Comparing the Country Estate in Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park

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Importance of the Country Estate in Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park

The world of Jane Austen's novels is a world of the country estate. Her central characters are members of the parish or landed gentry and their lives and adventures often circle around the local estate and the people who live there. One of Austen's main literary principles was to write only about the things she knew about in her own life, and the world of the landed gentry was one to which she had access. However the country estate in her novels serves a greater purpose than that of a mere background to the lives of her characters. Austen uses the country estate to give the reader an insight into the personalities of her characters, and as a way of discussing political, religious and aesthetic ideas of the period.

One of the most obvious functions of the country estate in both Prideand Prejudice and Mansfield Park is that of mirroring the character of its owners and Inhabitants and thus of providing a symbolic representation of their values and traits of personality. When Elizabeth Bennet visits Pemberley, she is impressed by what she sees:

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. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. (p.267)

This description occurs at a point when Elizabeth is being forced to reconsider her opinions of Darcy. She has already read his reply to Wickham's slurs on his character, but still believes Darcy to be a man of excessive pride, a belief which is overturned during her visit to Pemberley, and this view of the estate is the first stage of her transformation of opinion. The information which the author gives us enables us to start challenging our assumptions about Darcy, and follow the process which is occurring within the mind of Elizabeth. This description of the estate gives us information about many aspects of Darcy's character. The beauty of the house and grounds make us feel that perhaps he has justification for any pride he displays.

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