Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park: Novel’s Historical Context
Joseph Lew’s 1994 critical analysis essay of Mansfield Park, “’That Abominable Traffic’: Mansfield Park and the Dynamics of Slavery”, originally published in History, Gender, and Eighteenth Century Literature, discusses historical background leading to the writing of Mansfield Park, the way family households can mimic governmental regimes, and how Mansfield Park is a metaphor for the downfalls of absentee landlordism.
Lew establishes historical context by informing the reader that the summer of 1814 brought a strong desire for abolition in England due to the international slave trade becoming more prominent. In June more than 800 petitions, with more than 25 million signatures, were brought into Parliament demanding the abolition of slavery. That June, Holland abolished slavery. France took a bit more time; Louis XVIII alluded to an eventual slavery and Napoleon finally abolished in hopes to gain support from Britain (Lew 498).
All the petitions to Parliament coincided with the publishing of Mansfield Park. Lew suggests that the novel dramatizes “the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species”, an idea originally thought by Thomas Clarkson. The idea starts in the very beginning when the entire Huntingdon family is in awe over Maria’s acquiring a husband of a much higher status and continues when Maria sends money and assistance to her poorer younger sister. Lew argues that, although, the topic of Slavery only appears in reference to Antigua and Fanny asking a few questions about the slave trade it, along with the role of women, is an important aspect to the political aspect of the story (499).
Lew believes that the idea of the slave trade in Mansfield Park needs a broader interpretation of it which is given by Austen to her niece about her novel-in-progress. In the letter, Lew summarizes that, Austen suggests that Anna’s characters shouldn’t leave England to go to Ireland because Anna doesn’t understand the ways of the Irish. If she talked about Ireland she could give false representation and that would not go over well. Austen knew much of the West Indies due to George Austen’s Antigua estate, her brothers being stationed there in the navy, and through other family members. Lew reminds his readers that the idea of writing what you know is seen again in Persuasion when Mrs. Croft says: “We do not call Bermuda or Bahama, you know, the West Indies.” Austen sticks to what she knows. By doing so she is able to expose contradictions in absentee landlordism and the realities of running a family (499).
The way Austen presents this contradiction should come as no surprise because of the traditional set up of a novel. Lew uses Gary Kelly’s discussions to show that it’s common in Anti-Jacobian fiction to scale a large political issue down to something more accessible and domestic. Family quarrels lead to revolution which is seen when King George IV tried divorcing his wife. Anti-abolistionists used this connection to support the position of a slaveholder and used the bible as justification (500).
Lew theorizes that, just like Pride and Prejudice has Lydia being Elizabeth’s criticism shield, Mansfield Park has Edmund being the brunt of the criticism that should go to his father. This is seen through Edmund accepting multiple livings which is often discussed but rarely is the fact that Sir Thomas owns multiple estates. This means that Sir Thomas has to occasionally visit his other estates and becomes an absentee landlord (500).
Sir Thomas’ idea of how he runs Mansfield Park is completely different from the way his children view it. He feels that he rules Mansfield Park the way a monarch would rule a country. This is the idea that he alone rules by law and instilling a love of honor. This works for Edmund but not for the ladies. Lew concludes that they see it as a despotic form of government. They have a fear of their father. This can only be assumed because not much is known about what happens before he leaves for Antigua (501).
Sir Thomas wasn’t trying to befriend his daughters. He was distant and authoritative. This lead to Maria and Julia not having a true “love” of their father. Lew suggests that his absence created a feeling of freedom which would turn out to be negative. Now their father’s word is nothing more than writing on a paper; he cannot hover and physically control what they do day-to-day. This feeling of euphoric freedom continues as they are able to control what their father knows about their home life because all he knows is what is written to him (501).
Lew cites that the distinction between despotic rule and monarch rule are great. In Lettres persanes the world of a despot being removed is dramatized. It is shown as a world of great moral debauchery and a place that would not be ideal for living (502).
Lew suggests that Mansfield Park has a slightly similar chain of events. Sir Thomas hears of his other estate needing help so he and his son leave. This creates a divide in power in the Park becauseMrs. Norris is to watch and Edmund is to be the judge. Young Tom returns without Sir Thomas and it will be a while before he returns to Mansfield Park (502).
Once gone we see a power shift from Sir Thomas to the manipulative Maria and Mrs. Norris who alter the reality of Mansfield Park to illicit certain responses from Sir Thomas who can only correspond with letters as he is no God. When Sir Thomas arrives back at the estate he is shocked to see that the reality he believed isn’t what is happening because the past he agreed to wasn’t the present at the time so the current present is different from the expected pasts’ future which has turned Mansfield Park into its own Antigua (502).
Lew shows that with no moral, or governing, compass the play begins to blur the lines between reality and illusion which is evident in Mary asking who she will make love to instead of asking who her character will make love to as would be normal. The process of gaining a relationship has become out of whack as Fanny must now help Edmund so he can properly do the role but she really loves him but must give him back to Mary (503).
Everything that can go wrong is going wrong: the billiard room, a symbol of manliness, is feminized and Sir Thomas’ bookshelf is removed thus making his word no longer a looming presence; this is all shattered when he returns which shouldn’t come as a surprise due to his letters but it does. Thomas’ return shows the women that the kind of freedom they just experienced was an illusion and that men are truly in control (504).
There is a theory that draws a correlation to government types and the climate and says that warmer climates with more “tropical” diseases would produce a more despotic government than that of cooler climate. Scientific advances reinforce this idea. An empire circulates goods and people just like a body circulates blood. In 1802 Henry Brougham described how the West Indies influenced health and morality of the English. He started by saying that in the absence of the Englishwomen the men became promiscuous which is a moral problem and it could lead to sexually transmitted diseases. The most moral issue that arose was the desire for unlimited power over another human being. Their return to England brought these ideologies back with them creating a morally and physically diseased country (504).
Due to this, the view of Sir Thomas having a new “firmness” is accurate. Fanny’s negative attitude is detested by Mrs. Norris and Sir Thomas. She refuses to marry a man whom she doesn’t love even though it would increase the family, and her own, status; it draws parallels to the princess of Wales who refused to marry in 1815. Sir Thomas expects the same unquestioning authority in Mansfield Park that he had in Antigua. Fanny, who says no, acts as a traitor to the “monarch”. Fanny’s exile, in poor health, was actually a common practice of convicted criminals in the real world. If a real criminal was to be exiled but already didn’t have property to be exiled from they would be sent to an area that would weaken their health. Maria is also banished for having a will of her own and owning her sexuality (505).
Fanny’s rebellion puts strain on the system that is based on the view of women as being equivalent to a man’s slave. Lew believes that by her defying her “master” she is attacking not only his authority, but his self-worth. Fanny is often discussed by Sir Thomas and Mrs. Norris as being economically negative and is seen equally as such. She is also wanted to marry so she doesn’t embarrass the family by her mother and was supposed to do such and not with a cousin as was common at that time (505).
