automatic, all of us must take responsibility for the direction our society takes. We are not simply swept along by the winds of change; each of us also influences the direction our culture takes. Our choices for good or evil have a bearing on all of mankind.
As Christians we believe that each of us has a specific vocation and a mission to fulfill. In this context, progress means doing our part to bring about the Kingdom of Christ in human society.
Finally, the progress of the earthly city does not exhaust the human condition. No matter how much human society progresses, our temporal existence will come to an end. We are called to eternal life in Christ. True progress must take into account man's spiritual dimension and transcendent vocation as a child of God destined for heaven.
Q: But isn't there a danger of over "spiritualizing" development and forgetting about man's real material needs?
Father Williams: Thankfully Paul VI didn't fall into this trap. Though he warned against a reductive materialism that understands progress and development in an exclusively material way, he likewise insisted on the importance of economic development, especially for the poorer nations.
He emphasized the need for a concerted effort on the part of all to lift underdeveloped nations and peoples out of their poverty as an essential part of their integral development.
Q: How can one gauge the real progress of a given culture or society?
Father Williams: A society progresses by becoming more human. Paul VI spoke often of a new Christian humanism, which focuses on the dignity of the human person.
The real progress of a culture can be measured by its achievement of the common good, that is, the conditions of social life that allows persons, families and groups to attain their true and integral good. Material prosperity is one element of this true progress, but it is not the only one, nor the most important.
Q: You have recently published a book entitled "Spiritual Progress." Where does the idea of spiritual progress fit into the picture of human development?
Father Williams: Spiritual underdevelopment is even more common that economic underdevelopment in the contemporary world. Many find that while their material, intellectual and social lives have grown continually over the years, their spiritual lives are still very much where they were as children.
The purpose of this book is not to offer a theoretical treatise on the spiritual life, but a more practical, hands-on text for growing in one's personal relationship with Christ.
It lays out the ABC's of the spiritual life: where we are going and, perhaps more importantly, how to get there. Many concepts such as holiness, God's will, faith and humility seem very ethereal to people today, and this book aims to bring them down to earth and make them tangible and attainable.
For years I had been looking for a book that combines meaty spiritual content with accessible language. I wanted to be able to offer good material to people who are starting to take their spiritual lives more seriously. Since I couldn't find what I was looking for, I decided to write it. I hope it fits the bill.
Papal Address on World Day of Consecrated Life
"That God Reign in Our Will, in Our Hearts, in the World"
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave in St. Peter's Basilica on the World Day of Consecrated Life, Feb. 2.
* * *
FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD
11th WORLD DAY OF CONSECRATED LIFE
ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI TO CONSECRATED MEN AND WOMEN
Friday, 2 February 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am glad to meet you at the end of the Eucharistic Celebration that has gathered you in this Basilica this year too, on an occasion so meaningful for you who belong to Congregations, Institutes, Societies of Apostolic Life and New Forms of Consecrated Life; you constitute a particularly important element of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Today's liturgy recalls the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, the feast chosen by my venerable Predecessor, John Paul II, as the "Day of Consecrated Life".
With great pleasure I address my cordial greetings to each one of you present here, beginning with Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of your Dicastery, to whom I am grateful for his kind words on your behalf. I then greet the Secretary and all the members of the Congregation which looks after a vital sector of the Church. Today's celebration is especially appropriate for asking the Lord for the gift of an ever more consistent and incisive presence of men and women religious and consecrated persons in the Church journeying along the roads of the world.
Dear brothers and sisters, the Feast day we are celebrating reminds us that your Gospel witness, to be truly effective, must stem from a response without reserve to the initiative of God who has consecrated you to him with a special act of love.
Just as the elderly Simeon and Anna longed to see the Messiah before they died and spoke of him "to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (cf. Lk 2:26,38) so also in our time, especially among young people, there is a widespread need to encounter God.
Those who are chosen by God for the consecrated life make this spiritual longing their own in a definitive way. In it, in fact, they have one expectation: the Kingdom of God: that God reign in our will, in our hearts, in the world. In them burns a unique thirst for love which can be quenched by the Eternal One alone.
By their example they proclaim to a world which is often bewildered but, in fact, increasingly in search of meaning, that God is the Lord of life and that his "steadfast love is better than life" (Ps 63:4).
By choosing obedience, poverty and chastity for the Kingdom of Heaven, they demonstrate that any attachment or love for people and things is incapable of definitively satisfying the heart; that earthly existence is a longer or shorter period of waiting for the "face-to-face" encounter with the divine Bridegroom, an expectation to be lived with an ever vigilant heart, to be ready to recognize and welcome him when he comes.
Consecrated life, therefore, is by its nature a total and definitive, unconditional and passionate response to God (cf. "Vita Consecrata," n. 17). And so, when one renounces everything to follow Christ, when one gives to him all that one holds most dear, braving every sacrifice as did the divine Teacher, the consecrated person who follows in Christ's footsteps necessarily also becomes "a sign of contradiction", because his/her way of thinking and living is often in opposition to the logic of the world, as it is almost always presented in the media.
Indeed, in choosing Christ we let ourselves be "conquered" by him without reserve. How many people thirsting for the truth are struck by this courage and attracted by those who do not hesitate to give their life, their own life, for their belief.
Is not this the radical evangelical fidelity to which every consecrated person is called in our time too? Let us give thanks to the Lord so that many Religious men and women in all the corners of the earth may continue to offer a supreme and faithful witness of love to God and to the brethren, a witness that is often marked by the blood of martyrdom. Let us also thank God so that these examples may continue to inspire in the souls of many young people the desire to follow Christ always in an intimate and total way.
