PERSUASIONS ON-LINE V.28, NO.1 (Winter 2007)

The Tragic Action of Mansfield Park


Sarah Emsley

Sarah Emsley (email: teaches in the Expository Writing Program at Harvard University.  She is the author of Jane Austen’s Philosophy of the Virtues (2005) and editor of Jane Austen and the North Atlantic (2006).


In October 1906, a dramatization of Edith Wharton’s novel The House of Mirth opened in New York at the Savoy Theater.  It was not a success, even though the novel had been very well-received the year before.  The ending of The House of Mirth is melancholy:  the beautiful heroine dies alone in a dreary New York boarding house, either by suicide or an accidental overdose of chloral, after a painful decline in her social and financial position and her marriage prospects.  Like Fanny Price or Elizabeth Bennet, she has refused to marry a man she cannot love; unlike Elinor Dashwood, who marries Edward Ferrars on a small clerical income, Wharton’s heroine does not think she could ever be comfortable married to the man she does love, because he does not have enough money to support the life of luxury she craves.  Edith Wharton later reflected on the judgment of her friend William Dean Howells, who, she said, commented to her after the performance that “[w]hat the American public always wants is a tragedy with a happy ending” (Lewis 172).


Sixteen years later, Wharton published a novel called The Glimpses of the Moon, which bears many similarities to The House of Mirth, except that the hero and heroine do marry, determined to live happily ever after even without money.  In The House of Mirth, Lily Bart is unable to speak the right word to Lawrence Selden to make everything right between them (363); in The Glimpses of the Moon, Nick and Susy Lansing eventually find the right word—for them, it is “togetherness” (285).  This later novel, which continues to suffer from a low critical estimation, was made into a film in 1923, with dialogue by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The novel and the film version of The Glimpses of the Moon were both commercially successful, and this time around, the film also received “glowing reviews” (Lewis 444).  Clearly, adding a happy ending and a happy marriage to a dark and disturbing tale of financial pressures, ethical dilemmas, and class tensions is more likely to please the public.


William Dean Howells was not the first, of course, to remark on a preference for happy endings, nor is this preference limited to American audiences.  Several writers over the centuries have commented on this phenomenon.  The Italian playwright Giraldi Cinthio, for example, discusses two different kinds of tragedy in His Discourse on the Composition of Romances, Comedies, and Tragedies (1554):  Cinthio distinguishes tragedies that end happily from those with sad endings, and he says that the unhappy tragedies work well as “closet dramas,” while “happy” tragedies are best for performance.  Giovanni Battista Guarini in his Compendio (1601) stresses the way tragedies may incorporate aspects of comedy in addition to the happy ending, and the way such combinations help the audience find a healthy balance between melancholy and mirth (“Tragicomedy”).  Shakespeare does something like this when he weaves comic elements into his greatest tragedies:  Mercutio and the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet, for instance, or the Gravedigger in Hamlet. 1  The “problem plays” Measure for Measure and The Winter’s Tale alternate between comedy and tragedy throughout, concluding with the comic ending of marriage rather than with death and sorrow.


The Duke’s insistence on marrying off everyone at the end of Measure for Measure, no matter how forced this “happy” ending is, bears some resemblance to Jane Austen’s narrator’s “impatien[ce] to restore every body, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest” in Mansfield Park (461).  In his final speech, the Duke orders, “She, Claudio, that you wronged, look you restore. / Joy to you, Mariana; love her, Angelo” (5.1.523-4), and then he attempts to arrange his own marriage to the virtuous Isabella.  Compare the brief narration of Julia Bertram’s elopement with Mr. Yates:  “It had appeared to her the only thing to be done” (467).  And, of course, the marriage of Edmund and Fanny:  we are asked “to believe that exactly at the time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became as anxious to marry Fanny, as Fanny herself could desire” (470).  Joy to you, Fanny; love her, Edmund.  Jane Austen, like Shakespeare, wraps up the plot quickly, and to many readers and audiences, the conclusion appears somewhat unnatural—the action does not seem to fit what we know of the characters.


