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[Sorry for the drought in posts: I have been busy with other things on Peace and Wisdom.]

I had been meaning to respond to a post by Arnie on Austen-L about PJM Scott’s assessment of Mansfield Park.

Scott shows a good instinct for the deeper mysteries of MP when he spends a good amount of time in his chapter on MP raising questions regarding the following narration about Fanny Price’s thoughts about the home theatricals at Mansfield Park:

“For her own gratification she could have wished that something might be acted, for she had never seen even half a play, but everything of higher consequence was against it.”

Scott asks: “Are [Fanny’s] reactions hysterical, are Austen’s out of scale? Is the author advocating a supremely punctilious decorum for young people of the upper middle class such as hardly existed in her own life? and if so, why with such a passion?”

I agree with Trilling in fingering parental authority, as Edmund explains in this exchange with Tom.

“And I am convinced to the contrary. Nobody is fonder of the exercise of talent in young people, or promotes it more, than my father, and for anything of the acting, spouting, reciting kind, I think he has always a decided taste. I am sure he encouraged it in us as boys. How many a time have we mourned over the dead body of Julius Caesar, and to be’d and not to be’d, in this very room, for his amusement? And I am sure, my name was Norval, every evening of my life through one Christmas holidays.”

“It was a very different thing. You must see the difference yourself. My father wished us, as schoolboys, to speak well, but he would never wish his grown-up daughters to be acting plays. His sense of decorum is strict.” (13.25-6)

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In Chapter 24 we see Fanny and William united for the first time, drawing some interesting commentary from the narrator on the nature and causes of happiness.

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In Chapter 24 Mary and Henry are discussing Fanny Price, when Henry turns to wondering why he is not making any progress with Fanny Price.

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Some of Austen’s critics have difficulty following her counterfactual reasoning, as when she speculates about how Henry Crawford would have got on if Fanny hadn’t formed an early attachment to Edmund.

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By the 23rd chapter (II.V) Fanny’s revulsion towards Henry Crawford becomes quite explicit, and this has been enormously controversial in 20th century criticism. Reginald Farrer in his 1917 essay called her a ‘prig-pharisee’ and professor Trilling in his 1957 essay on Emma agrees that many are ‘repelled’ by Fanny Price, that no essay he has written has met with so much resistance as the one on Mansfield Park where he ‘tried to say that it was not really a perverse and wicked book’. This trend looks as if it has carried over into the 21st century with one popular internet message board devoting a special section to guidelines on how to discuss Fanny Price without starting or prolonging flame wars:

Meanwhile, you should be careful about casually throwing around words such as the following in reference to Miss Price: “insignificant”, “moralizing prig”, “feeble”, “dull”, or “nebbish” – not because these are necessarily objectively wrong, but because on AUSTEN-L they are what the U.S. Supreme court has termed “fighting words”.

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Fanny’s conversation with Mary in the Grants’ shrubbery—the only casual conversation between the two rivals—resonates with contrasts. As Jane Stabler’s excellent notes remind us, Fanny’s stilted conversation reflects her discomfort in the presence of her worldly-wise rival that she has tried so hard to keep at a distance.

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The transposition of two passages in the chapter where Maria is married to Mr Rushworth had never struck me so forcibly before.

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