Daily Archives: December 16, 2010

Jane Austen

The happy ending of Mansfield Park

Today is  Jane Austen‘s birthday (1775-1817).

Here’s Frye reminding us that the prevailing concerns of literature are the surest source of our desire for a more equitable world.

The Fanny Price of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park also has a double social identity, being a poor relation brought up in a wealthy home.  She has, in typical heroine fashion, decided on her cousin, Edmund Bertram, but she has to cope with a most flattering proposal favoured by everybody except her.  Fanny appears to be a humble, acquiescent, even passive young woman, but while she blushes and weeps and agonizes and is overwhelmed with confusion, she is also directed by a steely inflexible will that is determined to have Edmund or nobody.  As her guardian Sir Thomas Bertram says, with the exasperation of a man who discovers that his society is less male-dominated than he had been assuming: “But you have now shewn me that you can be wilful and perverse, that you can and will decide for yourself.”

Fanny clearly has Jane Austen’s own sympathy, as is obvious from the way the story is worked out.  At the same time it is also clear that the kind of authority Sir Thomas represents seems to Jane Austen a right and natural authority.  It is not that Jane Austen is a woman novelist expressing a woman’s resistance to social conditions governing the place of women in her time.  She accepts whose conditions, on the whole: it is the romantic convention she is using that expresses the resistance.  This principle that an element of social protest is inherent in romance is one that we can only suggest now, and will return to later.  Meanwhile we may note that in Emma the hero has a moral ascendancy over the heroine which is fully justified by his greater maturity and common sense.  Yet what actually happens at the end of the book is that the heroine takes on a matriarchal role, and compels him to move from his house into hers, in order not to disturb her father’s dedication to inertia.  (CW 18, 51-2)