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NA306712 - AUSTEN, J.: Mansfield Park (Abridged)
Jane Austen was born in Hampshire in 1775, the seventh of eight children. Her father was a clergyman who ensured that his children were well educated. After a brief spell at boarding school when they were very young, Jane and her sister Cassandra were educated at home. In 1801, Mr. Austen retired and the family moved to Bath. Although Jane Austen never married, she is reputed to have had a romance in 1802, but she parted from her lover, who died the following year. In 1803, she was proposed to by a wealthy Hampshire landowner and after initially accepting his proposal; she refused him the following morning. In 1805, her father died, and she moved with her mother to Southampton and in 1809 to the village of Chawton.
In 1816, Jane Austen became seriously ill, and was taken to Winchester in search of a cure. She died there in 1817. She is remembered by six great novels: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1816), Northanger Abbey (1818) and Persuasion (1818) — all available on Naxos AudioBooks.
Mansfield Park was written in Chawton, Hampshire. It was begun in February 1811 and finished in June 1813. The main action of the book takes place in 1808. At this time Napoleon was at the height of his power in France and was at war with England, and the Industrial Revolution was soon to change the face of Britain. Although none of these events seems to impinge on the seclusion of Mansfield Park, the themes of stability and change are never far from the surface.
Superficially this is the story of two families, living in rural prosperity at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park is the bastion of old established values: stability, order, and propriety. The Crawford’s, who join this world, bring with them the gloss and sophistication of London. Fanny, however, is a bystander, belonging to neither world but, able to see and indeed to suffer from the selfishness and hypocrisy of both, she embodies virtue and constancy and above all moral strength in a world, which becomes wracked by change and scandal. Although, therefore, there are no direct references to actual historical events, there is no doubt that Jane Austen was aware that the nation stood on the brink of cataclysmic change with all the threat to established values that the term implies.
By keeping the frame of Mansfield Park small and domestic, Jane Austen was able to give universality to the events and emotional crises, which she portrayed. Even though the social context is far removed from the world of today, the moral dilemmas are as relevant and recognizable as they were when she wrote them. But this is only one reason for Jane Austen’s enduring popularity. Perhaps her greatest achievement was her style. Her faultless eye for detail in her characterization, and her ear for dialogue are unparalleled. Vladimir Nabokov wrote of Mansfield Park:
"There is no such thing as real life for an author of genius: he must create it himself and then create the consequences. The charm of Mansfield Park can be fully enjoyed only when we adopt its conventions, its rules, its enchanting make-believe.”
It is a testament to Jane Austen that new generations of readers continue to enjoy this “enchanting make-believe.”
Notes by Heather Godwin
Juliet Stevenson has worked extensively for the RSC, the Royal National Theatre, and other major theater companies. She won an Olivier Award for her role in Death and the Maiden at the Royal Court, and a number of other awards for her work in the film Truly, Madly, Deeply. Other film credits include The Trial, Ladder of Swords, Drowning by Numbers and A Secret Rapture. Among her prominent TV appearances is The Politician’s Wife.
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