Mansfield Park and the Education of the Virtuous
Education is a major theme in Mansfield Park. The errors and sins of Tom, Maria and Julia Bertram on one hand and Mary and Henry Crawford on the other are substantially the result of flawed upbringing and failed education. In the end, only disaster can teach these characters the lessons they should have learned as children. But these are only secondary characters. What is the nature of the education of the heroine, Fanny Price? In what sense is Mansfield Park a Bildungsroman? Mansfield Park offers us a heroine who at first glance seems neither to need nor undergo any education.1 Fanny Price is virtue embodied. Her judgment seems to be unerring, her perception unclouded, her actions pure, noble and untainted. Other characters — the grave Sir Thomas, the weak Edmund — do grow in self-knowledge by the end of the novel, but since Fanny is the novel’s undisputed centre, her apparently static character presents a problem. It is especially odd that Fanny among Austen’s heroines changes so little, because Fanny is the only heroine who we see in childhood and whose passage to adult life is recorded in any detail.2 But is Fanny truly the virtuous and unchanging prig so many find distasteful? Fanny’s judgment and moral character may need no improvement, but Austen has devised for Fanny an education of a different sort.
KeywordsEmotional Debilitation Young Lady Price Home Moral Perfection Mutual Love
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- 1.See Henrietta Ten Harmsel, Jane Austen (London: Mouton & Co. 1964) p. 109.Google Scholar
- 2.Susan Gilbert and Sandra Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979) p. 163.Google Scholar
- 8.See Marylea Meyersohn, who notes that ‘Fanny’s speeches and impulses to speech expand in the last quarter of the novel as she grows stronger and prettier … her speeches lengthen as her social status rises’, ‘What Fanny Knew: a Quiet Auditor of the Whole’ in Jane Austen: New Perspective, ed. Janet Todd (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1983) (p. 227).Google Scholar
- 27.On the similarities between Fanny and Clarissa, see also Duckworth, p. 76, and Joseph Wiesenfarth in his The Errand of Form (N. Y. : Fordham University Press, 1967) p. 103.Google Scholar