Mansfield Park.docx - In approaching Mansfield Park without focusing on the carefully constructed cult of personality of Jane Austen four interpretive

Mansfield Park.docx - In approaching Mansfield Park without...

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In approaching Mansfield Park, without focusing on the carefully constructed cult of personality of Jane Austen, four interpretive themes come into central focus: order (Latin root ordo); slavery and empire (see Edward Said’s “Jane Austen and Empire”); the Bildungsroman within the context of the novel itself; and, finally, marriage. These themes work together to reveal what Austen may have intended her readers to understand about Mansfield Park. Why is order significant to determining authorial intention? Because the theme of order takes three distinct forms, and repetition in a single work of literature ought not to be ignored (remember, when interpreting literature a high degree of suspicion is required). Within the text of Mansfield Park, there is the order of Mansfield Park itself as contrasted with the chaos of Portsmouth, there is the literal ordination of Edmund as a clergyman to the Church of England, and, finally, there is the foreordination of Fanny Price as the truest heir of Mansfield Park. The order of Mansfield Park itself is contrasted with the chaos of its Portsmouth relations. Austen’s narrator describes this contrast: Such was the home which was to put Mansfield out of her head, and teach her to think of her cousin Edmund with moderated feelings. On the contrary, she could think of nothing but Mansfield, its beloved inmates, its happy ways. Every thing where she now was was in full contrast to it. The elegance, propriety, regularity, harmony—and perhaps, above all, the peace and tranquillity of Mansfield, were brought to her remembrance every hour of the day, by the prevalence of every thing opposite to them here. (391) Mansfield Park itself is shown to be a place of quiet contemplation, cleanliness, but also social order. When Sir Thomas is present, a defined social rank is preserved; in his absence, this sense of social order deteriorates along with the moral order of all the characters present, Fanny only excepted. These images reinforce Mansfield Park as a place of order as well as Sir Thomas Bertram and his role in his family as a condition of order. In Mansfield Park, one of the central characters (the second son, Edmund Bertram) chooses to make the church his profession and joins the clergy. His choice faces determined conflict and debate from the woman that he desires to marry. Mary Crawford, the artful sophisticate raised in London, disapproves of his choice. The Southerton chapters become the airing grounds for their difference of opinion on this subject. Mary Crawford makes her objection, “‘But why are you to be a clergyman? . . . For what is to be done in the church? Men love to distinguish themselves, and in either of the other lines [soldier, sailor, law, or heir], distinction may be gained, but not in the church.

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