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Jane Austen: Bits to Bytes

Narrative form, style, and language

October 10 Class 8 -- Mansfield Park

DUE Post #6


    Introduce Mansfield Park
    Discuss article
    Review JASNA website with attention to maps of the novels

Mansfield Park

Taken after Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park represents a distinct shift in tone. How can you explain the change in tone, which is to ask, not why the change, but what about the novel is different that creates this change in tone?

Last week we discussed the transparency (apparent) of the moral of Austen's early novels. MP is more straightforwardly moral. How does the novel address the social ills of Mansfield Park? What, in particular, draws criticism in the novel?

Examine the character of Fanny Price. How does Austen develop her character? What are her dominant characteristics? What is the relationship between the narrative and Fanny Price? How does she differ from previous heroines from Austen?

From the opening chapter, money is addressed quite openly, and the Claudia Johnson, editor for the NCE, provides a short review of equivalencies of fortune for our better understanding of the relative standing of the characters. In what ways is money critical to the story of MP?

MP is structured around the story of three sisters: Lady Bertram (Miss Maria Ward), Mrs. Norris (Miss Ward), and Mrs. Price (Miss Frances Ward). How does the novel represent their marriage choices in the first chapter? What are the lasting impacts of these choices?

Discuss child rearing practice as represented in MP. To what extent is Fanny lucky to belong to the Mansfield family? What are her obligations to the Price family? How do you understand her inner psychic drama among the Bertrams?

Evaluate Lady Bertram and Sir Thomas as parents. Evaluate Mrs. Norris as a member of the Bertram family. What is her role?

Our theme for this section of the semester is Material Realities and Contexts, and MP is an excellent novel to explore. Austen is painstaking in her details representing the professions for men in this novel. Examine the representation of colonialism (the West Indian estate of Sir Thomas), of the navy, and of the church. Taken together, what might MP be suggesting about the state of these professions? What is their impact on the men that participate in them? How important is integrity to the success of each? What happens when integrity fails?

The novel engages quite actively with other forms of literature, especially the theatre. Examine the intertext of Lover's Vows by Elizabeth Inchbald (see the full text in the appendix of the NCE or available online). How does the play comment on the action of the novel? What is the danger of performing the play at Mansfield? What objections does Fanny have? Does Edmund? How are these overcome? Why is Sir Thomas against the play?

Taking this further, what is the significance of performance in the novel? Examine the lively characters of Henry and Mary Crawford in light of this theme. How has Austen changed the representation of the witty heroine? The cad?

This is the only novel of Austen's to explictly take up the issue of slavery, and much has been made of this in criticism and film adaptations. How does Austen represent slavery in this text? What are the implications? To put this in context, you can refer to the writings in the appendix of the NCE, including Thomas Clarkson's from History of the ... Abolition of the African Slave trade...." (1808) and the Parliamentary Debates of 1806, as well as an excerpt from Joseph Lew's "'That Abominable Traffic': Mansfield Park and the Dynamics of Slavery."

JASNA site, Maps of Novels

Take some time to examine the resources available on the Jane Austen Society of North America website. In particular, I draw your attention to the maps of the novels. What can you learn by visualizing the geography of the narratives?

Mansfield Park as the title suggests, is very concerned about place. What is the importance of the park? What is the importance of London in the novel? How does its value differ among the characters, in particular Fanny versus Mary?

What role does the "estate" play in the narrative -- and here you have several to choose from. What does it mean to improve the estate? How far is the geographical spread between the characters in the novel? What does this signify?

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