Marriage as a Dubious Goal in Mansfield Park

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Jane Austen’s 1814 novel Mansfield Park begins and ends with the topic of marriage. In this regard, it seems to fit into the genre of the courtship novel, a form popular in the eighteenth century in which the plot is driven by the heroine’s difficulties in attracting an offer from the proper suitor. According to Katherine Sobba Green, the courtship novel “detailed a young woman’s entrance into society, the problems arising from that situation, her courtship, and finally her choice (almost always fortunate) among suitors” (2). Often the heroine and her eventual husband are kept apart initially by misunderstanding, by the hero’s misguided attraction to another, by financial obstacles, or by family objections.¹ The overcoming of these problems, with the marriage of the newly united couple, forms the happy ending anticipated by readers.

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Sometimes, as in a Shakespearean comedy, there are multiple marriages happily celebrated; this is the case, for example, in Austen’s own Pride and Prejudice.

Despite the fact that Mansfield Park ends with the marriage of the heroine, Fanny Price, to the man whom she has set her heart on, her cousin Edmund Bertram, the novel expresses a strong degree of ambivalence toward the pursuit and achievement of marriage, especially for women. For Fanny, marriage may be a matter of the heart, but for other characters in the novel, marriage—or the desire for marriage—is precipitated by, among other things, vanity, financial considerations, boredom, the desire to “disoblige” one’s family (Austen, Mansfield Park 5) or simply to escape from it, and social and parental pressure to form a suitable match. And, although readers are meant to understand that Fanny’s desire for Edmund is based not on financial ambition but on her “fond attachment” to him (75), the narrator makes sure that we are also aware of the poverty that Fanny has escaped by being adopted into her uncle’s household as a child. When Fanny angers her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, by refusing an offer of marriage from the wealthy Henry Crawford, he sends her back to visit her struggling family in Portsmouth. It is plain to the reader, and seemingly to Fanny as well, that she faces a difficult, dreary, and perhaps dangerous life without either an advantageous match or the continued protection and support of her uncle, neither of which, at this moment in the plot, she can take for ranted.

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Marriage as a Dubious Goal in Mansfield Park. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/marriage-as-a-dubious-goal-in-mansfield-park/
“Marriage as a Dubious Goal in Mansfield Park.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/marriage-as-a-dubious-goal-in-mansfield-park/
Marriage as a Dubious Goal in Mansfield Park. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/marriage-as-a-dubious-goal-in-mansfield-park/> [Accessed 20 Apr. 2024].
Marriage as a Dubious Goal in Mansfield Park [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2024 Apr 20]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/marriage-as-a-dubious-goal-in-mansfield-park/
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