Dear brothers and sisters, never forget that the consecrated life is a divine gift and that it is the Lord in the first place who ensures its success in accordance with his plans. This certainty that the Lord leads us to a successful conclusion despite our weakness; this certainty must be a comfort to you, protecting you from the temptation of discouragement in the face of the inevitable difficulties of life and the many challenges of the modern epoch. Indeed, in the difficult period in which we live many Institutes may feel a sense of dismay at the failings they discover within them and the many obstacles they encounter in carrying out their mission.
Today that Child Jesus who is presented at the Temple is alive among us and invisibly supports us so that we may cooperate faithfully with him in the work of salvation, and he does not abandon us.
Today's liturgy is particularly evocative because it is marked by the symbol of light. The solemn procession with candles which you made at the beginning of the celebration points to Christ, the true light of the world who shines in the night of history and illumines every seeker of the truth. Dear consecrated men and women, burn with this flame and make it radiant with your life so that a gleam of the brightness that shone from Jesus, the splendour of the truth, may shine everywhere.
By dedicating yourselves exclusively to him (cf. "Vita Consecrata," n. 15), you witness to the fascination of the truth of Christ and the joy that derives from love for him. In contemplation and in activity, in solitude and in fraternity, in service to the poor and the lowly, in personal guidance and in the modern areopaghi, be ready to proclaim and to witness that God is Love and that to love him is sweet.
May Mary, the Tota Pulchra, teach you to transmit to men and women today this divine fascination that must transpire from your words and actions. As I express to you my grateful appreciation for the service you render to the Church, I assure you of my constant remembrance in prayer and I warmly bless you all.
© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
by Peter J. Leithart
Jane Austen, Public Theologian
by Peter J. Leithart
To call Jane Austen a public theologian is counterintuitive for two reasons: she does not seem much interested in things public, and she does not seem much interested in things theological.
With regard to the second point, Austen’s novels rarely deal openly with theological themes or issues, and even her private letters—the ones that survived her sister’s destruction—seldom speak of religious subjects. She was a lifelong member of the Church of England and her father and two brothers were Anglican ministers. By all accounts she was a Christian, yet she displays a high Anglican reticence about religious experience, and a similarly Anglican disinterest in the niceties of theological debate.
On the first point, Austen’s novels seem to be relentlessly concerned with private life, concerned with “three or four families in a country town,” as she put it in one famous letter. This is all the more remarkable when we consider the events of her lifetime. Though living through a period that witnessed the birth of an independent United States, the French Revolution and the Terror, the Napoleonic wars and the rise of revolutionary romanticism, the evangelical revivals and the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution, she focuses on a few middling gentry families in rural England. Touches of the wider world sometimes impinge on Austen’s peaceful outposts—Wickham, a soldier, plays a prominent role in Pride and Prejudice, there are passing references to the British colonies and the slave trade in Mansfield Park, and the British navy’s preservation of England in the Napoleonic Wars is duly noted in Persuasion. For the most part, though, her characters go about their farming and their business, their follies and especially their romances, their dances and their games of backgammon and whist, as if nothing has changed. Soldiers and sailors, when they appear, are always on leave.
Well-read as she and her family were, it is impossible that Austen was ignorant of the transformations taking place around her. She read poetry and novels, including those from the Romantic period, and she knew the literature of her time well enough to parody it. We know too that her family was directly affected by a number of these events. Two of her brothers fought Napoleon as members of the British navy. Philadelphia Austen, Jane’s aunt, had a daughter named Eliza who married a Frenchman, Jean Capot, Comte de Feuillide. The unfortunate Capot was guillotined during the Terror, and his widow Eliza later married Jane’s brother Henry to become Jane’s sister-in-law. Her favorite brother, Henry, was a clergyman of evangelical stripe, and several letters show that Jane herself knew something of evangelicalism (she did not like it much, though her attitudes apparently shifted during her lifetime). Jane herself toyed with the idea of writing a biography of Napoleon.
Yet, to reiterate, this wider world has almost no role in Austen’s novels. I wish to maintain, however, that despite her apparent indifference to both theology and the public realm, she can be read as a public theologian.
What most interests Austen about Christianity is precisely its public and institutional dimension, its role as a national “teacher” of morals. Hence her recurring attention to the clergy. Two of her clerical characters, Mr. Collins (of Pride and Prejudice) and Mr. Elton (of Emma), are insensitive morons, and she has no toleration for the kind of hypocritical pomposity that they represent. Nor, in Mansfield Park, does she have much use for the vacuous religiosity of Dr. Grant, who is a pastor only in name and not in fact. This hardly means that she is anticlerical; some of the most severe satire of the clergy in church history has come from devout Christians incensed at the abuses of their leaders. Like them, Austen attacks false clergy not to destroy clergy; she attacks false clergy to defend the true.
On the other side, several of her heroes are ordained or soon to be so. Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility is a nonentity in this regard, and one fears that Henry Tilney of Northanger Abbey is too detached and ironic to be much of a pastor, though he provides both intellectual and moral training for the heroine, Catherine Morland. The last of the clerical heroes, Edmund Bertram, is far and away the best model, and the issue of the public role of the Church takes on a great deal of importance in Mansfield Park. Still, the fact is that in half of Austen’s finished novels the hero is a clergyman, and two of the other novels have important clerical characters. (The only novel in which clergy play virtually no role is Persuasion, though even there Charles Hayter is destined for the cloth.)
