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“Did you not hear me ask Sir Thomas about the slave trade last night?…There was such a dead silence.”



It is fitting in certain English novels

that there should be significant absences

in Bath or London, journeys of consequence

to the colonies, and banishments

to darkest Dorset or a coastal town.

It is appropriate too that there should be

rain of whatever kind falling frequently,

forcing protagonists and antagonists

to be housebound, introspective, suffer

ennui, or propinquity’s temptations,

abroad be obliged to seek shelter

with doubtful neighbours, or an unsuspecting

friend who will, in due course, become the bride or groom.


When Sir Thomas returned from Antigua –

having spent a whole year in person

ensuring his sugar plantations were in profit –

he ‘was grown thinner and had the burnt,

fagged, worn look of fatigue and a hot climate’.

When Fanny Price returned to Mansfield Park,

from her self-exile with her parents

in squally Portsmouth, it was spring in landlocked

Northamptonshire green with English rains.


Mansfield Park became, in due course – when all

had received their (more or less) just deserts –

for her a sort of Eden. Whether Sir Thomas

ever thought he heard, out in the parkland,

foul oaths, whips cracked, and thought he saw black backs

bowed we will never know.




© Copyright David Selzer
6 Responses
  • Kira Somach
    June 26, 2020

    What an interesting contemplation of non-fiction documented in fiction (twice), your words and Jane’s. Understated yet powerful. After reading the final sentence of your poem I could hear the ghostly sounds of Persecution in the “dead silence “. Let us not forget, but have hope for the future .

  • Jane Barth
    June 26, 2020

    A Sort of Eden: an interesting sideways look – one that Jane Austen takes from the sidelines but, as recent history shows, we cannot go on avoiding it. I like the contrast of Mansfield Park as ‘a sort of Eden’ – for some – and for others, miles away, the depiction of its consequence.

  • Kate Harrison
    June 27, 2020

    Fun fact. The home of the Earl and Countess of Normanton, near Ringwood, was used as a location for Mansfield Park in 1980’s TV version. The Agar family (for it was they) were members of the local sports centre, where I worked. I asked if it was a palaver having the TV crew there. Mrs Agar said it was but the upside was having the entire place decorated in authentic period colours.

  • Caz / InvisiblyMe
    July 9, 2020

    A beautiful take on this and your use of words create some vivid imagery and emotion when it comes to the weather and landsscapes, too. Also, side note but it made me stop when I read it – you never really see the word ‘propinquity’ used anywhere, at least I haven’t in a very long time. Very nicely written. I’ve found you from your fab interview on da-AL’s blog!

  • Hugh Powell
    July 10, 2020

    An ingenious take on Austen and the current ‘debate’ on slavery. Well done, for keeping it so subtle.

  • Mary Clark
    August 14, 2020

    ‘Did you not hear me…?’ followed by the silence. She was a genius. You’ve picked up on the subtlety, and the telling subtext: it is appropriate there should be rain of whatever kind falling frequently, forcing protagonists and antagonists
    to be housebound, introspective . . . I hope there was introspection, but perhaps they didn’t know what they could do with the knowing.

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