Posted by Ann on April 29, 1997 at 02:40:06:
In reply to Why did Austen write Mansfield Park? posted by Kali on April 28, 1997 at 19:59:46
Spoiler warning! For first time readers some spoilers follow:
"After all, Edmund and Fanny are both good people, but they both have trouble with introspection and reevaluation - the thematic importance of which, when you consider the other five Austen biggies, are major. Edmund goes a bit farther than Fanny does, in loving Mary for who she is, but he still can't reconcile her irreverence and her criticism of the clergy with his love for her. He - and thereby Fanny - are saved only when Mary is "blackened" by her attitudes towards Tom's illness and Henry's little affair with Maria. Easy and lucky."
First of all, just because introspection and reëvaluation; have been the theme of the other books, it does not need to be the theme of all of the books. Austen said that this was to be a different type of book. We should not use the argument that because it is a different type of book and the characters do not grow to the extent of the other books, it is unsuccessful--this was Austen's intent. The other books do deal with introspection, but Mansfield Park does not. This is not a failing, it is an attempt by Austen to write about something different. (I am reminded of a certain song that begins: "Went to a garden party...." Nelson was criticized for breaking the mold of what was expected of him too.) We type-cast, that is our failing, not Austen's. We should be glad that Austen chose to broaden the subjects of her books, not criticize her for it.
Secondly, do you really believe that Edmund should have accepted Mary's irreverence for things which were very important to him? Mary and he were incompatible, because she could not respect his opinions, and he could not respect hers. This is hardly an uncommon phenomenon! Lots of people fall in love only to learn later on that their differences are enough to override their earlier passions. Edmund learned this in time, many others, such as Mr. Rushworth, are not as fortunate. Also, does he really accept her for what she is? I do not believe so. He does not see her for what she really is until the very end. He never accepts or respects her opinions on many subjects, not just with respect to the clergy; he simply ignores the fact that her opinions are so different from his own. He is not seeing "who she is", but who he wishes she were. He is in the midst of a passionate infatuation, which has blinded him to reality. Perhaps this infatuation is not unlike the continued favoritism of the Crawfords by many readers, after they are shown to be undeserving. Edmund came to his senses, some in Austen's audience have not.
Thirdly, Henry's affair with Maria was far from little. He destroyed her life! She was forced to live the rest of her life in isolation away from society because of what he (and she) did. Henry and Maria brought deep shame on her family and made Mr. Rushworth the laughing stock of England. Was Lydia's affair "little"? In Mr. Collins' words: "For who, as Lady Catherine herself condescendingly says, will connect themselves to such a family?" In the late the Twentieth Century it may be no big deal to have an affair, but in the early Nineteenth it was self-destructive and devastating not only to those directly involved but also to their family and friends--we should not forget that fact.
Finally, there is nothing "lucky" or "easy" about Mary's character. She did not change in the book, nor did she suddenly or improbably become bad at the end. Her character was sorely lacking from the start, Fanny knew this (but of course Fanny's observations are rejected). Mary is as Austen wrote her, and as Austen intended her to be. She is reckless and dissolute. There is no mistake in Austen's creation of her and her brother. They are not what you might wish them to be. That is part of Austen's point!
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