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Midterm Written Celebration: Jane Austen

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Maureen McKenzie

Jane Austen


29 October 2008

Midterm Written Celebration

Mansfield Park: What role does sense play in character development?

        Jane Austen used sense and sensibility as personality gauges for her characters within her novel. Sense was a measurement of a character’s intellect, judgment, and self-knowledge, while sensibility was a measurement of emotions, taste, and responses. These characteristics are used to define characters as to their virtue in the Jane Austen world. The sense shown in the relationship between Edmund, Fanny, and Mary Crawford in MansfieldPark is an example of how Jane Austen uses sense and one’s change in sense to define her characters’ virtue and how the character’s personal storyline turns out in the end.

        Edmund Bertram is a character who fluctuates in his sense, but as long as he fluctuates back to good sense, he is worthy of a wedding in the Jane Austen world.

        Fanny Price is the character who displays good sense. She displays intellect, good judgment, and has a sense of self; though by modern definitions her muteness would probably not be counted as such great sense. But the modern woman wouldn’t be deemed to be so sensible in Jane Austen’s time.

        Mary Crawford, with her outspokenness and willfulness should not be mistaken for the modern feminist. In Jane Austen’s time this disregard for sense was a strike to Mary’s virtue’s, leaving her without a good, sensible husband in the end. Characters without virtue as defined by their sense or at least a desire to become more sensible are not allowed to marry in Jane Austen’s world.

        Fanny Price as with the other two characters shows her sense through her intellect, judgment, and self-knowledge. Her intellect may not have been shown through her words but her desire to seek intelligence and culture through reading. Most of the books she reads are rather controversial books of the time that speak out against slavery, the financial crux of the Bertram family. There are many passages where Fanny is described as reading or at least with a book. She has so much motivation to have time alone to read she is willing to spend a good deal of time in an unheated room.

        Another part of Fanny’s strong intellect is her interest in spending time with others of high intellectual standards or at least those who attempt to display good intellect. This is also an attribute of Fanny’s good judgment. She desires to spend time with Edmund because he teaches her and helps guide her reading. Fanny is also initially drawn to the Crawfords because of their displays of intellect and culture. But because the Crawfords don’t clearly show self-knowledge and good judgment she remains mostly suspicious of them.

        Her ability to see through the Crawfords is a good example of Fanny’s good judgment. Though she is intrigued by them she is the only one who is not fully taken in by Henry Crawford, especially his intentions for Maria. “‘If Miss Bertram were not engaged,’ said Fanny, cautiously, ‘I could sometimes almost think that [Henry] admired her more than Julia.’ (Her aunt’s responses) ‘Which is, Perhaps, more in favour of his liking Julia best, than you, Fanny, may be aware’…Fanny supposed she must have been mistaken, and meant to think differently in future” (83). Fanny’s judgment is also that of her place within the family rank; she is not permitted to truly speak up against the goings-on between Henry and Maria. When the others, especially her aunts choice to turn a blind eye, she knows that she must as well.

        This awareness of rank is a clear depiction of her self-knowledge as well. Knowing one’s place is important in Jane Austen’s time and not knowing that can get you in trouble. She is aware of her place and though she pipes up every once and a while, like when she says something about the slave trade, she also knows how to conform to create general peace if she can.

        Overall Fanny Price shows an aptitude for good sense, though she falters at times and is slightly taken in by the Crawfords, she is an example of a Jane Austen sensible character.

        Mary Crawford on the other hand seems to take form as a foil to Fanny. Though she may show good intellect she doesn’t use it properly or for the right reasons, and doesn’t show good judgment or self knowledge.

        Mary Crawford made herself smarter for the poise, appearance, and to catch a man but she doesn’t utilize and appreciate her intellect. Edmund’s interest in Mary’s ability to play her harp and Mary’s passion and desire to perform for Edmund had to have been a double entendre. Fanny on the other hand is devoted to gaining knowledge quietly and isn’t showy or sexual about it.

        This sexuality is an example of Mary’s manipulative nature. She has the ability to judge other’s correctly but doesn’t use it to do good but to further her self. Mary uses her judgments of others to manipulate and cater herself to what people want her to be, but this use of her judgment is not virtuous in the Jane Austen universe.

        This ability to cater her self to others, as she does to Edmund, is an example of a lack of self-knowledge. She has created so many personas for herself: the daddy’s girl, the older sister, the sensitive lover, the bold socialite; she has lost her true self in the roles she plays. This lack of self knowledge makes it hard to find quotes where she displays her true intentions. Her dialogues are so imbedded and saturated with double entendres, ambiguity and responses catered directly for the character she is speaking to that without any inner dialogue the knowledge of her manipulations is impossible to display in a concise manner. Mary knows what it takes to get ahead in society but she doesn’t know herself.

        Jane Austen uses Mary Crawford as an example of a woman who probably would have been successful in reality, but because she doesn’t conform to the virtues of sense and sensibility she is doomed to spinsterhood.

        Edmund Bertram, the sought after groom of Fanny and Mary fluctuates in his sense throughout the novel. He has very good intellect throughout the story, especially since he is so willing to help Fanny in her own pursuit of intellect.

