Explain Jane Austen's views on nineteenth century women in terms of Mansfield Park. 

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The greatest expectation of women in the nineteenth century was to ensure a comfortable and respectable future through marriage. In fact, it was almost a "moral obligation," and Mansfield Park explores this principle as, eventually, even poor Fanny can look forward to advancing her social class, thanks to Sir Thomas, by the possibility of marrying Henry Crawford. Her rejection of this and desire to marry for real love by marrying Edmund, reveals Jane Austen's own desire to discount the accepted norms of her society whilst ensuring moral good fortune. Fanny's unpopular and even preposterous choice, a direct insult against Sir Thomas, uncovers her refusal to compromise her beliefs and reinforces her independence. However, having Fanny marry Edmund, still ensures that Jane Austen retains a measure of respect because, notwithstanding her independence, it still results in marriage. Jane Austen is cautious of completely defying accepted practises.  

The behavior of women is crucial to the future and Jane Austen is aware that many women will continue to marry for all the wrong reasons thus contributing to social and moral decay. The choice of Fanny to represent the possibility for freedom from the restraints of middle class existence, highlights Jane Austen's understanding of the place of women in ensuring the moral fiber of society; hence, Fanny's ultimate success and everyone else's ruin. Jane Austen would never deny the need for social norms - responsibility to family is paramount in her novels- and she recognizes that women can only advance themselves by adopting their position within a structure. Fanny may not conform to expectations - thus causing controversy among critics - but she does emphasize the possibilities when operating within the boundaries set but without compromising true feelings.

The ability to "captivate" and ensure social status, being praised by the community for a good "match," may never actually disappear as, even in the twenty first century, there are many marrying for the simple reason that they want to secure a certain lifestyle. This can be said of men and women and, Jane Austen realized even then, that a "good" man could only ensure his own status by marrying within certain constraints. For women "marrying....with advantage" allowed them a freedom they may otherwise be denied. However, using Fanny as her heroine, Jane Austen is warning others of the perils of taking the need for status too far.  

   

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