Like Shakespeare’s “problem plays,” Mansfield Park has become known as Austen’s “problem novel.”  It is not quite what anyone expects it to be.  Many readers seem to want it to be a comedy, something that fits with what we think we know about Austen’s other novels.  Patricia Rozema, for example, advertised her 1999 film adaptation of the novel as an interpretation of “Jane Austen’s Wicked Comedy.”  This tagline is fascinating because in two words it both sets the film apart from Austen’s other works (which are not usually thought of as “wicked,” even if they are satirical) and links it closely with the familiar romantic comedies audiences associate with Austen.  The idea, presumably, is that Austen’s comedies always attract film audiences, but this particular one is even more exciting because it is “wicked.”  Rozema imported a great deal of the “wicked” wit that appears in her version of Mansfield Park, pasting in bits and pieces from the juvenilia and Austen’s letters, and elaborating quite explicitly on the implications of Sir Thomas’s ownership of a West Indian plantation.  Adding these elements has the effect of presenting Mansfield Park as not just a comedy—the film seems to insist that it is much more serious than a typical comedy of manners, even one written by Jane Austen, because it foregrounds slavery and feminism more than traditional questions about marriage and morals.


It is not necessary, however, to reconstruct the seriousness—or the “wickedness”—of Austen’s novel, because it already possesses deeply serious elements of sorrow, isolation, immorality, and potential disaster.  Reading Mansfield Park as a tragedy may help us to understand it better than reading it as a “wicked comedy,” a flawed comedy, or a problem novel.  Some critics have suggested links between Austen’s novel and tragedy, especially King Lear, while George Whalley has gone so far as to propose that Mansfield Park is best understood in Aristotelian terms as a tragedy with a “prosperous outcome.”  Whalley explains the abrupt ending of the novel by comparing it with the brief family history Austen provides in the first chapter, but he does not explore the details of the central action of the plot.  It is significant that Austen uses dialogue rather than narration in the central scenes of the tragic action in which Fanny Price recognizes and resists the marriage to Henry Crawford that would be morally disastrous.  Revisiting Whalley’s argument and investigating Aristotle’s definition of tragedy will show how Austen in Mansfield Park produces what Aristotle considered one of the best forms of tragedy.


There are several ways of connecting Mansfield Park and tragedy.  H. R. Harris, for example, draws parallels with King Lear, citing names—Edmund and “Poor Tom,” for instance—as well as aspects of the plot as evidence for reading the novel in light of Shakespeare’s tragedy.  Susan Allen Ford, at the 2002 Toronto AGM and in Persuasions 24, offered an illuminating discussion of Mansfield Park in relation to King Lear—especially in relation to Nahum Tate’s 1681 re-working of Shakespeare’s play, which is the version that was performed throughout the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth.  What Tate did was to reimagine the tragedy of King Lear with a new ending—a happy ending, in which Cordelia marries Edgar.  As Ford points out, this revised ending, which may seem to undermine Shakespeare’s purpose and his plot, met with the full approval of Samuel Johnson, who said that the audience’s approval of the happy ending granted it legitimacy (“‘Intimate by Instinct’” 179-80).2  In the case of Mansfield Park, on the other hand, many members of the “audience” disapprove of the abrupt happy ending.


At the Jane Austen Bicentennial Conference at the University of Alberta in 1975, George Whalley made a series of provocative suggestions about Jane Austen’s work.  He proposed first that Austen is a poet, and second that she is a maker of tragedies as well as comedies.  “To insist too much upon Jane Austen as a comic writer,” he writes, “—even though she is often extremely funny—is to distract attention from the emotional depth and moral scope of her mature work” (126).  At the very end of the essay, Whalley turns to a discussion of language, character, and action in Mansfield Park.  It is clear that he wishes he had more time and space for this discussion. Within the confines of a 26-page essay (or lecture), he gets far enough into his topic to make several compelling claims about Mansfield Park, supported by evidence from Aristotle as well as Austen, but there is not nearly enough space to explore these ideas in depth, especially because he discusses all the novels in relation to his claim about poetry.  Whalley writes, “I feel that I may be sickening for a book on Jane Austen” (126-27), but he did not have time to write it, either.  Most of his time was devoted to Coleridge and Aristotle rather than Austen.  He died in 1983; his ground-breaking translation of Aristotle’s Poetics, with its emphasis on the difficult process of the “making” of poetry, was published in 1997.


