Essay Jane Austen

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Jane Austen

6. How does Mansfield Park interrogate the relationship of power and gender?

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen is a classic realist text, which is almost exclusively focused on a small strip of society, namely the upper-middle class of rural England; the class to which she herself belonged. Throughout her novel, Austen portrays the disadvantaged position of woman, presenting the issues of gender stereotyping and marriage choice as the main problems they have to confront. “Gender came to be seen as a construct of society, designed to facilitate the smooth-running of society to the advantage of men”1, proving that men gained power throughout the socially constructed subordination of woman.

Taking a
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Fanny’s weak position is shown through the punctuation and structure of her sentences, as she often begins to protest, but then breaks off at a dash, unable to continue. This contrasts with the clarity of Sir Thomas’s speech, in which he conveys a tone of certainty and finality, whilst speaking with ease. He is confident, and sure of his thoughts; so sure in fact, that he tries to impose them on Fanny, and will use any kind of pressure or cruelty to force her to comply with his decision that she should marry.

Sir Thomas trying to persuade Fanny to marry emphasises the fact that Austen’s novels operate around the framework of love, marriage and money. Many of the characters believe that there is no future development open to women of their class but marriage and the upbringing of children, making Fanny seem extremely unusual when she turns down Henry’s offer. This relates to the Marxist view that “dominant visible forms taken by modes of physical and social reproduction through history have been family and kinship structures”2, which utilises the gender positions of male power and female subservience. Austen uses words such as “career”, to reminds us that marriage was a woman’s livelihood, her “career” in the sense that it was her life’s work, and that she would grab any marriage that had good financial prospects.

In the society and culture that Austen depicts, the male is regarded as the norm, as the central position from which the female is

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