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|What is the point of the Apricot?
Written by Rachel G
(9/16/2010 2:25 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, That apricot tree, penned by Louise H
Mistakes happen today even at the best run nurseries - plant labels get lost, one cultivar looks much like another until it fruits or flowers. So the apricot tree could have been sold to Sir Thomas in good faith as a Moorpark, but was in fact an inferior variety. We'll never know.
According to Ellen Moody's chronology of MP (see MP FAQ) the apricot tree was planted at the Rectory in spring 1805, the Grant's move in in autumn 1806, and the Apricot conversation takes place 18th July 1808.
Apricots need a warm sunny spot and good soil. In spring they benefit from a good feed and the flowers need protection from frosts. In a dry season they may need watering while the fruit is developing. . Pruning too much or too early makes them susceptible to disease. Trees won't start cropping well before their third year. Moorpark doesn't crop until August.
So the small crop is explained - the tree was only in it's second season last summer, and hasn't yet cropped this year.
I wondered whether the apricot tree was a metaphor for Fanny, and that Mrs Norris had starved it or something, but the chronology doesn't support that. The tree is in the right soil and situation, and the Grants have had care of it for almost two years. Dr Grant has been busy improving the Rectory garden and he cares about his food, so I don't think he would have let the apricot suffer. Over-rigorous pruning by Mrs N can't be to blame as the tree is in very good health.
Whatever the truth about the apricot it seems that no clear conclusions can be drawn and the tree isn't being used as a metaphor. JA includes very little extraneous detail - her writing is very dense and every sentence adds something to the narrative. So why did she devote so much space to this conversation? What is the point of the Apricot?
I think she's using this conversation to tell us more about several of the characters:-
Sir Thomas' generosity in buying an apricot tree for the Rectory, and the best variety at that.
Mrs Norris remembering the detail about the cost, and her dishonesty, hastily corrected, when she's about to pretend that she paid for it.
Mrs N is also at fault about dilapidations to the Rectory. Dilapidations are when a leasehold property changes hands and is in need of repairs. - liability for the cost of these repairs lies with the outgoing tenant. So Mrs Norris has been stingy about keeping the Rectory in good repair, and her intransigence about paying for the dilapidations as she ought has soured her relationship with Dr Grant right from the start.
Dr Grant is a greedy man who cares so much about the quantity and quality of his food that he uses it as an excuse to pick a fight with his neighbour at a dinner party. However justified his irritation with Mrs Norris over dilapidations. I think that this is a failure of good manners every bit as bad as Mary saying at dinner that she dislikes the Admiral, and her off-colour pun about rears and vices.
Mrs Grant leaps in to save the situation with a graceful comment which manages to avoid criticising her husband yet appeases Mrs Norris and soothes her ruffled feathers, so social harmony is restored. It seems that she is an intelligent woman, tuned to the nuances of how people are feeling, and socially adroit. Maybe this isn't the first time she has had to take action like this.
It's a lot to cram into a conversation about an apricot tree, isn't it?
Incidentally, The Royal Horticultural Society has given the Moorpark Apricot the Award of Garden Merit. Moorpark is still one of the most reliable apricots to grow in England. It is reddish orange, with firm juicy flesh that has a good flavour. Yum!!
Here's a picture:-
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