Whalley’s unoriginal claim about Mansfield Park is that it “stands apart as different in kind, ordered from within as none of the others is” (129).  Many critics have remarked on this “one of these things is not like the others” point:  Marian Fowler, for example, calls Mansfield Park the “ugly duckling of the Austen canon, an embarrassment” because it “does not fit neatly into categories which encompass the other five” novels (153).  Whalley’s real originality lies first of all in his argument that Jane Austen is a poet, because of her “craftsmanship in language” and “the conduct of the action within each novel” (108).  He does not see her language as “poetic” (115), and he is not thinking of the verses she wrote.  Instead, invoking the Greek root of the word “poet”—“maker”3—Whalley talks about Austen as “a maker in words.”  And he explains why he believes that seeing Austen as a comic writer may limit our understanding of her:  while comedy typically “places more or less unchanging figures against a variable and changing background,” in Austen’s novels, “people change within the confines of inflexible social convention, moral prescript, and amatory mechanism; they have an acute, almost obsessive internality; they are enclosed and confined” (132).  Questioning the assumption that Jane Austen “probably was quite incapable of sounding the tragic note” (in Edwin Muir’s words), Whalley raises the question of whether we are right to associate tragedy always with darkness and disaster.


The standard definition of tragedy does involve disaster:  M. H. Abrams, for example, says that “[t]he term is broadly applied to literary, and especially to dramatic, representations of serious actions which eventuate in a disastrous conclusion for the protagonist” (321).  Abrams goes on to say in his Glossary of Literary Terms that readers should be open to definitions of tragedy beyond Aristotle’s theories, because in the more than two thousand years since the writing of the Poetics, “many new and artistically effective types of serious plots ending in a catastrophe have been developed—types that Aristotle had no way of forseeing” (322).  Abrams clearly wants to make sure that readers will not find Aristotle’s definitions limiting, yet the effect of his own apparently more inclusive definition is to close down readings of works that Aristotle considered tragedies, but which modern readers usually think of as flawed comedies.  Ironically, the assumption that the genre has become more inclusive in our own time erases the possibility that Aristotle knew more about tragedy than we do.  What if a literary work represents a serious, tragic action, but does not end in disaster or catastrophe?  Is it necessarily an inferior form, some sentimental version of tragicomedy?  Is darkness essential to tragedy?


Here is Aristotle’s definition of tragedy:


A tragedy, then, is a mimesis of an action—that is, it is [morally] serious and purposeful, having magnitude; uttered in heightened language and [using] each of its resources [i.e. dialogue and song] separately in the various sections [of the play], [the action presented] by people acting rather than by narration; bringing about through [a process of] pity and fear [in the events enacted] the purification of those destructive or painful acts.  (Poetics 67-68; the square brackets are Whalley’s)


Whalley raises questions about the assumption that tragedy must include darkness or disaster:  “Is there no other way of bringing a sense of pity-and-fear to a state of exaltation—the pleasure peculiar to tragedy?”  He says that “Aristotle, with his intense concentration on the peculiar configuration of the tragic action and the integrity of it—the single figure the whole play traces—recognized that there were works that traced the specific arc of tragic action under the guidance of stories or plots that were not intrinsically disastrous” (133).  Aristotle describes four kinds of tragic action, including one in which the action is “done with full knowledge and understanding”—as in the case of Euripides’ Medea killing her children; one in which a character knowingly “refrain[s] from doing the deed”; one in which the character acts, but does “the frightful deed (deinon) unwittingly” and later realizes that there was a “blood-relationship”—as in the case of Sophocles’ Oedipus; and one in which a character realizes “before committing [the deed]” that it would be fatal—as in the case of Euripides’ Iphigenia.


