Study Guide

Mansfield Park Gender

By Jane Austen

Gender

Fanny sighed, and said, "I cannot see things as you do; but I ought to believe you to be right rather than myself, and I am very much obliged to you for trying to reconcile me to what must be" (3.34).

Fanny is extremely submissive in general, but she is especially submissive to Edmund and Edmund's opinions. Though much of this is a matter of age and self-confidence, Fanny's submissive attitude also has something to do with her gender. Women, in general, had much less power than men during this period, and Fanny got a double-dose of powerlessness by being raised as "inferior" to her cousins.

"Manners as well as appearance are, generally speaking, so totally different. Till now, I could not have supposed it possible to be mistaken as to a girl's being out or not. [...]. Girls should be quiet and modest. The most objectionable part is, that the alteration of manners on being introduced into company is frequently too sudden" (5.32).

Being "out" refers to being out in society, meaning that the girl is old enough to get married and is out looking for a husband. Here, Henry and Mary are discussing the problems of looser social codes, where girls who shouldn't be out on the marriage market are acting as if they are.

Henry Crawford had trifled with her feelings: but she had very long allowed and even sought his attentions, with a jealousy of her sister so reasonable as ought to have been their cure; and now that the conviction of his preference for Maria had been forced on her, she submitted to it without any alarm for Maria's situation, or any endeavour at rational tranquility for herself (7.8).

Henry is able to run around and flirt with girls without any consequences to himself. However, the women he flirts with run the risk of having their reputations ruined, as Maria discovers.

"That's well thought of. So I will, Edmund. I will ask Sir Thomas as soon as he comes in, whether I can do without her" (23.8).

Much like Fanny, Lady Bertram is quite passive and relies on her husband to tell her what to do and even what to think here. Lady Bertram is such an extreme case of passivity that she doesn't even have her own opinions.

The glory of heroism, of usefulness, of exertion, of endurance, made his own habits of selfish indulgence appear in shameful contrast; and he wished he had been a William Price, distinguishing himself and working his way to fortune and consequence with so much self-respect and happy ardour, instead of what he was!

The wish was rather eager than lasting (24.22-3).

Henry is considering an alternative form of masculinity. William comes across to Henry as a very "manly" sailor and Henry feels kind of lame by comparison.

"The profession, either navy or army, is its own justification. It has everything in its favour; heroism, danger, bustle, fashion. Soldiers and sailors are always acceptable in society. Nobody can wonder that men are soldiers and sailors" (11.18).

Mary gives us insight into how society thinks about men and how men should behave. She also helps reveal what sort of men and lifestyle she finds attractive – bustle and fashion seem more related to Mary's London society scene than to the British navy after all.

His hopes for both gentleman and lady suffered a small depression in consequence; but when he looked at his niece, and saw the state of feature and complexion which her crying had brought her into, he thought there might be as much lost as gained by an immediate interview (32.44).

In his efforts to market Fanny to Henry, Sir Thomas is careful to make sure that Fanny always looks her best when she's around Henry. As today, women were under a lot of pressure to be attractive and to look nice.

"But this I will say, that his fault, the liking to make girls a little in love with him, is not half so dangerous to a wife's happiness as a tendency to fall in love himself, which he has never been addicted to" (36.24).

Mary gives us insight into Henry's playboy antics. He's egotistical enough to want women to love him, and he can do so without any consequences because he's a man living in a time period with such standards.

"I think it ought not to be set down as certain that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may happen to like himself" (35.45).

This is yet another notable instance when Fanny herself delivers a pretty bold thematic statement. Here she shows some backbone and notes that men, particularly Henry, shouldn't be so full of it and expect all women to love them back.

That punishment, the public punishment of a disgrace, should in a just measure attend his share of the offence, is, we know, not one of the barriers which society gives to virtue. In this world the penalty is less equal than could be wished [...] (48.20).

This is one of most blunt assessments of gender inequality in this entire book, and in a lot of Austen's work as a whole. Maria suffers the brunt of the fallout of her disastrous affair with Henry. Her life is essentially over.

But there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them (1.1).

The marriage market was pretty tight during the early 1800s. England had been fighting wars with France and there were more women than men running around, since men were dying in combat. Also, lots of people didn't have enough money to actually get married around this time. So lots of women were competing for a few eligible bachelors, basically.

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