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Mansfield Park - Jane Austen
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Mansfield Park
Jane Austen

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   The clash between good and evil is eloquently symbolized in the temptation the amoral Maria poses for the moral Edmund who is to be a clergyman. This is the most beautiful, allegorical scene in the novel. The “wilderness’ of Sotherton is a “natural artificial” labyrinth made of plants and trees. The tempting of Edmund reminds the reader of the tempting of Adam in the Garden of Eden, which is a comparison Austen would probably find desirable. As Edmund remarks “we have taken a very serpentine course”, which is an indication of how Edmund will be tempted to lose sight of his morality.

   Mary’s tempting of Edmund can be interpreted in mythical terms. In trying to take him away from his moral values and beliefs, and his calling in life, Mary’s first weapon is flattery: “you really are fit for something better”. Isn’t flattery the Devil’s first weapon?

   This good v. evil battle is a subtle confrontation; a battle disguised behind the mask of flirting or “love”. Austen’s obsession with disguise and hypocrisy, which is also one of Shakespeare’s favorite themes, is also expressed through her negative presentation of the “theatricals”, which are presented as sinister and corrupting.

   In “Mansfield Park” Austen also proves herself to be a truly feminist writer. Few male characters in her novels are attractive, intelligent, and in command. It might be hard to see how an introverted, shy, enduring character like Fanny Price could be seen as a feminist figure, but Fanny is indeed a silent hero. When she refuses to marry the rich Henry Crawford she is accused of being stubborn, selfish, and ungrateful. Fanny is, of course, merely trying to be true to herself. However, there is an irritating lack of flexibility in her character: once she forms an opinion, it’s impossible to change her mind (although she is always right in her opinions). Even the good-natured Edmund is not Fanny’s equal. He can be too easily tempted by female charms, whereas Fanny stands firm, upholding her beliefs and her morality.

   The ending of the novel presents the outcome of the battle between good and evil, the consequences of the great crisis. While Austen presents evil masked in beauty throughout her novel, her ending proves that good can indeed be masked in evil, as a result of certain outside factors. Good did in fact win over evil, but what was the consequence? What is the consequence when the masks finally fall?

Book review by Anna Hassapi the big site