Evidence of Austen’s theological contribution—and of my thesis—is strongest in Mansfield Park. When Austen wrote about it in a letter (to her sister Cassandra, January 29, 1813), she said she intended “to write of something else;—it shall be a complete change of subject—Ordination.” Indeed, that is its unlikely focus. As a result, Mansfield Park, frequently despised as Austen’s worst novel, is in fact her greatest and most important, though admittedly far from the most entertaining. Moreover, the novel presents one of the most searching and provocative accounts of modern individualism to be found in fiction. It is a thick description of the kinds of habits of speech and personal conduct, motivations and intentions, political and social views that emerge from uncontrolled individualism. And it traces this insidious individualism precisely to the marginalization of the Church in the life of England, the failure of clergy to be the makers of English manners, and the consequent intrusion of other forces as the makers of manners.
Austen describes this kind of individualism, its origins and effects, without ever using the words “individual” or “individualism.” Individualism probably did not exist as a word (Tocqueville said in the 1830s that it was newly minted), and the word “individual” earlier meant “indivisible.” Instead, Austen, like Shakespeare, explores the phenomenon of individualism using the trope of “acting.” In a play, only the worst actors (like Bottom) want to change roles. The good actor has been assigned his role and does not want to become somebody else. If he did so, the play would fall apart. If Laertes suddenly became Hamlet or Oedipus changed places with Tiresias, that would, to put it mildly, disrupt the play—though, as Tom Stoppard has realized, if Rosencrantz changed places with Guildenstern nobody would notice (not even the characters). In a traditional society, the goal of life is to act well in the assigned role—to say your lines properly, to do what your role assigns to you. Everybody has a “fixed fate” set (perhaps) by his birth, and his purpose is not to find a new fate, but to adjust to it. In such a traditional society, ethics is bound up with playing the role well; the question “What shall I do?” always presupposes an answer to the question “What place do I have here? Who am I?”
Peter Berger summarizes this social and ethical vision:A role . . . may be defined as a typified response to a typified expectation. Society has predefined the fundamental typology. To use the language of the theater, from which the concept of role is derived, we can say that society provides the script for all the dramatis personae. The individual actors, therefore, need but slip into the roles already assigned to them before the curtain goes up. As long as they play their roles as provided for in this script, the social play can proceed as planned.
And Berger goes on to point out that every social role has a particular identity attached to it. Some of the roles are fairly trivial and easily changed; others are nearly impossible to alter. But any change in role is a change in “who you are.” The ethical imperative is to grow into those roles. At first, the uniform may not fit; we may find ourselves dwarves dressed in the clothing of giants; but we are called to grow into our role.
In this sense, Austen’s conception of social order is traditional and theatrical. But she saw another kind of “role-playing” and another kind of “theatricality” being born in the society around her. In Mansfield Park she contrasts the traditional notion of social “role” with this new individualist notion, and shows the causes and effects of this change.
The heroine of Mansfield Park is Fanny Price, who comes from her crowded home in Portsmouth to live at Mansfield Park, the home of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram. She grows up with Sir Thomas’ children—Tom, Edmund, Julia, and Maria—of whom only Edmund shows kindness to his cousin. Fanny is shy and retiring, always feeling that she is out of place in the house, a feeling reinforced by the bullying from her other aunt, Mrs. Norris, who since the death of her husband has lived with the Bertrams.
The action of the story depends on two visitors from London, Henry and Mary Crawford, brother and sister to Mrs. Grant, the wife of the local vicar. The Crawfords visit Mansfield while Sir Thomas is in Antigua on rather murky business involving his plantations. Henry quickly becomes the favorite of both Julia and Maria, even though Maria is already engaged to the idiotic but very rich Mr. Rushworth, while Mary sets her sights on securing the affections of Edmund Bertram. During the first part of the book, there are two important scenes. One is the visit of the whole company of young people to Sotherton, the Rushworth estate, during which Henry Crawford pursues his developing affair with Maria. The other is the plan to put on a play in Mansfield, a plan that both Edmund and Fanny object to for various reasons. In the end, the plan is foiled by Sir Thomas’ return, but these events put the theme of acting at the forefront.
The remainder of the story focuses on Henry’s plan to make Fanny Price fall in love with him, and Fanny’s resistance to his courtship. Eventually, Henry actually does fall in love with Fanny and proposes marriage, which Fanny rejects, out of distrust of his character. The other thread of the story is the developing romance between Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram; Edmund is infatuated with Mary, but she is firmly opposed to the notion of being married to a clergyman, and is continually trying to seduce him away. When Fanny rejects him, Henry runs away with Maria, who by now is married to Rushworth, and this is the final blow to Edmund’s inclination toward Mary. At first despondent, Edmund gradually realizes that Fanny makes a better minister’s wife than Mary ever could have, and they marry.
Tony Tanner has pointed out that Mansfield Park was written near the end of the Napoleonic Wars, during a time of tumultuous change and serious threats to Britain. The threats that Austen identifies in the novel, however, were not the obvious threats to England’s stability and peace—French invasions, Jacobins spying, and the like. Rather, she sees a threat embodied in a particular way of life, one that detaches moral principle from good breeding and mannerliness. That distinction is made explicit in the book during a conversation among Mary, Fanny, and Edmund in Part I. Edmund has insisted that the clergy shape the manners of a nation, but Mary does not believe it. Edmund responds:“With regard to their influencing public manners, Miss Crawford must misunderstand me, or suppose I mean to call them the arbiters of good breeding, the regulators of refinement and courtesy, the masters of the ceremonies of life. The manners I speak of, might rather be called conduct, perhaps, the result of good principle.”