Lew persuades that Fanny begins to “increase” in economic value. She becomes Lady Bertam’s companion after Maria marries for free. She attracts Henry Crawford which makes her look like a much better economic investment in the eyes of her “owner”. A proposal boosts her value even more; all this without a dowry which saves Sir Thomas much money in the long run. This marriage would boost his status and redeem the chance lost by Maria. Her refusal of this is parallel to someone not selling sugar or slaves to the highest bidder: infuriating and irrational (506).
Lew informs that in Great Britain the king’s family was seen as an important aspect of the state and necessary for the nation. This is true in Chinese society as well. They all believed that individuals should bend their will to match that of the fathers (506).
Lew ends his essay by saying that in the end Austen creates a realistic atmosphere, unlike her previous novels. The events of the novel actually have lasting effects on what could happen after the story. Austen shows just how awful slave holding could be (507).
Throughout his critical essay, Lew illuminates deeper meanings in Mansfield Park. He gives his readers a view of absentee landlordism as it is shown in the novel and its downfalls. He also demonstrates the governmental way that families are run by using the Bertram family as an example.
Taken for Granted and Remorsefulness
Being Taken In
How much of a role does deception play in courtship? In marriage? In Volume I of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Henry and Mary Crawford engage in a conversation with their sister, Mrs. Grant, concerning this very question. The conversation occurs soon after the Crawfords arrive at the parsonage to stay with Mrs. Grant, and becomes an early introduction into the characters’ beliefs, as well as their opinions of the Bertrams. The passage not only employs dramatic irony, it foreshadows the romantic turmoil that lies ahead and also gives the reader a closer look at the characters’ beliefs concerning marriage and courtship.
The passage displays two instances of dramatic irony. The first is Henry’s assertion that “Miss Bertram is very much attached to Mr. Rushworth,” which is followed by his declaration that he “think[s] too well of Miss Bertram to suppose she would ever give her hand without her heart” (34). Both of these statements reflect his opinion of Maria Bertram’s motives, but they also hint that he favors her. His sisters view these statements as evidence that he has been “taken in” or, in other words, deceived (34). As the reader may already know at this point, Henry’s initial assumptions are, in fact, false. This is an example of dramatic irony: because there is “a discrepancy between a character’s perception and what the reader or audience knows to be true” (Murfin and Ray 224). This dramatic irony is seen again in Mary’s thought that Tom Bertram “had more liveliness and gallantry than Edmund, and must, therefore, be preferred; She knew it was her way” (Austen 35). Mary’s other words and actions in this part of the novel reveal that she doesn’t just want Tom because he is lively and gallant, but also because he is the eldest of the Bertram sons and will, therefore, inherit the estate. This early deduction and decision on Mary’s part to “prefer” Tom over Edmund is, just like Henry’s initial opinion of Maria, soon proven false. Mary turns out to favor Edmund for the simple reason that Tom was out of town for a long period of time. When the reader encounters this change in Mary’s decision, he/she is reminded of Mary’s early resolution and how easily it was forgotten. This isn’t the only instance in which Mary betrays her own beliefs about how women should behave during courtship.
In this passage, Mary expresses her view that being “taken in” is a natural part of any marriage, where it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect the most from others, and are least honest themselves (34). This statement is evidence of her belief that marriage is a “maneuvering business,” where people must deceive each other in order to gain favor and acceptance. This assertion, however, is inverted later in the novel when Mary continues to bluntly voice her disgust about clergymen and their salary, yet Edmund, who is determined to become an ordained minister himself, continues in his pursuit of her. Even though she is being brutally honest about her views, he isn’t discouraged, and still seeks her hand in marriage. She doesn’t try to hide her true feelings, even though they are distasteful and offensive to Edmund, and yet none of this keeps Edmund from chasing after her. This disproves her early sentiment that marriage is initially based on deception and that all married (and soon-to-be married) couples deceive eachother in hopes of gaining the other’s favor.
The passage also sheds light on Mrs. Grant’s views on marriage. She believes that all married couples will eventually disappoint one another, but that human nature motivates them to seek consolation in other “scheme[s] of happiness” (34). The use of the word “scheme” in her statement hints at her opinion that marriage is indeed based at least partly on deception, even though she asserts the opposite notion in her argument. Her remark correlates with her own married life: it is obvious that her husband is lacking in many areas, including his treatment of her, his work ethic, and his extreme fondness for alcohol. Her assertion that, when faced with disappointments in marriage, one must look elsewhere to find happiness, is obviously inspired by her experiences in her own marriage. In a way, she is trying to rid Mary and Henry of their ignorance on the trials of married life by giving them a glimpse into her own.
In Mrs. Grant’s words, she is trying to “cure” Mary and Henry of their naivete. She sees that Henry is already being deceived by Maria about her motives and that Mary is still unaware of the trials that marriage and courtship bring. In her own words, she wants to “cure [them] both” (35), and believes that Mansfield can assist her in doing so. Later, it becomes obvious that Mansfield will indeed “cure” their ignorance, but only by subjecting them to disappointment and heartache. As the reader knows by the end of the novel, Henry runs off with Maria, only to find it impossible to live with her after their initial facades wear off and they are exposed to one another’s real personalities. Mary’s fate is just as depressing, mainly because her own belief in the importance of deception in courting contrasts directly with Edmund’s (not to mention the fact that she is more interested in his money than anything else). Mary believes that at least some of Edmund’s personality is a disguise, especially in her assumption that his determination to become a clergyman can be easily discouraged. Edmund, however, remains truthful in his words and actions, and as a result Mary ends up digging her own grave, so to speak. In a way, Mansfield Park really does “cure” Henry and Mary of their naivete, but not without subjecting them to instances of disappointment and heartache along the way. The cliche phrase “they learned it the hard way” certainly appears applicable in this situation.
This short passage gives the reader a deeper look into Mary and Henry’s motives as they enter into courtship with the Bertram youths, foreshadowing future events and their consequences. It also offers a brief glimpse of Mrs. Grants emotional struggle in her own marriage, and her desire to convince the Crawfords that no marriage can be happy without a great deal of effort. The dramatic irony in the passage is used to set both Henry and Mary up for falls later in the novel, when their initial assumptions are proven wrong and, as a result, they wind up alone.
Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. Ed. Claudia L. Johnson. New York: Norton, 34-35.
Murfin, Ross, and Supryia Ray. “Irony.” The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.
Family Man and Morality: A Study of Edmund
While Edmund first shows himself to be compassionate and morally grounded as a character, he also shows that these qualities, as well as his own perceptions, are capable of being corrupted, mainly due to his romantic attachment to Miss Crawford in spite of her questionable moral foundations; these distortions of both Edmund’s values and his social awareness lead Edmund to become ignorant of Fanny’s affections toward him and makes him unconcerned with Fanny’s well-being to boot: Edmund’s lack of regard towards Fanny makes him largely to blame for the decline in physical and mental health she experiences throughout the novel.
