Mansfield Park by Jane Austen Free Essay Example

April 13, 2022 by Essay Writer

Mansfield Park is Austen’s 3rd published novel, which came after the critical success of Pride and Prejudice. However, Austen’s style in Mansfield Park takes a darker tone as opposed to her previous work such as Pride and Prejudice, which Austen came to see as “rather too light”. In Mansfield Park, Austen tackles controversial issues such as class differences, disgraced women, illegitimacy, and most importantly love. These issues are discussed at lengths in the character’s production of the play, Lovers’ Vow, which reflects Austen’s fascination with theater.

Austen’s younger characters have roles in the play that are considered overtly sexual and taboo, which some may view as Austen condemning the theater or Lovers’ Vow. However, I believe that Austen was not condemning theater, but using it as a medium, which she used to make criticisms on society.

Similarly, Austen’s younger characters discuss taboo subjects under the guise of theater, I believe that Austen does this to preserve the propriety of her characters, as well as herself.

Once Edmund has been convinced to “perform” the role of a reluctant lover, who is oblivious to Amelia’s advances, do we see his character shift. Edmund’s role as the preserver of proper behavior, which is among one of the many duties he has as a clergyman, which he defines as “the guardianship of religion…” (94), transgresses into something else. Furthermore, this transgression is not only related to Edmund’s behavior, but its relation to how far he is willing to violate Fanny’s pure imagination by coercing her to act out one of the scenes from the Cottager’s Wife. Edmund wants Fanny to act this scene out publicly, which Fanny finds humiliating. What’s interesting about this encounter is that, Edmund’s first response to the idea of theatrics was to reject it outright, due to its inappropriate nature. It is seemingly ironic to see Edmund change his stance on theatrics, but I believe that this was the intent of Austen.

Through the work of plays and theatrics, Austen is showing us the current affairs of France’s disrupted hierarchized society. Edmund being opposed to the theater reflects the sentiments of many Regency Era gentlemen of modest upbringing, who viewed plays as inappropriate, especially a play such as Lovers’ Vow. A play which deals with extramarital sex and illegitimate birth, neither of which was considered a suitable subject to discuss. Furthermore, Lovers’ Vow may be a play of German descent, but it partakes in some of these revolutionary sentiments that Austen hints at, such as crossing class barriers, which can be seen in the play’s critique of Baron Wildenhaim. As Vol.2 beings, Austen seemingly removes all the signs of the theatrics at Mansfield Park. This gives the readers a sense that the theatrics are being repressed, which can be seen during Sir Thomas’s rampage, in which he burns every copy of the play he can get his hands on.

The repression of theater can also be viewed as the repression of speech, for theater has allowed the discussion of taboo subjects. This is shown when Fanny has begun to “perform” more socially, or at least in the comfort of her family. “I do talk to Sir Thomas more than I used. I am sure I do. Did you not hear me ask him about the slave trade last night?” (197). I believe that Austen included Sir Thomas’s burning of the plays, followed by Fanny’s increased social commentary to portray to the readers that theater can be beneficial, but also dangerous. The dangers of theater lie in its ability to have people discuss subjects that would normally be rejected in any social sphere. On the other hand, this is one of the reasons as to why theater is beneficial because it prompts the discussion of such taboo subjects, which will ultimately lead to reform. Theater is like a double-edged sword and Austen understands this concept fully. This is why she is so fascinated by theater and uses in it her novel, so that she could discuss taboo subjects and make her own social commentary, but under the guise of theater, so that her respectability can be preserved.

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