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Mansfield Park

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 7 months ago

Although Fanny Price is not black, the social differences between the occupants at Mansfield Park and herself demonstrate the attitudes the Bertram have for slaves and colonization. Sir Thomas is in their Antigua estate for much of the story, but when he is home, along with the rest of the family, his attitude toward Fanny echo that of the natives he is colonizing in the West Indies. He uproots her from her family and traditional customs because he believes his are superior. When she does not know ‘proper’ English facts learned in school, she is deemed stupid and unable to learn. They do not think she is capable of achieving as much as the others and should not have the same privileges. Sir Thomas is constantly reminding her that she should be grateful for the opportunities that they have given her, although she never asked for them in the first place. It shows that the social class rank in England is as important as racial differences. This view is skewed by the fact that Fanny comes to enjoy her life at Mansfield Part, even if she is treated as a second-class citizen. She is grateful and in the end elevates her own status through marriage. She enjoys the luxuries offered because of the family’s dependence on slavery, but is herself treated poorly because of her own rank.



I find it very enjoyable that rank and social class is discussed by a white female author. Someone caught in the middle of a White man driven world and a world of slavery. Not as good as a man but better than a black in essence. Austen herself came from landowners and had some proper schooling. but she takes a character through this world of turmoil for the lower classes to share with the public her own opinions regarding the hierarchy of the British social system. This idea of being Grateful to those who provide “opportunities” such as school or even slaves. Why should one be grateful regarding education when that is something that should be provided to all? Of course this was not the case in the 1800's, or even today it would seem, but Austen delves into it. She learned to read and write, as did Fanny. We have read many works written by slaves who learned to read. Some of the most intelligent people, authors, of this era were blacks who learned the English ways.



Matt's last line was dead-on, and while I can't argue with Austen's artistry or her continued popularity, I kind of miss the violence of The Black Jacobins or the wit of some of the early black British writers. Mansfield Park is a little bit bothersome to me in that it more or less ignores the slavery that allows the operation to thrive. Mansfield Park is entirely dependent upon slavery, and other than a few isolated lines, little attention is paid to the problem. I do agree with Erica that Fanny is treated less-than-favorably, and she certainly mirrors some of the obstacles that a lot of black writers have faced. She is looked upon as less "educated" and less wealthy, and is therefore less important to society. I do worry a bit, though, that drawing parallels between Fanny and slavery will allow us to ignore the fact that slavery is happening in the book, and goes largely unanswered. With a 21st century mindset, it's easy for me to point the finger, of course. I'd hate to think that I'd be willing to ignore the consequences of slavery if I were to swap positions with Sir Thomas.




While reading Mansfield Park, I felt that the language used in this book is extremely oppressive and rigid, allowing the story to be told in only the most delicate of terms. It seemed as restrictive as the corsets women were expected to wear in accordance with fashion. Also I found it disturbing and frustrating how the characters such as Mrs. Norris foster feeling of supremacy in her young nieces be allowing them to believe Fannie is stupid simply because she has not been given the same opportunities as the little brats. I found myself bothered by much of the language even when Austen refers to the endearing Edmund and how he influences Fannie saying that he, “encouraged her taste, and corrected her judgment; he made reading useful by talking to her of what she read…” When you see how the English treated each other, is it really any wonder they believed themselves entitled to slaves? Honestly if this false, pretentious world is all that industry and wealth can provide, I think that most of the characters would be much improved by poverty.





Mansfield Park is a very interesting read as it is one of the first works in which we witness in-depth England’s dependence on the colonies to provide material wealth. Mansfield Park, the property of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram provides the domestic setting of the novel, but Sir Thomas’ trips back to the plantation in Antigua demonstrate the English’s great dependence on the fruits of colonial labor. The domestic sphere of Mansfield Park is intrinsically intertwined with the colonies and the good provided by them. Reading this novel I was reminded of the (brief) introduction to postcolonial studies I encountered in ENGL 200. In “Jane Austen and the Empire” Edward Said, an important postcolonial critic, proposed the idea that instead of simply being domestic novels of British class, Austen’s novels are instead all about the British empire and its colonial presence. Austen’s novels seem to be a perfect indication of an increasingly global economy that is impossible to separate into different spheres.

