A prominent theme in Mansfield Park is social hierarchy. You first see this theme at the very beginning of the novel, where the three Ward sisters all marry men who belong to different social classes. Maria Ward marries Sir Thomas Bertram and becomes a part of the highest social class. Mrs. Norris marries a middle class man, and Mrs. Price marries and sailor of the lower social class.
After setting up this social order, Jane Austen then goes on to prove that a higher social position does not correlate with higher morals or values. Lady Bertram’s eldest son, Tom Bertram, becomes a gambler and an alcoholic, and Sir Bertram ends up having to deal with so much financial hardship because of this, so he has to go to Antigua to oversee his financial investments. Lady Bertram’s daughters and spoiled and selfish. Maria, who is a married woman, runs away with Henry Crawford at the end of the novel, and Edmund, the youngest son, is a minister, but he develops sexual desires for Mary Crawford, and forgets about his moral duties.
However, Fanny Price, who originally belonged to the lower social class, proves to be the character in Mansfield Park who has the highest moral standards. Although she often does not stand up for herself, she still shows that she is caring and compassionate when she listens to Edmund’s romantic problems with Mary, and she never complains despite that fact that she is treated very poorly. Furthermore, when Henry Crawford asks for her hand in marriage, she refuses him. if she had said yes to him, she could marry into a higher social class since Edmund was not interested in marrying her, but she loved Edmund, and she refused to just marry Henry for the social mobility. She wanted to marry for love, not for status, and she held on to that belief.
Jane Austen herself endorses this idea that social status and morals are not correlated when she gives Fanny the happy ending where she gets to marry the man she loves and gets to move to a higher social status, while many of the other characters such as Henry Crawford and Maria run away in disgrace.
Sense and Sensibility opens with a strong emphasis on family and relationships. It begins by talking about the Dashwoods and their family estate in Sussex. Specifically, the novel talks about how the family inherited their estate, Mr. Henry Dashwood’s past, and how the entire family as a whole coped with his death. On the other hand, while Mansfield Park also opens up by talking about relationships, the stark difference is that it immediately establishes the differences between the sisters in the family, and really only focuses on the relationship between the sisters.
Austen writes about how Maria Ward married a wealthy baronet, thus becoming Mrs. Bertram. Her sister, Miss Ward, married a reverend named Mr.Norris, who didn’t have much of a private fortune, and the youngest sister, Miss Frances, married a poor Lieutenant to become Mrs. Price. Because Mrs. Price married so low in the social hierarchy, she other two sisters cut all ties with her, and they all lived so far away from each and ran in completely different social circles that they didn’t even talk to each other for eleven years.
The most obvious difference between Austen’s two novels is the fact that the relationships between the sisters in each novel are so different. In Sense and Sensibility, the relationship between Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret Dashwood is extremely close. They live with each other, and while Elinor and Marianne do not confide in each other all their feelings and thoughts, it is obvious to the reader from their interactions that they would never abandon each other based on who they choose to fall in love with. Additionally, even after they get married, they all choose to live relatively near each other. In contrast, the sisters in Mansfield Park decide to cut ties with each other based solely on the fact that the men they married belong to different socioeconomic levels, and they all go their separate ways and don’t even talk to each other.
This is an interesting decision on Austen’s part because of how she chose to portray such a different relationship between sisters in the two novels. At first glance, it makes it seem like Austen is trying to say that sisters don’t always have to be close, but as you read further into Mansfield Park, it becomes apparent that her real message is that nothing can truly break the bond between sisters. When Mrs. Price writes to her sisters about how she is struggling with her ninth pregnancy, Mrs. Norris immediately wanted to take in her eldest daughter to raise in her home. This establishes the fact that no matter how long sisters go without talking, the bond between them is too strong and meaningful to break permanently.
Both Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda and Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility are essentially centered around the navigation of their respective societies. The characters in both novels are undoubtedly the products of the societies in that their actions and personalities derive from either what is expected of them or what they expect from society.
In both novels, the characters wear metaphorical masks that hide their true selves from everyone else. In Belinda, Lady Delacour is worried to death about the possibility of having breast cancer, her failing marriage, and her general dissatisfaction with the state of her life. However, she hides all of this behind a mask of wit and folly. Similarly, in Sense and Sensibility, Elinor Dashwood is burdened with keeping her emotions in check after the death of her father, acting calm and normal after finding out that the love of her life is engaged to someone else, and taking care of Marianne’s sensitive mental state. She does all of this for the sake of her family’s well-being. By taking a deeper look into these two characters’ lives, the reader is able to see that the root cause of the masks is society. It was not acceptable during the authors’ time periods for a woman to have emotional outbursts or for someone to pay special attention to their mental health. For this reason, both Lady Delacour and Elinor felt as if they had no choice but to hide the thunderstorm of emotions behind a more appealing countenance.