Aristotle’s judgment of the relative merit of these four does not privilege the tragic recognition after the fact; instead, perhaps surprisingly, he says, “But the best is the last [in the list]” (Poetics 104-05).  This claim suggests that the best form of tragic action may in fact be the kind in which a character’s recognition of a potential mistake actually forestalls disaster.  Whalley terms such plays “tragedies that had a prosperous outcome” (133).  Aristotle lists three examples, but the only ancient Greek play of this type that survives is Iphigenia in Taurus.4  The reason Whalley thinks Aristotle was not thinking of “‘dark’ tragedies with a happy ending” simply tacked on is that “for Aristotle the end is always implicit in the beginning” (133):  “the [course of] events—the plot—is the end of tragedy, and the end is what matters most of all” (Poetics 73).  Aristotle thought the tragedy with a prosperous outcome was the best kind.  At the end of his essay, Whalley leaves his audience with the tantalizing question, “Is it possible that Jane Austen may have achieved such a feat; not in all her books, to be sure, but in Mansfield Park?” (133).  What would it mean to read Mansfield Park as a tragedy with a “prosperous outcome,” or a happy ending?  Whalley raises the question, but he does not specify what the “morally serious and purposeful” action of the novel is, and he does not explore the importance of dialogue to the tragic action.


Without seeing Aristotle’s definition as a simple formula for a successful tragedy, we can use it to help illuminate our understanding of the extent to which Austen is, in the language and action of Mansfield Park, making a tragedy, whether it is a new or old type of tragedy.  The tragic action of the novel centers on Fanny Price’s prolonged temptation to marry Henry Crawford.  As Mansfield Park traces the moral development of a child in a morally unstable household, Fanny learns to make choices about how to act.  She is not a passive heroine, virtuous and never tested:  she struggles with temptation before she makes her choices. 5  According to Aristotle, the plot or action (praxis) is even more important than character:  “For tragedy is a mimesis not of men [simply] but of actions—that is, of life.”  He says that characters do not “act in order to present their characters:  they embrace their characters for the sake of the actions [they are to do]” (Poetics 73).  If the final action is the rejection of a marriage proposal from an immoral suitor—a proposal, moreover, strongly urged by all of Fanny’s friends, Fanny’s character must develop to the point where she is strong enough to carry out that action.


The prominence of dialogue, rather than narration, is crucial in the central action of Mansfield Park.  Jane Austen’s dialogue is brilliant, though it is often absent from proposal scenes.  In Pride and Prejudice, Austen provides dialogue for the scenes in which Mr. Collins and then Mr. Darcy propose to Elizabeth, but at the end of the novel in the scene in which Darcy and Elizabeth come to an understanding, we do not get the details of their conversation.  In Emma, when we are wondering “What did she say?” in response to Mr. Knightley, we are simply told, “Just what she ought, of course.  A lady always does” (431).  At the end of Mansfield Park, we do not even get the narration of a particular proposal scene:  we are just told that Edmund “was very steadily in earnest in the pursuit of the blessing, and it was not possible that encouragement from [Fanny] should be long wanting” (471).  As in the ending of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, there is a suggestion that it would be impossible to find the right word.  Austen tells her readers that “there was happiness elsewhere which no description can reach” (471).  The difference is that for Edmund and Fanny it is a happy union beyond words, whereas for Lily and Selden the absence of the right word prevents their ever forming a happy union.


The lack of detail in the courtship and marriage of Edmund and Fanny is even more conspicuous than the absence of dialogue in the proposal scenes involving Elizabeth and Darcy and Emma and Mr. Knightley.  In Mansfield Park, the scene in which Henry Crawford proposes to Fanny is presented in some detail—unlike the point at which Edmund and Fanny come together—but there is still very little dialogue.  The narrator says that Henry speaks of his “twofold motives” (300) in arranging for William Price’s promotion, and that in response Fanny is “exceedingly distressed, and for some moments unable to speak” (301).  She does exclaim “‘No, no, no,’” just as she later cries “‘never, never, never,’” when she is telling Edmund she cannot marry Henry, 6 yet the majority of the scene is narrated rather than dramatized (301, 347).  The reason the marriage between Edmund and Fanny is so hastily described, and the reason Henry Crawford’s proposal scene is narration instead of dialogue, is that Jane Austen’s interest in Mansfield Park lies in the serious tragic action of Fanny’s resistance to the persuasion of Sir Thomas and Edmund, rather than in the more comic structures of the marriage proposal scene.  The scenes in which Fanny refuses to obey Sir Thomas, and, secondarily, refuses to be persuaded by Edmund to accept Henry’s proposal, are both scenes of dialogue.