Fanny’s first encounters with Edmund while transitioning into life at Mansfield Park show something contrary to the detachment Edmund exhibits later in the novel. In these encounters, the reader learns quite a large amount about Edmund’s good character in only a few pages. Edmund establishes his kind nature to the reader by helping Fanny write a letter to her sorely missed brother: “He continued with her the whole time of her writing, to assist her with his penknife or his orthography, as either were wanted; and added to these attentions, which she felt very much, a kindness to her brother, which delighted her beyond all the rest.” (17). Edmund did not have to console Fanny, let alone help her write a letter to her brother, yet he kindly did so anyway. The reader also learns about Edmund’s “strong good sense and uprightness of mind” (21) from Sir Thomas’ point of view, confirming the notion that Edmund is a morally upright young man by nature. Finally, the narrator enumerates that “his [Edmund’s] attentions were otherwise of the highest importance in assisting the improvement of her mind, and extending its pleasures.” (22). Even the narrator is outright telling the reader that Edmund remains of vital importance to Fanny’s mental health and learning potential, which leaves Edmund with quite a lot of responsibility over his cousin.
Edmund makes evident his continuing devotion to Fanny’s care as well as his first big misstep with such a responsibility in how he handles Fanny’s new horse. Edmund’s provision of a new horse for Fanny further demonstrates his goodwill, especially because of the fact that he traded one of his own horses for it: “this third [horse] he resolved to exchange for one that his cousin might ride…the whole business was soon completed.” (36). This is a great moment in their relationship, but this same horse soon turns to be a problem after the story introduces Mary Crawford. The whole reason Edmund bought the horse was for Fanny to exercise and remain in good physical condition instead of wasting away at the house, but Edmund seems to lose sight of this when Miss Crawford comes into the picture. He hints to Fanny about how “Miss Crawford would be glad to have her for a longer time,” even though he knew of Fanny’s wavering health. While Edmund did not intentionally cause Fanny to fall ill, especially without his knowledge of the torturous chores that her aunts would assign to her if she had been left without the ability to ride, Edmund still cannot escape some responsibility for the lack of consideration he had for his cousin in this instance. His ignorance of Fanny’s demeanor has big consequences for Fanny.
Continuing this trend, the Lover’s Vows fiasco sheds light on an even bigger failure of Edmund’s moral sensibilities and his commitment to Fanny’s well-being. In justifying his role in the play, Edmund attempts to reason that by taking the part in the play, he is really doing Sir Thomas a favor by not letting strangers into the household, but this decision that Edmund makes no doubt has ulterior motives, namely that Mary agreed to do the play and Edmund “…was obliged to acknowledge that the charm of acting might well carry fascination to the mind of genius; and with the ingenuity of love…” (120). Edmund’s justification of the play for this reason can only display that his moral foundation has the capacity to be tampered with, especially if the person doing the tampering is a charming young woman. It seems that Edmund is so infatuated with Mary Crawford that he not only knowingly goes against what his father would have wanted, but he also blatantly ignores Fanny’s discomfort with the line rehearsals between himself and Miss Crawford. Fanny had already displayed her vexation with the idea of a play, thus Edmund knew better than to ask for her opinion on rehearsed lines with Mary, and even worse is the fact that both Edmund and Mary mistook Fanny’s anxiety and discomfort for exhaustion. This can also be explained by Edmund’s intoxicated attraction to Mary; perhaps if he was more soberly dedicated to Miss Crawford’s affections, he might have been able to understand how Fanny was suffering.
Fanny’s suffering is only exacerbated with Henry’s proclamations of love for her. Perhaps the worst failure of Edmund’s blurred judgmental vision manifests itself in his haste to condone and even support the relationship and possible marriage of his cousin Fanny to Henry Crawford. It is clear that his motives are not simply that he wishes Fanny the best, but rather, he makes the ordeal about himself: “‘A counteraction, gentle and continual, is the best safeguard of manners and conduct.’ Full well could Fanny guess where his thoughts were now. Miss Crawford’s power was all returning.” (323-324). In a time where Edmund is supposed to be giving Fanny sound advice about her choices moving forward, he instead decided to ruminate on his own relationship with Mary Crawford! Even worse is Edmund’s approval of Sir Thomas’ plan to send Fanny back to Portsmouth in order to make her wan Henry. The reader knows that Edmund is aware of Fanny’s poor medical state, but still looked at the plan, “…considered it in every way, and saw nothing but what was right.” (341). Not only is he supporting the manipulation of his cousin into marrying someone she does not love, he is also threatening her physical health by sending her to an overburdened and impoverished family with a careless mother and alcoholic father. In effect, he would be willing to condemn her to adverse conditions and unstable emotional environments just to quell the tension between herself and Mary, the two people he holds dearest. This is the most damning proof towards Mary’s perversion of Edmund’s kindness and morality that would cause Fanny direct physical and mental distress.
Fanny recognizes the blinding effects that Mary has on Edmund’s good judgment very early, but because of her own soft-spoken nature, feels powerless over the situation and forces herself to agree with Edmund on “How well she walks! And how readily she falls in with the inclination of others!” (105). At first glance, this might just be chalked up to a quiet jealousy and dismissed as insignificant, but this is a theme that occurs often throughout the novel. This theme finally reaches a climax when the author portrays Fanny resigning herself to Edmund’s satisfaction with Miss Crawford’s unscrupulous disposition and even the inevitability of their marriage:
…the more she recollected and observed, the more deeply was she convinced that every thing was now in a fairer train for Miss Crawford’s marrying Edmund than it had ever been before. — On his side, the inclination was stronger, on her’s less equivocal. His objections, the scruples of his integrity, seemed all done away—nobody could tell how; and the doubts and hesitations of her ambition were equally got over—and equally without apparent reason. It could only be imputed to increasing attachment. (340)
It is only after Edmund snaps out of his delusional attachment to Mary that he is finally able to perceive Fanny’s love. The narrator makes it quite clear, even without regard to dates, that as soon as Edmund stopped thinking about Mary, he was eager to marry Fanny: “Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became anxious to marry Fanny, as Fanny herself could desire.” (436). Edmund was able to redeem himself from his past ignorance and misdeeds, with his penance being the pain he endured while recovering from his relationship with Mary. It is also made optimistically clear that his marriage to Fanny would prevent his compassion and morality from being shaken thereafter.
While Edmund’s redemption is touching, it must be understood that had he been attentive to Fanny’s passions towards him earlier in his youth, the outcome to all of the aforementioned situations would have been very different. Had he not been distracted, his knowledge of her affections would have led to reduced strains on her physical and emotional health, regardless of whether or not he had decided to return said affections, as he would not have been charged with doing so. The responsibility that Edmund had towards his cousin was a large one, but such is the price of being kind and morally upright; both of these traits connote responsibility, which is something that no one is capable of doing perfectly, as conveyed by Edmund. Instead of perfection, the message Edmund does reveal to the reader is the possibility of redemption from the omission of responsibility. Where Edmund was less than kind or immoral, he made up for it with some sort of apology or penance, which seems to be the kind of example Jane Austen wants to make of Edmund for her readers.
