Janeite Thoughts for an Evening: Mansfield Park IV

Blenheim Palace - Fountain - 1993

(Photo credit: ell brown)

I wrote this piece a while back, but I didn’t want to share it right away, because it’s shorter and more of an overall look at Mansfield Park. More from my imagination of what could have been Austen’s point of view, rather than us as the entertained readers.

So, Lord Bertram. Lord Bertram is in trade, actually. Which is interesting for a Lord. I’m probably forgetting Austen’s explanations from the story. Where MP was inherited from, as well as the titles. But their money is, predominantly, from the slave trade in Antigua.

I would put forth that the dysfunctionality of the Bertram family overall, and all the troubles that befall them, actually stem from and are symbolic of this. The corruption comes from Lord Bertram himself–as the head of the household. The 1998 version dabbles in this–when it portrays Tom as an artist and his internal conflict with having seen his father enact atrocities against other human beings. But that is not an overt theme in the original narrative.

Someone should correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe I watched a documentary that said Austen’s family had connections to the slave trade, and she herself benefited from this. Even if this is not the case, England’s economy at that time was definitely benefited by slavery in the colonies. So that would still be an indirect benefit to Austen herself.

We don’t allow slavery in the United States, but we still benefit from it today certainly. Almost all of our every day products are produced in sweat shops, or created by companies that have enacted horrific human rights violations. Check out some lovely info about Nestle, as well as other well known corporations, for some good examples.

Mansfield Park, then, might be seen to enacted her own turmoil upon the page. How life is tainted by human cruelty. I can’t be sure, but it’s interesting to think about.

P.S. It’s likely that others far more academic than myself have said this already, and better. I definitely recommend checking out some of them on Amazon.

Janeite Thoughts for an Evening: Mansfield Park III

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Hey all, let’s get going. Last time I ended my analysis of Fanny, for the moment, and I’ve moved on to Maria. I made the claim that Maria has been abused as much as Fanny, but I didn’t explain how.

Certainly this isn’t something I would have thought when I first watched the adaptations. Nor even after a few rewatchings/readings. It wasn’t until I sat down and listened to the entirety of Mansfield Park unabridged that it really dawned on me. In fact, Austen herself tells us this, I simply didn’t hear it. She says, and I’m paraphrasing, that the ladies Bertram as well as their older brother Tom have been spoilt but not loved. They have been reprimanded by their father, but not shown real feeling.

Their father doesn’t understand their behavior, and expects his children to love him, when he has been not only physically distant, but emotionally so. Really, he can’t expect anything different. He has neglected their upbringing.

The same is true for their mother, Lady Bertram. Though she has been emotionally distant as well. Neither Fanny’s mother nor her aunt are particularly interested in their children. Both of them are idle and insipid. Mrs. Norris coddles and spoils the Bertram children. I think her feelings for them are as genuine as they can be, but she is blind to their faults. Mrs. Norris has something like Borderline or Narcissistic personality disorder. She projects her own feelings, psoitive or negative onto other people and identifies them either with herself. In this way she can get rid of her feelings of failure, as well as celebrate her feelings of grandiosity. So to the Bertrams her grandiosity. And to Fanny, the scapegoat, her failings. The Bertrams are all good, and Fanny is all bad.

Getting back to Maria, she is the oldest and so she receives the most attention. Particularly from Mrs. Norris now that Tom is away. None of her selfishness is hindered, her family is wealthy, and so she is given all kinds of toys. She cannot get at her parents emotionally. We don’t see this, but one can only guess that this occurred in childhood. All children want parental affection and admiration. Maria’s would have been met with boredom, for the most part from her mother. And her father is frequently away. When he comes back, it’s not hard to imagine that she would be frightened of him or wary. And he would likely have stopped trying to spend time with her, if he ever tried at all. Just a guess.

As I said before, Maria has quite the appetite for consumption. She has a hole inside her, where love ought to be. So she tries to fill it with things. She has a small circle of friends, so she hasn’t ever tried to fill the hole with romance or sex. She finds the richest man she can, and marries him as quickly as possible. Against everyone’s judgment, even her own. Because she knows, subconsciously, she needs access to a large income. Re-modelling a fancy house and shopping as much as she can are the only things she has to distract herself from her internal misery.

Once attached, she meets Henry Crawford. Unlucky for Maria, she enjoys flirtation with married women. They are unlikely to try to get their claws into him, and force him to marry. They’re also more likely to have sex with him. Without birth control, they can pass a child off as their husband’s. Impossible to hide a pregnancy if you’re supposed to be a virgin though.

