Mansfield or have no sympathy for her

Mansfield ParkThis novel, originally published in 1814, is the first of Jane Austen’s novels not to be arevised version of one of her pre-1800 writings. Mansfield Park has sometimes beenconsidered atypical of Jane Austen, as being solemn and moralistic, especially whencontrasted with the immediately preceding Pride and Prejudice and the immediatelyfollowing Emma. Poor Fanny Price is brought up at Mansfield Park with her rich uncleand aunt, where only her cousin Edmund helps her with the difficulties she suffers fromthe rest of the family, and from her own fearfulness and timidity. When thesophisticated Crawfords (Henry and Mary), visit the Mansfield neighbourhood, the moralsense of each marriageable member of the Mansfield family is tested in various ways,but Fanny emerges more or less unscathed. The well-ordered (if somewhat vacuous)house at Mansfield Park, and its country setting, play an important role in the novel,and are contrasted with the squalour of Fanny’s own birth family’s home at Portsmouth,and with the decadence of London.

Readers have a wide variety of reactions to Mansfield Park-most of which alreadyappear in the Opinions of Mansfield Park collected by Jane Austen herself soon after thenovel’s publication. Some dislike the character of Fanny as “priggish” (however, it isEdmund who sets the moral tone here), or have no sympathy for her forced inaction(doubtless, those are people who have never lacked confidence, or been without adate on Friday night!). Mansfield Park has also been used to draw connections betweenthe “genteel” rural English society that Jane Austen describes and the outside world,since Fanny’s uncle is a slave-owner (with an estate in Antigua in the Caribbean;slavery was not abolished in the British empire until 1833). Like a number of othertopics, Jane Austen only chose to allude glancingly to the slave trade and slavery inher novels, though she was aware of contemporary debates on the subject. MansfieldPark was one of only two of Jane Austen’s novels to be revised by her after its firstpublication, when a second edition came out in 1816 (this second edition was a failurein terms of sales).Book Reports

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