Individuating Female Marital Constraints
The eighteenth-century novel seemed often to be the place in which people would attempt reform society. The novel gave writers a medium through which they could provide both entertainment and a place in which they could attempt to reform people’s views. Although often times these writers were only slightly allowed to delve into something outside of the status quo of the time, they were often even more successful because of this penchant to stay within boundaries. In other words, because these authors weren’t too radical in their writings, the readers were therefore abler to swallow these ideas. Austen uses this technique in Mansfield Park to show the readers some of the wrongs of the marriage institution, as well as the way in which women were constrained in the society at the time. In order to do this, Austen uses a technique which Armstrong, in Desire and Domesticity, defines as individuating a collective body—making a societal wrong shown through an individual case in order to reform it. By using this technique of individuating women’s constraints in marriage, we are able to first sympathize with Fanny, and then with the female society as a whole by seeing the emotional impact on the individual.
Fanny, throughout the novel, is shown to be one with the least amount of influence and voice in the novel, once even defined as a “creep-mouse” by her cousin, and treated as a servant by others (Austen, 168). It is at the crucial part of her life, and possibly the most crucial portion of the book, in which she must raise her voice against her potential suitor, Henry Crawford, as well as her family, in which she truly achieves a greater amount of agency. This increased sense of agency is brought to a climax in Chapter 35, in which Edmund comes to Fanny to encourage her to accept Henry’s marriage proposal. While Edmund is encouraging the marriage, Fanny says of this, that “it ought not to be set down as certain that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may happen to like himself” (Austen, 391). Fanny’s assertion, here, that women need not be forced into a marriage conveys a small part of Austen’s critique of the business-like marriages of the day. Instead, Austen shows here that women should be the ones in charge of their own fate, rather than society dictating that they should be forced into a love-less marriage simply because society, as well as their own families, have pressured them into it. Austen is critiquing female constraints in marriage as a whole through this individual case. Fanny says that she “should have thought…that every woman must have felt the possibility of a man’s not being approved, not being loved by someone of her sex,” which implies this contradiction to the reality of society (Austen, 391). Not only does Fanny’s literal emphasis of the words give more power to her words—something that she normally lacks—but in the fact that she speaks out at all makes the words that much more powerful. Here, Austen is showing the power that women should possess. Being that Fanny almost never speaks out against societal norms, this point of departure from her normal self adds much more power to her words than if she was constantly speaking out. Her emphasis of the word “should” gives an importance to what she is saying, and is on the brink of urgency. Had she been any other character, the word to use here may have been “must,” yet the word “should” lends more credibility to who Fannie is. She cannot give a more forceful opinion, or else be recognized as straying from the societal norm—this being a woman being subservient to men and having little to no say in their matters.
In order to explain and validate what Austen is doing, Armstrong contends that eighteenth-century novelists attempted to reform what people thought of sexuality. Of this, she says that the “struggle to represent sexuality took the form of a struggle to individuate wherever there was a collective body” (Armstrong, 468). In other words, the rise of the novel sought to show an individual circumstance in order to fully convey the struggles of the whole. The individual’s circumstance then gives emotional support and sympathy towards the whole of the population. In order to show the whole, the rise of the novel gives way to individualizing the societal norms, such as the female constraints shown in this novel. Armstrong goes on to say that “Rather than refer to individuals who already…carried on relationships according to novelistic conventions, domestic fiction took great care to distinguish itself from the kind of fiction that predominated in the eighteenth [century]” (Armstrong, 469). Mansfield Park, as a form of domestic fiction, questions the roles that men and women played in relationships through cases such as Fanny’s. Fanny’s exclamation that women should be able to say no to a potential suitor brings to light some of the wrongs of the patriarchal existence that she lives in.
Leading up to this event, Fanny’s subservience and general lack of power is shown earlier in the chapter, evoking in the reader the same sort of sympathy for Fanny’s lack of power that is seen throughout the novel. “Oh! never, never, never; he never will succeed with me,” says Fanny to Edmund during the first part of their conversation, which the readers hope that Fanny is gaining more agency and more of a voice (Austen, 385). This is contradicted immediately by Fanny’s willing subservience to Edmund—she quickly changes this firm decision to saying that she thinks that she shall never marry Henry and that she thinks she shall never return his love (Austen, 385). Her firm decision is quickly turned irresolute by Edmund’s assertion that her decision to never marry Crawford is “so very determined and positive,” which was apparently “not like [herself], [her] rational self” (Austen, 385). In this, Edmund is asserting that her wanting to turn Henry Crawford down is irrational, as if a woman’s own opinions were only rational if they agreed with a man’s, or simply society in general. Austen seems to be critiquing the way in which men made women feel as though their views and feelings were invalid unless they were similar to their own. Once Edmund makes this statement, the narrator conveys that Fanny was obliged to “sorrowfully correct herself’ (Austen, 385). This description from the narrator gives the reader a small sight into Fanny’s mind, showing the reader the great pains, mentally, that Fanny is forced to take in order to fit into the patriarchal-run society. She is constrained to what Edmund—and the rest of the family around her—want to hear, much like other women of the time were forced to deal with. Fanny’s penchant to only subtly go against the patriarchal norm of society can be explained in Armstrong’s theory. Armstrong postulates that “domestic fiction could represent an alternative form of political power without appearing to contest the distribution of power that it represented as historically given” (Armstrong, 471). Fanny only goes so far as to speaking out against Edmund because of the way in which Austen was forced, as an author, to keep the status quo of the time. She must do this in order to survive as an author, and in doing so, the reader is more likely to accept these views because they are not too radical. By subtly integrating some radical views at the time, Austen is thereby able to gain some supporters because her work only slightly contests the views of the day.
This oppression of the proposed marriage between Fanny and Henry is attended to during her explanation, to Edmund, of why the match would be unfavorable to her. After telling Edmund repeatedly of why she did not want to marry Henry Crawford, he claims that their tempers are similar. To this, Fanny contests that the difference between their personalities are “infinitely too great” and that “his spirits often oppress [her]” (Austen, 387). Although Fanny says this fairly nonchalantly, it seems as though Austen is attempting to imply the oppression of the marriage itself. Oppression meaning here something akin to “to (mentally) overwhelm or weigh down a person,” meaning that his spirits (or personality) distressed her, Austen uses this meaning in order to conceal a deeper meaning to this word (OED). Rather, she here is trying to convey that Henry has a penchant to “govern harshly; to tyrannize; to engage in oppression” (OED). Fanny conveys the oppressive nature of men in the patriarchal society of eighteenth-century Britain through speaking about his oppressive personality and temper. This oppressive nature is seen again, when Edmund states that Henry Crawford has “chosen his partner, indeed, with rare felicity” (Austen, 388). The word “chosen” is used here to put pressure on the fact that men felt above women, that they indeed were the ones to choose their partners, who would thereby submit to them. It is this choosing of a wife that Fanny so opposes when she claims that women must not reciprocate romantic feelings towards every man who flirts with her. Rather, it is the choice of both parties which should make the decisions—should being the operative word here, which is put pressure on by Fanny, as mentioned before. “Chosen” puts an insistence on Fanny’s approval, giving the power of the relationship (or lack thereof) to Henry.
