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|Mary's attitude to Religion.
Written by Rachel G
(10/8/2010 3:15 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Contempt, penned by Barb JA
For the sake of clarity in this post I use the term "Religion" to refer to the beliefs and moral precepts of (Anglican) Christianity. I use the term "Clergy" to refer to the profession of a clergyman - it is an occupational category.
I separate the two concepts because it is perfectly possible to be deeply Religious or neutral about Religion whist having no respect for the Clergy - English History since the 14th century is littered with examples.
Clearly Mary has no respect for the Clergy - she has ridiculed Edmund's choice of occupation since she first found out about it. It is probably safe to assume that she learned this attitude from the society in which she grew up. But is she equally disdainful of Religion?
Earlier in the GR, when I described Mary's attitude to Religion I said that she could "take it or leave it". I deliberately used this neutral description because I found nothing which showed that she was disdainful of Religion as well as disdainful of the Clergy. It is true that there was no positive evidence which suggested she took Religion seriously, but when she says "Everybody likes to go their own way—to chuse their own time and manner of devotion. " (ch.9), and she expresses dislike of enforced public religious observance, that is not proof an irreligious mind any more than a negative attitude to the Clergy is.
Several pieces of evidence in this week's chapters has made me reconsider Mary's attitude to Religion.
First there's that word "contempt" which Mary used against the Clergy on the night of the ball. It is interesting that the meanings of "ridicule" given by Johnson include "contempt"; that is certainly true in Mary's case. "Contempt" is an altogether harsher and more negative concept than ridicule. Johnson's (1828) definitions include the following:
Contempt: to despise; the state of being despised.
Contemptibleness: Meanness; vileness; baseness; of little account.
(Usage citation for these meanings refers to Bishop Berkeley (1685-1753), so these meanings of "contempt" were current in JA's time.)
So "contempt" is strong stuff indeed. I find it hard to believe that when Mary uses this word in reference to the Clergy, such a strongly negative attitude does not extend to the Religion as well. Mary is no committed non-conformist or rational free-thinker - I rather doubt that she ever thinks seriously about religious, moral or ethical issues at all.
Then there's a line in ch.25, when Sir Thomas has been speaking with approval of Edmund's intention to live in his parish. Mary is displeased and thinks:
It was time to have done with cards, if sermons
This stacks up with her negative comment about sermons in the Sotherton chapel. I let Mary get away with it once - it is true that sermons can sometimes be stupefyingly tedious, even if the message is good. But this second negative reference suggests that Mary dislikes sermons of any sort.
I also find indirect evidence in the "necklace incident". Up to this point I have been able to empathise with Mary's point of view even when I strongly disagree with her, but for me this is where she crosses the line. Mary's action is so devious, deceitful and potentially harmful that I don't see how anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of how a Christian should behave could do such a thing, let alone derive any satisfaction from it.
These are little crumbs of evidence, but taken together I now have to conclude that Mary is not only anti-clerical, she is decidedly anti-Religion as well. This does not promise well for a marriage between her and Edmund. Even if he were to give up the Clergy and choose another occupation his fundamental beliefs would not have altered.
Sooner or later Edmund would be forced to recognise that Mary's attitude is very different from his own, and he would feel obliged to try to change her way of thinking. He would have an uphill task. Mary has certainly had experience of church services, sermons and prayers (they were pretty hard to avoid), but that hasn't done the trick so far. Edmund might very likely try using reason and rational argument, but that would not be effective with Mary - she just doesn't have that sort of mind.
I think Mary would experience Edmund's efforts as "sermons from breakfast to bed-time", and her reaction would not be pretty. Look at how she reacts when things are not going her way. When Sir Thomas says that a clergyman should live full-time in his parish Mary feels "decided ill-will. When Edmund persists with his intention to be ordained, Mary feels resentment and on several occasions, anger. If this is Mary's typical response to opposition I forsee some hideous rows between them, whether over religion or other issues.
Run Edmund. Run!!
My apologies for yet another long post. This is a topic where I felt it was particularly important to choose my words with care and elucidate my argument very clearly. If anyone has made it through to the end, thanks for making the effort!
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