With regard to “refinement and courtesy,” the Crawfords are without equal in the book. But that does not mean they conduct themselves according to good principles, which is the true meaning of “good manners.” Fanny’s comments elsewhere on the variety of nature apply here: it is wondrous that the same (English) soil and the same sun should produce “plants differing in the first rule and law of their existence.” The first rule of existence for the Crawfords is quite different from that of the other characters.
This distinction between good breeding and good principles is developed and broadened in connection with two other main themes. As mentioned above, the first of these is acting. A central scene in the book is the home theatrical production that the young people plan during Sir Thomas’ absence, over the objections of Edmund (at least initially) and Fanny. (This is one of the main charges against Fanny—she is a prude because she is so resolute in condemning a harmless entertainment. I shall return to this point below.) But the acting theme is pervasive. Henry is a natural actor on stage, and a public reader of considerable power. Even when Fanny is trying to resist his advances, she cannot help but be fascinated by his reading of a passage from Shakespeare. Henry is a wonderful actor because he is always acting. Fanny recognizes this from the beginning—he trifles, he flirts, at every moment he is playing a part—but, importantly, it is never the same part twice. That makes him charming, not least to many readers; but we as readers are supposed to be learning to see through his play-acting to search instead, as Fanny does, for strong principles and upright character, for some semblance of a permanent role beneath the Protean exterior.
The second related theme is a geographic one. Space almost plays the role of a character in the book. Not only do certain towns have important thematic associations, but the living space has a subtle influence on character. Fanny’s life is divided between two locations. Early in the novel, she moves from her family’s home in Portsmouth to live with her uncle and aunt Bertram at Mansfield Park. Her large family lived in cramped housing, and Fanny is at first overwhelmed by the size of everything at Mansfield:The grandeur of the house astonished, but could not console her. The rooms were too large for her to move in with ease; whatever she touched she expected to injure, and she crept about in constant terror of something or other; often retreating towards her own chamber to cry; and the little girl who was spoken of in the drawing-room when she left at night, as seeming so desirably sensible of her peculiar good fortune, ended every day’s sorrows by sobbing herself to sleep.
To make the Park a livable space, Fanny sets up a little “nest of comforts” in the East room, where she retreats to read and think. Even there, the fact that she is marginal to Mansfield Park is emphasized by the fact that Mrs. Norris allows no fire in the room.
Fanny eventually adjusts to the space of Mansfield, and this is most dramatically evident during her return trip to visit her family in Portsmouth in Book 3:Fanny was almost stunned. The smallness of the house, and the thinness of the walls, brought every thing so close to her, that, added to the fatigue of her journey, and all her recent agitation, she hardly knew how to bear it. Within the room all was tranquil enough, for Susan having disappeared with the others, there were soon only her father and herself remaining; and he taking out a newspaper—the accustomary loan of a neighbor, applied himself to studying it, without seeming to recollect her existence. The solitary candle was held between himself and the paper, without any reference to her possible convenience; but she had nothing to do, and was glad to have the light screened from her aching head, as she sat in bewildered, broken, sorrowful contemplation.
She was at home.
Space may be cramped, but she is as distant from everyone as she ever was as a child at Mansfield. The only light is the candle held by her father, and she is screened from it by her father’s newspaper. Instead of creating a circle of light in which two might sit, the light illumines only one.
Fanny’s story is symbolized by this move from Portsmouth to Mansfield and back. She comes from the chaos and disorderliness of Portsmouth, and is formed into a young woman by Mansfield. Mansfield has the classic English virtues of repose, quietness, and stoic endurance. It is a country place in contrast to the bustling port city of Portsmouth. It takes the raw material of a Portsmouth and transforms it into a noble woman. The influence of place on character and even appearance is highlighted by Fanny’s contemplation of her mother’s looks during their walk to church:Her poor mother now did not look so very unworthy of being Lady Bertram’s sister as she was but too apt to look. It often grieved her to the heart—to think of the contrast between them—to think that where nature had made so little difference, circumstances should have made so much, and that her mother, as handsome as Lady Bertram, and some years her junior, should have an appearance so much more worn and faded, so comfortless, so slatternly, so shabby.
That was Fanny’s future, but for the intervention of Mansfield Park. To this extent, the novel could be seen as a celebration of the values of the English nobility.
But all is not well at the Park either, and that is so largely because a third location is also thematically significant—London. Henry and Mary Crawford come to Mansfield Park from London, and bring London with them. London is the maker of manners, the Hollywood of early-nineteenth-century England, the pacesetter for all things fashionable—or so the Crawfords think. Mary cannot wait to get back to London, but in the meantime, she and her brother help to set up an outpost of London manners at Mansfield. The Crawfords desire for entertainment, their need for amusement, their impatience with old ways, and their eagerness always to be attempting some novelty infects the rest of the young people at Mansfield Park. Henry agrees to act because it is among those pleasures he has never had, and he talks persistently about “improvements” at Rushworth’s Sotherton and even at Edmund’s parish home in Thornton Lacey. London is a city of actors, full of people who, having no settled place in life, are constantly trying on some new role. One dimension of the conflict of the novel lies here: Who is to be the maker of manners? London? Or the Church?
Individualism arises from the detachment of breeding from true manners—symbolized by acting and by the influence of London values on the wealthy inhabitants of the Park. One of the most profound aspects of Austen’s novel is her rich and detailed depiction of two perfect individualists. Henry is thought plain by everyone, until his charming and flirtatious ways, as well as his large income, begin to inflame Maria’s and Julia’s imagination. Only Fanny remains convinced that he is quite plain. Mary is pretty and lively, and shows an immediate interest in Tom Bertram, though she shortly shifts attention to his brother Edmund. Henry’s manners are so good that Mrs. Grant, his sister, imputes to him all other good qualities, and, though initially finding him “plain and black,” the Bertram sisters are so taken by his manners that they decide that he is exceedingly good-looking. “Manners” here should be taken in the sense of flirtatious attentions, which Henry bestows in great measure. Henry’s “manners” in one sense are bad: he does not conduct himself well. But he is so adept at playing social roles that his manners in another sense please everyone—everyone but the perceptive Fanny, who takes time to look and think.
