Adventures in Reading

Mansfield Park: Volume 1, Ch. 6 – 9
October 6, 2007, 12:22 pm
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“Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope for a cure.” Jane Austen’s Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park

The trip to Sotherton touches on a topic that otherwise has largely been unmentioned: landscape. Mr. Rushworth’s “house was built in Elizabeth’s time, and is a large, regular brick building” (455). Rushworth, Miss Bertram’s fiancée, has only just returned from his friend Smith’s home and is covetous to update his aging manor. This provides a perfect plot vehicle to remove the party to a day’s adventure at Sotherton. Mansfield Park also begins to delve more and more into description, or at least in comparison to Austen’s previous novels.

All of Austen’s novels unfold in the country with the odd town visit. Mansfield Park takes this a step further by explicitly exploring a moral dichotomy of the two. London inevitably is corrupt and the Crawfords, representing town, regularly display this. One quip from Mary Crawford includes, “… coming down with the true London maxim, that everything is to be got with money” (456). In Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility an appreciation for the country exists as well as an urge to return to the country from town, but in Mansfield Park the town increasingly takes on a sinister air. In Clarissa it is little different as the villain Lovelace spends a good portion of Volume II luring Clarissa to reside in town. I am starting to wonder more and more about (1) the Romantics influence on Austen and the country perspective and (2) whether or not any authors approved of the town over the country.

Fanny increasingly has moments where she reminds me of Pride & Prejudice‘s Mary. Now, the two are entirely different in many ways but the similarity I find is the idea of the awkward sister. Both Fanny and Mary are physically plain, socially awkward, and lack spirits, and this is only further emphasized by the contrasting abilities of their peers.

However, of these chapters what is perhaps most scandalous are the exchanges between Mary Crawford and Edward Bertram and Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram. Since the meeting of the Bertrams and Crawfords it has been no secret that a romantic/sensuous atmosphere has been cultivated. The Crawfords appear as immoral as Mary first throws herself at Tom Bertram (the first son) and only becomes interested in Edward after his departure to the races. Likewise, Henry is well aware that Maria is engaged but proceeds to attach himself more physically to her than the younger Ms. Julia Bertram. I do not mean to allow the Bertram’s off the hook but Austen develops the Crawfords as far more designing than the Bertrams through Ms. Crawford’s insistent chatter of monetary matrimony and carelessness, and Mr. Crawford’s claim that engaged women are satisfied and thus more comfortable in themselves when it comes to romancing.

In chapter six this all climaxes into two quite differing dramatic scenes occurring in Sotherton’s chapel. Edward reveals to Mary that he intends on pursuing religion as a career – after all, he is the second born son and Mary “looked almost aghast under the new idea she was receiving” (473). It becomes obvious that Mary has a growing affection for Edward (though perhaps only encouraged by Tom’s complete inattention of her) and seems to accept Edward as the second son if he were pursuing a career in law or the military. Thus his lowly endeavors with religion does come as quite the shock. Simultaneously, Julia has commented that Maria and Mr. Rushworth standing next to each other remind her of their soon-to-occur ceremony only for Mr. Crawford to whisper to Maria that, “I do not like to see Miss Bertram so near the altar” (473)!

I cannot recall Austen making such use of setting in her prior two novels, but both of these exchanges taking place within a chapel certainly further dramatizes them. In the first exchange, Mary callously insults the church (as well as Edward) . I am not familiar enough with the English church in this period to provide much more commentary but church political history at times certainly warrants this dismissal. Edward of course later in the chapter argues of his ideal of the church, the nation, and manners: “The manners I speak of, might rather be called conduct, perhaps, the result of good principles; the effect, in short, of those doctrines which it is their duty to teach and recommend; and it will, I believe, be every where found that as the clergy are, or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation” (476). The more discreet exchange between Henry and Maria obviously wreaks of lust as well as insulting the rather strict rules of engagement.

In addition to my love of books I also love and collect literary stamps. That is, stamps that refer to literature or depict writers. My personal collection started off with a sheet of Katherine Anne Porter stamps and these 1975 British Jane Austen character stamps is the newest to my collection.

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