Sunday, August 26, 2001

Spoilers for Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

It is obvious that Fanny’s uncle is a slave owner and has plantations of some sort in Antigua.  This is alluded to rather than clearly stated and, while realistic to the times, I suppose, it left a bit of a distaste in my mouth.  It is clear we are not necessarily intended to like Mr Bertram, her uncle, although there does seem to be an attempt at creating a character that is, if nothing else, deserving of our respect.  Certainly, our appreciation of him grows as his appreciation for Fanny grows.  But his lack of parenting skills, as evidenced in his children’s behavior, and his indulgent attitude towards those to whom he owes the most responsibility, is not designed to make him completely likable.

To see a hint of such a reality in an Austen novel is surprising to me because I have always dismissed her novels as light romances, mentally shelving them in a purely fluffy category.  However, there it is, something implicit, and yet she never addresses herself to the issue of slavery.  And she is not the only author of this period to do so which is why I can perhaps overlook it.  In other words, I can forgive her for it but it is one of the reasons why I don’t altogether praise Austen’s novels.  There is a lack of substance that, in spite of the many academic papers that delve into the deeper subtext of her stories, I can only say makes her novels a pleasure to read but not provocative enough to fully recommend them.

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