In this episode, we read the first three chapters of Mansfield Park. We give a brief publishing history, and talk about how the opening chapters really prepare the way for the rest of the book, with all of the characters and relationships being set up, how the three Miss Wards come from a not dissimilar background from Pride and Prejudice’s Miss Gardiners (Mrs Bennet and Mrs Phillips), and how the novel’s themes of education and principle are introduced. The character we talk about is Mrs Norris.
In a longer than usual historical segment, Ellen talks about the historical background to Sir Thomas’s estate in Antigua, and the extent to which all members of the gentry were complicit in slavery. We follow this up with a conversation on how discussions of slavery are now part of the discourse on Mansfield Park. Harriet identifies four different approaches:
People who can’t read the book because of the connection with slaveryPeople who feel that perhaps the estate in Antigua did not use enslaved peoplePeople who feel that the novel is about slavery – and, specifically, that it is an abolitionist novelPeople who feel that slavery is part of the context of the novel – one of the aspects of Janen Austen’s society that today we find abhorrent – but it is not a focus of the novel. We need to be open to discussing the novel in a post-colonial light, but that does not mean the novel is about slavery. We would like to thank Damianne Scott, who runs the Facebook page Black Girl Loves Jane, for reviewing the historical segment for us, and providing feedback.
To finish the episode, Harriet gives an overview of various popular culture versions of Mansfield Park.
For a list of references and other links, see this episode on our website.