For the first time, Maria feels something closer to filling her emotional wounds. It’s not perfect, because Henry doesn’t really care about her. But sex is a hell of a lot more exciting than shopping, and Maria falls for it, because she’s never felt so much before in her life. This is probably the first time she’s felt much of anything.

Due to the social mores of Rengency England, Maria is punished as a fallen woman. Nothing happens to Henry of course. He has to disappear from Manfield’s social circles, but he’ll do just fine in London. Maria on the other hand, is ruined socially for life. She will never escape her reputation. And unlike Lydia, she isn’t even able to wed the person who helped destroy it and recoup any of her social standing. She’s sent into outer darkness.

This is the real tragedy of Mansfield Park. Maria isn’t written to be likeable, and so the reader doesn’t even feel much sympathy for her fate. But the truth is, even unlikeable people have hurts–often the deepest hurts of all. Which is what makes them so unlikeable. Fanny, at least, had Edmund and William (her brother). She has people to bolster her, and to help teach her to feel kinship.

Because Maria was never taught how to empathize with her siblings, and to care for other people besides herself, in the end she doesn’t even have Julia by her side.

Janeite Thoughts for an Evening: Mansfield Park I

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Hi everyone! I’ve decided to do a Jane Austen series. These aren’t real academic essays, I’m just spouting my thoughts stream-of-conciousness style & I don’t often go searching for exact quotes.

So, Mansfield Park. I was inspired by watching Ron Lit on Youtube (link at the bottom) and some of her analysis of Austen. She was talking about the hunkyness of Henry Crawford so that got me thinking.

I wonder, if Henry HAD waited for Fanny, and hadn’t been such a douche with Maria; would Fanny have fallen for him? Thing is, Fanny is not a very trusting sort, she is very timid. And she isn’t fully in touch with her own sexuality, so I think that Henry’s overt sexuality frightens her.

In many ways, I think that she loves Edmund because he is very proper and his affection is not sexualized. Fanny is NOT comfortable being sexualized. And, I get that. Fanny doesn’t like being forced into this role of sex object for men, where she will be paid for by her husband and then he will keep her. She has very little autonomy, and she’s protective of what she does have. Besides this, Fanny is emotionally stunted due to the neglect she’s experienced. So she’s even younger, emotionally, than she is by age. She’s just a young girl, she’s not ready for sex.

Fanny has been emotionally abused, and neglected for most of her life, and so she doesn’t trust affection until it has been proven. You can see how her female cousins have treated her, and especially her other aunt. Abuse works this way: the abusive people are nice to you one day, and nasty the next. So you come to feel unable to depend on consistency. Edmund is the only person consistently kind, and therefore all her needs for parental love & acceptance, familial/brotherly companionship, and just plain friendship end up being placed on Edmund’s shoulders. Fanny’s brother is in the navy, she never sees any of her family, she has no connection to them. At Mansfield, no one cares about her. All her needs are being met by Edmund alone. He’s her father, brother, and friend.

Edmund was attracted to Mary because she doesn’t have as many needs as Fanny. He can just relax and be a guy. He doesn’t have to play father with her. And she IS comfortable being sexualized. She sexualizes herself, and so Edmund doesn’t have to. Edmund is not very comfortable with sexuality himself. His brother is a real ne’re-do-well and I think that forces him into this role of being the Good Son and following the rules. Mary lets him break these rules in a comfortable, fun way.

Mary isn’t a villain, but she is a modern woman. She fits into the 21st century far more easily than her own time. In fact, I would argue that Mary is Fanny’s shadow self. All of Fanny’s hidden desires, her unattractive thoughts, her selfishness, her vanity, her sexuality, her confidence, her desire for control and power—they all are formed in the character of Mary. Because of this, Fanny is both attracted and repulsed by Mary. Mary is the embodiment of all the things that Fanny has either cast off because she thinks they’re inappropriate/unkind, or hasn’t been unable to attain because she lacks the experience/skill.

This is also the reason why there are many scenes between Mary & Fanny which are somewhat suggestive. Mary IS Fanny, so it’s only natural that they would have moments of intense sexual chemistry.

Because of the ideals of femininity during the Regency period, Mary cannot be the heroine. Fanny, though, can take on aspects of Mary. And I think she does so when she refuses to marry Henry, rejects Mansfield, and proves that she is an autonomous human being.

She will not openly become Mary, but when Mary disappears from the story, and Edmund falls in love with Fanny, I would argue it’s because Fanny has accepted more of her own true character than she had in the past. Not perfectly so, but she has grown up.

P.S. I have taken some ideas that Veronica mentions in her video about Jane Eyre, as well as Austentatious —and then I’ve kind of just run with it.