        His self-knowledge wavers because of his poor judgment of Mary Crawford. He starts out with an interest in the church and is a trusted guardian of the family’s virtue especially when Sir Thomas is away. But Mary is able to manipulate him with her feminine wiles. She not only manipulates him into possibly pursuing a career as something more financially sound because of her lack of interest in becoming the wife of a clergyman, but uses his responsibility to his family to get him to allow the performance of a seedy play. His desire to help others is used against him by Mary, but also saves him from her manipulations when he sees how the outcome could harm his family and especially Fanny.

        When the prospect of putting on a seedy play in the house is proposed, he is staunchly against it. Then Mary convinces him that the only way to keep away an outsider from seeing the goings-on is to be in the play himself, and that it would also give him an opportunity to play opposite Mary. Of course this isn’t done in a straight forward manner, his judgment was twisted by Mary’s manipulation of the situation, and her victimizing herself to play across from a stranger and making Edmund feel he is rescuing her.

        Edmund is the most easily manipulated by Mary’s act of being a damsel in distress, often times leaving Fanny a true damsel in distress. “He was ashamed to think that for four days together [Fanny] had not had the power of riding, and very seriously resolved, however unwilling he must be to check the pleasure of Miss Crawford’s, that it would never happen again” (54). Riding was Fanny’s only really good means of exercise, but her horse was manipulated out from under her by Mary and her desire to have Edmund teach her how to ride. (It is so easy to make Mary Crawford of huge slut when analyzing Mansfield Park.) The consistent fluctuation of Edmund back to good sense because of how his actions toward Mary affect Fanny and his family makes him a virtuous character. I also think that, like the situation with Fanny’s horse and Edmund’s desire to correct any wrongdoings towards Fanny in particular shows his underlying love for Fanny that is realized in the end when they marry.  

        In the world of Jane Austen a display of good sense through intellect, judgment, and self-knowledge is rewarded by marriage in Mansfield Park and in her other novels. Sense and sensibility are the driving forces that define the virtuous characters in Jane Austen. Though not all the character are consistent in there display of sense, as long as they come back to their senses they are rewarded in the end.

If Pemberley represents Darcy’s masculinity, what does the home of Mr. Collins represent about him?

        If Pemberley is a representation of Darcy’s masculinity, then Collin’s estate is a representation of the lack there of. Pemberley is grand and sprawling and its state as such is attributed to Darcy’s taste and wealth. The Collins estate is neat and humble, like Collins any good qualities are attributed to Lady Catherine or Charlotte’s touch to the décor. The only thing the Collins is credited with is his garden.

A good way to draw a comparison is to see how many pages are dedicated to described each estate. When Elizabeth encounters Collins’ estate there is about a page where the estate is described. The house is well kept and is never really described in a negative manner. “The garden sloping to the road, the house standing in it, the green pales, and the laurel hedge, everything declared they were arriving” (251). The estate is unremarkable. Now compare that to Elizabeth’s impression on the entrance to Pemberley: “The park was very large, and contained great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood stretching over a wide extent” (291).

Imagine if these descriptions were that of each man’s genitals (not to be crude, but I thought it may be best to be blunt if we are talking about their masculinity). We have Collins: sloping, standing, and then we have Darcy: very large, great variety, stretching over a wide extent. Collins is functional, it does was what it needs to while Darcy’s is remarkable, qualified and would probably leave most gentlemen refusing to draw comparisons to themselves.

When Elizabeth is making her entrance into Pemberley she is described as having a “mind…too full for conversation” (291). Elizabeth, the willful Jane Austen heroine, is actually dumbfounded by Pemberley. Elizabeth even finds herself having a moment of regret: “And of this place…I might have been a mistress! With these rooms I might now have been familiarly acquainted! Instead of viewing them as a stranger, I might have rejoiced in them as my own” (291). Pemberley is an estate to be coveted.

In contrast, Collins, though desirous of this regret in Elizabeth, leaves little to covet:

Elizabeth was prepared to see [Collins] in his glory; and she could not help fancying that in displaying the good proportions of the room, its aspect and its furniture, he addressed himself particularly to [Elizabeth], as if wishing to make her feel what she had lost in refusing him. But though everything seemed neat and comfortable, she was not able to gratify him by any sigh of repentance, and rather looked with wonder of her friend that she could have so cheerful an air with such a companion (251).

This reaction is a blow to Collins masculinity. His estate not only doesn’t make Elizabeth regret her decision not to marry Collins but it also makes her feel that it wasn’t worth it for her friend, Charlotte, to have married him.