Armstrong’s Desire and Domestic Fiction details some of the reasons why the characters of the novel were vying for Fanny to accept Henry, and therefore to submit to society—and Edmund’s—wills. Armstrong claims that “the rise of the novel hinged upon a struggle to say what made a woman desirable”—thus, Edmund was attempting to show submissiveness as a desirable trait in women (Armstrong, 468). Austen criticizes this aspect of novels at the time by actually contradicting this through Fanny’s rejection of Edmund’s persuasions. Being that we already sympathize with Fanny, the reader is thereby trained to sympathize with Fanny’s wishes as well. This allows the reader to see that a woman being independent is much more desirable than what the patriarchal norm of society deemed as desirable. As Armstrong asserts, “narratives which seemed to be concerned solely with matters of courtship and marriage in fact seized the authority to say what was female” (Armstrong, 468). Austen seems to use this allowance in that she forces the reader to reevaluate what they think of as desirable in a woman. It is complicated, though, by the way in which we have already sympathized with Edmund at certain points in this novel. Perhaps Austen does this in order to mask her intentions, and only reveal slightly what is truly desirable in a woman, else be ostracized and criticized for completely going against the norm.
The constraints that were put upon females and marriage is shown through Fanny’s case. In showing the wrongs of the society by showing its impact on an individual, we can see more clearly how it truly affects women in general. By taking this issue from a collective body and showing it in individualistic terms, we are thereby able to put emotion to the issue and humanize concern. What gives the readers the notion that this is important in a global sense, though? It is the way in which we can relate these happenings to the society of the time. In Austen critiquing the constraints that were put on Fanny, a timid creature already, she is more so using Fanny in order to show but one part of a larger whole of women at the time. Fanny is dealing with the pressures of her family, and (more importantly), the pressures that Edmund is putting on her—to deal with this, she is only able to submit to Edmund’s wishes. These roles seem to fit perfectly into the societal norms that were prevalent at the time—women were often conveyed as timid and subservient to men, while men and the entirety of the patriarchal society put pressure on women, which they were often forced to submit to.
Being Taken In
Being Taken In How much of a role does deception play in courtship? In marriage? In Volume I of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Henry and Mary Crawford engage in a conversation with their sister, Mrs. Grant, concerning this very question. The conversation occurs soon after the Crawfords arrive at the parsonage to stay with Mrs. Grant, and becomes an early introduction into the characters’ beliefs, as well as their opinions of the Bertrams. The passage not only employs dramatic irony, it foreshadows the romantic turmoil that lies ahead and also gives the reader a closer look at the characters’ beliefs concerning marriage and courtship. The passage displays two instances of dramatic irony. The first is Henry’s assertion that “Miss Bertram is very much attached to Mr. Rushworth,” which is followed by his declaration that he “think[s] too well of Miss Bertram to suppose she would ever give her hand without her heart” (34). Both of these statements reflect his opinion of Maria Bertram’s motives, but they also hint that he favors her. His sisters view these statements as evidence that he has been “taken in” or, in other words, deceived (34). As the reader may already know at this point, Henry’s initial assumptions are, in fact, false. This is an example of dramatic irony: because there is “a discrepancy between a character’s perception and what the reader or audience knows to be true” (Murfin and Ray 224). This dramatic irony is seen again in Mary’s thought that Tom Bertram “had more liveliness and gallantry than Edmund, and must, therefore, be preferred; She knew it was her way” (Austen 35). Mary’s other words and actions in this part of the novel reveal that she doesn’t just want Tom because he is lively and gallant, but also because he is the eldest of the Bertram sons and will, therefore, inherit the estate. This early deduction and decision on Mary’s part to “prefer” Tom over Edmund is, just like Henry’s initial opinion of Maria, soon proven false. Mary turns out to favor Edmund for the simple reason that Tom was out of town for a long period of time. When the reader encounters this change in Mary’s decision, he/she is reminded of Mary’s early resolution and how easily it was forgotten. This isn’t the only instance in which Mary betrays her own beliefs about how women should behave during courtship. In this passage, Mary expresses her view that being “taken in” is a natural part of any marriage, where it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect the most from others, and are least honest themselves (34). This statement is evidence of her belief that marriage is a “maneuvering business,” where people must deceive each other in order to gain favor and acceptance. This assertion, however, is inverted later in the novel when Mary continues to bluntly voice her disgust about clergymen and their salary, yet Edmund, who is determined to become an ordained minister himself, continues in his pursuit of her. Even though she is being brutally honest about her views, he isn’t discouraged, and still seeks her hand in marriage. She doesn’t try to hide her true feelings, even though they are distasteful and offensive to Edmund, and yet none of this keeps Edmund from chasing after her. This disproves her early sentiment that marriage is initially based on deception and that all married (and soon-to-be married) couples deceive eachother in hopes of gaining the other’s favor. The passage also sheds light on Mrs. Grant’s views on marriage. She believes that all married couples will eventually disappoint one another, but that human nature motivates them to seek consolation in other “scheme[s] of happiness” (34). The use of the word “scheme” in her statement hints at her opinion that marriage is indeed based at least partly on deception, even though she asserts the opposite notion in her argument. Her remark correlates with her own married life: it is obvious that her husband is lacking in many areas, including his treatment of her, his work ethic, and his extreme fondness for alcohol. Her assertion that, when faced with disappointments in marriage, one must look elsewhere to find happiness, is obviously inspired by her experiences in her own marriage. In a way, she is trying to rid Mary and Henry of their ignorance on the trials of married life by giving them a glimpse into her own. In Mrs. Grant’s words, she is trying to “cure” Mary and Henry of their naivete. She sees that Henry is already being deceived by Maria about her motives and that Mary is still unaware of the trials that marriage and courtship bring. In her own words, she wants to “cure [them] both” (35), and believes that Mansfield can assist her in doing so. Later, it becomes obvious that Mansfield will indeed “cure” their ignorance, but only by subjecting them to disappointment and heartache. As the reader knows by the end of the novel, Henry runs off with Maria, only to find it impossible to live with her after their initial facades wear off and they are exposed to one another’s real personalities. Mary’s fate is just as depressing, mainly because her own belief in the importance of deception in courting contrasts directly with Edmund’s (not to mention the fact that she is more interested in his money than anything else). Mary believes that at least some of Edmund’s personality is a disguise, especially in her assumption that his determination to become a clergyman can be easily discouraged. Edmund, however, remains truthful in his words and actions, and as a result Mary ends up digging her own grave, so to speak. In a way, Mansfield Park really does “cure” Henry and Mary of their naivete, but not without subjecting them to instances of disappointment and heartache along the way. The cliche phrase “they learned it the hard way” certainly appears applicable in this situation. This short passage gives the reader a deeper look into Mary and Henry’s motives as they enter into courtship with the Bertram youths, foreshadowing future events and their consequences. It also offers a brief glimpse of Mrs. Grants emotional struggle in her own marriage, and her desire to convince the Crawfords that no marriage can be happy without a great deal of effort. The dramatic irony in the passage is used to set both Henry and Mary up for falls later in the novel, when their initial assumptions are proven wrong and, as a result, they wind up alone.Works CitedAusten, Jane. Mansfield Park. Ed. Claudia L. Johnson. New York: Norton, 34-35.Murfin, Ross, and Supryia Ray. “Irony.” The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.
