Adventures in Reading


Mansfield Park: Volume 3, Ch. 1 1/2 – Finis

Recently I was asked what my favorite of Austen’s novels were and I said Mansfield Park partially because it is what I had just finished, because it is ambitiously different than Pride & Prejudice, and as a result of my scholarly research attached to the novel: “Much of my interest of the book involves gender, colonialism, xenophobia, and class – subjects Austen usually does not spend a great deal of time on in her other novels.”

I left off as Sir Bertram was berating Fanny Price as she had “disappointed every expectation [he] had formed, and proved [herself] of a character the very reverse of what [he] had supposed” (599), for refusing Henry Crawford’s hand in marriage. This show of spirits from Fanny (Austen certainly allows her character’s room for growth) results in her visiting the Price household in Portsmouth as a complex notion of vacation, visiting, family, and above all else punishment. Fanny is being punished for not doing her duty, “that is every young woman’s duty to accept such a very unexceptionable offer as this” (607). Poor Fanny has no where to turn for consolation either as even Edmund supports the marriage and goes so far as to lecture Fanny on the greatness of the match (618).

One thing I must give Austen great credit for in Mansfield Park is that she does begin to take more rebellious steps in her marriage commentary. Early within the third volume Fanny says, “…I think it ought not to be set down as certain, that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may happen to like himself” (619). Now before I get too far ahead of myself the similarities between Fanny and Samuel Richardson’s heroine Clarissa just struck me. Both Fanny and Clarissa are “untried” persons in the sense that up until a point in the novels they have never had any real demands, requests, or encouragements made of them; using the term real I mean no life changing events have occurred. Both Fanny and Clarissa resist what they consider unsuitable matrimony and are punished for their resistance to duty: Fanny is sent to Portsmouth and Clarissa is under house arrest. Fanny is “oppressed and wearied … with the kind authority of a privileged guardian” (620). Similar to not killing off Marianne in Sense & Sensibility for her lost love, Austen does seem to give Fanny a boost in spirits and righteousness that contrasts with Richardson’s Clarissa.

By the end of Mansfield Park the reader discovers how very right Fanny actually is in turning down Henry Crawford. However, a word from Mary seems oddly appropriate: “…to be about as unhappy as most other married people.” I mean appropriate in the sense of how few glimpses Austen provides into pleasant matrimony. Excepting the brief appearance of the Gardiner’s of Pride & Prejudice, I can not recollect a single matrimonial pairing that represented a mutual respect and liking between equals that happens throughout the novels. While Mary’s ideas of marriage greatly contrasts with companionate marriage, her idea of matrimony certainly seems more honest in reflecting the represented state of matrimony. I find it interesting that Austen argues for the companionate marriage throughout her novels but in at least the three novels I have read there is seldom a suggestion of this marriage actually occurring. Everyone, excepting the heroines, seem damned.

Fanny’s actual time in Portsmouth is an interesting novelty as while the Price’s are not quite as impoverished as the most recent film adaptation makes them out to be, they certainly are lower middle class and this is the first time Austen breaches the class structure in any manner for any extensive period of time. Fanny arrives to an “abode of noise, disorder, and impropriety” (639), which seems to very much reflect Austen’s own snobbish ideas of decorum and etiquette. (I love Austen but she is a bit of a social snob.) Mrs. Price has nine or ten children, one dead, and two (Fanny and William) away, an alcoholic and layabout husband, and obviously a hard time at finding maids. This is the one time where I am bewildered at Austen’s lack of compassion as the woman is easily (but quite amusingly) written off as a Lady Bertram in poorer circumstances (650). Fanny’s contempt for her family only seems exaggerated by her encouragement of Henry Crawford’s antics “To be the friend of the poor and oppressed!” (648). While Fanny chastises her own family she seems to glamorize and romanticize an idea of the noble country peasant.

Another theme Austen loves to play with is the idea of nature and nurture and it certainly crops up throughout Mansfield Park. Looking only at Fanny, it becomes quite apparent that her lack of spirits seems to entirely reflect her move and treatment at Mansfield Park. I can only conjecture that any further amount of time spent at the Price household in her life would certainly have given her adequate spirit if not a deficiency in the head or intelligence. After all, even after spending only a short time in the topsy turvy Price household it is quite obvious that Fanny’s spirits have arisen to at least internally express her own exasperation and go as far as criticize Edmund’s folly with Mary (658).

As with most of Austen’s novels, a surge of action happens just prior to the end: Tom Bertram takes gravely ill, Mary suggests if Tom dies she could still marry Edmund, and Henry Crawford runs off with the now Mrs. Maria Rushworth. Oh my! Additionally, more so than in any of her novels Austen seems to express an outright contempt for London society that casts a dark look at everything previously occurring in the book: “Fanny was disposed to think the influence of London very much at war with all respectable attachments” (663). Of course, all ends well with Tom surviving, Fanny and Edmund marrying, and everything in their appropriate niche.