These masks also led to relationship problems in the novels. In Belinda, Lady Delacour and Lord Delacour are in an unhappy marriage, but when Belinda convinces Lady Delacour to finally tell her husband about the possibility of her having breast cancer, Lord Delacour actually reacts by showing the utmost affectionate concern for her health. So, by taking off the mask, Lady Delacour was able to save her marriage. On the other hand, the majority of the relationship problems in Sense and Sensibility deal with problems between relatives, particularly sisters. Elinor and Marianne grow apart in the middle of novel because neither one of them is willing to share all the details about their own love lives. Marianne never told Elinor about the fact that she and Willoughby are not actually engaged, and Elinor never told Marianne about the fact that Edward Ferrars was engaged to Lucy Steele. Once they finally confessed their truths to each other, however, their relationship grew stronger, and they were both able to begin the healing process. Again, the reason why they both failed to share their feelings with each other was because they both felt as though they would somehow be judged by society for what happened to them.
Independence is a crucial concept in Belinda. The novel essentially revolves around the lack of independence in the characters’ lives. In some instances, the lack of independence is forced onto the characters, but in other instances, the characters themselves choose to give up their independence, whether they realize it or not. Lady Delacour’s exchange with Belinda on page 33 is a prime example of this situation. In this exchange, Lady Delacour recalls her past, telling the story of how she lost the “love of her life” Henry Percival” because she couldn’t get over the fact that he noticed her faults and didn’t simply grovel over her. On the other hand, Lord Delacour didn’t notice any of her faults, so she married him just to make Henry jealous, but Henry moved on and married another woman.
The concept of independence comes in the passage because Lady Delacour was free to make her own decision about who to marry- she had full independence to choose Henry because she loved him, but she was too governed by the misconceptions of the society. This connects to what we talked about with the characters in the Jane Austen novels where they acted like they didn’t have a choice about how they acted or about what happened to them in life, even though as readers, we were aware of the fact that they did indeed have a certain amount of control over their lives, or at least more than they thought that they had. Similarly, Lady Delacour, who knows that she is the one that made the decision that led to her being in a loveless marriage, still partly sounds like she blames fate for what happened to her. She didn’t even have a family that was pressuring her to marry a certain way- it was completely her own independent choice to get married to someone she didn’t love, and while she didn’t have any control over how the marriage turned out, she still had control over her decisions.
This speaks to the novel as a whole because it is a novel about a wealthy group of people who are perhaps the most independent group of people in their society due to how much money they have. However, they are also the ones who are letting life simply carry them because they don’t have many responsibilities, so they don’t feel the need to make an effort to do anything in their lives. This also deals with the morality of the concept of independence in this novel because it shows that money cannot buy true independence. The truth is that Lady Delacour’s mind is not independent. It belongs to society’s ideals and misconceptions.
Jane Austen’s world is one of strict social codes and censorship. It is evident from her novel Sense and Sensibility that the characters in them exert a great deal of effort to repress and edit their emotions so as not to reveal too much about how they feel or what they are thinking. There are a limited number of ways that one is allowed to react to situations. In a world like this, secrets form whether they are intentional or not because these characters are only allowed to reveal so much about themselves that the majority of who they are as people must be held within themselves.
However, these secrets are what drive the novel. There are various types of secrets that present themselves. There are secret emotions, secret knowledge, and secret relationships. What is interesting about these secrets is that while the secrets make it more difficult for the characters in the novel to connect with each other and understand the full severity of situations, they create a more intimate connection between the readers and the characters. Yes, the readers do feel closer because they know the secrets, but the dramatic irony that only the readers know the secrets adds an additional level of intimacy. This is important because Jane Austen most likely made the initial decision to make Sense and Sensibility an epistolary novel in order to create intimacy between the readers and the characters because the readers would have the knowledge that they are looking into a private conversation through letters between two people that was originally meant only for those two sets of eyes. However, after deciding to not make it an epistolary novel, the secrets embedded in the lives of the characters became the source of intimacy.
The reason why this intimacy is so important is because the novel itself is very delicate. It deals with broken hearts and unspoken love, something that most people can relate to on some level. Thus, creating that level of personal closeness with the characters makes it a really relatable novel, not just a distant Regency story.
A significant conversation that occurs in chapter 3 is the conversation between Mr.Bingley and Mr.Darcy at a ball in Meryton. Mr.Bingley approaches Mr.Darcy and bids him to dance with someone at the ball, but Mr.Darcy refuses to dance, stating that there is not one woman in the room worthy of dancing with him, and that the only beautiful girl is Jane, whom Mr.Bingley is already dancing with. Then, when Mr.Bingley suggests that he dance with Elizabeth Bennet, Mr.Darcy says that she is not beautiful enough to “tempt” him.
This conversation is exchanged in private to the side, but Elizabeth unfortunately overhears this conversation. Mr.Darcy is essentially complaining about how his social status is far higher than anyone else at the ball, and that there are not any girls worthy of being seen with him. This conversation also reveals a great deal about the rules in the society of the characters. Darcy talks about the social hierarchy by refusing to engage with the festivities at the ball and standing off to the side because the participants of the ball are not as socially esteemed as he is. It also reveals a lot about the courting process during the time period. Mr.Darcy is taking into account social standing as a huge aspect of whether or not he can and should dance with a girl. This is particularly apparent later on in the novel as well because he immediately dismisses the possibility of ever being with Elizabeth from a quick glance at her because she isn’t of the highest social class. However, later on, he falls for Elizabeth. This is proof that at first, he prioritized social standing over appearances and personality because he is clearly attracted to Elizabeth, but could not realize that because of his initial belief that the social hierarchy is most important.
