Mansfield Park and Religion

For my Oxford course, one of our option activities was to look at the different ways religion is mentioned in the novel. My response is below, and I’ll post more as I can!

I would have to return to the Sotherton Chapel, and Mary Crawford’s speech against organized religion:

“At any rate is safer to leave people to their own devices on such subjects. Every body likes to go their own way – to chuse their own time and manner of devotion. The obligation of attendance, the formality, the restraint, the length of time – altogether it is a formidable thing and what nobody likes…” (81-82)

Naturally, given the fact that Mary Crawford, in all her forwardness, is the one to speak against religion is, in my estimation, more a criticism of her character than the religion of the time. However, her point of view does give some insight into how more, well, shall we say, liberal members of society viewed their religious obligations.

Edmund, of course, has a response for her: “Do you think the minds which are suffered, which are indulged in wanderings in a chapel, would be more collected in a closet?” (82)

Edmund’s controlled, careful response, which even for his mild temperament “required a little recollection” makes a well-argued case against people choosing their own forms of devotion and for people engaging in religious experiences within the community of the church.

Mansfield Park – Entry 2

So, since I left off at the end of Chapter Three, that’s where I’ll begin today.

First in the third chapter is a completely understandable admonition from Sir Thomas to Tom the younger regarding his lack of self-control and its resulting consequences for Edmund:

“‘I blush for you,Tom,'” said he, in his most dignified manner, ‘I blush for the expedient which I am driven on, and I trust I may pity your feelings as a brother on the occasion. You have robbed Edmund for ten, twenty, thirty years, perhaps for life, of more than half the income which ought to be his'” (23).

A fatherly admonition, indeed, in which Sir Thomas “tried to impress his eldest son” with a guilty conscience over the fact that his life choices had cost his younger brother the living to which he was originally to succeed. Instead, then, the living was to be sold to Dr. Grant.

Tom, though, as I suspect most over-indulged children would, dismisses his father’s concerns:

“Tom listened with some shame and some sorrow; but escaping as quickly as possible, could soon with cheerful selfishness reflect, 1st, that he had not been half so much in debt as some of his friends; 2dly, that his father had made the most tiresome piece of work of it; and 3dly, that the future incumbent, whoever he might be, would, in all probability, die very soon” (24)

Why would Tom fail to internalize his father’s admonition? Why would he consider it only for a moment and then “cheerfully” disengage from his father’s admonition and his brother’s misfortune? The simple answer is that Sir Thomas has so far indulged Tom by discharging his debts, obligations, and responsibilities, that Tom doesn’t consider it necessary to feel guilt nor make any necessary changes to his behavior.

Here, therefore, we have the first subliminal criticism of Sir Thomas’ abilities as a father. Then, in addition to his verbal admonition to his son regarding his behavior, Thomas the elder took his son with him to Antigua “in the hope of detaching him from some bad connections at home” (31).

As he departs, though, Austen informs us that the Miss Bertrams found their father “no object of love to them…and his absence was unhappily most welcome.” Not only that, but now that one over-indulged child is out of the picture,

“[The Miss Bertrams] were relieved [by Sir Thomas’ absence] from all restraint; and without aiming at one gratification that would probably have been forbidden by Sir Thomas, they felt themselves immediately at their own disposal, and to have every indulgence within their reach” (31).

So, Sir Thomas focuses on the recovery of one child’s senses, but at the expense of the senses of two of his other children. I hardly believe that the “indulgences” of the Miss Bertrams would have been anything more than childish “pleasures,” but the message is still plain: Sir Thomas’ ability to properly guide his children through development is, despite his ability to think of Fanny and her situation with care, lacking a bit in the principal of balance – and also application.

In Chapter Four, Miss Maria Bertram finds herself confronted with the “duty” of matrimony in the form of Mr. Rushworth. Such a situation was, of course, perfectly normal. Maria was beautiful, and so Mr. Rushworth “fancied himself in love” with her, a pitfall witnessed in many other Austen works (Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer just to name two). The match, so “unquestionably advantageous,” of course made Sir Thomas, even in Antigua, “truly happy,” because “It was a connection exactly of the right sort; in the same country, and the same interest; and his most hearty concurrence was conveyed as soon as possible.” I cannot criticize Sir Thomas for adhering to the commonplace practices of the time: find an acceptable match for your daughters so they don’t end up poor.

And so ends my second entry for Mansfield Park. I’ve some more reading to do now. I really should have done more reading over Spring Break, but honestly, my brain needed a bit of decompression time. I read some, but not nearly as much as I thought I would. Enjoy.