Mansfield Park: Jane Austen’s Departure from “Light, Bright, and Sparkling”
The novels of Jane Austen primarily reveal satirical glimpses into the inner workings of Nineteenth-century England’s upper classes. With a mocking overtone, the author ridicules the plight of young women as they desperately seek a worthy husband. Ultimately, the heroine happily weds the man whom she loves, and the corrupted character is condemned to live unhappily ever after. However, the plot of Austen’s novel Mansfield Park differs slightly from her typical formula. Although the book narrates the story of Fanny Price, a young woman attempting to discover her place in the social order through marriage, the writer delves deeper into the era’s current issues. Austen touches upon the ethics of possessing slaves and sexual self-awareness. She displays the constructive and damaging effects of Fanny’s demure nature. The author also hints at the devastating effects which alcoholism can cause a family. Unlike the author’s other novels, marriage is not directly on the forefront in Mansfield Park. Atypically Jane Austen, the book is refreshingly socially aware and discusses issues of consequence, not simply the insignificant gossip of dinner parties and wedding arrangements. In Mansfield Park, the author confirms her legitimacy as a writer through her ability to weave the current social issues of the time with the story of a painfully shy young woman struggling to balance the wishes of others with her own virtues.In the opening chapter of Mansfield Park, the author describes the reality of urban poverty. The mother of Fanny Price writes a letter begging her well-to-do sisters to rescue one of her children, for she and her husband, an impoverished, drunken sailor, cannot afford to properly care for all of their ten children. In addition to acknowledging poverty, the author also suggests the detrimental effects of alcohol on a family. Alcoholism is introduced in Fanny’s father, and later in the novel, Tom Bertram places serious financial strain on his family with his drinking problem. Through drinking, Tom incurs sizeable debts which force his father to tend to his plantations in Antigua, where he owns slaves.Mansfield Park presents Austen’s first effort to address serious moral issues. Sir Thomas’s slaveholdings in the Caribbean support the lavish lifestyle of the Bertram’s, yet the writer suggests that trafficking humans may hold a moral liability. Fanny raises a question about her uncle’s holdings in the West Indies, and though her query is not hostile, a “dead silence” ensues (166). Although Austen only describes slavery as an undertone in the novel, she still makes a statement about its ethics.The author again raises a moral question in her novel when she describes the licentious sexual behavior demonstrated by the characters. Austen utilizes symbolism when Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram squeeze around a locked gate at Southerton. The two creep around a previously forbidden area, which is an allusion to a sexual act. The spikes on the gate threaten to rip Maria’s dress, which foreshadows how Maria will eventually destroy her social reputation through her adultery with Henry. Additionally, the author uses symbolism when Fanny attempts to find a chain for the cross pendant which she received from her brother William. The chain given to her from Henry does not fit through the pendant’s clasp, yet the chain from Edmund is a perfect fit, suggesting that Edmund is the only proper match for Fanny.Sexuality is discussed further with the play the young adults attempt to perform. Lover’s Vows is a play brimming with sexual references. The play is ironic in the fact that it literalizes the events brewing at Mansfield Park. Henry and Maria act in scandalous scenes with one another, as do Edmund and Mary. The play’s theme of overt sexuality can be construed as unquestionably immoral when Sir Thomas’s intervention brings the performance to a halt. Interestingly, Fanny refuses to act in the play. Her refusal to participate signifies not only her disapproval of the play; on another level, it also shows that she is unwilling to be false about her emotions.Acting is presented in two different lights at Mansfield Park. The play-acting in Lover’s Vows represents the underlying emotions of the young adults. However, acting also signifies assuming a character that is not sincerely oneself. Henry and Mary Crawford are both adept at acting insincerely. Throughout the novel, Mary “acts” to win a place in Edmund’s heart, yet her true self is exposed near the book’s conclusion when she declares her wish for Tom to die so that Edmund may inherit his fortune. Likewise, while Henry is wooing Fanny, he is also “acting.” Although he plays the part so well that he convinces himself that he loves Fanny, his true nature is revealed when he eventually seduces Maria and elopes with her. Thus, Fanny’s refusal to act is significant, for her refusal demonstrates her sincerity on all levels of her being.In Mansfield Park, Austen also addresses the inner turmoil which Fanny experiences. Fanny is a victim of the “Cinderella Complex,” for she feels as if she belongs to a family which does not fully welcome her. She struggles with her shyness and is often torn between remaining passive or asserting her opinion. Fanny is hurt when Edmund is attracted to Mary, yet she will not admit to herself that she is in love with him. When Edmund asks for Fanny’s opinion of Mary, she replies with silence and fails to state her beliefs. On one occasion, Fanny and Edmund are gazing at the stars as he tries to justify Mary’s poor qualities. When Fanny tries to change the subject, Edmund leaves. Upon her rejection of Henry’s proposal, she cannot explain to her uncle that Henry’s inappropriate behavior with Maria and his overall insincerity are what caused her to refuse him. In her attempts to please everyone else, she consequently ignores her own needs and wants.However, Fanny’s virtue ultimately triumphs over her timidity. No amount of entreaties can coerce her into participating in the improper Lover’s Vows, and not even Edmund can convince her to accept Henry’s proposal. Although she has difficulty articulating her emotions, Fanny, in the face of criticism, remains confident in her convictions. Ultimately, Fanny’s unwavering allegiance to herself enables her to marry Edmund, the only man she has ever loved all along.Mansfield Park is the most pragmatic and least romantic of all Austen’s novels. In this story, she writes of more than simply marriage, romance, and social status. The book touches upon the miserable reality of urban poverty and the effects of alcoholism on the family. She alludes to the moral accountability of slavery, the effects of fleeting lust on permanent reputation, and the ultimate consequences of insincerity. Complicated even by the standards of Jane Austen, Mansfield Park discusses the social issues of the time, yet the book also shows, through the outcome of Fanny Price, that virtue and loyalty to oneself ultimately triumph.
