Mansfield Park Questions: Austen and Gender

Austen and Gender

1a.  Two fashionable (and marriageable) young characters, Henry and Mary Crawford, first appear in the text at p.30 (Vol.1, ch.4).  How are these characters evoked in the descriptions and scenes to follow?  Mary Crawford has struck many readers as a new kind of “modern” woman in Austen’s work.  What is Mary’s outrageous pun about Navy admirals on p.44 (Vol.1, ch. 6)?  What happens when she tries to ship her harp to Mansfield Park through the neighboring farmland?

1b. Notice how assertively Mary Crawford questions whether Fanny is “out” in society (p 36; Vol.1, ch. 5)).  What class and gender nuances are in play in this conversation?  What sorts of ambiguity does it introduce about Fanny Price’s status in the Bertram household?

Austen and Narrative/ Style

2.  Austen in a letter  called Pride and Prejudice “too light and bright and sparkling.”  How does the tone differ in Mansfield Park so far?  (You may want to compare/ contrast the books’ respective opening chapters, in particular.)

Austen’s World/ Objects

3. What claims do the Bertram sisters make about Fanny Price’s eduction (see p.15-16; Vol.1, ch. 2)?  Why do they call Fanny “stupid”?  What place near here original home does Fanny call “the Island, as if there were no other island in the world”? Why might this phrase be important–perhaps ironic–an a novel about an English “great house”?

Austen and Romanticism

4. Explain Mr. Rushwood’s investment in the idea of “improving” his estate (pp.38-43; Vol.1, ch. 6).  What’s an “improver,” in the parlance of Austen’s day?  How does Henry Crawford enter the conversation?  What is Edmund’s attitude about improving an estate?  What’s Fanny’s response to the idea of cutting down an avenue of old trees?

Austen and Contemporary/ Popular Culture

5a. Lovers’ Vows, The “home theatrical” staged by the Bertrams at the end of Vol. I of the novel, was a popular play around the turn of the 18th/19th century— one associated with cosmopolitan European ideas and mores (it was a translation of a German play, by a writer named Kotzebue).  What is so risqué and potentially inappropriate about the subject matters of this play?

5b.  Near the start of Vol. II (Vol. II, ch. 3, p. 136), notice Fanny’s conversation with Sir Thomas about Antigua and his role in the slave trade . Why might it be significant that this conversation is shared only in the past tense, recounted and selected? What are the politics and tone of this moment?  Is Fanny accusatory; puzzled and trying to establish her views; already in some kind of agreement with Sir Thomas and his presumed world view as a domestic and imperial “master”?

Look at the following Youtube clip from the 1999 film adaptation of the novel.

How does this depiction of “Tom’s Journal” handle the issue of slavery, treated much more obliquely in Austen’s book?

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