Mansfield Park, then, may be read as an imitation of a morally serious action—that is, of a tragic heroine’s resistance to the attempts of authority figures to persuade her to marry a man she believes to be immoral.  In these scenes, Austen uses dialogue (and sometimes “heightened language”), presents the action “by people acting rather than by narration,” shows how the plot is driven by “pity and fear,” and eventually, through the action of these scenes, brings about the “purification” of life at Mansfield (Poetics 67-68).7  The estate is not purified through death, but through the new understanding of morality at Mansfield that comes after Maria’s elopement with Henry Crawford, an understanding that is made possible largely through Fanny’s principled resistance to Henry.


Fanny certainly experiences fear when she anticipates the confrontation with Sir Thomas:  “She sat some time in a good deal of agitation, listening, trembling, and fearing to be sent for every moment. . . . [S]he . . . began to tremble again, at the idea of his coming up to speak to her. . . . The terror of his former occasional visits to that room seemed all renewed” (311-12).  Fanny is being tested, and it is not a foregone conclusion that she’ll persevere.  When Sir Thomas lists for her the many reasons why she should look favorably on Henry Crawford, “she did feel almost ashamed of herself, after such a picture as her uncle had drawn, for not liking Mr. Crawford” (316).  It is ironic that Sir Thomas repeatedly says there is nothing more he can say, before continuing to berate Fanny for her ingratitude:  “‘Well, there is nothing more to be said’” (316); “‘It is of no use, I perceive, to talk to you’” (318).


Fanny tries “to harden and prepare herself against farther questioning” (317), which suggests that she is struggling to preserve her privacy and resist Sir Thomas’s control.  Austen gives Sir Thomas’s lengthy speeches in detail, the effect of which is to build up the strength of the force Fanny feels she must resist.  He accuses her of being “‘wilful and perverse,’” of “‘think[ing] only of [her]self,’” and of, “‘in a wild fit of folly, throwing away from [her] such an opportunity of being settled in life, eligibly, honourably, nobly settled, as will, probably, never occur to [her] again’” (318-19).  Fanny’s virtuous resolve is strained here, and she bursts into tears, sure that “[t]he past, present, future, every thing was terrible” (321).  Although she feels sure that she can’t marry Henry, she is not absolutely certain that she is right to go against the wishes of her uncle and the best interests of her family.  She even feels pity for Crawford:  “if he really loved her, and were unhappy too!—it was all wretchedness together” (321).


It is a challenge for Fanny to stand up to Sir Thomas’s authority; it is even more painful for her to resist Edmund’s attempts at persuasion:  he says, “‘let him [Mr. Crawford] succeed at last’” (347); “‘I cannot suppose that you have not the wish to love him—the natural wish of gratitude’” (348); “‘He is lively, you are serious; but so much the better; his spirits will support yours’” (348); “‘He will make you happy, Fanny, I know he will make you happy’” (351).  In her dialogue with Sir Thomas, Fanny does not speak at length, but she feels more at liberty with her cousin to explain her reasons:  “‘There never were two people more dissimilar.  We have not one taste in common.  We should be miserable’” (348).  She goes on to confess, “‘I must say, cousin, that I cannot approve his character.  I have not thought well of him from the time of the play’” (349).  And she concludes, famously, “‘I think it ought not to be set down as certain, that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may happen to like himself’” (353).  Despite her ability to hold fast to her principles, “Fanny was oppressed and wearied” (355), worn down by her debates with both Edmund and his father.


These two scenes of intensely serious dialogue about serious moral questions are at the heart of the plot of Mansfield Park.  The reason we are not given a scene of dialogue between Fanny and Edmund at the end of the novel, in which they confess their undying love for one another, is that the romantic ending is not Jane Austen’s focus.  Instead, the scenes in which she does provide the drama of the conversation—primarily Fanny’s debates with Sir Thomas and Edmund, but also the discussion of chapels and clergymen at Sotherton, or the debate over which play to produce—help us to identify her focus, and to figure out what she is doing with the genre of the comic romance and with the concept of tragic action.


