In early Chinese thought, heaven was considered "round" and earth "square." Westerners from St. Anselm to Kant taught that round and square are opposites. I will explore the connections between east and west (round and square) in a blog that takes seriously the little details of our lives. Round and square; east and west—never the twain shall meet (it has been said). Except when they do, and that is the whole point of this blog.
From Round to Square (and back)
For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project: http://magazine.beloit.edu/?story_id=240813&issue_id=240610
A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again). *Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.
Jane Austen's opening in Mansfield Park is a withering synthesis of fortune, marriage strategy, sibling sociality, and, well, class. For writers, it is a masterful flashback to a time (thirty years earlier) when three sisters left their natal homes for new lives in the world beyond Huntington. By the time the reader finishes the first passages (Austen is at her best here), she wants to know more...and she already knows a very great deal.
For anthropologists, it is hard to miss the merciless cycles of kinship and exchange—what the Durkheimian social theorist Marcel Granet called the logic of a hostage system, in which each community exchanges half of its youth (this is highly "gendered," of course) with "foreign" communities. In the parlance of Austen's time, this exchange goes on in both "primitive" and "advanced" societies, and let us make no mistake about it—it does not always go smoothly.
Marriage is a beginning, and the beginning of Mansfield Park harnesses alliance and angst towards fascinating literary (and social-analytical) ends. You see, it is my opinion that Jane Austen was a very fine anthropologist. Without Jane, I don't think we ever get Bronislaw or E.E. (or Franz or Margaret), but that is another story for another time.
About thirty years ago, Miss Maria Ward of Huntington, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park, in the country of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet's lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income. All Huntington exclaimed on the greatness of the match, and her uncle, the lawyer himself, allowed her to be at least three thousand pounds short of any equitable claim to it. She had two sisters to be benefited by her elevation; and such of their acquaintance as thought Miss Ward and Miss Frances quite as handsome as Miss Maria, did not scruple to predict their marrying with almost equal advantage.
But there are certainly not so many men of large fortune in the world, as there are pretty women to deserve them. Miss Ward, at the end of half a dozen years, found herself obliged to be attached to the Rev. Mr. Norris, a friend of her brother-in-law, with scarcely any private fortune, and Miss Frances fared yet worse. Miss Ward's match, indeed, when it came to the point, was not contemptible. Sir Thomas being happily able to give his friend an income in the living of Mansfield, and Mr and Mrs Norris began their career of conjugal felicity with very little less than a thousand a year. But Miss Frances married, in the common phrase, to disoblige her family, and by fixing on a Lieutenant of Marines, without education, fortune, or connections, did it very thoroughly. She hardly could have made a more untoward choice.
Sir Thomas Bertram had interest, which, from principle as well as pride, from a general wish of doing right, and a desire of seeing all that were connected with him in situations of respectability, he would have been glad to exert for the advantage of Lady Bertram's sister; but her husband's profession was such as no interest could reach; and before he had time to devise any other method of assisting them, an absolute breach between the sisters had taken place. It was a natural result of the conduct of each party, and such as a very imprudent marriage almost always produces. To save herself from useless remonstrance, Mrs. Price never wrote to her family on the subject till actually quite married. Lady Bertram, who was a woman of very tranquil feelings, and temper remarkably easy and indolent, would have contented herself with merely giving up her sister, and thinking no more of the matter; but Mrs. Norris had a spirit of activity, which could not be satisfied till she had written a long and angry letter to Fanny, to point out the folly of her conduct, and threaten her with all its possible ill consequences. Mrs Price in her turn was injured and angry; and an answer which comprehended each sister in its bitterness, and bestowed such very disrespectful reflections on the pride of Sir Thomas, as Mrs Norris could not possibly keep to herself, put an end to all intercourse between them for a considerable period.