Samantha Luceri




As Paul mentioned, class structure was perhaps as debilitating in Romantic-period England than race itself. Because her mother married for love (the same predicament Fanny later runs into), her family is horribly poor. But the man she married, besides Sir Thomas, who has his business in Antigua, is the only character in the book who has ties to the Atlantic. He's a disabled, alcoholic sailor. Thus, one of the only forms of possible mobility--living on the dangerous seas--leaves Fanny's family even more destitute. I'm not sure what to do with this connection, but Fanny's ties to the Atlantic seem to say something about the benefits of the west due to the slave trade. The question is whether or not Fanny herself is a benificiary of the slave trade, or if she sees herself in a similar set of circumstances. No one has yet mentioned the scene wherein Fanny questions Sir Thomas on the slave trade in Antigua, and he remains silent. Does the fact that Fanny comes to enjoy and appreciate Mansfield Park mean that she accepts her position in society as one on the recieving end of imperialism? I don't think so; rather, I think that her ultimate sense of belonging is the least she can do in any circumstance to consciously remove herself from the chains that tie her down. The aforementioned passage seems to suggest at least a marginal understanding (particularly for a "simple" girl, as Matt pointed out) of her social position in relation to those working in Sir Thomas' plantation.




I strongly agree with Erica, and others, in her observation that this book is highly engulfed in oppressive slave ideals and attitudes that are uniquely presented through the main female character of Fannie. I agree that it was extremely interesting to see how this white female was tied to the same stereotypes and inequalities that blacks were facing at this time. Perhaps the most interesting is this relationship that has been constructed between class, gender, and race. To me, social class seems even more important than the later two in terns of bourgeois values since their entire lives were based on commercial trade. Even from an early start in the book, Sir Thomas is apprehensive about taking in Fanny due to her lack of social experience and her inability to read and write. Yet, it is almost as if he feels that it is his obligation to take her and mold her into an upstanding social citizen. There is a document that I studied in my French class that speaks to the decolonization of its colonies where Jules Ferry insists on this idea that it is the duty of the superior races to teach and help construct the inferior races into what they deem as the good way of life. I am really interested in this train of the thought and to see how it is playing out in Britain as well, and further on into the realm of social class as well. Sir Thomas speaks to this right away in an early passage on page 16 where he states, “I do not know that her being sorry to leave home is really against her, for with all its faults, it was her home, and she cannot yet understand how much she has changed for the better; but then there is moderation in all things”


I just find it fascinating how typically white men, perhaps of all ages, seem to find it their absolute duty to rule over all other races, genders, and classes, and how it has somehow become their obligation to teach all others the proper and correct way to function in society. It just still boggles my mind as to how history has allowed for this to continue on and still continuing today. What ever placed these people as the superior beings? I just find it interesting that things so minute and essentially irrelevant, such as money and looks, can tirade over a species for so long and with such great power.




I think that it is interesting to gain the perspective of someone who is completely outside the spectrum of the slave trade, but is still affected by it through proximity.  The odd thing, in my opinion, is that the character of Fanny and those of men such as Sancho and Cugoano are somewhat related.  Obviously, there are cultural and sexual differences, but if one were to look at the way that these characters, both real and fictional, were taken into households of wealth and treated as though they were students, learning the ways of British aristocracy.  They were looked down upon because they were not educated in the ways of the household and even thought to be stupid because of their lack of proper English education.  I think that these points about who is seen as less than valuable to English society can always be argued.  What I think is more interesting is the way in which the West Indies, Antigua to be exact, are used as a side note, not really a part of the story, rather an reason why Sir Thomas could be removed from the story.  The fact that he may never return offers the character of Fanny an opportunity to show emotion that she “didn’t know she had”.  It seems as though the idea of Antigua is one that everyone could relate to in 1815, a distant place, yet close enough that people would understand the fact that Sir Thomas might not return.  It also is amazing that works of dramatic fiction consisted of whether or not one should ride a horse today, or whether one should or should not walk briskly through the crowds with a flowing dress.  It seems that the life of the aristocracy is never really interrupted.  Fires and famine, plague and slavery, are lots secured by lower life forms uneducated in the ways of the crown.  In a way, this book is a way of remembering to forget, remembering the “sensible”, serine landscape of nineteenth century England, and forgetting what kind of business brought it to that point.


Evan Gallagher


Continuing on Evan's note I believe whites knew the slave trade affected them, not only through their bank account but as in white history as well. I liked the comment we made in class the other day, when prompted to answer a question about slaves, the characters of the book passed, and tried to move on to other conversation. We know slavery and society's problems are complex so in order to dissolve this problem people tend to roll over the conversation in today's world.


Lizz Leidel


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