Jane Austen


. s Fanny by teasingly complimenting her looks. He says that she is “worth looking at”1, giving the impression that she is the object if his sexual desire.

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Edmund also patronises Fanny when he mentions her “beauty of mind”2, as the purpose of emphasising her intelligence is to flatter Sir Thomas for information about his business abroad and the slave trade. Austen is therefore defining the roles of the two sexes, in which men give information and advice to be received by women. This is typical of the patriarchal family, where there is a social hierarchy and ‘belief in the gentleman as a leader’3, promoting the figure of the father to an almost God-like status, whilst women occupy a secondary position. Sir Thomas Bertram is also a central character in Mansfield Park, mainly because his authority influences the actions and language of other characters.When the play is being organised, Maria and Mrs Grant discuss Sir Thomas and the role he plays in the 5 1&2 Mansfield Park, Jane Austen (Penguin, 1994), p165 3 Romantics, Rebels & Reactionaries, Marilyn Butler (Oxford University Press, 1981), p98 EL2 – Essay 2 Angela Bathgate Tutor – Julie Marney Bertram family.

Mrs Grant thinks that Sir Thomas is a fitting head of the family, and this shows that his influence defines the existence of the women under his patriarchal rule. For example, when Lady Bertram is not in Sir Thomas’s presence, she is called a ‘cypher’, but when he is around her, her existence seems to take on a more substantial meaning. This demonstrates the solid influence that Sir Thomas has over the lives of the women in the household; we have all ready seen his authoritative power over Fanny. Sir Thomas portrays a solid picture of authority and control, creating what should be a stable living environment for the women of the house.

It is evident that in Mansfield Park there are two opposing themes, which are concerned with different approaches to life. Firstly, Austen stresses the importance of serious, conservative authority that highlights moral principles, mainly through the character of Sir Thomas Bertram. This parallels the tempting attraction of a livelier, self-indulgent life where behaviour is less principled and selfish gratification evident. These two themes are most clearly portrayed when the amateur theatricals take place at Mansfield Park. When there is a discussion concerning Mr Rushworth, Mary states “I often think of Mr Rushworth’s property and independence, and wish them in other hands – but I never think of him”1. She and Mrs Grant believe that a public role would suit Mr Rushworth, showing the powerful influence that owning an estate has. A Marxist would see this as exemplifying the ‘natural’ division of society into unequal economic classes by the right to ownership of property, creating the financial power 6 1 Mansfield Park, Jane Austen (Penguin, 1994), p134 EL2 – Essay 2 Angela Bathgate Tutor – Julie Marney of one class over another.

Mary then goes on to ridicule the political system, and does not understand why Mr Rushworth would be put in Parliament to “represent the county”. At this point in the novel, the Mansfield party lacks any sense of authority, and this is related to Mary’s statement about the county lacking authority if the corrupt parliamentary system elects Mr Rushworth. We can see how Austen is incorporating aspects of the wider world into the novel through a trivial event. Mary’s character is also interesting in this scene, as she shows that a man can have power despite his intelligence, just because he is a man. Mary achieves a sense of power for even recognising this fact, as many women would just accept the power men had. However, by using Marxist theory it is evident that sexual inequality is a result of a “historically specific phenomena with historically specific roots located in the invisible levels of social reality”1, meaning that women could never achieve political power due to a socially constructed history that saw the female as weak, and too full of emotional sensibility to conduct themselves in important situations, such as Parliament.

When thinking of this situation in relation to socialist feminism, we can see that ‘oppression is rooted in a capitalist system’2, showing that in Western society there can be no liberation of women without over-throwing the capitalist system, and this is virtually impossible – they are ‘social subjects under bourgeois capitalism’3. It has become evident that the relationship between individuals and society is a main concern of Mansfield Park as it is a ‘novel of manners’, which observes and reports 7 1 Literary Theory: An Introduction, 2nd Ed, Terry Eagleton (Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1996), p57 2&3 Feminist Literary Theory: A Reader, Mary Eagleton (Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1986), p100 EL2 – Essay 2 Angela Bathgate Tutor – Julie Marney on characters’ feelings, thoughts and decisions. Austen focuses specifically on the upper-middle class, large landowners, or members of the minor aristocracy. Sir Thomas Bertram is from the baronet level, and has economic power due to his large estates in both England and Antigua.

Sir Thomas’s business in the West Indies allows Austen to mark a boundary to the wider world, and issues that are associated with other countries, such as the slave trade. The slave trade was a much-debated issue throughout Austen’s life, as many people wanted it abolished, making it a political focal point.Slavery was therefore in the process of violent change, and effecting the economic power of many middle-class families whom owned plantations abroad, by reducing profit. This meant that people reading Austen’s novel would see Sir Thomas as facing a financial crisis, as well as recognising the current arguments over the morality of slavery. For the Bertrams’ of Mansfield Park, the income from Antigua is important to them, and this is made evident when Sir Thomas has to economise after Tom extravagantly spends money. It is also evident that women have no say, or control, over how money is spent, whilst the Bertram sons can spend money with no say over what it is on. Men therefore have power in terms of business and money, whilst women are ignored once again, with no say over how any of it is organised.In conclusion, it can be said that the men in Mansfield Park have power in social, economic and political circles.

However, the portrayal of male authority and power can be ambiguous at times. For example, Sir Thomas has a strong influence on the other characters, especially the women, and less so the men (as Tom spends all his 8 EL2 – Essay 2 Angela Bathgate Tutor – Julie Marney money, something a woman would never do), whereas Mr Rushworth is depicted as a fool, in an artificial position of power. Austen has therefore shown that in English society, a man of power can give can control the lives of weaker characters, but it is also possible that a fool, such as Mr Rushworth can represent the county in Parliament. Overall though, the qualities of sensible caution and materialism are identified with masculinity, and those of strong passion and emotional sensibility are characteristics of the females.

Another important factor in Mansfield Park is the importance of omission, and by deconstructing the text, words and actions take on more meaning than what they seem to imply.Austen has taken into consideration all aspects of middle-class society, but does not go into depth about other classes. She seems to stick to what she knows, as she was also brought up in a middle class society. The society that she depicts is presented as hierarchical, and the men occupy an important position in relation to the women, as they can use their influence and power in a good or bad way.

Austen takes the disadvantaged position of women, and analyses sexual stereotypes and prejudices in great detail. Therefore male power and female helplessness are explored fully in her novels. 9 English Essays.