Crabbe – Tale 4: Procrastination

My original comments…

>>>The basic story is simple. Young lovers Rupert and
Dinah do not got married because Dinah has a wealthy
aunt who basically manipulates Dinah into putting Rupert
off. He departs overseas to seek his fortune. She stays
with the aunt, and gradually becomes more and more attached
to a rich and comfortable life-style, inheriting her
aunt’s wealth when she dies. When Rupert eventually returns
an almost broken man, still poor, Dinah rejects him.

Crabbe is in strongly moral mode here and is straight-forwardly
condemnatory of the avarice which is at the
heart of Dinah’s retreat from humanity. Here at the
heart of the poem are some excoriating lines on the
subject of retreat…

>> Month after month was pass’d, and all were spent
In quiet comfort, and in rich content;
Miseries there were, and woes the world around,
But these had not her pleasant dwelling found;
She knew that mothers grieved, and widows wept,
And she was sorry, said her prayers, and slept:<<

Crabbe doesn’t allow people to get away with things. I think
this may be one reason why he has never really caught on
or been popular. Those lines bite home today as I
contemplate how really delightful it is to be able to sit
in my small garden, under a brilliant blue sky and read
my book [at the time writing – June 2008!]. I can shut out the world’s miseries.

A popular poet – a Wordsworth say? – would simply celebrate
this retreat. For Crabbe those miseries and woes are
always there whether we shut them out or not. Uncomfortable,
harsh, true.

But as we have seen he is a poet of complete contradiction
as he condemns and satirises those who want to do something
about those miseries (radicals, evangelicals, activists).

The ending of the poem is devastating. Dinah passes Rupert – now
a beggar – in the street………..

>>But Dinah moves–she had observed before
The pensive Rupert at an humble door:
Some thoughts of pity raised by his distress,
Some feeling touch of ancient tenderness;
Religion, duty urged the maid to speak,
In terms of kindness to a man so weak:
But pride forbade, and to return would prove
She felt the shame of his neglected love;
Nor wrapp’d in silence could she pass, afraid
Each eye should see her, and each heart upbraid;
One way remain’d–the way the Levite took,
Who without mercy could on misery look;
(A way perceiv’d by craft, approved by pride),
She cross’d and pass’d him on the other side.<<

Here is Crabbe in full clergyman mode.

Another really fine Tale. Moving and harsh.<<<

Ellen wrote….

>>>When I read not only Crabbe’s “Procrastination,” but other of his
tales, it seemed to me there is a pattern that repeats itself in his
work: the person who is persuaded or coerced into putting off some
act which will make his or her life happy, good, meaningful, most of
the time a marriage, and then what happens is there is no second
chance. The terms in which this is put, social pressure, is just as
we meet it in Austen. I’m not sure if she had a specific tale of
Crabbe’s in mind when she wrote (even the story of Fanny Price
doesn’t of itself persuade me it’s that close, but since the names
down to the use of Henry are those in _MP_, it follows this
idiosyncrasy shows she was at least half-remembering the story when
she originally sat down to write the parts of _MP_ concerning Fanny
and then made her her heroine), but comparing them with Austen is fruitful.

All this to say there’s an article in the most recent _Persuasions_,
which does just this: Sarah Raff’s “‘Procrastination, Melancholia,
and the Prehistory of _Persuasion_, _Persuasions_, 29 (2007):174-180.
Raff was candid and thorough and by the time she finished I saw all
the differences between Austen and Crabbe, but also the two texts
together shed light on one another through looking at this idea of a
precious joy in life one could have which one is deprived of by
social pressures which are cruel. Crabbe heaps it on by making what
happens to the characters much worse than simple desolating
deprivation; Austen gives us a fairy tale of retrieval, renewal,
rather like Shakespeare’s _The Winter’s Tale_, but the core of both
stories is at heart an aspect of social v private life.

In her letters she said she felt like his wife sometimes :).<<<

Nothing to add here.

2 thoughts on “Crabbe – Tale 4: Procrastination

  1. ellenandjim

    I’ve something to add from a book I read last night: Thompson’s _Self and World_ about Austen’s novels. He argues there is a way out of the bind between people who argue she’s conservative and those who want to see questioning: to wit, she opens up before us the interiority of the self and its desires, pits it against all the self is told to do by people around her (or him) for her interests. We find though that following the laws or rules and customs (which are outward manifestations of human nature too), the self loses out and there is no genuine human community either; there is isolation, fragmentation, and loss, loneliness, alienation.

    This is most strongly seen in _Persuasion_, the novel which comes closest to this tale of Crabbe. It is in effect what Lukacs, a great Marxist shows the 19th century novel doing: the self at odds with the currents of the time, showing up the time (alienated from) and joining in. Eliot is a past mistress of this kind of thing. In a dialogue between Marianne and Elinor in Austen’s first novel she has Elinor say she follows outwardly what society wants, but only just and for manners; she consults her heart for her big decisions and authentic life in private.

    Can there be a life in private? Crabbe thinks not.

    Frederic Jameson following Lukacs says novels show us “history is what hurts,” and so does Crabbe.

    Crabbe condemns; Austen spins a fairy tale ending (like movies do), only suggesting its precariousness, materialism and ironies in a final fillip. But we watch the tale itself until the end.


  2. nick2209

    Enormously important thank you Ellen – and yes I will try and get hold of the book you mention. But absolutely central to Crabbe are ideas around social interaction – that is what interests him; in many cases its cruelties and occasionally its consolations. I think this concentration on the social, the exterior, is something else which leads to his low reputation because of the assumption that a poet should concentrate on the interior.
    But the comments you make provide an invaluable framework for approaching Crabbe.

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