Saturday, April 30, 2011
Framing Dorothy Day I
In Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, a character named Mary Crawford has grown up in the household of a corrupt uncle, a Navy admiral. At one point, she says wittily that she knows all about "rears and vices," following that with the statement "Now don't accuse me of punning." Of course, it seems obvious, even without Mary pointing to it, that she is indeed punning--she knows all about rear and vice admirals and all about their "rears and vices."
However, on the various Jane Austen lists to which I subscribe, violent fights break out periodically over this statement. One faction sees the worldly Mary punning, the other says no, of course she's not punning--look, she even says she's not punning. I have a level of frustration with this second faction, wondering how in the world they can't see the pun, especially given that Mary and her brother Henry are serpents who invade the "garden" of Mansfield Park, complete with allusions to Milton--and complete with adroit skills at manipulating language. I give enormous credit to Jane Austen for creating in Henry and Mary such well-rounded characters--they are so charming, so talented, so delightful, so capable, at times, of genuine social kindnesses--that you half fall in love with them, while at the same time knowing the "city" has twisted and corrupted them. Their vices hide in plain sight.
Dorothy Day was an enormously good woman who should, I believe, be made a saint. Her childhood contributed to that, and she's documented her tale of growing up at least three times. Yet because of the way she's framed it, the real story may be hidden in plain sight. To be continued ...(Not a tease, I'm just out of time right now ...)