Henry’s behavior does not flow from or produce order and decorum; on the contrary, his conduct leads to continuous upheaval and chaos. Though elegant and rich, he is a Satan, who delights in the chaos that he causes. It is not merely that he has no “fixed role” and no “calling”; he refuses to recognize the “fixed fate” of others, and attempts to seduce them from their vocations. During one of his early conversations with his sister, he says that he prefers the engaged Maria Bertram to her younger sister Julia:“An engaged woman is always more agreeable than a disengaged. She is satisfied with herself. Her cares are over, and she feels that she may exert all her powers of pleasing without suspicion. All is safe with a lady engaged; no harm can be done.”
This turns the purpose of an engagement upside down; engagement does not free the engaged woman to flirt without suspicion, but limits her relations with other men. Henry would turn engagement into disengagement.
Henry’s delight in chaos is even more explicit later, when he reflects on the fun the young people all had planning the play:“I shall always look back on our theatricals with exquisite pleasure. There was such an interest, such an animation, such a spirit diffused! Everybody felt it. We were all alive. There was employment, hope, solicitude, bustle, for every hour of the day. Always some little objection, some little doubt, some little anxiety to be got over. I never was happier.”
Fanny silently condemns him: “Never happier than when behaving so dishonorably and unfeelingly!—Oh! what a corrupted mind!”
Another important dimension of Henry’s individualism is evident in a conversation later in the book, which significantly takes place during a game of “speculation.” Sir Thomas first begins to discern Henry’s attention to Fanny, and speculates about their future relationship; Fanny speculates about life at Mansfield after Edmund has left to take up his pastoral charge at Thornton Lacey; and Henry indulges in speculations of his own, mainly about the “improvements” that could be made to Edmund’s future home. Edmund will be satisfied to give the home “the air of a gentleman’s residence,” but Henry is not content with such minimal improvements:“You may raise it into a place. From being the mere gentleman’s residence, it becomes, by judicious improvement, the residence of a man of education, taste, modern manners, good connections. All this may be stamped on it; and that house receive such an air as to make its own be set down as a great land-holder of the parish, by every creature traveling the road.”
Henry is still insisting on “improvements” that would make Edmund’s pastoral home into something other than it is. More than that, Henry is still conspiring with his sister, in this case not to snare Fanny but to snare Edmund. While Henry speaks, Mary has been speculating about going with Edmund to his new home, but is shocked when she is “no longer able, in the picture she had been forming of a future Thornton, to shut out the church, sink the clergyman, and see only the respectable, elegant, modernized, and occasional residence of a man of independent fortune.” Henry and Mary are interested in the parish home at Thornton only so long as they can remove the parish.
Even after he has declared his intention to settle down and marry Fanny, Henry does not grasp the significance of that decision. This point is again made in a conversation dealing with Edmund’s calling. After Henry has read a passage from Shakespeare to good effect, he and Edmund discuss the importance of clerical reading. Edmund agrees that “distinctness and energy” in reading “may have weight in recommending the most solid truths.” But Henry’s treatment of the subject reduces liturgical reading and preaching to another form of acting:“A sermon, well delivered, is more uncommon even than prayers well read. A sermon, good in itself, is no rare thing. It is more difficult to speak well than to compose well; that is, the rules and tricks of composition are oftener an object of study. A thoroughly good sermon, thoroughly well delivered, is a capital gratification. I can never hear such a one without the greatest admiration and respect, and more than half a mind to take orders and preach myself. There is something in the eloquence of the pulpit, when it is really eloquence, which is entitled to the highest praise and honor.”
Sermonizing is another “role” that Henry would dearly love to play (since it would be new), so long as he could preach only to educated congregations. And not too often: preaching occasionally would suit, but “not for a constancy; it would not do for a constancy.” But constancy, perseverance, a long obedience in one direction—this, of course, is precisely the difference between acting a role and accepting a role as a vocation. When Henry realizes that Fanny has noted his objection to “constancy,” Fanny replies: “I thought it a pity you did not always know yourself as well as you seemed to do at that moment.” Henry is addicted to novelty and will try anything new because it is new.
Mary Crawford is the female version of her brother, an actress and opportunist. Her character is established in part by contrast with Fanny. One particularly striking example is found in Book 2 (chapter 22), during a conversation in which Fanny rhapsodizes on the beauties of evergreens. Fanny is commenting on the wonderful changes that have taken place in the grounds at Mansfield Park, and this leads her into an astonished meditation on memory:“How wonderful, how very wonderful the operations of time, and the changes of the human mind! . . . If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient—at others, so bewildered and so weak—and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control!—we are to be sure a miracle every way—but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting, do seem peculiarly past finding out.”
This is a striking statement in many ways: it is a celebration of memory worthy of Augustine, whose Confessions remains the classic on the subject. The “past finding out” is clearly a biblical or liturgical reference that indicates that Fanny is attributing the mystery of memory to God. But the most striking thing about this statement is Mary’s reaction: “Miss Crawford, untouched and inattentive, had nothing to say.” Not only does Mary have no sense of the beauty of the creation or the wonders of the human mind. She simply has no memory; she is all and always new. An actor needs no memory of a past, since he can always adopt a new past at will; an individualist wants no past, since having a past would limit his choice of new roles in the present.
