Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A fifth Jane Austen character speaks

Miss Crawford, you play the harp. Do you know whether the Misses Owen are, any of them, musical?

"That is the first question, you know," said Miss Crawford, trying to appear gay and unconcerned, "which every woman who plays herself is sure to ask about another. But it is very foolish to ask questions about any young ladies — about any three sisters just grown up; for one knows, without being told, exactly what they are — all very accomplished and pleasing, and one very pretty. There is a beauty in every family. — It is a regular thing. Two play on the piano-forte, and one on the harp — and all sing — or would sing if they were taught — or sing all the better for not being taught — or something like it."

From Mansfield Park (1814)
Having come to the end of the novel, I realize that the amusing bits of dialogue I've posted are likely to mislead. Though a comedy ("happy ending"), Mansfield Park is a dark novel, encompassing despair, greed, infidelity, isolation, poverty, and (at a great distance) slavery. Troubling too is the novel's emphasis, in its strange final chapter, on contingency: while giving the reader the anticipated ending, the narrator also points out that nothing that has happened had to have happened — the characters' lives might have been worked out in other, equally satisfactory ways.

Related posts
A Jane Austen character speaks
A second Jane Austen character speaks
A third Jane Austen character speaks
A fourth Jane Austen character speaks

comments: 7

Slywy said...

The discussion about "evil" in Mansfield Park is fascinating. Miss Crawford is "evil" because she is not strict (e.g., she is not appalled by the actual events as by the reputation they lead to); she is not strict because she is cosmopolitan. It presages Victorian literature that struggled with the dichotomy between science and religion, aristocracy and merchant class, local concerns vs. broader ones, the different view of the sexes and their roles, and so forth (e.g., Gaskell).

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, the presentation of "the city" as a source of corruption is unmistakable.

Mary Crawford seems to be a lovely nihilist (think of her reaction to Tom's illness), much worse than her brother. But then again, the moral/social codes she rejects send Maria into permanent exile.

I'm teaching this novel in January, and I'm curious about what my students will make of Fanny's place in this world -- the ways in which she conforms and doesn't conform.

Slywy said...

It's not so much the city as the continent. I remember reading in the intro that the Crawfords have been exposed to the French. Horrors!

Fanny is often seen as weak, but I noticed throughout that she is very argumentative, both self-righteously and righteously. I wouldn't call her weak. Stubborn. I also think it's interesting that the Prices produced at least three children who are portrayed as salt of the earth, compared to some of the Bertrams.

Michael Leddy said...

I was thinking of this passage: "Fanny was disposed to think the influence of London very much at war with all respectable attachments. She saw the proof of it in Miss Crawford, as well as in her cousins," et cetera. I don't remember Europe turning up -- maybe in the conservations during the theatricals?

With the Prices: isn't it breathtaking that Susan's fate is to become the "stationary niece"? Yipes!

Michael Leddy said...

Also, Edmund to Mary, re: London: "'We do not look in great cities for our best morality."

Slywy said...

True, but there are also allusions of the dangers of being Frenchified. ;)

Michael Leddy said...

I don't doubt it — I just don't remember them. I'll be on the lookout for them.