In fact, the very scene in which Austen shows her characters discussing the play may illuminate her approach to genre in this novel.  In Chapter 13, the narrator says that “[t]here were, in fact, so many things to be attended to, so many people to be pleased, so many best characters required, and above all, such a need that the play should be at once both tragedy and comedy, that there did seem as little chance of a decision, as any thing pursued by youth and zeal could hold out” (130).  The play needs to be “at once both tragedy and comedy,” and this desire to find the most pleasing balance leads to the choice of Lovers’ Vows.  Tom Bertram thinks it will be perfect because it has “‘two capital tragic parts for Yates and Crawford,’” and a comic part—“‘the rhyming butler’”—for himself (132).  Henry Crawford tries to persuade Julia Bertram to play Amelia, rather than the more tragic Agatha, even though Maria and Julia both feel they have “the best claim to Agatha” (133):  he says to Julia, “‘Tragedy may be your choice, but it will certainly appear that comedy chooses you’” (135).  Henry’s position in this scene may allude to Sir Joshua Reynolds’s famous portrait of “Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy” 8:  Henry is between Maria and Julia at this point, and the way he tells Julia that comedy chooses her also tells her that he chooses Maria.  Henry, it seems, chooses tragedy at every turn, and his actions do lead to a kind of catastrophe, even though they are not nearly as catastrophic for his reputation as for Maria’s.  Despite Maria’s adulterous elopement with Henry, the novel returns to “all’s well that ends well”—which is itself a problem play.  In the tragedy that ends well, the end, or telos, is implicit in the beginning.


George Whalley does not talk about the centrality of dialogue in the unfolding of moral action in Mansfield Park, but he does offer a compelling argument for the way the ending of the novel is implicit in its opening chapter.  He writes,


The opening chapter is forthright, abrupt, with an occasional asperity of tone that had not been heard even in Pride and Prejudice; it is stylized, urgent, without agreeable obliquity, setting the situation as swiftly and emphatically as possible. . . . And when we come to the end, the book closes with corresponding despatch, yet with something of the elegiac recognition of sheer necessity, not fading back into life but rounding this universe of her imagining to a close without regret.  “I only entreat every body to believe that exactly at the time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became as anxious to marry Fanny, as Fanny herself could desire.”  Within the boundaries of the abrupt opening and closing of the story, Jane Austen moves with consummate ease. . . .  (131)


The ending, like the beginning, is simply a framework for the drama in between; the real interest of the plot lies in the middle.  The opening chapter is a brief history of the fortunes of the three Miss Wards, as background to the arrival of Fanny Price at Mansfield Park; the final chapter is a brief history of what happened to everyone as a result of the tragic action.  Fanny is tempted to marry Henry but she averts the mistake in judgment (hamartia) because she recognizes that marriage to him would be disastrous.


The tragic action of Mansfield Park, therefore, is consistent with what Aristotle identified as one of the best forms of tragedy, the variation in which recognition forestalls catastrophe.  The ending is not meant to be a romantic happy ending, and it may be better described as, in Whalley’s terms, a “prosperous outcome” for the tragic heroine.  Edith Wharton struggled with the problem of how to write tragedies with happy endings.  In her later novel, The Glimpses of the Moon, the “togetherness” the hero and heroine find may seem unlikely, given what we know of their character and their actions throughout the novel.  The tragedy of The House of Mirth, on the other hand, is consistent with the plot.  Similarly, the tragedy of Mansfield Park is also consistent with Austen’s plot.  The beginning and ending are history, the morally serious action of the plot is a tragedy, presented in dialogue rather than narration, and the outcome is prosperous.  M. H. Abrams may be right that the last two thousand years have seen the invention of many new types of tragedy, but we should also be alert to the possibility that even the “new” may turn out to have ancient precedents.  Jane Austen’s innovation in the genre may help us refine our definitions of tragedy; the tragedy of Mansfield Park can also help illuminate the brief and sometimes cryptic definitions Aristotle offers in the Poetics.  A number of Greek tragedies with “prosperous outcomes” have been lost, but, fortunately, we have Jane Austen, and Mansfield Park.





1.  See Susan Snyder’s discussion of The Comic Matrix of Shakespeare’s Tragedies.  I am grateful for the Gordon Gray Writing Grant that supported my work on this project, and I would like to thank Janet Bailey, John Baxter, Lorraine Baxter, Elizabeth Baxter, and Jason Emsley for their encouragement and suggestions about my research.


