Regency Poverty

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Poor Fanny Price

I just sampled a few minutes of a TV series on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.

thanx kaitlin-saunders

A blurb refers to the protagonist as “impoverished”. Oh, the poor landed gentry. The rich don’t just monopolize resources, they also steal sympathy from the truly poor (while the poor help steal territory from the dispossessed: was’i-chu the Lakota called us: takes the fat!)

All my life, seeing Charles Dickens’ obsession with economic class, with Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Bleak House … I took Dickens at his word, I believed he was poor: or had been poor as a boy. In grad school I learned that his father was employed at a middle middle class income: $30,000 in 1962 dollars: that was a lot of income: I live and work today, 2014, on about 12% of that! But: back to Dickens, back to Austen: Spending more than you earn, being in debt, being in debtors’ prison does not make you poor.

Toward the end of my teens I laughed at a Nancy comic strip: Nancy’s teacher assigns a story about poor people: Nancy’s rich class mate writes There was a poor family, they were so poor that the butler was poor, the chauffeur was poor, the upstairs maid was poor …

Fanny Price is poor relative to her landed gentry cousins. She arrives at Mansfield Park — you know what “park” meant in Regency England — in a horse-drawn carriage, multiple horses: poor people don’t ride in carriages.

I’d like to reread this stuff with “Marx” present: or a Mennonite: just so mine wouldn’t be the only guffaw. The poor king was so poor he had only 30,000 troops invading his neighbors’ land.

The skinny on Dickens is that when his father was imprisoned for debt, young Charles was sent to work blacking boots. The legitimate part of his gripe came when he was not sent back home the moment his father’s circumstances at the Marshalsea improved.
The first thing Dickens did once he earned a shilling of his own was to blow it on the priciest glass of beer.

I will admit one thing: English primogeniture favored inheritance by the eldest male heir. The second son got something, the third son got a scrap; everyone else got nothing (but expensive habits).
(I don’t own the Jag, I don’t borrow the Jag. I don’t miss the Jag.)

Girls were taken care of (or screwed) differently. Indeed Austen’s plot here shows that Fanny is getting taken care of by this or that down-start family member: not nicely, one certainly wouldn’t agree with the family pretense of being “Christian”. But consider this: much of the “purpose” of weath is invidious: your Benz isn’t for you to get from Point A to Point B; but to stop at the light, be seen, and be envied by all!

My childhood bias was “Christian”: I though we were supposed to share, to not all be swine, all the time. The English were to me the prize hypocrites, Americans mere imitators. But as an adult I’ve defended primogeniture more than once: When Greystoke, the Tarzan movie, came out, people claiming hunger were protesting before Lord Greystoke’s gates, English tradition forbade them to hunt on the private lands. It’s a good thing, I told Brian, or there wouldn’t be any land: no deer, no veggies, just more overbred people, starving. The Irish learned from their potato famine but they are about the only ones. If Adam had said to Cain and Abel, the elder inherits, the younger stays around in case; but under no circumstances to the masses have any rights to anything. (Neither does Abel’s descendant have any right to steal anything else from Cain’s descendant: if Cain’s descendant develops silicone chips (or silicone implants), then fuck Abel and the landed. Trouble with English law was it didn’t protect Eden: it protected fresh theft: forestry laws!

How many of us have any idea how much of a thief King John was?


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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