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.
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.
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."