        When Elizabeth begins to regret not being the mistress of Pemberley she has to find a way to not feel this way. As she is lost in her thoughts and rejoicing the idea of having her aunt and uncle visit she tells herself “that could never be; my uncle and aunt would have been lost to me; I should not have been allowed to invite them” (291). This is the one thing that she can come up with that keep her from regretting her dismissal of Darcy’s proposal. But this idea is taken away when she discovers that Darcy is a great master who treats his servants well and with less prejudice towards lower class than Elizabeth had suspected. Though it still stands that the Gardiners would not have been invited to large social events at the house, but they would not have been lost to Elizabeth all together. She is reaching for a way to pull herself away from regret: “This was a lucky recollection—it saved her from something like regret” (291). Elizabeth is searching for a reason not to covet Pemberley, but the estate not only is a display of Darcy’s masculinity, but it proves to Elizabeth that Darcy is a good person.

        But this proof of Darcy’s the better man isn’t proved by Darcy showing off his estate and explaining himself, but merely by the presence of his staff and the appearance. The estate speaks for itself. Darcy is not present while Elizabeth is having these revelations of his character.

        Collins on the other hand is desperate to prove to Elizabeth that she is missing out. Collins ruins any good qualities of his own estate because of how terrible his personality is:

Mr. Collins invited them to take a stroll in the garden, which was large and well laid out, and to the cultivation of which he attended himself…Here, leading the way through every walk and cross walk, and scarcely allowing them an interval to utter the praises he asked for, every view was pointed out with a minuteness which left beauty entirely behind (251).

Not only does he want to impress everyone and doesn’t succeed, but the reason he is unsuccessful at impressing anyone is because he is so determined to impress them. On top of all this, in the same way he uses his relationship with Lady Catherine as a reason for people to be impressed by him, he uses the Rosings’ garden as a reason to be impressed with his own garden. “But of all the views which his garden, or which the country of the kingdom could boast, none were to be compared with the prospect of Rosings, afforded by an opening in the trees that bordered the park nearly opposite the front of the house” (251). Collins can’t even rely on his own estate to qualify his masculinity, he uses the view his estate gives of another estate.

The descriptions of each man’s estate is a direct reflection of the descriptions of each man. The way Pemberley is described is the way Elizabeth comes to discover Darcy truly to be:

 They gradually ascended for half-a-mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned (291).

Darcy is of high society, just as his estate is physically high. Even though he is of high society and because of this of “some natural importance”, he is straight forward and “without any artificial appearance.” He is handsome and well backed with money as his house is handsome and “backed by a ridge of high woody hills.” As his money protects and makes Darcy appealing, the hills protect and making Pemberley appealing. The “abruptness” of the road leading to Pemberley could correlate with how challenging it is to get to know him, reserved when he meets Elizabeth but abruptly in coming to Pemberley she is introduced to a whole other side of Darcy.

Collins estate is described as his “humble abode,” and “rather small, but well built and convenient; and everything was fitted up and arranged with a neatness and consistency of which Elizabeth gave Charlotte all the credit” (251). In the same way that Collins’ social status is due to his relationship with Lady Catherine and his future wealth due the fact that Mr. Bennett had no sons, the appearance of his estate is credited to his wife.

The only part of his estate that is at all credited to him is his gardens. But as stated before, any good quality that could be seen in the gardens is ruined by his presence and even he is unable to allow his gardens to stand on their own and credits the ability to see the Rosings estate as selling point for his own estate. If that doesn’t destroy any possibility of him being viewed as masculine through his estate I don’t know what else would. But wait! Elizabeth and Charlotte don’t even stay for the whole tour; they leave half way through because they don’t have the proper shoes.

Lets pretend that Elizabeth’s encounter of the two estates are each a metaphor of a modern day man trying to pick her up at the bar. First we will look at the Collins:

Elizabeth goes to the bar and sees her friend Charlotte at the bar with Collins, a guy who tried to date her but that she rejected because he was boring and wouldn’t stop talking about some old lady and because he was an arrogant jerk. But Elizabeth puts up with so she can see Charlotte. Collins starts telling her how cool he is now that he is dating her friend Charlotte and tries to introduce her to his friends the Rosings. Collins tries to describe all the fun dates he takes Charlotte on in an attempt to make Elizabeth jealous, but spends so much time describing the dates, no matter how fun they may have been they sounded terribly boring. After awhile the two women get so bored they excuse themselves to the bathroom to gossip.

Collins obviously isn’t going to score with Elizabeth or even make her regret not taking advantage of the opportunity when she could. In all likelihood he is probably not even satisfying Charlotte.

Now let’s look at Elizabeth’s encounter with Pemberley in the same manner:

Elizabeth thinks that Darcy is a cold heartless, jerk and refused to date him. But one night at the bar she hears from other people how he has a huge penis and is great in bed. She also finds out that he is also a really nice guy when you get to know him, and the fact that he listens to all the best music and knows all the right people isn’t too bad either. She discovers that the only reason that she may have felt he was a jerk was because he wasn’t being a poser.

Elizabeth’s encounter with the two estates proves to her that Darcy is a true man and worthy of her regretting her refusal of his hand. On the other hand the encounter with the Collins estate reaffirms that Collins reliance on the approval and endorsement of others makes him remain an unappealing choice to Elizabeth still and makes her sympathetic to her friend who chose to be with him. If Pemberley is a representation of Darcy’s masculinity, then Collin’s estate is a representation of the lack there of.

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