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|Mary Musgrove - Believable Monster.
Written by Rachel G
(10/18/2011 2:05 p.m.)
JA occasionally created caricatures - figures drawn with a broad brush, their features exaggerated for comic or dramatic effect. Sir Walter Elliott is one of these.
More often she used her talent for delineating the foibles and failings of ordinary humanity to create characters just like the people we meet every day. We recognise them and react to them as though they were real. Some we find endearing, though your tastes and mine may differ, and JA created no saints.
Equally she created no crazed psychopaths or zombies with fangs. But she filled her novels with the sort of people we meet in real life who annoy us or make us yearn to administer a brisk rebuke, a resounding SUTH or worse. These characters I think of as JA's believable monsters.
This time around with 'Persuasion' I'm reacting to Mary Musgrove as a horribly believable monster.
She never gives a moment's consideration for the needs and feelings of others. Her dissatisfaction and attention-seeking behaviour are both energy sapping and infuriating. With her 'moan, moan, moan' and her 'me, me, me', she is driving me crazy. When I read of her chasing after Louisa and CW on that hillside near Winthrop (10), I want to shake her so her teeth rattle.
The last straw for me is this in Ch.14; they are speaking of Captain Benwick:
Charles: "Give him a book, and he will read all day long."
"Yes, that he will!" exclaimed Mary tauntingly. "He will sit poring over his book, and not know when a person speaks to him, or when one drops one's scissors, or any thing that happens."
This makes me know beyond doubt that Mary would be utterly intolerable to live with. Imagine it - she wouldn't let you read a book for five minutes without her interrupting you! Never mind brisk rebukes or shaking her until her teeth rattle - if I had to live with Mary Musgrove I'd be dreaming of murder!
I try to make allowances for Mary. She's the youngest and least pretty sister; ignored by her father, mother dead, Anne the one favoured by Lady R. Her hypochondria may be a symptom of a deeper malaise
Her obsession with rank and status is learned from her father and Elizabeth. The 'Baronet's daughter' tag allows her to feel that she is special and valuable. I see this aspect of Mary as a strand of a bigger theme which JA is weaving through the novel - formal social rank versus what is truly admirable and valuable.
JA needed to write Mary as she did so she can be a foil for Anne. For example when someone is injured Mary responds with hysterics; this is established in Ch.7 when her little boy has a fall. Then when Louisa falls on the Cobb, Mary's hysterics prevent Charles from helping and add to the confusion of the moment, allowing Anne's competence and rationality to shine.
So Mary does serve a useful function, but for me she's a dreadfully believable monster.
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