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Old 08-21-2012, 08:11 AM   #15
fantasyfan
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Billi View Post
I'm reading the book for the second time and enjoy the re-reading very much until now. I have a (maybe silly) question, but the answer seems very important for the morals of the book.
I don't understand exactly why is it sooo wrong that the young people in Mansfield Park are having a theatre performance? Is it more a general question of decorum (grown ups of the gentry or higher circles don't do this, for children it was allowed and encouraged) or is it specifically because they take such a possession of the house of Sir Thomas in his absence?
That's an excellent question--in fact a question that goes to the core of the novel. {I'll use spoilers in case some haven't got to the theatrical yet.

Spoiler:
Jane Austen's family frequently put on home theatricals and certainly didn't disapprove of them. But in the novel, Austen is using her familiarity with the form to make a number of powerful moral points.

1. The play itself is Lover's Vows--a translation of a German play: The Love Child. It was popular in London. Jane Austen uses the theatrical {which never actually gets produced} to develop the theme of the confusion between roles and reality.
2. During the production the play brings out the worst qualities of the various characters as they fight over parts--disrupting what should be a harmonious relationship.
3. The various members of the cast use their roles to engage in actions and relationships which would be forbidden and indeed reprehensible in their real lives. Through the theatricals, the characters can indulge in unrestrained license in the absence of Sir Thomas--the chief "Guardian" of moral order and stability in the novel.
4. Acting leads to inclination and the characters later perform in life the inclinations they dramatise in the theatrical. Maria plays an abandoned mother and Crawford he illegitimate son. They develop an intimacy which leads to their later betrayal of decency and morality.

What the theatrical episode provides is a brilliant use of inter-textuality to add a profound dimension to the story.


I got most of that from a brilliant essay on Mansfield Park by Tony Tanner. It was originally the introductory preface to the first Penguin edition and was highly regarded enough to be added as an appendix in the later Penguin Classics edition. It is very fine--but it does give spoilers--so beware of reading it until you know the book.
However, I think I can safely mention a couple points which are helpful. Tanner mentions that Mansfield Park is a symbol of order and stability. Against it stand London and Portsmouth. There are three groups of characters:

1.The Guardians-those who are meant to protect the values and traditions of Mansfield Park

2. The Inheritors--those who will continue these values into the next generation

3. The Interlopers--individuals from the outside world who consciously or otherwise introduce inimical concepts into the natural order of duty and justice of Mansfield Park.

While Tanner's character division is schematic, it has a very useful function in following the moral themes in the book.

Last edited by fantasyfan; 08-21-2012 at 05:41 PM.
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