The Crawfords are also individualists in another, more subtle, but profound sense. In all her novels, Austen displays her assumption that moral life is always lived in community. We need others to guide and teach us, and several of Austen’s novels hinge on the ability of a woman to find a suitable mentor (Emma finds Knightley, Catherine Morland finds Henry Tilney). Living in community also means recognizing that our actions are not our own, but always affect others. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguished between different sorts of action on the basis of what they produce outside the actors:Production (poesis) is different from action (praxis). . . and so the reasoned state that is capable of action is also different from that which is capable of production. Hence neither is included in the other; because action is not production, nor production action.
Though this seems innocent, it has tremendously broad implications. For Aristotle, ethics deals with action and not with production, and this means that the whole realm of arts and economic activity is outside the strict boundaries of the ethical. But the distinction rests on a fundamental mistake—namely, that our actions can be confined to ourselves, that we can engage in praxis without producing anything outside ourselves. However Aristotelian Austen was in other respects, she implicitly rejects Aristotle’s distinction between praxis (actions whose effects remain with the actor) and poesis (actions whose effects go beyond the actor), for she knows that every action is “poetic.”
Henry and Mary Crawford do not recognize the inherent poetry of life. They are individualists in the sense that they follow their own desires regardless of what authorities say or do. When Sir Thomas is away on business, they take part in a theatrical production, and in fact press for it, even though they are warned that the master of the house would disapprove, and even over the initial objections of Edmund, who is responsible for managing the house in his father’s absence. More subtly, they have no sense that their actions have consequences beyond the individual. When Henry runs away with Maria, now Mrs. Rushworth, Mary Crawford is still hoping that Edmund will want to marry her. She is utterly insensible to the fact that Henry’s scandal might affect her in any way.
This brings us to what is perhaps the central critical judgment against Mansfield Park—Fanny Price. In Whit Stillman’s intriguingly Austenesque film, Metropolitan, Tom Townsend, the young man from across town who has been befriended by the group of debutantes and preppies, is astonished when Audrey Rouget, the leading female character, reveals that she enjoys Mansfield Park. Everyone knows, Tom says, that Mansfield Park is the worst novel Jane Austen wrote, and nobody likes the book’s heroine, Fanny Price. Audrey, the moral center of the film and very much a Fanny Price character herself, protests simply, “I like Fanny Price.” It is later revealed that Tom has never read Mansfield Park, or anything else by Jane Austen for that matter. He prefers to read critics. At Audrey’s urging, Tom eventually reads some Austen and is delighted with it.
Tom certainly had his choice of critics to support his hostility to Mansfield Park and Fanny Price. To be sure, Mansfield Park has not always been as sharply criticized as it is today. During Austen’s lifetime, it vied with Pride and Prejudice as Austen’s best-loved novel. Even today, Tony Tanner perceptively (and, in my judgment, accurately) calls Mansfield Park one of the “most profound novels” of the nineteenth century. Yet the novel, and its heroine, have endured sharp attacks. Lord David Cecil said that Fanny was “a little wooden, a little charmless, and rather a prig.” Kingsley Amis was vicious: Fanny is “a monster of complacency and pride.” Another saw her as “the most terrible incarnation we have of the female prig-pharisee,” and C. S. Lewis found little to admire: Fanny has “nothing except rectitude of mind; neither passion, nor physical courage, nor wit, nor resource.” Others have suggested that Fanny makes a fatal mistake in rejecting the vivacious, interesting, and very rich Henry Crawford in favor of the dull and stiff clergyman Edmund Bertram.
These attacks on Fanny show that their authors are as incapable of seeing her qualities as Mrs. Norris is, and indeed incapable of following Austen’s clear directions for judging Fanny. It is often pointed out that of all of Austen’s heroines, Fanny is one of only two (Anne Elliot is the other) who is not treated with irony, who does not make any serious misjudgment, whose behavior is always supported by the narrator. Elizabeth Bennet willfully misjudges Darcy, Emma misjudges everything, Catherine Morland is for most of Northanger Abbey too ignorant to form judgments, and even the sensible Elinor Dashwood collects enough mistakes to fill a small cupboard. Unless we are to suspect Austen of a hyper-ironic stance where Austen’s lack of irony toward Fanny is a way of reinforcing irony, then we should accept at face value that Austen considers Fanny morally and intellectually exemplary.
To be sure, Fanny—physically weak, easily fatigued, often painfully shy and backward, with little wit—suffers in many respects by comparison to the other characters in the book. She is indeed an unusual heroine. Mary Crawford is thoroughly her brother’s sister, full of wit and life and sparkle, a secular angel who charms Edmund Bertram by playing the harp. Julia and Maria Bertram, Edmund’s sisters, are more accomplished than Fanny. Of the male characters, Edmund is surely the least immediately attractive. Not only Henry, but Tom Bertram, Edmund’s wastrel older brother, and John Yates, the fervent actor, seem more interesting. Rushworth, who marries Maria, is a dolt cut from the same cloth as Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, but his very doltishness makes him fun to read about. In such a company, Edmund and Fanny are definitely not the standouts.
