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Jane Austen & the Landed Gentry

Jane Austen was noted as a novelist of manners whose works are structured around irony and interpersonal relations governed by status and the rules of social class. Mansfield Park is a novel abut Sir Thomas Bertram and his family, representatives of the landed gentry in the time of the writing of the novel. It might seem then that the story was so much a product of a time and place that it had little to say to our contemporary society, but this is not the case. Austen above all is a novelist who delves deeply into human character, and people then and people today are not that different in what they want from life or in how they relate to other people at a basic level.

We may have little in common with the landed gentry in terms of their economic or social position. For one thing, the stratification of British society in general is foreign to us, though America does have social classes of a sort based on economic and educational attainment more than on birth. The heroine of this novel, Fanny, faces a wrenching change as she is forced to leave her familiar surroundings and to enter another world. She is a Cinderella figure in some degree--she is from a lower class and is to be raised by the Bertrams in more luxurious surroundings, though she is not considered equal with them. This is a situation to which we can all relate--even if we have not experienced it ourselves, we are familiar with it from Cinderella and other stories using this is a starting point. We are all certainly able to understand the anxiety felt by Fanny as she has to move from one situation to another, something else we have all experienced. We can easily relate to her situation and to her feelings both of resignation and annoyance at one and the same time:

Fanny with all her faults of ignorance and timidity, was fixed at Mansfield Park, and learning to transfer in its favor much of her attachment to her former home, grew up not unhappily among her cousin...

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Jane Austen & the Landed Gentry. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 20:09, June 02, 2020, from