“The Charm is Broken”: Sexual Desire and Transgression in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park
In a letter to her brother dated 1814, Jane Austen boasted about a compliment she had received from a friend on her most recent work, Mansfield Park: “It’s the most sensible novel he’s ever read” (263). Austen prided herself on creating literature that depicted realistic characters and honest situations, but perhaps more importantly, she strove to create fiction that was moral and instructional as well as entertaining. So what does sensible say about the sexual? In Mansfield Park, the answer appears blaringly before us, as we repeatedly witness sexuality and desire represented in the darkest of terms, and often resulting in the most sinister of outcomes. Those who emit a sexual persona or awareness are to be seen as dangerous, and those whom possess sexual desire are inevitably the ones in danger, and are often punished for their untamed emotions and erratic behavior. The Bertrams and Fanny Price reside at Mansfield Park peacefully enough until their quiet, domestic world is turned upside down by outsiders, all of who, in their own ways, threaten to upset the lives of the inhabitants with a passion, desire, and sexuality that is new to them. In this essay, I would like to examine the relationships that arise from connections with these outsiders, what role sexuality and desire play in them, and what Austen’s treatment of them says about sexual transgression and desire in a larger sense as well. It seems only natural to begin with the two most prominent intruders in Mansfield Park, Henry and Mary Crawford. As jaded individuals accustomed to the fast-paced (and amoral) life of the city, Mary and Henry view Mansfield Park and its residents with a sort of novelty interest, regarding them almost as if they’re playthings set out for their amusement. Mary is “remarkably pretty” (35) and wins the Bertrams over with “her lively dark eye, clear brown complexion, and general prettiness” (37) and her brother, after just a few visits, is declared, “most agreeable young man the sisters had ever known” (37). Henry (who I will discuss in greater length momentarily) sees Maria and Julia as conquests, women to be won over just for the sake of doing so. Mary, however, is sincere in her emotions toward Edmund (at least, as sincere as Mary Crawford could ever be), but the combination of Edmund’s desire for her and her own seductive nature makes her a precarious character. Perhaps Mary’s biggest problem is that she is too knowledgeable for her own good. Her skepticism and cynical attitude often seem out of place at the naïve and sheltered Mansfield Park, particularly when compared to the ideological views of Edmund. Unlike Edmund, who is strikingly ignorant about the matter, Mary becomes preoccupied with understanding Fanny’s position in society, and subsequent availability, inquiring, “pray, is she out, or is she not?” (42). Later, she remarks to Edmund, unaware that he is soon to be ordained, upon the apathy she feels (and blindly assumes others feel, as well) about attending church:”Cannot you imagine with what unwilling feelings the former belles of the house of Rushworth did many a time repair to this chapel? The young Mrs. Eleanors and Mrs. Bridgetsstarched up into seeming piety, but with heads full of something very differentespecially if the poor chaplain were not worth looking atand, in those days, I fancy parsons were very inferior even to what they are now” (78) These instances, both tinged with sexual overtones, demonstrate that Mary’s worldliness and sophistication are dangerous attributes, because they are not representative of good manners or refinement, but a thin veneer that, when peeled away, reveals narcissism, superficiality, and a lack of morals. Although never told in so many words, we have a tacit understanding that Mary’s knowledge extends past the limits of what a proper young woman out to know aboutincluding, of course, sex and desire. It is this combination of awareness and corruption that makes Mary Crawford so ominous, and consequently, means danger for Edmund. Edmund’s reckless longing for Mary, while it does reveal a weakness on his part, also seems to serve as a reiteration of her menacing nature. Repeatedly we, along with Fanny, must suffer through Edmund’s oblivious veneration of Mary, which quite clearly has sexual implications. After all, his attraction to her is initially, and primarily, a physical one: “it is her countenance that is so attractive” (56). Later, at the end of a conversation with her, Edmund watches Mary walk away, in “ecstasy of admiration of all her many virtues” (101). This passion clearly has negative connotations and consequences. Because of Mary’s charm, or more accurately, because of Edmund’s “bewitched” state, he frequently forgets himself, his family, and his duty. Edmund’s lack of composure is most apparent in the strain that it puts on his relationship with Fanny. In Jane Austen and the War of Ideas, Marilyn Butler states, “Edmund, who has always been considerate of Fanny, is now seduced by his physical delight in Mary in forgetting her” (223). Once Edmund realizes Mary’s callous and manipulative disposition, he alludes to his awareness as if he had has been released from a siren’s spell: “the charm is broken. My eyes are opened” (412).While Mary Crawford is both tempting and threatening to Edmund, Henry Crawford is equally, perhaps even more so, a danger to Julia, Maria, and later to Fanny. We quickly learn from Mary that Henry’s favorite hobby is wooing women he has no sincere interest in: “he is the most horrible flirt that can be imagined. If your Miss Bertrams do not like to have their hearts broke, let them avoid Henry” (36). Tragically enough, however, both Julia and Maria are soon taken in by his charismatic persona and sex appeal, and, for the first time in their lives, the sisters find themselves at odds with one another. From the beginning of the novel, we are informed of Julia and Maria’s vanity and weakness of character, which inevitably foreshadow the disastrous events to come. Maria, “so surrounded by admirers, must be difficult in her choice” (33) accepts a marriage proposal from the foolish but wealthy Mr. Rushworth who endures humiliation and disgrace because he allows his eyes instead of his brain to guide him in his decision: “he was from the first struck with the beauty of Miss Bertram” (32). This act alone makes us skeptical of Maria, but Austen pushes us to become even more incredulous as we see her shamelessly unable to restrain herself from returning Henry Crawford’s flirtations, despite her engagement and her sister’s obvious interest in him. Maria lacks sexual self-discipline because Henry is irresistible, but also because she is used to and enjoys being flattered and admired.In one of Austen’s more symbolic moments, we see a grim prediction of Maria’s transgressive nature and inevitable ruin. During an outing at Rushworth’s estate, a fraction of the party find themselves trapped in a garden that has a locked gate, and are instructed to wait while Rushworth goes to fetch the key. Maria, however, lacks the patience for this, and attempts to squeeze through the gate in order to go off alone with Henry. When Fanny begs her to wait until the gate is properly unlocked, Maria says, “Prohibited! Nonsense!” I certainly can get out that way, and I will!” (88). This attitude seems to encapsulate Maria’s life philosophy: she has little, if any, conscious of right or wrong, and does not seem to feel that it is any concern to her. This selfishness and immorality inevitably lead Maria to public a sexual scandal and public dishonor. When she tires of her husband, whom she married for money and not love, she is easily won over again by Henry’s advances. Lionel Trilling duly notes in “Mansfield Park” that it is this relationship with Maria in which Henry’s sexual charisma catches up with him: “he becomesthe prey to his own charm, and in his cold flirtation with Maria Bertram he is trapped by his impersonation of passionhis role requires that he carry Maria off from a dull marriage to a life of boring concupiscence.” (133). Both are weak characters, and allow their depravity to take whatever forms it mightin this case, their downfall is desire that goes so unchecked that it unavoidably turns into acting outside of social norms. Maria’s lust for Henry, and Henry’s disingenuous return of her affections lead to elopement, a shocked and hurt family, and a divorce for Maria. Julia’s constant attempts to catch up to (and outdo) Maria (she quickly scrambles over the fence when she discovers that Maria and Henry have gone off alone together) are often ignored by Henry and thwarted by the somber realization that her sister is the preferred one. Although Julia ends up eloping with Yates (who appears, like Rushworth, to be a rather simple and ridiculous man), and this exploit is obviously deemed sexually transgressive by society, it doesn’t seem that Julia’s act was the result of anything related to sex or desire, but rather, the reaction of a girl who has been overlooked and craves attention. We cannot help feeling a certain sympathy for Julia when we are told that her family has an easier time forgiving her than her sister: “Julia escaped better