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Written by JulieW
(10/15/2007 11:40 a.m.)
I recently read Jane Austen in the Context the Abolition by Gabrielle White-an expensive but very revealing book. While I'm not necessarily sure I agree with every point Ms White makes in that book , I am prepared to give credence to the notion she puts forward that JA did ,with regard to the last three Chawton novels ( MP , Emma and Persuasion), weave into them subtle references which indicated her support for the Abolition of the Slave Trade and its supporters, and also her clear contempt for those who opposed it.
After reading this book I decided to refresh my memory of the abolition by re-reading Thomas Clarkson's work, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament, published in 2 volumes (1808), something I hadn't done for about 30 years.
Thomas Clarkson , you will recall, was one of the foremost British campaigners against both slavery and the slave trade. His book details the campaign for the abolition and his part in it.
It would seem that this was a book with which JA was familiar. In her letter to Cassandra dated 4th February 1813 she mentions some of the characters of MP by name
As soon as a whist party was formed, and a round table threatened, I made my mother an excuse and came away, leaving just as many for their round table as there were at Mrs. Grant's.
She also writes:
My mother is very well, and finds great amusement in glove-knitting, and at present wants no other work. We quite run over with books. She has got John Carr's "Travels in Spain," and I am reading a Society octavo, an "Essay on the Military Police and Institutions of the British Empire" by Capt. Pasley of the Engineers, a book which I protested against at first, but which upon trial I find delightfully written and highly entertaining. I am as much in love with the author as I ever was with Clarkson or Buchanan, or even the two Mr. Smiths of the city. The first soldier I ever sighed for; but he does write with extraordinary force and spirit.
Thomas Clarkson's book , as I noted above, was published in 1808, and records the struggle to obtain the consent of the British parliament to the Abolition the Slave-trade in the British empire, which had eventually been accomplished in 1806.
This is possibly the book JA was referring to when she mentions being in love with Mr. Clarkson in her letter quoted above.
His only other publications were essays on the slave trade including An essay on the slavery and commerce of the human species, particularly the African, translated from a Latin Dissertation, which was honoured with the first prize in the University of Cambridge, for the year 1785 published in 1786 but I think it unlikely that she was referring to those essays for reasons which will become apparent.
I do have to remark that reading Clarkson's book with Jane Austen firmly in the forefront of one's mind is a very strange experience…suddenly, name after name and place after place jumps out from the text with a strange familiarity.
We know from the evidence of the last Emma group Read that JA had sometimes adopted the technique of creating guilt by association, with regard to the naming of her characters.
For example, Mrs. Elton, nee Hawkins , from the port of Bristol has reference upon reference heaped upon her by her creator with regard to supporters of the slave trade and /or Bristol( which along with Liverpool was the main port involved in the slave-trade in England and Wales ) .
Not only was Augusta's maiden name associated with slavery but so was her married surname, and so were the names of her friends.( See, for example, Bishop Smallridge who was a bishop of Bristol in the early 18th century).
It seems likely to me that JA began this habit after reading Clarkson's book sometime during or after 1808 , and expanded it to include not only guilt but innocence by association, possibly as early as the time she revised S+S for publication circa 1810.
Her fascination with this text becomes more apparent with her revision of P+P , which she lop't and crop't circa 1811, and then from MP onwards she had freer reign to weave even more subtle and numerous references to slavery and form Clarkson into her new texts.
I do have to state, as hinted above, that I have found that she did not exclusively use names/places associated with slavery only as mentioned by Clarkson in his book. In addition, she used names and places well known throughout the country and in the early 19th century media to be associated with friends of the abolition of the slave trade movement, or , alternatively names of supporters of that movement and centres of the trade. And I'll be coming to the details regarding those names as we reach them in this Group Read.
I do have a lot more work to do on this subject, but first let me just give you some figures which indicate , to me at least, that JA's admiration for Clarkson allowed her to plunder his book for names associated with slavery, in both good and bad lights, and that in five of her novels this common usage of names is ,IMVHO, no coincidence.
Here are her six main novels and the number of the same names/places which appear in that novel and also in Clarkson's book:
NA : 1 ( but , it is important to note that there are oblique slavery references in this book. For example, Thomas Farr a famous and rich slave trader from Bristol, built Blaise Castle on a vantage point above the Bristol Channel in order to be able to watch his ships as they went to and from Bristol: given the evidence , which I will produce later in the GR that JA was reading books containing abolitionist sentiments from an early age I do not find it in the least surprising that she included some references to slavery in this early work. However it is important to note ,IMHO. that this work was not as thoroughly revised as were S+S and P+P prior to publication and this could indicate why it has the least references to the slave trade of al her completed novels)
S+S : 5 ( at least-I freely confess I have a lot more work to be done on this) I think she may have inserted these names as a trial- to see if anyone picked up on her references.
P+P : 13 +. This is when she began to be serious about making allusions to the Abolition movement in her choice of laces and names, IMHO
MP : 22 + The big one. Obviously. Or probably not, as I will try to explain as we go along.
Emma : 10+. A lesser number, most probably due to the reaction to the reception of MP, I think.
Persuasion: 12 +. Back on track once more.
In Mansfield Park I calculate that there are 89 characters mentioned by name. 41 of these have names found in Clarkson's book -some of these people were for , some were against slavery.
JA is consistent in her choice of names .
Those associated in a bad light with the slave trade by Clarkson are unsympathetic characters in this book.
And vice versa.
People/places who supported the movement for the abolition of the slave trade, or who were praised by Clarkson are good/sympathetic characters in this novel.
In addition there are at least 5 characters who are associated with names which can be connected with the slave trade in early 18th century England , but who are not mentioned by Clarkson. Their names, I submit ,would be common knowledge to anyone who had access to a newspaper, for their association with slavery ( and its riches) would have beenwidely known.
Also there are 5 characters whose name are associated with actors, and again I think JA does this , again, very deliberately for private theatricals are an important sub-theme in this novel.
Now, to me, what is an interesting point to note, and one that makes me think JA deliberately did plunder Clarkson's book for names associated with the Abolition, is that not only do the names she chooses for her characters appear in his work, but JA maintains the association with good or evil,( or support or not for the Abolition) as begun by Clarkson( and she also continues an ambiguity between the two in some cases) not only in MP but in her other novels. I will reveal more of this technique as it relates to MP later in the Group Read as we meet these characters.
This habit of associating her characters names with names/places in Clarkson's book may have begun, like many other "in-jokes" in her novels , as references to be picked up by family and close friends - people such as Frank Austen( a supporter , it would seem of the anti-slavery movement from the content of his extant letters) and Cassandra, whom it seems it is possible may have introduced JA to the texts of Clarkson and Gisbourne ( another supporter of the abolition, praised by Clarkson in his book).
However, a point to also bear in mind is that the references to slavery were made by JA at a time when it was at the forefront of the nation's conscience: it was indeed a burning issue of the day . The slave trade association could certainly be picked up by any follower of the abolitionists cause or contemporary of JA's who had kept abreast of developments in the news. Unless we had studied the topic of the slave trade in some detail it would be very hard for us to pick up on the associations in her naming technique today. Which is probably why it has been missed thus far….
It would, indeed, seem that no one else thus far has made this connection between Clarkson and JA : in that she plundered his texts for places names and characters to laud or destroy.
I looking forward to examining this idea further, and I have a feeling that there is a lot of work yet to be done on this point.
So…that's my focus.
Let's see where it leads ;-)
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