I will say that the concluding chapters of Mansfield Park left me rather anxious. It has been said that Austen’s conclusions reflect an aesthetic air, but I wonder if compartmentalize is not a better word. Austen likes the tidy ending that leaves no questions asked (unless you have a case of over curiosity as myself). While the author says “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery” (679) she still manages to place all of her characters in their moralistic boxes of punishment or privilege. I did enjoy the condemnation of women being punished more severely than men when it comes to infidelity. I do not mean to imply that there is anything wrong with this ending, but after reading three novels in a row it has become somewhat… uniform and perhaps too tidy.

When I realized what I had found, a smile ran across my face: a how to for a Jane Austen Quilted Wall Hanging. While my own sewing talents are nonexistent, hopefully someone else can make use of this.

Other opinions: Between the Covers, Girl Detective, Fifty Books, Book Nut, This Delicious Solitude, Book-A-Rama.



Adventurous Search Engine Terms

I have done this a few times before where I respond to the search engine terms that people have entered to bring them to Adventures in Reading. I love that WordPress offers this function because it allows me to engage more with what readers/searchers are after as well as an opportunity to pick my brain.

“richardsonian villain + sense and sensib”

My only experience with a “Richardsonian villain” is from the first half of Clarissa that I read. Ideally I picture a man in a black cape, with cane, tying unfortunate women to railway tracks. While perhaps that is not quite the most accurate depiction of Lovelace I do think it is quite descriptive in one manner: Lovelace is transparent and static, and there is no room for greater exploration of him as an evolving character. Like the black cloaked villain tying helpless female victims to railroad tracks in silent westerns, Lovelace is conniving and immoral. Richardson even goes so far to footnote Clarissa so the reader never for a moment thinks that Lovelace might have a shred of decency in his body.

As far as Sense & Sensibility… From everything I have read and enjoyed of Austen, she never employs this Richardsonian villain, because one important aspect of this villain type is that it is paired with the moral, docile, and angelic heroine (Clarissa in this case). Austen’s characters on the other hand are rife with faults and compliments. All of her heroes are faulty in some manner and all of her villains are forgivable in others. Additionally, these faults and compliments grow or diminish throughout the story.

“jane austin first feminist author”

No, Jane Austen was not the first feminist author. Granted, all that is coming into my mind at the moment is Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies (1405) though I am sure there are earlier “feminist authors.” I do realize I have no idea how this searcher was defining feminism or specifically feminist author, but I have not seen anything by Austen radical enough to be trump her feminist predecessors. Perhaps one could argue a few firsts with Austen as a female novelist or feminist tendencies in a particular vein of literary tradition, but certainly not the “first feminist author.”

“universal themes of Jane Austen”

Whenever people use the term universal in this sense I always struggle with it. I know what they mean but at the same time want to confront them on their definition. More often than not when I have seen universal thrown about what is really meant is popular themes in Judeo-Christian, Anglo-Saxon, bourgeois, and westernized culture. Keeping that in mind some of Austen’s universal themes would include: marriage, education, gender, class, social expectations, etc. Now these I have rooted down to words that are certainly much more universal, though Austen’s actual application of these terms is certainly not universal.

“puritan interregnum literature”

I had absolutely no idea what this meant and had to look it up: “However, the official break in literary culture caused by censorship and radically moralist standards effectively created a gap in literary tradition. At the time of the Civil War, poetry had been dominated by metaphysical poetry of the John Donne, George Herbert, and Richard Lovelace sort. Drama had developed the late Elizabethan theatre traditions and had begun to mount increasingly topical and political plays (for example, the drama of Thomas Middleton). The Interregnum put a stop, or at least a caesura, to these lines of influence and allowed a seemingly fresh start for all forms of literature after the Restoration” (Wikipedia).

“margaret in sense & sensibility”

Brilliant question and one I continually thought about while reading Sense & Sensibility and writing about it. What is the point of Margaret? From my day at the Fashion Museum I did learn that the Neoclassical costume of the period actually started with educational philosophy about children. Ideas were beginning to blossom in this period that children should be encouraged to run around, but prior dress (children were wearing corsets like adults as well as extremely expensive fabrics that were not particularly washable) was rather constrictive. Thus the light and airy cottons were imported from India to allow children a range of clothing wear that would eventually bring us today’s concept of “children” as well as Baby Gap. Granted, I do not think Margaret was intended as a representative of the children’s fashion world of the early 19th Century.

I have yet to see Margaret crop up in any academic works (but I also have not specifically looked for her) and her sole purpose of the novel seems to relay a small exchange between Marianne and Willoughby. I believe that Sense & Sensibility was one of Austen’s novels that received a good deal of editing from Austen’s own hand and perhaps Margaret at one point played a more significant part? After all, all five sisters of Pride & Prejudice get a good deal of “face time” while Margaret seems little more than scenery.

This post is accompanied by a rather random picture of a Jane Austen action figure.