Overall, the information in this exchange is reliable because he is telling Mr.Bingley all of this in what he assumes is private. He didn’t know at the time that Elizabeth was listening to him, so he had no reason to lie about his thoughts on the other women and the other people in the room. He also does not need to impress anyone there since he is technically above them in social standing, so he will not be engaging with them a great deal. The only reason why the information would not be reliable is if his masculinity and inaccurate social perceptions are masking his true feelings. However, at face value, it is honest information. That being said, the information is both subjective and objective. It is subjective in the sense that his evaluation of the women in the room is based solely on appearances, and he hasn’t really interacted with Elizabeth at all. On the other hand, it is objective information because beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so perhaps his preconceived notions of wealth and social standing affect his conclusions about beauty, and perhaps he would have found Elizabeth attractive in another social setting, but because it is in a setting in which he does not find acceptable, his judgements are biased.
While his judgements are biased and insulting, one cannot say that they are improper because he did not state his thoughts publicly. He said them privately to his best friend, and it is not his fault that Elizabeth overheard them. Additionally, during that time period, it most likely was acceptable to make judgment completely based on social standing and wealth since the hierarchy was still important then. Therefore, while Darcy sounds like an absolutely terrible man at the first impression, he is really just a product of his environment.
The image above is of a women during the Regency era, and she is depicted wearing a style of clothing called “Anglomania”, a fashion trend and lifestyle that came into popularity in London and spread to the rest of Europe. It was a form of town wear, a simpler and more casual style compared to that of the lavish styles of the mid-eighteenth century. It displays elements of riding attire, but more often than not, the wearer of the clothing did not was not dressed in that attire for the purpose of riding.
Anglomania was a form of elite high fashion that came from the interest surrounding clothing used in a utility mode. Even Queen Marie Antoinette wore the style. For men, the attire consisted of a simple riding style cutaway or tailcoat complemented with buckskin breeches, boots, and a round hat. For women, the attire included a long dress with a riding style long coat and riding crops. The riding crops were an interesting addition to the outfit considering the fact that they didn’t have an actual horse with them.
The clothing style came into London from the country, making it a statement about social class. Furthermore, this style was part of a larger celebration of country life. Inger Sigrun Brodey in Ruined by Design describes it as “an urban society’s fanciful celebration of utopian rural simplicity” (197). As seen in Sense and Sensibility, many of the characters don’t particularly have jobs, and they live off of family money. Therefore, they spend a great deal of their time “vacationing” in the country or taking long strolls. The idea behind this style of clothing is that the people who wore them were the ones who didn’t need to be wearing work clothes. It certainly created a distinction between the upper classes and the lower classes in the sense that those who wore this style of laid-back clothing signified that they did not need to work, while those who wore more professional clothing may have been in their work clothes, thus signifying that they must have had to work for a living. It is a very elaborate and indirect way of depicting the differences between social classes, but clothing styles, particularly during Austen’s time, were extremely important in society.
In chapter 3, Marianne passionately judges Edward Ferrar’s character from her perception of him and his actions. She claims that his “figure is not striking” and that his eyes have no spirit. Essentially, she sees him as a graceless man who wants for passion and energy. According to Marianne, Edward does not have an attraction to music or art. He appreciates music to a certain extent because Marianne was the one playing it, and he displayed interest in art because Eleanor was the one creating the artwork; however, he does not approach these interests from the persepective of an artist nor because he is sincerely passionate about the art form itself, but because of his appreciation for the one who creates the art form. Marianne’s judgements speak to Edwards virtues in that he has no real taste and that he would not be able to appreciate Marianne’s sister, Eleanor, for everything that she has to offer. On the other hand, it does speak to his values in that despite the fact that he isn’t completely passionate about those things, he still feigns a certain level of interest for the sake of making the artist feel good about herself, which speaks volumes about his caring character.
Marianne’s harsh judgment of Edward’s seemingly lackluster personality is largely based on a night when he read from a book to them. Apparently, his readings were too tame and they lacked emotion and passion. However, one cannot completely trust Marianne’s judgment of Edward because Marianne herself is a character too driven by her emotions and her heart. She craves a man who agrees with her about everything, is passionate about the same books as her, and has the exact same music taste as her. This is clearly not a realistic expectation from love, and that is why Marianne’s judgement of Edward may be biased by her own unrealistic ideals about relationships.
Later on in the novel, Edward proves the fact that he may have subtle ways of showing his love, but that his feelings are true. He comes to visit Eleanor and her family in Devonshire, so it proves that despite the fact that Fanny Dashwood doesn’t think the Dashwoods are a good enough family for them, he doesn’t care because his love isn’t based on money or prestige. His love is true and only based on love.