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'Mansfield Park' Review

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Mansfield Park - Jane Austen

Mansfield Park - Jane Austen

Oxford University Press
While Jane Austen is sometimes seen as the creator of a generalized storyline extended in the form of different novels, each of her works is unique in one way or the other. The uniqueness of Mansfield Park is twofold. First, its mode of narration is comparatively less frisky than Austen's other works. Second, it takes a poor girl as its heroine, and the girl is not exactly looking to fall in love.
In the novel, we meet Fanny Price. She is the daughter to poor parents, but she's then taken in by her well-off aunt and uncle: Lady Bertram and Sir Thomas Bertram. She is raised alongside her cousins, but she is never on equal grounds with them; her social background would not allow for that. Even so, she retains values of virtue and self-respect. And, in the end, her virtuous demeanor leads her cousin, Edmund, to return her love for him.

Critique of Women and Social Manners: Mansfield Park

Jane Austen and wit can never be considered apart. Mansfield Park--though comparatively more serious Austen's other works--is peppered with lively critique of social manners, especially of well-off society women. Lady Bertram is the butt of the novel's Horatian satire. She is portrayed as the unthinking, lay-about kind of woman who is content with ample provisions and a rich husband to judge in her stead.

In matters as trivial as playing cards, Lady Bertram takes the pains to ask, "What shall I do, Sir Thomas? Whist and speculation; which will amuse me better?" The servility of Miss Norris to Sir Bertram and to the young Bertram ladies, Maria and Julia, is rather directly targeted by exposing her fulsome utterances and obtrusively construed characterization.
Satire on the Clergy: Mansfield Park

The sharp tongue of Miss Crawford is the main tool of Austen for shooting arrows of satire at the clergy and the platitude of living in a typical upper middle class mansion. Speaking to Edmund, Miss Crawford blatantly reveals: "A clergyman has nothing to do but to be slovenly and selfish... the business of his own life is to dine." Her words "greatest bore in the world" speak for what it felt like living in a "great house" where people used their senses worse than most animals would do.

At the same time, Miss Crawford's own character is exposed as one given to fallacious reasoning and skin-deep judgment. In her argument with Edmund over clergy, Miss Crawford proclaims, "where an opinion is general, it is usually correct." On the contrary, Fanny is shown to observe modesty on debatable issues, which is really a part of her mature personality--in spite of her tender age.

The Question of Gender: Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park seriously treats the gender issue--both through characterization and the situations of those characters in the story. Lady Bertram's character is an illustration of subservience of well-off women to their rich husbands. Then, too, the masculine presumption of being the authority is seen in the sudden shift of Sir Bertram's good opinion of Fanny when she turns down Mr. Crawford's proposal of marriage. Following Sir Bertram, Miss Norris also considers Fanny to be selfish, obstinate, and ungrateful.
Austen uses Miss Norris parroting of Sir Bertram's opinions as a statement about patriarchal authority and feminine subjugation. Austen elaborates upon this statement when Sir Bertram returns home, a return which will facilitate Maria's wedding. Here, Miss Crawford says: "it does put me in mind of some of the old heathen heroes, who after performing great exploits in a foreign land, offered sacrifices to the gods on their safe return."

Turning the Tables: Mansfield Park

In the end, though, it is our heroine Fanny Price, who turns the tables on the conformity of women to men's notions of gallantry. She says, "I cannot think well of a man who sports with any woman's feelings."

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