Yet given Austen’s clear signals that they are the most moral and the central characters in the book, we have to say that this contrast is deliberate, and, further, that critics who side with the Crawfords against Edmund and Fanny are falling into the same trap as those Blakean critics who think that Milton was on the devil’s side without knowing it. No doubt other characters are more immediately and superficially brilliant—but that is just the point. Austen wants our judgments about her characters to be shaped by the principles they display, not by their ability to charm. Charm deceives, and many are the critics who are taken in by it. Fanny’s weakness and immobility are also part of the point. She shares much with classic Christian heroines like Constance in Chaucer’s “Man of Law’s Tale,” who are heroines of perseverance. When Fanny refuses to marry Henry, these are precisely the issues in play. She distrusts Henry’s character and his principles, and her heart is already committed to Edmund. Consistent with this perseverance, Fanny spends much of the novel in a single location, Mansfield Park, while many of the other characters come and go, and in several scenes, Fanny sits in the center of a swirl of activity. This is not a fault. Her very immobility, her stillness in a world running after vanity, makes her a heroine. She has a fixed fate, and she accepts it with gratitude. As she says during the controversy over the theatrical production, “I cannot act.” She is a still point in a turning world.
Edmund Bertram is also a man with a “fixed fate,” an assigned role. He is destined to be a clergyman, much to the astonishment of Mary Crawford, who thinks that clergymen are “nothing.” Several of the key conversations in the novel are concerned with the issue of calling, the role of the clergy in the nation, and the contrast between the clergy of London and the clergy in the rest of England. The quotation from Edmund above is part of his defense of the indispensability of the Church for the health of the nation, and the illness that the upper classes of the novel are suffering is symbolized by the neglected and vacant chapel at Rushworth’s Sotherton. Mary expresses the modern secularist mind-set: When told that morning prayers have been discontinued at Sotherton, she smiles and says, “Every generation has its improvements.” Improvements again!
Edmund’s calling lends an almost allegorical tone to the story. Edmund, the future guardian of morals, is attracted to the flashy novelty of Mary Crawford of London, and fails for some time to see her true character. Choosing this temptress would lead him far from his calling and, because the clergy are the protectors of morals, would contribute by omission to the decline of English morals. Eventually, however, he chooses the modest and moral Fanny Price. He is set up to choose between Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly, between the true Church and the false. (If there is a meta-irony in Mansfield Park, it is not that Austen secretly mocks Fanny; it is rather that Austen, the ironist, the realist, the literalist, is in the end Bunyan’s blood-sister.)
As noted above, when Austen talked about the purpose and theme of Mansfield Park, she said she was writing on the subject of ordination, with the related themes of vocation or calling. That referred of course to Edmund’s calling to be a clergyman and the temptation to abandon that vocation when Mary appears. The challenge before Edmund is to persevere in the role that he has been ordained to fill, and to resist the temptation to become an actor-individualist. And this is the same temptation that confronts Fanny. She has been “ordained” to love Edmund, and she must persevere through persistent temptations from Henry Crawford. Austen brings the two “vocations” of marriage and ordination into direct connection. While everyone is eagerly awaiting the Mansfield ball, Edmund has his mind on other things, being “deeply occupied in the consideration of the two important events now at hand, which were to fix his fate in life—ordination and matrimony.” If there is allegory here, it cuts both ways: not only must the shepherd resist the allurements of the false woman, but the bride must resist the advances of a charming but ultimately scurrilous suitor. Both must be faithful to their “fixed fates,” unmoved by tempter or temptress.
“Vocation” is set in direct contrast to “acting.” Both have to do with taking on or playing “roles,” but the meaning of “role” in the two cases is quite different. An actor might adopt many different roles, none of which defines who he is. Actors have no “fixed fate” in life. Thus, in contrast to the “actors” of the story, Edmund is “called” to a particular “vocation.” Though, as he emphasizes to Mary, he has chosen to pursue the ministry, in a more profound sense he has been chosen. And his role is determined not by the whims of the moment but by assuming a particular position within English society, a position established by the ritual of ordination, which determines the role he is going to play. He is not free to choose another “role” tomorrow. For a called man or woman, his or her role is not a mask that can be removed at will. The mask sticks so closely to his face as to be permanent. The health of Mansfield, of England, depends on which path is chosen, on whether the next generation chooses to be “actors” or to accept “ordination.”
Both Fanny and Edmund are tempted to give up their “fixed fates” and become “actors,” and this is symbolized by their day at Sotherton. The geography of the walk at Sotherton is important. The immediate grounds of the house are bounded by a wall and a gate, and then the “wilderness,” a wooded and wilder area. During this walk in the “wilderness,” Miss Crawford attempts to dissuade Edmund about his clerical calling. It is a kind of temptation scene, in a garden-wilderness, with Mary herself as the forbidden fruit. Austen adds another touch to indicate just how dangerous a position Edmund is in: the entire conversation takes place off the “great path” in the “serpentine” path of the wilderness walk. Edmund is tempted to give up his clerical “role” for another; he is tempted to become an actor, to leave the great path that is fated for him.
The denouement of the book comes through a series of letters, which completely unveil the Crawfords as the unthinking individualists that they are. When Tom Bertram becomes seriously ill, Mary writes to express the hope that the Bertram fortune will now fall into Edmund’s more deserving possession. She is willing to accept a clergyman husband, so long as he is sufficiently wealthy and potentially stylish. Even when Henry runs away with Maria Rushworth, Mary thinks that there is no barrier to her continuing connection with Edmund. Mary describes Henry and Maria as “foolish,” and the mildness of that judgment offends Edmund: “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!—This is what the world does.” Newly ordained pastor that he is, Edmund is surely using “world” in its fullest biblical sense; worldliness leads only to disaster.