2.  Ford examines eighteenth-century productions of the play and shows how Austen shifts the focus of the story from father (Lear/Sir Thomas) to daughter (Cordelia/Fanny); in “Working Out a Happy Conclusion: Mansfield Park and the Revision of King Lear” she elaborates on the linguistic parallels between the novel and the play.  See also Clara Calvo’s article “Rewriting Lear’s Untender Daughter: Fanny Price as a Regency Cordelia in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park,” which discusses Mansfield Park as a condition-of-England novel.


3.  “poiein—to make, do, fashion, perform” (Poetics 44n.1).


4.  Whalley says that none of the tragedies with prosperous outcomes “has come to us among the few survivors from the Greek theatre” (133), but he must be misremembering the Poetics here.  Aristotle speaks of plays that have not survived—Cresphontes and Helle—but he does mention Euripides’ Iphigenia, which does survive.


5.  See Chapter Five, “Fanny Price and the Contemplative Life” in my book Jane Austen’s Philosophy of the Virtues, for an analysis of Fanny’s growth and development, including the testing of her virtue.


6.  As both Harris and Ford point out, Fanny’s “‘never, never, never’” may echo King Lear’s famous lament, in which he says “never” five times.


7.  Unlike many commentators who see catharsis or purification or purgation as something that happens in the emotions of the audience, I follow Whalley, who was following Gerald Else, in locating the purification within the action or story.


8.  R. J. Dingley makes this suggestion in “Henry Crawford Between Tragedy and Comedy in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.”


Works Cited


Abrams, M. H.  A Glossary of Literary Terms.  7th ed.  Fort Worth: Harcourt, 1999.

Aristotle.  Poetics.  Trans. George Whalley.  Ed. John Baxter and Patrick Atherton.  Montreal: McGill-Queen’s, 1997.

Austen, Jane.  The Novels of Jane Austen.  3rd ed.  Ed. R. W. Chapman.  London: Oxford UP, 1933-69.

Calvo, Clara.  “Rewriting Lear’s Untender Daughter: Fanny Price as a Regency Cordelia in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.”  Shakespeare Survey 58 (2005): 83-94.

Dingley, R. J.  “Henry Crawford Between Tragedy and Comedy in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.”  Studies in Iconography 14 (1995): 306-08.

Emsley, Sarah.  Jane Austen’s Philosophy of the Virtues.  New York: Palgrave, 2005.

Ford, Susan Allen.  “‘Intimate by Instinct’: Mansfield Park and the Comedy of King Lear.”  Persuasions 24 (2002): 177-97.

_____.  “Working Out a Happy Conclusion: Mansfield Park and the Revision of King Lear.”  Sensibilities 27 (2003): 95-110.

Fowler, Marian E.  “The Courtesy-Book Heroine of Mansfield Park.”  University of Toronto Quarterly 44 (1974-5): 31-46.  Rpt. in Jane Austen: Critical Assessments.  Vol. 4.  Ed. Ian Littlewood.  Mountfield, East Sussex: Helm, 1998.  152-66.

Harris, H. R.  “Jane Austen’s Venture into Tragedy.”  Contemporary Review 272.1589 (1998): 314-18.

Lewis, R. W. B.  Edith Wharton: A Biography.  London: Vintage, 1993.

Mansfield Park.  Dir. Patricia Rozema.  Miramax, 1999.

Shakespeare, William.  Measure for Measure.  Ed. Jonathan Crewe.  New York: Penguin, 2000.

Snyder, Susan.  The Comic Matrix of Shakespeare’s Tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear.  Princeton: PUP, 1979.

“Tragicomedy.”  The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.  Ed. Alex Preminger and T. V. F. Brogan.  Princeton: PUP, 1993.

Whalley, George.  “Jane Austen: Poet.”  Jane Austen’s Achievement.  Ed. Juliet McMaster.  New York: MacMillan, 1976.  106-33.

Wharton, Edith.  The Glimpses of the Moon.  1922.  New York: Simon, 1996.

_____.  The House of Mirth.  1905.  Ed. Janet Beer and Elizabeth Nolan.  Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2005.

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