Friday, February 24, 2006

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen

‘Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery,’ Jane Austen begins the last chapter of Mansfield Park. Exactly! Austen’s novels are pretty deficient in orthodox Christianity. It is more order, than morality, that governs her novels. Austen seems more of a fringe dweller on Christian society, and could easily step off into a pagan world – a world I think more natural to her.

The novel’s main characters – Fanny and Edmund – hover over the action of Mansfield Park like two Greek gods, watching as flawed human beings muddle through life making grievous errors. You know or sense from the beginning that they will find each other in marriage – marriage of mind and character – and that the plot of the novel is like a maze that must be got through until the main characters come out the other end successful.

Mansfield Park is not as witty as Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen said as much herself. It doesn’t sparkle as much. The plot is more slow moving and intricate, describing more mundane and realistic aspects of life. I don’t think there’s another Austen novel that deals so much with life at the lower social end, by that I mean Fanny Price’s family. One also got a feeling that Austen had put more of her personal life into this novel.

This novel is probably most notorious for the issue of slavery. Thomas Bertram, who owns Mansfield Park, is away for most of the novel, looking after his business interests in Antigua – sugar plantations run on slaves. Should Austen have denounced slavery in her novel? What were her attitudes to slavery? One thing is sure, it would have entirely lopsided her novel if she’d tried to merge a Jane Austen novel with a Harriet Beecher Stowe novel.

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.

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