Saturday, November 23, 2013

Protean Imagination and Pleonexia

Using his protean imagination, Henry seeks honor continuously by creating a series of beautiful moments both for himself alone and for himself and others. He becomes the object of desire for the Bertram sisters; he becomes the master improver of estates for Rushworth; he becomes Frederick to Maria's Agatha in Lover's Vows; he becomes the heroic adventurer in William's seafaring tales and then William's valiant benefactor in real life; he becomes Fanny's knight in shining armor; he becomes all the principal characters in Shakespeare's Henry VIII; he becomes the eloquent preacher in a London church; he becomes the benevolent estate-holder concerned about his tenants; he becomes the perfect gentleman caller at Portsmouth; and finally, he becomes trapped in a former beautiful moment, one that Maria cannot forget, and he suffers irreparable consequences.

Fanny aptly sums up his character when she says he "was every thing to every body, and seemed to find no one essential to him." No one is essential because Henry can never be satisfied with one; he needs an ever-changing audience of many admirers to accommodate his ego's pleonexia (insatiable drive to acquire) for honor and his imagination's pleonexia for roles. Becoming rather than being is Henry's mode.

Joyce Kerr Tarpley, Constancy and the Ethics of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, p. 162.


  1. MrsDarwin12:17 PM

    Very astute. Henry slips roles on and off like costumes, and he has enough innate talent at performing that he doesn't need to work long enough at anything for it to become part of his identity. He's the consummate gentleman of leisure, and he reminds me a bit of Steerforth in David Copperfield, who made it a great game to make everyone love him, and who mourned in one of his honest moments that he'd had no father to guide him and turn him to a career.

  2. branemrys9:43 PM

    Believe it or not, David Copperfield is one of the works I've never read.

  3. MrsDarwin3:42 PM

    Well, of course it's a classic, so I guess it should be on your bucket list, but it was not my favorite Dickens by a long shot. I'd rather read Great Expectations any day. Darwin observes that most Dickens novels start off with 100 pages of child abuse before the story progresses, and DC doesn't stint on the misery. Also, you have to have a pretty strong stomach to put up with David's wife Dora, who shakes her curls and hides her face and implores him to call her his little "child-wife". Not surprisingly, it's the minor characters who are most memorable.


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