The tour at Sotherton is also important for seeing how Austen diagnoses the ills at Mansfield Park, for seeing how Austen treats the sources of disruptive individualism. As Maria says with pride, the town church is well situated at a distance from the house: “The church spire is reckoned remarkably handsome. I am glad the church is not so close to the Great House as often happens in old places. The annoyance of the bells must be terrible.” The church is acknowledged only for its contribution to the aesthetics of the town; so long as it does not intrude too closely on the life of the Great House, all is well. Every generation has its improvements, as Mary might say. Similarly, the chapel is remarkable for being “fitted up as you see it, in James the Second’s time,” and because at one time “the linings and cushions of the pulpit and family-seat were only purple cloth.” In short, “it is a handsome chapel.” And that is all.
It is in this chapel that the first conversation about clerical office begins. Fanny believes that a family at regular prayer is part of “what such a household should be,” but Mary disagrees: “It is safer to leave people to their own devices on such subjects.” Even in politics, Mary is an individualist, defending liberty of conscience in religious matters. She is shocked, then, to learn that Edmund intends to be ordained, and even more shocked that he should have chosen the Church as a profession: “A clergyman is nothing,” she says, referring to his social standing. Edmund gives a spirited defense of the essential place of the clergy in the nation:“A clergyman cannot be high in state or fashion. He must not head mobs, or set the tone in dress. But I cannot call that situation nothing, which has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind, individually or collectively considered, temporally and eternally—which has the guardianship of religion and morals, and consequently the manners which result from their influence. No one here can call the office nothing. If the man who holds it is so, it is by the neglect of his duty, by forgoing its just importance, and stepping out of his place to appear what he ought not to appear.”
Mary cannot believe that the clergy have such weight, since one sees any of them “so rarely out of his pulpit.” But here the contrast of London and the rest of England comes into play, as Edmund insists that a proper clergyman is not merely a pulpiteer:“A fine preacher is followed and admired; but it is not in fine preaching only that a good clergyman will be useful in his parish and his neighborhood, where the parish and neighborhood are of a size capable of knowing his private character, and observing his general conduct, which in London can rarely be the case.”
Several things are happening in this conversation. Clearly, Austen’s sympathies are with Edmund, who speaks in tones not unlike his great namesake, Edmund Burke. Edmund’s choice is for a high calling, one that does indeed direct the manners and conduct of the nation. Sotherton is “improving,” and closing the chapel is one of these improvements. But a house so improved is destined to fall, and Sotherton will fall resoundingly before the end of the novel. Moreover, Mary’s worldliness, her sense of being on the cutting edge of social evolution, is undercut here with sharp irony. She believes that in knowing London she knows the world: “The metropolis, I imagine, is a pretty fair sample of the rest,” and that means if a clergyman is nothing in London he is nothing anywhere. On the contrary, Edmund argues, London is a very small and very special world; knowing London does not give Mary knowledge of the world. It is provincial and parochial. Especially here, the thematic conflict of the novel takes center stage: London versus the Church.
Of course, the perversion of the nobility at Mansfield Park is not altogether London’s fault. Even before Henry and Mary arrive, it is clear that something is amiss. Good breeding and good conduct have already been separated, as Sir Thomas has singularly failed to pass on his own sense of propriety and morals to his children. Maria and Julia are well educated “in everything but disposition,” and though they mock Fanny for not knowing the “principal rivers in Russia,” they are “entirely deficient in the less common acquirements of self-knowledge, generosity, and humility,” all subjects in which Fanny excels. Tom, the eldest Bertram, is even worse, a ne’er-do-well who has none of his father’s sense of responsibility for the moral climate of the Bertram house or for the repute of the Bertram name. In part, Austen is focusing attention on the collapsing morals of the upper classes of England. Mansfield Park’s cast of characters is socially much higher than the characters in Austen’s other novels. Henry and Mary have been exceedingly rich for some years, Rushworth has £12,000, the Bertrams have no monetary wants or cares. Put energetic young people in a house, remove adult restraint, stir in vast sums of money: that, Austen thinks, is a recipe for trouble.
Sir Thomas recognizes too that “this is what the world does.” He recognizes the failures of his parenting of his daughters:Something had been wanting within, or time would have worn away much of its ill effect. He feared that principle, active principle, had been wanting, that they had never been properly taught to govern their inclinations and tempers, by that sense of duty which can alone suffice. They had been instructed theoretically in their religion, but never required to bring it into daily practice.
Like the Rushworth family, Sir Thomas had, symbolically if not in fact, discontinued the prayers that make a house, and left the chapel disused and empty. Without a guardian, without a pastor or guide, his daughters had fallen in with “how the world goes.”
Nearly seduced by the world, nearly led astray by the world to abandon his vocation and become a mere actor, Edmund in the end accepts his calling. “I cannot act,” Fanny says, and indeed she cannot, and neither can Edmund. In the end, they both accept, gratefully, their ordained roles, their “fixed fate.”
Austen was not an unthinking defender of traditional social order. Not uncommonly, her heroines are upwardly mobile, particularly through the agency of matrimony. Yet she sensed the corrosive effects of individualism, and her uncanny intelligence and attention to the details of social surface enabled her to give us one of literature’s sharpest portraits of this emerging reality. That she also recognized the absence and failure of the Church in combating this decay makes her a public theologian to reckon with.
Peter J. Leithart is Senior Fellow of Theology and Literature at New St. Andrews College, Moscow, Idaho, and pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow. This article is adapted from his book Miniatures and Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen, forthcoming from Canon Press.
The First Art
The rough wood splits and yaws
worn smooth in places
where hands, heads, buttocks, feet
of the crucified before Christ
rubbed and writhed and rested.
A well-used cross,
borrowed, not bought.
not even the nails.
The ropes rented,
the spear in the side plagiarized.
All rehearsed ten thousand times,
revised ten thousand places,
until we got it right.