19th Century English Novels Jane Austen Charlotte Bronte Elizabeth Gaskel Research Proposal

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19th Century English Novels

English literature is considered to be one of the most interesting and artistically rewarding experiences for any literature fan. It shares the views of an environment which is complex in its social and cultural elements. At the same time it points out the perspectives of writers who have been deeply influenced by the period of their existence in a more profound manner as the rest of literature writers. In this sense, Jane Austen is viewed as one of the most complex literature writers, for her dedication to her work as well as for the way in which she managed to convey the message across to her readers. Some of the most important novels of her literary creation include "Pride and Prejudice," "Emma," as well as "Sense and Sensibility" which have all represented important sources for inspiration for later authors of the 19th and 20th century.

"Mansfield Park" is yet another significant piece of literature by Jane Austen; however, it managed to catch the attention of the public and the critics not necessarily through the way in which it was written and the artistic elements the author employed, but rather through the complicated plot of the novel. In this sense, it is rather hard to determine an actual main area of interest in the novel. More precisely, "the theme of Mansfield Park, on the other hand, cannot be so easily described. Is it about ordination? Is it an allegory on Regency England? Is it about slavery? Is it about the education of children? Is it about the difference between appearances and reality? Is it about the results of breaking with society's mores? Any or all of those themes can, and have been applied to Mansfield Park." (Austen.com, n.d.) Therefore, it can be stated that the novel represents indeed a complex system of ideas and themes that can all have been applied in the society of the time. From this point-of-view, it is fair to say that the novel represents an image of a society with all its underlying aspects of social and intimate conduct.

There are several important aspects which the novel takes into consideration largely because the society of the time was rather complex in its nature. More precisely the period of the time was considered to be one of deep emotional feelings particularly because the personal life in general was not a subject dealt with by many authors of the time. Even more, the fact that emotions and personal dramas were seen as a taboo for that time, novels tended to deal with these aspects extensively. This is one of the most important issues for discussion when considering the way in which Jane Austen wrote most of her books. This trend is visible even in "Pride and prejudice" and "Sense and Sensibility" which point out precisely the sensitive nature of the human being and its inner struggles for identity and acceptance of the self. Critics have argued that in the case of "Mansfield Park" Jane Austen sought to "to offer a critique of the "ease with which unacceptable human feelings can be camouflaged in simplistic moral systems." In the moral universe of Mansfield Park, Fanny is "not altogether innocent...representing as she does, not open minded Christian charity, but an inflexible moral system which has little room for generosity and which gives her every opportunity for self deception" (Waldron, 1999).

Religion is a rather significant element in the construction of the novel because it offers a perspective on the nature of the characters and the way in which they develop and contact the rest of the actors on the narrative scene. Religion played an important part in the entire novel from several points-of-view. On the one hand, it pointed out several aspects of the traditional belief in the religiousness of the time; on the other hand, it addressed indirectly the issue of slavery as a corollary of religion and morals.

For the first idea, religion was the subject of discussions between characters at different levels. For instance, in one passage the importance of clergy is dealt with. Thus, "a clergyman cannot be high in state or fashion. He must never head mobs, nor set the ton in dress. But I cannot call that situation nothing which has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind, individually or collectively considered, temporally and eternally, which has the guardianship of religion and morals, and consequently of the manners which result from their influence. No one hero can call the office nothing. If the man who holds it is so, it is by the neglect of his duty, by foregoing its just importance, and stepping out of his place to appear what he ought not to appear." (Austen, 1892, 88) Therefore, it seems that one idealistic view positions the role of the Church and of religion as a superior value which must be taken into consideration at all the levels. Honor and justice must be paid to it because it guides the actions of the people.

However, this was simply an ideal view, considered by the initial role of the Church that of guidance. However, at the same time, the situation of the time did not resemble to this view. Religion was no longer a source of immediate comfort and guidance. Many of those parts of the higher society saw it as a mere attribute of everyday life and not as a spiritual guide. This idea is stressed out in the subsequent paragraphs. Thus "you assign greater consequence to the clergyman than one has been used to hear given, or than I can quite comprehend. One does not see much of this influence and importance in society, and how can it be acquired where they are so seldom seen themselves? How can two sermons a week, even supposing them worth hearing, supposing the preacher to have the sense to prefer Blair's to his own, do all that you speak of? Govern the conduct, and fashion the manners of a large congregation for the rest of the week? One scarcely sees a clergyman out of his pulpit." (Austen, 1892, 88)

This comes to point out the simple life the people of the time lived. This is not necessarily from the financial aspect, but rather from a moral point-of-view. Indeed, the Church was no longer a beacon of hope for the way in which people behaved at the time; the morality of the higher society was rather apart from the morality imposed by the Church and the teachings of the Bible. Therefore, while the first idea about religion is a rather idealistic one, the second one is realistic. This discussion on religion was created by Austen precisely to emphasize and criticize the morality of the society by pointing out its lack of religious spirituality.

This idea is carried out throughout the novel as Austen deals with the issue of slavery. It is common knowledge the fact that the debates over the abolition of slavery in the American Colonies also benefited from a religious argument in favor of the Abolitionists. More precisely, it was argued at the time that the oppression of another human being is against the practice of Christianity and against the teachings of the Bible. However, in Austen's novel, slavery is present in the discussions over the Antigua departure. Even more, it is a constant element which indirectly characterized the society. The family in which Fanny, the main character is integrated is a rich and prosperous one. Yet their fortunes are largely due to the labor of slaves in the Indies. The presence of one particular character brings the issue of slavery and thus the absence of Christian morality and religiousness in the novel. More precisely, "Austen's references to Antigua, though sparse, have rich and complex implications. Sir Thomas is a slave-owner, a category common enough amongst English gentlemen, but known through the propaganda campaigns as being capable either of comparatively humane behavior or of "Savage Murder," (Sturrock, 2006)

Still, despite the fact that Fanny is a very religious person with high moral standards, she fails to consider slavery as a particular negative aspect of the society. Aside from the fact that this is a significant character trait for Fanny it also shows a reluctance to address serious issues which in the end would affect the actual structure of the society.

Education is yet another crucial aspect the novel deals with. It was quite obvious the fact that such a theme would be dealt with my Jane Austen particularly because in general at the time this issue was crucial for the higher society. Often, people were rejected or approved according to their level of education and their state of wealth. In the case of "Mansfield Park," this distinction was quite evident. In fact the discussions on these issues revealed the actual magnitude of the role education played in the era. In this sense, while Fanny was a poor, yet proud individual, she was symbolically placed in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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