In a letter to her brother dated 1814, Jane Austen boasted about a compliment she had received from a friend on her most recent work, Mansfield Park: "It's the most sensible novel he's ever read" (263). Austen prided herself on creating literature that depicted realistic characters and honest situations, but perhaps more importantly, she strove to create fiction that was moral and instructional as well as entertaining. So what does sensible say about the sexual? In Mansfield Park, the answer appears blaringly before us, as we repeatedly witness sexuality and desire represented in the darkest of terms, and often resulting in the most sinister of outcomes. Those who emit a sexual persona or awareness are to be seen as dangerous, and those whom possess sexual desire are inevitably the ones in danger, and are often punished for their untamed emotions and erratic behavior. The Bertrams and Fanny Price reside at Mansfield Park peacefully enough until their quiet, domestic world is turned upside down by outsiders, all of who, in their own ways, threaten to upset the lives of the inhabitants with a passion, desire, and sexuality that is new to them. In this essay, I would like to examine the relationships that arise from connections with these outsiders, what role sexuality and desire play in them, and what Austen's treatment of them says about sexual transgression and desire in a larger sense as well.
It seems only natural to begin with the two most prominent intruders in Mansfield Park, Henry and Mary Crawford. As jaded individuals accustomed to the fast-paced (and amoral) life of the city, Mary and Henry view Mansfield Park and its residen...
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...ot given proper examples of how to conduct ourselves. Instead, Austen leaves us, rather uneasily, stranded between the platonic relationship of Fanny and Edmund, and the debauched affairs of the other characters, wishing for some sort of happy medium.
Auerbach, Nina. "Jane Austen's Dangerous Charm". Mansfield Park and Persuasion. Judy Simons, ed. New York: Macmillan, 1997.
Butler, Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.
Handler, Richard and Daniel Sega. Jane Austen and the Fiction of Culture. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1990.
Le Faye, Deirdre, ed. Jane Austen's letters, 3rd. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Trilling, Lionel. "Mansfield Park". Jane Austen: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ian Watt, ed. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1963.
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