than Mariato a favorable difference of disposition of circumstanceher beauty and requirements had held but a second place. She had always used to think of herself a little inferior to Maria” (422).No one but Fanny seems to notice Henry’s indiscretions towards Julia and Maria (Edmund might, but his impression of Henry is quite obviously influenced by Mary). Consequently, when he turns his interest toward her, she resists wholeheartedly, and unlike her cousins, who were quickly charmed into thinking him attractive, “still continued to think Mr. Crawford very plain” (42). Henry, unused to such reluctance, only becomes more intrigued by and passionate about Fanny. He declares to his sister that, “it would be something to be loved by such a girl, to excite the first ardors of her young, unsophisticated mind!” Fanny’s inexperience is alluring (and most likely, fascinating from Henry’s jaded viewpoint) because it means that she is untaintedvirginal in every conceivable way. Naturally, Henry appears to be a shady figure because of his indiscretions with Maria and Julia, but his corruption seems to soar to a new level altogether as he actively pursues the disinclined Fanny. Although the climax of his pursuit would most obviously be the marriage proposal, the pinnacle of his flirtations toward her are revealed during the necklace incident. Fanny unwittingly accepts a necklace from Mary to wear to the ball, without having any idea that it was a gift from Henry. Once Fanny becomes aware of who truly gave her the necklace, she feels awkward and violated, having let a piece of jewelry from an unwanted admirer sit around her neck all evening without having any idea of the more scheming and sexual intentions for which it stood. The production of the play, Lovers’ Vows, is perhaps the sole episode in the book that is most abundant with sexual desire and transgression. While their father is away, Tom, Maria, Julia, at the suggestion of Yates and the delighted approval of the Crawfords, decide to put on a play to pass the time. They begin with elaborate plans for a building a stage, which turn out to be excessive in both cost and production, and then proceed to disrupt the house, both literally by rearranging the furniture and taking over the billiards room, and also figuratively by engaging in an activity of which they know Sir Thomas would not approve. The play accentuates the sexual tensions and desires that have surfaced earlier in the novel by allowing, as Butler says: “a license for what would normally be entirely improper. Their scenes together permit physical contact between the sexes (as when Henry holds Maria’s hand) and a bold freedom of speech altogether outside the constraint imposed by social norms.” (232)Although Edmund protests against the play in the beginning, his resistance gradually fades in order to take place alongside Mary in the production. Fanny bitterly cites Edmund’s lapse of good judgment as “all Miss Crawford’s doing. She had seen her influence in every speech, and it was miserable” (140). Austen again peaks our suspicion about Mary Crawford when we hear of her intention “to rehearse it (the scene) with Edmundby ourselvesagainst the evening” (149). The notion of the rather worldly and aggressive Mary Crawford rehearsing a romantic scene alone with her love interest seems far from innocent. Other characters reveal their sexually charged agendas during the rehearsals as well. Henry Crawford snubs Julia, and consequently, strengthens his flirtation with her sister, by proposing the part she wanted to play go to Maria. Maria, instead of declining to participate on account of her engagement, sees nothing wrong with accepting the part offered to her. Julia, hurt and perhaps, desperate to be noticed and flattered, flirts with Yates. Fanny, the sole member of their party who staunchly refuses to condone the play or participate in it, notices that, during rehearsal, Maria acts “too well” (147), implying that the emotions that directed toward Henry’s character are most likely more than just acting. Fanny also notes that “Mr. Crawford was considerably the best actor of all” (147), allowing Austen to suggest that Henry too effortlessly takes on whatever role is required of him for us to have faith in the possibility that he may evolve into something more than the glib showman he appears to be. Thus, the play is dangerous because it allows sexuality to be acted out, desire to be demonstrated, in a public arena. Furthermore, it brings out the more conniving attitudes and selfish natures of the individuals involved. We are to be wary of those who are so oblivious that they regard the play as nothing more than a harmless pastime (such as Yates and the Crawfords), and feel concern for those (such as Edmund) who are persuaded to take part in it against their better judgment. It is only Fanny who realizes that the play is inappropriate, and remains firmly against for the duration of the rehearsals. This emphasizes Fanny’s level-headedness, her self-righteousness, modesty, and perhaps even prudishness. But does Fanny’s condemnation of the play seem to be a condemnation of sexuality and passion? Although we are aware of her unwavering desire for Edmund throughout the novel (most commonly expressed through modest blushes and an intense jealousy toward Mary), it would never occur to anyone reading Mansfield Park to suspect Fanny Price of possessing sexual desire or impure thoughts. Butler compares her feelings to Edmund to her emotions toward William, saying that they have a “childish quality” (248). Given Fanny’s naivety and the nature of her earnest yet unassuming devotion, this description seems quite accurate. Nina Auerbach is even more daring in her speculation of Edmund and Fanny’s relationship, likening Fanny (perhaps, a bit brutally) to Frankenstein’s monster, and calling her “a charmless heroine who was not made to be loved” (64). In “Jane Austen’s Dangerous Charm” Auerbach contends that Fanny does not aim as high as love or romance, but her goal is merely for equal companionship. This notion does seem to be supported by the text: Fanny does not appear to be concerned with love or desire, but sameness: she dislikes Mary because she threatens to create the “danger of dissimiliarity” (57) between Edmund and herself, and later rejects Henry on the grounds that “we are so totally unlike” (314).Incest has been a much-debated topic in critical discourse concerning Fanny and Edmund’s relationship. This notion of a brother/sister marriage is not entirely shocking in the context of other relationships in Austen’s novels: Emma, after all, marries her “brother”, Mr. Knightley, who is twenty years her senior and has watched her grow up right in front of his eyes. Mansfield Park, however, is the only novel of Austen’s novels that directly and consciously addresses this social taboo. When Sir Thomas expresses hesitation toward Fanny’s presence at Mansfield Park because he fears the possibility of one of his sons falling in love with her, Mrs. Norris argues, “do you not know that of all things upon earth that is the least likely to happen; brought up, as they would be, always together like brothers and sisters: It is morally impossible.” (4)Not only is the union possible, but by the end of Mansfield Park, it seems the only plausible solution. After the tumultuous experience Edmund has with Mary, a quiet marriage with Fanny naturally sounds attractive. Furthermore, there is no one left for Edmund but Fanny: immediately before we are told of their marriage in the last chapter, the previous one ends by stating, “Fanny’s friendship was all that he (Edmund) had to cling to” (417). In Jane Austen and the Fiction of Culture, Richard Handler and Daniel Segal accurately note that, “neither the social rules defining a desirable marriage nor even the most uniformly held social rules defining a possible marriage control human interactions.” (42)Although both Edmund and Fanny end up getting what they want (Edmund a wife, and Fanny, Edmund), and we can envision a happy marriage for them, it is not one of passion or sex or anything that would require more than a PG rating. In Mansfield Park, sexual desire often results in the loss of control, impaired judgment, and thoughts and actions that are guided by emotions rather than logic or rationality. We are told what is immoral and what not to do (play sexual games, flirt insincerely, lose oneself in passion or lust, etc.) but we are not given proper examples of how to conduct ourselves. Instead, Austen leaves us, rather uneasily, stranded between the platonic relationship of Fanny and Edmund, and the debauched affairs of the other characters, wishing for some sort of happy medium. Bibliography: Auerbach, Nina. “Jane Austen’s Dangerous Charm”. Mansfield Park and Persuasion. Judy Simons, ed. New York: Macmillan, 1997. Butler, Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975. Handler, Richard and Daniel Sega. Jane Austen and the Fiction of Culture. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1990. Le Faye, Deirdre, ed. Jane Austen’s letters, 3rd. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.Trilling, Lionel. “Mansfield Park”. Jane Austen: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ian Watt, ed. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1963.