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